By Esther Starobin
It was August 1989. Fred and I were in Adelsheim, my birthplace. There was silence everywhere; no people were visible. We tried to locate the Rathaus, City Hall. Bertl, my sister, had written a letter to the Rathaus. She had explained, in German, that we were coming to visit and would like some assistance in finding places associated with my family. I was sent away from Adelsheim on the Kindertransport at two years of age and had no knowledge of Adelsheim and could not speak German. I had, in my mind, the few stories my older sisters repeated from time to time of their childhood experiences in this place. I also knew this town had more information about my family than I did. I wanted this knowledge to become part of my history, and I hoped this trip would bring me closer to achieving that goal.
Time passed and still no people appeared on the streets. It was so quiet. Like any good tourists we didn’t want to waste time, so we drove around the minuscule town taking pictures of sites my sisters had described to me. We easily found the bridge, the waterfall, the park, and then the house where my family had lived. I tried to remember the various stories I had heard about these places. I could imagine Edith, my second-oldest sister, playing on the bridge and dropping the challah dough into the water. This was the dough she was supposed to take to the community oven. The waterfall in the park was just as Ruth, my third sister, had described it. It seemed like a great place to play. The house was exactly where it was supposed to be, though it looked as though it had been through a renovation. It reminded me of the houses in Stratford-on-Avon with its wood beams in the white stucco front.
Since we still had seen no people, we drove to Sennfeld looking for the Jewish cemetery that was supposed to be along the way. We didn’t find it after driving the short distance between Adelsheim and Sennfeld twice, so we continued to Korb, where Bertl had been born. Again a small, small place in which it was easy to find the house described by my sister. Every place seemed so small and distant from me.
I found it difficult to think that my family’s life so many years ago had been contained in this area. I thought of the stories my sisters told of their childhood in this area, but as I looked around me I couldn’t picture living here.
Eventually we drove back to Adelsheim and found the town stirring. The lunch break was over. It was time to locate the mayor and the town hall. It was almost as if this place continued to conspire against me. We found no one who spoke English. When we finally found the Rathaus it had been closed and relocated. Using a series of pantomimes to ask questions, we found the new town hall. Inside, the clerk introduced us to the deputy mayor, who spoke no English. He in turn found a young man who spoke a few words of English. Eventually they found the letter we had sent and told us that tomorrow an English-speaking person and a man who could tell us about my family would show us around. We agreed to meet at ten the next morning. In the meantime we asked about a place to stay for the night. The clerk tried to persuade us to go to Sennfeld, but I wanted to stay in Adelsheim. This time I would not be sent away. A room was arranged for us at the Gasthaus on the main street.
The deputy mayor walked us over to the Gasthaus and introduced us to the owners, who spoke no English. After we had settled into our room, we went downstairs to eat. We had some difficulty with the menu and were not quite sure what we ate. At a nearby table a group of older people kept giving us knowing looks. I wondered if they knew who we were and remembered my parents. I wished I had understood their conversation.
During the night I had a terrible dream. I thought Nazis were coming up the stairs to find me. I awoke very upset and was glad when daylight appeared.
The next morning we met with our guides. Our guides included Mr. Wetterhahn, the deputy mayor, and the wife of the deputy mayor. The wife spoke English and acted as the translator. They showed us the house our family had owned, the place where my father and uncle played cards, where the synagogue had been, and pointed out other sites of interest. Mr. Wetterhahn had known my father and the family so he could tell us how the places related to my family. Our guides showed us various sites in Adelsheim, including a lovely museum with information on the history of the area for several hundreds of years. This museum was usually opened once a week, but they opened it especially for us to see the exhibits. Along with all the sightseeing, we had long conversations with the deputy mayor’s wife. In her family, as in mine, the subject of the war years and the Holocaust were not discussed. She also felt very strongly that the children needed to learn about this era in their studies. I was a little surprised by the strength of her conviction on this subject since I had no other contact with modern Germans.
We all drove to the Jewish cemetery, which was tucked away from the road between Adelsheim and Sennfeld. No wonder we couldn’t find it by ourselves! Inside the cemetery, which was kept in good repair, we found tombstones of many family members—some I had heard of and some I had not. Unfortunately, the writing was in Hebrew so I had difficulty reading it. Even the cemetery was different from the cemeteries I know. Each family had a symbol on its headstones that provided a common thread connecting the families.
From there we went to visit the building that had at one time been the synagogue in Sennfeld. Now it housed artifacts to show life at earlier times. Some of these artifacts showed evidence of the life of the Jews who had been forced to leave the area. Our guides also took us to Korb to see the house where my parents and oldest sister had originally lived. How strange that this German, Mr. Wetterhahn, who had lived through the Nazi era, was the person who was helping me to connect to the life of my parents who were deported and murdered by the Nazis. I couldn’t help wondering what his relationship had been with my family in those terrible times.
Our visit to Adelsheim was over. I had seen the places my sisters spoke about; I had seen the graves of my ancestors, but I had no real contact with the people of this place other than our guides. I wondered what they remembered and felt about the events of the past.
Since only Mr. Wetterhahn had actually been in Adelsheim during the Nazi period, he was the one who could have given me real information about my parents’ life prior to their deportation. But we couldn’t really communicate! It is difficult to do so through a translator: he through the deputy mayor’s wife and I through the carefully told tales of my sisters.
While I had seen the physical evidence of my parents’ life in Adelsheim, I still really knew nothing about them as people or their struggles to survive during the Nazi regime. I came away knowing that my parents were really never going to be part of my memories. Yet I felt a deep appreciation of the fact that they had been strong enough to part with their five children in order for us to live. I wonder if I could have done the same.
When we left I was glad that I had come to Adelsheim. I still felt no great connection to this place and was very happy to be going to Norwich, England, to my foster home where our family would be meeting us.
©2003, 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.