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Rede von Miriam Halpern bei der Verlegung

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May 4, 2012

In Memorium:

They were ordinary people;  a butcher, his wife, and their two children.  They lived behind the shops on RosegartenStrasse and did what ordinary people do.   He, Solly, by our father's report, was a stern and demanding man who idolized the baby, our aunt Melanie, a blond haired cherubic child that forced him to give in to her demands with her charm.  He worked hard for his family, singing as the cantor at synagogue with his deep and powerful voice, and slaughtering the animals according to the rituals of our ancient religion.  She, Elyse, was a small, birdlike woman who worshiped her son, tempered her husband's nature, and maintained an orderly home.  Our father, Werner, was a boy, like other boys;  sometimes defiant, sometimes mischievous, jealous of his sister's attention, adoring of his mother and a bit fearful of his father.   Our aunt Melanie, well, she was the center of attention in her early years; adorable, from what we hear, which tortured her brother, our dad.  Especially since he left Germany first.  Left his family, his country, his friends, his school, his neighborhood, to travel alone to a distant and unknown country.  They were, as you know, ordinary people in extraordinary times.  

We have learned that their own lives were extraordinary as well.  Our grandfather learned to write in English around the time he was interred at Camp de Gurs. It is difficult to learn a language over several years let alone over a few desperate months.  The family managed to keep in contact with each other for a period of time, before the doors closed on communication, before the last attempts were made unsuccessfully to ensure they could all leave safely and immigrate to the United States.  Our father enrolled in the US army before the end of the war and was naturalized in England while serving his new country.  An ordinary boy became an extraordinary man, who found his sister in Switzerland after the war, worked for 2 years to bring her to the United States and then trained to be a child psychiatrist, working tirelessly for years up until the time of his death to heal the most damaged of youth.  

We are the descendants of those ordinary extraordinary people.  We are here to remember their lives, no matter how short, how interrupted, how desperate, how extraordinary.  We are forged from their coiled loops of DNA, from their backbones of strength and fragility, from their daily existence and their inopportune destruction.  At the same time those twists of fate, that left them without a homeland, without neighbors and friends,  those very twists of fate, have molded our lives as well.  We are caretakers and teachers, doctors, and lawyers, living our ordinary lives with their extraordinary courage in our hearts.  We live with the knowledge of their lives as real people, whose shoes walked this very street and whose lives entwined with yours.  We are here to remember that every life has meaning, every obstacle incurs memory, and every day brings new hope.  



The Forge, an ode to ancestors,

read by Naomi Schlagman


No need to pound life

 into residues of memories,

yellowing correspondence,

 stiff forms posing forever

posted in studio frames,

 snippets of gossipy

long buried hatreds

 nestled like burrs

in the brain’s labyrinth

 of passing experience.  


you are within me

 a surging heated dissonance

that leaves me no rest

 whether pleased or sad.


The quiet, ruddy giant,

 father of my gentle mother,

reluctant merchant

 who is as nebulous to me

as our milky galaxy,

 yet surrounds me, molds me

into his resigned and unseen form,

 a link as I am

in the passing of codified genes.


Not so the other patriarch,

diminutive, yet a presence

 and transmitter of longings

firmly edged into awareness,

 a beacon, a bearded watchman

with the scholar’s sleepy gaze…

 Our paths never crossed

except by post and in images,

 spectral guide to my dim destiny.  


Neither of you wielded hammers

 to shape my substance.

Why do I feel the pulse

 of the influence of you both

like a blacksmith’s blows?