Tag Archives: Jack Trauring

Jack Trauring US Passport 1938

When my grandfather traveled to Nazi Germany to save his family

I’ve written about my grandfather Jack Trauring a few times before. I wrote Remembering my Grandfather about my thoughts after his death, Friends from Antwerp – and is that a famous Yiddish poet? about his life in Antwerp and photographs of him there, and more recently discussed how his first name changed through various countries in Don’t get stuck inside the box. As today is Holocaust Remembrance Day, I thought I would write a story my grandfather told me about his life in Europe in the run-up to the Holocaust.

My grandfather was born in Vienna, Austria during WWI, after his family was forced to flee their hometown of Rzeszow in the Galicia region of the Austrian Empire. After the war that town would become part of Poland, and his family returned there for the early years of his life. At the age of nine, in 1925, his family moved to Antwerp, where he lived until leaving for the US in 1940. My grandfather’s life in Antwerp wasn’t easy, with his father dying just a few years after they arrived there. With his father gone, my grandfather took over his father’s watch store near the docks of Antwerp at the age of just fourteen.

Although my grandfather was born in Austria, and had subsequently up until 1940 only lived in Poland and Belgium, he had something that almost certainly saved his life (and the lives of others, see below), a US Passport. His US citizenship came from the fact that his father had been born in New York. In 1884, my grandfather’s grandfather, Isaac Trauring, moved with his family to the United States. At the time he had one daughter, Kreidel Blime (Katey), who was born in Rzeszow. In New York he had three more children, Frances, Morris, and Joseph, and later another child back in Rzeszow, Arno. My grandfather’s father was Morris, and his birth in New York in 1887, provided him and his children US citizenship. It’s not clear if Morris lived in NY past 1897, when his brother Arno was born in Rzeszow, but I do know that he applied for a US passport in the US Embassy in Vienna in both 1910 and 1914. In 1914, his application states that he had been in business in Rzeszow since 1911, and had fled to Vienna after the Russians had invaded. Less than a year after that application, my grandfather would be born in Vienna.

In 1929, when my great-grandfather died, he had apparently still been in touch with the US Consulate in Antwerp, as his widow, my great-grandmother, subsequently received a Report of the Death of an American Citizen from the consulate (although for some reason, this was not issued until almost a year after his death). Up until that point, I don’t know if my grandfather was even aware that he had US citizenship. About a year after his mother received the report from the US Consulate, my grandfather registered with the US Consulate. Look at his photo in the certificate below and realize he’s only 16 years old, and at that point had been running his father’s business for almost two years:

1931 Certificate of Identity and Registration
1931 Certificate of Identity and Registration

As things got worse in Europe, he applied for a US passport of his own in 1938:

Jack Trauring US Passport 1938
US Passport issued in May, 1938

Some years ago I spoke to my grandfather about his experiences in Belgium, and he told me that before the war he traveled to Nazi Germany to try to get his younger cousins out of Germany. My family had many relatives in Germany before the war, especially in Cologne and Wuppertal, and while some of them had been able to flee the country earlier, some had not be so lucky and were now not allowed to leave. Without a country willing to accept them as refugees, it was impossible to leave Germany, and no countries were taking in Jews at that time. My grandfather and his brothers used their US passports to travel into Nazi Germany to try to get their family out.

The reason this was possible is that even though they were Jews, they were US citizens, and at the time Germans had a lot of respect for the United States, and were still trying to get the United States to take their side in the upcoming conflict in Europe, or at least remain neutral. It’s not a secret that many US leaders admired Hitler. Most famously perhaps was the father of President John F. Kennedy, Joseph Kennedy, who at the same time my grandfather was applying for his US passport at the US Consulate in Antwerp, was the US Ambassador in the United Kingdom. It was supposedly a report commissioned by Kennedy, and written up by one of most famous Americans of the time Charles Lindbergh, that influenced Prime Minister Chamberlain not to respond to Germany’s annexation of Czechoslovakia. It was this decision that led to the Munich Agreement in 1938, and the famous Chamberlain statement that they had achieved “peace for our time”.

So with US passport in hand, my grandfather told me that he traveled to Nazi Germany to try to get his cousins out of the country. It didn’t always work, but this is what he did:

He would travel to Germany and pick up his younger cousins. Their parents would travel separately to the border crossing, and wait. My grandfather would travel by train with only the children, telling the border guards that he was taking his cousins on vacation to the beaches in Belgium. If the border guards allowed the children to go with him, he would continue on by train to Belgium. If not, he would hand over the children to their waiting parents at the border.

My grandfather was well into his 90s when he told me this story, and he did not remember which cousins he had ferried across the border. In 1938 he was only 23, so I was asking him about something that had happened at least seventy years earlier. While I would love to find out who those cousins were, and what happened to them subsequently (keep in mind that Germany invaded Belgium in 1940, so getting to Belgium was only a temporary reprieve).

One thing I did find after my grandfather passed away was his passport from 1938. It tells several stories. One of those stories is his entering Nazi Germany, as he described.

In his passport, there are two visas for entry into Nazi Germany. The first one was issued on June 13, 1938 and was good for three months, until September 13 (on the right page):

Visa to enter Nazi Germany issued June 13, 1938
Visa to enter Nazi Germany issued June 13, 1938

The second visa was tellingly issued on November 11, 1938, the day after Kristallnacht (which started the night of November 9 and ran into the day of November 10):

Visa to enter Nazi Germany issued November 11, 1938
Visa to enter Nazi Germany issued November 11, 1938

With his US passport and these visas, he entered Nazi Germany and tried his best to get his family members to safety. It’s hard to even imagine what he felt at the time. Imagine Kristallnacht just occurred, where Jewish businesses and synagogues were burnt to the ground, and dozens of Jews were murdered. Tens of thousands of Jews were being rounded up and sent to concentration camps. In this environment you get a visa and decide to enter a country that wants you dead. Maybe your US passport will protect you, but really how could you know that?

So almost eighty years ago, my grandfather went into the lion’s den, and saved his family members from the Nazi regime. He would later make it out of Belgium just months before the Nazis invaded, by traveling through France to Italy and then the US. His future wife, who also lived in Antwerp, would leave Belgium literally with German bombs falling around her, make her way to France, and then Morocco and Portugal, before making it the US. That, however, is another story.

Remembering my grandfather

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.


Friends from Antwerp – and is that a famous Yiddish poet?

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 twelve 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 (see Don’t get stuck inside the box). I know he used his US citizenship to travel to Nazi Germany in the 1930s and helped younger cousins get out of the country (see When my grandfather traveled to Nazi Germany to save his family), 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.

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. In his 90s he told me the man on the left was his friend, but could not remember his name.
My grandfather in on the left
My grandfather sitting in the front

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:

Right, Itzik Manger. Left, Maybe Manger?

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:

Golda, my grandfather’s second cousin once-removed

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.