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

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

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 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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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