Michael and Henry Israel
The parents never wanted to return to Germany
by Renate Rauch
As a child she saw the Synagogue burning
Miriam Sklar, née Israel, was the only one of the three siblings present who was born in Frankfurt in 1935, and today, June1, 2012, she is sitting with her brothers Henry and Michael Israel as time witnesses in front of a history class in Gagern-Gymnasium. The siblings alternately speak about their lives and answer questions of the pupils as well as asking questions to them.
The parents emigrated to England in December 1938 with their two daughters Ruth (1933) and Miriam (1935). Henry was born (1939) and Michael (1950).
From correspondence with Michael and Henry and from papers that they brought with them, we found out that there are two other children as well, Eli (1947) and Judy (1949). Miriam and Michael still live in London and Henry, today, lives in Israel, Eli lives in the USA and Judy in South Africa.
Their parents, Frieda Israel née Rokowsky and Walter Israel were both born in Frankfurt am Main. Before emigrating the family lived in an apartment above their shop, in the street Am Schwimmbad 9 in the Ostend. The house doesn’t exist anymore nor does the street by that name, it is called Allerheiligenstrasse now, which runs down to Battonstrasse and the old Jewish Cemetery.
The Rokowsky grandparents had a kosher bakery at that address at which Walter and Frieda Israel also worked. Both parents attended the Samson-Raphael-Hirsch-Schule near the zoo. Next to it stood the Kaiser-Friedrich-Gymnasium (est. 1888) which today is named Heinrich-von-Gagern-Gymnasium. The new buildings of the Gymnasium stand on the site of the former Hirsch-Realschule.
The father’s family attended the Börneplatz Synagogue and the mother’s family attended the Synagogue in Frieberger Anlage.
Miriam has hardly any childhood memories of Frankfurt because she emigrated with her parents and maternal grandparents to London when she was three and a half years old. But she knows a lot through stories from her parents and grandparents. So, for example, she remembers that their long serving and much loved home help who was friendly with a Nazi was made to resign because it was no longer allowed to work for Jews. Miriam has never forgotten how, during the November 1938 pogroms, her father took her on his arm and stood on the balcony and they watched the burning of the nearby Börneplatz Synagogue. This picture has remained with her forever.
She poses the question “How could something like this happen, where both grandfathers had fought for the German Fatherland in the First World War?” She passed photographs around the class of her grandfather in World War I uniforms and explained that frequently Jewish soldiers were selected to fight in the front lines. However, with her Rokowsky grandfather they made an exception because he was a baker by trade and was needed at the rear echelons. That’s why he survived but his brother-in-law, Uncle Salomon, fell.
After “Kristallnacht” it became possible for her parents, sister Ruth and Rokowsky grandparents to emigrate to London because they had a ‘sponsor’ there who had to declare to support them. Without this you could not leave. But many members of the Israel family were deported and murdered, such as their father’s brother and sister.
Their parents Salomon (Sali) and Bertha Israel and half sister Irmgard were deported to Theresienstadt on September 15, 1942. Sali died there April 23, 1943. Bertha and Irmgard were transported from there to Auschwitz where Bertha Israel was murdered and Irmgard was then transported to Stutthof where she was murdered too. (Bundesarchiv Gedenkbuch)
Also, more of Sali Israel’s siblings became victims of the Holocaust. His brother Max and sister Anna were deported from Frankfurt and murdered in Kovno on November 25, 1941 but Anna’s final resting place is unknown. (Bundesarchiv Gedenkbuch)
Sali’s brother Sander/Siegfried, was deported to Buchenwald in 1938 and died there in December 1938. His wife Helen was deported in 1942 from Frankfurt to Theresienstadt and then to Treblinka where she was murdered. (Gedenkbuch Bundesarchiv).
Other siblings were deported with their families from Kassel and Darmstadt.
The early years were very difficult in their new home in England. The Israels had paid the shippers to transport a “lift” with their belongings to London but this never arrived. In many ways they had to start life all over again. Their mother and grandmother developed a Home Bakery to provide the family with income.
Their parents learned English in order to integrate into their new surroundings but still spoke German to the children in the early years after their immigration, though Miriam would only answer in English, consequently. As a child and young girl she always helped at home, then as a teenager she learned dressmaking, then married and had a family and then worked as a secretary.
2012: The Israel siblings speak with the young people in Gagern Gymnasium
The Israel parents never again wanted to visit Frankfurt, even not if they would have been invited by the City. Even Miriam didn’t want to come originally. However, now, together with her brothers, she decided to visit the city of her birth and the town of her forefathers.
For Miriam, Henry and Michael this is their first joint visit to their Ancestral Home. They began a discussion with the pupils and explained that their parents had attended the Samson-Raphael-Hirsch-Schule, so the Group Project “Jewish Life In Frankfurt” arranged for them to speak to students at Gagern-Gymnasium. The school carries many memories of the earlier Jewish Hirsch-Realschule as its ground is today part of the Gymnasium.
