Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Marktplatz 110/111

On our fourth day in Germany, we arrived at Bad Konigshofen, where Audrey’s ancestors lived until 1939. It’s a quaint town nestled in an agricultural region in southern Germany. Audrey’s grandparents had owned a grain business there, storing and selling corn and other crops raised by local farmers. They must have been successful because they were able to afford one of the choicest apartments in the town, one that looked over Bad Konigshofen’s market square. We had arrived with a plan to walk through the town and to see the buildings from our own outside perspective. What we experienced instead was seeing Bad Konigshofen through Audrey’s mother’s eyes—an inside perspective. It turned out to be an emotional view.  

Brett, Audrey, and Amanda with Café Heinz in the background.
The four windows with open curtains on the left look into
Audrey's mother's childhood apartment.
First, a little background. We had two very special guides as we walked through Bad Konigshofen—Elisabeth Bohrer and Rainer Seelmann. Both possess special knowledge about the Jews of the region, though neither is Jewish nor lived through the Nazi era. But each has a special interest in how Jews lived in this part of Germany before and during the Nazi period, and Elisabeth has a detailed knowledge of Audrey’s family tree that she has generously shared with several of Audrey’s family members for more than 20 years. She literally knows where to find the buried bones of the Malzer and Walter clans and how to track their history through several towns in southern Germany to New York, California, Brazil, and other places. The insights our two guides provided and the stories they shared with us were beyond value. Their kindness and caring touched all of us.

Rainer (with backpack) and Elisabeth (mostly blocked from view)
describe Bad Konigshofen's history to us.
Elisabeth walks us through Sulzdorf while explaining
the family's earliest roots there in the early 1800s.
Audrey, Amanda, and I arrived together in Bad Konigshofen after our Autobahn adventure, and Brett joined us there after an adventure of his own. Never one to follow the easy path, Brett used a plane, train, and a bus on a 14-hour journey to meet us. He was bleary-eyed and exhausted but more than ready to delve into family history. We figured we would just walk around a little on our own and then meet Elisabeth for a detailed tour the next morning, but she would have none of that. She and her friend Karl met us at our hotel and began our history lessons right away. She had pages filled with names and dates that tracked the family’s movements, starting in nearby tiny Sulzdorf around 1812 and arriving in Bad Konigshofen in the 1880s. The last names on the chart included Audrey’s grandparents, Max and Bianca (Walter) Malzer, her uncle Hans (Harold), and her mother Frenzi (Frances). Frenzi was born in Bad Konigshofen on January 14, 1915 and lived at the house at Marktplatz 110/111 until she left for London on March 2, 1937. She left to escape the Nazis, who were expanding their hold on lower Franconia and making life increasingly dangerous for the Jews in the region.

I will write more about the history of Bad Konigshofen’s Jewish community and its sad conclusion in my next blogpost, but this one is dedicated to our visit to Marktplatz 110/111.

Elisabeth had made a connection to the owner of that building, which still housed a konditorei (pastry and sweet shop) on the ground floor that had been there since the 1890s and apartments above. He agreed to show us through the building the next day. As it turned out, the owner was a descendant of the same family that had rented the spacious second-floor apartment to Audrey’s grandparents more than 100 years before. (Amanda had met two of the man’s elderly aunts when she visited Bad Konigshofen 12 years earlier, and they remembered her grandmother and great-grandparents. The aunts were no longer around, but the man was happy to show us pictures and tell us about the apartment.)

We were all quiet and thoughtful as we walked through the halls, sat in the living room/parlor, and looked out the windows over the market square, taking in nearly the same view that Audrey’s mother had enjoyed and then feared 70 and 80 years ago. The experience slowly overwhelmed Audrey, and for the second time on our trip she held back tears. What was she thinking? Was she seeing places and events through her mother’s eyes?

Two views from Audrey's mother's perspective

The man shared one piece of shocking history about the apartment. Audrey’s grandparents had been forced to sell their business in 1938 at the demand of the Nazi government and to move in with their sister-in-law into a smaller apartment across the plaza. But the larger apartment was quickly occupied by the Nazi commandant of the town, who loved the view it provided of the market square and especially appreciated its small balcony that looked onto the square in those days. The Nazi leader would walk onto the balcony several times a day and expect everyone passing by to salute him and shout, “Heil Hitler!” The scene is not hard to imagine, but it is a little difficult to take in.

We spent more than an hour at the apartment and then walked with Elisabeth and Rainer through other parts of the town, seeing the place where Audrey’s grandparents’ business (a grain warehouse) had been located, the kindergarten her mother had attended, and the building that had once housed the town’s synagogue. A larger, newer synagogue had been built a few blocks away in the early 1900s and then destroyed from the inside on Kristallnacht, November 9-10, 1938. All that remains of that building is a plaque and some old photos.
We took lots of new photos ourselves of the town that had barely changed in hundreds of years, except that it no longer housed any Jews, just memories of their existence.  

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