<<INDEX << back  |  next >>
Article 10
Kinston Daily Freeman, Sunday, June 3, 2001

Anticipating a return visit to my native city of Frankfurt
John J. Neumaier

For several years, the city of Frankfurt on Main (like many German cities) has invited those who were driven into exile by the Nazis to return, with their spouses, for a two-week stay as guests of the city. This spring, my wife and I will be among that group.

In preparation for the visit, the city of Frankfurt sent each participant a documented anthology “After Kristallnacht - Jewish Life and anti-Jewish Politics in Frankfurt am Main 1938-1945". It is a frightful account of the brutal persecution of the Jews of Frankfurt and of their deportation to the Nazi death camps. In 1933, the year Adolf Hitler was appointed chancellor by Germany’s venerated President Paul von Hindenburg, the city of Frankfurt had slightly more than 26,000 Jewish citizens, which was 4.7 percent of its total population. No other German city had a higher percentage, although in all of Germany Jews made up less than one percent of the population.

During the war years, more than 11,000 Jews were deported from Frankfurt, most of them to their death. Documents record ten deportations, averaging 1,000 each, in 1941 and 1942, and several smaller “unofficial” deportations between 1943 and 1945. Of the 1,100 Jews who were taken on October 19, 1941, directly from their homes (mostly in the Westend of Frankfurt, where my parents and I once lived) only three survived. By June 1943 only 626 Jews remained in Frankfurt; 700 had committed suicide rather than be transported to a death camp.

After the war, with few exceptions, officials of the Frankfurt Geheime Staatspolizei (Gestapo - German Secret Police) and other officials who had directed the organized persecution and deportation of Jews went unpunished. A new generation of Frankfurt officials is confronting this shameful history by making the facts of the Nazi crimes in their city widely available.

As the time for my departure to Frankfurt approaches, many thoughts fill my mind. The murder of many millions of people and the grief over the loss of loved ones in death camps, ghettos, and on death marches is still a deeply painful emotional burden, even after sixty years. The Nazi plan for the “Final Solution”, formalized at the infamous Wannsee conference in Berlin in 1942 and carried out with cruel precision, resulted in the inhuman and systematic extermination of two thirds of Europe’s Jews. How can I return to that country, someone asked me.

Though Jews will not forgive or forget the Holocaust, Jewish attitudes toward Germany differ. There are some who refuse to even set foot in Germany. Others, a tiny minority, have returned to Germany to live. Most recently controversy arose over the decision by a Jewish American organization to honor Thomas Middelhoff, head of Bertellsman, a huge German communications corporation which had many business dealings with the Nazis. Middelhoff has been much praised for his work in behalf of Holocaust survivors and other Jewish causes.

Whatever the merits of the Middlehoff case, I do not believe in genetic guilt. The children of the guilty should be judged not by where they were born or what their parents did, but how they themselves act.

I can understand Jewish hostility toward Germany. My own father detested not only the Nazis, but was irreconcilably furious with his German homeland for permitting the persecution and mass murder of Jews. His beloved wife, my mother, and many relatives were put to death in German concentration camps in Poland, Austria, and France. That my father had served six years in Kaiser Wilhelm’s army and been decorated for his years as a front line soldier in World War I made him even more bitter.

On a personal level, I cannot erase from my mind the horrors and injustices of daily life that my parents and I encountered in Nazi Germany. Thanks to Hitler, many Germans benefited financially by taking over Jewish property. In my father’s case, his business associate expelled him because he was Jewish; they had been co-owners of a prospering film advertising firm in Frankfurt.

In 1934 I withdrew from public school when in the school yard a dozen or so teenagers would put a Jewish boy in the middle of a circle and beat him up. A year later, all Jewish students were expelled from that school.

In November 1938, as a seventeen-year old, I witnessed the pogrom the Germans called Kristallnacht and saw the burning of our synagogue and the broken windows of Jewish stores and other acts of vandalism in downtown Frankfurt. It was a terrifying time; 540 Jewish men were sent to concentration camps, where they were horribly mistreated and some of them were killed. My father also was arrested, but released because of his advanced age.

The Nazis prohibited my mother, formerly a celebrated opera singer, from giving concerts except for Jewish audiences. The greatest personal tragedy my father and I suffered was the deportation of my mother in June of 1942 to the death camp at Majdanek near Lublin, Poland, where she was cruelly murdered. The day she was deported she had had a conference about money matters with a Frankfurt banker at her home. Most of my parents’ funds had been confiscated. Someone observed the meeting between an “Aryan” and a “non-Aryan” and denounced the banker, who was then taken to Gestapo headquarters. He was Catholic with a large family, and my mother decided to follow and to help him by explaining their meeting. The Gestapo ordered her deportation and would not even let her go home to pack the one suitcase which deportees were allowed. A Christian woman friend of mother’s wrote me how her daughter was permitted to pack a suitcase for mother and bring it after dark to the train (often a cattle wagon). I deduce from the Frankfurt Anthology that my mother must have been in the sixth deportation, in a group of 1,100 on June 11, 1942, a few days before her 53d birthday. An official German chronicle of murdered Jews lists her as “verschollen” (disappeared) in June, 1942 at Majdanek.

I survived thanks to an English couple, whom I had met in Switzerland in 1935. Immediately after the 1938 pogrom I wrote them accepting their long-standing invitation, to stay at their home until my U.S. quota immigration number came up. In March 1939 I departed for England.

My father too was saved. In January 1940 he received a non-quota visa via his American son (my half-brother, a Minnesota physician). However, the U.S. consul in Stuttgart, widely known to be anti-Semitic, refused a non-quota visa to my mother, telling my father that she was only the step-mother, and besides there was a Congress making policy, and “not just Mr. Roosevelt”.

These are but some of the sad memories that will accompany me to Frankfurt. But there are others, including the happy childhood with my parents, before Hitler came to power. I have also made friends in Frankfurt during previous visits. In the summer of 1965 I was Visiting Professor at the Goethe Universität. In 1998 I visited my old school (the Wöhlerschule) which, as part of its 125th anniversary mounted memorial exhibits about the school boys who had been exiled from Hitler’s Germany. It was organized by Waltraud Giesen and her associates. Waltraud has devoted years to teaching about the Holocaust and doing research on the fate of the Jewish students who were killed or exiled. Just this month, the Wöhlerschule dedicated a permanent memorial to the murdered Jewish school boys.

Frankfurt has done much to memorialize the Jewish women and men who were murdered or driven out, and to acquaint Germans with the terrible and tragic story of Jewish and other victims of Nazi Germany. Next month I will report about the visit.

Poughkeepsie resident Dr. John J. Neumaier was president of SUNY New Paltz from 1968-1972 and of Moorhead (Minn.) State University from 1958-1968. He is philosophy professor emeritus of Empire State College, New York City. His column appears in the first Sunday Freeman of each month, and is broadcast by short-wave station Radio for Peace International.