John Fish B.Sc. Publishers of Tenby in Wales (UK)




Monika Paula Bowler

e-mail: Monika Paula Bowler










The 13 chapters of my maternal family’s history – approx. 124,000 words – include many generations, going back to the 13th century. The manuscript encompasses facts, experiences and stories about and of an almost average German family. The chapters are divided into the maternal and paternal sides up to about 1940 and continue with the life of our family after WWII, the period up to when I left Germany. My married life in Britain is covered in the last chapter.

All the chapters contain relevant historical events which shaped the lives of the families and their individual members. Where appropriate, maps explain the different German localities mentioned.

The attached Chapter 4, representative of my writing style, gives the reader glimpses into the history and everyday life in Germany between 1915 and 1942. The early life and extraordinary activities of my courageous mother before and during WWII are highlighted. Later chapters give insights into her remarkable character and strength.


Chapter 1(comprising 8 titled subheadings) – Mama’s maternal family:

Introduction into my maternal family, my great-grandfather’s life and work as prosperous landowner and tile and brick manufacturer in Giessen, northern Hessen. He has left many handwritten documents describing family and business events and his thoughts and instructions on how to deal with them. Also included is my grandmother’s life before her marriage (1881-1907).


Chapter 2 (8 titled subheadings) – Baron and Knight Helwig von Buseck and the 30-Year’s War:

The life and death of my mother’s ancestor, Baron and Knight Helwig von Buseck who died in 1636 in a battle during the 30-Years’ War in Germany. The von Buseck family ruled over a considerable area in northern Hessen. The central village (Buseck-Beuern) near Giessen, still a thriving community and home to my ancestors for centuries, has recently celebrated its 800th anniversary. Among my sources were the meticulous records of every member of all the local families originating there, right back to the early 17th centuries.

My detailed research led to unexpected revelations. Surprisingly, two local German universities hold the key to Helwig von Buseck’s life and that of his family, going back to the 13th century. His only child’s fate, a daughter Christina, is particularly well documented.

Detailed accounts of the life of members of the local community between the 15th and 18th century.


Chapter 3 (6 titled subheadings) – Mama’s paternal family:

The life of my maternal grandfather and that of his family. The origins of his family name are outlined. Grandfather’s maternal ancestors’ life and work, running a dye works near Lake Constance. His family – from Swabia – was of Jewish origin, thus being subjected to stringent rules. In addition, Christiana Magdalene, one of the daughters, was forced by her family to emigrate to America in 1853, together with her illegitimate son. 


Chapter 4 Gertrud Katharina Klara – as attached:


Chapter 5 (12 titled subheadings) – Father’s family:

My father, Arthur, youngest son of seven children, is born into a comfortably off family. He takes up horse riding and dressage to surprising levels. His father’s career as a medical superintendent in the prison in Ludwigsburg and the circumstances and details of his death in 1915 are well documented. Arthur’s career with the railways appears to provide him with a job for life – as was the case with his brother Rudolph.

Both my father and his brother Hermann join up to fight in WWI. Arthur participates in the battles around Ypres – the first battle (where he was wounded) as well as the 4th, also known as the ‘Kemmel Offensive’. The gunner Hermann dies in June 1917 during a battle near Arras in France.

Arthur’s first marriage was follows by a life in apparent luxury. Their travels to England and Ireland in 1934 are described in detail. The end of his career in the railways does not stop him from starting again from nothing in the mid-1930s, reaching the top in his profession in the cigarette industry in Dresden.


Chapter 6 (7 titled subheadings) – Difficult times:

Description of my family’s life just before and into WWII. My two siblings and I were born between 1942 and 1944. A comfortable home and our outwardly stable existence are abruptly destroyed. Almost all the people in our community are affected by the war – many dreams and aspirations are destroyed. My mother, father and their first-born go on holiday in Bavaria! Frankfurt is destroyed. Our world suddenly breaks down – we have to leave our home in late 1944 and begin an uncertain existence that lasted until the early 50s.


Chapter 7 (14 titled subheadings) - Lössnitz:

A bomb severely damages our house – we have to leave to find another home, avoiding further air raids. Alone with her three very small children, my mother travels 400 km into eastern Germany – towards the Russians and the fighting. Father arranges for all our belongings to travel separately – an incredible achievement, somewhat absurd. Mother’s most treasured possession, her violin, mysteriously does not arrive.

Our long and traumatic journey is followed by life in a small town between late 1944 and 1948. Lössnitz, in the Ore Mountains, south of Dresden, initially centre of fierce fighting between Germans, Americans, Russians and others, is subjected to the trauma of the punishing regulations of the victorious Russian occupiers after the war. The contrast between our life in two tiny cold attic rooms and that of the other occupants of the large country house are stark – i.e. serious shortages of food and fuel. The pointless annihilation of Dresden, not far away, and its effects on us are described.

Stateless and categorised as refugees, we are trapped in a foreign country, separated from home by the ‘Iron Curtain’. Our belongings are shipped off again in 1949 and eventually, as by miracle, reach the west.


Chapter 8 (5 titled subheadings) - Return:

Almost four years after arriving in the east, my mother, instructed by my father, takes her children on the dangerous journey back to the west – without identification papers. Held in a camp for refugees for a time and desperately trying to reach our home, we finally cross no-man’s-land into eastern Bavaria – at great risk.

My grandmother’s fate is sealed by the cruel action of her older daughter’s husband; she loses everything. 

On our return, we are allocated many inadequate places to stay. Long battles with the authorities eventually lead to the return to our house, now sadly deteriorated. It had been occupied and badly neglected by American officers. Having fought for his country in two wars he loses his fortune – for a third time.


Chapter 9 (6 titled subheadings) – Our extended family:

The fate of our nearest family, among them my father’s sisters and my mothers’ sister’s life, are distressing at times. My cousin’s life as a violinist in the most renowned orchestra in Germany and my grandmother’s sad end are included. My grandfather’s brief visit from his voluntary exile in Switzerland delights my mother.


Chapter 10 (8 titled subheadings) – Sprendlingen:

Not quite back home, but we get tantalisingly near. My first proper family Christmas, at the age of seven, and, finally, our own bathroom – after four moves within the town. My mother’s unconventional treatment of minor ailments hardens us. Father’s military approach makes life almost unbearable for the rest of the family, but for my mother in particular.


Chapter 11 (12 titled subheadings) – Big changes:

The last move before returning to our house is to a massive block of flats built to house the homeless and refugees. The fate of all our neighbours is heart-braking, most of them refugees from regions now in Poland and Russia. Our lives are influenced by my mother’s sad existence, imposed by my father. As always, her three children and classical music are all that give her the will and the ability to go on.


Chapter 12 (6 titled subsections) – Growing up:                                                               

My father continues to make his powerful mark on our lives, right down to controlling progress at school and finding me a job that commits me for three years to one employer. My brother also suffers greatly under his father’s dominance. I get and take opportunities to work abroad. We continue to be affected by events, such as the return of relatives of friends from prison camps in Siberia and the building of the Berlin Wall. I continue my education in Frankfurt. Following my father’s death, my mother can finally be herself again.


Chapter 13 (11titled subheadings) – Fascinating life in the UK:

I come to England intending to stay for just three months. Instead, I married Eric and have been here ever since. We raised two wonderful children; both are officers in the Armed Forces.

We had to work very hard in our business – importing live tropical fish from around the world and preparing them for resale mainly in the UK. Eventually, I retrained and worked in public relations and in the film industry. I still work as a technical translator and as the PR consultant in the UK for a well-known German piano quartet. Classical music also plays a large part in my life, as evident in my account of a trip to New York a few years ago.

My husband’s maternal family is Scottish, members of the Munro clan. One of his ancestors fought in the Peninsular War – wounded at the Battle of Toulouse – he also participated in the Battle of Waterloo.

The story of a Meissen figurine, one of our most precious and constant companions, ends the chapter.





Sample Chapter

Chapter Four

Gertrud Katharina Klara



On Wednesday, September 1, 1915, Gertrud Katharina Klara, nickname Trudelchen, my mother, was born in Offenbach on Main, a city close to Frankfurt. She was the younger sister of Hedwig Elise, known as Hedel, born on August 2, 1909. Their only other sibling was Franz, younger brother to the girls, born on April 1, 1917, but he sadly died just 23 days later. Hedel‘s Godparents were her American aunt, Agnes Schomber from San Antonio, and Georg Spannagel from New York.


The time between 1909 and 1915 was characterised by numerous miscarriages suffered by Johanna, their mother, a fact that marred her health considerably. She already had to cope with the aftermath of scarlet fever suffered in early childhood and other ailments.


The new addition to the family, Trudelchen, was baptised Gertrud Katharina Klara on the 38th birthday of her father, on November 15, 1915. The ceremony was held in the Catholic St. Paul’s Church in Offenbach. For most of her life, she was however known as Trudel. Her Godparents were – according to her baptism certificate – a certain Anna Burg and – according to the official family record – Dr Hermann Tross, grammar school teacher in Gießen, one of the uncles of the child. She was named Katharina after her maternal grandmother, great-grandmother and her paternal grandmother. Klara was also the name of her father’s mother, née Finninger. After my marriage and life in England, I started to call my mother her by the affectionate term of endearment ‘Herze’, meaning dear heart, always pronounced in a strong Saxon accent, our favourite way of communicating.


According to a rather faded immunisation certificate, Trudelchen was successfully inoculated for the first time on June 28, 1916 by the senior medical officer for Offenbach, Dr Carl Koch. Thus, the legal requirement to immunise children twice was fulfilled. The certificate states the following: 


‘In every medical district in Germany, vaccinations will be carried out free of charge. Dates, times and locations will be announced well in advance. The first vaccination of children has to be carried out before the end of the calendar year following the infant’s year of birth at the latest. The later vaccination (repeat) relating to offspring attending a public educational establishment or a private school, with the exception of Sunday School or evening classes, must take place within the calendar year in which children reach their 12th birthday. Parents, foster parents and guardians who fail to obey these regulations to have their children or those in their charge inoculated without legal permission, and despite repeated official request, will be fined or punished by a prison sentence.’


