It’s no secret that there has been a large increase in antisemitic incidents across Europe in recent years. No one I’m sure missed the events in France last month, where in addition to the murder of eleven employees of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo (and a Muslim policeman outside the office building), a different terrorist two days later murdered four people in a Kosher supermarket on the outskirts of Paris. You probably also heard about the murder of five (originally it was reported as four, but one victim later died of their wounds) people in the Jewish Museum in Brussels, Belgium in May of last year. The terrorist believed to have carried out that attack was later caught in France, having French and Algerian citizenship, and having fought in Syria for ISIS before returning to France in 2013. If convicted he would be the first European to have gone to fight for ISIS and then to have returned to Europe to carry out an attack. You may, however, have not noticed an event that happened last summer in a city called Wuppertal, Germany. Last August, three men, whose roots are Palestinian, firebombed the Bergische Synagogue in Wuppertal. The synagogue was originally burnt to the ground by Nazis during Kristallnacht in 1938, and had been rebuilt only in 2002. The synagogue did not burn to the ground this time, luckily, which is probably why the story did not receive a tremendous amount of mainstream coverage. The court proceedings were recently held, and the three men were found guilty of arson, but amazingly the court declared it was not an antisemitic act (presumably such a declaration would have been similar to the US hate crime designation which would have increased the punishment). The terrorists were given suspended sentences and ordered to carry out 200 hours of community service. I wonder if after the original synagogue was burnt to the ground, the courts then also gave a slap on the wrist to the perpetrators? Maybe they didn’t punish them at all in 1938, so this is I guess an improvement? It’s incredibly scary that terrorists can throw molotov cocktails at a Jewish house of worship, and it’s not considered a hate crime. If things continue to deteriorate in Germany in particular, and Europe generally, this moment might be looked back upon as a turning point where hate crimes were justified and allowed to happen without serious punishment. Certainly the next terrorists in Germany who are thinking about attacking a synagogue will decide the risk is low for them, since these terrorists only got community service as punishment. So what does all this have to do with a house? and genealogy? I don’t hear about Wuppertal very often, so when I do it of course focuses my thoughts on my family that used to live there. My grandfather had two uncles that lived in Wuppertal. They both fled Germany as soon as they could after Kristallnacht, one making it to the US and one heading to British-Mandate Palestine. The one who made it to the US was a prolific collector of family photos, which I am grateful for in my genealogy research. One photo I came across many years ago was a photo of his house in Wuppertal: It’s hard to read the street name, at least for me. I couldn’t find the street name easily online. I thought perhaps the name had changed over time. I then remembered that years ago I found an old map of Wuppertal (then called Elberfeld-Barmen) which had a list of streets: I found the map years ago, and have long forgotten where I found it, but had kept it with a folder of historic maps that I keep on towns where I had family. Taking a look at the street list, I came across Katernberger Strasse, in squares D1 and D2 on the map. Remember using grid squares to find locations on maps? People who have only known Google Maps and other electronic options, probably have never had to use grid coordinates on a map to find the street they want. In any case, armed with the name I did a search on, of course, Google Maps, and found the following: Seems to be a match. Note that there are what look like light-rail tracks running down the street in the photo from the 1930s, while the current photo shows no tracks. Interestingly Wuppertal is famous for having the world’s oldest operating monorail, the Wuppertal Suspension Railway, which started operating in 1901. In any case, the building now seems to be a restaurant. From what I can find online the photo from Google isn’t current, because that particular restaurant is no longer there. I wonder what the history of that building has been since my family fled Germany. Who was it sold to when my family left? Who lived in it since then? When did it become a restaurant? Did the various residents of the building know that a Jewish family once lived there? Is there still evidence in the building of things like outlines of mezuzahs in some of the door frames?
Two weeks ago, my grandfather passed away. I’ve mentioned him before on this blog in my post Friends from Antwerp – and is that a famous Yiddish poet?. Although we lived in the same city for only a few years we were very close and I spoke to him every week. As I flew to the US to attend his funeral, I wrote the following. It is exactly my thoughts as I sat in the airplane heading to say goodbye to my grandfather.
Almost exactly 34 years ago my grandmother passed away. As a young child I didn’t fully comprehend what that meant. It was traumatic for me at the time, not understanding death, but moreover it was the intense sadness in my father that I think affected me. I didn’t get to know her well, although I have fleeting memories of her, more emotion than memory.
Yesterday, my grandparents were finally reunited. At 98 my grandfather lived what by any standard is a long and full life. Having had the intervening years with my grandfather, of course I knew him considerably better than I did my grandmother. After college I lived in the same city as him for several years, and although I now live in a different country, he was always one of the people I made sure to visit when I was in town.
