22/05/2024
Norwich, GB 16 C
Researching and reporting on the lives of some really interesting people (RIP)

INGE GINSBERG, aged 99

HEAVY METAL GRANDMA

Born Ingeborg Neufeld in Austria into a Jewish family in 1922, her father was Fritz Neufeld, the owner of a successful freight company in Vienna. Her mother was Hildegard Zwicker. The family could trace their Vienna roots back over 800 years.

She had a privileged upbringing, claiming it was like being “a Jewish princess in Vienna.” However, her parents insisted she went to a normal school and not just one for wealthy children. Her school took the children skiing for one week in every year. She also went to a dance school and was taught to play the piano.

In pre-war Vienna, being able to play the piano well, meant she was like “social royalty”.

The family had a massive city house and a villa for the summer – with plenty of servants.

Her happy childhood changed in 1938 with the Anschluss, when the Nazis annexed Austria.

On the day they entered Vienna, she was out on the streets and hid behind a big clock. She was there all night. Her mother thought she had been captured.

After a visit to the theatre the family returned home to find their house had been confiscated by the Nazis. Their chauffeur had informed on them, as Jews.

Her father was arrested immediately and sent to Dachau Concentration Camp. Against advice, Inge went to the camp to talk to the guards. She charmed them, she bribed them…and Fritz was released.

In 1939 he fled on the MS St. Louis, sailing from Hamburg to Cuba, with 900 other exiled Jews fleeing the Nazis. The ship was turned away by Cuba, then Canada and then the USA, and had to return to Europe. Fritz was lucky that he was allowed to disembark in the UK, where he spent the rest of the war.

“We did not know where my father was. We did not hear from him for seven years.”

But the rest of the family stayed behind, living for four years under occupation. The only reason they were left untouched was that her brother and boyfriend were classed as essential workers. They were gravediggers.

In 1942, they decided to leave. Four of them fled over the Alps into Switzerland. They were Hildegard, Inge, her brother and her boyfriend Otto Kollman. Her mother sold all of her jewellery to fund the escape, to an Austrian Count who arranged the escape in return. “It was just like the Sound of Music except it was much, much colder. In fact, it was freezing.”

Upon arriving in Switzerland, the family were arrested and put in the Adliswil Reception Camp. From there they were sent to three consecutive labour camps.

Inge married Otto (they were to have one daughter) and were allowed to move to Zurich.

Soon afterwards, Otto was employed as a bar pianist in the Café Federale in Lugano. This was right on the Swiss – Italian border. Otto was recruited as a spy by the US Secret Services. Many Italians who were fighting the Germans, and indeed Germans themselves, nipped over the border for a quiet and peaceful evening’s entertainment. Otto was employed to listen to conversations of German speakers ‘in their cups’ and pass the information onto the USA.

He recommended Inge as a spy. She was employed as the housekeeper at a diplomatic villa, Westphal, which was used as a safehouse by resistance fighters and American and Italian soldiers. There she organised escapes from occupied Italy and the sending of weapons over the border into the combat zone. She also arranged for the wounded to be evacuated from Italy.

Inge also helped in the smuggling of valuable art treasures out of Italy into Switzerland, to be kept safe until the war was over. This included the ‘Last Supper by Leonardo Da Vinci, taken from Milan.

She was involved in a key moment in the ending of the war, the highly secret ‘Operation Sunrise’. SS General Karl Wolff came to her villa in 1945 to negotiate a truce. It led to the Germans surrendering on the 2nd May 1945.

Inge retired as a spy at the end of the war.

But her grandmother and four cousins had died in German concentration camps.

Inge and Otto
Inge and Otto (courtesy Bored Panda)

By 1949, Otto was working as the house composer for a music company. He was expected to churn out 10 songs a week. Secretly he was feeding some of his tunes to a film production company, and this led to him writing various film scores. His favourite was for ‘The Cowboy Always Has a Girl’.

In 1955 he was signed to Capitol Records, so they moved to Hollywood in the USA. She hated Hollywood. “It is all fake.”