On the day of Trudelchen’s birth, almost exactly a year after the beginning of the First World War on August 4, a young nobleman from Silesia, officer cadet in the Uhlan cavalry regiment “Emperor Alexander III of Russia” since 1911, the Freiherr (Free Lord) [1] Manfred von Richthofen, took to the air in his first flight as observer. This was the beginning of his remarkable yet tragically short career during WWI. It was this very officer, whose success, supported by, among others, information supplied by the ground crew of surveyors. One of these surveyors was Arthur Behne, my father, a young soldier who joined the war at the age of 19. Arthur was just three years younger than Manfred von Richthofen, the ace fighter who, tragically, was shot down by a British pilot only a few months before the end of the war. Manfred was 26 years old.


Trudel’s sister Hedel remembered exactly the day her little sister was born. She was not particularly enthusiastic about the new arrival, soon realising that the thus far undivided love and attention of her mother was transferred to this tiny and delicate newcomer. One redeeming aspect was the fact that her mother was suddenly less prone to reprimand her or to punish her for her frequent naughtiness and her sudden and unprovoked unpredictable outbursts of bad temper.

Hedel recalled in later life that her sister was a dear little child, well behaved, patient and quiet. Trudel smiled frequently, was almost always in a good mood and was, most certainly, less spirited than her big sister. As she loved her food, she soon developed what Hedel called ‘semolina cheeks’.  Trudel was not in the slightest interested in sports, but made excellent academic progress. As she developed tuberculosis during her early childhood, she did not attend school as regularly as other children of her age.


Hedel recalled that her father loved her mother very much, but that he suffered under his wife’s often high-spirited eccentric behaviour. Since the birth of her oldest child, Johanna suffered much with rheumatoid arthritis and, due to a heart-valve defect after having had scarlet fever at a very young age, she fainted frequently.



Johanna Spannagel with her daughters Hedwig (left) and Gertrud Katharina Klara in 1916


When Trudelchen was about two and a half years old, a nanny and governess had to be engaged. Her mother found it increasingly more difficult to give her young daughter her full attention. Moreover, Johanna was busy with organising and attending social engagements to further her husband’s career.


Following the interview of one of the suitable candidates for the position of nanny, Trudel was to give her ‘appraisal’ of the person before her engagement. The child marched into the large sitting room, her arms folded behind her back, self-assured, rather relaxed, unsurprisingly composed and critically scrutinising the lady unknown to her. The applicant, a somewhat corpulent woman in her early forties, spoke with a dialect unfamiliar to the child. There may have been a problem with the child not learning what the candidate thought was ‘proper’ High German! But Johanna appeared to otherwise approve of the candidate.


Trudelchen moved her arms to the front of her body, being tenderly smiled at, and positioned herself in front of the stranger, ready for the proceedings to come, silent and completely still. She was confronted with the introduction ‘well, why don’t you come forward towards me, you little…’, the next word was meant as an endearing term, but in middle-class circles amounted to a mild swear word, equal to describing a child that was not potty-trained. Trudelchen was appalled, she was very proud of the fact that she had left nappies long behind. Seriously offended, she left the room without having asked for or been granted permission, upright, calm, not having uttered a single word, and with her arms folded behind her back again. Such hurtful words, and spoken in bad German, could not be forgiven – that was the wrong tone! In due course, another person was engaged.


For many years, the Spannagel family spent the summer holidays near Lake Constance, in the ‘Hotel Island’ in Konstanz. The large hotel terrace reached right down to the beautiful shores of the enormous lake. Every year, they occupied the same elegantly furnished suite comprising two bedrooms and a salon. One bedroom was for the parents, the other for the girls and the governess. Trudelchen was allowed to accompany her parents and sister for the first time during the August before her third birthday, in the summer of 1918. The war was not to end for another two and a half months. She spent the previous holiday period at home with her nanny.


As the little girl was very keen to demonstrate her well-practised table manners, her parents allowed her several times to join the rest of the family for lunch and dinner in the large hotel restaurant. She appeared to have been fascinated by the activities of one of the younger waiters serving at their table. He was soon given the nickname ‘little boy chef’ by Trudelchen. During the winter, the sisters enjoyed skiing and tobogganing in the mountains of Bavaria.


At about the same time, Arthur, the man she was to marry three years before the end of the next World War almost three decades later, had just survived the decisive Kemmel-Offensive in Belgium a few months earlier, ending in a defeat for Germany. Arthur, now 23 years old, could not wait for the war to end to get back home.


Because the girls’ mother suffered repeated health problems, they were allowed to accompany their mother a few years later during a stay at one of the fashionable German spa town to receive treatment and rest. Bad Neuenahr in the Eifel-region – near the rivers Moselle and Rhine – offered the required medical facilities for their mother. The resort also boasted plenty of opportunity for relaxation, entertainment and culture for the two sisters. The spa hotel ‘Kurhotel Westend’, where the three stayed, was a magnificent building, known as the place where the rich and famous resided during Imperial times, whilst seeking treatment and relaxation. Meals were taken in the famous Baroque dining room, lit by numerous splendid chandeliers. The majority of the guest came from many countries around the globe.


The sisters were fascinated by the multitude of languages they were able to listen to. Over time, they had invented their own secret language and started to converse animatedly in this exotic gibberish during meal times, often a little louder than was appropriate for young ladies. The girls enjoyed themselves immensely when they found the present company whispering, wondering about the homeland of the enigmatic young ladies. Hedel remembered later that they could not wait to get outside, as they were unable to stop laughing. 


Trudel’s father noticed that his younger daughter appeared to have an ear for musical. At the age of four, he started to encourage her to join him at the piano, where he could be heard to play music by Richard Wagner, his favourite composer. Trudel was soon able to copy him by just listening and following the movement of his hands. She was able to negotiate the keys with her tiny hands and fingers to the amazement of her parents and sister and played exactly what she had heard. They were sure that Trudel was blessed with perfect pitch. This was confirmed many years later when she attended the Dusseldorf Conservatory. Hedel and her mother, however, were not always able to play without making mistakes. They appeared to have been quite happy with the task of turning the pages of the score. In addition to her playing the piano and later the violin, Trudel developed a beautifully warm and rich contralto voice.


Having learnt to read and write very early, one of little Trudel’s favourite pastimes was to play with her large and well equipped toy grocery shop. The principal ‘wholesaler’ was her patient mother who was constantly requested to supply goods ‘for sale’. Little packs of chocolate coffee beans and marzipan joints of meat were among the bestsellers. Toy coins and notes changed hands fast and replenishments were not allowed to slow down. The little girl could be observed playing the part of business manager, sitting at her small desk. She dictated herself long letters to the wholesaler, wrote invoices and was therefore able to improve her maths and writing skills. Hedel found it quite amusing that her little sister began to be quite competitive when it came to adding up columns of sums, using mental arithmetic.


Family life


The trade in high quality shoes of the finest leathers in particular, was what Franz Spannagel did for a living and was extremely good at. Most of the successful companies in Germany in this field at the time were founded and run by Jewish businessmen. It was therefore inevitable that many Jews visited Franz and Johanna’s comfortable home in Offenbach and later in Dusseldorf as welcomed guests and friends. These receptions continued until Franz left Hassia in the winter of 1922. Well before then, he had advanced from training of the many area sales representatives to director of European exports. 


Classical music played a large and important part at these receptions. Trudel was frequently present and was allowed to participate, either singing or playing the piano. She continued to enjoy the beauty and vast variety of classical orchestral and chamber music, as well as opera throughout her life.


Right from her earliest memories, she always looked forward to her father returning from his frequent and prolonged travels across Europe. He never failed to bring her and her sister lovely presents and souvenirs, such as pieces of jewellery and other valuable items, often related to music. 


Exactly how Franz spent his time during the First World War was never discussed in the family. He was, after all, 37 years old in 1914 and could have served. I never heard grandmother speak of her husband, nor did I ever have the courage to ask her about grandfather. Topics of conversation, such as money matters, procreation, divorce and the like were never on her agenda – they were simply deemed taboo, not suitable for the ears of her grandchildren. Any meaningful discussion was impossible, we were always considered too young and innocent to be troubled with such provocative subjects.


Johanna must have been an excellent cook and a superb hostess. She loved to entertain, welcoming dear friends and good acquaintances for convivial dinner parties. These relaxed gatherings presented the perfect opportunity for her to display her sparkling sense of humour. At one of these occasions, a Lutheran vicar was present – the family knew him well. The young man was known for his love of food and, on suitable occasions, indulged in eating just a little too much. With her most charming smile, the hostess enquired if he wanted a little more of the delicious desert. In anticipation, the reply ‘yes, please’ came promptly. The maid must have been familiar and complicit with the occasional pranks of her employer. A few words were whispered and the reply ‘sorry, but Petronella [2] had just snatched the last portion off the kitchen table!’ I was told many years later that Johanna had placed a bet on this poor guest saying ‘yes’. There was no second helping for him after all. 


The emergence of National Socialism


As a result of long-lasting repercussions following the end of the First World War, most people in Germany suffered immensely for many years to come, both financially and emotionally. One economic crisis followed another, not forgetting the horrendously high reparations to be paid to, among others, the United States of America and France. The post-war period created much hardship, not only in Germany, but also worldwide. The increasing number of unemployed people caused much uncertainty not experienced in Germany for some time. Social order collapsed and the black market began to boom. Fear of what was in store for many families may eventually have aided the emergence of Communism and other political movements.


Offenbach, and later Dusseldorf, the new home of the family from 1922, did not escape the effects of the period of the hyper-inflation that did not end until late 1923. The value of the Reichsmark dropped dramatically over time, engulfing the nation like a paralysing and freezing tide of hardship. With no cash or goods to trade with, many people suffered immeasurably. Savings had become worthless. Once paid at the end of the week, the lucky still employed members of the population had to rush out to grab anything edible. Time was of the essence.


