Margot Rehfisch Redux

One Amazing Lady – Marion Blumenthal Lazan

Marion Blumenthal Lazan is a Holocaust survivor who has dedicated her life to delivering a message of racial and religious tolerance to audiences all over the world. I finally had the opportunity to meet this incredible woman in person, just a few weeks ago, when she spoke to 500 students at Cope Middle School, in Redlands, CA. Telling her story to school children, high school and college students, as well as young adults is something she’s been doing for over twenty years, motivated by … Read More

Bendorf-Sayn and My Cousin – An Update

Since I wrote my original post, Eugenics, My Cousin and the “Final Solution”, enough new information has crossed my desk that I feel it’s necessary to write this update. The original post began with my discovery of a cousin by the name of Felicitas Weinlaub, who died in 1942 as a patient in an insane asylum known as the “Jacoby’she Anstalt” or Jacoby Institute, and was buried in a cemetery in a place called  Bendorf-Sayn. But I had no information about her other than her birth … Read More

Who was Sally Rehfisch? – Tombstone Tuesday

This headstone is in the Weissensee Cemetery in Berlin, Germany. It helped me solve a long term question of mine, who is Sally Rehfisch? Or more specifically, what was Sally Rehfisch’s gender. I must give credit to a fellow Jewish Genealogical Society member, Bert de Jong, for helping me find the answer, plus a whole lot more. Bert, who lives in Amsterdam, claims he’s been photographing headstones since he was twelve years old. In 2012, his hobby took him to the Weissenssee … Read More

The Day I Learned I was a Jew

 Shock & Awe So, how would you feel if you learned at the ripe old age of 53 that you were a Jew? Probably come as a shock, right? It did for me, but not in quite the way you’d expect. It happened 27 years ago. But before I get into it, you need to know about the events that happened two years earlier, after I’d suffered a heart attack. It was during my hospitalization when my parents had come … Read More

Lucile Avenue Revisited

Because of a Wishing Well It was dark when Linda and I arrived at our host’s apartment. We were in an older section of Los Angeles called the Silverlake District, an area that had been known as a showcase for the houses designed by the noted Viennese architect, Richard Neutra. But we were blocks away from any Neutra houses, on a street, where the recent gentrification that had begun on Sunset Blvd. years earlier, was only just now reaching it. The apartment was on the street where … Read More

A Study in Denial – Sharon’s Story

by Sharon S.

“My husband tried to tell me his mother was a German Jew, a few months before we were married. I was shocked, but tried to focus on the German, ignoring the Jewish part.” 

Sharon S.

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Living with an Insane Parent

Life with an Insane Parent – Part 2

 Part 1 introduced the notes I took in 1993 regarding my mother’s mental state nearly fifty years after she’d been institutionalized. That’s when she finally revealed to me the secrets within the netherworld that she had created inside her head. Part 1 also introduced the “Heroes” or “Good Guys”, who were some of the inhabitants of her secret place. In Part 2 we get to the “Villains” or “Bad Guys”, the other inhabitants. It would have been so much easier to believe that my mother was NOT insane, just seriously … Read More

Life with an Insane Parent

 Life with an Insane Parent – Part 1

In 1944 my mother suffered a severe emotional breakdown, and was committed to a mental hospital in Compton, CA. Although released seven months later, she never fully recovered. But it would be another 50 years before she finally allowed me into her secret nether world, the place into which she frequently retreated after she returned home. That was in 1993, when I began writing down her diabolical descriptions. It was the only way I could follow the incredibly complex inner world that she created as her sanctuary. These conversations continued periodically for the next four years. … Read More

Eugenics, My Cousin and the “Final Solution” – Madness Monday

During my family research, I discovered that I had a cousin by the name of Felicitas Weinlaub, who died in 1942. There was very little additional information about her other than her birth date, date of her demise and the fact that she was buried in an unmarked grave at a cemetery in Germany in a place called Bendorf-Sayn. That naturally prompted some immediate questions: Who was she? What was Bendorf-Sayn? And why was she buried there? The first thing I learned was that … Read More

Family Friends Friday – The Natzlers

Dr. Adolf Natzler and his wife, Hedwig, were names from my childhood. As dear friends of my parents, they would visit us at least once a week, unless we were visiting them. He was a highly regarded orthopedic surgeon from Germany, who came to America with his family about the same time as my parents. But Adolph Natzler died in 1939, when I was only five, and by 1945 my parents had lost track of his wife and daughter Then just a few years ago, I happened to … Read More

