When my father’s New York employer went bankrupt, he accepted his mother’s offer to rejoin the family’s business back in Germany.
So, Kurt and Lily returned despite my mother’s vehement protests. They arrived in Hannover on June 1, 1932, and moved in with Kurt’s parents. But that was not a good choice and proved to be short lived because the antagonism between my mother, and her mother-in-law was almost immediate. Within three weeks my parents moved out, and into their own apartment in another part of town. This was a precursor of what was to follow.
Meanwhile, at Gertrude’s urging, Willi had created a new position for my father. But Kurt wasn’t happy, finding it far too menial. The friction that resulted between the two brothers was near the breaking point.
Then less than seven months after his return to Hannover, Kurt quit, and my parents moved to Berlin, where they were welcomed by Lily’s uncle Siegfried and his family. It was also Uncle S. who helped my father start a new business as a manufacturer’s sales rep. Dad called it “Kurt’s Laboratorium”.
But within four weeks, Adolph Hitler became Chancellor of Germany, and so began the anti Jewish episodes which followed in quick succession, including the burning of the Reichstag, and the Nazi Boycott of Jewish businesses with its vicious assaults by Nazi thugs on innocent Jews .
While all of this was going on, Gertrude, had been suffering from severe migraines and had been under a doctor’s care. Then came a bigger shock when three days after the Nazi Boycott, she committed suicide. Gertrude had taken poison to kill herself!
The fallout on my parents was immediate and palpable. Already feeling disenfranchised from his family, Kurt and Lily were treated as pariahs, accused of being the sole cause of Gertrude’s death. In spite of the widespread Nazi violence going on everywhere, it was regarded as Kurt’s fault for breaking his mother’s heart, because he chose to leave Hannover after such a short stay. And Lily was scorned because it was her fault that he left.
Trying to see these events from Willi’s perspective, I’m sure he resented Kurt’s return as an intrusion into his domain, and a potential threat to his authority. Considering that Kurt had already disowned the business six years earlier, I doubt there was much that Willi wanted to do for his brother anyway. Plus, with the German economy in a rapid decline, Kurt was an un-necessary drain on the firms shrinking profits. So, I don’t think Kurt’s departure bothered Willi much. But the death of his mother was another matter.
Knowing my father and his anger, he probably retaliated by calling Willi an imbecile and not fit to run the Weinlaub’s business in the first place. Regardless, we’ll never know how much Gertrude’s inability to control the turmoil within her family, and her sudden loss of Kurt caused her to take her own life. Or, if it was actually driven by Hitler’s swift domination of Germany, and the imminent Nazi threat to German Jews, and the Weinlaub’s livelihood. Or both.
Despite all the conflicting evidence, Lily never felt free of the accusations, and continued to carry the burden of guilt for the rest of her life.
But for Kurt, it took no further prodding to see how dangerous it was to remain in Germany. He knew he and Lily must get out immediately and return to America. Fortunately he kept his return visa to the U.S. which was still valid, but with precious little time left. Yet ever the pragmatist, he also knew that first he had to defuse the intense anger between he and his brother before embarking for America.
So, he made a quick detour to Hannover to salvage his standing in the family by making an appearance and doing what he could for his departed mother. But I’m certain, from finding his letters years later, that he was also hoping to protect his future share of the inheritance from the Weinlaub estate.
Learning that the brothers had denied each others’ existence both to me and to my cousin, Helen, it came as a total shock, after my father died, to find the ultimate irony in Dad’s effects.
While going through his letters, I discovered that Willi and Kurt had been secretly corresponding to one another as far back as 1938. That means they began writing barely five years after their family blowup and their mother’s suicide.
The letters were extremely cordial, and at arms length, as if they were writing to potential customers. I also found it strange that they always wrote in English.
At first they were about wives, children and life in their adopted countries. Willi and his family, wife, Liesel and daughter Edith fled to England the year after my parents returned to America. That was 1934, the year I was born.
But their lives and ours were far different. While we were safe in America, Willy and his family were in London and truly in the middle of a ravaged war zone.
In 1945, having survived, they began writing again, but now it was with the tragic news of the loss of many close relatives. Yet considering that the war had only ended seven months earlier, I found it very disturbing to read how dispassionately my father treated it.
Ever the master of the understatement, he showed little regard for Willi’s wife and daughter having survived the Blitz, while currently living in a bombed out city. And then how carefully he slipped in the question of whether or not his brother had filed a claim for the Weinlaub’s estate. The tone has always bothered me. But even more so when he suggests that maybe they can do some business together. This letter has made me uncomfortable ever since I found it.
As time went on the brothers continued to write, although months and even years would go by between letters. But always with the purpose of updating each other about the status of the endless legal wrangling that was going on to settle what little was left of the Weinlaub estate. That case dragged on in the courts for fourteen years.
Then long after the legal hassle had been over – the lawyers got most of what remained of their inheritance anyway – Dad received what would be the final letter from his brother mainly to tell Kurt how proud he was of his grand daughters, Linda and Helen, and to describe how and where he and Liesel were spending their retirement by traveling a lot.
But the last letter in Dad’s collection came from Liesel, Willi’s wife, with the sad news that his brother had succumbed after a long illness.
That was 1980. But it would take another eight years to uncover the truth about the Weinlaub Brothers’ feud.
K & W�s Feud Part 2