Monday, May 20, 2013

Europa, Europa by Solomon Perel, published in English in 1997

 "Perel's continuing struggle with identity was indirectly reflected in the various titles of his memoirs, which have been published in French, German and ... Hebrew." from an article written by Daniel Williams in the Los Angeles Times 3/30/92
Solomon Perel, born in Germany in 1925 to a Russian-Jewish family who settled in Pleine, Germany after the Russian revolution, has a powerful story to tell about his experience masquerading as a young German, hiding in their very midst. In 1935 when he was ten, his family fled to Lodz in Poland, expecting that they would be safer there than in Hitler’s Germany. The author, a very good student, learned Polish quickly and settled into life in Poland only to be uprooted again when Hitler invaded Poland in September of 1939.

His parents, fearing for the safety of their children, urged Solomon to cross the border into the Soviet Union with his brother Isaac. The two brothers soon become separated and here begins a tale that reveals the deep determination of the author to survive. He tells his tale in order to describe the incredible stress he endured and to dramatize his responses to events that threatened his survival. He is not trying to portray himself as heroic. He is trying to plumb the depths of his psyche and explain as best he can to himself and to his readers how he could assume a German identity complete with a name and a background he invented and maintain it until the war was over. He became two separate people – Solly inside, and Jupp on the outside.

His fears were many. For example, he did not have papers identifying him as German (he told the Germans they were destroyed in a bombing), he had to keep his background story straight every time he told it, he was afraid he’d be identified as being a Jew if someone saw that he was circumcised, and he had to learn not to react “inappropriately” when being subjected to Nazi propaganda  which was a constant condition of his life.

But he was smart and he was lucky. The fact that he was alone and spoke German made it possible to pose as a non-Jewish orphaned German. He put his ability to speak Russian to good use by acting as a translator for the Germans as they interviewed wounded Russian soldiers. Because his intelligence impressed the Nazis, tthey sent him to Germany where he was enrolled in an elite Hitler Youth school where he was fed, clothed and safe. And his feigned enthusiasm also helped in his interactions with various Germans and Nazi officials.

When the war was over and he was on his own again, having inhabited the psyche for three years of a young German being groomed for an elite position in the Nazi power structure, it was difficult for him to feel free and to tell anyone that he was a Jew. When he finally felt liberated enough to live outwardly as a Jew, having seen and heard about the suffering of concentration camp survivors, it was then difficult for him to claim to be a survivor.

To see the trailer for the award-winning movie made based on Perel's memoir, click here.
To read an interview with the author in the New York Times, click here.

Eliahu bar Halperin – grandfather of author;
    Rebecca – daughter of Eliahu; married Azriel Perel
         Isaac Perel –son of Rebecca and Azriel;  married Mira Rabinowitz
              Naomi Perel – daughter of Isaac and Mira
        David Perel – son of Rebecca and Azriel; married Pola Rosner
              Azriel Perel – son of David and Pola
        Bertha Perel – son of Rebecca and Azriel
        Solomon Perel – son of Rebecca and Azriel; author
   Clara Wachsmann  - daughter of Eliahu

Friends and Acquaintances
Jerzyk  Rappoport
Jakob Lublinski
Hans Marburger
Binem Koppelmann
Manfred Frenkel
Lotte Friedenthal
Eliahu Beth Josef

Peine, Germany
Lodz, Poland
Smorgon, Lithuania?
Stutthof  Concentration Camp, Poland
Munich, Germany
Tel Aviv, Israel

Monday, May 6, 2013

Crossing the Borders of Time: A true story of war, exile, and love reclaimed by Leslie Maitland

"A former New York Times journalist, Maitland has seized on her family’s far-flung tale of fleeing the Nazis in Europe and energetically made it her own."  from a review in Kirkus Reviews 2/15/12

Crossing the Borders of Time: A True Story of War, Exile, and Love Reclaimed

Leslie Maitland has written a memoir that focuses on her immigrant mother and her family, refugees from Frieberg, Germany. Her thoroughly researched narration of their dangerous and difficult journey to America is both engrossing and edifying. It also demonstrates that although her family’s situation was unique in its detail, similar iterations of their experience were being enacted throughout Europe as Jews tried to escape from Hitler’s death machine.

The oldest of two children, Maitland repeatedly heard pieces of her mother’s story that entranced her. The research she embarked on to corroborate her mother’s version of what happened and to flesh out the details took her on several trips to Germany and France as well as to Cuba where she interviewed officials and survivors and met with archivists to help her search through records.

The author’s maternal grandparents, Sigmar and Lisel Gunzburger, had no interest in leaving Germany when Hitler came to power. Her grandfather, from a well-established family who had lived in Germany for many generations, co-owned with one of his brothers a successful business in Frieberg. Although many Jews had already fled, they, like others, felt that they could weather a temporary storm, but by the time her grandfather realized that he and his family were in real danger, it was extremely difficult accessing bank accounts, finding a country that would take them in, and securing visas and exit permits.

Maitland’s mother’s family was fortunate for a number of reasons: her grandfather had a friend who was a Christian brother, Joseph Fimbel, who helped them immeasurably. And he had wealthy and well-connected relatives in America and France who loaned him money and managed to help him get passage to Cuba. But their route was long and circuitous. They left Germany in 1938 and settled in Mulhouse, France. Maitland includes a map that shows how they wended their way through France with extended stays in Mulhouse, Gray and Lyon. When all paperwork was in order they left for Marseille where the American Joint Distribution Committee had arranged for Portuguese ships to transport Jewish refugees to Cuba. More machinations eventually got them to the United States where they arrived in 1944.