My grandfather had a special connection to my oldest child, now the age I was when my grandmother passed away. It’s not the same, a great-grandparent compared to a grandparent, of course. She didn’t know him like she knows my parents, or my wife’s parents, but I like to think she knew he had a special place in his heart for her. We called him every week, and while he was happy to speak to my wife and I, he always seemed to light up when he spoke to his ‘little princess’. My younger children will likely not remember my grandfather, but I like to think my oldest will in some way remember him, more perhaps than the fleeting memories I have of my grandmother.
Technology will help in some regard there, as I’ve been able to document the connection between them, with photos and videos that I’ve shot over the years. In some respect, my interest in photography and videography comes from my grandfather. Just like he lugged a camera loaded with Kodachrome and either a 16mm or an 8mm film camera around with him, I am usually not without similar, if a bit more modern, equipment. Just as he recorded moments from the 1940s through the 1970s, illustrating the youth and vibrancy of my grandparents and extended family, so I hope my own recordings more than half a century later will help my children and grandchildren understand what our lives were like, and the connections we shared between family.
So to my grandfather, Yaakov Mordechai ben Moshe Tzvi, and my grandmother Lipka bat Chaim, now united once more, I offer the old Jewish prayer – may your names be remembered as blessings.
My grandfather was born in Vienna, Austria during World War I. His family had fled their homes in Galicia, then a region of Austria, and fled to the capital city to avoid the invading Russian army. His brothers, one born before him in 1911, and one after him in 1921, were both born in the Galician town of Rzeszow, known in Yiddish as Reisha. In 1927 the family moved to Antwerp, Belgium, seeking a better life and perhaps more stable situation. As I’ve written about before, Antwerp and Belgium in general received many many Jewish immigrants during the interwar years, among them my family (my grandfather’s future wife also made her way around the same time to Antwerp from Rzeszow). In 1927 my grandfather was of course 12 years old, and he lived in Antwerp until 1940, when he was 25. Those were, no doubt, formative years for him. I know many stories about his time there, and have found documents hinting at others in the Police des Étrangers files I’ve found. I know just a couple of years after he arrived, after his father died, he ran a watch shop near the docks of the Antwerp port, helping support his family even though he was only 14 at the time. I know he used his US citizenship to travel to Nazi Germany in the 1930s and helped younger cousins get out of the country, as the Germans still respected a US passport (they probably hoped the US would side with them in the upcoming war). One thing I don’t really know about, however, is what kind of social life he had. Some years ago he told me he bumped into an elementary school classmate of his from Belgium in New York, and he had recognized my grandfather even all those years later. He later sent my grandfather a class photo showing both of them. When researching family we sometimes forget that our relatives spent much of their time, especially when they were teenagers and young adults, with their friends instead of their family. It’s part of what defined them and made them who they were. In this light, some recent photographs I discovered at my grandfather’s apartment are particularly interesting. I have no idea who anyone in the photos are other than my grandfather. If you had relatives born during WWI and who lived in Antwerp in the 1930s, perhaps they’re among the people in these photos.
Know anyone in these photos?
Concerning the last photo, it raises an interesting question. Do you you think the man on the top right looks like Itzik Manger, the famous Yiddish poet? Here’s a side by side, showing a close-up of the above person, and a photo of Itzik Manger from the YIVO Encyclopedia:
I’m not an expert on Yiddish poets, and would never have thought of it, except in researching a distant cousin Golda I discovered she had once been married to (and divorced from) this famous poet from Romania. I never knew if this cousin even knew my grandfather, but if this Itzik Manger, perhaps this is evidence. Therefore is it possible that the woman he’s got his arm on is Golda, my grandfather’s cousin? or one of the other women in the photo? Here’s a picture of Golda:
So what do you think? Is that Itzik Manger? Is that my grandfather’s cousin with him on the beach, possibly in Knokke, a favorite vacation spot? The picture of Golda is obviously of an older woman than in the photo on the beach, but that makes sense sine the photo of Golda was taken in 1939, when she was 35 (she was born in 1904). In the beach photo my grandfather looks like a teenager, so it could have been 1930 or shortly thereafter.
Itzik Manger survived the war and eventually moved to Israel. My grandfather’s cousin, however, likely died during the war, although I’ve found no direct evidence of that. All I know is she shows up in the first register of Jews in Belgium in 1940 after the Germans invaded, but not in the later registration done in 1942. She doesn’t show up in deportation lists, which recorded all those deported from Belgium to Auschwitz, so she either escaped Belgium or was killed. If she escaped, perhaps she changed her name and the trail was lost, or perhaps she escaped from Belgium only to be killed later in the war – certainly a possibility.
|My grandfather is sitting on the bottom right|
|My grandfather in the middle with the white shirt|
|My grandfather isn’t in this photo, but it was together with the others|
|My grandfather is on the right. The man on the left was his friend.|
|Is this Baden in Germany? or is that booth to buy a ticket? My grandfather in on the left.|
|My grandfather sitting in the front|
|Right, Itzik Manger. Left, Maybe Manger?|
|Golda, my grandfather’s second cousin once-removed|