Tuesday, February 20, 2018

February 21st–one year apart

Last year in the very wee hours of the morning of February 21st, a phone call woke me up to tell me that my father had just died.

This year in the very wee hours of the morning of February 21st, an alarm will wake me up to tell me that my travels to my father’s hometown, where he will be honored, along with his own father, is about to begin.


My father would have liked the symmetry.

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Sunday, February 18, 2018

Camped out

For three reasons, this chair has been my home for the past few days.


First, I have been positively immersed in the past, first reading letters between my grandmother, Irmgard and her mother, Adele – correspondence that continued from 1905 to Irmgard’s untimely and tragic death in early 1944. After I finished those 603 translated pages (thanks, Ulli!), I read both books my dad wrote, and now I’m reading family letters (most also translated by Ulli), dated 1945, the year of my grandfather’s equally untimely and tragic death, to 1983, the year I got married!

I’ve read all of these works before but it is this time, perhaps because I will be in Chemnitz in less than a week, that I feel that I’ve come to know and understand relatives who I never met or barely knew. My grandmother Irmgard exuded optimism, hope, and undying love and protectiveness of her family. It is only between the lines of her writing that one gets a sense of the enormous burden that she carried, as she, by her sheer existence as the non-Jewish partner in a “privileged mixed marriage,” was all that stood between her Jewish husband and mischling (“half-breed”) children and almost certain death.

I know how her story ends and yet I tear up every time I come to the place where her letters mention more and more persistent symptoms of what turned out to be a brain tumor – and then suddenly stop.

I have also come to the realization that, had my grandfather survived, I definitely would not exist. This is hardly conjecture; I have no doubt that it’s true! My grandfather would have never accepted my mother – not for a second. Mom, with all her feisty, almost defiant, independence and her devil-may-care attitude, was the absolute antithesis of what my grandfather expected for his son. My uncle, Dad’s idolized older brother, seemed to speak for their dead father when he wrote, “Edith comes from a bourgeois background; she is Bohemian,” followed by “one should always stay in one’s box.” Suffice it to say that the elitist attitude that I often called Dad out for was something that he was exposed to his whole young life.

The second reason that I lived in the easy chair all weekend is nowhere near as interesting: the nerve and muscle pain in my leg has been giving me such problems lately that I was afraid that I couldn’t make two 13-hour flights, just five days apart. Rest and an electric blanket seem to have done the trick, though! I have no pain at all now! Now if I can just keep things quiet for the next two days…

And third, even more mundane: I have developed a slight cold. As I’ve been sitting under my heated blanket, book in hand, I’ve been positively downing the Emergen-C and Cold-Eze!


It’s cold in Chemnitz; I don’t want to bring my own cold on top of that!

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Thursday, February 15, 2018

One week to Chemnitz

In six days I’ll be headed to Chemnitz to join the city and my extended family in honoring my grandfather, Carl, and my father, Thomas at the opening of an art exhibit in their name and in their honor. (http://kunstsammlungen-chemnitz.de/index.php?loc=ksc&content=exposition_detail&xid=135&id=1242)

I’ll be headed to Germany with my 86-year-old aunt Ulli (the only living child of Carl), her husband, Michael, my two cousins, Claudia and Marcus, a cousin once removed, Marina (who will come from London), and two of my kids, Peter and Kat.  

I plan to blog daily from Chemnitz, assuming there will be time, and I’m testing out a new blogging app (BlogTouch Pro) on my phone. (Obviously. How do I make copy clickable to a link? That link above should be hidden in the copy! Grrrr!)

We have been provided with a jam-packed schedule for the trip. I love how even our down time is scheduled! So German!

The guy who I’ve been coordinating with, Rico, just notified me that he’ll actually be picking us all up at the Berlin airport and driving us in our own mini-bus to Chemnitz, a two and a half hour drive. Thank goodness! That will really make a difference, especially for Ulli and Michael. 

The invitation to Chemnitz came directly from the mayor, who we will meet on Friday. We wanted to bring a gift, but what do you bring for the mayor of a city with a premier art museum? We wanted to bring something unique and beautiful and artsy, but not the same sort of art that is the focus of the museum’s exhibits. We will present her with this glass vase, created by a Northwest glass artist. 

