– Advertisement –
FINALLY, it was a rock that broke the tears. A small copper brick set on an obscure German sidewalk where I had never set foot.
Now it bears the weight, not only of multitudes but of ages, as a lone bassoonist pours a musical salve into our sadly ringing ears.
It was June 14, 2023, as my daughter and I stood on a lonely sidewalk in the beautiful city of Chemnitz. The stone in question has an inscription in German. Its translation: “Adela Bauer lives here, married to Haldane, born in 1915, fled in 1939 to Shanghai.”
Adela is my mother. And so began our saga.
There were other stones too, one for each member of his family. There are stones for Adela’s sister, Klara, as well as her brothers, Max, and Leo. And, of course, there are stones for the children’s parents, David, and Gitel.
The small bronze monuments—called stolpersteine, or stumbling stones—are among the thousands planted on streets and sidewalks in Germany near the last known addresses where victims of the horrifying Holocaust voluntarily lived. in 1933 to 45. The project began two decades ago with the vision of an artist named Gunter Demnig. “If the rock is in front of your house,” he told Smithsonian Magazine, “you face it. People started talking. Thinking about six million victims is vague, but thinking about a murdered family is concrete.
James E. Young, who has written two books on the Holocaust, agrees. “The Stolpersteine,” he explains, “is a metaphor for the Germans stumbling over this part of their past—something that never goes away—and that’s the artist’s point.
My recent bout with stumbling began suddenly with an email from a relative. “I have some interesting family information I would like to share,” it began. As I noted before, what he told me changed my world.
Of course, I always knew that my Jewish family was swept away by the German Holocaust. My mother barely escaped with her life by fleeing to Shanghai, China which was occupied by the Japanese. Aunt Klara was saved by seeking protection in the home of a German military officer. Uncle Leo joined the resistance, was imprisoned, sentenced to death by the Soviets, and finally returned to Germany as a well-known journalist and advisor to the chancellor.
The rest of the family was deported to Poland, killed in concentration camps or on the blood-soaked streets of the ghetto.
But the email also contained another startling revelation; that Lolo David is pregnant with a secret daughter that the whole family does not know until now. And those two of his descendants—my half cousins—would go to Chemnitz to help dedicate those glittering stumbling blocks. And so, my daughter and I decided to join them.
Gently, the city treated us like visiting royalty. There is a nice hotel, a car with a driver, and a guided tour of the city. I was interviewed in the press office on a long videotape about going back to the “crime scene.” And visiting a local high school class that sponsored our memorial stone was like a refreshing dip in the cold water of radical change.
It was near the end of the next day’s dedication ceremony that the dam finally broke. Holding the hand of my newly gentile cousin, I stood in silence as the children sang and a historian recounted our family history. Then someone motioned for me to speak, and so I did.
“Thank you all for coming,” I began uncertainly. “It’s more than I thought,” and that’s when the tears started to flow. “Thanks,” I stammered again, realizing I wasn’t the only wet-eyed one in the crowd.
I have two vivid memories of another time I visited Chemnitz, which was called Karl Marx Stadt. It was in 1980 with my mother, before she died. The first memory is of her pointing to a balcony where, as a child, she remembers bursting into uncontrollable laughter as a Nazi parade passed on the street below. Noticing this unseemly display of disrespect, two SS men rushed upstairs and threatened to take him away. “Oh, you can never punish him like I do!” Adela’s frightened mother immediately declared that the girl was beaten until she lost consciousness. After the Nazis left, the whole family wept with relief, desperation, and hopelessness.
Another memory is a nearby park where my mother met a stranger—a woman about her age—who had never left Chemnitz. After sharing their stories, the two hugged like sisters before breaking down in tears.
That was the memory that struck me most strongly during the recent blessing of those stones. How good it felt, in a strange and warmly satisfying way, to finally be back home.
(David Haldane’s latest book, “A Tooth in My Popsicle,” is available on Amazon and Lazada. A former staff writer for the Los Angeles Times, he is an award-winning journalist, author, essayist, and broadcaster with homes in Joshua Tree, California, and Surigao City.)
Mindanao Gold Star Daily holds the copyrights of all articles and photos forever. Any unauthorized copying in any platform, electronic and hardcopy, is liable for copyright infringement under the Intellectual Property Rights Law of the Philippines.