Ray (Rachel) Krasner was born in the East End of London on 17th March 1903, the only daughter of Hyman and Sophie (sometimes called Jane) Krasner. Her parents were Russian Jewish immigrants who had fled to London from the pogroms in eastern Europe at the start of the twentieth century. Her father worked as a tailor’s presser. Times were hard and Ray and her four brothers grew up in some poverty.
Despite this hardship, her parents paid not only for her regular schooling, but they also sacrificed much to enable her to have music lessons. She was a talented musician and played both the violin (her first instrument) and the saxophone.
Unusually for a young Jewish woman of her generation and social class, Ray formed a women’s jazz band and travelled to play in Europe, probably in the late 1920s. Certainly, the start of the 1930s saw her playing in the cabaret scene of Berlin. Photos from that era show her with her band “The London Jazz Girls” and also with her band “Ray Krasner’s Melodious Ladies”.
In the early 1930s, she met Jacobus Westland, a wealthy Catholic business man from Wageningen whose business interests included the arts. Jacobus and Ray fell in love and Jacobus converted to Judaism. He and Ray were married in London in 1934, subsequently returning to Wageningen.
Jacobus and Ray were active in the Dutch Resistance during the War years. They became known to the occupying German forces and so had to move from safe house to safe house in the underground movement in their struggle to avoid capture. Ray, in hiding under the name “Cornelia van de Pol”, did indeed evade capture and survived the War. Sadly, Jacobus did not and was shot by the Nazis in 1944.
After the War, Ray remained in Wageningen for a further 10 years. These years were marked by a bitter legal dispute between Ray and the Westland family regarding her inheritance from her late husband. When this was finally resolved, Ray returned to London, settling there in 1955.
By then, her years on the run and in hiding, the loss of her husband and the stress of the legal fight for her inheritance had taken its toll on her mental health. Her sleep was forever disturbed by difficult memories and neighbours would be concerned and at times, angered by her tortured nocturnal cries. By day, she was a quiet, kind, intelligent and thoughtful woman, but always intensely private, secretive and guarded. She kept with her at all times her large hand bag, packed with “necessary” papers, presumably ready for instant flight should the need arise.
She died on 10th April 1977 and was survived by her four brothers, (all of whom have since died), her niece and nephews, great nieces and great nephews. We remember her still with great affection and enormous pride.
Susan Krasner, great niece of Ray Westland-Krasner
November 2009, England.