1936 – Carlebach Jewish Day School, first Grade, Leipzig. I sit in the front row far right with my ubiquitous embroidered apron. My friend Helga is the seond from left.

1936 – Carlebach Jewish Day School, first Grade, Leipzig. I sit in the front row far right with my
ubiquitous embroidered apron. My friend Helga is the seond from left.

It wasn’t until I turned 70, in the Millennium year of 2000, with graying hair turning white, and plenty of wrinkles, that I could conceive of a trip to Germany, where I was born and then forced to leave by the Nazis simply for being Jewish. Leipzig, the city of my birth, invited me and my husband for a formal seven day visit together with other Jewish ex-citizens from all over the world. While other big German cities like Berlin and Frankfurt had extended such invitations to their Jewish ex-citizens long ago, East Germany, under communist rule, had been closed to such ideas. I had to wait until the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of West and East Germany on November 9, 1989[1] to see this happen.

reunion

2000 – Reunion of 3 first graders in Leipzig. I am at right, Helga in the middle and Renate Daus from England at left.

So there we were, a group of about thirty people, strangers to each other, staying in a fancy hotel in downtown Leipzig. We were picked up every morning for sightseeing excursions, then were wined, dined, and stuffed with speeches. We were also taken to the Jewish cemetery where my Weiser grandfather (my mother’s father) was buried. On the third day, while my husband and I were waiting in the hotel lobby, a woman walked around me two or three times, quite obviously studying me from all angles. “Did you used to have red hair?” she asked me in German. Instinctively my answer was also in German, our only common language. “Yes, my husband here is witness.” (When I was little, my family used to tease me about what they called my auburn hair.) “I am Helga,” she told me as she pulled out a black & white photograph from her purse, “and here is our first grade in the Jewish Carlebach School of Leipzig which we attended together. You are sitting there in the first row, quite prominently in the right foreground while I sit dead center.”

“Don’t you remember me, we were best friends?” Helga asked. “My family emigrated from Germany to Brazil in December 1936, before the end of that school year.” Her two older sisters, who had accompanied Helga from Brazil to this unique gathering, confirmed Helga’s amazing memory. In a haze I seemed to remember our trio of mischief makers in first grade: Lili Sobel who later moved to London, Helga and I.


[1] Because Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass), which marked the destruction of synagogues and Jewish businesses all over Germany, occurred on November 9, 1938, the same date as the reunification of East and West Germany in 1989, that date could not be made into a German national holiday!

Next: Part – Germany Leipzig 2000