At the outbreak of the war, the South African nationals Will and Marietjie Radley found themselves trapped in Germany. The Radleys had travelled to Germany in February 1939 so that Will could complete his doctoral studies at the University of Berlin. In the meantime, Marietjie had enrolled for a German language course at the same university to while away the time. The Radleys, it would seem, became caught up in ‘Hitler euphoria’, and were overly impressed by the resurgence of Germany under the National Socialists.
Completely oblivious to the gathering storm, the Radleys undertook a lengthy journey across Europe during the summer recess and returned to Berlin towards the end of August. When they heard of the nonaggression pact signed between Germany and Russia on 23 August, they didn’t make much of it – after all, to them, war seemed improbable. Upon their return to Berlin, however, events in Europe took a drastic turn.
The German invasion of Poland, and the subsequent ultimatum issued by Britain and France, took the Radleys by surprise. After the declaration of war on 3 September, they had to make a decision. Should they stay in Berlin, to allow Will to complete his studies, or return to the Union? They decided on the former, to which the German authorities agreed – on condition that they report to the police every week.