We start at the north-east corner or the wall and move west to Schlossturm, then southwest to Hexenturm and back along Mangergasse towards Market Square.
This is a photo of an old picture postcard. When I was a little boy, about 4 or 5 years old, a little friend and I would go in the evening with a key, we climbed on each other’s shoulders, opened a little gate on the other side, just like the little recess at wall level, and turned on the city lights. The little boy’s father, whose name I have forgotten, was in charge of turning on the lights. But he was usually into his cups by evening, so we did it. It was only a two-block walk. Then we got chocolate, poured over a cup filled with bread sticks and sprinkled with sugar. That was supper. I remember in later years, when, instead of chocolate, it was only hot water and sugar or home made coffee ersatz, made by my grandmother and me, from roasted barley and chicory.
Again a photo of an old picture postcard. It seems to be a very old picture, before WWI, going by the clothing of the people on the wall. I do not recall the fence. In this area was a lot of damage in WW II, the Thüringer Hof was destroyed. I don’t recall the beamed top section of the tower either.
I spent quite a bit of time in this place. For a while we lived in a house only two houses up the street to the east [site #2 on map]. There was a beer garden and another garden with a house in the back in between them. The second floor of the “Thüringer Hof” had a large auditorium and stage. Here was the first cinema (“Kino”) in Themar, ca.1923. On the left side of the building was a recess, where a wooden staircase with a shack at the top was constructed. A hole was poked through the wall and a hand cranked projector was used to show silent movies. My father did the cranking and also the splicing, when the film broke. As a two year old I used to toddle down the block on Saturday or Sunday afternoons to go to the movies, of course for free. Later a new cinema was built not far away [site #101]. In this local was the headquarters of the Social-Democratic Party and the Socialist Sports Club, “Freie Turner.” I belonged to it for a while before the Nazi time. I often went with my father on Sunday mornings, to the Bierstube, where he played cards (Skat) and had some beer. I used to snitch his beer, but somehow never got drunk. He always wondered why he drank his beer so fast. He never caught me.
The son in law of the owner was our gym teacher and for many years a good friend of my father’s. During the Nazi time he changed completely. Once during an assembly in the schoolyard, during a Nazi flag ceremony, he gave the command, “People of Israel to the rear of the formation.” My brother and I looked at each other, broke decorum and marched diagonally through the ceremony. This was quite a brave thing to do, at the time. Maybe it was a good thing that vacation started after that, otherwise who knows. They had a KZ for children.
In the house behind the fence lived another teacher [site #45]. His name was Ziegert and he was a real Nazi bastard. His daughter was our class beauty. He was our music teacher and played the violin. When someone dozed off, in his rather boring class, he would sneak up on them and rap them on the head with his violin bow and I mean hard. He never did it to me. With me he had other insidious ways of torture like asking me for instance: “Why did the Jews kill Jesus?” I was the only Jew in class.
[Editor’s Note: “Hirtengrund” or “Shepherd’s Path” was the earlier name for the Mangergasse that led from the Rathaus to the Hexenturm.]
The little building on the wall was the Folterkammer/Mediaeval Torture Chamber [site #67]. I saw the torture instruments from here in a museum in Meiningen. Nice gadgets. This is Mauergasse and at the end was the ‘Mauerloch’ or ‘hole through the wall’. In the fancy house on the right [site #68] lived Fredy Fisher, a school chum of mine. He was cross-eyed and had corrective surgery as a little boy. His father was a furniture maker and belonged to the same cavalry unit as my father in WW I, except he was in Regiment #2 and my father was in Regiment #3.
As a boy, I used to herd goats, geese, and sometimes a cow through the “Mauerloch” or “hole in the wall” [see Photo 67 below] to the meadows beyond the wall and grazed them and watched them for our neighbors.
Please note that the slate covering of the fancy house in 1983 still has a little design in it. The Folterkammer/Torture Chamber is gone, the building you see behind the wall is Fisher’s new factory. I saw it being built. Fredy died in WW II.
[Editor’s Notes: The Hexenturm was one of the first buildings to be restored to its full beauty after the reunification of West and East Germany. The Folterkammer was recreated and today the tower and torture chamber, and even the lane, look much as they did at the beginning of the last century.]
