Theresienstadt – Paradise or Death Camp?

Our Visit to the Ghetto Back in 2004, while in Prague for a few days, my wife, my son and I took a side trip to tour the notorious Nazi concentration camp at Theresienstadt. It was a sobering experience for us, but especially for me because it had a personal connection with my family. Among other relatives who died there, my uncle Paul Rehfisch perished en route, after he had been imprisoned in Bergen Belsen. (You’ll find this in more … Read More

How Genealogy Solved the Mystery of My Grandpa Adolph

 Adolph a Bad Word As a kid growing up during WWII, the only Adolph I knew of was Adolph Hitler. So, you can imagine both my surprise and embarrassment when I learned that we had an Adolph in our own family. The middle initial, “A” in my father’s name – Curtis A. Vanlaw – stood for Adolph. The German custom – I later learned that it was really a Jewish custom – that the son takes on his father’s first … Read More

Conrad Veidt and the Natzlers

My Twitter profile says I’m a “Conrad Veidt fanboy”. Yes! That’s true. I’ve been a fan going all the way back to my childhood, when he was a household name with my parents. It’s stuck with me ever since. The more I learned about him, the more fascinated I became with his movies. Yet what’s absorbed me even more was the man behind the actor, and the intrigue involved with his life. But we’ll get to that shortly. My parents … Read More

Searching for the Natzlers

Do any of you happen to remember the fabulous pottery designs by the husband-and-wife team of Otto & Gertrude NATZLER? They were the artistic couple who achieved their fame in the 1940s to ’50s. And now their creations are selling for thousands of dollars. One of their vases actually sold for nearly $94,000 at an auction in 2011.   I won’t rehash their bios since they’re readily available with a Google search. But Otto’s relatives played an important role in … Read More

Channeling My Grandmother

I doubt that any of you have ever channeled a dead person, or even had the opportunity….or ever gave it a thought. Well, read on because I did it. And now I invite you to learn all about my weird experience. But first, I have to say that the line between comedy and tragedy can be very narrow. And this was the kind of event that could prove it. Looking for Help Back in 2001, I was still feeling like … Read More

Walter Wicclair & Why My Father Hid His Identity

 No! Not a Pastry When I was around 8 years old, my father began to talk about a friend of his, a fellow German immigrant who had – what was to me – a silly sounding name. It was Walter Wicclair*.  Dad and I used to laugh about it because it always made us think of chocolate éclair. Then, about a year later I got to meet Walter for the first time. It was while Mom was in the hospital … Read More

Erich Puttkammer, His Scam and the Shoah Foundation?

 Who, What and Why? That day back in 2002 was uneventful, 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 Shoa Foundation. When I finally had it translated, it looked like a bit of good news: I … Read More

Finding My Family on Facebook

Yellow manuscript cover titled never forget -- the story of the lost transport.

What was “The Lost Transport”?

[Story updated from its original July 17, 2013 posting. ] I first heard of The Lost Transport when I was researching my Uncle Paul Rehfisch. He was Mom’s older brother, who fled to Amsterdam with his wife, in 1938 after Kristallnacht, to escape the Nazis. His wife was Käthe Franken. They lived together at Jan van Eijckstraat 11 until their arrest and deportation by the Nazis in 1943. Like so many other deported Dutch Jews, their trail followed the same … Read More

Jealousy, Feuds & Family Secrets – Part 2

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 … Read More

Jealousy, Feuds & Family Secrets – Part 1

When I was seven or eight, Mom told me in very hushed tones that Dad had a brother, Willi, who lived in England. But because he didn’t like his brother, he never spoke of him, nor wanted anything to do with him. With a child’s logic, I assumed that Willi was a very bad person. Otherwise why would Dad dislike him so much? So, from then on, I carried a picture in my mind of Willi as a shadowy figure, … Read More