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November 16, 1990 - Image 113

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

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

THE JEWISH NEWS

27676 Franklin Rd.
Southfield, MI 48034

and fifth generations of our
family to sit in this garden
— would likely have been
born.
Other stories were not so
amusing. On Kristallnacht
— the November day in 1938
when the Nazis destroyed
Jewish businesses and
rounded up Jews across
Germany — my grandfather
had been studying in a law
library in downtown
Frankfurt. Nazi soldiers en-
tered the library and asked if
any Jews were there. My
grandfather said, yes, he
was a Jew. The soldiers
kicked him down several
flights of steps. He was so
severely injured that he be-
came legally blind.
On another day the Nazis
came to my grandfather's
house — by then my mother
and uncle already had been
sent away from Germany by
their parents —and arrested
him for the crime of being a
Jew. They put him on a train
that was to take him to a
concentration camp. One of
the Nazi guards on the train
turned out to be a former cli-
ent of my grandfather. He
allowed my grandfather to
escape. Soon after, he and
my grandmother departed
for the United States. But
my grandfather's mother
did not leave. She died in the
Theresienstadt concentra-
tion camp.
Those who came back to
Frankfurt have lived with
such memories for decades,
and for many, Frankfurt is a
reminder of days they would
rather forget. So when they
sat together in the grand old
Frankfurter Hof Hotel,
where the city lodged them,
to reminisce about their
days in this city when they
were growing up, they tried
to avoid the horrible and
concentrate on the pleasant.
They talked of old friends
and teachers, of ice skating
in the Palmen Garten park,
of going to the opera and
visiting Rumplemeyer's
Cafe for sweets.
Many of the guests believe
the Germans invited them
back to help assuage their
guilt over the horrendous
deeds of the past. Others see
the program as a bridge to
help bring together people
separated by a war, a Holo-
caust, by unimaginable
atrocities.

"They say they want to
bring Jews and Christians
together," said Margot
Mayer. "But they also feel
guilty."
A group of Frankfurt
teachers taped interviews
with many of the former res-
idents so they could tell
their students the truth
about what their country did
to the Jews 50 and 60 years
ago. A few of the. returning
visitors travelled to schools
to talk personally with stu-
dents.
The city spent $360,000 to
fly the former residents and
their spouses back to
Frankfurt, to lodge them in
its most luxurious old hotel,
to provide expense money
and to offer an array of cul-

They talked of old
friends, teachers.

tural, civic and religious ac-
tivities during the two-week
stay.
Particularly moving for
many of the guests was a
visit to an ancient Jewish
synagogue and cemetery in
the nearby town of Worms.
In greeting the former res-
idents back to the city, a
city once brimming with a
vibrant and esteemed Jew-
ish community, Lord Mayor
Volker Hauff said it was
Frankfurt's great loss that
so few Jews live there today.
To a person, the Jewish
guests praised Frankfurt for
its gracious hospitality and
for the program of events it
had sponsored for them. Yet
the poisoned feelings many
of them still hold could not
be easily erased.
"I grew up here, I went to
school here, and no one's
left," said Curt Levi of
Pittsburgh. "The city has
arranged everything very
well for us, and handled it
tastefully, but Frankfurt
means nothing to me
anymore."
"They've really gone all
out for us," one returning
guest, who asked that his
name not be used, said of the
city's efforts on their behalf.
"The younger generation is
trying to make up for what
the older ones did. But
where are they? Where are
the old Nazis? Where are the
80-year-olds living her?"
That was a question many
others asked during their

stay. The streets were filled
with young people, but few
of the guests saw older
Germans. Two who did were
Paul Wolf and his sister.
Most of those who re-
turned to Frankfurt — many
Jews feel such bitterness
they never will set foot on
German soil — said that al-
though painful memories
were reawakened, the visit
was worthwhile.
"No, we don't regret that
we came back," Wolf said.
"We feel that there is hope.
We will go back with a bet-
ter feeling than we had be-
fore. We had been afraid
what would happen when
the two Germanies became
together a powerful nation.
But we talked to young peo-
ple and were encouraged."
And, using words that
summed up the feelings of
many of his colleagues and
Jews across the world, Wolf
said, "We feel one should
forgive but not forget."
Peter, Melissa, Henrietta
and I were driving in the
Taunus mountains outside
Frankfurt.
When Peter and my moth-
er were children, they rode
streetcar No. 24 from
Frankfurt to the foot of the
mountains and hiked up the
highest peak, Grosser
Feldberg. On this day we
reached the summit by car.
Peter used to spend the
night with his classmates in
a small building owned by
his school, the Goethe Gym-
nasium, during overnight
excursions to the Taunus
mountains. We decided to
see if we could find if the
school boys' lodge still
stood. Driving along coun-
try backroads, fueled by
Peter's instincts — dormant
for 60 years — and a little bit
of luck, we somehow came
upon the building. Peter was
delighted and told us more
stories — how he fell from a
hay wagon and lost two
teeth, etc., etc. And I was
delighted to have touched
another little piece of my
family's past.
"I went through a period
when my nostalgia for
Frankfurt was great," Peter
told us later. "I would
dream about Frankfurt, but
I don't anymore."
For me, now, the dreams
— of a mother's childhood
and a people's heroic suffer-
ing — were about to begin. ❑

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THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

113

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