A Letter to my Grandparents | Jenny Hartland
Dear Marie and Julius,
You never knew me, but you should not be surprised by my existence. When you ensured that your sons Franz and Erwin got out of Germany in 1933, you must have hoped that not only would they be safe, but that they would have families and a future. Well, they did. Franz went to America, had two daughters. My Father, Erwin, stayed in England and had just one daughter, me, and I have a son, Tom. My name is Jenny. I am named after that wonderful aunt to whom you entrusted the guardianship of my 13 year-old father, when he arrived as a refugee. I know that you were not especially observant, especially you Marie, but I think you may have cherished that very Jewish longing to live on in the memory of your descendents.
I wasn't born until 1949, but you certainly live in my memory. Sadly, I only know you through many photographs, a few letters, a remarkable collection of your household possessions and Erwin's memories, which are hard to discern. At the age of 91, he still finds it painful to talk about you and perhaps I am a little unkind in trying to make him tell me more about you and your lives together. Franz died in 1998, aged 85, and he was even less able to talk about his past to his daughters, my cousins. We would all so much have loved to have known you.
You may be surprised to learn that I have visited Germany, and have been in Frankfurt-am-Main four times. The first time was in 1990, with my father. We stayed with our friends Sibylle and Jobst, who had been neighbours of my parents' in London for a year. We explored the rebuilt city and, to our delight and astonishment, found that the flat where you lived still existed. It was a very emotional week for us both, but I could not persuade him to go to the Jewish Museum in Frankfurt. When, on later visits, I did get there - first of all with Tom - I found your names commemorated both within the Museum and in plaques in the wall of a Jewish cemetery.
In May 2010, Tom, his partner, Kat, and I went again to Frankfurt to witness the laying of true and lasting memorials to you both. The Stolpersteine Project is now the life work of a German artist named Gunter Demnig. He has designed a 10cm cubed block to be set into the pavement outside the homes of those who were forced out of Germany to their deaths. The surface is a simple brass square on which is recorded a name and date of birth and the essential details of when and where that person perished. There are now thousands of these 'stumble stones' all over Germany and beyond. Local authorities prepare the space in the pavement, and each stone is laid by Gunter Demnig himself. Volunteers work locally to organise the project, which is financed by German citizens. Your stones were sponsored by my friends, Sibylle and Jobst, who live in the same street as my Great Grandmother did, five minutes walk from your flat.
In my 20s (I am now 60) I became a Quaker. All my adult life I have been involved with seeking for peace and justice. I became involved with Amnesty International in the conscious knowledge that my life had been intimately affected by a tyrannical political regime, which persecuted, imprisoned and murdered people like you. I have worked in the Peace Movement, I am a prison chaplain, and I look for forgiveness and reconciliation, because they are the final and binding pieces in the peace-making jig-saw. I will forever be torn apart by the thought of what you endured, but Germany is a changed nation and it has addressed its past in remarkable and far-reaching ways. The Stolpersteine Project is a tangible, simple and very powerful manifestation of that change, and it is a reason why I can feel comfortable in modern Germany.
Your loving Granddaughter,
PHOTOS TAKEN AT CEREMONY COURTESY OF TOM HARTLAND