Hannover

After we rode into Unna we traveled North to Hannover where Otto lived in the early 20th century. Here, we met family from Scotland and Israel.

Otto had 10 brothers and sisters: Jakob, Zelma, Karl, Avraham, Leah, Friedel, Tony, Isaac, Max, and Erna. The War caused the family to disperse around the World. Leah’s dauther, Rita, escaped on an early Kindertransport. She married Jim and they raised a beautiful family in Scotland. Erna’s daughter, Jutta, married Eli and they raised a beautiful family in Israel. And Otto’s two sons Siegfried and Manfred married Lorraine and Annabel, respectively, and raised beautiful families in America. Today the families of Erna, Leah, and Otto reunited in Hannover, where the Lindenbaums lived before the Nazis rose to power.

Before the war Otto’s family owned a business in Hannover. In 1931 Otto’s mother, Yitte, passed away and his father, Salomon, moved to Palestine. Karl Lindenbaum stayed behind to run the family business and handle the family accounts. On one such occasion, we believe that he received money without the form of approval. He waited for the approval to come. For a day. A week. A banker threatened to turn him into the Nazis if the approval did not come. He waited two weeks. It still did not come. On June 9, 1939 Karl took his life. The approval came two days after his funeral.

We visited his grave site in Hannover where he was buried next to his mother.

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We saw the cemetery where Avraham Lindnebaum, Otto’s brother, was buried after he died in WWI. DSC_0745

 

 

Unna

Today we rode into Unna.

A week in Poland. 5 days on bike. We were finally returning to the place the journey began 76 years ago.

It started to rain as we biked towards the train station in Dortmund, where my Zayda boarded the train that took him away from his home. But our spirits were high. In 1938 The Nazis kicked him out, and shortly after a local newspaper printed the headline “Unna is Finally Free of Jews.” But today we would return. 20 strong.

As we approached Unna the dark rain clouds vanished and the sun came out. W e stopped at the Jewish cemetery where the town built a memorial to Jews murdered in the Holocaust. Seeing Ruth’s name, Frieda’s name, and Otto’s name had a calming effect on me. This family was tossed around Europe and subject to unimaginable terrors. But in our 1,000+ mile trek there has been no physical proof that they existed. Here, in Unna, down the road from where they once lived, on a beautiful street corner covered with flowers, was a memorial to Ruth, to Frieda, to Otto. I put my hand over their names and smiled.

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 We walked down the street to Massener Strasse 3, where my family once lived. I could see Otto closing his clothing store on the first floor and going upstairs to their apartment. I could see my Great Aunt Ruth hanging out with her friends on the weekend. I could see my Great Uncle Siegfried walking out the front door to school. And I could see him coming home that afternoon bruised and beaten up. I could see the ‘Juden’ that was once written on Otto’s store. And I could see the empty apartment on October 29, 1938. But I also saw the reflection of my family standing in front the glass storefront today. All of us, standing together.

photo (20)Massener Strasse in the early 20th century

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Massener Strasse 3 Today

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 Where the school Siegfried once attended stood. Manfred never got the chance to go to school in Germany because it was too dangerous

 We walked through the town square to the house my Zayda’s Zayda, Tvi, lived in. We walked down the hill to the house of Herbert Penner, one of my Zayda’s good childhood friends had lived before he was murdered in Aushwitz.

At each place we saw the stolpersteine laid in front of the buildings. Inspired by artist Gunter Denmig, brass plaques with the names of victims of the Holocaust are placed in front of the last place they lived freely in Europe. In 2011 they laid tees stones in front of Massneer Strasse 3. Dietmar Lindlar,a father with three children who were 14, 10, and 7 at the time – the same ages as Ruth, Siegfied, and Manfred were when they were forced out of their home – heard that the stolpersteines were being laid and brought his children. Lindlar had no immediate connection to the Holocaust or to the Lindenbaums. He simply wanted his children to know what happened in their city. Today, he is a close friend and we were overjoyed when we saw met him and his children again.

At night, we visited the synagogue in Unna and were welcomed by a warm, inspiring community that is working hard to rebuild a strong Jewish community and culture.

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I couldn’t help but feel a new, profound connection to Unna. This town has always been a dark, unwelcoming place in my mind. It was this town that kicked my family out.  But sitting at dinner in the synagogue, it became clear that this is not the same Unna that my family was forced to leave. It is a place where a synagogue is establishing its routes with the help of the government and local churches. It is a place where people like Dietmar Lindmar are ensuring that Unna will never forget, but will start to heal and rebuild.

The dark clouds continued to lift.

Biking to Unna

We crossed the border from Poland to Germany last Friday, on International Refugee Day. I stepped into Germany and felt my muscles tighten. I was here once before, 5 years ago, and did not think much about crossing the border this time. The borders have changed since 1938 and I saw the border crossing as a symbolic activity. So I was surprised to feel something different when we crossed. After visiting Treblinka and the final places Frieda, Otto, and Ruth lived, my mind raced with the horrors of the Nazi regime. I felt every muscle in my body tighten as I heard others speak German, rode on German trains, or saw German signs. After two minutes, I was ready to leave.photo (19)

On the Polish/German border

At the same time, everyone I met was kind and welcoming. They were eager to hear my Zayda’s story and show my family how much has changed. But everywhere I looked there was another Holocaust related monument or sign. I struggled to fully gather my thoughts.

