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The Secret Jew

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Germany in Turmoil

I AM A JEW. My name is Carl Avroch, and I was born on December 5th, 1918 on Schulstraße Street in Berlin, Germany. My father was Yonah Avroch, the High Rabbi at the Local Conservative Synagogue. He had a long black beard, and dark-red, almost brown hair. It contrasted with his light blue eyes. He wore a white and blue tallit, tefillin, and a kippah during the services he led. For a Jew it was such an honor to be a rabbi’s son, especially the high rabbi’s eldest son! My father led the service much differently than other rabbis at the community did. When he prayed with the congregation, all eyes were on him. Papa’s speeches stood out in my mind, and in everyone else’s from our synagogue. He connected biblical stories to the present day, and explained them to people so that they felt closer to God. People came to our synagogue not only to pray, and to hear the services, but mostly to hear my father’s advice on their personal relationships. He was a very wise person, and everyone in our congregation listened to him.
My mother, Anne Avroch, was a typical Jewish woman and the best mother in the world. She had blond hair, and a pair of brown eyes. She was always busy with the housework, and childcare. Of course, she had half a dozen children, including me, to worry about. When she had spare time, and this occurred very rarely, she used to mollycoddle me and my siblings. She would hug us too much. She didn’t punish us at all, even when we deserved it. She didn’t let us play any dangerous games. If we had a small scar, she used a lot of bandages on it. Sometimes, it made me feel that I was being treated like a baby.
Her brother, my Uncle Jacob, worked as the head cantor at my father’s synagogue. He was bald, and he had warm brown eyes. He was a kind person, like my mother, but his wife, my Aunt Kate, was strict, and her attitude made my father ill-tempered whenever she came to visit. Papa didn’t really like Uncle Jacob either, because he thought that Jacob had a problem with Hebrew. He pronounced Hebrew words like Yiddish words. “It’s a disgrace in front of God, and an even worse disgrace in front of the whole congregation,” Papa used to complain. He had been very close to firing Uncle Jacob from the synagogue several times, usually because of Jacob’s problem in pronouncing Hebrew. However, Mama eventually convinced him to tolerate her brother.
I had three sisters and two brothers. My eldest sister Hannah, with her plaited golden hair and her blue sapphire eyes was the prettiest girl in all of Berlin. She was the hardest-working in the family always helping our mother with the housework. Then came Liesel with her unruly red hair and “flaming”, as Papa used to say, personality. We all feared her short temper, which was frequently brought out. The third one was Eliza, my music-intelligent sister, who always used to play Beethoven’s “Für Elise” on the piano, to which Papa responded to by trying to tap out “The Death of the Hero” from “Eroica” and miserably failing. As you can guess, Eliza loved Beethoven more than any other Romantic Era composer, or any other classical composer for that matter! For her seventh birthday, Eliza was given a violin on which she usually played “Ode an die Freude.” She played it very deftly. Soon Eliza found all eight of us singing it. At that mere memory tears of joy come to my eyes in rivers. I was the fourth in the family, with brown hair and brownish-green eyes. My friends called me “the male version of Eliza.” The reason being that I am very good at singing, and playing music. I used to play the piano, though not as much as Eliza. I preferred playing the Moonlight Sonata rather than Für Elise. Eliza and I used to set up concerts for guests that came to our house, in which Eliza played the piano and I sang some of Goethe’s poems that Beethoven had turned into songs. Sometimes, Eliza sang the Ode to Joy while I played it on the piano. I was followed by Sigmund, my younger brother. He was nicknamed Sigi and even now everyone calls him that. He had light brown hair, and gray eyes. The youngest, the most-loved by everyone, and remembered most dearly by my family was Jonathan, with his huge blue eyes and soft, blond hair.
Our house on Schulstraße Street was sandwiched in between two houses of other Jewish families. Our local Conservative Synagogue was on the other side of the street. Next to that there was a pharmacy. Near the pharmacy was a supermarket and a small kosher store, Kadesh. All our food came from Kadesh, and many Jews from our congregation bought their food there. Near that, there was a small apartment building that everybody simply called No. 19 Schulstraße.
Although I wasn’t a war baby, I was born in hard times. During my younger years, Papa saw a riot in the streets, and he told Mama about it. I overheard the conversation, and later asked her what a riot was. She said to me: “Don’t worry. Nothing bad happened.” However as I got older, I learned that riots were hard on my parents. Mama was only hiding the harsh truth from me. That was logical because   she didn’t want to make me think that Mama had more stress than she did, having six children to worry about.
These riots were result of the clashes between two powerful parties which wanted to overthrow the government. There were the Communists, and there were the Nationalist Social Working Party, or the Nazis. The supporters of the parties fought each other in the streets. Many injuries, and even some deaths had occurred. During that time, the economy was unstable. The German Government tried to rebuild the economy and stabilize it.
The year was 1924 when prosperity and peace returned to Germany. More Jews came to our synagogue’s assemblies on shabbat, including some who were not even from our community. So much the better (according to Papa) because it would raise more money for the congregation. The synagogue was renovated, the ceiling painted, and a brand new top quality organ was bought. The services became majestic, as if God was really inside the synagogue, and that Uncle Jacob was actually singing prayers in Heaven. 1924 was a remarkable year, but the next year was the one that really stood out in my mind.
In 1925, there was a festival to mark a year after the prosperity began. It was organized by some Jewish families and led by my father, who as the high rabbi, decided to praise God for the good times. The party was not like any other party! We threw water balloons at each other, played leapfrog, hopscotch, hide-and-seek, and tag. It was so much fun, that I nearly died of laughter.
