Exterior view of grand berlin department store, h joseph and company, in the 1930s.

A New Look at “Diary of a Department Store”

This is new information about what actually happened when the Nazis “Aryanized” the Berlin Department Store founded in 1900 by my grand uncle, “Sally” Rehfisch, and his partner, Hermann Joseph. More details about the people involved, before, during and after the war, in this update of my 2019 post, “Diary of a Department Store”.

Collage of eight photos from early 20th century, groups of people either dressed up for winter outings or wearing bathing costumes at waterfront.

For The Life of Me – The Backstory

All the trials and tribulations that led up to the actual creation of “For the Life of Me”.

Portrait of five members of the Rehfisch family, including a young Lily Rehfisch

Wittstock, Kristallnacht and the Rehfisch Family

Last fall I received a flyer from Amilie, my friend in Berlin, as a reminder that the 9th of November is the day to commemorate Kristallnacht. One could also consider it the beginning of the Holocaust. It is Amelie who continues to be an incredible source of historical information about my family and my relatives.  In keeping with the 80th anniversary of that horrendous night, the flyer she sent was focused specifically on its observation in the small town of … Read More

Ilonka’s Story – The Sequel

Ilonka Venier Alexander’s first story appeared very soon after I began my blog. She found one of my early posts; the one about discovering my own Jewish family, which prompted her to contact me as a kindred soul. Ilonka and I have stayed in touch over the years while she began writing primarily about the world of her renowned grandfather. Since then she’s had three books published and is now working on a fourth. Recently she asked me to help … Read More

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

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

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

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.

Read More

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

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

“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.

Read More

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

Willie and Kurt Weinlaub

Anatomy of a Family Feud – Act 2

To recap where we left off at the end of Act 1, Lily’s recent return from her six week sabbatical back home to Hannover was not a happy one. First she was greeted with the news that Kurt had lost what remained of their savings because of some bad investments he’d made. Then she learned that her trip back to Hannover did not sit well with her mother-in-law, Gertrude, who accused her of turning her back on her favorite son, just when he needed her support the most. … Read More

Anatomy of a Family Feud – Act 1

feud | fyood | noun: a state of prolonged mutual hostility, typically between two families  Take a fistful of jealously, add a  share of resentment, some greed and mistrust, then inject a mother’s suicide, wrap it all in a cloak of secrecy and you have the makings of a full blown family feud. And that’s exactly what I discovered when at age 50, I suddenly learned the truth behind my father’s firmly entrenched secrets, beginning with the fact that our family was Jewish. … Read More

The 30 Year Search for Mike Zanger

Few Jews were Marine Corps pilots in WWII – Mike Zanger was…!   The story behind the search for Mike Zanger has intrigued me ever since I heard it from his niece, Marcy Hanigan, back in 2011. Like so many stories that came out of WWII, it had a hero’s death, a family’s heartbreak, and the need for closure. But hers was like no other I’d ever heard because this one also had a level of serendipity that I’ve seldom – if ever – observed: It all happened because … Read More

Puttkammer’s List – The Extortion of Dutch Jews

A Letter from the Shoah Foundation? It was an uneventful day back in 2002 , until I happened to go out to our mail box. That’s when I noticed a strange envelope postmarked “the Netherlands”, stuck in between the usual collection of bills, magazines and direct mail advertising. Inside was a letter written in Dutch. I could only decipher a portion, but it said it had something to do with the Shoah Foundation. When I finally had it translated, it looked … Read More

From Kreuzburg to Hollywood: Finding Walter Wicclair

This was posted in JewishGen’s “Success Stories” on June 2, 2015    As incredible as it may sound, I didn’t learn that my family was Jewish until I was 51 years old. That secret was sustained while I was growing up as an only child, knowing only my parents, and with little knowledge about any relatives living or dead. Forget about their history because there was precious little information forthcoming from my parents. But after their passing, I decided to get … Read More