Masses of banknotes were necessary to buy even the most basic foods. Suitcases had become the preferred mode of transport for the daily required cash. Delays could result in essential groceries to suddenly be too expensive. The plan to buy a loaf of bread may well have resulted in only being able to get one or – at most – two small rolls. As a comparison, at one point, a pound of bread cost three billion, a pound of meat 36 billion and a glass of beer four billion Reichsmark.


Due to the fact that her husband was frequently out of the country on business, Johanna was in sole charge of all matters concerning the household, including its finances. Despite the highly uncertain and volatile times, the small family enjoyed a reasonable standard of living. Both the governess and the maid continued to remain members of the household, as they had nowhere safe to go.


Following Franz’s leaving Hassia in Offenbach, the Spannagels moved to Dusseldorf at the end of 1922. Initially, they moved into a small hotel, then to a more convenient apartment in Hüttenstraße, whilst awaiting the completion of their new house in Wenkerstraße, a quiet street in the leafy and secluded suburb of Roth.


An entry in the residents’ registration office states that, in the spring of 1923, Mrs Franz Spannagel, née Schomber, German citizen, was resident in Hüttenstraße 129. The apparently immense sum of 500 million Reichsmark was actually just a modest registration fee. Her nationality was registered as ‘Württemberg’. Their new home, completed later that year, was situated in the small exclusive residential area near the Grafenberg Forest, where the two girls enjoyed the tennis courts and even riding stables – a paradise, safe and so far away from the troubles that millions of Germans had no means to escape from. 


Having contracted tuberculosis at a young age, Trudel had to be taken to different sanatoria for several weeks a year for treatment, accompanied by her mother. This disabling illness was also the reason why she was unable to go to a ‘proper’ school until she was ten years old. She entered the Luisen School in Dusseldorf, class VII A. Up to that date, she was frequently educated at home, taught by a governess, first in Offenbach and later in the new home in Wenkerstraße, where one room in the loft of the house was converted into a classroom for the girls.


As Trudel, despite the medical problems she had to contend with, did not want to give up her dream of following a career in music, her parents eventually allowed her to attend the local conservatory in 1928. Trudel was just 13 years old. Her father had to appeal to her mother to get final permission. The musically multi-talented teenager got her way and she began her studies in violin, piano and voice.


Shortly after the end of the war in 1918, Trudel’s father had met a young officer who was an accomplished violinist before joining up. Tragically, he was injured during action in France, resulting in the amputation of his right arm. Not wanting to be reminded of happier times, he was desperate to sell the instrument. However, the instrument’s scroll had been changed to a carved devil’s head. Grandfather was happy to buy the violin for his daughter. He also obtained authentic paperwork to prove its origin and history. Grandmother frequently remarked that the instrument had the correct inscription in Latin, showing that the instrument was made by Antonio Stradivari in Cremona. The delighted Trudel played the instrument, producing a beautiful sound, until November 1933. Many years later, due to a tragic misunderstanding – or deliberate malicious action – her beloved violin was lost in the autumn of 1944.


As in Offenbach, the Spannagel household again became a well frequented venue for regular music evenings, where fellow students from the conservatory and local music lovers were welcomed guests. Programmes contained, among others, classical pieces for string trio and piano quartets, as well as solo performances for different instruments or voice. Everyone was invited to participate. Trudel changed with ease between violin and piano, displaying her musical versatility. Songs by her best loved composer, Franz Schubert, were often included in the programme, ‘Winter’s Journey’ with ‘The Linden Tree’ her absolute favourite, particularly emphasising her contralto voice. Her sister Hedel also enjoyed participating in these events – she was accomplished in turning the pages of the scores. 


As happened every year, Trudel was chosen to participate in the nativity play of the school in 1931. That year, she was chosen to play the role of Mary, mother of Jesus. The part of the infant Jesus was designated to her beloved doll ‘Annemiechen’. During previous years, Trudel always played an important part in any of the school’s events by providing musical accompaniment on her violin. It appeared that the success of the entire performance during that Christmas relied on the dual role Trudel had to cope with. It was certainly precarious to rush back stage quietly whenever there was a break in her presence on stage. Her task backstage was to play the music on time and well, then hurrying back on stage inconspicuously to continue to play her part as Mary. Recalling that particular event, she appeared to love to perform, whatever the requirements. She also enjoyed the enthusiastic applause, showing that the audience had as good a time as she.     


When the time came to consider options of Trudel making choices relating to earning a living, her mother was not taken with her daughter becoming a professional musician. To put it mildly, she was vehemently against it and she made it clear that this would result in a most uncertain financial future.


At the age of eighteen, after completing her formal academic as well as her musical education, Trudel was allowed to gain some work experience for a year in a quite small but well known and renowned book shop, befitting her social status – according to her mother. The owner, Erika Neuhaus, was a lady well acquainted with the entire intellectual scene of the cosmopolitan city of Dusseldorf. The establishment had become a magnet for visitors from far and near. This was just the kind of environment that could broaden Trudel’s horizons.


The young lady was introduced to a wide variety of literature beyond that found in her home. Poetry readings took place regularly and were well attended. Her love for literature became an important part of her life and was to stay with her throughout her life. Lotte, Erica Neuhaus’ 18-year old daughter, primarily interested in photography, became a more regular visitor to the shop after Trudel joined. The two like-minded young women enjoyed each other’s company and became very good friends. It is not surprising that the success of the business was enhanced by their presence there. Their contribution attracted a younger market, drawn from the university and other cultural establishments in the city. Trudel and Lotte found that they had a great deal in common in the field of literature and, over the following years, became inseparable.  


At home, one of the few tasks Trudel did not like at all was the mending of her silk stockings. She was generally fond of and very skilful at embroidery and knitting. Her mother insisted that even badly laddered stockings had to be mended. She considered this more an exercise in patience than in frugality. The tricky task of catching stitches and, what is more important, to ensure that the repair appeared to be almost invisible, was not considered vital to Trudel. The obvious solution was at hand: hide the defect articles in a bag, a bag that grew steadily in size. But that, inevitable, meant that her mother would eventually find out about this disobedience. She thought herself to be a bit of daredevil, was Trudel waiting to be found out? She could hardly expect her mother never to discover her secret deed. Usually, any such misdemeanours were ‘punished’ by a massive verbal thunderstorm – however never lasting very long. Every penny of her pocket money was subsequently spent on new stockings. 


Right from the start, married life did not follow the path Johanna had imagine it would. Her parents’ marriage was based on a deep love and she and her siblings loved their mother and father passionately. Thriving in the safety of a stable family life was what she knew, relied on and expected. Her parents were always there for her when she needed them.


Johanna also found the extremely disturbing relationship with her mother-in-law profoundly challenging. Add to that the many miscarriages she suffered – mostly alone and desperate – and her husband’s many long business trips. Johanna was not used to this and found it difficult to cope with. Even for this capable and forthright woman, she must have found tackling life during those difficult times most disturbing.


By now, the political scene in Germany had changed, getting ever worse and the effects of the growing National Socialist party were beginning to touch many people in Dusseldorf. One day at the beginning of 1934, apparently out of the blue, Johanna decided to file for divorce. All she told her younger daughter, who was just 19 years old, that her decision was based on her husband’s long absences from home. Franz, however, told his older daughter the true and sad reason.


Closer to her father than to her mother, Hedel was fully aware of her father’s Jewish ancestry, a fact that Johanna never shared with her younger dearly loved daughter. She protected Trudel from all matters unpleasant and, in her opinion, irrelevant. Throughout her life, my mother never discovered all the facts about her father’s background. It turned out that many German marriages between a Jew and a Gentile ended in divorce around that time.

The principal reason for this dramatic step was simply to protect their children from the already strongly felt actions of the emerging Nazi party. Immense social pressure was put on these unions and the regime did not stop at anything to break the bond of marriage of those involved. Johanna and Trudel had become social outsiders. All Johanna had to do to be welcomed back ‘into the Aryan fold’ was to divorce her husband. No one knew how much worse the situation would become.


During that time, divorce was still quite uncommon, particularly a divorce brought by a wife. Middle-class women would not have taken the decision to get a divorce lightly, despite the many changes in society since the end of the Great War. Such a life-changing action was simply not socially acceptable. Women got married, glad to be looked after financially and secure. What would have been the advantage to Johanna taking such dramatic action anyway? She was already in charge of her own life and that of her daughters. In addition her husband was a loving husband and father, an excellent provider and she enjoyed her social status in the community. Why a separation now – after 27 years? There had to be more to it.


Preparations for Franz’ departure were going ahead steadily, well according to plan. On May 13, 1929, the Nazi party having already gained millions of followers, Johanna applied for her first passport in her own name, not included on that of her husband. Her country of birth was quoted as ‘Hessen’. Under the heading applicability, she was permitted to travel ‘within Germany, including occupied territories and all foreign countries’. The passport was valid until May 12, 1934. The office of the president of police in Dusseldorf charged a fee of three Reichsmark for the privilege.

A stamp dated August 25, 1930 in Johanna’s passport documents her entry into Switzerland, crossing the border in the small community of Kreuzlingen-Emmishofen on Lake Constance. It is not known what purpose this journey fulfilled. It would be logical that it served to assist her husband in his early planning.


To increase her independence further, Johanna passed her driving test long before the separation from Franz. On the 21st June in 1929, Mrs Johanna Spannagel, residing at Wenkerstraße 4 in Dusseldorf, was officially given permission to drive automobiles ‘propelled by internal combustion engine class 36’. ‘Propulsion by the alternatives, electric motor and steam engine’, also printed on the licence, were crossed out by hand.


Trudel was never to discover that the principal reason was her and her sister’s personal safety. Her kind and very protective father must have been an active promoter in the decision-making process – he willingly agreed to be the guilty party!


