We are about to take off on a two-week trip to Germany and The Netherlands. I’m getting pretty excited about this trip. Besides getting to see another part of Europe that I haven’t seen before, and hang out with our good friends Stan and Mel in Holland, we are going to visit the town where my mother was born and where she lived until she was 9 years old, Trier, Germany.
I have heard so many stories about Trier, what it was like to live there, and how hard and scary it was for a little Jewish girl when the Nazi’s came to power. My mother was little enough that she doesn’t remember when the Jewish children were not allowed to go to the town school anymore, and had to go to their own school, but my Aunt, who is 5 years older than my mother remembered that. My mother remembered learning to swim in the Mosel River, because Jews were no longer allowed in the public swimming pools. She remembers, most painfully, when the little girl that lived across the street was no longer allowed to play with her, because she was Jewish. And, she remembers taking a taxi in the middle of the night, across the border into Luxembourg, when her parents finally decided that they could wait no longer, and had to leave.
For my grandfather had two sisters, that lived on the family farm out in the country. It was a beautiful piece of property, and they didn’t want to give it up. They kept saying that this couldn’t go on, that it would all blow over, that they all just needed to wait things out. But neighbors were whispering to my grandfather that things were getting very dangerous, people were being taken away in the night. He sent my Aunt to America a year earlier, as he tried to convince his sisters to come with them, but it was no use. My mother, my grandmother, my great grandmother and my grandfather, all left Trier in May of 1938. By the following November Kristallnacht had taken place and soon thereafter the borders were closed, and no one could get out.
My mother remembers the letters that came to the US from Germany, from her two aunts. And she remembers when the letters stopped. They found out later that my two great Aunts died in the Theresienstadt concentration camp.
My mother has never gone back to Trier, but my aunt did once, many years ago. My mother remembers the name of the street they lived on. She thinks it was Kappelestrasse, but we can’t find any street like that on Google Maps. But she also remembers the nearby church, St. Matthias. We found the church easily so I think Lee and I will be able to go to the neighborhood directly across the railroad tracks from the church and maybe find this elusive street. Trier was bombed during the war, however, so I don’t know how lucky we will be.
My mother, understandably, still has pretty negative feelings about the Germans, but I don’t. The Nazi generation, my grandparents, is all gone. My mother’s generation was only little kids during that time. And my generation was not yet born. From a distance at least it seems to me that Germany has made a good effort to confront their past. They teach their children about the Holocaust, there are memorials and museums, and they want to be able to say with confidence “never again”.
I do feel an affinity with Germany. I am not just Jewish; I am also a German/Russian/Lithuanian Jew. There was certainly some intermarriage in my family’s past. My grandfather’s auburn hair and my mother’s hazel eyes attest to that. My grandmother was a tidy German housekeeper; my great aunts had cuckoo clocks on her walls.
But of course right now I have a fantasy Germany residing in my head. Very soon it will be superseded by the real Germany, whatever that might be. I wonder what it will be like? I can’t wait to find out!