Second Printing
Copyright © 2020 by AMTA Legacy Partners, LLC
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means electronic or mechanical, including by photocopying, by recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the express permission of the author, except where permitted by law.
Published in the United States of America by Full Court Press, 601 Palisade Avenue, Englewood Cliffs, NJ 07632
PRINT ISBN 978-1-946989-49-9
EMAIL ISBN 978-1-946989-80-2
Library of Congress Control Number: 2020903194
Editing and book design by Barry Sheinkopf
Cover design by Barry Sheinkopf and Bob Eichinger
Author photo by Barbara Balkin
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Arielle, Jesse, Matt, and Ben
Maia, Liora, and Jacob
From the outset, I had resolved that my memoir would not be an encyclopedic family history. Nor would it be a genealogical research project replete with documentary evidence like birth certificates, death records and photos of headstones.
I am neither a historian nor a professional genealogist, and I make no pretense of being an expert on these topics. Handicapped by not having witnessed some of the events I recount, I resisted spinning a fictional tale, with detailed and vivid accounts of the actors central to the story—especially those whom I had never known.
Instead, I approached the subject from my journalistic comfort zone. This account describes my own eyewitness experience with a parent who was relentless in pursuing a stolen past. My reporting relies on what I personally remember or discovered in research, and on documents provided by, or stories I had heard from, relatives, friends and trusted sources.
When I initially met him to discuss the Leo Baeck Institute’s potential interest in a book about my family, Frank Mecklenburg encouraged me to dive into my family roots in Silesia, the birthplace of my grandfather. One would expect this counsel from LBI’s chief archivist. But despite my reluctance to step too deeply into the quicksand of genealogical research, his prompting did lead me to a research trip to Cieszyn, Poland. Thankfully I discovered Jacek Proszyk, Ph.D., one of the foremost scholars on the former Jewish community, who located the documentation on my grandfather’s childhood.
The earliest part of my family lore is based on the work of two collaborators I mention in the narrative. Yoram Grinspan, my second cousin in Israel, has reconstructed an expansive family tree that opened the window to our common familial relationships linked to our respective Sandler-surnamed grandmothers—Helene, my father’s mother, and her sister Paula. Yoram was the source of the revealing letters my grandparents sent to relatives who resettled in pre-state Israel. My second cousin Peter Weil of Chicago, grandson of Wilhelm, another sibling of my grandmother, has published his own memoir of the Weil-Sandler family. I am grateful to Yoram and Peter for their diligent review of my manuscript.
The history of the small Jewish community in Ilmenau, including the fate of the families who fell victim to the Nazi regime, has been documented since the reunification of Germany in 1989. I relied on previous narratives by Gerlinde Hoefert and acknowledge the help provided by Martina Arnold, the city archivist, who transcribed documents handwritten by my grandfather. I am grateful to Juliane Rauprich, Ph.D., for the friendship and support she lent by sharing archival information dug up from official Gestapo files. I appreciate the time that Heinz Geitz, prominent attorney in Ilmenau, devoted to review the manuscript section describing his success in restoring my father’s stolen inheritance.
Above all, my greatest admiration and gratitude is directed at Rainer Borsdorf. He tirelessly continues to search, and collect evidence and anecdotes about, Ilmenau’s former Jewish neighbors, at times making use of relevant vintage photographs from the collection of his collaborator Berndt Frankenberger. I look forward to assist and promote Rainer’s personal commitment to remembrance, coupled with his advocacy of democratic ideals.
I am blessed with friendships that evolved from the bonds of our parents’ generation, and grateful to have my fading memory of childhood refreshed by friends like Roni Benjamin, Aliza Erber, and Gabi Barziv.
My sister Tammy Kallman and I are committed to perpetuate the lessons drawn from our father’s life. She and I are united in our mission to immediately confront words of hate or bigotry directed at any group of people.
I thank my daughter, Arielle Gronner, and my niece, Kate McGuire, for the time and attention they dedicated to reviewing the manuscript to improve clarity, and narrative style. Special thanks go to Barry Sheinkopf, my editor and publisher, for his keen eyes and sharp blue pencil, ushering my manuscript into a compelling final product.
Although my parents are now gone, I cannot escape the fact that their story would have faded into oblivion, and the associated documents and photos relegated to the waste basket, had not my son Jesse asked me to visit his grandfather’s birthplace, and had not Karen, my life partner, been insistent that I clear out the carton of memorabilia in our bedroom closet. It is because of them that this book exists.