Asked about their feelings visiting Frankfurt, Henry said that he wasn’t stirred emotionally, it wasn’t a ‘guilt-trip’ and they were warmly welcomed everywhere. Miriam said that she found the Jewish cemetery in Vienna, which she had visited 14 years ago, more impressive but she experienced more anti-Semitism there; people would go out of their way when they found out they were Jewish. England also has anti-Semitism, mainly from the Moslems and intellectuals. Michael, in this conference, pleaded for tolerance.
In the audience at this talk, there was a mother of one of the pupils. She asked if the siblings were religious because one of the brothers wore a ‘kippa’. He replied that in wearing his kippa, he was demonstrating his religious commitment. Before the Holocaust no Jewish man wore a kippa publicly, only at home and in the synagogue, so as not to stand out. Today there is no more fear to wear the kippa.
The siblings also wanted to know something about the students. Michael Israel asked if any of them had spoken to their parents or grandparents about the Second World War. The pupils were silent, perhaps not daring to answer the question. The Israels also wanted to know what the students thought of the Neo Nazi groups to which the pupils replied that they were active in Eastern Germany. They also wanted to know if the class had visited one of the concentration camps and were told by their history teacher, Hannelore Ochs, that a trip to Buchenwald was planned in the coming school year. The students always find the discrepancy between the Concentration Camp’s Memorial and the Weimar State very hard to understand.
Another teacher asked the siblings Israel/Sklar of their opinion on the solution of the Israel -Palestine conflict. Henry Israel said “There is no solution in the near future. The schoolbooks in Palestine picture Israelis as enemies and perpetuate hate. Negative propaganda is the problem. It will take at least two generations to overcome that attitude.” And he added: “Israel is a normal country.“
The welcome by the school and the talk with the students made a great impression on the Israel siblings.
“We were most impressed with the students’ quality, their understanding of the subject, their English (!) and their openness and friendliness. The headboy and headgirl were amazing and a great advertisement for the school. Their teacher and their headteacher too, are wonderful and impressive leaders. If I could turn the clock back and go to school again, she would be the teacher I would like to be taught by! I forgot to add thanks to the Headmaster and others for the lovely reception they gave us after the visit and for being so thoughtful to provide us with all kosher products. This was really much appreciated by us all.”
Searching for the Family’s Roots
The Israels were very proud of their long family line in Germany. Firstly, Henry has for many years been busy researching his family roots. With much help from Hans-Peter Klein, a researcher of Jewish History of Northern Hesse he was able to compile a family-tree resulting from this work. Here are some excerpts:
“The family originator was Salomon Heinemann who lived 1710 to 1780 in Zierenberg near Kassel. The second generation called themselves the Zierenberger Heinemanns Israel. From the fourth generation, in the mid 1800s, many descendants moved to the larger cities of Kassel or Frankfurt or Goettingen, Hildesheim, or Darmstadt. The first Israel born in Frankfurt was Arthur Israel on April 14, 1903, the first son of Salomon/Sali Israel and Rosa Israel. There then followed the siblings Walter, 1905, the father of Miriam, Henry and Michael Israel, Toni, 1907, and Harry, 1922. After the death of Rosa Israel following the birth of Harry, Salomon/Sali Israel married a second time, Bertha Goldschmidt from Felsberg. Together they had two further children, Selma Ilse, 1925, and Irmgard, 1928.”
By their visit to Frankfurt the siblings were able to pursuit their roots search and obtained new information and details, such as, that the fate of their Uncle Harry was unknown though there was a plaque noting his name on the memorial wall on the outside of the Boerneplatz Cemetery.
Whilst Miriam was very unsure at the outset whether to accept the invitation by the City of Frankfurt, all three siblings were happy that together they could research their family roots in Frankfurt and Northern Hesse and that they had the opportunity to speak to the students in Frankfurt.
“This was a remarkable trip and also brought us into contact with other lovely ex-Frankfurters. Thank you for the opportunity.”
Miriam Sklar, née Israel; born in Frankfurt in 1935; Miriam lives in England and in Israel.
Participation in the Visiting Program: 2012
Henry Israel, born in London in 1939; lives in Israel.
Michael Israel, born in London in 1950; lives in England.
After the pogrom 1938, Miriam, together with her parents Walter and Frieda Israel and her sister Ruth, born in 1933, emigrated to London
Walter, born in 1905, and Frieda Israel, née Rokowsky, born in 1907
Berta and Salomon Rokowsky had an apartment and a kosher bakery in their house in the Ostend, Am Schwimmbad 9.
Talk given at Gagern-Gymnasium, June 1, 2012
Bundesarchiv Onlinegedenkbuch und Frankfurter Deportiertendatenbank
Correspondence with Miriam, Henry and Michael Israel
Report of the historic visit to the im Heinrich-von-Gagern-Gymnasium on the Homepage of the School
Photos: Family Israel
Photos: Angelika Rieber