This memoir first appeared in the Australian young people's magazine, The Salt Cellar. We thank Bro. Jim Rosenthal (Melbourne Ecclesia, Victoria, Australia) for granting us permission to share it here.
Memoir of Bro. Gerhardt (Jim) Rosenthal
A Jewish Boy from Germany
One is diffident to talk about oneself, but I can understand that my experiences may be of interest, as they are not every-day occurrences. Of course my background is not as traumatic as my family's. That is another story.
There are many happy memories, which may vanish from one's conscious by not necessarily sub-conscious mind, when one compares them with the happenings under the Hitlerite regime. Hitler came to power in 1933, and it was a gradual development of indoctrinating the German nation on the 'evils' of Judaism. He would probably never have succeeded in his fiendish scheme had he undertaken it more rapidly. Before Hitler came to power, Chancellor Paul von Hindenburg, was the democratically elected president, and Jews were able to lead a normal life. Tragically my father deluded into thinking that the ominous warnings were not to be taken seriously, and therefore as with the majority of Jews, ignored the signs and assumed that all would "blow over' in a short time.
It was into this uncertainty that I was born at Kehl, a former fortress town on the river Rhine in Napoleonic times. On the opposite bank is the town with a population at the time of 12,000, with a Jewish minority of about 200, which is sizeable for the smallness of the municipality. It is very much larger now, that is the town, and very modern. This was in 1989 when there. I was not able to recollect anything with the exception of the gardens, which had changed very little from what it was in 1933, or thereabouts.
In 1939 when the political situation really became serious, with Crystal Night already past, i.e. when the synagogues and private houses were burnt down and ransacked, furniture and household effects being torched at street corners, the Munich crisis also being behind us, my parents thought it necessary to make arrangements with the Jewish Refugee Committees of Germany and Britain, to seek refuge for me in England, in the hope of following me at a later date, The latter however never materialised as the war commenced on 3rd September - I remember it as if it were yesterday - Sunday, 11 am the news was transmitted over the air.
I arrived in England on 21st July 1939, just after my birthday, which was not the happiest of occasions; to a certain extent the excitement of the long journey and meeting with 200 co-travellers compensated for the traumatic experience of leaving my parents behind. I remember a train journey along the Rhine valley, past many castles, scenic views, Cologne cathedral, crossing the Dutch border where we received refreshments by kind Dutch people. To the Hoek of Holland where we boarded a ship to Harwich, the port at which we berthed in England. I found myself in a foreign country, where to me, they all spoke as if they "had a hot potato in their mouth." From this point the drama and trauma started in real earnest. Liverpool Street Station, London was our next destination, where I was to meet my "guardians". One redeeming feature of the occasion was that my uncle, aunty and cousins were also present to welcome me, so they were able to make the necessary introduction to my future custodians.
After that it was a matter of getting used to my "newly-found" foster parents, the different kind of food and customs; it didn't take long to become acclimatised. Until it was no longer possible to communicate with my parents because they were dwelling in enemy country, I wrote to them, but not often enough, as far as they were concerned. It was another trauma when correspondence ceased altogether, and their whereabouts and welfare were unknown to me.
The foster couple were extremely good and kind to me. I am not sure whether I always came up to their expectations; I believe not by what I have found out since those days. In effect they wanted a girl not a boy originally. However the relationship and rapport increased as time went by. He only was a Christadelphian, but they read the Bible with the Bible Companion and I joined in with them while they read the Old Testament. He explained everything to me probing that Jesus was indeed Messiah purely from the O.T. As I grew up it absolutely fascinated me so that my curiosity got the better of me, and I asked whether I could also study the N.T., which we promptly did, so much so that I joined the Boy's Brigade, a church organisation, who held weekly Bible Classes and Sunday church parades, which eventually had a profound influence on my life from then on. At camps, which we occasionally attended, even though the war was in progress, lengthy bible disputes developed with the padre of the Brigade on the "promises to Abraham", and other doctrinal differences that it caused me to sever relationship with the Boy's Brigade. I joined the Chistadelphian Sunday School for a year, and was baptised in 1944 in the presence of the brethren and sisters of Reading and my foster father... My foster mother did not join until after the death of her husband, which was very sad.
In the meantime my own parents perished in the concentration camps...
This, in brief, is a life with its "ebb and flow". No doubt the Lord has been overseeing events as thy unfolded, and I thank Him for good parents whom I loved dearly, generous and kind foster parents and I cannot speak too highly of them; and finally a great blessing, on looking back for which I cannot thank Him enough, of knowing Him and His Son. Glory be to God!
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