Author’s Note
“I begin with the young. We older ones are used up. We are rotten to the marrow. But my magnificent youngsters! Are there any finer ones in the world? What material! With them I can make a new world.”
—Adolf Hitler, ca. 1933
As children of Holocaust survivors, we members of the Second Generation are obliged to promptly sound an alarm at the first expression of hate toward any group on account of their faith, ethnicity, race, national origin or gender identity. Our father left us an indelible truth: Mere words laid the groundwork for what was to become the most heinous example of mankind’s inhumanity.
Contemporary students are just as vulnerable to propaganda as in Hitler’s time, but today it is being spread on digital and social media platforms. Hence, it’s imperative that I extend the reach of this work into the digital domain, beginning with an e-book version funded by sales of this book. I also want to support programs that enable students to discern what is propaganda in this digital-centered age.
Lastly, for digital preservation, I am donating my source materials to the Leo Baeck Institute, the world’s premier archive of the history and culture of German Jewry.
Table of Contents
1: Fleeting Frontiers
2: Family Enterprise
3: Inspiration to Action
4: Sunshine Ahead, with Gathering Clouds
5: Leaving the Homeland
6: Haifa
7: Planning an Exit
8: Outbreak of War
9: War, Love, and Death
10: Loss and Renewal
11: My Sabra Childhood
12: Yerida
13: Becoming American
14: Finding Direction
15: America Been Berry, Berry Good to Me
16: The Tree Flourishes
17: Redirection
18: Restitution and Reclamation
19: Life Fulfilled
About the Author
The whitewashed Theodor Herzl, the new passenger liner that Zim Lines had acquired earlier in the year, stood out against the Mediterranean while docked at the harbor in Haifa. Once we boarded, glancing to the east from the ship’s upper deck, bright sunlight rising from behind Mount Carmel gleamed off the prominent golden dome of the Bahá’í Temple.
It was September 1957, just days shy of my tenth birthday. I stood aft on the ocean liner’s open deck, capturing the receding vista of Haifa and the harbor, as we embarked on what my parents had told me was a brief visit to my uncle and aunt in France, the first time I would meet “Onkel Rudy” and “Tante Lydie.” (As with many families with German-speaking roots, referred to as Jeckes, older relatives were referred to by their German titles, such as “Opa” and “Oma” for my maternal grandparents. Acquiescing to the official status of Hebrew in the new State of Israel, Jecke children like my sister, our Israeli cousin and I all called our parents “Aba” for Dad and “Ima” for Mom.)
Until then, I had only met the first cousins on my mother’s side–there were seven, only one of them a boy. So I was looking forward to my first encounter with my lone paternal first cousin, a boy with a then-exotic-sounding name of Jean-Luc, who lived in far-off Paris.
That promise of a brief overseas trip turned out to be the first in a pattern of falsehoods my father told me regarding our emigration.
The significance of this subterfuge did not really dawn on me until decades later, when I reflected on his life after he died on August 25, 2010. In retrospect, I surmised that leaving Israel, the land of my birth and the place where my parents first met, turned out to be the first step in a long-term strategic plan to eventually reclaim what my father had lost during the Holocaust. As he stood beside me aboard the departing ship in Haifa, he could not have imagined that his grandiose plan would not be realized for another 35 years.
By 1957, my father had received confirmation from the International Red Cross that his parents had been murdered during the Nazi years. I did not know this at the time, but his quixotic quest for justice was centered on recouping the material losses the family had sustained during the war and, moreover, on restoring the reputation of the once prominent Gronner family name in his native Ilmenau, a German city nestled in a valley surrounded by the wooded hills of Thuringia.
Cruising toward Marseilles, I was unaware that my parents’ intention was not merely a visit with my father’s older brother, whom he had last seen before the outbreak of war in 1939. As it turned out, rather than return to Israel, my father, then thirty seven, hatched a plot to move the family to post-war Germany in order to reclaim German citizenship—one of the first benefits the guilt-ridden West German government extended to any Jewish citizen who had survived the atrocities in the death camps or successfully fled.
Since we never talked about it, I never found out why he thought it would be advantageous to reclaim German citizenship in 1957 at the height of the Cold War, when Ilmenau was still deep inside the Soviet-dominated part of Germany behind the Iron Curtain.
