VIII. My education
Königsberg, Munich 1926 to 1939
To my great regret, by necessity, more of my time is spent in Königsberg than in Nidden. During four years in a private primary school on the first floor of a block of flats, half an hour's walk from home, I sit often outside the classroom on one of the boxes of pigeon holes which hold our house- and street-shoes. We are banished there when we misbehave.
During morning breaks in fine weather, we walk in pairs, holding hands, up and down the street outside the building under the supervision of one of the school mistresses. Mental arithmetic seems to be my main achievement. I collect many of the prizes which are handed out in regular competitions to increase the eagerness of the students.
In Winter, I am often too small to look over the piles of snow beside the footpaths. They are cleared every morning by a horse-drawn snow plough, followed by men with shovels. A day later, if no snow has fallen, a man comes along with a push-cart and spreads gravel. Then we can no longer skid along on our way to or from school.
At the age of ten, I enter the Humanist High School, where my brothers already serve. The language curriculum comprises Latin, French and Greek, the natural sciences taking second place. In those days, knowledge of the antique lanquages still lends social lustre. Only brother Uwe handles the associated challenges successfully. I find qreat difficulties in memorizing words. Dictionaries may not be used during examinations!
Some of the older teachers are invalids from the war. There are also younger teachers who change frequently. Among all of them Nazism finds quick entry. The highly esteemed, otherwise inclined director Alfred Postelmann of the school is dismissed and replaced by an old party member. For the pupils, the Nazi take-over in 1933 seems to bring few changes. In addition to the established Deutschland, Deutschland, ueber Alles, we sing now Die Fahne hoch, still accompanied on the organ by the music teacher and choir master Hugo Hartung. It does not take much time before the majority of the students join the Hitler Youth. Jewish comrades, once upon a time envied together with the Catholics for not having to take part in compulsory Protestant religious lessons, disappear from one day to another. After a few letters, correspondences lapse and the significance of these developments is lost.
Our Jewish neighbours sell their houses. One day, the new Leader of East Prussia, Erich Koch, moves into the house opposite ours. Hitler, Goering, Goebbels, Himmler and others stay the night there when they visit Königsberg. Then S.S. Guards stand at the end of our street, but as a resident I am permitted to pass.
On his return from school one day, Uwe tells mother that the boys at school have said, that he is a Jew and that he had answered that he is not. He asks: "What is a Jew?". May be, I do not listen well to the explanation given, in any case, the implications do not sink in. Father continues in his position; each First of May, he marches with the workers. Once their music band returns with him early in the morning of the day after and wakes up the neighbourhood with the tune of Enjoy your life (Freut Euch des Lebens). There are no abrupt changes from day to day, no traumatic experiences which disturb the daily routine sufficiently to demand penetrating analysis by myself and my sister Gundula. Undoubtedly, my parents hide information on unpleasant, current events, considering us to be too young.
In turn, the three elder brothers leave home for study and work in the West of Germany. They return for holidays and festivities. In 1936, I am sent to Scotland to learn English. I have just changed school after my performance in Latin and Greek reached the borderline and I had to repeat one year. In the new school, English replaces Greek. My performance is never good and most teachers claim that I can do better, and so do my parents. I am restless and spend as much time as possible away from home. Grete Simon from Elbing, who has become an eye specialist in Königsberg, is my special friend. She migrates to New York in 1935.
In the same year, the Nürnberg Laws prohibit the presence of female domestics under 50 years of age in homes with Jewish men. This is only the beginning of the regulations which are meant to degrade and set Jews apart. Several attempts are made to find a suitable domestic help, either a man or a suficiently old woman, as the house is large. In the meantime, Gundula and I pull our weights.
During these years, father speaks rarely in my presence about politics. Once or twice, he expresses his opinion that the new masters are not stylish and inexperienced, nor reliable enough to look after the public purse. When Hjalmar Schacht, the president of the State Bank, makes a challenging statement at the opening of Königsberg's East-Messe on l8th August, 1935, father and others suddenly hope that reason will prevail. They do not yet understand that the person in power does not have to reason as he is always right. Throughout this time, there is talk of irregularities, there are rumours and, of course, jokes. It is not possible for Gundula and myself to understand, what is going on. No one takes the trouble to guide us. As a consequence, we misbehave, feeling left out of it and not appreciating the need to understand. Neither parents nor brothers suspect the origin of this reaction, manifested by our biting our fingernails.Silver Wedding on skis in March 1938 The first words about emigration fall over Christmas 1937, the last occasion when the entire family assembles in the accustomed surroundings. Plans are made to celebrate in March 1938 our parents' Silver Wedding in style at considerable expense in the mountains of Austria. I join with Gundula the other members of the family later in March after I have passed my final examination to qualify for matriculation at a university. It is the last time that Herr Lemke takes us by car to the station. He simply passes out of my life.
