Thursday, February 22, 2018

Frankfurt to Berlin to Chemnitz - and dinner with the museum director

When you never even leave an airport terminal, as was the case for us in Frankfurt, you end up with photos like this as your only memento. 

We flew from San Francisco to Frankfurt, to Berlin, where we were picked up by George and York and driven 2.5 hours to Chemnitz. 

Chemnitz is an industrial German city, very different than my mother’s home region of Bavaria. But Chemnitz has a beauty of its own. 

We arrived at the Chemnitzer Hof Hotel and were greeted with this!

Yes, I got quite teary-eyed and pretty much speechless when I saw these!

We took a few photos in the same room where my grandparents sometimes went out for an evening on the town (before my grandfather was prohibited from such activities).


And then Dr Moessinger, the Director of the Kunstsammlung Chemnitz arrived and treated to THE most wonderful dinner, where we learned more about Carl and his love of some of the great works of classic German art. 

And yes, the sauerbraten was amazing! (I snuck this photo as discretely as I could because... people who take photos of their food. But... right?!)

It’s 4:15 AM now and I’m wide awake. Of course. I’ll try to sneak a few more hours of sleep before we embark upon the first of three very busy days. 

I’ll try to keep up the blogging, too - even if it has to be at 4:15 AM from the hotel room bathroom!

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Chemnitz, day one: getting there

I might as well be that four-year-old who asks incessantly, “How many more sleeps until we go on our trip?” and when that last sleep comes, excitement-induced insomnia hits. 

I might have slept an hour last night. Maybe. 

At 4:00 AM, when my alarm went off, I was already (or rather, still) awake. It wasn’t last-minute packing and boarding passes that was on my mind, though; it was my father, who had died exactly one year before, on this very morning of February 21st. 

He had died as he wished to die - suddenly, and without suffering. 

I so miss him! And I can’t help thinking how amazed and honored and excited HE’D be if he knew what we were doing today!

During the past year. I have had the honor of being the co-executor of Dad’s  estate (along with my brother, Chris). Intense as that job has been, I’ve cherished it. One of my duties has been to carry out Dad’s wish that three pieces of art be bequeathed to the Kunstsammlung (art museum) in Dad’s hometown of Chemnitz, Germany. That, in itself, was special, but there’s a story behind my dad’s bequeathal. 

Carl Heumann, my dad’s father, my grandfather, was a passionate collector of quintessential German art. He was well known in those circles in Germany, and highly respected. 

And he was Jewish. 

When his job, his freedom, and his dignity were taken away, my grandfather retreated into the world of his beloved art, spending entire days and weeks immersed in the smallest detail of his collection.. The Kunst Sammlung in Chemnitz had been like a second home for him and a place for him to to immerse himself in his passion. 

And then they closed those doors to him, too, as the Nürnberg Laws mandated that Jews could not go to or be involved in cultural activities and events. 

I believe that Carl was more heartbroken by this than by almost any other of the hundreds of unreasonable, trite, and stifling restrictions set forth in the Nürnberg Laws, which were specifically written to slowly bring Jews to their knees - and their deaths - in Germany. 

Carl died with a suitcase of his beloved art in his arms. On March 5, 1945, during the most violent and destructive of air raids, Carl insisted on rescuing his art from his basement - and that is when the house took a direct hit. 

We don’t know why Carl wasn’t sent to Theresienstadt, along with the hundreds of other Jews in Chemnitz. There is a theory that he had a protectorate right inside the Kunstsammlung Chemnitz! (And this is one of the questions I want to explore when we’re there this week.) Ironically, had he been sent to Theresienstadt on one of those last transports of the war, he would have survived. 

But why are you and some of Carl’s descendants going to Chemnitz, you ask? 

We are going because, in what I can only figure is an act of forgiveness and an expression of a shared love of the arts, my father bequeathed a number of pieces of art that he had inherited from his father’s collection to the museum, and in response, the mayor has invited Carl’s family to join them for the opening of an exhibit in honor of Carl, and of my father, which will be part of their celebration of Jewish culture in Chemnitz. 

Many of the pieces that will be on display were donated by Carl in the 1920s, and a few pieces were bequeathed by my father upon his death last year. I think that, in a bigger way than my grandfather or my father or us, it’s a way to perhaps begin some healing. 

My wonderful 86-year-old aunt Ulli (Carl’s only surviving child) and her husband, Michael, along with Ulli’s kids (my dear cousins), Marcus and Claudia, and two of my kids, Kat and Peter, and I, are making the trip. We all met in San Francisco, ready to embark on our adventure!

I’m typing this blog entry into my phone on our Lufthansa flight while everyone else is sleeping (because hey, who needs sleep?)

I’ve taken photos all day, as I’ve warned everyone I will continue to do. Here are a few:

Claudia and Kat. 

Peter and Marcus. 

Lots of empty seats! (I really should be sleeping!)

Yeah, it’s a two-story plane, a Lufthansa A380! I don’t think I’ll ever fly another airline to Germany. For me, it’s gotta be Lufthansa. Their service is just stellar, every single time!

And now I really do need to try to sleep! Where’s that Tylenol PM?!

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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. (

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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