These were my stomping grounds and all around the area we played our games. There was a game played with heavy wooden sticks. One end was sharply pointed, the other end was whittled into a handle, they were 18 inches to 24 inches long and 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 inches thick. The objective was to drive your stick by throwing it point first with all your might into the soft meadow and your opponents had to dislodge it with their sticks or you had to try to dislodge theirs. The game was called “Kamerun,” maybe after the former German colony of Cameroon in West Africa. Anyway wherever we played the game, no grass would grow for awhile. We also played marbles. Once I won all the marbles up and down the streets. That was when I still had all of them. Once we built a boat out of scrap lumber and used tar to make it tight. We schlepped it through the Mauerloch and launched it in the river. We made it across, but then it sank and we had to bail it out to make it back and it sank again. We gave up.
The other side of the wall and Hexenturn. The river is only a few yards to the right and the wall makes a right angle and continues along the river bank upstream.
The little gardens were at one time a strip of meadow, which was kept closely trimmed, and people would spread their laundry to dry and sunbleach it. In the process, it had to be sprinkled with a watering can a few times. I did this quite often. I also had to keep geese and dogs from running over it. The sprinkling water was dipped out of the river. There were trees and willow bushes along the river and we played along there. One of the fellows by the name of Erich Ehrenberger pushed my brother into the river here in a very sneaky way. His hands got caught in some roots and he could not get free and almost drowned. A boy named Emil saw his feet sticking out, sensed something was wrong, and pulled him out. My brother could swim at that time, but could not free himself. When I brought my dripping wet and crying brother home, my mother gave me the thrashing of my life. I still wonder why?
We lived in the house on the right with the gable [site #3 on map]. It belonged to a rope maker named Papst. In the back was a barn and a little shack for pigs and goats also a manure pile. The house had a triple-decker outhouse. In the back garden, all the way to the river, was a long shack, where the ropes were twisted together. The equipment was mostly wood with steel hooks. It must have been very old.
In the house on the right lived a farmer, who had a matching pair of dapple grey horses, of which he was very proud. On the left, where the doorway is bricked up, is where I learned to play the snare drum, right there on the stoop, with two sticks. The son of our teacher was a year older than I, he was one of the first to die in Poland in 1939. They were decent people. On the corner on the left where the pole is, used to be an iron trough and an old hand pump, for the neighborhood’s water supply, and for fire fighting.
In the house where the second car from the left is parked, lived an old very superstitious character who had a fetish about his downspout. All you had to do was hit it with something and he would run out of the house and raise hell. The little square thing on the bottom of the house is a chute to the root cellar. I opened it one time and he hit me, my father almost killed him. Once, the older boys tied an old stuffed toy on it with string. He pulled it off with a pitchfork and buried it in his manure pile. He broke an arm and a very religious old lady, who lived in the house where the third car is parked, she was Seventh Day Adventist, tried to comfort him by quoting from the Bible. He called her an old calf and threw her out. He died of fright. He was found dead under a table, after a thunderstorm. He was illiterate, but his wife had been quite educated and had been a school teacher in one of the neighboring villages. Emil lived in the house with the rounded doorway.
This is a better picture of the Papst house. We lived in the gable section. There was a large attic for us to play in in bad weather. We had a swing. The large doorways were to facilitate large wagons loaded with hay and also to haul the manure out to the fields. In my days there were no cars, but farm wagons parked along the street.
In the house to the left of Papst, lived a family named Möller. They had a passel of kids, all sizes. All the neighborhood kids were gathered for Christmas Eve for the celebration, including us. Most of the time we just fell asleep on the floor around the tree, which was covered with blankets. They used real candles on the tree and one adult would always watch, with a bucket of water. This family had relatives in Sonneberg, a toy manufacturing town, where toy making was a cottage industry. So small toys were affordable. Everybody chipped in to do something for us children.
In the house with the slate siding lived a man, who was one of 7 men who were badly burned during an explosion in one of the furniture factories. A dust burner blew up. My father went everyday from one to the other, as a volunteer, to change their dressings and my brother and I went along to help or be in the way, whatever. When any of the children got sick, like whooping cough or measles, everybody was exposed, so the whole street got very often sick together.
The house on the right belonged to the daughter and son-in-law of Papst. Their girls wrote to us after the war in Shanghai. Somehow they found out that we were there, we sent them a package with U.S. Army rations. In their yard I observed once a pair of ducks mating. The drake on top of the hen and 8 others, in pairs around them in a square, two on each point of the compass, bowing and squawking in unison. One of the funniest things I have ever seen.
Material from M. Rosengarten, Themar, Thüringen: My Home Town may be reproduced in part or whole, in any print or electronic format for non-commercial purposes provided that the author, editor, copyright holders, and publisher (www.judeninthemar.org) are acknowledged.
© 2011 Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre. © Sharon Meen, Vancouver, British Columbia