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The Oppenheimers…

I mentioned a couple of posts ago that Bill and I went to Mainz to meet an old friend of mine from my days as a waitress in Williamsburg, Virginia. On our way to his hotel, I happened to notice the plaques (Stolpersteine) featured in today’s post. I haven’t spent a lot of time in Mainz yet, but I did recently discover similar plaques in my own neighborhood of Breckenheim, a suburb of nearby Wiesbaden. That discovery led me down a rabbit hole of a fascinating tale about a local family who escaped the Holocaust.

The Stolpersteine (stumbling blocks) in my neighborhood.

The plaques I discovered in Mainz were in memory of the Oppenheimer family. Father, Wilhelm Gabriel Oppenheimer was born in 1888. His wife, Anna Metzger Oppenheimer, was born in 1896. They also had a daughter named Rosemarie Oppenheimer, who was born on December 9, 1924. Together, the family lived at Schillerplatz 5, which today is a tony address in downtown Mainz, very close to the center of the city.

Just as I did for the Kahn family in Breckenridge, whose plaques I found in August, I looked up the Oppenheimer family’s history. The Kahns were lucky enough to escape the Holocaust and relocated to the United States. The Oppenheimers, unfortunately, were unable to avoid deportation. The three family members are commemorated in Stolpersteine.

In 1939, Rosemarie Oppenheimer left Mainz via Frankfurt on a children’s transport bound for the Netherlands. She had joined other young refugee children at a Quaker school in Eerde to learn how to farm. Oppenheimer and the other youngsters were trained by a Jewish teacher. She had hoped to eventually continue learning in the United States, but World War II prevented her escape.

On April 10, 1943, Rosemarie and other children were deported to Vught Concentration Camp. Vught Camp, which was constructed in 1942, was the only official Nazi camp in northwestern Europe. It was originally divided into two sections– a transit camp designed to hold Jewish prisoners before they departed for Westerbork, another camp– and a security camp, where all of the Dutch and Belgian prisoners were held. Rosemarie Oppenheimer was in the security camp.

On July 17, 1942, Rosemarie was transferred from Vught Camp to Westerbork, another transit camp in northeastern Netherlands, where she stayed for a couple of months. Westerbork was constructed by the Dutch government, and was supposed to serve as a camp for Jewish refugees who had entered The Netherlands illegally. It was used as a staging camp for the deportation of Jews, and from there, Rosemarie Oppenheimer was deported on September 21, 1943. Her final destination was Auschwitz in Poland, where she was ultimately murdered on September 24, 1943. She was just 18 years old.

Rosemarie’s parents, Wilhelm and Anna, also died before they could escape the Nazis. In 1939, they fled to Belgium, but they were captured and sent to Mechelen Transit Camp. The city of Mechelen had a railway hub between Antwerp and Brussels; it served as a convenient place for Jews to be rounded up and deported. Most of the people who ended up at Mechelen were later sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Mrs. Oppenheimer was deported in 1942 and died at Auschwitz. Mr. Oppenheimer died on his way to Kosel.

Rosemarie’s older sister, Hilde, was born in 1921. She had gone to the school in Eerde ahead of Rosemarie and was accepted as an apprentice in England in 1939. Hilde was in a group of students who went to England before the war made travel so much more difficult for Jewish people. Unable to get back to the Netherlands, Hilde remained in England and survived.

It would be so easy to miss these “stumbling blocks” that appear in this area. I walked past the ones in my neighborhood for months before I happened to notice them one day while waiting for traffic to clear. I have made it a point to look up the histories of the people behind these inconspicuous memorials scattered around the Frankfurt-Mainz-Wiesbaden areas. They were real people with fascinating and often tragic stories. Given what’s been going on at the southern border within the United States, I think it’s important to read about what happens to people who are declared “illegals” and deported simply for being who they are. I have to admit, reading about the “transit camps” and “detention facilities” for World War II era “illegals” kind of makes my blood run cold. You would think we would have learned something from World War II. Clearly, a lot of people haven’t.

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Holocaust

Spotted on today’s walk around Breckenheim…

It’s amazing what you miss when you don’t pay attention. I recently started taking my dogs on a different walking route. It’s not ideal for dogwalking, since it requires passing through our narrow streeted village, but it does allow us to avoid the busy main drag for at least part of our walk.