Unlike West Germany, the East at the time accepted no sense of official responsibility for Nazi war crimes, blaming them exclusively on the former “Fascist” regime in the part of Germany dominated by the victorious Western allies. In fact, the post-war Soviet-controlled German Democratic Republic saw itself as a victim of the fiercely anti-Communist pre-war Hitler government. Officially, state propaganda swept aside any responsibility for the acts of Nazi officials of my father’s hometown; in fact, it was they who had incited the boycott and pogroms that preceded the so-called “Aryanization” of my grandparents’ property; they were the ones to implement the order of my grandparents’ deportation to certain death.
Whatever possessed my parents to settle in Frankfurt, it became clear to me that my mother’s family members, and close friends of my parents, had made up their minds to leave Israel and seek opportunities in America. So, in the fall of 1959, just as I turned twelve, our family joined the Jecke exodus from Israel and headed to New York. My father had taken us out of the land of milk and honey and was leading us to one where the streets were paved with gold.
After my father died, I set out to research and recount his life story. The project is highly personal, though far from unique. Literally six million stories emanated from the smoke that rose from the crematoria and the killing fields that dotted the European countryside from 1939 to 1945. And though undisputed historical facts run through most accounts of the Holocaust, my intent here is not to bear witness. After all, I wasn’t born until 1947. This is merely the story of a stubborn man whose dogged pursuit to correct the injustice visited upon him by anti-Semitism has indelibly shaped my own perspective. Having been spared the camps, he never referred to himself as a “survivor”; yet like the millions directly or indirectly affected by the terrible deeds of the Nazi regime, there is no denying the obvious.
It was inevitable that my father’s first hand experience and outlook on family, fate, religion, politics, and the human condition would come to define me as well. With that realization, I reluctantly accepted my identity as a member of the “second generation,” along with the concomitant duty of remembrance.
I am hardly alone in sharing this obligation. With the passing of that generation of survivors and first-hand eyewitnesses, the duty has passed to us post-war Baby Boomers. We, their children, cannot credibly testify to what happened in those dark years; yet we have seen the impact of the Holocaust on our survivor parents, despite their reluctance to openly address their inner regrets, pain, anger, and deep sense of loss. As I learned upon embarking on this task, it quickly became clear that few of my generation had truly explored the impact of the social convulsions visited upon their parents in their youth: dislocation, educational pursuit disrupted by war, and the loss of parents to guide their lives.
My objective here is to fill this void through the prism of my personal experience. I owe it to my American-born children and grandchildren to shed light on their heritage, and on my father’s lifelong pursuit to reclaim a stolen past.
Fleeting Frontiers
SEVERAL YEARS AGO, ANIMATED DIGITAL MAPS made the rounds on social media, condensing a thousand years of shifting European political borders into a matter of minutes. A virtual kaleidoscope of colors on the computer screen demonstrated the ephemeral nature of imaginary boundaries drawn by humans to reflect momentary victories, whether by war, subjugation or manifest destiny; possibly, these could have even have resulted from voluntary agreements to geographically divide populations by particular affinities—along tribal, familial, ethnic, religious, racial, linguistic, or political distinctions.
As proven through millennia, however, culture and heritage cannot be confined to lines on a map; inevitably the political wisdom or military might driving such decisions spawns simmering resentment, if not open conflict, among neighbors.
Live long enough, and you are likely to witness many changing frontiers over a lifetime. In the decades since my 1947 birth in Tel Aviv, I have lived through the emergence of a Jewish nation-state carved out of British Mandate Palestine, itself under English control as the spoils of the First World War against the Ottoman Turks.
In my lifetime, the disintegration of the Soviet Empire shattered the illusory “union” of the socialist “republics” that were held captive by the Moscow regime.
As noted by German novelist Peter Schneider, observing the events of 1989, “the virus of nationalism rages most fiercely in the Soviet republics, whose citizens, even women, children and the aged, are being killed simply because they belong to a different ethnic group. What does it all mean? Have we gone back to the 19th century? Have people freed themselves of Communism only to bend to the older yoke of national frenzy and race war? Or does this herald—at least in Europe—a new multicultural beginning, an ‘internationalism” from below.”1
Yet a mere twenty five years later, Vladimir Putin’s Russia had again redrawn the Eastern European map with its seizure of Crimea from Ukraine, to the consternation of the Kiev government that had ousted its corrupt pro-Russian strongman, Viktor Yanukovych.
Yugoslavia, a polyglot nation that literally defined the term “balkanization”, was ripped apart into its component parts immediately after the demise of the Tito dictatorship. Irrespective of his near three decades of ironclad control over the country, the long-suppressed ethnic, religious and linguistic rivalries, unfettered at the moment of his death in 1980, even precipitating documented genocide.
