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

General Morris (Two-Gun) Cohen

by Dr Cyril Sherer Note: This personal recollection, edited for space and clarity, is by a cousin of General Morris (Two Gun) Cohen, Dr Cyril Sherer I was eight years old in 1929 when I first heard his name. My mother had been busy since morning, frying fish and making a large pile of latkes. I was told, “The Chinese General is coming”. I wasn’t sure what that meant. I only knew we weren’t Chinese, so something was different. I remember a large man with … 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

The Story that Just Keeps on Ticking – Eva Baruch’s!

Many of you know my cousin Eva Baruch’s story, from my film and the many posts I’ve written about her, along with many of the people who were part of her life. But for those of you who don’t know her story, here’s a brief synopsis: She was a cousin of mine whose life reads like a movie script, because of her numerous cliffhanger escapes, and the circumstances surrounding them. During the mid 1930s in pre-WWII Berlin, Eva had become … 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

Who Were The Shanghai Twelve?

Shanghai in 1939: International Enclave of Foreign Intrigue!   The “Shanghai Twelve”! That’s what I named a group of very talented European refugees who escaped from China only days before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. But who were they? And how and why were they able to escape from Shanghai just before December 7, 1941? As it turns out, I discovered them while researching my cousin Eva’s own narrow escape from that port in China just days before the Japanese shut it down. That was the … Read More

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

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

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

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

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