6 September 1933
Letter from Hans Lustig to his teacher Robert Raphael Geis
Eleven-year-old Hans Lustig (1922–2002) had exciting news for his religion teacher Dr. Robert Raphael Geis (1906–1972), who had been working as a youth rabbi in Munich since 1932. A great deal had happened since the two had last met and Hans regretted that he had not been able to say good-bye in person. Now the words flowed from his pen as he shared all his adventures with his teacher.
In the letter displayed here, Hans first describes the train journey that started in his native town of Munich on 25 August. At first he did not feel very well, perhaps because of all the excitement. However, from Innsbruck onwards, he stood at the window. He did not want to miss the many tunnels through which the train traveled on its way to the Brenner Pass. After the passport and luggage checks at the Italian border, the family continued their train journey to Bolzano, and then, on the next day, to Soprabolzano. In words and pictures Hans excitedly describes how he slid down a mountain slope on a board with his older sister, Herta, and how his five-year-old brother, Franz, caught a frog. He also tells about the “small sukkah” that his family built from leaves and branches for the upcoming festival of Sukkot. And then there was the tent! To show Dr. Geis what it was like, Hans illustrated his letter with an additional picture of a tent set up between two pine trees, crowned by a Zionist flag. The stick figure on the right running toward the tent is Hans. Two of his friends are inside—one has “already departed.”
The impression the letter conveys of a normal family holiday in South Tyrol is deceptive. In fact, the Lustigs had left Germany for good. Hans’s father, Bernhard Lustig (1884–1969), who had served with Adolf Hitler in the 16th Royal Bavarian Reserve Infantry Regiment during the First World War, was a member of the Zionist movement. He had recognized early on where his country was headed and, together with his wife Paula, née Futter (1886–1965), he had decided to immigrate to Palestine. The couple was apparently able to ensure that their children had a few hours of fun even as they headed into an uncertain future.
6 September 33
Dear Dr. Geis,
I’m sorry that I wasn’t able to say good-bye but now I’m going to write a long letter. On 25 August we left Munich. I didn’t feel well and lay down on the seat just after the train left the station. I didn’t go back to the window until the train arrived in Innsbruck. Frau Dr. Eliasberg was at the train station with Hannah. We continued our journey after a forty-minute layover. I didn’t lie down anymore because we were going through many tunnels on the way to the Brenner Pass. Our passports were collected at the station before the pass. Our suitcases were checked too and one almost fell on my head. We saw carabiniere [carabinieri] standing at all the stations after that. The Straussens were unfortunately not at the station in Colle-Sarco [Colle Isarco]. After a two-hour journey, we finally arrived in Bolzano. We passed many vineyards along the way.
That evening we went for a walk in Bolzano. We passed carts full of fruit. The next morning we arrived in Soprabolzano after a one-hour trip. The following day we went for a walk and the next morning we slid down a grassy slope on boards.
(Drawing of two stick figures: one is sliding down the slope, the other is walking up. The figures are labeled “me” and “Herta.”)
Sliding down a slope on a board is great fun since you fall down a lot and get grass stains. Franz caught a frog in a jar.
(Drawing of a jar with a frog.)
We built a tent. Two Jewish friends
(Drawing of a tent with two stick figures inside; outside there are two trees and a third figure. The objects in the picture are labeled “tent,” “fir tree,” “me,” Tommi, also a friend of mine,” and “My friend Benno, who has already departed.”)
We also built a small sukkah from sticks. Now I’ve written everything.
Best regards, your student,
(in a different handwriting)
Kind regards, Herta.
(in yet another hand)
(in a fourth hand)
Dear Dr. Geiss!
What do you think of the hard work it took to write this?