Perhaps this holiday in the mountains demonstrates better than many other events during this time how life continues in an apparently regulated manner, while the storm is brewing. While I am sitting for my final examinations and my family is skiing during the day and enjoying the luxury of a splendid hotel at night, Austria is occupied. The hotel is in a region which has always been under German administration, because any access to Austria over the high mountain passes is cut off in Winter. I cannot remember any great disturbance in our life at that time, although we are only a few kilometres from a region where a complete change of state is developing. The number of unfortunates who have to try to depart or face what is later on called the final solution is increasing astronomically. A study of these events with insight resulting from a long life most likely has put many on guard.
Statement of ancestry and classification as Half-Jew at the Technical High School
After the common holidays in the mountains, I go to Munich with Uwe who has just finished his degree in aircraft design. I am to attempt matriculation at the Technical High School in Mechanical Engineering, one of the few areas where the Numerus Clausus, now applied to Non-Aryans, may permit me to enrol. On the last day of registration of students, I am told that I have been accepted and receive a yellow student card, the first time I carry on me official proof that my father is a Jew. Little I realize that the colour of yellow goes back to the time of Maria Theresia, Empress of Austria, or even earlier, nor that my own ancestors have had a similar experience.
I throw myself into the work which I enjoy from the beginning. The fact that there is no supervision and that only self-discipline can produce results excites me. I must do well and do not miss a lecture or fail to hand in exercises. The first term slips by fast. Half through the term I receive an order to attend a weekend camp for students who have not joined the Nazi student organization. It is held at some location outside Munich. I meet several colleagues from the classes which I have attended. In the end, after two days of indoctrination, each participant is interviewed individually by the Nazi student leader of the High School. When I show my yellow student card, there is a moment of embarrassed silence; he actually begs my pardon for having made a mistake. I leave the camp immediately, watched enviously by several of those having to stay behind. At that time still students from wealthier families will do anything to keep out of the machine which is gradually engulfing everyone.
I return to Königsberg at the end of June, 1938, in order to start practical work in a garage as part of my engineering training. I have not been able to get into a more industrial-type undertaking in spite of father's good contacts. In previous years, the elder brothers worked in father's factory. Conditions at home have changed radically. Preparations for the emigration of the entire family are underway, although nothing is being done in a hurry. When father returned from his holiday in April, he was dismissed from the factory after 23 years in leading positions. It is then that he is forced to accept the idea that he is no longer considered to be a German, by a law which has been established using legal processes with the aid of a bureaucracy which previously was part of a democracy. Like so many others, father thought that he might be excepted, and possibly even shared in his heart many of the objectives of the Nazi Regime. After all, the Treaty of Versailles had reduced Germany from a powerful nation to one struggling to survive, and nowhere was this more present in everybody's mind than in East Prussia, separated from Main-Germany by the Polish Corridor. The fact that this region had only come under German rule through the third partition of Poland in 1772, 150 years earlier, is silently skipped over. No considerate thought is given to "Pollacks", as they are called locally; they are identified with the casual labourers entering the Province during harvest time. Only a few people are aware of the highly comparable cultural level of the neighbouring nation, ruled from what is called Little Paris by those who know Warsaw well. Thus Hitler's adjustments of the Versailles Treaty and Germany's borders which started with the Rhineland, the Saar, Austria and is soon to engulf Czechoslovakia, fits into the set of desires of many German nationals. To be excluded from it on racial grounds is a bitter pill and demands significant reorientation.
Father has always been a every active man. I cannot remember that he had any real hobbies; however, he has a big stamp collection and spends some of his spare time in the garden. Even on the beaches in Nidden and elsewhere, I have rarely seen him sitting down or swimming. He is always strolling along and will rejoin his family for a few minutes at a time. The factory and its challenges have been his entire life. He is proud that he pulled it through the depression, while the Union Foundry, led until 1910 so ably by his father, went into liquidation under his brother in law. Now he is like a fish out of water, uncertain about keeping himself occupied and not yet ready to apply his full energy to the urgent task of becoming a foreigner. Soon after father's dismissal, Uwe discovers that he cannot find work in the aircraft industry and leaves for England. Jobst has finished his training as exporter and has entered the so called voluntary Labour Service in which every young German has to spend six months before being drafted into the Army. He is stationed not far from Königsberg, where his unit is employed in draining a swamp. Christoph volunteers for the Air Force, as he expects to be drafted very soon. The border line between Aryans and Non-Aryans is complicated. It is not easy to know where one stands, if one is neither Jewish nor Aryan, i.e., if one has Jewish ancestors. In this context, the fact that father and his entire family were christened in 1902 makes no difference.
