Thursday, August 11, 2011

To understand the present, try to understand the past

When the Nazi war machine rolled over Poland it overcame stiff resistance in the city of Lodz. On September 8, 1939 the Polish forces in Lodz were defeated and Lodz became Litzmannstadt. As in many other Polish cities, the German inhabitants welcomed the Reich with open arms, paving the way to become the influential citizens of the city. The native Polish residents were now second-class citizens. The Jewish inhabitants fared even less well.

We don't know much about Hertha's life when she was younger. She was a young girl when the invasion occurred, merely 14 years old, pretty and part of a moderately wealthy family. Life for her continued almost normally for a few more years. Only a few times did the change of leadership impact her directly. She told the story, years later, of seeing a young Jewish girl severely beaten by other townspeople and trying to help the girl. Even as an old woman, when she told this story she wept. 

Litzmannstadt provided fabric goods for the Nazis during these years, with labor supplied by the ghetto occupants. Because of this, the Lodz ghetto was the second largest Jewish ghetto in Poland, with over 200,000 local Jews and more brought in by rail. Many ghetto inhabitants left by rail also.

There are few artifacts from that time. We do have one photo which shows a young Hertha with her family.

We don’t know how much the war affected young Hertha. We do know that she took a fancy to a wealthy older man, owner of several of the mills around town. Born in 1907, Adolf was eighteen years her senior, but she caught his eye. In 1943, at the age of 18 Hertha married Adolf. They moved into his estate house near one of his larger mills, a pond outside the front door.

We don’t know how long they had to enjoy their time together before the house became headquarters for a new group of people. The Nazi commander and his men took the house over, and, as Hertha said many times in the following decades, they made her a servant in her own home.

The Nazis were not good men. They shot people on a whim. They fished in the pond with dynamite. They treated Adolf with disdain and more than once attacked him in fits of anger. Hertha was a young woman. We have few stories of this time. We do know that at one point some of the other servants overheard the commander discussing with his men the plan to kill Adolf, then, eventually, Hertha as well. That night Adolf and Hertha bundled themselves in as many layers of clothing as they could and became refugees, fleeing to the part of Germany that was controlled by the Allies. Aside from the few things they could carry, they left everything behind.

We don’t know precisely when they left. We do know they were in a German refugee area in 1941, because we have a doctor's record for Adolf.

The Allies arrived a few months too late in Litzmannstadt to preserve the life that Adolf and Hertha planned to build.

Penniless and homeless, refugees in the small German town of Oberkirchen, Adolf and Hertha started a family. Though there was not much need for a Master Miller, Adolf was also a skilled carpenter, as well as a capable man with anything mechanical. His sons would inherit his skills.

In the early 1950s a small church community in Texas paid for Adolf, Hertha and their three sons to come to Texas. For a few years they lived in a small town north of the city of Houston.

In the late 1950s their family was complete and they were settled in Houston as home. We do have a photo of Hertha and all her children, probably from the early 1960s.
Hertha, her four sons and Darling
My story with Frau starts decades later.

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