History came and found me

I could make a video about this. It would seem easier in some respects. I could even make it unlisted to avoid the predictable nonsense that always arises when such matters are raised, but somehow it seems righter to write it and to leave it here for anyone who may stumble upon this or who is attracted by the tags. The fact it came entirely out of the blue is only pertinent insamuch as that sense of actually never being able to escape the realities of my (and millions of other) families histories and the knock on effect they had is interesting. There is another point regarding this I’ll raise later. I also received from my stepmother this morning a book entitled ‘The yellow star’ by Gerhard Schoenberner which has been so pored over it’s falling to pieces and originally belonged to my father. She felt it was time for me to have it as a result of the exchange we had in discussing the subject matter of this post. The book is graphic and disturbing and includes numerous photos.

I received from my mothers old house, redirected by the new owners, a letter from the ‘commission for looted art in europe’ http://www.lootedartcommission.com/ informing me their role was to find asĀ  much property seized from the Jews by the Nazis as possible and return them to their rightful owners. I’d never heard of them before. I was invited to phone the person who had written the letter, which I did. She was surprised and delighted. I can imagine how frustrating a task it must be. It transpires that two books belonging to my grandfather when the family were forced to flee the country from Hamburg had turned up in a library in Hamburg and the man who had found them was trying to return them to me. He had done quite a lot of research and knew quite a lot about my family history, including me, and some things I didn’t know myself. Pretty much everything belonging to my family would have been in a container which was stolen by the Nazis and auctioned. This document explains a lot of what went on:

Frank Bajohr Hamburg

The books are in German and in and of themselves are worthless, but what has been revealed to me is not. The woman I talked with pointed out how Jews were told to travel from around to world to Hamburg, most of whom went to their deaths, and that the Nazi plan to wipe out a whole race of people had backfired quite spectacularly, and there are now numerous Germans who spend their working lives seeking out people who’s property the Nazis had stolen and trying to return them. Yes, even all this time later. Of course the majority is lost forever, unidentifiable as belonging to anyone at all, and in the end the items themselves matter considerably less than the acts and how endless German people were complicit in what took place by receiving these stolen goods (there were daily auctions of stolen container contents for years in Hamburg), quite possibly without ever being aware of it. Numerous families have lost the majority of their physical history (if not their lives) as a result.

It’s really hard to describe how being offered this information feels. In many respects it’s a good feeling, as my father was always incredibly reluctant to speak of what went on so everything I know is pieced together from snippets from him and other family members, so to have some external confirmation feels quite powerful, and also to discover more of what took place. In some ways it doesn’t mean a thing. It won’t change my life or attitude. But somehow, inexplicably, it matters. And again I find myself asking the question ‘what caused so many to not only accept but participate in this atrocity?’. It’s probably quite closely related to why so many attempt to deny it ever happened. I was tempted to put in one of the photos from ‘The Yellow Star’, especially since my grandfather was in Buchenwald concentration camp for a mercifully short time, even though I believe it forever changed him, but this is not an attempt to upset and disturb, only to inform and give pause for thought.