The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

The Dentist of Auschwitz

Chapter 20
Postwar Germany

Leaving with Hermann helped me to ease the pain of the last five years, and to begin to adapt a new reality. When we left Lüdenscheid most roads were still impassible, especially in the larger cities in Germany. Hermann stopped in Giessen to see some of his prewar colleagues of the SPD, the Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschland, in which he had once been active. In some cities the Americans wanted us to speak to the German functionaries about our ordeal. As if in a conspiracy of silence, they claimed to a man not to have known about any concentration camp or death camp. Hermann and I talked a lot about that. I got to know Germany's peculiarities and its diversities. He knew the country well--and knew when not to believe the Germans.

When we came to his family in Ahlberg, I witnessed true happiness. His wife sobbed with joy when she saw him. The children would not let go of him the whole day. Soon his German SPD friends came, glad that he had survived. They were to rebuild the Gewerkschaften, the labor unions, which were outlawed by the Third Reich. I went with Hermann to a few of their meetings. I soon felt that it was time for me to leave. But where would I go? America always was the country of my dreams. I still wanted to reach France, from which I thought to have a better chance of getting to the United States.

Hermann and I had only the one car, but we solved that problem. The American army Major, in charge of Núremberg called the depot where confiscated automobiles were housed and ordered the men there to give us any car we chose. I saw a 1936 Adler cabriolet. Hermann Josef agreed to keep the Fiat, and I took the Adler. An automobile registration was still unavailable, so I tied the sign to identify me as a former KZ-nick to the front grill of the Adler. The next day I began my journey to France. It was the middle of June and very warm. Mrs. Josef packed some food, and I took a few German marks with me. The real currency in Germany then, however, was nylon stockings, chocolate, and American cigarettes. The road south wound through the rolling hills of Bavaria. Driving with the top of the Adler down, I could smell the pristine country air. Along the road, set wide apart, were spacious homes, draped with wide verandas. None bore any scars of war.

Then I saw two boys on the road waving their arms. Their colorful clothes reminded me of circus clowns. Coming closer, I saw Stars of David on their shirts. I stopped and asked them who they were. At first I frightened them. They didn't know if I was a friend or a foe. But when I told them who I was, they relaxed. Akiva was from Budapest, and his companion, Yaakow, who had a slightly swollen cheek, was from Iai, Romania. They were both sixteen and had recently been freed from Dachau. I asked them if they had relatives. To this they twirled their index fingers unemotionally up to the sky, showing that their families had been killed at the chimneys. They feared being sent back to their countries and were not sure where else to go. They had strayed around for a month, living on what the GIs gave them and sleeping in the forests. I asked them if they would want to come with me to France, and they readily agreed.

For the next few days we lived like vagabonds, roving, rambling, not knowing where our next meal would come from. We stopped at ponds and streams and washed up amid the blossoming lily pads that covered them. On hot days we swam in the clear waters. We halted at American army depots, where we watched, fascinated, as soldiers tossed a little white ball with stitched seams while others caught it in strange-looking, big brown gloves. On some evenings we sat among them and listened to their portable radios playing the Big Band sound. All this was new to us. On cool nights we would stop at a church, a rectory, or a monastery, where we were allowed to sleep. After several days we arrived at the northern tip of Lake Constance, or the Bodensee, as the locals call it. To the south, amid green, gently rolling hills and breathtaking snowcapped mountains, were colorful chalets. In time Akiva and Yaakow felt as if I were their older brother, and to me they were "my boys."

Yaakow's cheek kept on swelling. He needed help. I only had a few marks, not enough to pay for a dentist's service. At the edge of the Black Forest we came to a town called Tuttlingen. We stopped at the first dentist's office. When the dentist learned who we were, he did the procedure free, extracting Yaakow's bicuspid. He used a brand of equipment called Simmons, which reminded me of the equipment of Fürstengrube.

The next day we were on a road in the Alps, leading to the Alsace-Lorraine region of France. It wound around the mountains like a roller coaster. Suddenly we saw two men in French army uniforms with bundles on their backs. I asked them where they were going, and they said they had been prisoners of war in Germany and were now returning home. I offered to take them with us, and they readily accepted. They were pleased not to have to struggle up the road, and we hoped that having them with us would be of benefit at the border. In the next two days we shared food, and we became good friends. I also managed to improve my French.

