Saturday, June 21, 2014

travel diary

In the summer of 1932 my grandmother sent my father and his older brother on a visit to Germany. My father was then 21 years old. This is a page from the travel diary he kept through most of the trip. There were members of the family to meet with and a short stay at the University of Munich, but also much touring to see the sights. On debarking at Bremen the two bought a tiny car which gave them constant trouble and had to be abandoned putting them on trains for the last segment of their journey. Their route took them clockwise through much of Germany and a bit of Austria.

The diary is conventional: the weather was so, we stayed here, saw this; we ate, we drank. You would not guess that in those months the Nazi party was becoming ascendent. Brownshirts were marching through the streets of the cities and towns they visited. The swastika flag was omnipresent and posters extolled the Party, condemned Communists, and vilified Jews. These things the diary never mentions.

When I and my siblings were young, my father would tell us stories of that trip. One involved witnessing a Nazi rally. The pair did not attend out of interest in Nazism, only for the spectacle. My father's politics at that time were undeveloped; later he was a left-liberal, tending to vote Socialist. The rally is not mentioned in the diary. He said he and his brother arrived early and seated themselves on some bleachers. As others arrived, they noticed that those who seated themselves on the bleachers were all in Nazi uniforms. It gradually dawned on the brothers that they were in a VIP section of the viewing stands but nobody told them to move. My father said that in the Germany of that time everyone was always expected to know what do do, what place to occupy. Since the two brothers were obviously not ruffians but rather middle class gentlemen, they were not questioned or asked to move, much less man-handled by the Brownshirt enforcers who kept order at rallies.

One of the many ironies of our family history is that my father (and his whole family) did not know that his grandfather on his mother's side was the grandson of the most prominent rabbi in Westphalia. The grandfather had converted to Christianity on emigrating to the U.S. and never spoke of his German family. That family can be traced these days via internet searches. During the Nazi era, many emigrated and those who didn't were almost all exterminated.

Not long ago, my brother, sister, and I travelled through the Netherlands and Germany to see the places where our ancestors had lived. In Germany we stopped in Celle, source of the photo I showed yesterday, and also in Beckum, where many of my great-grandfather's relatives lived. One of them was Salomon Windmüller who was great-grandson of a brother of the prominent rabbi who was the grandfather of my great-grandfather. He was a prominent merchant in Beckum. Two years after my father's summer tour, Salomon was arrested, convicted, and imprisoned for and act of defiance: having a servant remove a Nazi anti-Jewish poster from the wall of the building where he lived. He was an old man at the time and did not live long after the end of his prison sentence.

This news item appeared shortly after his conviction (translated from the German):

Last Saturday several persons were sentenced at the Beckum district court, to several weeks’ imprisonment for damaging posters of the Westfalen-Nord district command. They were the following opponents of the National-Socialist movement and government: Mrs Franz Windhövel, Wilhelmstrasse 61 (three weeks imprisonment), the innkeeper Ferdinand Hagedorn, Weststrasse 45 (three weeks imprisonment), the Priest Stroetmann, Provost of the St Paulus Workers Association (three weeks imprisonment), and the last of this illustrious company; the 73-year-old cattle Jew Salomon Windmüller, Weststrasse 19 (six weeks imprisonment). All those sentenced were taken into custody. The Jew Windmüller was imprisoned immediately.

With this verdict, the Beckum district court has made it abundantly clear that the National-Socialist state will not be intimidated by anybody, not even by the Catholic clergy. All subversive activities will in future be severely punished.

No comments: