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Reflections on Slavery and Freedom

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:

20150326_120624 20150326_120654  More pictures to follow tonight . . .

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Leaving on a Jet Plane . . .

Eli and disagree whether this is cool or not.  I have never seen a special tephillah for an airplane, and it’s my blog, so here are the pics.

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On the subject of the novelty of air travel, I found a FANTASTIC letter from my great uncle Fritz describing his first air travel.  The beginning of the letter described a little bit about uncle Fritz’s duties in Greece, very interesting, and worthy of its own post later.  The airplane excerpt is found below:

Xylotymbou, 27th Nov 1947

. . . I had a fine experience – my first flight.  It took only two hours from Haifa to Nicosia, besides one passage through a rain cloud we had splendid weather.  Start and Landing were as smooth as butter, during the flight I had a sentiment as if riding by a big car on a very smooth road above the few clouds and between azur-blue fields.  Generally Erez has a nicer view than Cyprus – I was not yet in the mountains on the other side of the island which must be remarkably beautiful.  In the towns I visited I saw quite interesting ruins of the Crusaders time.  Perhaps I shall buy a small photo if I shall stay here a longer time (being paid an adequate salary) and then you will receive in due time snapshots.

Dear Margalith and both children are well.  She and Aviam were with me on the aerodrome, I decided to have him enjoy the great event of seeing his Dad flying, it so enriches his feeling(-and, of course, it enlarges his prestige in the kindergarten greatly – -).  Dear Justintoo was with us at my departure.  Dear M. May have a quiet time at home, if she only wants – less work than usually.  My cattle will be moved into another chaver’s cow-shed who will be paid for the work, plowing and sowing are done by another comrade.   . . .

I like to think that these two pieces from the Oma archives are contemporary, of an age when flying on an airplane was an event signifigant that your whole extended family came out to see you off.  In some ways I mourn the loss of the fantastic aspect of air travel.  Even my children are not amazed that people are able to fly through the air.  Alas . . .

Updates Updates Updates!

I have one minor update to the blog and one major piece of found information.

First the trivial.  Despite our decadent duck, Eli and I missed latkes.  Therefore we extended the Chanukah season and this happened:

LatkesUpon further consideration the latkes make the duck look like health food!

And now for the big update.  I found a new branch of my family tree!!!  Blog readers other than my Dad, do you remember Oma’s old siddur?Siddur1It’s an old book, we estimate it’s approaching it’s 200th birthday.  I first blogged about the content of it here.  And while the content of the book has always seemed interesting and appealing.  There are amazing hand written entries on the covers.  See below:

20150122_151013While it seemed that these contained tantalizing family history, with entries starting in the 1800s it was largely illegible.  I took it to my local Leo Baeck Institute for help translating it.

The funny thing was that it belonged to a relative that was so far back on my family tree that it took until the THIRD page of translation before we found someone I knew!  “Our Daughter Sophie Weissman Married Avraham Heidecker December 6, 1904”.  Yes you read that right folks.

For what it’s worth, Sophie Heidecker nee Weismann was my Great Grandmother.  This book belonged to her mother and father, my Great Great Grandparents.  And while I have a really extensive family tree for my Great Grandfather Avraham Heidecker, I knew nothing of Sophie’s lineage.

The next step was to write to my friend Gerd living in their hometown Georgensgmünd.  It turns out that Sophie’s parents are buried in the local cemetery, which was one that was not destroyed in the war.

He replied (corrected for English spelling and grammar)

…no problem. I have a large book about the Jewish cemetery in Georgensgmünd, where all tombstones are cataloged and described. It was a many years work of a researcher in Jewish history named Kuhn.

This I have found:
1. Tombstone Nr. 1635: Elieser / Lazarus, Son of Jakob Weissmann, from Georgensgmünd, 28.2.1923 (Date of death). Text: Here is resting Lazarus Weissmann, born august 12th 1844 in Altenmuhr, died february 28th 1923.
2. Tombstone Nr. 1603: Rebekka Weissmann, from Georgensgmünd, 6.7.1919 (Date of death). No further information, because the tombstone is heavily weathered.
If you need the birthday of Rebekka, I could ask in our township. The birthday must be listed in the registry of the death.

So now in addition to all the family information I have on Sophie’s siblings and children (and grandchildren, and great grand children, and great great grandchildren), I finally found records of her parents!!!  Hooray!

And here’s the shocker.  It wasn’t Oma’s Siddur at all.  It was Opa’s Oma’s Siddur.  Are you confused yet?

With Gerd’s help I’m looking a little more carefully into her birth records as well as the Jewish community in the town of Altenmuhr, which seems to have largely disappeared even before the war.  In 1933 there were only 29 Jews left.  Another small mystery to solve.

Opa’s Tallis

A few weeks ago we found Opa’s tallis, the one he carried out of Germany in 1938.  Horrifyingly, my first inclination was to dispose of it, and I wrote to my rabbi asking how to do so.  (For those interested you put it in a bag in the garbage).  Part of this is because it is somewhat moth eaten.  However, I think that this was in a larger part due to a physically and emotionally draining day cleaning out Oma’s house.  I wasn’t ready to take on another family artifact that needed physical care with emotional and financial investment to restore it to its former glory.  Sometimes I feel like the curator of my own museum both with both a sense of pride and also responsibility.  Thankfully I didn’t take any drastic action and the next morning I was able to see how cool it was.

The first thing that my dad noticed when we found it is that the strings are FUZZY.

