In some ways slavery and freedom are often bound up together. This time of year we think of them together in the context of the holiday of Passover where we celebrate our transition from slavery to freedom.
Never have I found an object so representative of this juxtaposition as my Oma’s passport. As blog readers may know, Oma left Germany in February of 1937, not a good time or place to be a Jew.
For me, her passport is tangible evidence of the the Third Reich. For a somewhat mundane government document, It’s is literally covered in swastikas, in stark contrast to my Opa’s which was obtained only a few years prior. It is the only object in Oma’s collection of stuff from Germany, thus adorned. The document itself scared me as a child. It is certainly intimidating.
Incidentally as a child I thought that the passport bore markings of them being Jewish. While there are some indicators they were Jewish, for example that they had a Jewish banker, I now know that these were NOT the type of passports issued later especially for Jews with a large red J stamped wither on the front cover or over the picture.
While the tangible evidence of Nazi rule is clearly present, the passports trace my grandparents path to freedom as well. Opa’s passport tells of both his first and second trips to America (as well as an apparently unrelated trip to France in 1933, that now I want to know about), the first in June 15, 1937 as a tourist. He returned November 11, 1937, after what must have been a hair raising few months when Oma’s parents assured her he had left for good. Oma became a US c itizen November 22, 1937 in Stuttgart Germany! Their passports bear receipts for payments they used for emigration. There is a stamp confirming that they exited in Hamburg. Which backs up Oma’s story that they “fled through fields, at night to get a cross country train” because Opa was wanted for questioning and possible arrest. You can see a stamp from their ship the George Washington. You can see their exit stamp in Hamburg Feb 22, 1938. Then just like that, they stepped on the boat and were free. I wonder what Oma’s first Passover in America must have been like . . .
Oma and Opa’s passports side by side: