My visit to Berlin

von Trudi Thompson or Tutta Goldschmidt

My story starts on April 18 in 1991 in a small market town in Mexico, Papantla. Once the centre of a pre-Columbian people, the Totonacs, Papantla contains the famous ruin of the Pyramid of the Niches and even today enjoys the old Ceremony of the Voladores. A magnificent place to visit and a must on my great journey around the world.

With the Mexican part of my journey coming to an end, my plan was to head north to the United States and visit Alaska during the northern summer. But, without reason, thoughts entered my mind not to continue with this sensible plan and to go back to Europe. Why? I fought with myself but the illogical urge to return to Europe continued, even after leaving Papantla. Arriving in Houston, Texas, much to my surprise I bought a flight east to NewOrleans, caught the train to New York and a Virgin Airlines flight to England.

On the 27th of April, I arrived in London and went straight to Swiss Cottage by underground. My third cousin, Marion Gerver, a most generous family member, greeted me with the words, “Tutta, you have come just at the right moment. The Mayor of Berlin is inviting all former refugee residents for a free week’s stay, fare paid, good hotel, Rundfahrt, theatre tickets und so weiter!” What a greeting, what a surprise!

Marion kindly offered to organize my visit with Berlin, while I went to visit friends in England. After a preliminary phone call with a Herr Rudel, I left London on the 9th of June travelling to Berlin via Ostend. On the 10th, I arrived at Zoo Station and was taken to the Hotel Hamburg. What luxury! For a backpacker like myself, whom the East Germans had called a “Weltbummler” in 1989, the breakfasts at the Hotel Hamburg are unforgettable.

I immediately made contact with Ilse Lange, the secretary of the deceased writer Arnold Zweig, because my mother was born a Zweig. The Arnold Zweig House was in East Berlin. I decided to visit right away, travelling on the 100 bus to Alexanderplatz and then by East German tram to Ilse Lange’s house. The beautiful Zweig House with its large garden lay very close to her house. We searched all the available archives and found that Arnold’s family had originally come from Molnar, a village north of Lublinicie, now in Poland. Very useful information for me, as I knew that my Zweig ancestors had also come from Molnar. Although we could not establish a closer relationship, we had made a step forward. Because I wanted to stay in Berlin, once the free week in the Hotel Hamburg had ended, I asked Ilse for advice and she, kindly, arranged my stay in the gardener’s apartment while he was spending the summer in his “Datsche”.

With all this accomplished I could enjoy the entertainment side of my visit, as there was now no rush to see everything in one week. I saw a poor performance of Mozart’s Titus in the Deutsche Oper but a good performance of Richard Strauss’ Salome in the Unter den Linden Staatsoper. But how small the Staatsoper is? That came as quite a surprise! I had visited it so many times as a child: Hänsel und Gretel, Der Freischütz, Die Zauberflöte, Der fliegende Holländer und Das Rheingold. My childhood memories were of a large opera house?!

I also saw Brecht’s play “Mother Courage”, went to the Pergamon Museum, and to Dahlem to see Nefertiti. Most memorable remains my visit to the Egyptian Museum. It held a marvellous exhibition on the deciphering of Egyptian hieroglyphics by Jean-Francois Champollion.

Explanations were given through infrared earphones, also a new experience. The Rundfahrt and a great dinner with Herr Köhler rounded off this great adventure in Berlin.

I knew that I had to visit the Jewish cemetery in Weissensee. It had not been destroyed by the Nazis because they had shown it to foreign visitors in order to convince them that the Jewish heritage was being looked after. Indeed, nothing had been touched. An eerie feeling came over me when I visited the office. The filing cabinets were still those of my youth, altogether a most unpleasant experience.

A young lady was looking after the office. She was most informative. When I told her my name, she suddenly burst out: “They are looking for you everywhere! The staff of the Wilmersdorf Museum have been trying to get in touch with you! They need information about your mother’s school and here you are!”

When I arrived in the office of the Wilmersdorf Museum located on Hohenzollerndamm, the surprise was immense! They had been looking for me without success for some time and here I was! They were assembling material for the exhibition on Jewish schools in Wilmersdorf. Dr. Marlise Hoff was in charge and Helga Gläser was looking after the details. Sadly, because I travel light, I had very little information with me, just a few names and addresses of ex-pupils who might be of help. Perhaps they would obtain further information from them. I also agreed to write a story about my mother’s school for their intended publication, provided they agreed not to edit it.

After visiting the Spreewald, and a few other places, I eventually returned to England. My good friend, Ann Roberts, who had inherited the Amstrad word processor from my daughter, lives in Oxford. And that is where I was able to write the article for the Wilmersdorf Museum. After sorting out the problems with the Umlaut, I wrote the article in German, quite difficult for me. It was later published as part of the exhibition in a booklet called: “Hier ist kein Bleiben länger.”

In October, I made a short farewell visit to my new friends in the Wilmersdorf Museum and found that the contacts that I had given to them had sent good material and photographs. I could return to my travels; back to the USA and to Mexico to spend the next cold months in a warm, beautiful place: Barra de Navidad.

In 1995, I again visited Europe. I spent a few days with Helga Gläser in Berlin. Very casually, she gave me a small roll of microfiche. Back in Perth this small roll contained important correspondence between the Nazi administration and the Goldschmidt Schule! But I was not ready to deal with this very emotional material and it was placed into the “archival box”.

Only in 2003, when, due to old age, all travelling had become impossible, did I begin work on the Leonore Goldschmidt story. It was a nervewracking experience! It was also very difficult, writing in English while much of the material was in German. I was often very depressed. Late in 2004 I finally finished the task. My friend, Halina Kobryn, whose family in Poland has helped me with my ancestral inquiries in Lublinicie, transferred the story of the Leonore Goldschmidt Schule to a website: www.leonoregoldschmidt.com . In 2005, the Leo Baeck Institute, London Branch, printed a shortened version of the story in its Yearbook, page 301.


Trudi Thompson or Tutta Goldschmidt
Chiffre 111102