After the party, we were ready to go to a feast. The feast was made up of chicken, fruit, Kiddush wine and many Jewish delicacies. We all ate too much and had the time of our lives. I couldn’t join in the games after the feast because I was too full to play. However, my siblings were having a lot of fun. Hannah, who already had had her bat mitzvah wanted to help Mama and Papa, but they encouraged her to play with Eliza and the others. She reluctantly agreed.
In the next couple of years, we had parties like these whenever we could. We had another Jewish family join us in the synagogue, the Lameds. The Lamed family had lived in Britain during the Great War, and they had moved to Germany due to Mr. Lamed’s business. The Lameds had two sons, Yared and Avraham. They were around my age, and that made them the perfect playmates for Sigi, Eliza, and myself. We played with Yared and Avraham the games that we had during the first party. They made good friends with us over the years.
We all got used to the prosperity and thought that it would last forever. However, everything must come to an end, and the prosperity soon did as well. This was the beginning of a huge depression across the world. It began in the United States of America, when the stock market on Wall Street crashed on October 29th, 1929. It became known as The Great Depression. Many people were out of work for the second time in less than a decade, and the German government had no idea what to do.
Thankfully, my father’s job as the high rabbi in the synagogue survived. However, his pay was reduced by more than three-quarters, because the synagogue was losing money. The top-quality organ that had been bought in 1925 was replaced with a cheaper and lower-quality one. The Jews did not have enough marks to contribute, and after the Crash of 1929, the membership payments fell by more than a half. Fewer Jews came to our assemblies. Papa felt sorry for the poor people and he just couldn’t ask them for money.
Evidently, my Uncle Jacob’s job as head cantor was now in decline too. He had to move in with us because he couldn’t sustain himself in his house near the synagogue. And, worst of all, he moved into our house with our strict Aunt Kate! Kate was five months pregnant, and that made her even more ill-tempered and more strict than ever.
I shall now describe our house, and the predicament we were in. Our house had two floors. On the first floor there was a living room, a dining room for guests, a kitchen, and a small family room. On the second floor there were three bedrooms; one for my parents, one for my sisters, and one for me and my brothers. Uncle Jacob moved into the family room, where my sisters set up a bed for him and Aunt Kate.
Papa greatly disapproved of his brother-in-law living with us, mostly because of Aunt Kate. However, he felt sorry for Jacob because he was not only his colleague in work, but also because Jacob was now one of the poor Jews who had lost their jobs. Papa didn’t ask him for money when he let Jacob and Kate live with us. He tried to avoid the conflicts with Aunt Kate. Therefore, he spoke as little as possible to both of them. Whenever Mama called Papa down for family dinner, he didn’t come out of his room. He just waited until dinner was over, and when all of us dispersed, he came downstairs, made himself dinner, and ate it.
“Why don’t you come and eat dinner with us, Yonah?” Mama asked him one evening after we all went to bed. “You always have to eat alone. Why?”
“Don’t ask me,” Papa replied.
“Please,” Mama begged. “Tell me, what happened?”
“You know what,” he said.
“I know that you may not like Kate,” Mama pleaded. “But Jacob is worried. He said that he misses you, and that you’re hurting his feelings. He feels that the hamotzi is incomplete without the rabbi present. Please don’t make him feel worse. Jacob is my brother, and he has nowhere to go.”
“Fine,” Papa sighed. I had heard the conversation from upstairs in my room.
Since then, Papa joined us for dinner, but he was taciturn. Papa remained silent at throughout the meal, and didn’t join in the family conversation because he didn’t want to argue with Kate. Therefore, he always finished his dinner first.
My family became really poor. It was especially difficult for Jonathan to hold out, because he was the youngest, at only eight years old. Other members of the family shared portions of their food with him, even Aunt Kate, who never seemed to lose her weight because of her pregnancy. It didn’t help much. All of us got thinner and thinner. The same was happening to all of the families living around us. The Lameds’ business crashed and eventually, and Mr. and Mrs. Lamed lost their jobs. They decided to go back to Great Britain where they had a lot of cousins who could help them get new jobs, and maybe even get their business back on track.
I was desperate to help my family. When winter came, I started shoveling snow for the neighbors. I managed to earn a few pfennings for my hard work. My father went to a store that was still open and brought us food, which was mostly potatoes and bread. However, on the first day and second night of Chanukah, we had nothing to eat again. The Great Depression went on and on.
Aunt Kate gave birth to a son after nine months of pregnancy. She named him Friedrich. He was born with black hair and green eyes. I guessed that before Uncle Jacob went bald, he had black hair. Unfortunately, Friedrich died in infancy in late January of 1932, when he was just under two months. It was a terrible blow to my family, but Uncle Jacob and Aunt Kate were the ones who suffered the most. None of us know exactly why baby Friedrich died, but it’s most likely that he was too weak form the cold and the hunger. I would never have another cousin, nor would Jacob and Kate have any other children.
My father tried to cheer the congregation up in such times of despair. He believed that, as the High Rabbi, and the spiritual leader, he should try to raise the spirits of the Jewish community. He declared that these turbulent times would pass, and that this depression was only temporary. In a couple of years, prosperity might return to Germany, as it had after the Great War. However, most of the congregation wasn’t listening. They had begun to lose their trust in Papa. It was a miracle that prosperity had returned for a couple of years, and at this point some people even believed that it was only a dream.
Then, there came a worse trouble.

Chapters:   1 2 3 4 5 6 ... 8 Next »

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BookLover7519 said...
Mar. 18, 2017 at 6:04 pm
great book!

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