Some stories need to be told. Now is the time.
We got to Frankfurt, Germany on June 14th in the morning, rented a van, and picked up our guide, Gabriela Schlick. She is one of the 7,000 Jewish people counted in Frankfurt today. Before the war there were 400,000. Walter’s mother, Erna, and the Strauss family were among them. She, 24 years old, and her immediate family emigrated from Germany to the United States by the end of 1938. Her father, Samuel Strauss died before the war in 1929 and we wanted to locate his grave. We were not successful. Gabriela and her Israeli husband conducted a search before our arrival and could not find his grave. Many stones were piled against the wall and were too heavy to lift to read the inscriptions on the stones underneath.
We went to the old Jewish cemetery which has walls that have become a Holocaust memorial. There are bronze tiles on the wall with names of those who were deported with dates and destinations where they were murdered.
We went to Roedelheim and saw where the family shoe store used to be. It is now a VW dealership. We saw a sign in the neighborhood that said, “Racism in this community will not be tolerated.” I wish I had the presence of mind to photograph it. It is now a largely Turkish community. We also went to the last address of Erna’s family residence.
Frankfurt has a beautiful old city square. There is a bronze disc memorial where books were burned with a quotation by Heinrich Heine that said that after the burning of books will come the burning of flesh. The quotation is dated 1820.
Our next stop was Cologne where we met the Gloeckner family, AnnaGret, Wolfgang and their daughter Anna Viola.
Wolfgang’s grandmother owned a butcher shop in Kirburg where the Elias family has deep roots. In the 1930’s, my Uncle Eugene sold cattle to the Gloeckners. After the sudden death of Wolfgang’s grandfather, leaving 5 children to take care of, it was Eugene who helped out by teaching the butchering business to Wolfgang’s grandmother. By this time it was forbidden in Germany for Jews to have businesses. So Eugene sold cattle to Mrs. Gloeckner in secret. However one day he was discovered. A mob gathered in front of her home across the street from the butcher shop and yelled for my Uncle’s head. In a very brave act, the Grandmother confronted the crowd asking “Which one of you is demanding Eugene’s head?” The question broke up the mob mentality and the crowd dissipated, probably saving Eugene’s life.
Several years later Eugene immigrated to the States and was drafted into the US Army as a medic. After the war ended he was sent to Germany as an intelligence officer and he visited the woman who had saved his life. She told him that her son had been drafted into the German army, captured by the Americans, and was in a POW camp. Eugene immediately wrote a letter to the camp commander explaining how this was not a Nazi family and reported the circumstances behind his being saved by them. Shortly thereafter, her son was released and was able to join the family again. Quid pro quo. Now it is 70 years later and we are visiting with the grandchildren and great grandchildren of this heroic woman.
The ties between the Gloeckner and Elias families are strong and palpable. We were greeted with great hospitality. Wolfgang, a lawyer for the Cologne Cathedral, gave us an insiders’ tour. His devotion to this place added to our appreciation of the grandness of the cathedral.
He later took us to a local synagogue with very tight security. We had to hand our passports to a young Russian congregant who was a volunteer security guard that day, Shabbat. Police were across the street. He gave us a very nice tour. Then Wolfgang took us to the Jewish neighborhood where we saw many “Stolpersteine”.
Then to the Gloeckner home for Annagret’s rouladen (the best we’ve ever tasted).
It was in reading the Elias “Stammbuch” that I discovered that my Grandfather Isidore had five siblings, Moritz, Billa (Betty), Setty, Amalia and a child who died in childbirth. Betty married Adolf Kahn and Setty married Eugene Loewenberg. Moritz’s history is unknown. I believe they all died in the Holocaust. Billa and Adolf had a daughter Irma who married Emil Gottschalk and had an 8 year old son Ernst.
Apparently they were all murdered near Minsk according to testimony at Yad Vashem. I never knew any of this history which was never discussed in my family. This has spurred me on to further genealogical research both on the Elias family as well as my Grandmother Paula’s siblings and ancestors.
The next day, June 16, we were treated royally, accompanied by a large Gloeckner entourage wherever we went, to the original Elias family home in Kirburg,
and to the family home in Hachenburg where my family moved when my father was just an infant.
As we entered the picture book beautiful main square of Hachenburg, we were greeted by the mayor, Peter Klockner, Johannes Kempf, co-author of the Zachor Book of Remembrance of Hachenburg Jews and a judge, and an archivist, Volcker Ecker who presented us with a bound family history of the Elias’ as well as a personal copy of the Zachor book.
We all went to the Jewish cemetery where we said Kaddish at the graves of my great, great grandfather Isaac and his wife Frommet.
We also found the grave of my uncle Julius who died at age 4. All of this had been orchestrated by the Gloeckners. In Hachenburg we visited the elementary school my father and his brother attended. We saw the site of the synagogue (now a dress shop),
a small memorial to the Jews of Hachenburg, and the Judengasse (Jewish street).
That night, our family, Ralph, Alice, Jessica, Zach, Ruth and Walter stayed in the hotel in the main square in Hachenburg.
It seemed like we had known the Gloeckners forever, the affection was so great. Now it was their daughter Anna Viola’s turn to host us and so we moved on to Koblenz where the Rhine and Mosel rivers meet.
My father often talked of Koblenz so we must have re-traced some of his steps as we toured the city.
Recently we found an audiotape made by my father in the early 1980’s in which he discusses his childhood and young adulthood in Hachenburg, Dietz (high school), and then Frankfurt. He left home at age 14 to go to a boarding school. He also discusses the hardships the family faced during WWI when his father was drafted and sent to fight in Rumania leaving my grandmother Paula without income raising two young boys. Very difficult times. I also found out that my father left Germany in 1937 sponsored by his mother’s older brother Herman Moses (he changed his name to Moser in the US) who had immigrated before WWII. My father worked in Herman’s restaurant among other jobs and saved up enough to sponsor my mother, her siblings, my paternal and maternal grandmother, my uncle Gene and my grandfather. As I mentioned earlier, some members of the family (siblings of Isidor and Paula) did not get out and died in the Holocaust. I am anxious to know more, having seen tidbits of information in the Zachor book. A German researcher is currently helping me research this history.