At the border, French soldiers stopped us, and we were escorted to their headquarters, in a magnificent mansion. We followed them into the driveway, and the five of us were led to an office. We passed a hallway lined with light-colored mosaic marble. On the floor lay Oriental rugs. A circular staircase led to large mahogany doors. There some army officers, including women, gathered around us, curious to know who we were. Our two French companions acted as if they were at home.

We were celebrities and were invited to dine with them and, of course, to stay the night. At dinnertime we were led into a large Louis XV-style dining room, where twenty chairs sat around a heavy mahogany table covered with a snow-white damask tablecloth. A large crystal chandelier hung over the table from a nine-meter-high ceiling. Fine china and crystal dazzled our eyes, and carafes of red wine stood spaced in the middle of the table. Soon the room filled with decorated French officers. Then a statuesque-looking gentleman entered. He was the commanding officer of the army division stationed in Alsace-Lorraine, a lieutenant general.

As he sat down at the head of the table, everyone else also assumed places. Our two new friends translated his questions and comments into German for us. Now and then someone raised a toast, and though we didn't comprehend why, we lifted our glasses and drank the wine with everyone else. I felt nothing strange until it was too late. Even before the first dish was served, Yaakow and Akiva's heads slumped on the table. I tried to force myself to keep my eyes open, but everything around me began spinning as if I were sitting on a fast carousel. I passed out. When I awoke it was morning. I lay in a large building on straw, covered with army blankets. Next to me were my boys. We shared the quarters with several sleeping French soldiers.

I walked out of the building and stopped a passing soldier, asking him where our interpreter friends, the two Frenchmen, were. He didn't seem to know. I looked everywhere but could not find them. It seemed as if the two former prisoners of war had disappeared. Then I asked where my car was, but no one seemed to know that either. Finally I went to the office. One soldier made a few telephone calls, and what he told me sounded incredible. "The two ex-prisoners collaborated with the Germans during their internment," he said. "They are under arrest." We were not allowed even to say adieu.

It took over an hour for us to find our car, which now had a nearly empty tank. "You have to return to the American Zone and apply for a visa there before you can go to France," a soldier said. I appealed to him, begging him to let us at least go to Strasbourg and apply there. "There aren't any French consulates in Germany," I said. This we could not do either, he said. He made it unequivocally clear that we had to go back, and so we did.

I had to change my plans. I drove back on the same road that we had arrived on. Once more we were in the majestic Alps. I began to worry about the boys' future. They needed a home and an education, neither of which I could offer them. When I first talked to them about it, they didn't want to listen, for they preferred the gypsy life. Traveling with me was all they wanted. In Munich I heard about a Jewish American organization called HIAS, for Hebrew Immigration Aid Society, whose offices were in Frankfurt-am-Main. On the road to Frankfurt, when we stopped, I tried to reason with them. They left me and walked off into the forest. When I found them, Yaakow confessed that they were praying that I would change my mind.

In Frankfurt the survivors had a new name, DPs (displaced persons), and were housed in the Olympia Hotel in a part of town close to the main railroad station. Allied bombs had severely damaged the Olympia, and only the two lower levels could be used. The staircase was rubble. We found room in a corner on the second floor and settled there. The next day, Isidor Cohen, a New York rabbi and U.S. Army chaplain came to the hotel.

Rabbi Cohen was stout with gray hair. He was a warm and compassionate man. He saw the boys, and he asked me to bring them to him at the airport. When we came to his office the next day, another captain, also a chaplain, was with him. They spoke a strange-sounding American Yiddish, sprinkled with English words that I did not understand. We were joined by a middle-aged woman wearing a green army uniform with a patch on one sleeve that said "UNRRA." The three discussed the fate of the boys. Then the woman turned to me and said firmly, "Leave the boys. They will go to the States as soon as we can arrange visas for them."

Though I realized that this course of action was in the boys' best interests, it was difficult for me to think of losing them. I had gotten so used to them that we had grown into a family. Akiva and Yaakow looked at me as if to accuse me of abandoning them. The rabbi read how the boys' feelings translated in my mind. "You don't have to worry. They will be well cared for here," he said. I asked the rabbi if I could also come. He said no. At my age I had to be sponsored and was advised to register with UNRRA, the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration. Knowing that I had a car, in fact the only one at the Olympia Hotel, the rabbi proposed that I come to the army kitchen every day to pick up food for the DPs in the hotel. My Adler convertible soon carried a barrel of food to the hotel every day, and I could visit with my two boys. One day, however, I was told that they had been sent to America. That was the last I saw of Akiva and Yaakow.

More DPs arrived at the hotel, and it was soon nicknamed the Refugee Hotel. The Olympia was in fact the central meeting place for refugees arriving in Frankfurt. Many names were scribbled on the walls as people sought friends and relatives. Some succeeded in finding one another. Slowly people from partisan groups began to emerge from their hiding places. The girls began to dress in neater clothes, and the boys began to woo them. Some even learned how to smile, to frolic, and to be light again, and soon some married. Committees formed, and leaders emerged. More survivors began to arrive from the east, and the Olympia was bulging with people. We cleared the rubble from two additional floors, cleaned the rooms, and still did not have enough room. People were sleeping in the corridors and stairways. And yet more were comming.

On one day Rabbi Cohen, accompanied by a high-ranking American army officer, announced that we had to vacate the Olympia. The hotel would be renovated for American army personnel, and we would be moved forty kilometers from Frankfurt, to Salzheim. We had not heard of Salzheim before. When a few of us went there to see it, we found a camp with identical little huts neatly set in lines, which reminded me of concentration camp barracks. When we returned to the Olympia, I picked up my few things and left.

It was a nice summer afternoon. I was driving along the Mainzerlandstraße, having made no decision what to do, when two girls stopped me and asked if I would take them to their hotel. I agreed. They were both Russian, about my age, and very pretty. Since they had been working in German households, they spoke German well. When they heard that I had no place to stay, they offered me a sofa in their hotel room. I accepted an overnight invitation, but my stay turned into more than just a brief visit with them. I buried my loneliness in romance. One day two Soviet secret policemen came to force them to return home to Russia. That was the beginning of a general repatriation of all Russians from Germany. I decided then to go back to Lüdenscheid.

Srulek Lipschitz, helped by an electrical appliance manufacturer, had opened an electrical retail store. My brother also had a business selling beauty aids, perfumes, and cosmetics. The Westphalia Dental Association and the German Medical Association granted me temporary permission to practice dentistry in Germany, and I began to practice in Menden, Westphalia, in a Polish DP camp. When the camp closed, I founded the Westfälische Zahnwaren Grosshandlung, a dental supply house that thrived even after I left Germany.

Finding Zosia was my constant thought. Short of going back to Poznan, I did everything to find her, but it was all in vain. Her last known whereabouts, I learned, was somewhere in Germany, where she worked as a forced laborer, a Zwangsarbeiter. She had not return to Poznan.

One day I heard the name Harry Spitz mentioned on Nordwestdeutscher Rundfunk, the first German radio station broadcasting in Hamburg after the war. When I called him, he invited me to come to see him in Hamburg. The station offices, on the Oberstraße, were in good condition for that street. On the building's facade was a menorah. Inside, a Star of David over the staircase. Unusual, I thought, for a German radio station.

I gave the receptionist my name and told her whom I had come to see. "Do you have an appointment with the music director?" she asked. I said no but requested that she give Herr Spitz my name. "Herr Spitz, a man by the name of Bronek Jakubowicz is here to see you."

Harry came dashing down the stairs and fell into my arms. Over and over again he kept repeating, "This young man saved my life in Auschwitz." Then he took me through the building. It had been built at the beginning of the eighteenth century and indeed had been a synagogue. It had several large studios, one the size of an amphitheater. It survived all the Allies' heavy bombing. We spent twenty-four hours together reminiscing.

Germany was a puzzle. In a sense the Germans were less anti-Semitic than the rest of the Europeans. Where did Hitler find the criminals to perpetrate those insane crimes on the Jews?

For the Germans life was slowly returning to normal. But we were too traumatized to live peacefully among them. In Germany we had to walk the same streets, eat the same food, and breathe the same air as they did. The sinners were suddenly saints, the guilty just bystanders. For reasons not hard to understand, even the best-known Nazis denied their complicity in the Holocaust. We had to be careful what we said and whom to trust. This posed an unexplainable question. Yet we had to maintain civility and often had to bite our tongues to avoid saying how we really felt. For me the four years I lived in Germany after the war offered many lessons, about both the good and the bad in humankind. In those four years I was in and out of German hospitals seeking help for the ulcer pains that still plagued me.

The news from Poland was even grimmer. There anti-Semitism was still rampant. The spirit of Hitler's teaching was alive and well. That he choose Poland as our grave was not a coincidence. The Polish Jews were the Nazis' chief target. Many Jews who dared to return to their possessions were killed by those who seized their property when the Germans left. Though my brother and I were also heirs to property in Poland, we wanted none of it.

Josek, Srulek, and I were the only Jews in Lüdenscheid. Though my spirituality was still undefined, having been adrift during so many years of squalid life, in darkness and away from my heritage, giving up God was still against my conscience. The spiritual vacuum in which we had been living during the past years had produced a certain void within me. I needed to confirm my faith. So when we heard that a Rosh Hashanah service would be conducted at a Jewish person's home in the nearby city of Hagen--nearly all the synagogues in Germany had been destroyed--my urge to make peace with my heritage became irresistible. I knew that the time had come for me to face God and offer my apology. When we got to the house, about thirty people were praying. When the prayers Oshamnah and Agadnah--I have sinned before thee, I transgressed against thee--were recited, all began to chant, rhythmically pounding on their chests. I too prayed, begging the Almighty for forgiveness. There and then I finally made peace with God.

When the service ended, the man who had led us through the prayers, Morris Teichmann, a handsome, well-respected, middle-aged businessman, came to shake each person's hand and wish everyone a Lashonah Tovah, a good year. Then Mr. Teichmann invited us for kiddush at his home, where we met his family. Fortunately, they had all survived the war, but their memories were no less painful than mine.

Mr. Teichmann immigrated to Germany from Poland in 1923 and settled in Westphalia. There he married a Christian woman, Herta Steinfort. She converted to Judaism. In 1938 he was arrested and sent to Poland in a mass deportation of Polish Jews. Herta was allowed a choice: to remain in Germany with their three children--Else, thirteen; Clara, ten; and Gerhard, eight. She, and the children went with him. When the Germans occupied Poland, Mr. Teichmann was imprisoned in a labor camp. Herta was threatened with arrest and being sent to a camp unless she divorced her husband. She resisted at first but eventually had to give in to the pressure, as it was the only way she could save their children. The children's papers stated, "Jewish father and German mother."

Else blotted out the words "Jewish father" on her papers. To avoid being unmasked, she lived a nomadic life, moving from job to job. She maintained that disguise, and the war's end found her in Prague. The Soviets, who had seized the city, did not believe her true identity, and they jailed her. Her family almost gave up finding her. But, one day she managed to return with him to Germany. Else became my fiance and Mr. and Mrs. Teichmann became my second parents.

The one object of our lives then was to try to go to the United States. But the restrictive McCarron Act prevented us. Then in 1948 the more just Refugee Act replaced it. Else and I wanted to marry, but because we had separate applications pending, we would have had to have forfeited our turns and reapplied. In 1949 my brother and I came to Boston, to our sponsor, our great-uncle Mordechai Baily. On the first day in America, our names change from Jakubowicz to Jacobs. My brothers name became Joseph Jacobs, and my Benjamin Jacobs. A few weeks later Srulek went to his sponsor in Oregon.

I recall August 22, 1949. The tugboats were slowly pushing our troop carrier, the USS Fletcher, through a shroud of heavy fog into New York Harbor. Suddenly the hand and the torch of the Statue of Liberty emerged. The emotion of stepping onto America's soil after years of such struggle cannot be adequately described. It seemed as though we were leapfrogging into another age. We were grateful to the American people who opened their hearts and minds to us.

Six months later I returned to Europe, and Else and I married. The town elders honored us by arranging for our wedding on a Sunday. Afterward, we both returned to Boston to face a new life together.

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