I Came Here to Find My Roots
by Katja Walter
Varda Albalach came with her partner Tommy Lennartsson. Varda lives in Israel. Here she spends most of the year with her two adult adopted children. Otherwise, she and her partner travel several times a year between Israel and Sweden where Tommy lives. While Varda comes from a Jewish family, Tommy is baptized. Both enjoyed a liberal-religious education and in their relationship, religion plays only a small role. When they do observe religious holidays, they usually celebrate the Jewish ones in Israel and the Christian ones in Sweden with their local families and friends..
“He always talked about Germany very, very nicely.”
Varda was born on June 11, 1947 in Palestine to Emanuel (Helmut) and Ester Rosenblum, née Hellner. Her father, born on March 3, 1912, left Germany very early, “in the year 1933, when he felt the anti-semitic winds.” Soon he decided to build a new home for himself and his parents in what is today Israel. First he travelled via Paris to Lisbon, where he stayed with an aunt. After gathering all his documents for immigrating to Palestine and settling there, Emanuel Helmut Rosenblum left Lisbon. Varda’s grandparents, Bernhard and Rosa Rosenblum, née Eschborn, followed their son two years later – as did an uncle of Varda’s. Another brother of her father went to the USA instead where he served in the army.
Varda says her father had almost only positive memories of Germany. He often spoke of his former country and “he always talked about Germany very, very nicely.” Why not? The Rosenblums were a “normal” German family, assimilated and interested in social life, in German literature and in business. Emanuel Rosenblum lived in a respectable neighborhood of Frankfurt, on Günthersburgallee, and had many non-Jewish friends. Varda still likes to think back of her father’s countless stories about his past and his friends in Germany. When Emanuel Rosenblum decided to emigrate, he did not just leave his business, but also his friends. Varda remembers how sad her father became each time he spoke about quitting his job and leaving his country. She is convinced that her family would never have left Germany, had not the Nazis risen to power. In that case, she and her brother would have been born in Germany.
When Helmut Rosenblum, later Emanuel Rosenblum, entered the world in Frankfurt on March 3, 1912, the Rosenblum family was facing a promising future in Germany. Emanuel was the youngest child of three and initially attended Musterschule in Frankfurt, a school with a liberal reputation. At this school, he met some Jewish friends, but also many non-Jewish ones. As he became older, he transferred from Musterschule to Philanthropin, a liberal Jewish school in Frankfurt.
After graduating from Philanthropin, Helmut faced a bleak future. He decided to join the fur business of his father, Bernhard Rosenblum & Co. He advised his older brother Kurt, who actually wanted to study chemistry at Johann Wolfgang Goethe University, to do the same. Their father’s prospering business was located right in Frankfurt, at Schillerstraße. At this time, some of Helmut’s Jewish friends had already joined a Zionist group. They gave him literature about the Zionist idea and its movements. Helmut began nurturing the idea of emigrating to Palestine one day. After the Nazis took power, he finally turned his back on Germany.
Varda Albalach’s father didn't buy any German products
It took Emanuel Rosenblum more than a year to settle down in Palestine. He continued to be a successful businessman and opened the first fur shop of Tel Aviv. Here he also met his Israeli wife. They had two children.
Varda Albalach emphasizes that all of her family continued to speak German even after emigrating, although her father’s family had turned their backs on Germany. This is how Varda and her brother learned to speak German. Anyhow, Germany never was a taboo topic in her family. Emanuel Rosenblum told his daughter about the past and his life in Germany every day. Young Varda only experienced one clear restriction regarding Germany: They were all forbidden to buy German electronic products. Varda recounts a specific situation from her youth: At around 16 she bought a bonnet hair dryer made by Krups. When her father saw the device, he was irritated and asked his daughter, if she did not know where it came from. Varda replied that of course she had read where the device came from. The young girl could not understand what could be objectionable about it. Then her father explained that Krups had manufactured supplies for the German army, just as many other German corporations during the Nazi era. He said no one should support such a company. Throughout his life, he continued to vehemently reject all products made by large German companies.
