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

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

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