by Angelika Rieber
Micha Ramati visits his mother’s birthplace
The Baum family are proud of their famous ancestors, and in particular of Abraham Geiger, who was a leading representative of the Jewish reform movement in the 19th century. Gretel Merom (née Baum) and Rudolf Baum talked about their family roots when they visited Frankfurt in 1987 and 1991. The maternal ancestry can be traced back in the 16th century in Frankfurt, while the paternal line goes back to a small rural village Haselbach, now part of Weilrod, a town in the administrative region known today as 'Hochtaunuskreis'.
Gretel and Rudolf Baum grew up in Frankfurt. The family lived in Reuterweg 73, on the third floor. Their father, Norbert Nathan Baum, owned a haberdashery. He ran the store with a partner, Norbert Platt, initially in Kaiserstrasse, later in Grosse Kornmarkt. Julie Baum née Geiger, their mother, was a housewife and the children were born in Frankfurt in 1913 and 1915.
The family was not wealthy but they lead a comfortable life and could afford a housemaid and a nursemaid. Although the family were members of the liberal West End synagogue, Rudolf Baum described the family as traditionally conservative. The household did not follow kosher rules but the family did visit the synagogue on Fridays. The holiday celebrations were observed by the Baum family. They did not have a Christmas tree, says Rudolf Baum. When their father went to the synagogue he wore a top hat. Gretel remembered that he carried his prayer book wrapped in a newspaper so he would not attract attention. She protested vehemently against this attitude, as she remembered.
Julie and Norbert Baum were anxious for their children to have a good education. Gretel went to Viktoriaschule (now known as Bettinaschule) and Rudolf went to the Musterschule. This showed that the parents had made a conscious decision to have their children educated along with children of Christian belief, even if it meant that they had to go to school on Saturday. There had been a large number of Jewish children in both schools and Gretel and Rudolf both had Jewish and Christian friends. Religion was not important, but one soon found out how fellow workers behaved towards you, reported the former Frankfurt citizen.
I could not help them anymore
Rudolf Baum wanted to become a lawyer but at the time of the world economic crisis he became a businessman instead. He began his training at the shoe firm ADA ADA in Frankfurt-Höchst, were he was employed until his emigration in 1936.
They watched the rise of the National Socialists with growing concern. But at that time nobody thought that it would come as it did, even if one knew Hitler's “Mein Kampf” as Rudolf remembered. By 1936, it was clear that there was no future for him in Germany. He became aware of the increasing discrimination of the Jewish population, the signs “Jews not wanted” which finally led to his exclusion from his sports club and other restrictions in public life. He saw his friends leave the country: it was the National Socialists who made him aware that he was a Jew.
His sister Gretel's experience was different. She became a Zionist after discussions with a friend whom she met when she was fifteen, much to the dismay of her parents. Gretel Baum read literature about Zionism. She was fascinated by the life in the socialist Kibbutz movement. At first she worked in a bank but soon after the Nazis' takeover she took part in a three month course to prepare for the emigration to Palestine. It was difficult for her parents to accept their daughter's decision. In April 1934 she left Germany. In 1936, Julie Baum visited her daughter in Palestine. Not an easy meeting for both of them. Gretel tried desperately to persuade her mother to emigrate and join her in Palestine but to no avail.
At that time her parents did not want to leave Germany. It was the year of the 65th anniversary of the founding of the firm and although Norbert Baum was forced to sell his business he did not believe that at his age he could begin life all over again in another country, especially as he could not speak English. And when their parents finally did decide to escape, it was too late. “I could not help them” said Rudolf Baum, clearly very moved by the experience. The desperate letters of his parents were published by Gretel after the death of her brother in 2009. The title was 'My dear Rudolf'.
Julie and Norbert Baum were deported to Lodz/Litzmannstadt on October 19, 1941, with the first transport from Frankfurt. Norbert perished on February 22, 1942 from starvation and illness. A few months later on May 4, 1942 his wife Julie frightened of being deported to Auschwitz committed suicide by hanging herself (Bundesarchiv Onlinegedenkbuch – Federal Archive Online Memorial Book).
