A New Beginning

The fourth episode in our blog series “Memories from the Life of Walter Frankenstein”

Black and white photograph. Walter Frankenstein sits on a chair, bent forward, his elbows supported on his thighs.

Walter Frankenstein during his time in the kibbutz, Greifenberg, around December 1945–May 1946; Jewish Museum Berlin, gift of Leonie and Walter Frankenstein

What were they to do now? Nothing was left of the Frankensteins’ old life. Their relatives and friends had been murdered, including Walter and Leonie’s mothers. All of Europe lay in ruins.

The first step in the Frankensteins’ new life was a simple administrative act: they registered with the Jewish Community of Berlin and were assigned an apartment. However, due to the bad supply situation, they were advised to leave Berlin as soon as possible. Nevertheless, they decided to spend the summer in Berlin. Walter volunteered as a manager for the Neukölln Leisure Games. At the same time, he made contact with the Jewish Brigade. Over the course of the war, the British Mandate government had drastically reduced the channels for legally entering Palestine. That meant that for the roughly 250,000 displaced persons ( DPs) in camps in western Europe, illegal entry was often the only way to reach Palestine. Walter managed to arrange an opportunity for legal emigration for Leonie and the children through the members of the Jewish Brigade. In return, he promised to smuggle young Jews southward through Germany for the Brigade. Their destinations were harbors on the Mediterranean where underground Jewish organizations prepared ships for their illegal entry into Palestine.

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A Life Underground

The third episode in our blog series “Memories from the Life of Walter Frankenstein”

“Her and no one else,” said Walter Frankenstein the first time he saw his future wife Leonie Rosner in the courtyard of the Auerbach Jewish Orphanage. Leonie was from Leipzig and in Berlin she had begun training at the Jewish Seminar for Nursery School Teachers.

Black and white photography

Leonie Frankenstein with her son Peter-Uri sitting in a meadow, Brzeźno in Gorzów County (German: Briesenhorst), May 1944; Jewish Museum Berlin, gift of Leonie and Walter Frankenstein

After it was closed, she came to the Auerbach Jewish Orphanage as an apprentice. Soon after her arrival, Leonie’s room quickly became the place where apprentices living in the orphanage met. Seventeen-year-old Walter grew closer to Leonie (three years his senior) over conversations about religion, Judaism, emigration to Palestine, and daily life. In fall 1941, after the director threatened to fire Leonie over her behavior toward a student, the young couple decided to leave “Auerbach”. Walter and Leonie subletted a room with the Mendel family in Prenzlauer Berg. Soon after that they decided to get married. They had heard that married couples would be spared deportation. Under-aged Walter had to get his mother’s permission for the wedding, which took place on February 10, 1942.

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Growing up in the Auerbach Orphanage

Second Episode of our blog series: “Remembrances of the life of Walter Frankenstein”

Jesse Owens – this name means something to most people, even today. The black athlete from the U.S. national team decided in 1936, disregarding the expectations and fears of his family, friends, and a large number of Americans, to compete in the Olympics in Berlin. In light of the political climate prevailing in the place where the Olympics were to be held – where Antisemitism, propaganda, and violence against minorities were routine aspects of life, international opinion placed little stock in the chances of a fair competition among the athletes.

The photo shows the orphanage seen from Schönhauser Allee. In the upper part is a pointed gable with windows (black and white photo)

Exterior view of the Auerbach Jewish Orphanage, Berlin, around 1940–1944; Jewish Museum Berlin, gift of Leonie and Walter Frankenstein

For Walter Frankenstein, the name Owens was closely tied to the experience of moving from his home town of Flatow (today Złotów) in what was then West Prussia to Berlin. When he arrived by train at the Alexanderplatz station on 27 July 1936, preparations for the Summer Olympics to be held in the German capital were in full swing. Walter attended the event with an uncle on his mother’s side and thus had the opportunity to see Jesse Owens competing live in Berlin’s Olympic Stadium. Owens was the most successful male athlete of the Games, winning four gold medals.

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