I didn’t remember much of Leipzig. After all, my family left before I turned eight years old in 1938. My world at that time, consisted of my family, our apartment, the Rosenthal Park where my mother would take me for walks, teaching me the multiplication tables up to 12, school, and the “Brühl.”
Fast forward to the year 2000. During our free time, my husband Manfred and I walked to the Jewish Carlebach School, which the Nazis had turned into a book depository for the blind. After we rang the bell and explained the sentimental reason for our visit, the staff let us roam around the classrooms and grounds. Everything about the interior had changed except that the entry tile with a colorful motif of Stars of David was still there.
We also visited the apartment house where I had lived at 7 Thomasius Strasse. It was in the process of being completely renovated, but the workmen let us in after I explained the nostalgic reason for our wanting to see it. The staircase was being worked on to make room for an elevator, so we were only able to enter the first floor apartment. However, it had the same layout which I remembered so well. I had not realized as a child how spacious our apartment was, with high ceilings and big windows. The long hallway reminded me of the swing that hung there in winter. The façade of the building, decorated with several large Greek statues at the second floor level, was new to me. Apparently I had never looked up at the building when I was a child.
Nostalgia drove me to the Christian Strasse where my grandmother used to live. We rang the bell to her apartment on the ground floor. A little girl opened the door. She told us that her mother was at work. I knew that the little girl could not let us strangers in. From the street I could see that the trees had grown in the gardens I once played in, but the rest of the memory just remained that, a memory.
Helga and I had three days left to become reacquainted and to tell our life story to each other. Helga’s family had emigrated from Germany to Brazil in 1936. Both Helga and her husband, who didn’t come along on this trip, were retired physicians. Her married name is Helga Chaves and she lives in Piracicaba, SP Brazil. We tried to correspond for a few years, in German, but our fax machines would not connect, and it was before there was email or Facebook. After a few letters, we really didn’t have anything to say to each other.
My family waited until the spring of 1938 to emigrate from Germany to Belgium, where we lived as foreigners at a time when no country was anxious to welcome Jews. Our first stop, very close to the German border, was the town of Spa.