The story Maitland tells of their life in America (she was born in 1949), is a version of a classic immigrant tale. Her family settled in the German Jewish refugee community in Inwood in New York where they felt comfortable amongst fellow immigrants who clung to their language and customs. Maitland's grandfather read the German-Jewish newspaper, the Aufbau, and wrote constantly to Germany about the bank accounts and property he had left behind. Soon Maitland’s mother and her two siblings were married and each had an apartment in the same building as their parents. This extreme closeness lasted until the author’s American-born father decided that it was time to move on and up: they bought a suburban house in New Jersey where to some extent both the author, then eight years old, and her mother felt exiled.

The rest of the story focuses for the most part on her mother’s first love, a young Roman Catholic she had met when they lived in Mulhouse, France. Although they had made a commitment to each other and vowed to reunite somehow, somewhere after the war, the relationship was fraught with complications. Because he was Catholic her parents and other relatives sabotaged the relationship which included intercepting letters. So they lost track of each other and each assumed the other had lost interest. Although less compelling than the sections narrating the family’s life in Germany and their flight, the couples’ initially thwarted romance raises the enduring question: “What if?” But it also makes the significant point that war leaves its mark in many ways. So many people dead, survivors traumatized, so many families and relationships ruptured, displaced, reconfigured.

This memoir includes maps, photos, a bibliography, and a family tree with birth and death dates and places of origin. The author notes that she has changed some names to protect privacy but it is highly unlikely any names on the family tree have been changed by her, so I present the names below assuming they are correct.

To read an article about the difficulties refugees had in landing in Cuba, click here.
To read an article about the difficulties refugees had obtaining visas to come to the United States, click here.

Author's mother's family
Simon Gunzburger – married Jeanette Bloch
     David Gunzburger – son of Simon and Jeanette
     Norbert Gunzburger – son of Simon and Jeanette
     Karoline Gunzburger – daughter of Simon and Jeanette; married Edward Winter
          Gretl Winter – daughter of Karoline and Edward; married Marcel Weil
          Herbert Winter – son of Karoline and Edward; married Estelle Sokoloff
     Max Gunzburger – son of Simon and Jeanette
     Sara Gunzburger – daughter of Simon and Jeanette; married Maurice Feldstein
     Hermann Gunzberger (Gunn) – son of Simon and Jeanette
     Marie Gunzburger – daughter of Simon and Jeanette; married Paul Cahen (Mulhouse)
          Emilie Mulhouse – daughter of Marie and Paul; married Maurice Goldschmidt
          Elie Jean Mulhouse – daughter of Emilie and Maurice
          Jeanine Mulhouse – daughter of Emilie and Maurice
          Jacques Mulhouse – son of Emilie and Maurice
     Edmond Mulhouse – son of Marie and Paul; married Elizabeth Hauser
          Francoise and Janine Cahen – twin daughters of Edmond and Elizabeth
         Michel Cahen Mulhouse – son of Edmond and Elizabeth
          Paul-Andre Cahen Mulhouse – son of Edmond and Elizabeth
          Robert Cahen Mulhouse – son of Edmond and Elizabeth
          Isabelle Cahen – daughter of Edmond and Elizabeth
   Heinrich Gunzburger – son of Simon and Jeanette; married Toni
   Sigmar (Samuel) Gunzburger – son of Simon and Jeanette; married to Lisel (Alice) Heinsheimer
         Norbert Gunzburger – son of Sigmar and Lisel; married Dorothea Ostheim
               Stanley Gunzburger – son of Norbert and Dorothea
         Hanna (Janine) Gunzburger – son on Sigmar and Lisel; married Leonard Maitland
               Leslie Maitland - daughter of Sigmar and Lisel; married Daniel Werner; author
                    Zachary Werner  – son of Leslie and Daniel
                    Ariel Werner – daughter of Leslie and Daniel
              Gary Maitland – son of Sigmar and Lisel
        Gertrude Gunzburger – daughter of Sigmar and Lisel; married Heinz Rawitscher (Harry Rawlings)
              Lynne Rawlings Maravin – daughter of Gertrude and Harry
             Michael Rawling – son of Gertrude and Harry
Max Wolf – cousin, relationship not clear

Author’s mother’s mother's family
Maier Heinsheimer – married Johanna Kahn
         Lina Heinsheimer – daughter of Maier and Johanna; married Sigmund Weil
               Carol Weil – daughter of Lina and Sigmund
         Jennie Heinsheimer – daughter of Maier and Johanna; married Joseph Guggenheim
         Rosie Heinsheimer – daughter of Maier and Johanna; married Natan Marx
               Hannchen Marx – daughter Rosie and Natan; married Julius Hamburger
         Lisel (Alice) Heinsheimer – daughter of Maier and Johanna; married Sigmar Gunzburger (see above)
         Sigfried Heinsheimer – son of Maier and Johanna; married Liesel
         Ruth Heinsheimer – daughter of Sigfried and Liesel

Cousins relationship not clear: Huguette Cahen, Francois Blum, Lynn Ullman, Suzanne Steinberg.

Author’s father’s family:
 Beresh (Bernard) and Fannie Friedman (changed name to Maitland)
       Mona Maitland – daughter of Bernard and Fannie
        Leonard Maitland – son of Bernard and Fannie; married Janine Gunzburger (see above)
Danielle Fakhr and Helene Putermilch - cousins of author's father - relationship not clear

Friends and Acquaintances
Meta Ellenbogen
Therese and Alfred Loewy
Isabelle Picard
Pauline Picard (sister of Isabelle)
Moise Levy
     Rene Baruch Levy - son on Moise
Roger Dreyfus

Mulhouse, France
Freiberg, Germany
Ihringen, Germany
Eppingen, Germany
Breisach, Germany
Gray, France
Buffalo, NY
Cleveland, Ohio
Inwood, New York
Englewood Heights, New Jersey