Sunday, October 28, 2018

Another out-of-the-blue connection to the past–in which I hear from the granddaughter of my father’s beloved nanny!

I got a call a few hours ago from a woman named Anna in Germany who, it turns out, is the granddaughter of my father’s favorite nanny, nicknamed “Halle.”

My father spoke lovingly of “Halle,” and remembered her affectionately throughout his life. Never did I think that I would actually have any direct connection to her! But 70+ years later, things keep happening to bring my father’s early life into focus for me! It is such a gift.

In the early 1930s, Jews were forbidden to have non-Jewish household help, so “Halle” (her actual name, I learned today, was Ilse Langer) had to suddenly leave my father’s family. It was among the first times my father’s life was directly impacted by the changing political climate in Germany, and I believe it had a lasting impact on him. Little did he know that she also fondly remembered those days for the remainder of her life, calling them some of her happiest.

Irmgard Ulli Rainer Heinz Gert Gaby - Halle emphasized

When Anna told me today that her grandmother named her son (Anna’s father) Thomas (my father’s name), I just about lost it.

Shortly after we spoke on the phone, I received this email from Anna:

"Dear Carol,

I am still very emotional just now, but it was lovely to have talked to you.

I can easily believe that your father, aunt and uncle loved her a lot. She was an absolutely lovely and lovable person. I remember her as calm, loving, with good sense of humour and a great love and especially understanding for children. In many ways she started to train me to understand children, when I was still a child myself by telling me lots and lots of stories about the children she had cared for in her lifetime. Among them surely your father, aunt and uncle, only I can’t remember the stories that clearly. I work at university now, training childhood educators, after working with children for years myself

Ilse ("halle") trained to be a kindergarten teacher probably very shortly before she joined the Heumanns in Chemnitz. She was born in 1915 and joined them in the early 1930ies, as far as I know. So she was probably very young and impressionable, when she stayed with the Heumanns in Chemnitz. She was called “Halla” by the children. This is not a proper German name, but a nickname invented and given specially by the children.

It was a great heartbreak to her, when she had to leave the family and I think her time and positive experiences in the Heumann-Family made her immune to the anti-semitism in the Third Reich.

I always knew her as a great humanist and pacifist. She had survived two world wars and there was no place for hatred in her heart. She had countless friends and contacts, who dropped in any time of day, when she was old. And she used to collect second-hand-goods from anyone who dropped in to give to different charities, eg. for people with disabilities and for refugees, who had to start from scratch in Germany in the 1990ies. I bet she remembered how that feels like…

More hopefully later on, so much for now. It feels good to have found and contacted you! All the best wishes across the ocean."

Halle - nanny of Heumann sibs

And then Anna sent me this (translated), written by her uncle about Ilse ("Halle"), along with a photo of her shortly before she died just before her 90th birthday, in 2006:

"Noteworthy is still the time as a teacher of two children with family Heumann in Chemnitz. For Ilse, that was a positive milestone in her life, a great time. She was loved by the children and their parents also and respected. They called her Halla and they took her traveling. She always raved about Sylt. The father was a Jew and as far as I know Consul in Portugal. He owned a noteworthy Spitzweg (art) collection. As a result of the race policy, Ilse had to stop working at the house, or rather the villa, of the Heumanns, which was in Chemnitz on the corner of Kassberg and Reichsstraße and was destroyed in 1945 by bombs. Ilse, as I said, ended up in Seifhennersdorf at the end of the 1930s and now the circle closes. She never heard from the Heumanns again. "

Apparently, Halle assumed for the rest of her life that my father, his siblings, and their parents all perished in the war. If only they could have spoken before her death in 2006. My father would have absolutely adored that! Halle - real name Ilse Langer - as an old woman

I'm feeling pretty... verklemmt (which is not actually a word, my mom always insisted!) right now!

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