Karl Gradwohl – My Father

The interest in the history of my father’s family was a result of the interest in my family history in general and started late in life, as described in the first part of this presentation. Even more than my mother, my father had strong inhibitions in sharing his life story. For obvious reasons – growing up in an orphanage, not being in touch with his father and possibly not knowing who he was, his mother moving to another country and leaving her children behind – there was a feeling of shame and an apprehension to share the story. And I did not take an interest and (very unfortunately!) didn’t ask. Thus, what we know is mostly based on documents, pictures, letters, etc.

He was born, as already indicated on Aug. 21, 1914 as the second child of his mother Betty. Karl was sent to the orphanage in Diez in 1921. Both Karl and his sister Ilse (who was sent to foster care early in her childhood), in later documents, state they have no recollection of their earlier years. Interestingly, Karl was sent to an educational institution, whereas his sisters were sent to foster families; this apparently has to do with the fact that he was a boy. 

Thus, Karl was sent to the Diez Deutsch-Israelitisches Kinderheim at the age of 7 and was at the time the youngest boy there. The Kinderheim Koperated in a 3-story building on the top of a hill overlooking the local castle and town. 

The address was Schlossberg 23. The building no longer exists; on its location, a hospital is built. The Kinderheim was established in 1886 as “a Jewish educational institution for orphans and kids from families without sufficient means”. It housed up to 40 boys of different ages at any given time. The entry age was 6-14. It was a national institution, operated by the Deutsch Israelitischer Gemeindebund. Kids from all over Germany were accepted. The discipline was hard. The kids would go to school in the regular local school. 

They would also learn a trade and the institution prided itself that it was able to find jobs for its graduates. As a Jewish institution, the kids led a Jewish way of life. They were not forced to wear a hat or kiss the Mezuzah, but prayed 3 times a day and went to Synagogue in town for Shabbat and Jewish Holidays.

We know quite a lot about that institution, which became famous for two totally different reasons. 
The first had to do with its excellent educational reputation, thanks mostly to the chief educator (Haus Vater) Kadden who had his position since 1893. He received educational prizes for his work there. 
The second had to do with the fact that on Aug. 20, 1935 it was forced to vacate the premises by a Nazi mob from Diez. A group of citizens from the town went to the Kinderheim and demonstrated, shouting “Juden Raus”. The police came and dispersed the demonstration, but the following day the police came again with orders to vacate the building immediately. The children and staff were all sent to Frankfurt and from there dispersed; some, including Haus Vater Kadden and his family found their way to the death camps a few years later. The building was confiscated and used for the Nazi party purposes. That incident occurred after Karl graduated from high school and was already in Palestine. Years later the citizens of Diez have placed a plaque down the road from the Kinderheim to the town center, from where the children were sent to Frankfurt in memory of that shameful event.

We have a very interesting testimony about Karl and the Kinderheim from Grete Weikersheimer. She was the niece of Haus Vater Kadden and lived in Leverkusen in the 1920’s, where her parents operated a large department store. She writes that they would visit her uncle on holidays and also spend time there during the summers and bring toys for the kids there. She states that her uncle, his wife and daughter cared very much for the children and their well-being in the Kinderheim. She remembered Karl very well as he was “pampered” by her uncle, and later, when he went to High School, he was a good pupil and helped the younger kids with their homework. She met Karl again in Haifa and maintained contact with him since 1936. 

Two other persons from the Kinderheim in Diez with whom Karl maintained contact in Israel were his friends: Artur Stern from Beit Yitzhak and Willi Loewenstein from Pardess Chana. 

Karl finished his matriculation exams in Diez. Judging from his grades he was a good student. He took an interest in languages and literature. In class, he was the one to write the texts for events and celebrations. Later in life he continued to use this writing skill when he would write funny poems at family events such as weddings or birthdays (in German, of course). My mother stated that he dreamed to be a journalist. Occasionally he would write a newspaper article.

An interesting story about one of his classmates was published years later: https://www.fr.de/rhein-main/jude-wehrmacht-11568440.html

It concerns Max Wolf, whose mother was Jewish; he joined the Wehrmacht and this way was able to survive the Nazi Period. In my father’s album I found his picture in Uniform. 

His interest in languages brought about an interest in different cultures and lands. He collected stamps and with them his imagination brought him to far-away places. He also loved classical music and loved to listen to music on the radio and on records. He had a subscription to the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra and prided himself that he was present at the inaugural concert of that orchestra in 1936 in Tel Aviv with Arturo Toscanini and Bronislaw Huberman.  