The marriage between Johanna and Franz came to its official end on January 12, 1935. Franz was ordered by the court to pay his wife a monthly allowance of 300 Reichsmark. His financial contribution to the household however was much more substantial than that. Hedel had left home before the ‘divorce’. Therefore the sisters would no longer be close to discuss the recent changes at home. Hedel knew that her mother had considered this solution to be the only safe course of action during the most uncertain times. She also had to promise her father never to tell her younger sister of the true background.


 As a consequence, Trudel’s life changed dramatically. Her father could no longer come home to visit his wife and daughter. Hedel moved to Heidelberg to study medicine. Trudel suffered greatly from the effects of these new developments, bringing ever more disturbing changes. She was told that her beloved father had severed all ties with his family and that he had moved to a different country.


Trudel became totally devoted to her mother, but – at the same time – she missed her father very much and the security of better times. The many changes in the daily life in her home town became more and more obvious to her. But she preferred never to ask her mother for details of how her father was or where he was now living. Having accepted her new position as a single woman, Johanna continued to be progressive, looking ahead, strong-willed and outwardly not displaying any signs of regret about her decision. She had to make plans for the future.


Primarily due to these outside influences, German middle-class society did not approve of divorce. She maintained the impression of having become a truly liberated, independent woman. Her financial position was stable, as Franz had even signed the deeds of the house over to his dearly beloved wife Johanna. He was instrumental and complicit in taking this dramatic step. Most significantly, the Nurnberg Laws of 1935 now went so far as to declare marriages between Jews and Gentiles illegal.


Fully aware of his Jewish background and observing the frightening political developments, Franz Spannagel had little choice but to leave Germany and go to a neutral country – Switzerland. He had already been asked to leave his position as director of the machine manufacturing company after eight years. He was not given any notice or a reason for his dismissal.


It is no longer possible to trace his progress once he had left Germany. It is most likely that he changed his name and obtained a Swiss passport. This kind-hearted and clever man had thus not just lost his wife and daughters, but also his home and any link to the country of his birth. It appears ironic that Tettnang, the place of his birth, is just a few kilometres away from the Swiss border. But he was reconciled with the knowledge that the actions taken would prevent any repercussions by the new regime in Germany that might affect his daughters due to his Jewish background. His daughters were safe.


The far-sighted man had already transferred his assets and capital into a Swiss bank account, in part generated by inherited wealth.


Many years later, in the spring of 1948, during a business trip to visit his good friend Alfred Mälig in Lössnitz, he gave his daughter Trudel 1000 Reichsmark to hand to her mother. This was the first of the two only meetings between father and daughter after the divorce 13 years before. We were just getting ready to return from Lössnitz to our home in the west. Just a few months later, during the following June, yet again, my severely tested grandmother had to suffer another massive blow. This poor lady, by now suffering real financial hardship and deteriorating health, had lost practically her entire fortune during the currency reform in post-war in Germany. The exchange rate from Reichsmark into D-Mark was a catastrophic 10:1. This sincere gesture of generosity by my grandfather, giving her 1000 Reichsmark, had turned into a farce and a disaster for her. 



Implications for the family


I was only told about one of the heart-breaking personal details of the steadily deteriorating political situation in the country by aunt Hedel well after Mama’s death. The details behind the disappearance of Jewish mothers or fathers in mixed marriages were felt by countless German families. Every one of their stories is different and they are all equally harrowing. In the early summer of 1935, Franz called his daughter Hedel totally unexpectedly at her university where she studied. He pleaded with her to meet him for the very last time before travelling to Switzerland. At the age of 27, Hedel was already older than most of the other students and was keen to take and pass the last two of her final exams for that semester, due over the following few days.


On the one hand, she was desperate to see her dear father, on the other, her dream of continuing her studies was about to be realised. She must have been quite sure to be given an opportunity to see her father again soon, once he was safely settled in Switzerland. She decided to explain the situation and told him that a meeting was therefore not possible. Her father was distraught on hearing her response, believing his darling Hedel preferred not to meet him. She regretted her decision as soon as he put the phone down. What a tragic misunderstanding, never to be rectified!


Due to the darkening clouds of the political developments in Germany and the start of the Second World War just four years later, Hedel never saw her father again. The horrors of much worse anti-Semitism were still to come. I wonder if, in 1935, the population at large was aware in of the escalating actions taken against German Jews, half Jews and the family members of mixed Jewish and Gentile marriages. By then, the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (NSDAP, known as the Nazi party) had only been in power for about two years, but it was gaining popularity. 


Hedel had begun to study medicine in Heidelberg. Well into her studies, she was to discover that the long arms of anti-Semitism could reach her even here, and discovered how remorseless the regime was in terrorising innocent people. The young woman went, as she had done before, to enrol for the coming semesters in 1940. There, to her horror, she was confronted with the announcement that she would be unable to continue her studies; the reason: she was accused of having deliberately concealed her Jewish background.


As this information would now be clearly stated on her identity papers, she was left with no choice but to leave the country to try to either continue her studies or find work as a nurse. Initially, Hedel went to Strasbourg, only to find that, following the annexation of Alsace to Germany, the last Jews had already been expelled by July 1940.

All we know is that she completed her training as medical laboratory assistant in a number of institutions near the French border. She was frequently refused to continue with her work and had to perform menial jobs to earn some money. The completion of her medical studies had become impossible and she had to abandon her plans. Contact by phone or letter with her mother and sister were getting more dangerous. As her papers were now marked, she did not want to jeopardise the life of her younger sister. Hedel never told her mother or her sister of her last phone call with her father.




Since nothing resembling normal life could be guaranteed following the divorce in 1935, Johanna knew that money transfers from wherever Franz was would be treacherous. Tracing his whereabouts as well as linking him to his wife and younger daughter, the malicious administration would be able to put two and two together. The women found themselves left to their own devices, having to rely on their resourcefulness.


Again, Franz’ analytical ability to plan well ahead has to be admired. On leaving Hassia, he insisted that he was ‘paid’ with a considerable number of high-quality shoes. These ‘solid’ assets’, currency that would not deteriorate in value, were now stored safely in the attic of the large house in Dusseldorf. The shoes were part of the capital left by Franz to his wife long before their separation. This decision turned out to form the basis of Johanna’s essential financial security during the uncertain times to come. After all, everybody needed shoes, young or old; and these shoes were of the finest quality.


Johanna was now able to obtain goods and services essential for every-day life, even some small luxuries in exchange for shoes. She even managed to keep her car. It must have been a large number of shoes to maintain a reasonable standard of living during the following precarious political and economic period before the start of the Second World War. Johanna was very keen to at least give the impression of a model citizen, just to make sure not to ‘make any waves’, to attract the attention of the authorities. 


Progressive thinking was one of Johanna’s strengths. She was no stranger to blows of fate and was fully aware of the fact that thousands of others suffered far greater disadvantages than she. Once she had focused on a plan, no sooner was the process of realisation begun, with gusto, courage and unflinchingly.


On September 14, 1930, the NSDAP, the Nazi party, gained six million votes in the national German elections, to become the second largest political party in the country, behind the Social Democratic Party and followed by the Communist Party. Thus, the NSDAP increased the number of seats in the Reichstag from 12 to 107. There were altogether 37 parties to choose from. Of the almost 43 million eligible voters, 82 percent participated in the election.


Outwardly, Johanna and Trudel did not lack in anything. When the weather was fine, they were able to take a day off and enjoy short breaks away from home. In the summer of 1930, they motored to Meckenheim on Ahr, a journey south towards Koblenz of about 86 km. As this was to be a family outing, Hedel managed to join them, too. The mode of transport was the family car, a rather large black limousine. The vehicle even had curtains on the rear windows! A photograph of that day shows Trudel sitting on the running broad, enjoying their picnic and saluting her mother, who took the picture, with a cup of tea. The family finances even allowed the continuation of Trudel’s private music lessons.



An additional and essential source of income was provided by the abundance of juice delicious and highly sought after peaches, grown in the extensive orchard garden of the family home in Wenkerstraße. The two women loved to look after the valuable and valued trees and eagerly anticipated harvest time. The precious yield was transported in the limousine to regular customers only. However, there never seem to be enough to go around.


During one spring, this essential income was cruelly cut to almost nothing. Bad weather and a period of devastating hail storms resulted in a dramatically reduced harvest. That autumn, belts had to be tightened in the Spannagel household and a change of plan had to be devised quickly.


Unconnected to this relatively unimportant event, life suddenly comprised a series of much harder knocks for Johanna and Trudel. The harsh outside world was continuing to touch and change their lives for the worse. However, Johanna, master of improvisation, was not one to complain; she was used to having to adjust.


Although Johanna and Franz were divorced in 1930, the local Dusseldorf telephone directory of 1933 still had an entry under Spannagel: Franz, trading agent, shoes and footwear, telephone number 35856. The reason for this may have been that new directories were not printed every year.


The rise of Anti-Semitism


The first signs of anti-Semitism, experienced by Trudel in person, happened during school time in the early 30s. Trudel had been kept fiercely protected by her mother from any unpleasant outside influences. Also, politics was not something to be discussed with her young daughter, so the teenager was blissfully unaware of the hostile actions occurring in her small world.


Religious education in the private school for girls Trudel attended was divided into faith groups for Protestants and Catholics. Before getting the chance to join the girls in the Protestant queue – after all, she was brought up a Protestant, though baptised a Catholic – the rather loud and rude comments of a fellow pupil unknown to her were: “What do you want in our queue, with a name such as Spannagel and with your Jewish nose??” This toxic rebuke was a real shock for Trudel, not accustomed to verbal abuse. The criticism about her nose may have been based on the accuser listening to conversations of prejudiced adults. What was not known to this impertinent girl was that Trudel was indeed partly Jewish, yet not based on the surname Spannagel, though Jewish sounding, but on that of Finninger, the birth name of her paternal grandmother. However, Trudel was not aware of any of that family history.