Usually, when I’m walking through our village, I’m focused on keeping the dogs out of the street. Our old village has a lot of traffic, especially considering how small it is. Consequently, I don’t always pay attention to the small stuff I could be stumbling across on our daily strolls. Today, I happened to get hung up at a driveway due to a small traffic jam. An Asian couple were maneuvering their large station wagon out of a gated entrance to our narrow street. They happened to intercept an annoyed looking German guy in his van. This was further complicated by a yellow German Post truck coming in the other direction.

I halted the dogs so the three vehicles could get around each other in the tight space. Then I noticed five bronze plaques on the ground. Here’s the second of two pictures I took of them.

Who are these people?

I determined by their names that they were likely a Jewish family and had once lived in Breckenheim. I discerned that they left Breckenheim for the United States. Judging by the dates, I could see that they were driven out of our town due to Nazism.

I just looked up these plaques online and found them listed here. According to the plaques pictured above, they all left for the United States, but according to the Wikipedia article I linked (in German– Chrome is your friend), Rosa Kahn actually died in a place called Jacoby’s Nursing and Care Institute in a town that was once called Sayn, but is now known as Bendorf. Judging by my cursory search, Bendorf is located not far from here– it appears to be near Koblenz. Jacoby’s Nursing and Care Institute was a Jewish owned nursing home that was expressly for Jewish people who suffered from “nervousness” and “mental illness”.

Established in 1869, Jacoby’s Nursing and Care Institute ran until 1942, which is also supposedly when Rosa Kahn died. In 1938, all but three non-Jewish workers had to be fired. From 1940, the hospital was part of the Nazi persecution of Jewish people, but it was originally intended for Jewish people who suffered due to people who were ignorant about their beliefs. Meier Jacoby, a local merchant who started the institute, justified building it, writing “I had often heard that nervous people who grew up in strict Jewish homes reluctantly enjoyed kosher food, that they probably refuse to eat such food or that they believe they have sinned by eating the food that they are teased by less educated patients and guards, especially because of their beliefs, etc. – circumstances that must certainly adversely affect the nervous and mental patients.” Jacoby took in some patients and hired a doctor to oversee their care. Until Nazism took over Germany, it was a good place for Jewish people who needed psychiatric care.

The Jacoby family were themselves able to emigrate to Uruguay via the Soviet Union and Japan. The main building of the hospital was demolished in the 1960s, but a couple of buildings still remain standing in Bendorf, including the ballroom and the synagogue. Sadly, it appears that toward the end of its existence, the nursing home was used to concentrate Jews for deportation to extermination camps. Between March and November 1942, 573 people were sent to camps in the East, while between 1940-1942, 142 people were too sick to travel and died at the hospital. Those who died at the hospital were buried on the grounds, but had no marker for their graves until the late 1980s.

Once the patients were deported, the hospital was used as a hospital for military troops, then as a replacement for the Koblenz hospital that was damaged in the war. In March 1945, the hospital was briefly taken over by American troops, and then in July 1945, French troops took possession. From 1951 until 1997, the site was a boarding school. Since 1999, it’s been a Catholic run nursing home for people with disabilities.

On November 17, 2002, incidentally the day after my wedding, a memorial was erected to honor the 573 people who were deported to Auschwitz and murdered there. Additionally, a plaque with all of the names of the people who died is hanging in the Wintergarten in the facility.

Isn’t it amazing when one story leads to another? I found out all about this simply by stopping and noticing five little plaques on a driveway that I pass all the time while I’m walking my dogs. Maybe some weekend soon, Bill and I can take a day trip to Bendorf and have a look around.

I highly recommend reading this detailed account of the Jacoby Nursing and Care Institute on Bendorf’s official page. The site is available in English, or you can use Google Chrome.

Edited to add: my German friend found more information about the Khan family and it turns out Rosa Kahn did manage to escape. She and her husband celebrated their 50th anniversary in New York on February 22, 1943. Breckenheim was a Jewish community for many years before Hitler came to power. Perhaps another woman from the neighborhood died at the nursing home. Wikipedia is not always the end all, be all of information, but at least I learned something new.

