Suffolk Regiment, 1st Bn.
III. C. 7.
Erwin Max Rivers Rothbarth
Son of Otto K.P. and Cecile Rothbarth, husband of Myfanwy Christina Rivers of Bayswater, London.
Father of a son Tom and a daughter Kate.
Influenced by the increasing unfriendliness towards the Jewish population, in the spring of 1933 the well-to-do, German-Jewish Rothbarth family, consisting of father, mother and two sons, decides to emigrate to America. Via the ports of Rotterdam and London they take the boat to New York to build a new life.
But son Erwin Max, the then twenty-year-old economics student, chose at that moment to continue his studies at Cambridge University, and stayed behind in London.
Within two years, the intelligent but modest Erwin Max had perfect command of the English language and gradually developed into an unusually gifted student. He lectured in small circles on economic subjects and did not hesitate to defend his ideals.
He had been in England for less than three years and was not yet 23 when, in 1936, he obtained a doctorate in economics with first-class honours. Within one year, he managed to draw the attention of English scholars by winning no less than two scholarships and the famous Gladstone thought prize. One of the professors reports that Erwin Rothbarth “came as close to the concept of genius as he had never met in a doctoral student”.
In 1940, when Erwin Max was 27, he received the honourable appointment of Lecturer in Statistics at Cambridge University. In that year Erwin Max Rothbarth married Miss Myfanwy Charles, a graduate of Oxford University. A year later their son was born.
However, in this period England was also embroiled in the Second World War. As a result of one of the measures of Churchill’s government, Erwin Max has to report to one of the internment camps, to prove that as a former German citizen he has no sympathies with the German Nazi regime. After spending several months behind the barbed wire, he is released on word of honour and thanks to the influence of powerful connections.
Erwin Max actually wants to go back to work at the university as a lecturer, but the months spent in the internment camp have changed him. He wants to actively participate in the fight against the Nazis and their ideology and do something in return for the hospitality of his second fatherland.
When, in 1943, England opened up its army to people of German nationality, Erwin Max volunteered. After several months of hard training he was assigned as a “private” to the first battalion of the Suffolk Regiment. At the same time he renounced his German and Jewish sounding surname; in his military pocketbook the name E.M. Rivers appeared. This sensible measure might prevent difficulties should he fall into German hands.
In June 1944 the Suffolks land on the beaches of Normandy, fight in the streets of Caen and arrive via Belgium at the Battle of Overloon. It is 12 October 1944 when Erwin Max Rivers is in the woods near “het Vlak” in Overloon. In the afternoon the Suffolks advance to Overloon, via the Baansestraat. They conquer by house-to-house fighting the first farms. The Suffolks who die in this battle are buried on the Baansestraat in a temporary cemetery. Erwin Max is also there when the woods around Camp South have to be cleared.
On 21 October 1944 he wrote to his wife: “Compared to the vast majority of soldiers who are here because it is war, I have the inestimable advantage of knowing what I am fighting for. For me it is not killing and suffering without meaning. “It was worth fighting to give humanity another chance to solve its problems, even if one has no exaggerated expectations of what humanity will make of it.”
After the Battle of Overloon, the remaining Suffolks get some weeks of rest near Oostrum, after which they are deployed again to purify the castle of Geijsteren. This castle is occupied by 60 German soldiers, of which 40 are young and fanatical officer-cadets.
On November 25, 1944 the Suffolks attack the castle. After a tremendous opening artillery barrage, D Company, including Erwin Max, was given the command to advance.
Erwin Max Rivers is here in company with Norman Jepps, described earlier. (Overloon War Chronicles – Posts | Facebook).
Erwin Max wields the Piat, an anti-tank weapon, and about 200 metres before the first target, accurate machine gun fire breaks loose from the positions of the entrenched Germans. In addition, the Germans took the whole sector under fire with cannons and mortars.
Foot for foot, crawling on all fours, the Suffolks try to advance through the orchards, the high water towards the drive. They tried to get closer and closer through the abandoned one-man holes.
Erwin Max is in a forward position and fires all his Piat grenades at the German positions and he manages to knock out one of the German machine gun nests.
At that moment he was wounded by enemy fire. Without any cover, while the bullets were rushing past him, he bandaged his wounds. Then suddenly his neighbour, who was operating a 2 cm mortar, was also wounded. Erwin Max, who could do nothing more with his empty weapon, crawled to his wounded comrade, helped him to dress and took over the 2 cm mortar. Just then Erwin Max Rivers was fatally hit and died on the spot.
Two minutes later the battalion is taken back by the English battalion leaders, the losses are too great. The same day the bodies of Norman Jepps and Erwin Max Rivers are brought to Overloon and buried on the temporary cemetery at the Baansestraat with Th. J. Janssen, near the farm they liberated 6 weeks before.
Exactly two months later his second child was born in London, this time a daughter.
The news of the death of Erwin Max Rivers not only touched the family, but also English university circles. In Cambridge, the flag flew at half mast and many a newspaper devoted an article to the memory of this gifted young man.
Quote from “Ons Eigen Erf” 1948 by Harry van Loon
“When you, reader, visit the British Cemetery at the Vierlingsbeekseweg in Overloon again and you are standing in front of the big cross, you will see on your left in the section next to this cross, a grave that distinguishes itself from all other graves. This grave lacks a cross but instead you will find a star, the five pointed Star of David, the sign that a Jewish soldier lies buried here. On this star you can read: 14441856 Pte. Rivers, E.M., 1 Suffolk, k.a. 25.11.44. This means: Private Rivers, Erwin Max, 1st Battalion The Suffolk Regiment, killed 25-11-44.
In reality, here lies Erwin Max Rothbarth, a young German of Jewish descent, who fought as a volunteer with the British and died for a great ideal.”
Article from “Ons Eigen Erf” 1948, written by Harry van Loon (alias Harry van Daal).
More on the life of Erwin Max Rothbarth can be read in an article published in Journal of Post Keynesian Economics by Ludo Cuyvers, University of Antwerp: Erwin Rothbarth’s Life and Work
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t.n.v. Stichting Overloon War Chronicles