A fellow pupil standing nearby, a girl called Otti, short for Ottilie, with lovely wavy hair, immediately took sides against the loud-mouthed aggressor. Otti and Trudel had not met before, but soon got closer acquainted. Trudel liked the forthright protection of her new friend and the two remained close friends until Otti’s death in 1990.


Coincidentally, the two girls shared the same date of birth and usually called each other ‘twin’. Otti’s parents owned a hardware shop in Dusseldorf. After her marriage, she and her husband Hermann Wickert, owned a prosperous funeral business in Hannoversch-Münden, specialising in the repatriation of human remains of German fallen soldiers from mostly French and Belgian battle fields during the First as well as the Second World War. 


Throughout her time at school, Trudel was never short of true friends. One of her fellow students at the conservatory in Dusseldorf was Paul Otto Matzerat, an extremely talented and promising musical all-rounder. He studied violin, piano, as well as musical theory and conducting. Otto started his career as musical director at the Würzburg and Krefeld opera houses. At the time of his tragic and premature death in 1963, he was engaged as musical director at the Yomiuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra in Zama, Japan. He was just 49 years old.


Otto and Trudel were close friends. On the occasions of musical performances at the conservatory, it was quite normal that everyone, including students, would lend a hand to prepare the concert hall. One time, Trudel was busy cleaning the auditorium. Otto was having great fun during orchestra rehearsal watching his friend swinging the broom in time with the music. 


As was the case with all students at the conservatory, they were permitted to attend, among others, performances at the Dusseldorf opera house. Entry was free of charge. Unsold seats, frequently the most expensive, were filled with privileged and most appreciative and enthusiastic students. Here, Trudel was able to enjoy the debut performance by the very young coloratura soprano, Elisabeth Reichelt, in 1934. Elisabeth remained in Dusseldorf for three years. Of course, she could not have imagined then that she would be able to listen to the singer’s stunning voice many years later and under extremely harrowing circumstances.  


From time to time, Richard Wagner’s ‘Ring’ was performed in Dusseldorf. Trudel made sure she did not miss any of the performances, least of all those by her father’s favourite composer. She relished those evenings in the company of like-mined music enthusiasts. During her musical studies, Trudel was invited several times to play the violin as a guest member of the Dortmund Radio Orchestra.

Trudel never lost her love for music. In later years, she grew to love George Gershwin, Scriabin, Rachmaninoff, Prokovief, Stravinsky, Richard Strauss and Leonard Bernstein, among others – a very broad range of styles indeed. Her first love, however, included Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Mendelssohn and Robert Schumann. She enjoyed classical music right into old age. Up to the age of 85, she also loved teaching children to play the piano. I often insisted on her telling me about those wonderful times in Dusseldorf and I loved to hear her talking about those delightful memories. Two of her performances on the piano were later recorded on a Shellac record at a studio in Frankfurt. They are still owned by the family. Trudel can be heard playing her own accomplished interpretation of songs by Sergei Rachmaninoff, later becoming her favourite Russian composer.  


Right through the uncertain times of the early 1930s, Trudel continued her private violin lessons at the apartment of a well-known violin teacher in a quiet street near the city centre. During clement weather, the walk from home to the address in town was quite long, though enjoyable.


On a late summer morning in 1933, Trudel was about to turn the last corner, her violin case under her arm, when she was abruptly stopped in her tracks. Quite close to her destination by now, the young woman, taken aback and deeply shocked, was forced to watch her well respected teacher being dragged by two men in civilian clothing through the front door of the building, holding on to his arms. The poor man was dragged across the otherwise deserted street into a large car. The obviously bewildered music teacher’s wife received similar brutal treatment. This traumatic experience had a profound effect on the young pupil. What had the couple done to deserve such outrageous treatment?


Trudel had great difficulties in coming to terms with what had happened that day. Not only did she loose a loved teacher and, at the same time, she was robbed of continuing with her violin lessons. She was not willing to be taught by any other teacher. Unfortunately, Trudel never saw the couple again and never found out where they were taken. She could also not have known that a similar fate was beginning to be inflicted on millions of German Jews and those in neighbouring countries over the next 12 years.


The reason for the apprehension of that dear old couple, obviously innocent of any misdemeanours, was revealed to her not long after. Her mother told her the couple were Jews. Not having touched her violin since that sad day, she came to the conclusion that it would be the best thing never to play the instrument again. The injustice of punishing her teacher and his family just because they were Jews was deeply felt. Instead, concentrating on playing the piano was to be something she enjoyed until not long before her death at the age of 90. 


Although the ‘Reichskristallnacht’, the ‘Night of the Broken Glass’ did not happen in Germany and Austria until Thursday, the 9th November 1938, an extremely large number of atrocities targeting Jews in Dusseldorf occurred in 1933, during the same year the Nazi party came to power.


During that year, the State Ministry of Enlightenment and Propaganda issued a list of more than 100 authors, in an action targeted against ‘Un-German Spirit’. The list included Berthold Brecht, Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, Franz Kafka, Joseph Roth, Stefan Zweig and Thomas Mann. 


One of the first fires, started by members of the Hitler youth, took place during May. The objective was the destruction of so-called ‘undesirable literature’. This extreme and criminal display of censorship led to continued witch-hunts for literary works viewed as suspect. Anyone in authority could have made that decision, there appeared to have been no hard and fast rules, as long as the person was Jewish or associated with Jews. Most book burning demonstrations occurred in cities and towns, mainly in those with well-established and renowned universities. During a six-day period in September 1936, thirty eight searches were conducted in Gertrud’s home town. Over 37,000 forbidden volumes were identified and destroyed by the police.


As early as the beginning of 1933, the regime was well on the way to seriously and systematically curtail the rights of the Jewish population in the country. Dusseldorf was targeted quite early. The atrocities began with the expropriation of their homes and assets, certain professions could no longer be carried out and Jewish organisations were closed down. Further education and training were affected. Eventually, more than 400 decrees and regulations touched their daily lives enormously. Dusseldorf was home to at least 5000 Jews at the time, many with a long and distinguished history in the city there and highly respected.


When Johanna learned that Jews had their full German nationality taken from them, she no longer felt safe in the city. One day, she decided to leave this hotbed of anti-Semitism. The decision to sell her large comfortable home and to find a safer place for herself and her younger daughter could not have been easy. This must have been an extremely traumatic time for Johanna; after all, she loved the house in which her family had been happy and had lived in since it was built. Unfortunately, she could not find a buyer quickly enough. Maybe, it had become known in official circles that she had been married to a Jew, the reason for her not being able to sell her house remain unknown.


In January 1934, Johanna found someone who agreed to pay a monthly sum equivalent to rent over a long period of time, thus eventually gaining full ownership of the property. She was with no choice, as she felt no longer safe there. Her plan was to start again in a large city where she was unknown. The destination of the two women was Frankfurt.


The decision to leave her large comfortable home and to find a safer place for herself and her younger daughter could not have been easy. Johanna decided to sell the house the family lived in since it was built. Maybe, it had become known in official circles that she had been married to a Jew, the reason for her not being able to sell her house remain unknown.


The industrial area not too far away from Wenkerstraße, where Franz Spannagel’s machine factory was located, became a major target for the Allied forces in 1943. No fewer than nine bombing raids between March 10 and December 29 destroyed and badly damaged the majority of the factories there. Tragically, some of the bombs missed their target and one of them hit Johanna’s former home nearby. This event totally razed the building to the ground, which meant that just nine years after leaving her home, sure to receive a regular income for at least the next two decades, yet another massive blow was dealt the already severely tested woman.


Mother and daughter arrived in Frankfurt. There appeared to have been sufficient money available to purchase a small lending library in Berger Straße in Bornheim. Above the shop, close to Merian Square, was the small apartment Johanna occupied. She also purchased a slightly larger already existing business, a stationary shop and lending library, about ten minutes’ walk along Berger Straße, at number 29.


Trudel moved into the attic apartment above that shop. This busy shopping street, the longest in a very popular area of the city, was known as the ‘Heart of Frankfurt’. Long sections of the street, including the buildings of the two shops, were built in the imposing architecture of the turn of the century. Trudel’s shop also sold small gifts, greeting cards, fancy wrapping paper, among others.

The first task for Trudel, apart from suddenly gaining a high degree of independence from her mother, was to get introduced into the secrets of running a successful business and to fend for herself. She had to study and pass the exams to work as a librarian and book seller. The previous owner was a great help to her.


At the end of 1936, at the age of 21, the young woman took legal ownership and full responsibility for the business. Her fun time at Erika Neuhaus in Dusseldorf a few years before came in very handy. She could turn her flair for artistic style into profit and her most pleasant and quiet personality brought much success. However, the local accent was a challenge, particularly when it came to certain phrases and the plain way of talking her customers were using, had to be tackled and understood. Her sense of humour was becoming indispensable. The imaginative window displays attracted not only regulars, but a large number of locals and those from further afield. Over a short time, the successful young business woman became part of the local establishment.


Not long after their arrival in Frankfurt, it became essential to start research into providing the authorities with proof of Aryan purity. The two women had to find the birth and marriage details going back to their great-great-grandparents, showing they had no Jewish ancestors. For some reason, Johanna obtained a document stating that her mother-in-law was a Catholic. However, although she and Trudel obtained and presented the apparently correct documents, their certificate of Aryan descent was not officially stamped by the Third Reich’s ministry of genealogy, part of the Prussian Ministry of the Interior in Frankfurt. [3] This pompous preface, signed by Adolf Hitler, was printed on the documents. Thousands of people must have felt a chill running through their spine when they read this:


‘There is but one most sacred human right, and that right becomes, at the same time, the most sacred obligation, namely that to ensure that the bloodline must be kept pure, so that, by preserving the best in mankind, the most noble development of those human beings can be assured.’


This request became the basis for the justification to brutally murder more than six million Germans of Jewish faith and to destroying the lives of countless others who managed to survive such callous institutional inhumanity.