Gretel Baum also regrets deeply that she could not help her parents to leave Germany. 'I would be lying if I were to say that the farewell was difficult. Sixty years later I still feel a sense of shame that I left my family so light-heartedly.' (Kinder aus gutem Hause p. 37)
This is an impression that you never forget
Rudolf Baum managed to get by in the United Sates in spite of the impact of the depression. Thanks to business contacts of his old firm in the USA he was able to start work in a shoe wholesale store in New York. In 1938 he moved south to Texas.
Even though he was not an American citizen, Rudolf Baum volunteered for the US Army in 1941 and joined up when the United States entered the war. After Pearl Harbor, soldiers could be granted US citizenship even if they had been in the country for less than five years. Rudolf Baum was one of the first to be given citizenship. He was sent to Germany, where he witnessed the destruction of Frankfurt, his home town, but also saw the liberation of Buchenwald. As he saw the ruined city he had mixed feelings of both satisfaction and shock.
The liberation of Buchenwald was a confrontation with the horror of the concentration camp. “That was a sight that one can never forget, piles of corpses, the half-starved survivors, an incredible sight.'” That the citizens of Weimar knew nothing about the camp was something that he could never believe. Later Rudolf worked for the military government in Marburg, where he was responsible for the control of the press before he returned to the United States in 1946.
Neither forgive nor forget
Gretel Merom and Rudolf Baum visited Frankfurt in 1987 and 1991 invited by the City to visit their home town. Both were prepared to talk about their impressions at the farewell reception in the Frankfurt Römer. “I'm sure that we all accepted the invitation with hesitance and mixed feelings. We all know just how the past weighs heavily upon you. That's a reason why I believe that we can all learn from the past, that was so terribly difficult, and also to build a hopeful future.” These were the words of Gretel Merom at the farewell reception in 1987.
Although Rudolf Baum came back to Frankfurt several times later, the invitation from the City was a special experience. He took careful notice of the internal and external changes in the city. “But I will return home with good new impressions of the city. The names of our families are engraved on the memorial stone at the Jewish Museum as well as the names of our parents. … these bring back painful memories … It is a sign of good will that you try to build a bridge of common understanding and tolerance with your invitation. But we cannot forgive or forget”, said the former Frankfurt citizen as he described his mixed feelings. A visit to a concert in the Frankfurt Palmengarten reminded him of happy experiences. “The orchestra played well-known melodies from earlier days and the atmosphere reminded me of my childhood. Nothing seemed to have changed, it was as if time stood still. I closed my eyes and for a brief moment time stood still. I relived the past when Gretel and I, accompanied by our parents, had spent many afternoons sitting in the same spot listening to the music of the band.” (Kinder aus gutem Hause p/83)
Gretel Merom has stayed in contact with the city and especially with her former school, the Bettinaschule. She has published three books which she dedicated to the young generation in Germany to show them what human beings are capable of. (Die Pionierin am Main)
The remembrance of her parents is important for Gretel Merom and she applied for the setting of two “Stumbling Stones” (Stolpersteine) for her parents in June 2011. “I have the feeling that I have paid back just a little of my debt to my parents.” (Die Pionierin am Main) She was 98 years old at that time. One grandchild, Noam Ramati and her niece Karen Gordon took part in the ceremony for the laying of the Stumbling Stones. (www.stolpersteine-frankfurt.de)
Gretel Merom celebrated her 100th birthday a few months ago, along with family from Israel and the USA guests from Frankfurt, the German ambassador with his wife and some people from the embassy.
Putting together the pieces of the puzzle
Thanks to the extension of the visitors' program to children and grandchildren of former Frankfurt citizens Micha Ramati, Gretel Merom's son, was invited to Frankfurt in June 2012. He carried on the tradition of the family with his visit.