Then we started biking. On Wednesday, we visited Buchenwald, where my Zayda’s uncle, Jakob Lindenbaum, was murdered. From there we launched our bike ride to Unna. No pictures can capture the vastness and seemingly endless beauty we rode through. The video below is simply a glimpse of our ride back to Unna.

Through this ride, I have seen a new Germany. One I never thought existed. One of serenity. One of peace.

Riding alongside my Zayda, I have come to see Germany in a new light. As we were biking, my Zayda turned to his family and said, “For the last 76 years, I have seen Poland and Germany as dark, empty places. That dark cloud has lifted.” I will never forget – I may never forgive – the acts done here 76 years ago. But that dark cloud is lifting for me, too. Today we ride into Unna. 20 strong. Ages 12 to 81. 76 years later.

Zbaszyn Day 2: Garczynski High School

After a powerful and enlightening visit to the train station yesterday we returned to Zbaszyn to visit students at Garczynski High School. My Zayda spoke with a group of bright, inspiring students that have been studying the 1938 deportation of Polish Jews to Zbaszyn. All of the students were from refugee families from Eastern Europe. As I sat there and listened to them interact with my Zayda, I was blown away by the students.

They are partnered with a community in Ashdod, Israel and created an exchange program to learn about their culture. Earlier this year, the students planned a bike ride around Zbaszyn, named Zbaszynski Balagan, to highlight key parts of the city during the year when 9,000 refugees lived in the city.

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Check out their important work here: http://www.lozbaszyn.oswiata.org.pl

Zbaszyn

“In an instant our women, our parents, our children disappeared. We saw them, for a short while as an obscure mass at the end of the platform then we saw nothing more.”

Primo Levi

76 years ago Manfred and Siegfried watched their parents fade into the distance on a train at the Zbaszyn train station. When we returned, we were met by a local historian that surprised us with documents and information about our family. Learn about his research at http://zbaszyn1938.pl/

On a cold morning in October, 1938, some 9,000 Polish Jews got off a train in neu Bentschen and walked the 10 Km to Zbaszynek, crossing the Polish-German border.  After visiting the train station, we walked the 10 Km from Zbaszyn to Neu Bentschen (modern day Zbaszynek).

Augustow & Gdansk

In the early spring of 1939, the elders of the Jewish Community, realizing that life in Danzig (present day Gdansk) was becoming increasingly restricted by the Nazis, undertook a heartbreaking project. By agreement with the Nazi officials, who had been elected to the Danzig government in growing numbers since 1930, the elders negotiated the sale of Jewish communal property, including the historic Danzig Synagogue and the Jewish cemetery. They dismantled their synagogue and removed all signs of Jewish culture. The proceeds of the sales were put into a special bank account to finance the emigration of Jewish members of the community. JDC (The Jewish Joint Distribution Committee) worked with the town to ship the Jewish artifacts to the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. The foresight of the Jewish elders saved their culture and many lives.

The foresight of my great grandparents, Frieda and Otto, is why my Zayda, his brother Siegfried, and his sister Ruth, were in Danzig in 1939 waiting to board the Warshava and go to England. On July 17, 1939 Frieda and Otto took Siegfried and Manfred to the train station in Zbaszyn. They managed to get on a list of 24 persons to go to Grodno. Miraculously, a man came running up, saying that both of the boys were on the list to get on the Kindertransport. At that point in time it was widely known that the Kindertransport was finished: no more children were allowed into England. My great grandparents made the difficult decision to send their children on the Kindertransport. My Zayda’s good friend was sad to leave his parents, so his mother did what any parent would do, she kissed him and kept him with her. They were both murdered.

The next day Frieda and Otto arrived in Grodno to learn there was no space for them. They stayed overnight and were on a bus to Augustow the next morning. My great grandmother had just said goodbye to her three children, had no place to stay, and had been living on straw mats for nearly a year. But in the letter she wrote to family in Palestine she said,

“The trip itself was lovely – all we saw were forests, water and sky. We’ve never seen such a beautiful landscape.”

Frieda’s ability to see light in the face of dark is a gift she passed on to my Zayda and one he has passed on to the world.

To honor Frieda, we went for a hike in Augustow before heading to Gdansk. As we walked along the Netta River we were all in awe of the beauty around us.

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Two weeks after they left Zbaszyn, after a quick stop in Otwock, my Zayda, Siegfried, and Ruth were in Gdansk ready to board the Warshava, But they were told Ruth could not get on the boat. My Zayda ran away and hid. In part he hid because he did not want to have his head shaven. But as a 7 year old that just saw his parents fade into the distance on a train, he refused to go on the boat without his sister.

Ruth found him hiding and convinced him to get on the boat. She saved his life, telling him to go on without her.

Today, we returned to the same port where he boarded the Warshava 75 years ago. It was a place to celebrate for it was here that my Zayda and Siegfried were saved.

It was also a place to mourn for there were 1.5 million children that did not escape Europe.

We faced the water and said the Shehecheyanu. We faced Europe and said the Kaddish.

 

 

 

 

Treblinka

800,000 were murdered at the Treblinka Extermination and Workers Camps. We do not have any official records of where Frieda, Otto, and Ruth were murdered. Based on historical accounts, our best guess is that they were sent to Treblinka.

Words cannot express our visit here. Below are a few pictures of the site and memorial.

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The stones represented the edge of the extermination camp.

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The railroad was removed and replaced by this memorial

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Over the pits where 800,000 are buried, are tens of thousands of stones

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This monument stood at the entrance of the camp, behind it was a pit full of black granite to represent the ashes