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Some fifty-five years after leaving it, I decided to return for a visit
to my birthplace in Forst (Lausitz) in what was first Nazi Germany and
then became Communist East Germany. I had no property to reclaim in
Forst, no business or house, just memories.
I was born there in 1924, in a Jewish community of some 150 families. My grandfather lived nearby, my father had a leather business there, as had his uncle and a brother. He had been a soldier in the German army in the First World War, won an Iron Cross and was a co-founder of the Association of Jewish Frontline Soldiers. He considered himself a German of the Jewish faith, and even when the Nazis began their anti-Jewish propaganda, I remember he said: "They don’t mean us, they mean the Eastern Jews from Poland because they look and act so differently and don’t fit in. In Germany they should behave like Germans." Then one day, when we were out for a walk, a group of Nazi thugs started abusing him with racial insults and physical threats. I remember him exploding and shouting: "How dare you attack me and my family; I am a former front line soldier with the iron Cross and have proved I am a good German!" But when it did no good, and he realised they did mean him and people like him, he changed. He became a Zionist. I joined the Hashomer Hatzair, learned Hebrew, and the first tune I learned to play on my violin was the Hatikva.
In 1935 my father died, killed by a Brownshirt on a motor cycle in what may have been an accident. I began what came to seem a career as a professional refugee, to Berlin, to the Sudetenland, to Prague and finally to England, on what turned out to be one of the last Children’s Transports. To cut a long story short, I served in the British Army (including 4th Jewish Brigade), acquired British citizenship, became a national newspaper journalist, raised a family and, not least, joined Maidenhead synagogue.
So, in late 1990, with my sister and one of my grown-up sons, I flew to Berlin and drove into East Germany. I had previously written to the editor of the local daily provincial newspaper, asking if my old school was still there and some other landmarks. Incidentally, without much hope, I had also asked him to publish a short note in his paper, mentioning my planned visit and asking if anyone was still around who remembered me or my family.
We arrived at the hotel in the nearby provincial capital of Cottbus to a reaction which amazed me. We were met by the deputy editor who welcomed us officially, presented us with a printed programme for our visit and informed us that an official reception and meeting was to be held next day. Karl Heinz, who had been in my primary school class, turned up with his wife; he had specially come from his home in West Germany to meet us. "I have been trying to find out what happened to you ever since the end of the war," he told me. He had become a famous maker of documentary nature films, a German David Attenborough.