“October, 1933, Dr. Adolph NATZLER learned that he was wanted by the Gestapo. But the Catholic nuns, who ran the Mullheim hospital where he was head of orthopedic surgery, feared he would be deported by the Nazis, and hid him and his family within the sprawling facility, giving their world renowned surgeon enough time to safely complete his surgical commitments before fleeing the country with his wife and daughter.”
I thought I’d exhausted the subject of the Natzlers and moved on to stories of my other relatives’ along with personal stories from a number of our readers.
But then a few a few months ago I got a cryptic email from a stranger named David D. In it he said that he had inherited some of Marlies Natzler’s photos, letters and more, all stored in a garage in West Los Angeles.
He asked if I would be interested in seeing them.
“Yes, of course”, I said, with a level of growing enthusiasm.
Ever since I rediscovered Marlies Natzler, I found more questions about her family’s history than I found answers. So, I jumped at the opportunity.
Marlies Natzler was the only daughter of Adolph and Hedwig Natzler, who I’d known as a child through their close friendship with my parents. By chance I happened to re-establish contact with her some sixty years later and remained in touch until a few years ago when she passed away. By then she was in her mid 90s.
As a history buff, I found her family’s story to be absolutely fascinating. She was the daughter of a world-renowned German/Jewish surgeon, who had developed – you’ll pardon the expression – cutting edge techniques to save the lives and limbs of German soldiers during WWI.
Meanwhile her father had been a close friend of an artist/journalist who had been murdered by the Nazis shortly after Hitler came to power. But the circumstances surrounding his demise have remained murky at best.
In addition, her cousin was the ceramic artist, Otto Natzler, of Otto and Trudy Natzler fame. Like their cousin Adolph, they too were refugees from war torn Europe. But they had established themselves in America as world-class ceramicists, to the degree that their works of art had reached auction prices in the tens of thousands of dollars in recent years.
You’ll find a lot more about them and their stories by clicking the link above or following the links and the end of this post.
But then things got confusing. When I told him that I’d be very interested in seeing what he had, and asked him where and when, he said HE DIDN’T HAVE THEM. They were at his uncle’s house in West L.A.
David didn’t even live in California, but on the East Coast!
His uncle had been Marlies’s neighbor for a number of years, and stored many of her possessions in his garage when she moved to a smaller house in an Orange County retirement community. As good friends do, David’s uncle hung on to her effects long after she passed away, But it was only after his passing that David began trying to get the garage cleared out in order to sell the house.
He told me that I needed to contact Ms. Demitra T., to set up an appointment. David gave me her contact info. But she had a last name that was practically unpronounceable, and looked like it was made up entirely of consonants!
Nevertheless I fired off a note to her introducing myself and giving her my schedule.
I got her reply two days later, only to say that she’d have to get back to me in a few more days.
After a week or so, she finally did call back. It was to tell me that David’s uncle’s house had been sold, and Marlies’s possessions where no longer there. They’d been moved to yet another garage. This one belonging to a friend of David’s Uncle, by the name of Ray. And now I should contact HIM…!
This was getting a bit nuts. When I finally reached Ray I suggested that we stop playing email tag, and do the rest by phone. He agreed.
Since he lived near the beach, miles away from West L.A., we made arrangements to meet at an intermediate location. I live in the San Fernando Valley, so, that intermediate location turned out to be the synagogue to which he belongs in West L.A.
When I showed up there he’d already been unloading his SUV, and had moved a number of boxes into an anteroom inside. The selection was huge and far more than I could deal with or was even interested in. But he said I should take whatever I wanted. The rest would probably be junked.
As I began sorting out the items, I realized that most of the letters and memorabilia covered Marlies’s later life, after her parents had passed. They held no interest for me because it was her father’s life and his early training to be a doctor in the German Army during WWI that I was really interested in. Plus his friendship with the artist/journalist, Hans Grohmann, and his connection with the actor, Conrad Veidt.
That for me was where the intrigue lay; in part due to the murder of Grohmann at the hands of the Nazi SS, and my question as to it possibly being in retaliation for the disobedience of his friend, Conrad.
Conrad Veidt had already been on the Nazis’ death list because he had thumbed his nose at them by taking roles as characters sympathetic to Jews and Jewish causes.
But Veidt was not only a national treasure, he was revered around the world. So they decided that killing him was not such a good idea after all. Yet his indifference to the Nazis demand for allegiance may have inadvertently caused the death of his friend – a hypothesis that I hoped to find support from within these newly discovered Natzler treasures.
I had an “a ha” moment when among the boxes I found Marlies’s diary, which covered the crucial period, when she and her parents fled from Germany in 1933. That’s when her father had been wanted by the Gestapo, shortly after Grohmann was murdered. This could be the missing link I needed to answer so many of the questions that remained.
While I continue to sort through and identify much of the material, I can now reveal what I did find in her diary.
For weeks I laboriously scanned a few pages at a time and then emailed them to my translator. She in turn went through the painful process of translating each page of Marlies’s girlish scrawl, then sending me the results. Until the very end we were hoping to find the crucial passages. But we found NOTHING.
After all that effort we had to accept the reality that we were dealing with a seventeen year old who had yet to finish high school. Sadly she was still a teenager with a teenager’s perspective. World affairs were of little importance to her. Her gushing focus was on her shipboard activities, her teenage crushes and potential shipboard romances, all of which took precedence. With a great sense of humor, my wonderful translator began rating some of her more lurid passages on what she called her “Gorp Meter”.
While there was a very brief mention of the murder of Hans Grohmann, and her observations when her parents met my parents, there was nothing else of significance.
Too bad! My research was back to square #1.
However there is much more to be found for us history buffs in Adolph’s photos, because among the Natzler treasures are two meticulously prepared photo albums of his; plus many loose photos of Adolph’s schooling, and his career in the German army during WWI.
Then there are two prized portraits done by their dear friend, Hans Grohmann that I remember from my childhood. One of Adolph, clearly showing his Heidelberg scar (above his right lip, extending half way to his eye); and one of Marlies as a child. Also a third drawing of just her dolls. Plus numerous letters and picture postcards that have yet to be translated.
Among all the photographs, I fell in love with the picture at the top of this post when I discovered it was Adolph’s University fencing club. This is what German fencing clubs members used to wear. What was the old adage? “Give a German a uniform and ….?” Anyway, this is a classic example. That happens to be Adolph in the center. It’s how he got his Heidelberg scar, which shows up well in Hans Gromann’s portrait of him made many years later.
Meanwhile, watch this site as more is revealed from the Natzler treasures.
Read More about the Natzlers, Hans Grohmann and Conrad Veidt