Berliners who escaped Nazis as children gather in city again


BERLIN — They were the lucky ones. Babies or toddlers, they were bundled up by their parents and taken from the city of their birth, by train, by boat. Some landed in Chile, others in China. Some ended up in Soviet camps. Their lives were sometimes hard. But they were among the Jews from Germany who survived the Nazi genocide.

Some 80 former Berliners, invited here by the city, gathered for lunch recently at the Jewish community center in the former West Berlin. They already had enjoyed a week of getting to know the new Berlin, the new Germany, and meeting political and religious leaders. But for many, the highlight was a visit to the street or house where their families had lived.

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For Eva Eichen Izchak, that meant going to Brunnenstrasse 41, where her mother ran a tobacco shop in the 1930s. “It was right across from the U-bahn” or subway station, and next to their apartment, she said. The current shop owners, immigrants to Germany, shook their heads in amazement when they heard the story, said Eva, who was 6 when the family fled East. They lived out the last war years in Soviet camps, and immigrated to Israel in 1957.

For Danny Moses, home was Holmstrasse 10. He did not go back inside, but took many photos of the elegant apartment building. “The building is very nice, beautiful,” said Moses, who came to the event from Santiago, Chile, with his wife, Sonia Menashe. Moses was less than a year old when his family left Germany in May, 1939.

In Santiago, “My father was always listening to the radio, to hear what was happening in the war,” recalled Moses. “He had 11 brothers and sisters,” and only two were known to have survived, he said.

During his visit to the Jewish Museum here, Moses photographed several pages from the memorial book listing some 60,000 Berlin Jews who were deported and murdered. There were several pages of people with his family name, he said.

Marion Wollstein, who came here from Santiago with her husband, Rolando Torrijos, said she was fascinated “to see that Berlin today is a capital of Europe again, and that people live together in peace again here.”

Berlin is one of many cities that annually host Jewish guests whose families fled Nazi Germany. About 500,000 Jews lived in Germany in 1933. More than half fled, but many ended up in countries later occupied by the Nazis, where they were arrested and deported. Berlin was home to 175,000 Jews before the war. Today’s community numbers about 12,000, including about 9,000 who have come from the former Soviet Union since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Like Moses, Inge Mannheim Canas was only 1 year old when her parents fled with her to Chile in 1939. Her mother lost her brother and his family. This return to Berlin “was very emotional,” she said. She, too, saw the building where her family had lived in the eastern section of the city.

“I saw things that I learned in school, and, well, it was great,” Ronit Parat, 43, who accompanied her mother, Eva Eichen Izchak, said, adding that she wants to bring her husband and son with her next time.

“To see where my mother was living, well, it was emotionally … ” Parat paused, looking at her mother. “She said, ‘Look — here is the train I took to visit my grandmother.’ “