O Memory! Mortal enemy of despair.
-- Don Quixote
I was born November 12th, 1936 in Frankfurt am Main, in the German state of Hesse. My mother was Christian, my father a Jew. I was in Nazi terms a "Mischling," a mixture. My mother came from Giessen, a town about 32 miles north of Frankfurt, a town apparently undistinguished other than giving its name to the University of Giessen; indeed, a post-war guide book asserted that an hour in Giessen was enough. My mother was part of a large family
-- three brothers and two sisters. Her father was killed in the Great War and she lost her mother, Luisa, to the 1918 Flu epidemic. She was 13. An aunt in Frankfurt took her in, and it was there that she met my father. They married sometime in the late 1920's. My sister, Edith, was born May 15, 1931 and I five years later, November 12, 1936.
My father was born in Krautheim, in Baden-Wuerttemberg. He was a textile broker, and a demonstrably successful one, providing a luxuriant life for us. The evidence of the life he created for us still trails me, in the Bukhara rug in the living room of our house in Washington and in the face towels monogrammed "EM," for my mother, Elizabeth Metzger. We lived in very pleasant part of Frankfurt
-- the West End, on 3
Rossertstrasse, a short street that ends at a gate to the Palmengarten -- a very large garden and park created in 1868 on some 50 acres laden with lakes, cafes, a restaurant, a conservatory for tropical plants. Curiously, my
birth certificate, recently obtained, indicates that my parents were not living in Rossertstrasse when I was born, but rather in Kron-Prinz Strasse, which I believe is also in the West End. I don't have the date when we moved, but it must have been soon after my birth.
My mother was one of five siblings. The last one, Otto, died in 1996, three years after my mother's death at 86. Her father, my grandfather, was, I believe killed in "The Great War. The decision to marry my father could not have been easy, although that was well before the true ferocity of the Nazis became governmental policy. And intermarriage was not uncommon, but much less so in Giessen than in Frankfurt. Marriages in Germany between Jews and non-Jews were legalized in 1875; and the proportion of Jews marrying gentiles went from about eight percent in 1901 to almost a quarter of marriages in 1929.
My birth was surely a mixed blessing at best for my parents. The Nazi regime was now in a full flush of power, and was with rising brutality extending the centuries of attacks on Jews that blotted German history. The Nazi government issued about 400 pieces of anti-Jewish legislation between 1933 and 1939. The restrictions and harassment of Jews in where they lived, how they worked, who they married, where they went was almost daily becoming harder and crueler. Compounding the "political" difficulties raised by my arrival was that my right ear was deformed and deaf.
Not unlikely I was conceived after a night of revelry: My parents in the 1930s lived a very full life
-- weekend trips, dinner parties, elegant restaurants. My daily life surely included at least an hour or two of being wheeled through the Palmengarten by my mother, accompanied by any of several friends
-- perhaps Frau Schmidt one day, Frau Donner on another. Most likely if the weather was right I got my airing in mid-afternoon, so all could meet at one of several cafes in the