A New Home in Sweden

The sixth and final installment in our blog series “Memories from the Life of Walter Frankenstein”

In the black-and-white photo, the family is in a room with patterned curtains and houseplants. All four are smiling or laughing. The image is very lively.

The Frankenstein family in their apartment, Bandhagen (outside of Stockholm), around 1956–1957; Jewish Museum Berlin, gift of Leonie and Walter Frankenstein

To start from the beginning again: when I consider the path that Walter Frankenstein and his family took, I’m constantly astonished that they didn’t lose hope and always found new strength to confront the numerous changes in their lives. In 1956, the final big challenge in the lives of the four Frankensteins got underway.

Rolf Rothschild stands in the middle of the black-and-white photo with his arms around the two boys. All three are wearing suits.

Rolf Rothschild with Peter-Uri and Michael Frankenstein, Stockholm, around 1956; Jewish Museum Berlin, gift of Leonie and Walter Frankenstein

In July, the Frankenstein family first traveled from Haifa via Naples to Dortmund, where Leonie’s stepfather Theodor Kranz lived. After Walter arrived in Sweden on July 27th, received his work permit, and found a position at a construction site at a subway station in Stockholm, Leonie, Uri, and Michael joined him in September. At first, the four Frankensteins lived in Walter’s friend Rolf Rothschild’s studio apartment. Like Walter, Rolf spent his youth in the Auerbach Jewish Orphanage and had already emigrated to Sweden in 1939. Later he left the Frankensteins his two-room apartment in the Stockholm suburb of Bandhagen, which he had applied for shortly beforehand from a housing association. On November 15, 1956, Walter, Leonie, and their two sons moved into their new home, where they would spend the next 53 years.

Walter initially continued to work as a mason, but after 1965, he could no longer do so for health reasons. And so he started all over professionally. First he attained a secondary school degree, then began a university degree in civil engineering. After passing his exams in 1969 and 1970, he got a job as a structural engineer and draftsman at a globally active company, where he was involved in the construction of nuclear power plants, among other things. Beginning in the late 1950s, Leonie attended a commercial college and then found a position in the accounting department of a company. In Sweden, the Frankenstein family finally had the chance to do what they wanted with their free time.

In the black-and-white photo, Walter is skiing up a small slope.

The Frankenstein family skiing, near Stockholm, around 1956–1957; Jewish Museum Berlin, gift of Leonie and Walter Frankenstein

In the black-and-white photo, the two boys are sitting in front of a Christmas tree, smiling at the gifts that are strewn beneath it.

Peter-Uri and Michael Frankenstein sitting in front of the Christmas tree, Stockholm, around 1956–1957; Jewish Museum Berlin, gift of Leonie and Walter Frankenstein

Every summer they went to a vacation home in Sörmland, around 110 km south of Stockholm. In winter, they engaged in athletic activities in and around Bandhagen. Walter had been a sports enthusiast since his youth, and Leonie and the two boys also enjoyed sledding, skiing, and skating on the ice and snow. In December, the family celebrated Hanukkah as well as Christmas in their little apartment. The four Frankensteins had been barred from doing so in Israel because they feared they would be discriminated against for celebrating a Christian holiday. Besides, in Israel there simply weren’t any Christmas trees for sale. In any case, Uri and Michael seemed to enjoy the holiday, as the photo of one of their first Christmases suggests. After retiring in 1984, Walter frequently traveled with Leonie to the rest of Europe and to Israel. The two regularly visited Germany and especially their old home city of Berlin.

In the black-and-white photo, Leonie is sitting in a summer dress on the rail of a balcony. Walter stands next to her with his left arm around her and holding a cigarette in his right hand.

Leonie and Walter Frankenstein on the balcony of a summer house, Elgö, summer 1957; Jewish Museum Berlin, gift of Leonie and Walter Frankenstein

Walter and Leonie Frankenstein’s time together ended after 66 years of marriage when Leonie died on May 19, 2009. After the death of his wife, Walter continued his work as a historical eyewitness. On June 30, 2014, he was honored with the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany for his engagement. He keeps the Order in a box together with his Yellow Star (“Judenstern”). For him, the two symbols are inseparably connected: “The Nazis marked me, Germany gave me a mark of distinction.”

However often I consider Walter Frankenstein’s biography, each time I am impressed by his life accomplishments. I am deeply thankful to have gotten to know Walter personally, and to have met with him regularly to this day. In my opinion, his path and the perspective it has produced are best reflected in the answer that Walter always gives when asked about his Jewish heritage: “I am the son of a German of the Jewish faith, and I myself am a Swedish citizen and atheist.”

Anna Rosemann would like to remain in contact with Walter Frankenstein even after the end of her tenure at the Jewish Museum Berlin.


You can find more photographs from the life of the Frankenstein family in our online collection.

If you would like to delve more deeply into the biographies of Walter and Leonie Frankenstein, we recommend the book Nicht mit uns – Das Leben von Walter und Leonie Frankenstein by Klaus Hillenbrand, which was published in 2008 by the Jüdischer Verlag, an imprint of Suhrkamp.

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