Gertrude alone

A Suicide in My Family – Madness Monday

What is suicide if not a form of madness? Why else would a person choose to take their own life? That is a question that has plagued me ever since I learned that my grandmother killed herself many years ago. In retrospect, it became a double tragedy, because years later it led to my mother’s madness – an emotional breakdown that caused her to be institutionalized and from which she never fully recovered. But to understand how this all came about, we have to … Read More

“Never Tell Anyone”: Frannie Sheridan’s Story

by Frannie Sheridan Frannie contacted me a few weeks ago in response to Marc Stevens’ very dramatic story, “The German Jew Who Bombed Berlin” When she told me hers, I had to add it to this collection because we all share the same elements in our families of origin: fear, shame, family secrets, discovery and learning to adjust to our own new reality. Yet every story is unique. I grew up in a picture postcard perfect family…or so I thought. My six … Read More

The German Jew Who Bombed Berlin

by Mark Stevens Like Ilonka Alexander’s story, Marc Stevens’ bears some similarities to mine in that none of us knew about our Jewish heritage until later in life, plus both of our fathers came from Hannover. But you will find in Marc’s account some extraordinary differences. This is his very unique and dramatic story: Escape, Evasion and Revenge Growing up, I had been told that, even though my father spoke with a very cultured British accent and had been a … Read More

Escape from Shanghai

Known as Paris of the Orient, Shanghai in 1941 was  a turbulent mass of humanity: an ethnic and cultural mix of British, Germans, Russians, Italians, French, Americans, Japanese and Chinese; an international enclave that was an exotic blend of refugees and expatriates, teeming with espionage, political intrigue and murder. It was just days before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. My cousin, Eva Baruch, an actress who had fled from the Nazis in 1938, and had established a new career for … Read More

The Pain of Family Secrets: Ilonka’s Story

by Ilonka Venier Alexander Forward by Pete Vanlaw Ilonka Alexander’s story is very special. She recently found me on one of the genealogical groups that ran my post, “The Day I Learned I was a Jew”.  Although not a blogger, her story is unique and had to be told. I also realized that it’s about “the need to belong “; another reason why I wanted to share it with you. Here is Ilonka’s story: Late in 2008 a good friend by … Read More

Eva Baruch, Actress, Activist or Spy: Chap. 4 – Who, What, Where & How!

I was trying to finish my film, “For the Life of Me”, while facing a deadline only a few months away. And it was a “biggie”- our first screening for a live audience, at the International Conference of Jewish Genealogical Societies . But with only a short time remaining I had decided not to include Eva’s story, for lack of both information and enough film to cover what little I did have. Help was Near! Then my friend, Bob Sallin came … Read More

Eva Baruch, Actress, Activist or Spy – Part 3

Melbourne and Back to Berlin In Chapter 2, after producing two anti-Nazi radio plays, a now pregnant Eva has to escape from Shanghai with her cohorts, and spend the rest of the war in Australia. In 1946, a year after the Japanese surrendered and the war was over, Eva was able to reunite with her actress mother, Kaete Horsten and bring her to Australia. During the war, Kaete occasionally found roles in the Shanghai theater. She’d been living alone for … Read More

Eva Baruch – Actress, Activist or Spy: Chapter 2

Shanghai to Melbourne In Chapter 1 we discussed Eva’s work in the Shanghai Theater, her work with British Ministry of Information (BMI), and her anti Nazi radio shows. As an open city, Shanghai had among its many nationalities a large German contingent, many of whom were pro Nazi. This included a network of Gestapo agents. In October, 1941, only weeks before war broke out in the Pacific, Eva produced two anti-Nazi  radio plays. The first was called”Wien, Maerz 1938″ (Vienna, … Read More

Eva Baruch – Actress, Activist or Spy: Chap. 1

Berlin to Shanghai When the full story of my cousin Eva Baruch’s life was finally revealed to me, it played like the old movie serials, where the heroine always got caught in a life-threatening situation at the end of the current chapter, only to escape at the beginning of the next one. That’s how Eva lived much of her life. But let’s go back to the beginning. It was in 1999 when I first became curious about my family’s history. … Read More