Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Dear Opa. Dear Dad. Dear Chemnitz.

(This is the final post in a series which focuses on my trip to Chemnitz, Germany as the city honored my father and grandfather’s contributions of art to the city’s art museum, the Kunnstsammlung Chemnitz. The exhibition was part of the city’s “27 Days of Jewish Culture” event. Previous posts can be found by clicking here and then clicking “older post” at the end of each post.)

Dear Opa,

I assume that, had we ever met, I would have called you Opa. In my imagination, I’ve even called you Opapa, having decided that you and I had an extra special connection, for which a simple Opa just wouldn’t suffice.

Carl at about age 35

We never met because you were taken from this world on March 5, 1945, the victim of a direct bomb strike upon your beautiful Chemnitz house, leaving your son (my father), an orphan at the young age of 16, to dig your grave and bury you during the chaotic last days of WWII.

Chemnitz house pre-war higher resChemnitz house destruction

I’ve heard stories about you all my life, Opa, but traveling to Chemnitz last week brought them all to life for me. While I knew that my father revered you for your strength of character, your moral fortitude, and your dedication to always doing what’s right (an approach to life my father very much adopted from you!), I came to realize in Chemnitz last week that, even 73 years after your death, you are still dearly beloved and remembered in Chemnitz for these same qualities.

You were a highly respected and law-abiding German citizen who clung to the belief, to the very end, that “Wie es auch sei, das Leben, es ist gut.” (Life, however it may be, is good. – Goethe) You insisted that you were a good German through and through, and you clung to the naïve belief that the Nazis “just couldn’t do that to me.”

Even your collected art was quintessential Romantic German art!

KH 820

Peschel KH Z 257

My father described you in a book proposal that he wrote in 2007 when he considered actually writing and publishing a book – which he never did.

In this description, your son says of you, “Carl is a banker by profession, an art connoisseur and collector by passion, and a consul to Portugal by title. He is highly organized and structured. (Boy, did you ever pass this on!) His communication style is reserved, proper, and highly formal toward the outside world, somewhat less so, but still superior at home. He is firm and quite authoritarian toward the children, permitting no contradiction.” (Your grandchildren, my brothers and me, weren’t as well-behaved as your own kids obviously were, and I grew up in Berkeley in the rebellious 1960s, so this wasn’t the case for us, whether Dad wanted it to be or not!)

Dad goes on with his description of you: “Carl is fanatical about being conversant with and conforming to all laws. His major principle is to be in good graces with authorities and to maintain the respect of society around him. He believed that unfailing ethics lead to a spotless reputation in society, and this was of utmost importance to him. He is frugal and undemanding of his own creature comforts, always proper in appearance (seriously, Opa, you were wearing a three-piece-suit when Dad found you!) and completely impractical in everyday matters. (Dad told us that you couldn’t even make yourself a cup of tea, so used to be taken care of you were – really, Opa?!)

“When his life was reduced to simple practical matters,” the description continues, “Carl makes valiant efforts to adapt and perform.” (Because you, like your son, always did the right thing, always worked your hardest, and always strived to be well-regarded by your community and society. It’s a Heumann trait that’s definitely been passed on!)

“To be well-regarded by the people…”

Opa, look at this!


See all those people? See that standing room only crowd? That is for YOU! I think we can agree that you were, and ARE, “highly-regarded by the people”! Those people came from all over Germany – no, all over the world – to honor you and your art collection!


Your beloved Kunnstsammlung Chemnitz did not forget you, Opa! In fact, they are remembering you with the most amazing collection of artwork that both you and, 83 years later, your son donated back to the museum!

Just look!


This is the current director of the Kunnstsammlung Chemnitz, where you were once on the board.


When she introduced you and your art collection to the press last week, she choked up at the end of her speech, apologizing profusely on behalf of the museum and the city of Chemnitz for your fate. Yes, Opa, you can rest assured that you have always been well-regarded, even well-loved, by the people of Chemnitz!

And really, you, not three generations of your descendants, should have been the focus of all this! (I think you would have hated all the attention, but been very proud nonetheless.)


Yes, that’s Ulli, your sweet daughter and my favorite aunt, who was just 12 when you died. How I wish you could have watched her and her siblings grow up and have children of their own!

(You’re kind of liking this little time-travel game with your Enkelin, aren’t you?)

And Opa, one more thing: I know that you never would have accepted my mother. You would have been mortified that my father would bring home such a fiery, outspoken, somewhat defiant, and very independent young woman, and you would have suggested he choose someone more… well, more within your family’s customary circle. (Yes, you were an elitist – another trait that you passed on.) But, um… Mom was pregnant! You can’t say that Dad didn’t do the right thing, eh, Opa? And in spite of it all, they celebrated 54 years of marriage before Mom died!