Do you like it? Peter says he sees trees in a forest and a starry sky. (I’m gonna assume that the mayor of Chemnitz doesn’t read my blog. A pretty safe assumption, I think!)

Silly as this is, one of my own biggest concerns about the trip is the incessant nerve and muscle pain in my hip and leg. It’s been getting worse since summer and we still don’t know what’s causing it. I’ve been going to PT, but that seems to make it flare up. My monthly 90-minute spa massage, though, seems to really help, so I’ll be having one of those the day before our 13-hour flight. I’ll also be loading up on Aleve and/or Tylenol PM. Wish me luck!

I’ve been spending quite a bit of time re-reading both my dad’s two books about his childhood in Chemnitz and hundreds of pages of translations (by Ulli!) of family letters, from 1905 to 1983. 

Ulli’s latest effort has been translating my dad’s journal of his trip across the Pacific in 1953, when he emigrated to America, searched for a job and a place to live in the Bay Area, and then sent for my mom and my older brother, Michael, a few months later. That translation should arrive in the mail today. (Thanks, Ulli!) 

While not all this information will be useful for our upcoming trip, it’ll all be useful for the book I’ll be writing - which is terrifying me, I should add! Why, I’m not sure. It just feels absolutely daunting right now. I’m hoping this trip will help to clarify the focus and prompt me to just dive in. Dad’s already done all the research and written so much! See?

Maybe that’s what feels so daunting - how much he’s already done. 

And, oh... THIS:

Thanks, Dad. No pressure, right?! 🤪

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Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Baffled about approach

I’ve decided to incorporate Dad’s prolific written works into whatever book I write. Dad wrote two books about his childhood, but throughout his life he also kept daily diaries, journals, and the ever-present to-do list notebook that he always kept in his left shirt pocket.

His life was so much bigger than his childhood in Germany, so part of me wants to write this book:

My Father’s Eight Lives: From Hitler’s Germany to Trump’s America

1928 – 1933: Thomas Heumann is born into a “privileged mixed marriage” (a Jewish father and a Christian mother) in Chemnitz, Germany. 

1934 – 1938: As the Nazis rise from a prominent power to full dictatorship, Thomas begins to understand how being a Mischling (half-breed) will affect his life – and the lives of every member of his family.

1939 – 1944: Thomas’ mother comes to realize that she is all that stands between her husband’s freedom and his – and possibly her children’s -- all-but-certain death. When she dies suddenly in 1944, all hell breaks loose.

1945: Without the implicit protection of his non-Jewish wife, Carl prepares for the next transport to Theresianstadt. But why is he never called? Does he have a protectorate? Even Thomas is sent to a work camp. A month before the end of the war, Carl is killed by an allied bomb. At 16, Thomas is suddenly an orphan.

1946 – 1952: Thomas finds his way to Munich, where he attends – and helps rebuild - the university. He falls in love with Edith, marries her, and Michael is born.

1953 – 1980: Thomas emigrates to America with his new, young family. He and Edith become citizens and raise four American children in Berkeley, California. The war in Germany is  long behind them, but its impact on him and his family is always present.

1981 – 2004: Thomas and Edith live the good life in Ashland, Oregon, but American politics are a constant source of concern. After a four-year battle with cancer, Edith dies – and Thomas is alone again.

2005 – 2017: Thomas finds love again, happy in his twilight years. But who is this Trump candidate? His daughter promises him that America would never vote such a person into office…

OR… do I write this book:

Born a Mischling – Growing Up as a Half-Jew in Nazi Germany

…ending the book in 1945 (or 1946), telling only the story of Dad’s youth in WWII Germany?

