Monday, June 28, 2010

My German Question:Growing up in Nazi Berlin by Peter Gay 1998

"Gay's story could hardly be other than interesting . . ." From a New York Times review of My German Question by Frank Kermode, October, 1998

Peter Gay, retired Sterling professor of History at Yale, who, amongst his many scholarly works has written a highly regarded biography of Freud, decided to write this memoir to answer a vital question. How should he feel, how does he feel, about contemporary Germany and its German citizens? He narrates the story of his family’s Berlin years – he was born in 1923 - in order to provide a context for that vital question.

This memoir provides us with a vivid picture of Berlin up until war was declared. Gay, whose family’s last name had been Frohlich, grew up the precocious only child in a largely assimilated extended family who enjoyed the economic and cultural life Berlin had to offer. His teachers recognized his abilities, and he would have had many intellectual successes in Germany, but as a Jew he was shortly closed out of opportunities along with all German Jews who lost their livelihoods and their property. Many, of course, also lost their lives. Gay describes the 1936 Olympics which he attended with his father and Kristallnacht from the point of view of someone who was there. He then details the subsequent scramble to get out. His family was lucky with the help of German friends to get visas to Cuba and only later immigrated to the U.S. from Cuba.

In filling out his early life story the author deals with some issues that he has thought a lot about. For example as a German Jew he feels the need to defend himself and other German Jews against the charge that their mistake was being too “German.” He also deals with questions he is frequently asked: Why didn’t your family and others leave sooner? Didn’t you see what was happening?

All this leads up to his question about his attitude toward contemporary Germany and its German citizens. It is not an easy question with an easy answer. He discusses the slow evolution of his feelings, from early hatred and rage to an acceptance of a new generation whose members were not responsible for the actions of their parents’ generation, though he does say that in encountering members of the post-war generation, he often wonders what their grandparents/and/or parents were feeling and doing during the war.

This memoir includes many photos.

To read a copy of the speech Gay delivered in Munich in November, 1999 on the occasion of his being awarded the Geschwister-Scholl prize for the German translation of My German Question, click here.

Author's father's family
Moritz Frohlich (Morris Gay) – author’s father
    Peter Jack Gay (Peter Joachim Frohlich) – their son; married Ruth; author of this memoir
Esther – author’s father’s sister; married Moritz Jaschkowitz
Recha – author’s father’s sister
    Werner – her son
Siegfried – author’s father’s brother
Max – author’s father’s brother

Author’s mother’s family
Albert and Regina Kohnke – author’s maternal grandparents
    Hedwig – mother’s sister; married to Samuel Frohlich, author’s father’s uncle (families intermarried)
        Hanns (Jack Gay)– son of Hedwig and Samuel
        Edgar – son of Hedwig and Samuel; married Comer

    Siegfried Kohnke – their son
    Willy Kohnke – their son; married Gertrude
    Alfred Kohnke – their son; married Grace
        Albert- son of Alfred and Grace
    Author's mother (unnamed) - married Moritz Frohlich
        Peter - their son

 Jacob Wolfsohn - distant cousin

Berlin, Germany
Podjanze, Poland
Quincy, Florida
Denver, Colorado
Hahn, Germany
Havana, Cuba

No comments:

Post a Comment