May 18, 2024
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May 18, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

My grandparents, Hermann and Jettchen Strauss—Schmitten im Taunus

It was in 1958, when PB’s Amsterdam office was just a few years old and had been growing by leaps and bounds as the main PB office in Europe, that administrative and organizational help was needed from the New York office. I was asked to go to Amsterdam for a month and, naturally, took my wife with me. We deposited the children with relatives, and off we went.

It was mostly a regular work day in the Amsterdam office, helping the staff set up a traffic organization and teaching them marine insurance.

Since we had left Germany in 1941, I had not returned except on business, and then I never stayed there overnight. If I had to be on business in northern Germany, I would stay in Amsterdam, conduct my business in Germany, and return to Amsterdam for the night. I would do the same from Switzerland if I had to be in southern Germany.

One interesting happening while we were in Amsterdam: One day my wife wanted to visit me in the office and called a taxi to take her there. When she told the driver the street she wanted to go to, he turned around and said to her: “Lady, you do not want to go there!” My wife was puzzled and asked him to explain why. The driver explained, and when she gave him the street number the mystery was clarified. It turned out that one end of the street was office buildings where PB was, whereas the opposite end was the red-light district.

The PB office had an interesting construction. It had originally been two four-story buildings (like all buildings there, one attached to the other) that had been combined into one. That would have been nice with large floor space, had it not been for the fact that the floor levels of one building were not equal to the floor levels of the other. Consequently, the combined buildings had eight floor levels.

Opa had told me that, if possible, he would like me to visit his birthplace, Schmitten in Germany, to check the condition of the cemetery. Since his parents were buried there, he wanted to see whether it was being well maintained. Having been asked by my father, I could not say no, so I decided to take a few days off and we went to Germany.

We took a train from Amsterdam to Duesseldorf, rented a car there and drove down the Rhine Valley via Köln (Cologne) and Mainz, along the Main River, to Frankfurt. I had no interest in sightseeing there or anywhere else in Germany.

At the request of Oma, since I was already in Frankfurt, I passed by the houses that we had lived in and took photos. The last house in which we had lived before fleeing in 1941 was the only house on the street that was not standing anymore, having either been hit by a stray British bomb, or just been torn down sometime in 1943 or 1944. Nobody could tell me which.

My wife did not feel up to it, so I continued on by myself.

From Frankfurt I drove to Bad Homburg, where I had been born, took pictures of the houses we had lived in, and continued on to Dornholzhausen, where Opa’s first warehouse had been, and took more pictures for Opa.

I did not stop to talk to anyone, except to ask for directions to my destinations.

From Dornholzhausen, I drove to Schmitten in the Taunus Mountains. After taking pictures of the original Strauss Hotel, I asked for directions to the cemetery. Fortunately, I had rented a Volkswagen Beetle, since no regular size car would have been able to make it into the steep hills up narrow rocky paths. I found the cemetery to be neat and orderly, well fenced-in, with all the gravestones standing. Opa had been sending money from time to time to the local Protestant Minister to help defray the expenses of maintaining the cemetery.

From Schmitten I returned directly to Frankfurt, where I returned the car to the rental agency.

I had arranged to complete my trip with a business visit to a company with which PB had done a lot of business in the past and with which it would continue to do so for many years in the future. The name of the company was Hermann C. Starck, Inc. They had their office and factory in Goslar im Harz, which was near what was then the East German border with Poland. Mr. Starck, in the early years of Hitler, had been imprisoned by the Nazis.

We took a train from Frankfurt to Hannover, where we were picked up by one of the managers, Mr. H. Lahusen, and driven to Goslar. Unfortunately, my wife was not feeling well at all when we got to Goslar, necessitating my having to obtain a doctor for her. Fortunately, there was a visiting doctor from the Berlin university who was able (and willing) to come to the hotel and prescribe a medication for her that I was able to fill at an all-night “Apotheke.”

The next day, after a few hours at the Stark office and factory, we were driven back to Hannover and took a train back to Amsterdam. I left Germany for the second time without regrets and without happy memories.

(To be continued next week)

By Norbert Strauss

Norbert Strauss is a Teaneck resident and has volunteered at Englewood Hospital for over 30,000 hours. He frequently speaks to groups to relay his family’s escape from Nazi Germany in 1941.

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