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

“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

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

Margot Rehfisch & “Fiep” the Kiddie Book Artist

Normally I wouldn’t try to write about a relative unless I knew a fair amount about his or her life story, but I was so fascinated by my discovery of Margot Rehfisch and what I learned about the latter part of her life that I had to share it with you, regardless.  Googling Rehfisch My mother’s maiden name was Rehfisch, but all during my years researching my family’s history, Margot’s name never came up, until quite recently. It surfaced as … 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

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

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