You were just 9 when you were forced to flee Germany. Now, at 86, you are one of the few people in this world who can both remember the events during your childhood past and still describe them in great detail. You have been telling me stories
all my life about your home, your family, and these brutal, turbulent times, and I’ve listened and read your book
with mixed emotions. Sadness for the fear and suffering you had to endure at such a young age. Horror that such atrocities could have been allowed to take place. But awe for how resilient you and your family were and how much love was present throughout. Since I moved to Geneva, less than 200 miles from your birthplace, you have been reminding me to visit Kenzingen, to better understand your past and the roots of my German citizenship. And finally, last weekend, I did. I am now left with many thoughts and emotions, and though it may take me the rest of my life to process them, I will try to describe them for you.
Our hosts and tour guides, some of them your friends and relatives and some who have never met you, were wonderful. They arranged a deeply moving experience that has affected me beyond anything I could have imagined. It is actually hard to believe how generous these people were to us, most having never met us before, but I think it really comes down to how much love and respect they have for you, and how important they feel it is that your story is not forgotten. While of course I wish you had been there with us, it was also very touching to hear the way that everybody spoke about you and your family, and to really understand how much the past, and knowing you and your journey, has affected them.
We covered a lot of ground over the two days, beginning with a birthday party for Zadie’s 90th, with a linzer torte in honor of you. A fitting beginning to a weekend that was meant to give us a well-rounded perspective on what your life might have been like, both the good and the bad, along with some insight into how to reconcile these events now. I found myself very conflicted between marveling at how idyllic Kenzingen and Freiberg and their surroundings are, and wanting to gush about what beautiful towns they are to visit and live in, but at the same time, constantly interrupted by the thought that you and your family did live here, and your homes were taken away and your lives threatened. Imagining you here as a little girl – standing in your little red riding hood costume on the cobbled streets, walking from your home to school each day, climbing the hills with your Opa, accompanying your father to sell his goods at the Christmas market where he made you your own little stand so you could sell too – facing increasing ostracism from your friends and neighbors, and seeing the gold stolpersteines (stumbling blocks)
and graves with the names and fates of your (our) family has given your stories a new dimension, so vivid, and so painful. It’s also hit me that the fact that you were actually there, experienced these things, and are still here to tell us and the world about them means that such little time has really passed since these horrors took place.
We were fortunate to visit while there was an exhibit going on in the Augustinermuseum
inFreiberg about Freiberg’s role as the perpetrator in the holocaust. The museum invited us to view it as their guests, free of charge, and Rosita, a teacher at your old school, guided us through. Rosita had helped to put it all together, so although it was written mostly in German, having her there to personally explain the stories and history in detail created a very powerful and deeply emotional experience. For example, there was a model that had been built of the city in 1934, as a future vision for Freiberg, and in the new model the synagogue had disappeared. Already! Walking around the city, full of happy tourists and little kids tugging boats along the canals, and then seeing the pictures of Freiberg during Nazi Germany…the same city but with swastikas flying and uniforms marching everywhere, was also very startling. I can understand much more now how difficult it must be to visit Germany, and some of the emotions that must come up. But also, how careful we need to be not to let this happen again – it’s terrifying how many of the same sentiments and tactics we’ve seen play out recently around the world.
Another thing that really struck me was how truly incredible it is that you and your parents were able to come to the US, still dealing with the consequences and impressions of the war, and by sheer determination and hard work, build another life for yourself and (with Zadie) create such a beautiful, warm, loving family – our family! I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to understand to a deeper extent what that actually entailed. Thank you for helping to set up such a moving weekend – I feel very lucky that we were able to get a deeper window into your life and the way that you’ve touched so many people’s lives, and the amazing work that you’ve done to make sure that what happened is not forgotten. You are an inspiration to me, and to the world.