Time of independence


Mother and daughter were like-minded and got on well with each other, and they loved and strongly defended their independence, so hard won. Although situated in the same street, the two businesses were quite a distance apart and each enjoyed a different clientele. This relative geographical proximity allowed them to meet several times a week in a cosy coffee shop near Merian Square to have lunch together. These meetings did not just serve a social purpose, but also meant that the two business women could talk about successes and exchange ideas and opinion on how their shops were run and to discuss solutions to any issues that had occurred since last they met.


It appears that Johanna was able to access sufficient financial resources to pay a substantial deposit on a house in the spring of 1939. The lovely and quite large house with a very long garden, in Alte Bergstraße 104, was situated just outside of Alsbach on the Bergstraße, the Mountain Road on the edge of ‘Odin’s Forest’, a fashionable fruit and wine growing area not far south east of Darmstadt.


Johanna was always concerned with fairness. Therefore, having bought the shop property for her younger daughter, the deeds for this house mentioned not only herself as owner, but also her older daughter Hedwig.  However, only Johanna and Trudel ever made the monthly payments of RM 50.00 each to pay off the mortgage. Still existing documents show that they made these payments for a number of years. Their only means of income was the revenue from the shops. Most weekends were spent in the house in the country, gardening and relaxing. The plan was that this house was to be the home for Johanna in her old age. She was 58 years old in 1939.


One week before the beginning of the war, Johanna had a small summer house erected at the far end of her garden, comprising two rooms, bought from Messrs. Philipp Nickel in Alsbach, at the cost of RM 484.20 The last payment for this lovely retreat within a retreat, hard earned and seen by its owner as an utter luxury, was made on December 31, 1939, just a few weeks after war was declared on Germany.


Johanna documented all her financial responsibilities most diligently. Income and outgoings relating to the house were logged meticulously, relating correspondence kept separately, equally accurately. This habit was continued until her death, all documents kept in an old mahogany box. A wealth of personal and other specific material, all written in her distinctive handwriting, contained such details as ‘Trudel – Reichsmark 50.00’, all logged on a monthly basis. Even the smallest of expenses between 1939 and 1941, such as ‘chimney sweep – RM 1.10’, are witnesses of immense and remarkable strength of character and never diminishing will power. This box, including its contents, was left to me after Mama’s death. All the documents and photos form the basis for this account of my family background. 


The entry in the property register in favour of her daughter was the source of a tragic misfortune some ten years later, through the not entirely ethical intervention of a third party, the husband of her older daughter Hedel. A document was signed without Johanna’s knowledge or permission, meaning she was thus no longer the owner of her property. She was forced to leave her house and, if that was not enough punishment, lost all rights or claim for adequate compensation. But, first and foremost, she had lost her cherished home, a blow from which she never recovered.


A bitter battle between her, her daughter and the husband was inevitable. Hedel stated after the death of her husband in the late 1970s that her sister Trudel had apparently made a claim on the property to compensate her for the many payments she had made to buy grandmother’s house. This can be strongly disputed as untrue, as Trudel knew the house was in her sister’s name; she only contributed financially to secure the property as her mother’s home in her old age. Trudel sold the lease of her shop in Berger Straße after her marriage and moving to Buchschlag in 1942. The shop was totally destroyed during a bombing raid in January 1944.


In 1950, Johanna’s cherished house in Alsbach was sold by her daughter and son-in-law, far below its true market value at the time. The only reason for the sale was to get their hands on some money - quickly.


Gertrud, the woman who means business


Under Trudel’s management, the shop in Berger Straße appeared to be doing rather well. The young girl from a privileged background with an outwardly charmed carefree life had suddenly grown up to become Gertrud Spannagel, the capable and confident business woman. She was financially independent, living in her little apartment on the fourth floor, high above the shop. The dark clouds of gloom in the political climate in Germany in general, but those affecting a large proportion of the local population in particular, grew in size and became steadily more frightening.


Frankfurt was home to a large number of Jewish Germans, with a long tradition of earning a living as successful business people and artists over centuries. Many of them lived and worked near Berger Straße, a prosperous area.


Gertrud loved to be a shop keeper – after all, she had an early start in her toy grocery shop. A wide range of customer requirements were satisfied. One minute, a young girl may want just a sheet of paper and an envelope, the next minute advice was sought as to the choice of book to be borrowed and another task may include suggestions on how to wrap a beautiful fountain pen that had been purchased as a present to a loved person.


Many of her regular loyal clientele included middle aged and older people, often quite well off. As in many other communities, hatred against Jews slowly began to rear its ugly head in Frankfurt-Bornheim, people who, for generations, had gone about and minded their own business. The diversity of the cosmopolitan population, inhabitants of different faiths, outlook on life, culture, rituals and traditions, were valuable contributing factors that made Frankfurt the colourful metropolis it was.


A very sad period in the daily life of the young woman exposed a cold and frightening reality during the early 1940s. In some parts of the easily persuaded population, attitudes about their neighbours changed over time by relentless propaganda, slowly but seemingly unstoppable. To those less easily influenced, a potentially dangerous trend was becoming obvious, with fear changing to trepidation, anger, resentment and finally escalating into hatred.


One morning, an elderly elegantly dressed gentleman, a regular visitor to the shop, was busy looking along the bookshelves. Eventually, another much younger man entered, unknown to Gertrud, at first glance not distinguishable from any other customer. His intentions became obvious when he began to verbally insult and intimidate the older person, deeply absorbed in the perusal of a book. It was brutally obvious that the tormentor was most probably a supporter or member of the Nazi party, out to intimidate Jews.


Gertrud knew most of her regulars well and was aware of the fact that the lovely old gentleman was Jewish. In her youthful exuberance or innocence, not entirely aware of the possible repercussions of her reaction to what was taking place, Gertrud began to strongly criticise the aggressor, telling him in no uncertain terms that his rude and uncouth behaviour would not be tolerated in her establishment. He had gone too far. As by magic, the man left the shop, taken aback by the ferocity of the polite verbal rebuke by this young woman. He left as he arrived – alone. Gertrud could not help but remember the day she was witness to her violin teacher’s arrest – two men dressed much like this intruder. 


Her customer, stunned at the action of the young woman, thanked his protector. He appeared to have been the victim of similar abominable verbal assault by total strangers previously. Before he left the shop, he remarked that he never expected to have been defended, that another person would risk her life for him, a Jew. He added that, only because he wanted to spare Gertrud from punishment, he would not visit the shop again in the future.


That ill-fated day, Gertrud got yet another insight into how anti-Semitism could affect people, both the innocent target and the audacious bully. She also remembered her experience at school some years before, trying to join the religious education class. She knew what it felt like to be attacked in such an appalling manner.


Several months went by. Daily life in Berger Straße appeared to take its normal course, if life in the middle of a war in Frankfurt could be described as ‘normal’. Gertrud had a visit by some friends of members of the Frances Külpe group. They knew that she lived alone in a secluded apartment with more than one room. Their leader began to tell Gertrud about some friends who were passing through the city on their way to Switzerland. Apparently, they had to leave their home in a hurry and were desperate. Gertrud was urged, never to talk about this conversation. One of the visitors, Luise Ehrlich, owner of a paper wholesale company in Frankfurt and influential member of the group, gave the impression of being the group’s leader and was extremely persuasive in her plea for help. She was also a clever business woman.


Eventually, Luise Ehrlich ‘warned’ the initially unwilling Gertrud that the couple were Jews. Suddenly, Gertrud was confronted with the task of providing a safe haven for these people and, what was much more tricky, to feed them for an unknown length of time, until the reliable onward journey could be planned.


Gertrud agreed and the couple moved in, carrying just a suitcase each. Having committed herself to such a dangerous undertaking, to take immense risks, to possibly jeopardise their lives, jeopardize her own life and that of others, amounted to a momentous step for her to take. Even if the couple never left the apartment, butchers, bakers and other trades people would begin to realise very soon that her personal circumstances had changed. Rationing was slowly being introduced and money for extra ration cards ‘under the counter’ had to be found and negotiated. Gertrud, an extremely sensitive person, still affected by her recent experiences in Dusseldorf and, more recently, in her shop, had no choice but to comply with this request, such an open-ended hazardous undertaking. Suddenly, her life had taken a direction that needed to be kept secret from others, including her mother – at all costs.


Soon afterwards, being the only customer in the neighbouring bakery, Gertrud was asked the fairly innocent question by the friendly owner why her purchases had suddenly trebled, needing more breakfast rolls and bread. Gertrud, oh so dear and innocent, quickly and confidently replied, with a totally serious expression on her face, that yes, she had guests, namely a Jewish couple she was hiding in her attic apartment. She hoped her cool approach and quick-wittedness, as if a joke, would put an end to the matter. Telling him her sister was visiting her would, after all, have been a lie. All she could do was pray that the baker was a kindred spirit, as were so many people in Frankfurt at the time.


Was she fully aware at this very precise moment that she could only survive this if she was astute, clever and quick-witted? Her prompt reply, as fast as a pistol shot, appeared even to her own ears to be incomprehensible. This ordinary man could, at best, have taken it as a joke.


Luckily there were no repercussions. The good man must have kept the momentous revelation to himself. He was fully aware of the consequences. Gertrud was relieved to discover that there were still Germans who did not appear to have lost their deeply ingrained sense of justice and decency, even during these troubled and troubling times. He may, of course, just have pitied the young woman who tried to help her two innocent lodgers.


The same group of ‘friends’ linked to the very versatile resistance group, eventually taught the quick to learn Gertrud how – without drawing the attention of inquisitive neighbours – to listen to the BBC, punished severely if found out. These punishments included, if caught a second time, being sent to a concentration camp and even with the death penalty. However Gertrud’s ‘crime’ of hiding Jews was much more severe.    


The Jewish couple remained safely in Gertrud’s home, their involuntary hiding place, for quite a while. During that time, they became good friends with their benefactress. One day, without any prior discussion, they decided to gather their belongings and leave. The political situation had become more precarious. The poor unfortunate people knew that their discovery would pose a great danger to their young friend and the other members of the group. Certain death would have been inevitable for all of them.


