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.

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