Micha Ramati described the places in Frankfurt that were of importance to him in an email to the Project Group. The early apartment of his mother and grandparents in Reuterweg 73, where the “Stumbling Stones” can be found, and the houses in Eysseneckstrasse 20 and Wolfsgangstrasse 132. Micha Ramati also wanted to see the house in Kaiserstrasse where his grandfather's store had stood and he also wanted to go to the cemetery in the Rat-Beil-Strasse and the memorial on Börneplatz.
He also wanted to visit the Viktoriaschule, the school that his mother had attended. This was one of his dearest wishes. With Yoram and Malka Igael he listened with attentively to the description of the memorial work at the school. Ellen Holz, who works for the Project Group “Jüdisches Leben in Frankfurt”, accompanied the visitors and wrote an article about their visit.
“After the discussion with students Yoram and Malka Igael as well as Micha and Tsila Ramati were invited to lunch in a nearby restaurant. They were accompanied by Ursula Wirwas, Barbara Stoodt from the Memorial AG, Renate Hebauf of the 'Stolperstein Initiative' and Judith Ullrich-Bormann, principal of the Bettinaschule.
The visit at the Bettinaschule was not the end of the day for Micha and Tsila Ramati. Ursula Wirwas accompanied them to a former classmate of their mother in Kronberg, where they enjoyed coffee with a woman who was also nearly 100. This visit was particularly important for them because they were able to talk to somebody who had known Micha's mother during the early and easier days as well as during the difficult times.
The recollections of the old lady helped them to piece together the puzzle of the past and answered many of the questions that they had been wondering about for so long. The visit made a lasting impression on the visitors and they have remained in close contact with her ever since.”
This was not Micha Ramati's first visit to Frankfurt. The invitation from the City of Frankfurt was significantly different to the visits before. His own search for the ancient roots of his family affected him deeply and left a lasting impression.
“It was a great experience. I have been to Frankfurt several times before but this time it was different. I was brought up with the history of my family in Frankfurt. I felt the four hundred years of my family in Frankfurt and mourned over the tragic fate of my grandparents.”
Micha Ramati, lives in Israel
Participation in the Visiting Program:
- Micha Ramati: 2012
- Grete Merom: 1987
- Rudolf Baum: 1991
Gretel Merom, née Baum, born in 1913 in Frankfurt
- attended Victoria-Schule, today Bettinaschule
- 1934 emigration to Palestine
- 2015: Gretel Merom receives the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany. Further Information see News
Rudolf Baum, born 1915, died 2009
- 1936 emigration to the USA
Home of the Family before emigration: Reuterweg 73
Address of father’s shop:
Kaiserstraße, later Am Kornmarkt: haberdadhery
Norbert Nathan Baum and Julie, née Geiger
deportation to Lodz/Litzmannstadt on Oktober 19, 1941
There are Stumbling Stones reminding of the couple
- Interview with Gretel Merom, Christa Köhring (Projekt „Jüdisches Leben in Frankfurt“), 1987
- Interview with Rudolf Baum, Markus Mezger (Projekt „Jüdisches Leben in Frankfurt“), June 1991
- Report of Ellen Holz (Projekt „Jüdisches Leben in Frankfurt“), 2012
- Speeches of Gretel Merom (1987) and Rudolf Baum (1991) in the Frankfurter Roemer, ed. by the Magistrat der Stadt Frankfurt am Main
- Deportiertendatenbank Frankfurt
- Bundesarchiv, Onlinegedenkbuch
- Jüdische Allgemeine vom 28.2.2013: Die Pionierin vom Main
- Gretel Merom: Ich erinnere – I remember. Jüdisches Leben in Frankfurt am Main und in Israel. Konstanz 2009
- Julie und Norbert Baum: Mein lieber Rudolf. My Dear Rudolf. Elternbriefe aus Frankfurt am Main an den emigrierten Sohn in den USA, Konstanz 2011
- Gretel Baum-Merom und Rudy Baum: Kinder aus gutem Hause. Von Frankfurt nach Israel und Amerika, Konstanz 2012
- Gretel Merom und Micha Ramati
- Ellen Holz
- Renate Hebauf