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Friday, February 02, 2018

Full circle

On March 5, 1945, as air raid sirens enveloped the city of Chemnitz, my grandfather, who was surprised to find himself at home instead of on a transport to Theresienstadt with the few other remaining Jews in the city, ran to the basement to protect his beloved collection of quintessential German Romantic art.
Carl 1940
Days later, on temporary leave from Munzig bei Meissig, the work camp where half-Jews – “mischlinge” – were taken, my  father arrived at his childhood home where he found his father’s lifeless body amid the ruins.  Carl’s round wire spectacles were barely cracked and he was still dressed in his customary three-piece black suit, which he had continued to wear daily, though he had been released from his executive banker position years before.
Chemitz house past March 5 1945 bomb which killed Carl
Sixteen-year-old Thomas collapsed, exhausted, beside his father’s lifeless body.
There were no tears, no anger, no frustration, not even fear. In their place was only a survival instinct, the knowledge that being alive and on his own, he must now act.
‘I, the living, must bury my father, the dead.’
It was not the thought of a boy, or of a teenager, but of the man he had too suddenly become.
Thomas 1944~~~~~~~~~
On the 21st of this month, 73 years after Carl’s death, 64 years after my father emigrated to America, and exactly one year to the day after his death at the age of 89, I will travel to Chemnitz, accompanied by three generations of Carl’s descendants. We will be the guests of the city’s mayor, who has asked us to return to honor my father and grandfather at the art museum that Carl so dearly loved and to which my father recently bequeathed three inherited pieces.
Invitation letter from City of Chemnitz
(Webpage translation – see above link: The banker Carl Heumann (1896-1945) was one of the most notable art collectors in Chemnitz. The co-owner of the Chemnitz bank "Bayer and Heinze" and Portuguese vice-consul, Carl Heumann was a renowned connoisseur of the art of the 19th and early 20th century. Until 1933, he donated more than sixty graphic sheets by August Gaul, Adolph von Menzel, Julius Scholz, Carl Peschel and a graphic portfolio by Ernst Barlach to the Kunstsammlungen Chemnitz. On 5, March 1945, he was killed by a blast bomb while trying to recover a suitcase with valuable drawings from the basement of his house. His son, Thomas Heumann (1928-2017) emigrated to the US after after difficult times in the labor camp in Munzig near Meissen. Thomas Heumann bequeathed in honor of his father three works to the Kunstsammlungen Chemnitz. These will be presented for the first time together with the donations of his father at the Museum am Theaterplatz.)
I will journal preparations for, ponderings about, and experiences of the trip here.

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Wednesday, January 24, 2018


I’ve been feeling a bit lost lately.

Maybe it has to do with the fact that I’m now an orphan. Even at 61, “orphan” is how it feels. I just plain miss my mommy and daddy.

Maybe it’s the realization that my career is, for all intents and purposes, over. At some point that resume that used to reflect deep, broad experience became a resume that just says “old has-been fart.”

Maybe it’s a delayed response from being an empty nester, combined with a yearning to be a grandparent. Kids have always been central to my existence – wanting them, having them, watching them grow, and letting them go – and this peace and quiet (that I remember begging for at times!) is sometimes just deafening.

Maybe it’s unhealthy blood pressure and weight readings and a constant pain in my legs and groin, all of which make me feel like a slug. I’m taking action – again. Can I stick to it this time?

Maybe it’s Trump. DUH.

Maybe it’s because we’re looking for the place that we’ll next call “home.”

“WAIT!” you say. “Wait!” How can we be looking for the next place we’ll call home when we bought property in Suncadia two years ago and had begun to design our dream house? You’re astute to notice.

The truth is, we’ve pretty much decided not to move to Suncadia full-time, much as we love it there. Two primary factors played into our decision: 1.) There is no top-quality emergency healthcare nearby. Granted, the Urgent Care in Cle Elum is open from 9 to 5 on weekdays and for a few hours on weekends, but if we chose some other time to collapse onto the floor gasping for breath, unconscious - or worse - on a Sunday night, we’re screwed. 2.) Beautiful as the Cascade Mountains are, winters can be brutal and never-ending. Interstate 90, pretty much the only way to get from Seattle to Suncadia, shuts down due to snow and ice a bit too often for our liking – especially because I promised to babysit for future grandchildren in Seattle on a weekly basis.

We’ve been looking at Gig Harbor  and other communities “on the other side of the water” instead. Unlike times when we’ve moved in the past, there are few constraints this time. We don’t have to look in any specific school district, we don’t need to live close to any job, and we’re less financially constrained than we were earlier in our lives. Total freedom! How nice – and how crazy-making! We’ll know when we find the right place, but who knows when that will be? Next week? Next month? Next year? Watch this space.