I wanted to find out more about why the tztzit were old and cool so I checked them out with a wool expert friend, Abby.  She got all excited “Wow I bet those were spindle spun!” (For those super interested in what spindle spinning is, I found a video here).  She also noticed that the staple length is particularly long and the wool still has an impressive sheen, considering that my Opa probably got this talis for his bar mitzva (Jews of German descent get a tallis at bar mitzva, unlike my husband’s more standard custom to get one at the time of marriage), making it 95 years old this March.

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The next thing I realized, was that the beautiful bag was hand sewn and embroidered, possibly by my Oma, who did embroider other things in this manner.  Or possibly not since he got it for his bar mitzva.  Maybe my GREAT grandmother made it, maybe my GREAT GREAT grandmother made it?  The pictures don’t do it justice.

Opa’s name was Ludolf Heidecker.  I think he was named for his Opa, Lamlien Hirsch Heidecker.

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Look at the hand stitched construction

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The tallis itself is fairly standard but also beautiful:

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Now that I’ve decided it’s not headed for the trash, I’m still not sure what to do with it.  (Suggestions appreciated.)  As I said before it’s fairly moth eaten and no one I know has any inclination to put it to use.  For now I’m going to add it to a big (figurative) bin of future use to be determined.

Oma’s Card Shuffler

At long last here’s the card shuffler in action.  I finally got a chance to make a video, please pardon the challah dough making a cameo.  My kids LOVE to use the card shuffler, much the same way I did as a child.  It’s rubber parts are starting to show significant signs of wear I’m not sure how much longer it’s going to do its thing. . .

A Chanukah Without Latkes . . .

First let me come out and state that I bear no hardship towards the latke.  I love latkes we even have an amazing latke recipe that I bought potatoes for, anticipating making them.

This year however, in Oma’s memory, I wanted to eat duck.  Let’s be clear, I never ATE Oma’s duck, or more often goose as a child.  The prospect of eating a weird bird that did not come in nugget form was completely unappealing.

I do however remember that come December Oma was on the hunt for her bird.  My dad often aided and abetted, going to the old German butcher, and at the time, I thought that Oma was buying the duck/goose for Christmas.  This wouldn’t have been such a stretch there were many German Christmas delicacies in her house shtolen and lebkuchen in particular.

However, earlier this year, someone told me that eating duck/goose on Chanukah is a Yeckish minhag.  The idea is to eat an oily bird to commemorate the miracle of the oil.  Now a more adventurous eater, this was a custom, while I’m not sure I would embrace, I was at least enthusiastic about trying once.  I asked our local butcher if he could get duck and he said he keeps them in the freezer downstairs all the time (note to neighbors) and it’s a hot seller.

The duck was somewhat more expensive than I expected and when I brought it home Eli and I decided that it was important not to waste one single bit of this potential delicacy.  The problem with that was that neither Eli nor I had ever cooked duck at all.  Since I was completely un-interested in eating it until this year I certainly didn’t have Oma’s recipe.  We (Eli) spent a week researching how to use it and the next week (Chanukah) breaking it down and cooking it for shabbos.

In the end here’s how we broke it down:

Breasts – Sous Vide then seared with Orange Sauce

Legs – Cured then slow cooked until shabbos lunch.  Pulled and put on salad.

Skin – Fat rendered out and then fried into duck croutons, also known as gribenes.

Bones – Duck soup

The skin and the legs, and some of the left over orange sauce from the sauce were featured in this amazing salad, which was, hands down the best I have ever eaten.

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Those interested in the recipes, they appears on the Lansey Brothers Blog.

Will we do it again next year?  Honestly I’m not sure, while it was a unique and delicious treat, it WAS a lot of work, and I really do like latkes.  It was certainly something worth doing once.

Also, we’re taking suggestions with what to do with the rendered duck fat, the only bit that’s left.

Thanksgiving

One of the things that shocked me going through the “Oma Archives” was how many recipes I found for turkey.  Growing up Oma’s turkey was the gold standard!!!  A beautiful bird, cut with a loud buzzing electric carving knife by my Uncle Andy and devoured by a crowd.  Until I found all the cuttings I could imagine a time when Oma couldn’t cook turkey.

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Then I realized, Thanksgiving, and Turkey in particular are a uniquely American tradition.  American ovens are BUILT so they are large enough to have a Turkey.  Ovens that I’ve seen in Israel and England are often considerably smaller.

In Germany Oma said her family once tried to raise Turkeys in Herschaid because they had heard that they were good eating.  She said that their turkeys were too stupid to live.  They would sit out in the rain with their mouths open until they drowned.

Finding the cuttings made me think of Oma as a new immigrant, someone with very little family in America, even less family she would want to sit down to dinner with (certainly not the aunt and uncle that thought Oma and Opa would be their maid and chauffeur!).  The aspiring American home maker pitted against a freakishly large bird.

This Thanksgiving I celebrated her winning that battle, learning to cook the turkey and make the tradition as seamless as anyone else’s.  Dad reminded me that Oma’s thanksgiving remained uniquely German too.  Alongside the turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce were traditional German red cabbage and cucumber salad and her Rosh Hashana Apple Cake (test recipes still under development).

So to we’re working on making Thanksgiving our own way.  After 8 years of hosting it we have our own favorite recipes, Sous Vide Turkey, Grilled Brussels Sprouts, Apple Cranberry Stuffing and Turkey soup.  Going to the Cornell Hockey Game Saturday night and (usually) watching our team loose.

And fortunately things come full circle.  This is how my six year old has always known our Thanksgiving traditions.  When I told him I was writing a blog post about “before Oma knew about Thanksgiving” he was SHOCKED.  His jaw dropped.  He as the either the typical child or the consummate American, he finds it difficult  to understand there are places that don’t  celebrate our holiday the exact same way.  Frankly I’m a little pleased, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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