It is an odd thought, I must admit, that had you not died when you did, I would very likely not exist. That thought throws me into a bit of an existential crisis that feels too big to ponder, so I’ll just leave it at that!

I wish I had known you! But somehow, I feel more and more – especially since visiting the town where you were so highly-regarded – that I do.

Dear Dad,


A few years ago, you told me that you were considering donating “a few pieces” of art inherited from your father’s collection back to the museum in Chemnitz where your father was on the board in the early 1930s.

I didn’t hold back when I told you that I didn’t like that idea at all.

Chemnitz has no meaning to any of us, I insisted. It’s place where your father had been prominent, yes – until he wasn’t, and was relegated to the walls of his home because… well, we all know why.

Chemnitz, I insisted, didn’t love you like your children and grandchildren loved you. Why should they, instead of your descendants, get these pieces of art? What affinity could you possibly have for the City of Chemnitz and for its art museum after what you and your family experienced there?

I just didn’t get it.

But Dad, I GET IT NOW!

I was so very wrong, and I’m so sorry.

Perhaps “forgiveness” is too strong a word for what emotion was behind your gesture. Perhaps it was more an attempt to close a circle that had been open, a wound of sorts, for too long. Perhaps it was simply your own desire to be well-regarded by the people of your hometown. I don’t know.

But knowing you, and now knowing a bit about Chemnitz and the Kunnstsammlung, I do finally understand.

Donating three works back to the Kunnstsammlung Chemnitz was absolutely the right thing to do, and I wish I could take back my selfish words.


The museum graciously accepted the three bequeathed works and built an exhibit around them, honoring both you and your father!


I was interviewed (in German; you would have been proud!) about my memories of these pieces. I explained that I never saw the first one until a few years ago, when you pulled the tattered suitcase that had come with you when you emigrated to America, out from under your bed, where it always lived.

Chemnitz, Kunstsammlungen

The second one, I explained, always seemed to need a colored crayon taken to it (aren’t you glad that never happened?!). It always seemed to lack color to me – obviously not an art connoisseur!

Chemnitz, Kunstsammlungen

And this one, that was in our stairwell… it always caused me angst. ‘Someone should help him!’ was always my thought. ‘Why is he so upset?’ I didn’t know that it was called Young Man in Mourning, but even if I had, I probably wouldn’t fully understand its beauty.

Chemnitz, Kunstsammlungen

Dad, I now know that the museum that your father so dearly loved, and that loved him back, is the perfect place to donate these beautiful works of art!



Like your father, you always do the right thing, and you knew that bequeathing art to your father’s beloved museum was the right thing to do – even if your daughter wondered what had gotten into you.

Dad, if you could have heard and seen how they honored you!

You would have loved to see these posters at the museum gift shop!


And the opening ceremony, Dad! All I could think of, during the entire thing, was how absolutely honored you would have been!



The pianist, Jeffrey Goldberg, played your beloved Schubert so beautifully.


Then Dr. Moessinger, the director of the museum, who so sweetly seemed to take us all under her wing over the weekend, honored you and your father and thanked you for your bequeathals.


The invitation to come to Chemnitz came from this wonderful woman, Frau Oberburgermeisterin Barbara Ludwig. I just loved her! (And Peter would want you to know that had some serious “shoe game” going on!)


Dad, you mentioned the name Juergen Nitsche to me a few times, but I didn’t fully appreciate both who he was to you (THE expert on Jews in Chemnitz and collaborator and researcher extraordinaire) and the absolutely wonderful human being he is  (soft-spoken, extremely intelligent and wonderfully kind-hearted) until I met him for myself. My biggest regret of the entire trip is that I didn’t get more time with him. I have so many questions for him and I so would have loved to hear more about your collaboration with him!


Dr. Hinrich Sieverking has a passion for the collected arts of Carl Heumann that could be rivaled only by…well, by Carl Heumann! He is full of stories about Carl’s art, the world of art collecting, and about that one time that he pounded his laptop into smithereens and then wondered why it didn’t work. Quite a character this man is!


And then something happened that we didn’t expect at all! Rico, who works for the city, and with whom I had coordinated the entire trip, brought out “das goldene Buch” (the Golden Book of the city).


I realized how truly special this book is after the ceremony, when a local woman delicately and tentatively reached out to touch it, as if it were holy!

It seemed that we were about to have a special place in the book! Oh Dad, how I wish you could have been there! It was very obviously YOU and your father who were being honored; we were simply conduits. But oh, how special it felt! Each of us was asked to sign the book.


Ulli wasn’t too sure what was happening, but I think she understood and appreciated the significance of it all, as she was the first to sign her name to the book.


Dad, if you could only have seen how many people wanted to share in the expression of gratitude to you for your bequeathal!


You would have cracked some self-effacing joke about the standing-room-only crowd, but I know how completely honored you would have been.

I miss you so much, Dad, but never more than during this ceremony. Many people insisted that you were there in some way and I’m just going to choose to believe that.

Dear City of Chemnitz,

How can I thank you for your hospitality, your generosity, and your warmth (in spite of freezing weather!) during our visit to your wonderful city? Words simply won’t suffice, but I do hope that, in reading the descriptions and impressions here and elsewhere on my blog, you’ll understand how meaningful your gesture is to us.

First and foremost, I must specifically call out this amazing guy, Rico Keller, whose job it was to deal with me for months previous to our trip and who was so proficient at his job that the whole thing looked seamless and easy.


Rico, I’m a project manager; I know how NOT easy all this organizing and coordinating was! Thank you so much for your expertise, your professionalism, your always-calm demeanor, and for being just…well, the mensch that you are! You are so appreciated!

It all began with a welcome dinner on the first evening with Dr. Moessinger. Although we were all a bit intimidated at first, Dr. Moessinger’s warmth radiated around the table and within a few moments, we were all chatting comfortably – though in funny broken English/German.


The next morning, our own little bus arrived to take us on a personalized tour of meaningful places, like Adelsberg,where Ulli lived with her cousin after her parents’ death. We didn’t find the exact house on this trip but, thanks to Juergen Nitsche, we now have an address. This means we’ll need to return!


We then went to the school that Rainer and Thomas attended (Ulli went to different school)…


The school is celebrating its 150 year anniversary and, although it was closed for the holiday, the headmistress came to show us around.


The best part was seeing Rainer and Thomas’ grades in the big school book!


The little bus then took us to this corner…


…which now looks like this:


That was hard, I must admit.

The meals! Oh, City of Chemnitz, those meals! You treated us to so many absolutely delicious meals!

Lunch at the Ratskeller after our tour was perfect in every way!



After lunch, we met the mayor, Oberburgermeisterin Barbara Ludwig, who we really liked and respect so much! She gave us a wonderful tour of the old Rathaus. (I have lots of video of her as we exchanged gifts, but surprisingly no stills of this meeting. Sigh!)


The press conference that followed was a bit overwhelming. Really? All this for a couple of Heumanns?!


That night, we enjoyed the Abba Jetzt! performance, thanks to your generosity!

Abba Jetzt

On Saturday, we were treated to a private tour of some of the other amazing exhibits at the Kunnstsammlung…


…and then you treated us to yet another delicious German meal!


(That’s Marina in the blue shirt. She’s the granddaughter of Rainer, who was the other son of Carl. She was able to join us from London for just a few short hours, but it meant the world to us that she was there!)


Dr. Sieverking had constant questions and stories for Ulli!

That evening, we were treated to a tour of the SMAC (archeological) museum and to the opening of the 27 Days of Jewish Culture event.


On Sunday, we were given some private time with the exhibit in honor of Carl and Thomas Heumann…


…and were treated to a visit to the cloister on the hill and yet another amazing meal…


…and then it was off to the opening of the exhibit where…well, it was so far and above our wildest expectations!

As I told the Oberburgermeisterin, fighting back tears the whole time, I felt that I finally got to know my grandfather a bit, and that his desire to always be well-regarded by the people definitely came true!


And oh, how my father would have been beaming to see the effect that his bequeathals had on the city of his childhood!


How can I adequately express my gratitude, City of Chemnitz? I can’t – except to say thank you for allowing us to not only get to know your wonderful city, but – especially – thank you for allowing us to get to know our father, grandfather, and great grandfather as we never have before!

We will be back!

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Margaret said...

Such amazing and unforgettable experiences! I love this post, Carol. Just how TALL is that guy standing with your son? He looks about 6'8!!

Tonya said...

What a glorious experience! So rare and special! I imagine it was eye-opening for Kat and Peter, too. Whatever became of the "missing" art? I remember when you met with that woman from...Austria? Julie? I wondered if anything ever came of that.

DeeDee Jensen said...

I just happened to stumble upon your blog this evening and wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed reading about your recent trip. What an amazing experience and I'm so happy that you were able to really learn more about your Opa and your father as well. I was born in Germany and moved to the USA when I was 6 years old (in 1966) but I still have so many fond memories of my childhood there. I have been very fortunate throughout the years and have enjoyed many trips back to visit family and friends. Danke!!

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