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November 16, 1990 - Image 112

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1990-11-16

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

FOCUS

LOUIS BERNEY

Special to. The Jewish News

rankfurt, West Ger-
many — In a garden
behind the handsome
old house at No. 10 Feldberg
Strasse, I immediately dis-
covered fragrant beds of lilies-
of-the-valley. I should have
guessed that they would be
there.
When I was a boy, living
in Mount Washington, the
lilies-of-the-valley around
our house were a delightful
harbinger of spring. They
had always been my moth-
er's favorite flower. And at
No. 10 Feldberg Strasse —
the house in Frankfurt
where my mother grew up
more than 60 years ago, I
could finally see — and smell
— why.
This was my first trip to
Frankfurt, the hometown
my mother had fled when
the drum beats of Hitler's
hatred began to echo across
Germany in the early 1930's.
For me it was something of a
pilgrimage, a chance to

F

Standing in front of the Frankfurt house in which he spend part of his
life, Peter Hochschild, left, points out a remembered landmark to his
nephew, writer Louis Berney.

cousins — in the death
camps.
Now they were back in
their native city — many for
the first time since the
1930's — a city full of bitter
and traumatic memories.
They were the honored
guests of Frankfurt for two
weeks. Like several other
West German cities,
Frankfurt invites back
groups of former citizens
each year who had been
forced to leave in the pre-
war days because of religious
and political persecution and
the threat of almost certain
death.
In this group of 135 (each
guest could bring along a
close relative —usually a
spouse or daughter) was my
uncle, Peter Hochschild,
who spent his boyhood days
in Frankfurt.
Though now a resident of
St. Louis, Peter first lived hi
Baltimore when he arrived
in the United States from
Frankfurt in 1934. I had de-
cided to join him and his
wife, Henrietta Hochschild,
during four days of their two

Frankfurt Revisited:
A Bittersweet Encounter

The city of
Frankfurt
gave former
Jewish
residents an
all-expense-
paid trip to
the place from
which they
had fled or
were driven by
the Nazis.

112

FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 16, 1990

glimpse unread pages of my
family's history, to fit
mysteries of the past into
the chapters of life that I al-
ready knew.
But for a noble group of
older visitors in Frankfurt
while I was there, the pil-
grimage was much less
abstract, much more palpa-
ble.
They were Jews who, like
my mother, had lived in
Frankfurt as children or
young adults but had es-
caped more than half a cen-
tury ago when the Nazis
were launching their cam-
paign to rid the world of its
Jewish population. They had
spread across the globe — to
the United States, to Israel,
to South America, to west-
ern Europe, to South Africa.
Some had spent time in con-
centration camps before
leaving Germany. Virtually
all had lost close relatives —
parents, siblings, grand-
parents, aunts, uncles,

week stay in Frankfurt.
Peter would be my guide to
my family's past. And to
complete the link between
past and future, I brought
along my 13-year-old daugh-
ter, Melissa.
Most of Frankfurt was de-
stroyed by Allied bombing
during the war. Today's city
was almost unrecognizable
to the returning visitors who
had not seen it for over five
decades. It is a modern me-
tropolis of silvery glass and
steel skyscrapers, sleek and
punctual subway trains,
state-of-the-art electronics
shops, a homestead for the
younger generation of Ger-
mans, not the old.
"Everything is gone,"
said Melanie Birnhak of
Passaic, N.J. "It doesn't feel
the same here. It was a
strange feeling, coming
back. I didn't know whether
I had come to Frankfurt or
to Tel Aviv. They look the
same way."

Among my uncle's group,
most of the returning visi-
tors had discovered that
their old homes no longer ex-
isted.
But the old West End, the
pleasant, tree-lined neigh-
borhood where my mother
and uncle had grown up,
somehow had escaped the
bombing. So had the nearby
synagogue where my uncle
had been Bar Mitzvahed.
My mother's father, a
lawyer, owned the four-story
house at No. 10 Feldberg
Strasse. Today the building,
which has bas relief doric
columns and a black iron
grille balcony on the front fa-
cade, has been converted
into nine apartment units,
an Italian restaurant, and
the offices of a market re-
search firm.
The bedroom of my moth-
er — who lived for 25 years
in Baltimore but today re-
sides in Colorado — is a
large storeroom where files
are kept. The other first-
floor rooms are offices. So is
an old veranda in the back of
the house, under which my
grandfather had a darkroom
and stored his bicycle.
We went behind the house
and sat in the garden where
the lilies-of-the-valley grow
beside lilac bushes and
across from a huge old horse
chestnut tree. Most of the
old garden has been con-
verted into a parking lot and
an outdoor cafe for the
Italian restaurant.
As we sat, my uncle told
Melissa and me old family
stories.
Our favorite was the one
about my grandfather's fa-
ther, Solomon Hochschild,
who lived briefly at No. 10
Feldberg Strasse. He had
left Germany in the 1860's
to seek his fortune in Balti-
more, shortly before his
brother, Max Hochschild,
arrived to open the old
Hochschild Kohn depart-
ment store. Solomon settled
in Baltimore and married a
native Baltimorean.
But on the day of the
wedding, or soon thereafter,
someone advised him that
his new wife was not a vir-
gin. Horrified at this
unseemly news, he had the
marriage annulled and im-
mediately sailed back to
Germany and remarried,
never to return to the Uni-
ted States again. Had he
remained in Baltimore, none
of us — Peter, Melissa, or
myself — the third, fourth

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