He wrote songs for the likes of Dean Martin, Rosemary Clooney, Doris Day and Nat King Cole and she was usually the lyricist (also publishing a book of poetry). But all Otto wanted was to be regarded as a serious composer and just write symphonies – and not pop music.

Otto was then sent the lyric to a song entitled ‘Que Sera Sera’. He said it was rubbish and refused to write a tune for it. Inge said it would be a massive hit. They had a blazing row – and shortly afterwards divorced.

Inge then became a journalist for ‘Weltwoche’ magazine in Zurich. Whilst doing this she inherited a lot of money from the death of her father. She invested it in buying two properties in New York. She began to play the stock exchange and became known as a very capable trader, earning a fortune.

She flew as a guest on the very first El Al flight from Zurich to Tel Aviv. She had decided to go and live and work on a kibbutz, but on her way, she met Hans Kruger.

He was the manager of the luxurious Dan Hotel in Tel Aviv. They married in 1960.

She sold three farms near Haifa in Israel that she had inherited from her grandmother, who had bought them in 1936, so she continued to live in luxury.

Then she met Kurt Ginsberg, a Jewish emigrant from Vienna, and fell in love with him. She asked for a divorce from Kruger. It was very messy and nasty, but eventually she married Ginsberg – her third husband.

In 1972 they decided to emigrate to Ecuador. They had homes in Quito, Tel Aviv and Switzerland. She made her living by writing books and articles about life in Ecuador.

Eventually they moved to the USA for health reasons, with regular visits back to their home in Switzerland, but still spent a lot of time in Israel. She was a great supporter of the Israeli state. “As long as we did not have Israel, we were like hunted dogs. Nobody wanted to have us. It is not our music and culture that protects us – it is our army.” She spent every winter in Tel Aviv.

She could speak 7 languages fluently.

The Poems Of Inge Ginsberg
The Poems Of Inge Ginsberg (courtesy of Amazon)

She became a published poet in Switzerland.

After the death of her husband, Inge decided to enter the Eurovision Song Contest. In 2013 she got to the second round of Swiss qualifying with a song about youth suicide.

She failed again in 2014 – so decided the way forward was heavy metal. “I cannot sing. I cannot carry a tune – so heavy metal works for me.”

She formed the band ‘Inge and the TritoneKings’. She would appear on stage as lead singer dressed in an evening gown with pearls. The rest of the band were in traditional heavy metal garb with added corpse make-up. She was known as the ‘Heavy Metal Grandma’.

Her 2015 Eurovision entry, written by herself, was called ‘Totenkopfchen (Laugh at Death)”

It included the lines;

“Sing and eat and laugh,

  Then the devil goes to Hell.”

This time she was actually entered the Eurovision competition for Switzerland.

She finished last in Eurovision with zero points. And there was a fourth and final failure, with a song entitled ‘Rubble’ in 2016, when Switzerland decided it had had enough – and banned her.

All her songs were about death (the Holocaust), mental illness and climate change.

Heavy metal Grandma
Heavy metal Grandma (courtesy Jacaranda FM)

Aged 94, she entered ‘Switzerland’s Got Talent’ with her band and became a national sensation. She said, “Older people have a lot to contribute to society and should not be excluded from life.”

Meanwhile, she tried to enter ‘America’s Got Talent’, but forgot her words in the televised audition, so got no further.

Parallel to her heavy metal career, Inge played in a chamber music quartet.

She claimed to have four boyfriends at the same time. “One to live, one to laugh, one for fun, one to cover the whole game with his name (sic).”

Her bandmates remembered her as a strong-minded woman – but they hatted going shopping with her. She would push to the front of the queue – “I want to pay. I don’t want to wait. If you follow lines you end up in Auschwitz.”

“But Inge, this is a supermarket, not a concentration camp.”

They said she was most proud of having survived.

In her 90s, she classed her hobbies as sex and home cooking.

In Spring 2020 she moved into a Zurich care home and immediately caught Covid-19 but survived, only to die of heart failure in 2021.

Her bandmates said she hated lockdown. “We have no doubt whatsoever that she died because of boredom, loneliness and depression.”

RIP –Refugee Inge = Popstar

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