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The Most Bizarre POW Camp During WWII – Curragh

A World War II Canadian bomber crew crash lands into friendly territory — but quickly becomes some of the most unlikely Prisoners of War ever.

Margot rehfisch ca 1929

Diary of a Department Store: The Nachmann-Joseph-David Connection

Author’s Note: Also see my follow-up to this post, A New Look at “Diary of a Department Store”. For those of you who are new to my Blog, most of my stories are based on the research I originally did for my film, “For the Life of Me”, or new information that resulted from it. But now much of it come from the posts on my Blog. Most recently they’ve been about my Mother’s side of the family. Her maiden … Read More

Don Lusk on set dressed like a film noir gangster.

“My Search for Don Lusk!”

When I knew Don Lusk he was a U.S. Marine, an Animator for Walt Disney and my childhood idol. Although it was a brief period in my life, it was responsible for some of my fondest memories, and a story worth telling, especially my search for him 70 years later . . . ! But let’s start with the back-story. Way back in the day when I was in grammar school, a group of us were in the Cub Scouts; … Read More

"Stopersteine" honoring the memory of Gerhard and Hedwig Rehfisch, my grand aunt and her son.

Serendipity – What does it mean?

A quest for info on my grandfather’s fourth brother, Gerhard Rehfisch, took a dozen years to show results: Amelie, of Berlin, stumbled across a single Stolpersteine — or “stumbling stone” in English, and put it together with my search request from 2006 still online . . . talk about serendipity!

Rendezvous in Hannover

This is dedicated to my dear friend, the late Ralph Hirsch1, who was so instrumental in helping me research my family. Ralph and I met on the Internet through the JewishGen web site. He quickly became my “go to guy” in my newfound interest in genealogy; primarily to learn about my family – the family I never knew. But that’s another story.2 But Our First Rendezvous is in Berlin It was 2005 when my wife and I were in Berlin at … Read More

General Morris (Two-Gun) Cohen

by Dr Cyril Sherer Note: This personal recollection, edited for space and clarity, is by a cousin of General Morris (Two Gun) Cohen, Dr Cyril Sherer I was eight years old in 1929 when I first heard his name. My mother had been busy since morning, frying fish and making a large pile of latkes. I was told, “The Chinese General is coming”. I wasn’t sure what that meant. I only knew we weren’t Chinese, so something was different. I remember a large man with … Read More

You May Have a Story to Tell

Is yours hidden behind family secrets? For instance:  1. You were never raised a Jew, but only learned later in life. 2. Your heritage was hidden behind a wall of family secrets. 3. Maybe it was hidden behind your own denial, or both. 4. Or, you discovered a fascinating story about a relative that’s worth telling. Please sample any or all of the ones we’ve already told: Sharon Squires’, “A Study in Denial” (upper left) Ilonka Alexander’s, “The Pain of Family Secrets” (center) Frannie Sheridan’s “Never Tell … Read More

Why Was Hans Grohmann an Enigma?

Ever since I began this blog, back in 2013, one of the many mysteries plaguing me has been the real story behind Hans Grohmann. As a victim of history, during his short life, he seems to have played a pivotal role in one, if not two lives that I know of. Yet, even, with new information that’s recently turned up, he still remains an enigma. That’s because of the mystery that continues to surround his untimely death, and how that … Read More

The Story that Just Keeps on Ticking – Eva Baruch’s!

Many of you know my cousin Eva Baruch’s story, from my film and the many posts I’ve written about her, along with many of the people who were part of her life. But for those of you who don’t know her story, here’s a brief synopsis: She was a cousin of mine whose life reads like a movie script, because of her numerous cliffhanger escapes, and the circumstances surrounding them. During the mid 1930s in pre-WWII Berlin, Eva had become … Read More

Thin Ice cover.