When he studied and lived in the Kinderheim in Diez, a town not far from Frankfurt, did he have any connection to his extended family, especially his grand-father Bernhard? Interestingly, I have in my possession two prayer-books that I found in my father’s personal belongings with Bernhard Gradwohl’s stamp on them with two of his addresses: Bleichstrasse 25 and Hermesweg 20. 

When were these given to my father and by whom? Was it by Bernhard himself or by a relative after Bernhard’s death? Interestingly enough, Dr. Max Gradwohl’s wife, Erika Rosa, born Arfeld, stems from Diez. Actually, her father, Adolph Arfeld was at a certain time the president of the Diez Jewish community. That family surely prayed at the local synagogue, where the Kinderheim children went on Shabbat and Jewish Holidays. Apparently, when Erika met her future husband Max (they were married in 1933, a year before Karl left Diez), the connection to the Gradwohl family led them to Karl and this may have been the way those books reached him (after Bernhard’s death in 1930). Another possibility is that Bernhard was in touch with his grandson and gave him the prayer books himself. 
The choice of names given both to me and my brother – mine, possibly after Bernhard and my brother Raphael, after Bernhard’s brother killed in the Holocaust – may be an indication there were relations with the family in Frankfurt, Hörstein and Diez and Karl wanted to commemorate those people. 

Upon graduation from the Diez High School Karl intended to study at a university, but already in 1934, the Nazi regime made it practically impossible for Jews to enrol in universities. He therefore joined a group called Brit Chalutzim Dati-yim (a religious Zionist youth movement, later to become Bnei Akiva) who ran a Hachshara (training) camp in Gehringshof, near Fulda, which prepared its members to settle in a kibbutz in Palestine and engage in agricultural work. 

This training also enabled the participants to obtain emigration certificates from the British Mandatory authorities. Most of the group members were students or would-be students. He spent about a year there. During this time, in 1934, he met his mother who came back from the US for a visit. Upon completion of the training, the group boarded the ship “Gerusalemme” at Brindisi that took them to Haifa, arriving on July 1st, 1935. 

They were about to settle in Kibbutz Rodges, near Petach Tikva, named after the location of the camp before it moved to Gehringshof; the Kibbutz’s name was later changed to Megged. 

Internal conflict in the Kibbutz and a realization that agricultural work was not exactly fitting for him, made Karl leave the Kibbutz. Initially, in August 1936, he moved to Tel Aviv and worked in a variety of unskilled jobs.In 1940, he got a job as a book-keeper for the British Army and worked in a camp in what is known today as Tirat HaCarmel, near Haifa. He later moved to work for Holland Bank Union in downtown Haifa. These jobs brought him from Kibbutz Megged to Haifa, where he met my mother. It was at a social club for German young émigrés, organized by Rabbi Dr. Meir Elk. 

They got married on October 12, 1940 by Rabbi Marcus (who also happened to be the grandfather of a good friend of mine). I have a letter to Karl – sent by his mother of Aug. 8, 1939, in German, congratulating him on his upcoming birthday as well as on his decision to get married. She wishes him and his bride, as well as the parents of the bride, all the best and hopes to see the day when they could all get together. The letter is full of superlatives and loving words, very supportive of Karl and his decision.  

The young Gradwohls first lived in my grand-parents’ 2-room apartment in very congested conditions on 46, Masada St. in Haifa, where I was born: My grand-parents lived in one room, my parents and myself in the other and my two uncles and aunt slept in the kitchen and the hall. Our family moved in 1946 to a suburb of Haifa, Batei Mif’al, near Kiryat Stand (Kiryat Ata today), where my brother Raphael was born later that year. 

The story of my father’s family leaves many questions unanswered and they are likely to remain so. The silence of my father about his family’s story has totally different reasons than the one in my mother’s family – they mostly stem from shame related to the unknown (or secret) identity of his father. In the Gradwohl case, the Nazi atrocities did not have a direct impact on the immediate family in the same way as in the Lewin-Gottfeld family, because everyone was outside Germany during the war years. 
In the final analysis, regardless of my father’s and his sisters’ difficult years in Germany – growing up without a family – all of them were able to recover from that trauma, building their own families and conducting constructive and meaningful lives in Israel and the US.