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Hangry in Ludwigsburg…

My niece Elise stayed with us for most of this past week.  Today, we had to take her to the train station.  After dropping her off, we decided to go to Ludwigsburg to drop off a bunch of beer bottles that have been empty since December.  Though we had a nice breakfast this morning, we were out and about at around lunchtime.  By the time we got to Heinrich’s Drink Market 3000, I was starting to feel moderately peckish.  I knew my blood sugar was starting to dip when I was barely interested in perusing the international beers.

I happened to mention to Bill that I needed to eat something.  He agreed, so we headed toward our usual haunts in Ludwigsburg’s main square.  Bill usually knows when I’m getting hungry.  I start getting flushed and irritable.  Then I get pale, shaky, and have a resting bitch face.  Finally, I get snappish and start looking confused, nervous, and even frightened.  If I let it go too long, I start to feel very emotional.

Bill wanted to shop around for a place we’d never been before, but I was feeling more and more bitchy until I was in full on hangry mode.  After rejecting one place that looked like it had good food but was very crowded, we finally ended up at an Italian restaurant where we’ve dined before.  It was kind of busy in there and a charming waiter showed us to a table very close to two ladies who were finishing up.  I sat down, buried my face in my hands, and tried not to be too noticeably pissy.

I must have looked seriously irritated, especially since the waiter didn’t give us menus when he seated us.  I just wanted something to get my blood sugar up and was immediately frustrated by how busy the restaurant was.  After a few minutes of us watching him bustle around, tending to a large party of friendly looking Germans, he finally gave us menus.

I quickly decided on a pepper and potato soup, a glass of Montepulciano, San Pellegrino, and basil risotto.  The guy came over to take our order and as soon as I opened my mouth to order the wine and got out two syllables of a six syllable word, he said, “English!”  Before I could say anything else, he dashed away to get us English menus that we didn’t need.

“No! No, that’s not necessary!” I said as he scurried off, further pissing me off, causing more frustration, and making me even more hangry.  I actually felt like crying as he walked away without our order.  He came back a few minutes later and we finally ordered lunch.

While we were waiting for lunch, I went to the ladies room, where I was confounded by the toilets.  In my anxiety-ridden, nervous, flustered, hangry state, I forgot how to tell when one was occupied.  Some very tall lady who was in there with me said in German that the middle stall was free, but that was all I understood in my haste to pee.

I didn’t need to go that badly, actually… just thought it was a good idea…  until I realized there was no toilet paper.  So there I sat, dripping dry.  I stood up and realized that besides being hungry, I was also very dehydrated.  Then when I went to use the sink, I couldn’t get the water to turn off.  It was one of those automatic jobs that make me miss plain old faucets that are easy to figure out when I’m hungry and angsty.

Fortunately, when I got back to the table, the wine, water, and my soup were there.  Bill watched intently as I tried the soup, which was a little bland, but otherwise had just what I needed.  He smiled as the color returned to my cheeks and I very soon stopped looking so tense and upset.

“It never fails.” he said, amused as I perked up.  “It’s like that Snickers commercial was written for you.  It doesn’t take much… just a little bit and you’re back to normal again.”

I turn into a monster when I’m really hangry.

I finished the soup and felt so much better once I was fortified.  As a younger waiter carried the bowl away, I noticed him flash a thumbs up and a smile to the older guy who had seated us.  I kind of wondered if he thought I was a raving bitch or just realized how badly I needed some food.

The second course of risotto for me and ravioli for Bill was equally tasty.  After lunch, we had a round of espresso, and I left the restaurant smiling and feeling a whole lot better.  We detoured through the mall and stopped at the drug store to get some dental floss, which was in and of itself an adventure.

We parked in a different parking garage this trip to Ludwigsburg and, to get to it, we had to pass through a little park that was once the site of a synagogue.  It was destroyed on Kristallnacht on November 9, 1938.  The outline of the building is marked and there’s a commemorative stone tablet there explaining what happened.  People have left flowers and pebbles and in the center of the outline, there are suitcases bearing the names and lifespans of Jews who died in the Holocaust.  I think it’s a very poignant memorial.  For more reading about this synagogue, click here.

Suitcases…

Memorial…

We’re home again and I’m enjoying wine, comforting music, and watching the melting snow.

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