Visit to Frankfurt
After her father’s death in 2000, Varda Albalach decided to visit Germany for the first time. She came to Frankfurt to find her roots, supported by her aunt and her partner. She was very keen on visiting the Jewish cemetery in Frankfurt and was moved to see her great-grandparents’ grave. Ever since, Varda and her partner have been visiting Germany once a year, to learn about the country and its people.
During this visit, she again planned to take one step further and wanted to visit the former apartment of her grandparents and her father at Günthersburgallee 48.
She wanted to stand on the balcony, where her father was once photographed. She also wished to visit her father’s former school, Musterschule. The project group “Jewish Life in Frankfurt” (Jüdisches Leben in Frankfurt) organizes visits by former students or their children in their old schools. A dedicated teacher at Musterschule was grateful for Varda Albalach’s willingness to come and speak to her students.
On Friday, June 1, 2012, it happened: We were warmly welcomed by the principal of (the?) Musterschule, Mr. Langsdorf. Varda’s initial concerns about not fulfilling the students’ expectations vanished a few minutes after her arrival at the school.
After a short talk with the principal, Varda was introduced to a class of tenth-graders. She began her vivid 90-minute talk by recounting many stories about her father’s life in Germany and in Palestine and about his relationship to Germany. Afterwards, she showed family pictures to the eagerly listening class. The students were particularly interested in her father’s and her own relationship to Germany.
Varda Albalach was very touched by the students’ great interest in her family history. The meeting with the teenagers motivated her to contact kids in Israel and eventually to hold school talks there. She plans to give young people in her country a new, updated view of the Gemans' mentality and politics, as a counterweight to the widespread negative images in Israel. The German students were also lastingly impressed by the sympathetic, cosmopolitan visitor, particularly by her easy-going way of speaking about her family’s experiences. No need to be shy – the kids did not just learn the facts, numbers and statements from their history books, but received close-up information about the effects of anti-Semitism on a family’s fate.
Varda’s innermost wish: seeing her father’s former apartment
After visiting Musterschule, we continued to Günthersburgallee 48. A tenant I had contacted earlier, Ms. Kokesch, already awaited us. She lives one floor above the former apartment of the Rosenblum family. Four weeks before Varda Albalach’s visit to Frankfurt, I took all my courage and rang Ms. Kokesch’s door. Slightly distrustful, but still very friendly, she listened patiently to my issue. I told her about our group “Jüdisches Leben in Frankfurt,” about Varda Albalach and her deceased father and about our intimate wish to enter the house where Helmut Rosenblum had spent so many happy years. For understandable reasons, Ms. Kokesch first reacted with reserve and asked for time to think about my unusual request. A few days later, she called me and agreed. She was willing to open both the house and her apartment to Varda Albalach and her partner.
Both sides were very excited before the meeting, but they broke the ice quickly. Any last concerns dropped after an overjoyed Varda stood with Ms. Kokesch by her balcony window and savored her father’s childhood view of the broad boulevard. One of the few photos of young Helmut was taken on this balcony.
It was a very moving moment for Varda and Ms. Kokesch, one reason why the two women are still in contact today. This was Varda’s most emotional moment in Germany so far.
For the Israeli and her Swedish partner, this visit is probably the decisive moment for their decision to return to Germany and to Frankfurt. The many new meetings encouraged them to approach the people of Frankfurt openly and continue their search for Varda’s family roots. On the next occasion, she would like to see the house where her grandparents were raised.
Followed the Invitation to Frankfurt: 2012
Helmut Emanuel Rosenblum, born in 1912
Kürschner / Furrier
Business of Grandfather:
Fur Trade in Schillerstraße in Frankfurt
The Family Attended the Synagugue at Börneplatz
In 1933 Helmut Rosenblum emigrated to Palsstine, his Parents Followed up in 1935
Correspondence and conversations with Varda Albalach
Recording of school talk at Musterschule
Photos: Varda Albalach, Katja Walter
Text and Researches: