Steffen Standke, “Looking for the Traces of Jewish Ancestors”

Screenshot-2015-11-22-15.43.316861934_1_1KN1XD At the house of the great-grandparents: Hanna Karlsruher (center) with her children Stuart and Diane. The Jewish woman fled as a child from the Nazis to the USA. Sondheimer relatives fell victim to the Holocaust.

Main Post, 11 November 2015

The house on the corner of Nordheimer/Bad Neustädterstraße is nothing special: a dirty white facade, a red roof, a yellow post box. One doesn’t realize that it is more than 120 years old. Or that until 1934, the only Jews who lived in the village — the ancestors of Hanna Karlsruher — lived in this house. The 80-year-old woman fled as a child from the Nazis. Now, for the first time, she is seeing the house of her great-grandparents.

Fate has been kind to Hanna Karlsruher, née Plaut. Otherwise, she would probably not be here in the middle of Sondheim. In August 1941, Mrs. Karlsruher, then five years old, sat in one of the last trains to leave Berlin for Lisbon. She departed on the last ship from Portugal’s capital to New York City. Today, she lives near Boston/Massachusetts.

The extermination of six million European Jews, the Holocaust, had already begun. Some of Hanna’s relatives did not survive.

The family tree indicates that her family had deep roots in 19th century Oberwaldbehrungen. Many ancestors were born there, lived and died there.

One branch of the family moved to Sondheim, and then later to Themar in Thüringen, some 50 mm away. Elisabeth Böhrer and Canadian historian Sharon Meen discovered the connection and established that Hanna Karlsruher’s great-grandparents, Samuel and Philippine Schloß, operated a store selling textiles and Kolonialwaren/imported products in Sondheim from 1890 — in the house in front of which she now stood.

Hanna Karola Plaut — her full birth name — had no connection to the Rhön village. She was born in 1935 in Meiningen and grew up with her parents, Elli Bär and Artur Plaut, in Themar. “I cannot remember ever having been in Sondheim,” she said.

And why would she have? Her great-grandparents closed the store before her birth and moved to Themar in mid-July 1934. Hanna’s grandmother, Selma, already lived there. Selma had been born in 1888 in Oberwaldbehrungen and raised in Sondheim. In 1910, Selma married Emil Bär and moved to Themar. Bär died in 1913.

Her great-grandparents barely knew Hanna Karlsruher. Philippine Schloß died a few weeks after Hanna’s birth in 1935, and her husband Samuel died in 1939. After his death, Artur and Elli Plaut, daughter Hanna and Grandma Selma moved to Berlin. From there, the Plaut family managed to escape by the end of August 1941. Except for Selma. She received no exit permit. Any trace of her is lost in January 1942 in the ghetto of Riga.

Three siblings of Selma’s also grew up in Sondheim around the turn of the 19th/20th centuries: Rosa, Minna and Julius — Hanna’s great-uncle-and-aunts. Julius Schloß fell in World War I; his name is immortalized on a war memorial in the Sondheim cemetery. In 1939, Minna succeeded in fleeing to England with her husband. But Rosa Schloß was murdered in October 1942 in the Treblinka extermination camp.

The house in Sondheim, the family tree, the graves of the ancestors — Hanna Karlsruher finds it difficult to absorb all the new information. No wonder, childhood and escape lie three quarters of a century in the past. “I feel as an American,” she says. That she speaks an almost perfect German comes from her paternal grandmother who never learned English properly and preferred to speak German.

German — it was frowned upon in the US during wartime. Hanna Karola called herself “Carol.” So her origins in “enemy territory” remained in the dark.

Her parents barely spoke about the time in Germany and the relatives. What was done was done — and over. One was now American. Only years later, son Stuart opened a suitcase which contained, among other things, old pictures and a doll from the old country. It had been lying on top of a cupboard.

What Hanna Karlsruher knows about the expulsion and extermination of the Jews knows she owes her great aunt Minna and learned only properly after the war.

In the 1980s Karlsruher traveled with her husband for the first time back to Germany; In 1990, she visited Themar with her children Stuart and Diane. And now, the previously unknown property of the great-grandparents.