In the meantime, a safe onward journey had been arranged. One evening, Gertrud’s guests left her apartment, again only carrying their cases. Before the highly emotional fare-well, Gertrud was presented with a most beautiful, very large white ornately decorated damask tablecloth, 3.20m x 2m, together with eight matching table napkins, at 65cm x 65cm large enough to be table cloths in their own right. Each of these exquisite items was embroidered with an elaborate monogram – ELC. It is most unlikely that the items were new in 1940, which means that they are now well over 75 years old and still in perfect condition.


Another present was a cookery book and a hand-painted porcelain cake plate, all precious possessions. These items must have been among their most treasured possessions. The couple appeared to have left a most comfortable home filled with precious family heirlooms.


The graceful lady was dressed, as she was when first arriving, in an elegant tailor-made black suit, worn during better and happier times now long gone. Her distinctive face was framed by the veil of a coquettish small hat, a description that belonged to a different carefree era, never to return. Her ominous words ‘in the place where we will most probably end our lives, none of these items will be of any use to us’ sent a chill down Gertrud’s spine.


Whenever I heard Mama relate to these events, particularly when she talked about the day she was given these lovely things, she added that she regretted bitterly that she was unable to have been of more help to them. I was fortunate enough to have been given these items by her, always cherished by her, reminding me of these lovely people’s suffering in a country that was not a foreign country, but their home land.


‘Reichskristallnacht’ – ‘Crystal Night’


These were truly dark and sinister years in Germany. Many bitter tears were shed, so many lives were affected. Frankfurt was no exception. The night between November 9 and 10, 1938, entered the history books as ‘Reichskristallnacht‘, the ‘Night of the Broken Glass‘, ‘Pogromnacht’. It was a night when the most inhumane actions ever were taken by ignorant and misguided people against their fellow men and women.


The ensuing crimes against the Jewish population were blamed on the assassination of a member of the German Embassy in Paris, Ernst vom Rath, on November 7, 1938. This crime was committed by a 17-year old Polish Jew, Herschel Feibel Grynszpan.


Just weeks before, the ‘Polenaktion’ [4] begun in August 1938, was instigated by the Nazi regime to extradite all Jews of Polish descent living in Germany back to their home land. On October 28, more than 12,000 Polish Jews were ordered to leave their homes. They were only allowed one small suitcase per person. The property and belongings they left behind were seized by the authorities and neighbours.


Dragged from their homes, the families were herded into railway waggons bound for concentration camps in Poland. However, the Polish authorities immediately sent them back across the border only to be transported back. The stalemate lasted several days, during which the desperate deportees were left on a train in the pouring rain without food or shelter. Grynszpan’s family, living in Hanover, was among them. However he had already fled from Germany to Paris in 1936, where he lived as a stateless person. Thus, the desperate plight of one young man fearing for the wellbeing of his family, triggered events that brought despair and death to countless people of his faith.


Immediately afterwards, the assassination in Paris was used by the German propaganda minister, Goebbels, as an opportunity to start yet another brutal campaign against Jews, already carefully planned and meticulously orchestrated and executed. The intention was to use the Paris incident as principal reason to incite mass hatred and actions aimed at the Jewish population.


The riots started just two hours after Hitler was told of vom Rath’s death. As a consequence, thousands of Jewish homes and businesses were destroyed during that one night and the next morning alone. More than 1000 Synagogues were totally demolished by members of the Hitler Youth and other followers of the regime. The authorities watched the events and did not intervene; many were standing by in civilian clothing, armed with pick axes and hammers.


During the ‘Kristallnacht’, countless innocent German Jews were attacked, injured and even killed. More than 100 people died and over 30,000 were arrested and sent to already well-established concentration camps. The euphemistical marginalisation of the expression ‘Kristallnacht’ became a symbol of derision against Jews in the eyes of Nazi supporters across Germany, yet another example of perversion by such ignorant henchmen.


Grynszpan was seized by the Gestapo after the German invasion of France and brought back to Germany. He was distraught that his desperate action resulted in such a violent assault on German Jews. Imprisoned in France and later in Germany, charged with high treason, Grynszpan was still alive in the spring of 1944. Nothing is known about him afterwards. The German government declared him dead in 1960. His entire family survived the Holocaust and emigrated to Israel.




During that fateful night, three synagogues were totally destroyed in Frankfurt. In the streets and squares, tens of thousands gathered to protest against the ‘treacherous’ murder in Paris. It is not known what the population was told of these events. Despite the fact that the windows of hundreds of shops owned by Jews were broken, no looting took place.


However there were still numerous places in Germany, not only in Frankfurt, where Jews lived and worked in peace. Many non-Jews had the courage and conviction to stand by and help their Jewish fellow men during such chilling and desperate times.


These unsung heroes, many of whom were shot when discovered in the attempt, not only saved countless lives, but they have fiercely tried to defend Germany’s honour. With her brave deeds, Gertrud was no longer a spectator and a victim. She had become an activist overnight. Thus, she was able to turn the tables around, as her sad experiences in Dusseldorf had left her a victim, quite vulnerable and uncertain about how to deal with such momentous developments.


Could the lovely Jewish couple Gertrud had given a home to for a short time have been among the first of the many ‘Judentransporte’ [5] from Frankfurt, leaving on Sunday, October 19, 1941? There were 1125 Jews on the train that day. Their destination: the ghetto in Lodz [6]. Of the 20,000 inhabitants there, some 4,200 had died by the end of 1942. Most of the survivors of the ghetto were later brutally murdered in concentration camps.


Thousands of Jews made valuable contributions to the vibrant life of Frankfurt over centuries, right up to the emergence of the NSDAP. The first Jewish community was established here in 1150 and, over time, its members inevitably influenced the cultural and economic canvas of the city immeasurably to its advantage.


More than 10,000 of the still hopeful Jewish citizens who remained in the city were rounded up and deported between October 1941 and September 1942 alone. Of those, the majority ended their lives in Teresienstadt and other death camps. By the time the war was finally over, just 150 Jews still lived in Frankfurt, many of them in a ‘mixed marriage’.


Today, Frankfurt is proud to be the home of an again thriving Jewish community of more than 7800 members – the second most important such community in the Federal Republic after Berlin.


An equally perilous undertaking was the smuggling of secret messages to camps and war zones. If caught, punishment was instant. The death penalty – the murder of the perpetrator without a fair court hearing – was death by firing squad. Small ‘Kassiber’ – Gertrud laughingly used this prison slang – were passed from safe hand to safe hand. No one of the couriers knew who the originator or the recipient was, what the message contained, or if it ever reached its destination.


Again, she was unable to refuse these requests. Having been drawn into this potentially disastrous situation, Gertrud found herself skating on extremely thin ice. It took nerves of steel to be sure of any action taken, to have complete trust in the individual members of the group. Inevitably, she had been drawn deeply into this vicious circle. Luckily, everything she undertook ended in success. She appeared to be convinced that the actions of her many courageous co-conspirators did indeed make a difference and, more importantly, contributed to the slowing down of the advance of the national socialist movement.


All these numerous delicate and dangerous tasks entrusted to her must have been carried out reliably and with great finesse. This exacting work could only be carried out in her leisure time, before and after working in the shop and without drawing attention to herself. What was most important was to keep a cool head at all times, however tired she may have been. The irony is that the expression ‘Kassiber’ is derived from Yiddish (kisses – written on paper). 


During the course of 1941 Gertrud had to reveal her activities to her mother. Eventually, after pleading with her daughter, the brave young woman gave up the exhausting and gruelling work. Instead, she enrolled in a refresher course with the Red Cross. Some years before she had started her basic training as a Red Cross nurse and now took the opportunity to becoming a volunteer again. Her sister was already working in that field.


Gertrud’s initial assignment involved her attendance at one of the very first air raids over Frankfurt. Every capable nurse was desperately needed to lend a helping hand. The vehemence of the ensuing fire resulted in the ground getting perilously hot. The attending medical personnel found it too hot in places to look for and approach possible victims and the injured.


To her great regret, Gertrud had to discover she was not destined to be a nurse under such stressful conditions. She almost fainted at the sight of blood – every time. Therefore, her first dramatic mission of mercy became definitely her last.

Arthur – his big entrance


One of the principal stationery suppliers who regularly visited the shop in Berger Straße to get an order was the paper wholesaler Luise Ehrlich in der Wittelsbacher Allee in Frankfurt. The business had been managed entirely by the woman already known to Gertrud as a dedicated member of the resistance group she herself was involved with. As a Jewess, running a sizeable business on her own, the local NSDAP branch eventually ordered that she had to find a non-Jewish business partner, a party member [7], to avoid confiscation of her business and assets. She had to find an investor and co-manager, able to take a 50 percent share in the company, to be allowed to continue running the firm. Luise Ehrlich found a suitable candidate with sufficient funds in Arthur Behne, who merely saw this as a good business opportunity and a good home for his substantial savings.


Therefore he invested a large proportion of his financial assets – some 25,000 Reichsmark – in the safest way he knew, guaranteed not to be devalued again. This is how Luise and Arthur became business associates and eventually good friends. It became ever more difficult to follow the increasing number of regulations and laws, but the business was well-run and remained successful through that difficult period and well into the period after the war. In addition it was important not to attract too much attention on Luise’s activities. Arthur became a competent business manager. 


Making good use of his extensive experience in marketing and selling, he made great efforts to visit all the company’s already existing customers in person to foster more business. When he appeared at Gertrud’s shop to introduce himself, he was quite taken by the young, self-assured owner.