I work in a small garage and enjoy once again living in our beautiful home after months in a small room in Munich. I manage to visit Nidden several times for a few days. Half through the Summer, father succeeds in getting me into the local Central Railways Workshop. I remain there for 8 weeks and receive training together with workshop apprentices. I file cast-iron and make a bucket out of metal sheet which after several attempts even does not leak. I spend the last two weeks in the locomotive repair shop. As the highlight of this time, I take part in a 100 km long test run of a huge express steam locomotive - 50 km forwards, 50 km backwards.
This period falls into the time of the first partition of Czechoslovakia. Full of fear, people follow the developments which culminate in visits by England's Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and France's Minister President Edouard Daladier to Bad Godesberg, Munich and Berchtesgaden. At the critical moment, when war seems to be inevitable, the manager of the Railway Works assembles his entire staff of about 3000 workers and employees in the locomotive shed and speaks about the threat of war, the need to keep quiet and be prepared for the worst. After his address, everyone leaves the hall deep in thought. There does not develop the enthusiasm which is supposed to have accompanied the first days of August 1914. When eventually the clouds dissolve, at least for the German people, everyone is relieved.
During these days, a first black-out is ordered. However, few yet believe that it is the real thing, and therefore they improvise. At night, anti-aircraft batteries play with their search lights and own aircraft. In the evenings, air-raid wardens visit the neighbourhood and force us to improve our black-out effort. When walking in our suburb in the cool evenings of early Autumn, I see unending lines of trucks with canvas covers driving along the boulevard at the head of our street from the factory which father directed for so many years.
In October, I return to Munich. I meet there at the end of the month the parents who have driven by car in the company of Jobst who has just completed his labour service. Father has obtained a driving licence and actually takes occasionally the wheel after many years of being chauffeured. His aversion to driving originates from an accident he had in London in 1910, when he rammed a bus. This is the first time that he has driven again. They spend a few days South of Munich at Bad Schliersee and pass through Munich on the morning after the first Germany wide pogrom, the Reichskristallnacht, when Jewish businesses and synagogues are destroyed by a supposedly uncontrollable mob, but in actual fact by organized storm-troopers. After seeing the parents off at the outskirts of town, I take a tram into the centre and walk about. There are many signs of the senseless disaster which overtook Germany the night before. Broken plate glass windows, curtains hanging out of showroom windows and flapping in the wind, bricks on the road after having been thrown out of trucks at shop windows, the synagogue behind Munich's largest hotel quietly smouldering along without any sign of an effort by the fire brigade to stop the fire, trucks driving around the streets with people crowded inside behind canvas covers. For the first time, I watch the terror for which the Nazis have acquired a reputation, but which hitherto had only been quite selective and confined locally. This time it engulfes the whole.country. The excuse for this display of "popular anger" is the shooting of a German Embassy official in Paris by a Jewish boy whose parents have been deported from Hannover to the No-Mans-Land of the Polish border.
Christmas, I travel again back to Königsberg. During the pogrom, Father has stayed in Berlin in hiding after the Gestapo sought him at the house in Königsberg. Our town also has had its share of the events. The stormtroopers visited a self-financed home for aged Jews near our house and chased the old men and women, who were already in bed, in their night clothes into the cold November night. Some of them, friends of the family, tried to find shelter at our house, but no one was there.
By the time I reach Königsberg, many of the persons arrested at that time have been released and it was safe for father to return. On the train from Munich to Berlin, I meet Norah Trangmar, an English lady who is studying music in Munich and is to enable me in a few months' time to leave Germany under my own steam.
The last Christmas in the familiar surroundings of our home lacks the atmosphere of past years. A phone call from Uwe in Scotland on Christmas Eve accentuates the pending changes. After dinner, I go for a walk along the frozen river. Deep snow lies everywhere. At a water hole in the ice of the river, I watch some ducks feeding. I return past the home of my former school friend Lothar Dyck whose family I watch through the curtains at their Christmas dinner. However, I do not ring the bell, as he had joined years ago the SS and I have not seen him since then. I fear that my visit might cause embarrassment. I am to see him again 32 years later when he is a doctor in Aschaffenburg.