July 20, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

The travel day came and we were welcomed at the airport in Frankfurt by representatives of the city. We had to wait quite a while in Lufthansa’s VIP lounge (one level higher than the airline’s first-class lounge) for other flights to arrive from other countries or cities with invitees for the same group. We received VIP treatment in clearing through customs, security and our luggage was picked up for us and loaded on the bus that took us to the hotel.

We had left New York on Wednesday, May 8, and it was well into Thursday before we arrived at the hotel. The program started on Friday afternoon with a reception arranged by the Stadt, with kosher coffee and cake, at the Philanthropin. (After Kristallnacht in 1938, when the Hirsch Realschule building was closed, classes were reopened a few months later in this very building, which always had been the school building of the Conservative congregation. Since many teachers and students had already emigrated or had been shipped off to “destinations unknown,” there were many empty classrooms. The two schools functioned side by side but separately.)

We returned by 4 p.m., just in time, since I had made prior arrangements to stay over Shabbat at the Home for Senior Citizens run by the Frankfurt Jewish Community. This solved our food and synagogue requirements for the day. Not knowing my way around, and not knowing whether the taxi driver would be knowledgeable, I wanted to leave early in order to be settled before the start of the Shabbat.

As it turned out, my foresight had been accurate. The taxi driver had no idea where he was going, stopped several times to inquire, got stuck in dead-end streets, had to detour around endless one-way streets, and what should have been a 20-minute ride took over an hour. But because of my caution, we still got there in plenty of time to be shown where we would sleep, where we would eat and where the synagogue was.

On Saturday afternoon we went for a walk around the neighborhood, which, although I do not remember ever having been there as a youth, still brought back memories because of the well-known street names. What is now the Altersheim (old-age home) used to be, before the war, the well-known Gagern Krankenhaus, the Jewish hospital on Gagern Strasse. The Nazis had thrown out all the patients and sent them to the concentration camps together with the doctors and nurses. The hospital was partially destroyed during the war and was later rebuilt. But since there was more of a need for a Jewish home for senior citizens, it was not rebuilt as a hospital.

On Sunday morning we had a bus tour around the city. The only noteworthy point was the Festhalle. It is that building to which Opa had been taken after being arrested on November 10, 1938, and to which Oma and I went the next day to bring Opa (unsuccessfully) his winter coat as well as sandwiches.

In the afternoon there was a reception in the hotel given by the hotel’s management. The cakes were not kosher, but the coffee was good. During the reception we were entertained in Frankfurter dialect by Wolfgang Kau, manager of the Frankfurter Volkstheater.

In the evening a gathering had been arranged in the Jewish Museum by the Gesellschaft in order to enable students and teachers to speak to us and later meet with those in our group who were planning to speak in one of their schools. I had the opportunity to meet a young lady who was a student in the school in Bad Homburg, where I was scheduled to speak, and to make all arrangements with her.

There was no program on Monday, but in the evening we received a phone call from our son Benjie informing us that my wife’s sister had passed away the day before and that the funeral would be the following afternoon in Providence, Rhode Island. I immediately started making phone calls to notify the Stadt, as well as Angelika of the Gesellschaft, that we had to break off from the group and return to the U.S. Plane arrangements had to be made, since we were flying back to Boston, where our children would pick us up by car and drive us to Providence.

In 2004 I received an invitation again from the Stadt, but since it was just at the time when our family was hit by the tragedy of the loss of our son, I naturally declined.

Later in the year we were visited in our home by Angelika Rieber, who was on vacation in the U.S. and who had asked to meet with me. She tape recorded my story, covering 1933 to 1941 and she took pictures while I was talking. Angelika also told me that the Stadt was again considering inviting me in 2005, but after what had happened, I did not show any great enthusiasm for it. I did tell her that should I consider it, it would have to be on the condition that my expenses would again be paid as they had been two years before.

(To be continued next week)

By Norbert Strauss

Norbert Strauss is a Teaneck resident and Englewood Hospital volunteer. He frequently speaks to groups to relay his family’s escape from Nazi Germany in 1941.

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