“IT blows me away – I have a piece of history in my hands.”

Those are the words of Geoff Latz as he reflects on the remarkable story which has unfolded over the past year – which all began with an article in the Telegraph & Argus.

Geoff, an upscaling artist from Eccleshill, is the descendant of a wealthy German Jewish family who fled the Nazi regime on the eve of World War II, as antisemitism gripped the country.

He knew little about his family history, aside from the stories his father Helmut Edmund or ‘Eddie’ as he was known, told him.

But the mystery began to be solved last September, unearthing the story of his family and reuniting him with a precious book, presumed to have been seized by the Nazis, penned by his grandfather Benno Latz.

Last year, the library of the Free University of Berlin got in touch with the T&A after seeing a 2016 article about a piece of World War I commemoration work Geoff had created.

In it, he mentioned his grandfather by name, leading the library to get in touch after they discovered ‘Mein Deutschland’, a booklet Benno wrote in dedication to Jewish World War I soldiers.

He himself had fought in World War I and was part of the Prussian army.

Since 2012, the library has been searching its collections of disowned or looted books with a view to returning them as part of ongoing restitution work.

After several months of correspondence, the book is finally back with the Latz family – 80 years after his grandfather fled Germany for the USA.

Angela Boyce, Geoff’s co-artist and assistant who he has known for 40 years, speaks German and was able to translate the book into English and had copies made to pass around to Geoff’s family who, like him, knew nothing about its existence.

She said: “It had actually been written by Geoff’s grandfather in 1933-34 and dedicated to the Non-Aryan frontline soldiers, which is probably why it was confiscated.

“In the meantime, also as a result of seeing another T&A article about Geoff’s artwork, a retired doctor in Lower Saxony in Germany contacted us.

“He was doing research into the fate of Jewish doctors during World War II under the Nazi regime.

“He was able to provide much missing information about Geoff’s grandfather that his family hadn’t known. Dr Benno Latz was a top medical specialist in his field and worked at various sanatoriums before having to hand over his share in his business under Nazi rule.”

The book, which was limited to 200 volumes, is fiercely patriotic and recounts how he had been proud to fight for his country in the First World War.

In her foreword to the book, Angela, 51, says: “His patriotism is evident throughout, in fact so much so, that on first viewing it could be misinterpreted as being too nationalistic or even fascist, especially as it was written around the time that the Nazis had seized power.

“However this is not the case, as once the background story is known, that Benno Latz was himself Jewish, it becomes clear that he was proudly stating he was every bit as German as the next man, Jewish or otherwise.”

She said it had been a moving experience translating the book.

“When you think afterwards, he wouldn’t have known that a couple of years later he would have been having to leave Germany,” she said.

Speaking about the book coming to light, Geoff, 59, said: “There’s a mixture of emotions.

“In one way I feel really, really blessed that it now starts connecting the dots and I’ve actually got something real, that I can hold. Just thinking about it blows me away.

“I’ve got a piece of history in my hands.

“In another way, it breaks my heart, because I can see the same rhetoric again in this day and age.

“It’s exactly the same with all that’s going on. In the First World War, we heard this, we’ve not learnt anything in the Second World War and here in 2018, we’re still not learning.”

He added that he felt “incredibly honoured” that his artwork had prompted the book’s unearthing.

Much of Geoff’s grandfather’s personal belongings – from pieces of art including a Gainsborough and a Canaletto to furniture, bronzes, marbles and valuable collections of old books – were confiscated before he left Germany in 1938.

It is not clear if this might have been part of a deal for him to escape the country.


Benno’s first wife died before he fled Germany, and his life in the USA saw him marry an American woman and become a naturalised citizen in 1944.

His children were scattered across the world and Geoff’s late father, Helmut, spoke of how he had managed to escape in around 1938, on one of the last trains before the borders were closed, where he was pulled on board by what he described as an “angel”.

While in his later life Helmut was able to meet some of his family, he never saw his own father again. In England, arriving with very few possessions, he was interned in a camp in Tadcaster and worked as a farmer, the job he held in Germany, before meeting his future wife Margaret in Huddersfield and starting a family.

The information that has come to light has been like gold dust for Geoff and his family, slotting in the missing piece of a jigsaw puzzle.

He said: “It’s all those years and years of hungering to know the truth, and why, has brought closure.

“I think in some ways it will never be fully closed because there will always be something else to discover, I’m sure of that. I’m sure there’s more to come yet, but as for now, I feel I’m at peace with it.

“And as long as it can do some good, if it’s a story that can help do a little bit of good for other people. My prayer is that, generations to come don’t have to suffer this.”