Until then, I have a book to write.

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Sunday, August 13, 2017

My father wrote this to his kids the day after Trump was elected. I had no idea…

“Hi, all of you. parents and descendants ---

Dad with pipe

NOW where are you going to emigrate to??

In 1938, ("Krystal Night", November 8) my (Jewish) father told us to keep the lights off, and windows closed, so nobody would bother us in the apparently empty  house.   The burning of the synagogue across the street, was officially the work of "Germans tired of the Jews.” It was done by "people disgusted with the Jews.”

The next day, a guy at school bragged that the night before, his big brother, an SS or SA man, was one of the people setting the synagogue on fire.  The burning of the synagogue was (to remain politically correct) “by the people people against the Jews.”  My dad told me to never ever tell anybody about what I had heard.

He wouldn't believe things could get worse. He knew he had done no wrong. He did not want to take us out of school or compromise promising careers in our future.  He would not leave his house or his language.

My entire life would have been different if he had made different decisions. 

But, of course, it IS a BIG decision, and my impression of our current situation might be totally different from how you or your kids feel.

I strongly hope I am wrong in my defensive attitude.  But I believe, now more than ever, that 2016 is now quite a bit like 1938 in Europe, when my Jewish uncles left their businesses in Berlin to go to America.

I personally could not survive moving any more – I’m getting very old now.  But I would feel bad if I failed to tell you about my own experiences and fears.  I MUST tell you, especially those of you who may have a Mexican-sounding name in their ancestry.


Now I'll shut up.

Love --   Dad”

Dad died less than four months after Trump was elected. Thank god he doesn’t have to see this. It would kill him.

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Thursday, August 10, 2017

It’s getting real!

Tom and I met again tonight with Rick Jones, our architect. It was a short meeting. Wanna know why? Because he gave us everything we asked for and we were thrilled, with NO complaints or requested changes!

My guess is that initial architect meetings are usually filled with questions and new ideas and lots of exploration. But we’ve been pondering the idea of a move to Suncadia for two years now and looking at/designing floor plans has become a bit of an obsession during that time, so by the time we picked Rick as our architect and got to work, we pretty much knew what we wanted. We wanted Rick’s input and suggestions, of course, but it turns out that he liked our idea and simply improved upon it. And he is a VERY good listener!

Tonight he brought us these “quick sketches”:

Front elevation_better_10Aug17Back elevation_10Aug17Main floor_10Aug17Upper floor_10Aug17

In case that just looks like a charcoal sketch to you, here are a few highlights:

Lower level - annotated

Upper floor_annotated

Until now, we’ve focused 100% on the floorplan, without giving a lot of thought to the outside. We love what Rick designed!

This is the front:

Front elevation_better_10Aug17

And here’s the back, with a covered upper patio and a lower patio with a fire pit:

Back elevation_10Aug17

Of course I had to lay these plans on top of the physical lot model that Tom’s making.

plan on lot2

It works!

Coincidentally, Elisabeth and I went to the Suncadia book club (“Reading Between the Pines”) a few days ago, which was so affirming, and we spent a bit of time at the lot.

Eventually, this will be a view from the end of the driveway, looking toward the two angled garage doors.


And this is pretty much right at the front door. It will be so great to see from the front door straight out the big back windows to the mountains! (Yes, many of those trees will be removed, exposing the beautiful mountains.)


The down side? There is one, and it’s pretty significant. We had hoped to stay under 2900 square feet, but this plan is about 3600 square feet. That might be a huge issue… or not much of an issue at all, depending on what we get for our Woodinville house next year. Yes, it panics me just thinking about it! But Tom can build pretty much the entire upstairs, so hopefully that’ll save quite a bit. 

For today, I’ll decide not to worry about it. We’re committed to this process through the design phase, at which point we’ll be “in” for almost $20,000 (surveying is $3500 and Rick is $15,000). Then we’ll re-evaluate. Assuming the Woodinville housing market remains healthy and that we can still go “straight across” from one home to the other without spending additional money, we’re good.

So fingers cross, will ya?! Thanks!

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