November 01, 2013
By Esther Starobin
For most of my life I was not very interested in learning more about our family in Germany. It was my past and it didn’t seem to matter to me. However, as I grew older, I would sometimes be at an event that brought to my mind something connected to my family or to the Holocaust—something as simple as people talking about their mother’s favorite recipe made me feel a need to return to Adelsheim to see where I was born, to know it was a real place. Fred and I visited there in the late 1980s, but I still felt no connection to the place. When we had extended family gatherings there were a few basic stories of life in Germany, before the Holocaust, that were repeated each time. But they seemed like legends.
After I retired from teaching, I began volunteering at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. At first I knew nothing about the survivor group. Eventually I was invited to attend the meetings, where I met other survivor volunteers and heard their stories. I think this experience, more than anything else, made me more curious about my family’s history. I joined the memoir group and began my journey of learning about my own family’s life prior to the Holocaust. I have come to depend on Reinhart Lochmann, a local historian from Adelsheim who was a teacher at the one of the high schools there. When the previous man became too old to carry on, he became the historian of the Jewish community that had once existed in Adelsheim. Over the years Reinhart and his wife have been so hospitable to the various Jews and their descendants who have either returned to Adelsheim or contacted them by mail or e-mail to learn about their families. Reinhart is very interested in the history of the Jews of this area, but he goes beyond that interest to make those of us who visit there feel welcome. He makes sure to answer questions about our families and to show us all the places that were important to our parents and to us. Nothing we ask appears to be too demanding of Reinhart, even though he often has to do extensive research to find the answers. He also has learned much about the Jewish religion. He even visits the Jewish cemetery and places stones on the graves of our family members. In many ways it seems as though it is more important for him to keep these memories alive than it is for me.
So when Reinhart and his wife visited the United States, my family was delighted to reciprocate their hospitality. The first time the Lochmanns came to the Washington, DC, area, we did all the usual sightseeing. However, when they returned in the summer of 2009, Reinhart and Heide did not particularly want to visit the city proper. They were more interested in the places that were part of our everyday life or were fairly local. Consequently, we went to Brookside Gardens in Wheaton, to a service at my temple in Kensington, and further afield to the Naval Academy in Annapolis.
However, their main interest was in the life of their son and daughter-in-law who had moved to the area in order for Timm, their son, to take a postdoctoral position at the University of Maryland. One day the Lochmanns and Fred and I met Timm, our daughter Deborah, and our niece Renee at Ledo, a longstanding pizza place near the university. After our meal, we toured the campus. On the way home we stopped to drop Heide and Reinhart off at the apartment their son was renting. I couldn’t help thinking I was helping the Lochmanns understand their son’s life in the way Reinhart had helped me know my parents’ life in Adelsheim. I wondered if they sometimes resented the fact that I knew more about that in the same way I sometimes resented Reinhart knowing more about my family than I did.
The next day was a major shopping event. Heide and Reinhart noticed several necessary items missing from Timm and Christine’s apartment. Of course, like any parents, they sought to rectify this, so we went shopping. In this way Timm and Christine became part of our lives. Over the two years they have lived in the area we have invited them to dinner and to various family events. Christine and I have been to several museums and ethnic grocery stores together, although these trips are less frequent now that she has a job. When Timm needed someone to take him for his driving test, he asked Fred to accompany him. We enjoy their company and like to hear how life here compares to their lives in Europe.
One weekend we all went to see the holiday light display at Brookside Gardens. Afterward we came home and had dinner together. It struck me when we walked into our home how at ease Timm and Christine are in our house. They took off their boots and shoes and helped us take the food out before we sat down to chat. I never expected to be friends with Germans. In fact, I had always avoided people who I knew were German or non-Jews from Germany. In the course of that evening’s conversation, we learned that Christine was going on the same flight to England as Rosemary, a longtime friend of my foster brother, Alan.
Over the years I had always imagined each part of my life as a separate chapter. I thought of the people as existing in separate groups, never mixing them in my mind. I wonder how I was able to think about my life as such separate parts for so long. It now is clear to me that all these parts converge in a continually changing way.
©2013, Esther Starobin. The text, images, and audio and video clips on this website are available for limited non-commercial, educational, and personal use only, or for fair use as defined in the United States copyright laws.View All Blog Posts