The Balkans of the 1990s were proof that the aggrieved losers never forget their perceived injustices, no matter how long their passions are smothered.
I was a mere eight months old when Israel declared its independence on May 15, 1948, triggering a coordinated military attack by the surrounding Arab armies committed to its destruction. The war (the Arabs refer to it as Nakba—the disaster) culminated in a United Nations-negotiated armistice. It established a temporary demarcation line for our national borders, placing the West Bank under Jordanian administration, and designating the twenty five-mile long Gaza Strip under Egyptian control.
By the time I reached school age, I understood that Israel was the homeland of the Jewish people. Everyone I knew was Jewish, my father recited Kiddush each Friday, and we celebrated all types of Jewish holidays, even though we never attended religious services in a synagogue. “Jewish” was seared into my essence and self-identification; as a kid, “Israeli” was an identity I was too young to understand.
When I was old enough to grasp the significance of frontiers between “the Arabs” and “us,” the distinction became palpable during a visit to relatives in Jerusalem as I peered across a barbed wire fence into the no-man’s land that divided the city’s western and eastern halves. Even though I had learned about ancient Israel, I could not intellectually understand that the Jewish holy sites in the Old City were inaccessible to Israelis. To my eight-year-old mind, the other side of the barbed wire was merely another country, different from my own. Moreover, no Jews lived there.
After the Six Day War, which broke out a decade after my family emigrated from Israel, the victorious Israelis reunited the city of Jerusalem as the nation’s capital and redrew the post-1948 armistice boundaries to enhance its defensive position. The so-called “Green Line” more or less delineates the frontier under a future peace pact with an envisioned Arab Palestinian nation. As of this writing, the “Final Status” of Jerusalem, now united (or arguably “occupied” in the eyes of Palestinians and their supporters), is still subject to debate as part of an envisioned “two-state” solution.
The stalemate to achieve lasting peace by two intractable visions held by people claiming their right to the same sliver of land remains unresolved. One side’s self-determination continues to be cast as occupation by the other, and the chasm between them remains insurmountable.
IN 1992, I JOINED MY PARENTS on a trip to Germany, where I again witnessed the impact of another man-made frontier separating people within their own land. By that time the physical separation that had locked residents of East Germany behind the so-called “Iron Curtain” had already been removed. But its vestiges were plainly evident as my father drove a rented car from Frankfurt to what had been the Communist side.
I had joined my parents at a favored resort hotel in the Taunus range of hills just north of Frankfurt. My father, an avid hiker in his youth, still enjoyed leisurely promenades once he reached his seventies, and I tagged along. The resort also had tennis courts, and I helped him practice for a tournament organized by the resort’s activities director.
With my father driving a rented car, we headed east on the miracle of post-war Germany—the vaunted Autobahn—where no speed limits were posted at the time. I sat in the front passenger seat. My mother—all four foot ten of her—dozed in the back seat, barely reaching the bottom of the window to look out at the countryside flashing by.
The paved roadway abruptly ended at a point close to the one-time frontier, where we were diverted to local rural routes. The car slowed to a crawl as my father negotiated the vehicle around cobblestone streets where numerous potholes gave the appearance of a moonscape dotted with craters left by a thousand miniature asteroids. In contrast to the contemporary, red-roofed buildings I had seen whizzing by from the passenger side window on the Autobahn, I now saw whole villages of gray, decrepit structures that had not been tended to in decades.
“Look at that,” I pointed out at one moment, seeing a small group of women lethargically wave their straw brooms over the cobblestones. Not a bit of litter was in sight, but there they were, kerchiefs covering their hair, sliding the bristles in robot-like fashion as if to demonstrate (to whom? I asked myself) that they were assiduously performing their assigned task for the State. Except the State no longer existed. Their status as street sweepers was still in limbo, the two governments still not having completed the onerous task of unifying their bureaucracies.
MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE WITH TECTONIC SHIFTS in political boundaries was only the most recent in a series that my family faced, dating back to my grandfather’s birth on January 12, 1885. Samuel Gronner, for whom I was named, was born in a Central European region called Silesia, at the time ruled as a dynastic duchy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Silesia was situated along the major trading routes between Asia and Western Europe dating back millennia. Consequently, the region had historically been a pawn in the geopolitical chess match among feudal families and their successor empires. German-speaking Prussia and Austria, the dominant powers to the West and South, and Russia to the East, had ruled the area since the defeat of an independent Polish nation a century earlier.
