Monday, June 3, 2013

Red Brick, Black Mountain, White Clay: Reflections on Art, Family and Survival by Chrisopher Benfey, 2012

"The later pages of the book’s first section trace the Jewish thread of family history; the meditative aspect of Benfey’s journey sends off 'if only' reverberations, suggestions of identity compromised and spiritual treasure lost."  from a review by Philip K. Jason posted on the blog of the Jewish Book Council

This memoir has a global reach. The author, a professor of English literature, a writer and a critic, is the son of a father who was a German Jewish refugee who was born in Berlin and a Quaker mother born in America.

The author’s father, O. Theodor Benfey, the son of a prominent judge, married Lotte Fleischmann, a daughter in the Ullstein family, the founders of a large European publishing house. Both sides of the author’s assimilated German Jewish family converted to Lutheranism.  They felt that they were German to the core, but they soon learned that Hitler felt otherwise. In 1933 the Nazis seized the Ullstein family’s publishing company. Fearing for their ten-year-old son's future, in 1936 Otto Theodor’s parents sent him to England to live with family friends.

Several years later O. Theodor Benfey's parents also fled to England and then to the U.S. where Lotte’s sister Anni, a textile artist married to the artist Josef Albers, had already fled. They had left after the Nazis closed the Bauhaus in Berlin where Anni and Josef Albers had worked.

Tracing his father’s family involved actual and virtual travel to Germany, England, and Mexico. Although this memoir spends more time on his mother’s Quaker roots than his father’s German-Jewish roots, the chapters dedicated to his father  and his family are quite interesting. Especially engrossing is the investigation into the Jewish origins of the Benfey name.

To read an article about anti-Jewish legislation in pre-war Germany, click here.

Author’s father’s paternal family
Eduard Benfey – married to Lotte Fleischmann
    Renate Benfey Wilkins – daughter of Eduard and Lotte
    Otto Theodor Benfey – son of Eduard and Lotte; married to Rachel Thomas
         Stephen Benfey – son of Otto Theodor and Rachel
         Christoper Benfey – son of Otto Theodor and Rachel; married to Mickey Rathbun; author
               Tommy and Nicholas Benfey – sons of Christopher
         Philip Benfey – son of Otto Theodor and Rachel
         Karen Benfey Boyd – daughter of Otto Theodor and Rachel
    Arnold Benfey  - brother of Eduard
    Ernst Benfey  - brother of Eduard

Feistel Dotteres (Philipp Theodorus) - early Benfey ancestor
    Isaak Philipp Benfey  - son of Feistel
         Simline Benfey – daughter of Isaak
         Theodor Benfey – son of Isaak; author’s father’s great-granduncle
                 Meta Benfey – daughter of Theodor
         Philip Benfey – son of Isaak
Bruno Benfey – relative; connection unclear

Author’s father’s maternal family
Siegfried Fleischmann – married Toni Ullstein
     Anni Fleischmann – married Josef Albers
     Lotte Fleischmann – daughter of Siegfried and Toni; married Eduard Benfey (see above)
Hanz, Louis, Franz, Rudolf, and Hermann Ullstein – brothers of Toni (see above)

Walter Benjamin
Heinrich Heine
Gerald and Babs Mendl
    Wolfgang Mendl – son of Gerald and Babs
Karen Karnes – married David Weinrib – Jo Anne (his second wife)

Richmond, Indiana
Greensboro, North Carolina
Cambridge, Massachusetts
Berlin, Germany
Watford, England
Black Mountain College, North Carolina
Richmond, Indiana

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for the Christopher Benfey story. I am his father, Otto Theodor Benfey. One possible change: My daughter's married name is Boyd, not Doyle.
    Otto Theodor (Ted) Benfey