Thursday, June 3, 2010

My Father's Roses: A Family's Journey from World War I to Treblinka by Nancy Kohner 2006

"[A]n evocative story of three generations, a portrait of a lost age, and a loving tribute to her father and her grandparents, Heinrich and Valerie." From a review by Micheline Wander in the Jewish Chronicle, July, 2008

Nancy Kohner, born in 1950, grew up in Bradford, a city in Northern England, the daughter of a Protestant English mother and a Jewish central European immigrant father. Kohner was always fascinated by her father’s background. When she was young she did not know he was Jewish, but eventually she learned that he was and that he and his brother were refugees from Czechoslovakia who arrived in 1939. She also learned that her grandmother had died in a concentration camp.

After her father died Kohner methodically went through a treasure trove of documents left behind. Besides legal and business documents, her father Rudi and his brother Franz kept all the family letters they had received as well as copies of the letters they had sent. In addition, Kohner was lucky to have family diaries and family photos. In preparation for writing this book she also traveled with her daughter to her father’s hometown of Podersam, Czechoslovakia.

Kohner uses the letters sent back and forth between members of the family to tell their story. And she includes her own commentary which is a combination of her own feelings about and reactions to the material, her suppositions and her analysis.  Kohner’s grandparents had sent their children off to school outside of their small town, so she has letters to draw on from the time the children were barely in their teens. The first letter she includes is one from 1909 to Franz who has just gone away at school. The last letter she includes is from her grandmother to her sons Franz and Rudi in England, written July 12, 1942. She was transported to Theresienstadt on July 16. She was gassed in Treblinka.

Reading the letters provides us with a very intimate portrait of a family who were well-educated, cultured, German-speaking Podersam merchants. It is a valuable social history of the times. A fascinating section of the story is devoted to Franz’s service in World War I. Through the letters we get a glimpse of what it was like in the trenches and at the Italian front, and what provisions his parents were sending him. In his letters he sought to allay their fears. We read in detail about happy times too: Rudi’s bar mitzvah and Franz’s engagement. And many letters are about the business – and business problems during both wars having to do with limited merchandise and, during World War II, restrictive laws imposed on Jewish residents.

This book includes a very interesting prologue by Nancy Kohner’s daughter Bridget McGing who is a historian who became totally absorbed in this family material her mother shared with her. She explains that her mother lived with this material for many years and finally managed to finish the last chapter one month before she died of breast cancer in 2006.

To read a short history of the Jews of Czechoslovakia, click here.

Author's family on paternal grandfather's side
Moises – author’s paternal great great grandfather
    Abraham Kohner –his son; married Marie; author’s great grandparents
    Mann – Marie’s brother; lived in Nachod
        Heinrich Kohner -  Abraham and Marie's son;  married Valerie Herrmann; author's grandparents
            Franz Kohner – their son; author’s uncle
            Rudolph Kohner – their son; author’s father
        Eduard – son of Abraham and Marie; married Luisa
        Anna – daughter of Abraham and Marie; married to Max
            Hans and Victor – their sons
        Emma – daughter of Abraham and Marie
        Julie - daughter of Abraham and Marie

Family on author's paternal grandmother's side
    Jakob Herrmann – married Berte; author's great grandparents
           Valerie (Walli) – daughter or Jakob and Berte; marries Heinrich Kohner; author’s grandmother
                 Franz Joseph Kohner – oldest son of Heinrich and Valerie; married Edith Geduldiger
                       Dinah, Ruth, William - children of Franz and Edith
                 Berta Elise – daughter of Henreich and Valerie; married Adolf Girschick
                       Elsbeth Maria Valerie - their daughter
                 Rudolph  Oscar (Rudi) – son of Heinrich and Valerie; married Olive Britton ; author’s parents
                       Nancy – author
                           Daniel, Bridget McGing, Grace - author's children
           Oscar - son of Jakob and Berte
           Kamill –  son of Jakob and Berte; married to Friederike
                Heinrich and Elizabeth – the children of Kamill and Friederike
          Adele – daughter of Jakob and Berte; married Herrmann Mandl
          Franz - son of Jakob and Berte
          Anna - daughter of Jakob and Berte
          Karl –son of Jakob and Berte; married Else
          Ida – daughter of Jakob and Berte; married Otto Robitschek
    Anna Ehrlich – Berte’s sister
          Hugo - her son

Olga Krafft – Valerie Herrrmann Kohner’s cousin; married to Rudolf  
 Klara – Valerie’s Herrmann Kohner’s cousin; married to Alfred Kraus
Karolina – grandmother of Edith Geduldiger, wife of Franz Kohner
Marketa and Zdenka – aunts of Edith Geduldiger, wife of Franz Kohner

Friends and Acquaintances
Karl Kussi
Rabbi Rudolf Rychnovsky – married Marie
    Ernst – their son
Annie Wiener
Walter Mulstein
Friedrich Lowy
Rabbi Ignatz and Charlota Duschak
Rabbi Deutsch
Moritz Bandler
Victor Gruenwald
Anna Pick
    Hansi  and Suse – her daughters
Gustav Hirsch
Ida Hirsch
Alois and Emilie Kohn
Adolf Kohn
Wilhelmine Pollak
    Alice and Edita – her daughters
Moritz Popper
Hugo and Alice Muhlstein
Anna Stein

Libotschan, Bohemia
Podersam, Bohemia (Czechoslovakia)
Saaz, Czechoslovakia
Prague, Czechoslovakia

Teutschenrust, Czechoslovakia
Bad Gastein, Austria
Habrovan, Czechoslovakia
Kolpenice, Czechoslovakia
Koldichev, Belarus
Baranovichi, Belarus
Tachau, Czechoslovakia
Bilin, Czechoslovakia
Brux, Czechoslovakia
Grafenberg, Germany
Piwana, Czechoslovakia
Pilsen, Czechoslovakia
Nachod, Czechoslovakia
Trautenau, Czechoslovakia
Bela, Czechoslovakia

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