Thursday, February 22, 2018

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?!

Stumble Upon Toolbar


Margaret said...

Oh, it's my dream to fly on one of those double deckers. Non-US airlines are so much better in service (and food); I got spoiled traveling on several of them. (Asiana was amazing!) Have a wonderful trip and keep us updated.

Goofball said...

It's such a wonderful story and such a striking 'coincidence' that you're invited exactly one year later...

Goofball said...

it's such a powerful story and such a striking coincidence that you are making this trip exactly one year after your father's passing

Related Posts with Thumbnails