The countdown’s under an hour.
After months of planning and years of hoping, Dunreith, Aidan and I will be taking a cab to O’Hare Airport.
Our destination is Frankfurt, Germany, and, after that, Essen.
The relatively large industrial mainstay of the Ruhr Valley is significant to us for family reasons.
The Lowensteins lived in Essen and the surrounding communities for at least 150 years, according to a family tree in a bible my great-grandfather and namesake Joseph received as an anniversary from his eldest son Max.
That span ended, though, shortly after World War II began during the Nazi regime.
Dad left his hometown just before turning five years old and weeks after having had his appendix removed. The family story says that my grandfather Max took him throughout the town to which he had returned after losing his hearing and the use of his right arm in World War I.
No doctor would operate on Dad because he was a Jewish child.
Eventually, Grandpa Max found someone who consented to perform the procedure in Papa’s Joseph’s stately three-story yellow home that doubled as an office.
Dad left after the surgery and has never been back.
Thanks to the graciousness and persistence of a German teacher named Gabriele Thimm who is determined to teach her students the truth about their nation’s history and the possibility for living arises from such atrocity. we will be going as a family to the community Dad left almost exactly 73 years ago.
It promises to be an emotional time.
We’ll go to the homes in which Dad lived, have tea at Papa Joseph’s house, and see other sites of family significance.
We’ll also meet Mr. and Mrs. G., a non-Jewish family ours has known for generations. Mr. G’s father was a patient of Papa Joseph’s and a print shop owner. The two became friends, so much so that Papa Joseph entrusted the G.s with our family bible shortly before he was deported to Theresienstadt.
I met Mr. and Mrs. G. in 2004, when they shared with me a blue notebook that contained 65 years of correspondence between our families.
Letters explaining what had happened.
Receipts for care packages our family sent from America to a still devastated Germany.
Instructions from my grandfather about how to deal with reparations.
Holiday greeting cards.
The notebook unlocked a door that had previously been closed to a full understanding of my family’s history and helped me know much more viscerally from where I come.
On Monday, we’ll see the G.s again as a family.
We’ll also attend a Festival of Life ceremony at the Great Synagogue in Essen, where Gabriele’s students and local dignitaries will present information about our family and then ask us questions.
I don’t know exactly what will happen, how Dad will react, and what, if any, memories will be triggered for him.
But I do know that I am enormously grateful that we’ll have gone together as a family to where he and so many of our ancestors lived, and, in so doing, will have fulfilled a deeply held desire.
The cab comes in 30 minutes.