Although Slavs constituted the majority of Austrian Silesia, ethnic Germans held the political and economic power in the urban area known as Teschen. By the end of the nineteenth century, Teschen Silesia was the most economically developed region in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, becoming a center for textiles, in addition to wood furniture and publishing. Assimilated German-speaking Jews chose to align with the power center, which drew many Jews transplanted from neighboring Galicia, nearly doubling the Jewish population in the three decades prior to 1890.2
Jewish inhabitants in Teschen had enjoyed relative economic and religious security in comparison to those in neighboring Galicia and the Czarist-controlled eastern part of historic Poland at the time. The divergence in circumstances led to a concomitant perspective on Judaism itself, as I learned on a visit to Poland to research my grandfather’s Silesian roots. In preparation for the visit, I had engaged the services of a local expert on Jewish genealogy, Jacek Proszyk, whose doctoral thesis drew an approximate line of demarcation that distinguished the beliefs and practices of Jews living east of the Biala River, and my grandfather’s birthplace some twenty miles to the west.3
The Gronners were a product of the Jewish Enlightenment period known as the Haskalah, which was prevalent from the late 1700’s to the nineteenth century. This strain of progressive Judaism, advocated by German philosopher and intellectual Moses Mendelssohn (1726-1789), echoed the general Enlightenment and Renaissance sweeping through Western Europe. Many Jews of German-speaking Austrian Silesia, including my forebears, adopted this assimilationist German-Jewish identity, which stressed the importance of a secular education and a liberal practice of Judaism, in contrast with the religion-centered yeshivas and Hasidic culture and Yiddish language that prevailed in neighboring Galicia and eastern Europe.
My grandfather was the second of ten children born to Hermann Gronner and his wife, the former Auguste Sonnenfeld. Samuel’s birthplace was officially listed as Haslach, an agrarian village adjoining Teschen—today called Cieszyn, Poland.
On my Cieszyn trip in 2014 to meet Jacek, the researcher, I took time to explore the old town. There was scant tourist information in English from the local tourist office on the main town square. But in walking around I learned that the original Teschen had extended across the River Olza, and that the victorious Allies in the First World War had split it in half, with the west bank of the river ceded to Czechoslovakia.
On that visit I also took a short drive to the Hazlaka, as Haslach is known today. During my drive, I found only a church and adjoining school and cemetery, but saw nothing to indicate any vestige of Jewish life. A chill enveloped me as daylight waned, so I climbed back into the car and ventured into a pub I spotted, set back from the road. There I encountered several men whose garb indicated they were local farmers. “Do you speak English?” I asked. Only the youngest among them responded in the affirmative.
“I am from America,” I said. “My grandfather was born in Hazlaka in 1885, and I am trying to find out exactly where. Have you ever heard of the name Gronner?” The young man translated, but the name drew no familiarity from any of the men.
The bartender went to the back and emerged with a pamphlet. “Maybe this could help,” the young man translated for him, clearly the eldest of the bunch. I could not read Polish, but the collection of photos indicated the pamphlet had been designed to commemorate the centennial of the founding of the local church.
“My family is Jewish,” I pointed out. They all looked surprised, as if to say, “Jews? Here?” After a round of beers I thanked them for their hospitality and left. It led me to suspect that in 1885, when it was common practice, Auguste delivered Samuel with the help of a midwife who lived in Haslach.
I had made a date with Jacek Proszyk to meet at the Cieszyn office of the Polish National Archive. I was referred to him by the head archive office in Warsaw due to his reputation as a researcher of the former Jewish community in Bielsko-Biala. He has compiled a massive database of surnames of former Jewish residents from surviving Jewish cemeteries, as well as official records that escaped destruction during the Nazi occupation of Poland.
Among the records he showed me was a reproduction of a notebook cover with vertical stripes, which turned out to be the main register for the “Volksschule” (public school) in the city of Skotschau from 1894 to 1916. The listing included Samuel Gronner and his brother Immanuel, two years his junior, as registered students.
In light of what I had learned about Haskalah, it made perfect sense that Hermann and Auguste would want their children to attend the public school. For that purpose, they had settled in the town of Baumgarten, much closer to the city of Skotschau, which had a growing Jewish community that would reach three hundred by 1900.
The Skotschau school register that Jacek had unearthed disclosed that the then-nine-year-old Samuel and seven-year-old Immanuel previously had been attending the public primary school in Baumgarten, now known as Dębowiec. Their father Hermann was alternatively listed as “businessman” and “Innkeeper” in Baumgarten, some four miles to the east of Skotschau, now called Skoczów.
