It All Began With a Picture

One picture of young Jewish couple, taken by a World War 2 photographers that was discovered in Berlin, ignited research that made four strangers to meet one day in Hamburg, and bind their life together with a journey, discovering surprising documents and details about the Baruch family in Hamburg, their life before and during the holocaust, and this image, changed my current life, and affecting it until today. This is how it began:

In 2006, a German man named Rudiger Pohlmann traveled to Berlin. He came across a leaflet from the second world war with information about a “training” camp close to Berlin, where young Jewish men and women were trained for work in agriculture prior to emigrating to Eretz Israel: the “Hachshara”. This moment will change my life, and anything my family knew about the past. This leaflet will cause a surprising chain of reactions:

לגרסת הבלוג בעברית: הכל החל בתמונה

Full chronological list: a story of a family

Two years later, In 2008, a known Swiss author named Urs Faes finished writing a book about his family. His mother had an affair with a Jewish man during the second world war. After the affair was over, she married Urs father – but it remained unclear if Urs father was indeed that man. The books is called Liebsarchiv.

A year later, In 2009 I first visited Hamburg, where my family lived before the holocaust. My grandmother emigrated to Israel in 1936 before the war, but the family that had remained in Hamburg was entirely wiped out by the Nazis. I wanted to see the place where my family had lived before being banished to the camps.

I was surprised to see “Stumble Stones” (Stolpersteine) in front of the house, with the names of my family members who had lived in the building and died in the Holocaust: “Marion Baruch, Georg Baruch”. I traveled back to Israel, continued my job in the high-tech industry and continued with my life. But something from Hamburg stayed.

Back to 2006 – Rudiger Pohlmann decided to investigate the origins of a photograph he encountered in that leaflet that he found in Berlin. In the photograph, a young Jewish man and woman are striking a pose for the photographer. The young man in the photograph was named Rolf, and was a training guide at the “Hachshara” camp who decided to remain working at the camp instead of emigrating to Israel, in order to further train young men and women who themselves wanted to emigrate. When finally Rolf and the last ten guides were left at the training camp, they were eventuakly sent to concentration camps by the Nazis.

Urs Faes publication house was in charge of his book’s cover, and decided to select a black and white photo of a young man and woman, as the couple in his story. The book, by the way, sold a respectably large amount of copies and was considered a literary success.

Rudiger Pohlmann encountered a book recommendation in a German magazin in 2011, and saw a small photo of the book’s cover. He ran to the bookstore and checked the actual cover of the book – it was the same photograph he had encountered years prior and had investigated the origin of. 

He sent Urs Faes a letter with information regarding the identity of the young man in the photo: “Do you know, who are the young couple, on the cover of your life’s story?”

 

Rolf Baruch and Lucy Han in Ahrensdorf
Rolf Baruch and Lucy Han in Ahrensdorf © Herbert Sonnenfeld
roly and (unknown yet) at the hachshara camp
Rolf Baruch and Lucy Han in Ahrensdorf © Herbert Sonnenfeld

Urs did more research and decided to write a book about the young man, Rolf, and the young woman, Lucy in the photo. 

He traveled to Yad Vashem in Jerusalem and found the address belonging to Rolf’s sister, Maggie. He called – no answer. He then decided to travel back to Switzerland with the understanding that this was where the story had ended.

Yad Vashem, however, didn’t give up. They contacted the Israeli agency for missing people, and retrieved the information that this Maggie – my aunt – had passed away a month beforehand. They received the contact information for another family member, Gali, who told Yad Vashem that her cousin – me – was currently living in Hamburg:

In Summer 2012, 3 years after my visit, I decided to move to Hamburg. Three months after the move, as I was walking down the street with my dog, I got a phone call from a Swiss author named Urs Faes: “We need to meet, I want to tell you a story and ask you some questions, about the brother of your grandmother, Rolf Baruch”

In a snowy morning in January 26th, a day before the international Holocaust memorial day, we met the three of us – Urs Faes, Rudiger Pohlman and myself, seeing each other for the first time, three people whose lives that have touched that of the other, and we completed each other’s pieces of the puzzle.

Meeting Urs Faes and seeing the first photos:

Before the meeting, I did not know the story. I did not know what he would tell me, maybe he was a hero, a partisan, was perhaps a criminal, a fraud. In the end, it was the most important story of those dark periods – a love story.

This meeting ignited a big research, with a lot of surprising and unpredictable discoveries, about the journey of the Baruch family in Hamburg – before, during and after the war.

This research gave birth to an exhibition and a book publishing, produced with Ruesdiger and Mimi – we all stayed close friends also after.

This research also gave birth to a talk that I’m doing in front of an audience. YOu can read more details here.

But most of all, this research gave birth to this blog, that once published, ignited even more surprising events. I wish you a learnful, interesting reading through it.

Know history, teach it, never forget. 

Meeting Urs Faes and hearing about the letters:

4e54ea63-7723-4409-92cf-e19f298afd44

Thanks for helping with the research

Urs Faes, Dr. Christiane Pritzlaff, Ruediger Pohlmann, Erika Hirsch, Arnold Bischinger, Mimi Swalski, Corinna Stietenroth, Miko Harunian

Read next: a story of a family

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