Arthur was a charming man in his mid-forties, slim, and elegantly dressed. Of course, he wanted to get to know Gertrud better. Their very first private meeting was the result of a wager, made by Arthur with a friend. He was so sure of himself that this young woman, one of his many customers, would agree to join him for lunch in a popular restaurant. Asked in a most persuasive way and naturally totally unaware of this unorthodox and somewhat devious approach, Gertrud agreed to accept his invitation, but only after some persistent persuasion. Arthur had won the bet and thus began a new phase in Gertrud’s life. 


Up to that point, she had only one serious relationship with the opposite sex. The close friendship with and deep love for a young violinist played an important part in her life under most vulnerable circumstances. The two met at one of her prolonged treatment periods in a sanatorium. They got engaged without telling their families. Unfortunately, the friendship ended in tragedy. Gertrud’s mother was vehemently against this union and made it brutally clear to her daughter that their action was bound to end in tears. She did not hesitate to explain the obvious disadvantages of their plans. In her opinion, playing the violin was a hobby and certainly not the basis for a long-term or lucrative career.


One probably very valid reason given – brutal though it must have sounded – was that the marriage to a man in the final stages of consumption was not going to last long. Gertrud, who had practically no previous experience of having a male friend, was forced to break the engagement immediately and promise her mother not to consider any further meetings, let alone plans to marry the young man.


Having had to make extremely tough decisions to protect her girls, Johanna saw this outwardly utterly cruel action as the only way forward. She may well have been right. The young man died a little over nine months later – his obviously broken heart may have been instrumental in speeding up his premature death. The irony of fate was that one of her grandsons, the son of her older daughter, has enjoyed a long and very successful career as a violinist and violist. Rainer Mehne has now been a member of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra for over 35 years.


Arthur, the debonair articulate man of the world, the bon viveur experienced in life, had just lost his wife of 18 years. Paula had died of cancer at the age of 45 in their comfortable home in Buchschlag, south of Frankfurt. Arthur was 46 years old when he and Gertrud first met, she was 26.

When Gertrud’s mother was eventually introduced to the suitor, she was again not impressed with her daughter’s choice. She was particularly concerned that he was two decades older than her daughter and that he was a widower, a very self-assured and worldly man. On the other hand, she realised that he was financially secure. In her opinion, he gave the impression of having had extensive experience with women. She whispered to Gertrud ‘he is the same smooth talker as your father’ – was it a compliment or criticism? The comment was just loud enough to be heard by Arthur.


He now knew that his future mother-in-law was a force to be reckoned with. Like any loving mother, Johanna was very keen to ensure that her younger daughter would find a kind, gentle and devoted husband. But Gertrud had made up her mind; she would marry Arthur Behne – come what may. The relationship between Arthur and his future mother-in-law was always a very distant and, at times, even antagonistic one. Gertrud’s determination and action was probably the first time that the daughter acted against her mother’s wishes. Also, Johanna found that Arthur was a strong-willed confident opponent. She felt so strongly that did not even attend their wedding. Their opinion of one another lasted until grandmother’s death.


Johanna applied the same strategy with her older daughter some years later and also failed with almost identical repercussions. Both the marriages of her daughters turned out to be very difficult for the two wives. Was grandmother right after all? However, Gertrud forgave her mother not long after her wedding and remained in contact with her, sometimes under difficult circumstances. Her sister Hedel cut herself and her family off from her mother almost completely. One of the few letters she wrote to her mother was dated just a few days before her mother’s death. The three images below show proof of Aryan Ancestry of Arthur Behne, 15th of March, 1939


Arthur and Gertrud married on Saturday, January 31, 1942. The short civil marriage ceremony took place at 11.15 hours in the Wedding Hall of the Frankfurter Römer – one of the most important mediaeval landmark buildings in the centre of the city, originally built by the merchant family named Römer some 600 years before. The following document was part of the regulations to be followed by the applicants for a marriage licence – as printed on the original:


Two witnesses of full age (men or women, can be relatives), each known personally to the engaged couple, must be present. The witnesses must bring proof of identity (passport, military ID card, family record book, employment insurance card, or disability ID etc.). Persons not able to identify themselves correctly are not submitted as witnesses to the marriage ceremony.


     Following the completed ceremony, the couple will be handed an officially authorised family births, marriages and deaths record book (marriage book), as long as the relevant fee has been paid in full at least three days before the ceremony to the finance department of the registry office (Mainkai 53, 1st Floor, Room 11). The cost of the document (including the fee for the marriage entry) is as follows:

For the plain version                                                                                       2.00  RM

For the deluxe version

(includes details of genealogy and proof of blood line)                             6.50  RM


Arthur chose the plain version. He must have known that, in order to obtain the deluxe version, his new wife would have had to provide authorised information about her Aryan background. The comment printed on the marriage authorisation certificate contained this supplementary information added by a rubber stamp:

Presentation of this document entitles the bearer to receive additional groceries and food items for the purpose of providing a wedding breakfast, as long as it is presented within the time allowed and at the relevant local authority of the Ministry of Food and Nutrition. Applications have to be submitted prior to the marriage ceremony.


The still existing document contains the handwritten remark to confirm that additional groceries were handed out and duly received on January 12th, 1942 – well ahead of the ceremony. The two witnesses at the marriage of Gertrud and Arthur were Miss Luise Ehrlich, 50 years old, living at 68 Bettinaplatz, Frankfurt/Main and Miss Toni Trautsch, 58 years old, living at the same address. After the wedding, a small wedding breakfast had been prepared at Arthur’s home in Buchschlag. There were no other guests present.


Ready to begin life as a married woman, the new bride joined her husband in his most comfortable villa in Horst-Wessel-Weg 12 in the exclusive residential community, a pleasant wooded area south of Frankfurt, about 20 minutes by train away. After the wedding, Arthur had to join his unit again to return to the war.


It was the same Luise Ehrlich [8] who, at the end of the war, managed to repossess Arthur’s 50 percent holding in their company. By then, the emergency administration (the American occupation forces) would have been eager to compensate Jewish survivors. Her justification to Arthur – he only returned to West Germany well after the war had ended – was that she had not heard from him after 1945, therefore not expecting him to have survived the war.  


New home in Buchschlag


In Buchschlag, ‘clearing in a beech wood’, now the new home of the young bride, most streets and squares were given names of famous contemporaries at the time of the foundation of the community in 1904. Among them were the founder of the village, the wealthy Frankfurt merchant Jakob Latscha, the German pianist Carl Seelmann, the well-known wood carver and Hessian politician Wilhelm Leuschner. He was executed in Plötzensee Prison in Berlin on September 29, 1944, following the failed assassination attempt on Hitler on July 20, 1944 at ‘Wolf’s Lair’, the German Eastern Front military headquarters. Among other notable inhabitants who gave their names to the streets was the novelist and the community’s first mayor in 1913, Rudolf-Binding.


Before the war the lane Gertrud’s new home was located in carried the name Rudolf-Binding-Weg. During the war, its name was changed to Horst-Wessel-Weg, the only street in Buchschlag to have been given a new name and, of all names, that of a Nazi fanatic. This man was certainly not a notable and honourable German, but a political agitator and opportunist, a staunch supporter of Hitler.


Horst Wessel was also the author of the Nazi anthem composed in 1929, ‘The flag on high’, known as the ‘Horst Wessel Song’ and sung as the co-national anthem until 1945. The utterance of the words or even humming the tune is still illegal in Germany today. A brutal and merciless defender of the regime, he died at the age of 23 after a turbulent life, and in a fittingly brutal way. He was killed by a bullet to his head, fired by a supporter of the communist party, seeking revenge at a rally in Berlin. Wessel’s funeral procession took place in Berlin on a cool February day in 1930. More than 30,000 onlookers saluted this criminal as a ‘martyr’. How many other streets in Germany were also named after such people?


The lane in Buchschlag was given its original name of Rudolf-Binding-Weg again immediately after the end of the war, the memory to the noble poet and mayor was finally restored. 


Arthur, a reasonably wealthy man, had spared no expense when he built the villa in Buchschlag in 1936. It was a present to his first wife, Paula. The walls in the two large reception rooms were covered in wall coverings made of antique pink silk. Most of the furniture was new, mostly hand-carved in burr-walnut, in the style of Chippendale, following the couple’s exact designs. The sitting room, then named ‘gentlemen’s room’ (Herrenzimmer) was an oasis of tasteful elegance. The floor was covered in precious carpets.  A massive hand-made glass-fronted book case in the same style covered one entire wall.


Naturally, the house could boast central heating, even the garage was heated. The front bedroom gave access to a small balcony. Along the entire first floor back wall facing the massive garden, a balcony could be reached from the larger of the two other bedrooms. Downstairs, the garden could be reached stepping down from an impressive veranda entered through the half-glazed sitting room doors. Gertrud thought that she was going to live in paradise.


However, the new Mrs Behne could hardly have missed that all the bed linen, the bath and kitchen towels, the table cloths and serviettes, the cutlery, in other words anything that could be adorned with initials, was marked with the monogram of the previous mistress of the house – PN for Paula Nestel, her maiden name. The wardrobes and chests of drawers were still full of Paula’s items of clothing and shoes and the cabinets contained her china and precious possessions. Everything and anything Gertrud looked at, reminded her of the previous owner. Gertrud could not help but fall in love with a beautiful Meissen figurine, the only item she appreciated. Sadly, she did not dare to object to the large portrait in oil on canvas of the deceased above the bed of the newlyweds.


Because of the austere financial time during war time, Gertrud was accustomed to not spending money unnecessarily. Therefore, she did not risk changing anything, trying to give the house her own stamp. As her new home was a well-stocked and functioning household, there was also no need for major purchases, especially in the middle of the war. All through my childhood and right up to Mama’s death, most of these items had become a constant part in our lives.


To this day, I still use some of the hand towels of exquisite material and quality. Some of Paula’s beautiful porcelain figurines, such as the ballerina ‘La Chiarina’, by Meissen and other items are still part of the family’s treasured possessions. For some reason I cannot fathom why Gertrud was unable to object to her husband giving me, their second daughter, the name Paula as my middle Christian name, obviously to keep her memory alive!