“Sami,” as he came to be known in the family, was for the most part an average student, with his weakest grades in religion, industriousness, mathematics and Polish language. He was ranked high in reading, writing, and science. His teacher was most impressed with his moral behavior, for which he consistently received his highest grades. Exposure to public education from a very young age set the seeds for Sami’s future civic consciousness.
Austrian Silesian Jews benefited from the turn-of-century economic activity, with many becoming merchants and bankers, and profiting from the hospitality industry. Jews were elected to municipal government. The most successful sent their children for university study in Vienna, from there entering the legal and medical professions.
The Gronner household grew crowded as seven more children were born to Hermann and Auguste: Rosa (Rose), Wilhelm, David, Margit (Margarete/Grete), Salomon (Salo), Leopold (Poldi) and Siegfried.
By the time he reached twenty-two, Samuel Gronner left Silesia and headed west to seek his fortunes in Germany.
Family Enterprise
IN LATE SUMMER 2014 I received a surprising proposal from my son. “Hey, Pops,” Jesse said on the call from Portland, Oregon. “I need to be in Spain for meetings. What if we hooked up in Germany afterward and took a trip down memory lane in Opa’s home town?”
“Are you serious?” I asked incredulously.
“Absolutely. He spoke so much about Ilmenau. I’m sorry I didn’t get a chance to go there with him, but now that he’s gone, I’d like to see it with you and experience it for myself.”
The timing was fortuitous. For at least five years, I had been mulling what to do with the contents of a dust-collecting carton on the closet floor in our guest bedroom that doubles as my office.
On an earlier visit to my parents’ home in Florida, Aba had been reluctantly consolidating the household effects that he would be unable to take to their next destination—an assisted living facility.
With a forlorn gaze, he had pointed to a foot-high stack of folders. “I no longer have use for this,” he had told me. “It’s now your legacy.”
In the intervening years, I had occasionally flipped through some of the contents in the carton—photocopies of legal documents, letters (some tattered), hand drawn family trees, photos, and assorted memorabilia from my parents’ travels to Germany. To the chagrin of my wife (who regularly hangs her freshly laundered clothes to dry in the closet) the unattended carton on the floor became a point of contention between us.
“What are you doing with this stuff? If you’re not using it, let’s just put it in our storage bin,” she complained. Evidently, she had failed to hear the plaintive calls emanating from the box, beckoning me to do something with it.
Jesse’s proposal was the catalyst to embark on the project of chronicling my father’s story, beginning with the town that loomed so large in his life.
The plan was soon set. My son and I would meet in Frankfurt on Friday night, November 7 and he would return to his family in Portland, Oregon the following Wednesday. Though brief, our visit to Ilmenau would encompass the November 9 commemoration of Kristallnacht, marking the 1938 pogrom against Germany’s Jewish population.
“Since we’ll be back in Frankfurt I’m going to extend my European stay,” I told him, explaining that I resolved to take a later flight that day to Krakow and drive to Cieszyn to see what I could find out about my grandfather’s Silesian roots. From there, I told him, I will head for the Jewish Museum in Berlin.
“Four days is a very short visit,” I cautioned my son when I outlined our itinerary. “But one person we absolutely must visit is Opa and Oma’s friend Juliane.”
Dr. Juliane Rauprich was the municipal historian my parents had gotten to know during their occasional visits to Ilmenau after German reunification.
My father described her as an extremely warm and friendly individual who openly shared information she had uncovered about Ilmenau’s former Jewish community in the Gestapo files that had been preserved in East Germany after the war. Her original research, supplemented by interviews with survivors, had been published in 1999 in a German academic journal under the title, Remembrances of the Jews from the City of Ilmenau.4
My father corresponded with her regularly and always brought back photos from their get-togethers when he and my mother visited. She was among the first people I had corresponded with following my father’s death, and I’d been in touch with her from time to time. So when I emailed her that I would be traveling to Germany with Jesse, she enthusiastically agreed to see us.
My mother was known to boast about her children and grandchildren, so when her son and grandson showed up at the modest home in Pösneck, a thirty-minute drive from Ilmenau, Juliane and her husband Wolfgang greeted us warmly, as if we had come for a family reunion.
“Why, they never told me you are as petite as my mother,” I exclaimed. “No wonder you got along so well!” Such was our immediate rapport that I felt comfortable expressing what a stranger might easily misinterpret as an insult.