“Thin Ice” by Frieda Korobkin

This post is made up of three excerpts from “Thin Ice”, a brand new novel, and a unique proposition for both my blog and me. But after reading Frieda Korobkin’s powerful and moving story, I found that it fits in perfectly within the context of my other posts. But more important, I couldn’t help but identify with many parts of it. That’s why I asked Ms Korobkin if she would allow me to showcase some select pieces here in my … Read More

DADDY, DADDY, LOOK A RELATIVE!

by Joan Durham I was five when I first met Ruth Herzog. It was at Rumplemeyer’s in New York City, a popular after theater restaurant known for its pastries and thick hot chocolate. With its stained glass windows and ice cream sundaes, it was a magical place for children. Ruth was a hostess there and knew my father. That was the moment when I ran to her, squealing, “Daddy, Daddy, look, a relative!” Yet I didn’t remember any of that incident for … Read More

Marion Blumenthal Lazan

WHY SHE BECAME MY HERO! -an essay by Leslie Zurla I ‘m from a little town in New Jersey and went to College not far from where we lived. I was there recently to celebrate my college reunion. It was a wonderful experience to share our “pasts” and “presents.” My trips “back home” are always full of nostalgia and wonderful memories. I was reflecting on the carefree days of my becoming a teenager – totally pre-occupied with “breaking out” the … Read More

What will the Natzlers’ Treasures Reveal?

 

“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.”

Adolph Natzler (center) with two of his fencing partners.
Adolph Natzler (center) with two of his fencing partners.

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.

Otto and Trude Natzler working together in their Los Angeles studio.
Otto and Trude Natzler working together in their Los Angeles studio.

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.

Conrad Veidt having his portrait done by his friend, Hans Grohmann.
Conrad Veidt having his portrait done by his friend, Hans Grohmann.

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.

 

Adolph with scar visible, Marlies and her dolls.
Adolph with scar visible, Marlies and her dolls.

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.

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What Does it Mean to be a Jew? Part 2

Here’s a quick recap of Part 1 and where we left off: What we’ve been dealing with is the the result of a series of questions that my “What’s the Story” guru, STACIE CHAIKEN, suggested I explore as a way of finding a way of creating a story arc for my embryonic film project, which later became “FOR THE LIFE OF ME”. Her last question in Part 1 was: Did I ever get any clues that our family was Jewish? But you’ll have to go back to Part 1 to find out, in … Read More

What Does it Mean to be a Jew? Part #1

“JEW” was a word I often heard from other kids, but rarely from my parents.  For any of you reading this, I have to clarify the title since it only relates to me. That’s because it wasn’t until I reached the ripe old age of 52 that I discovered I was a Jew. But then WHY, you ask, is this bit of self-evaluation and revelation even here? It was the result of an exercise that my “What’s the Story” guru, Stacie Chaiken, asked me to write as a … Read More

Who Were The Shanghai Twelve?

Shanghai in 1939: International Enclave of Foreign Intrigue!   The “Shanghai Twelve”! That’s what I named a group of very talented European refugees who escaped from China only days before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. But who were they? And how and why were they able to escape from Shanghai just before December 7, 1941? As it turns out, I discovered them while researching my cousin Eva’s own narrow escape from that port in China just days before the Japanese shut it down. That was the … Read More

Friedl Dicker-Brandeis: Heroine to the Children of Terezin

THE GARDEN A little garden Fragrant and full of roses The path is narrow And a little boy walks along it. A little boy, a sweet boy Like that growing blossom When the blossom come to bloom, The little boy will be no more. — Franta Bass, 9/04/1930 – 10/28/1944 It wasn’t until months after our visit to Theresienstadt that I even became aware of Friedl Dicker-Brandeis, the person, and Friedl Dicker-Brandeis, the heroine to the imprisoned children she helped there. A … Read More

Peter Ginz – His Short Life and His Inspiration

Penned up inside this ghetto But I have found my people here. The dandelions call to me And the white chestnut candles in the court, Only I never saw another butterfly, That butterfly was the last one. Butterflies don’t live in here,  In the ghetto —Pavel Friedmann, 1/07/1921 – 9/29/1944   When I visited the ghetto/concentration camp known as Theresienstadt in 2004 with my wife and son, I was apprehensive as to what I was about to see. Our visit was part … Read More

“Paul and Lily”

by Leslie Zurla

This is a guest post written by my friend and colleague, Leslie Zurla. She was inspired to write it after seeing this simple picture – four people standing on a wood pile. But this one included my mother and her brother, taken circa 1916 somewhere in Germany. That this simple photo could inspire such feelings . . . that’s what I find beautiful about it.

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Eight People Who Changed My Life

I count eight people who in one way or another changed my life. Had I not discovered at age 52 that I was really a Jew, I would never have had the pleasure of finding so many wonderful friends. Each one added valuable insight and information that helped me uncover the mosaic of my family’s history. Some were in my life only briefly, some for longer and with some I continue to remain in contact. But all of them have had a lasting impact Ironically, it all began with my … Read More