Jan 2009 Journal

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One of the original Righteous Gentiles

Shabbat 12 November 1938. We knew all Jewish men were being picked up and we awaited the dreaded knock on the door.

Just seven years old, I was instructed to answer the door of our apartment and say ‘Papa ist nicht zuhause.’ We were extremely fortunate that the person at the door was an old-fashioned policeman, surprisingly untainted by the Nazi ethos. He asked me to bring Mutti to the door and gently explained to her that if he returned without the person on his list, someone from the SS or the Gestapo would turn up with predictable results, perhaps even trashing the apartment in their fury.

It was obvious that this man was ashamed of his odious errand but had a duty to perform. He came in and immediately did his best for us all, especially my father.

Right away he told him to take off his Sabbath suit, put on warm underwear and take just a few bare essentials in a small briefcase. There would be some arduous walking to undertake, he said, and ‘You don’t want to be lumbered with a heavy suitcase.’

He then told my father to give power of attorney to my mother so she would have access to money in the bank. He also advised my mother not to carry large amounts of cash in her handbag but to conceal it in her corset on her person for safety.

Finally – and this really shows how humane this elderly policeman was, how ill-fitted he was to his current mission, and how completely out of kilter he was with his Nazi colleagues – he said that in order to spare my father embarrassment at having to walk past neighbours with a policeman at his side, he would follow some paces behind him.

We always wondered what happened to this kindly man. He was one of the original Righteous Gentiles and it is doubtful whether he himself survived the Nazi scourge.

We subsequently learned that my father, together with many other Jewish Frankfurters, was assembled in the local Festhalle, where many indignities were heaped upon them before they were all shipped off to Buchenwald.

In the following days, my mother began the mammoth task of finding ways and means to get him out of Buchenwald and it is to her great credit that she managed this in only six weeks. When a visa to leave Germany was sent to the authorities, we received a card saying he would be released ‘if he is still alive’. But that is another story …

Meta Roseneil

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