Finding German Roots

Dachau entrance

My partner, Morris, was born in Germany, but came to the U.S. with his parents as an infant when they immigrated. Ever since I’ve known him, he has wanted to see where he was born (Föhrenwald, Wolfratshausen, Bavaria, Germany) now called “Waldram.” This is his story, not mine. He should be the one telling it, but I doubt he ever will, at least not on the Internet.

His parents were Jewish and fled all over Europe trying to escape the Nazis during World War II. They were successful in evading capture and were in a displaced persons camp near Munich when the war ended. When they had an opportunity to come to American and escape war-torn Europe, they took it and moved to Pittsburgh. There they raised Morris and his two younger brothers that were born after moving to the U.S.

His mother was Ukrainian, his father Polish. We were trying to figure out how many languages his father spoke and came up with 5-7. Morris speaks German and had been attending meetings with a German-speaking club prior to our trip to brush up on the language. He spoke Yiddish as a pre-school child, took German in high school and college, but has forgotten much of it.

When we first planned the tour, he had the idea that he could leave the tour long enough to see the city where he was born. That turned out not to be the case and the travel agent recommend he leave a day ahead, which he decided to do. Because of the different schedules, we had to travel separately. It was a lot of extra expense and trouble, but we both felt he needed to do it anyhow. He might never have an opportunity like this again.

Using the Internet, he was able to find a private guide to meet him at the airport and drive him around.  His guide first took him to the city where he was born, and he saw the hospital where he was born, which is now a bath house. They went to the Registry Office in Waldram where he obtained copies of his original birth certificate and his parent’s marriage license. His grandparents names were recorded in the documents. He didn’t know their names before as his parents would never talk about the past. As far as Morris knows, his father’s relatives all died in the war. He believes his mother may have family in Israel, but doesn’t know who or where they are.

hospital

Former Hospital in Waldram

After seeing the village, which he said was a typical German village with narrow streets lined with houses and shops, he wanted to go to see Dachau Concentration Camp, now maintained as a memorial to those who died there during the Holocaust. Many of the cities we visited later on the tour still have low Jewish populations as so many died during the war. Our tour guide in Austria said there is deep regret for the atrocities of World War II. The Nazi party is now non-existent and even drawing a Nazi swastika as graffiti or giving a Nazi salute can cause you to be arrested. Morris said he looked at each room of the camp and that only two barracks were still standing. The site appears so peaceful now. It is hard to believe the atrocities that happened there.

barracks.jpg

Site of former barracks

So, he was successful in finding his roots. I cannot image not having an extended family as I have so many relatives, down to second and third cousins even. But everyone needs to know where they came from in order to know who they are. It was a worthwhile endeavor.

Dachau guard tower

Guard Tower at Dachau