Going Home Again ~ Postcards from Luedinghausen

by Edie Strauss Kodmur, ‘56 | Stanford Magazine |

I was 3 years old when I left my hometown in Germany, but the fairy-tale town never really left me. As a child, I studied photographs of my family and a postcard showing my grandparents’ home. I reveled in stories of my grandmother’s “bewitching the pots” and of my father’s and his two brothers’ boyish pranks. My parents and I were able to escape in July 1938, mere months before our loved ones’ lives were torn apart by Nazi arrests and deportation. Last June, on my fifth visit to Luedinghausen, Germany, I bid a formal and very public farewell to my grandmother, aunt and cousin, all victims of the Holocaust. 

On an earlier visit to Luedinghausen (a 14th-century town of brick houses, peaked roofs, flowering window boxes and bridges over the curving Stever River), I met Baerbel Zimmer, a local teacher who has been researching the history of the Jewish community and finding answers to the questions the former residents’ scattered descendants share: where and when did our relatives die? Our visit was the impetus for Zimmer and a dedicated group of townsfolk to organize the installation of Stolpersteine, or “stumbling blocks.” 

Since 1995, German sculptor Gunter Demnig has installed 15,000 inscribed brass plaques on the sidewalks of Germany, in front of the homes where Holocaust victims lived. His work has returned an identity to those who lost it and given a sense of closure to their descendants. Demnig installed 22 plaques in Luedinghausen.

 So it came to be that my daughter, Julie Ann, ’78, and I recited the Kaddish—the traditional prayer for the dead—while standing in front of my grandparents’ Jugendstil (art nouveau) house, now a declared architectural landmark. We spoke words familiar to us as the artist placed three shining brass squares into the sidewalk and a respectful group stood alongside. This scene had been repeated on many streets in the town that morning, accompanied by music, poetry and townspeople walking with us, sharing their recollections and reactions. 

We and other families had come to take part in a series of carefully planned events: a banquet at the oldest hotel, where our forebears probably met to have dinner; breakfast at the town’s moated castle; and the annual Brand Prozession, where the Catholic and Protestant churches march together to the central market square and pray. This last ceremony usually commemorates the Plague and a series of fires from the 13th to 17th centuries, but this year it was dedicated entirely to the Holocaust and to those poor souls taken away for the “Final Solution.” We visitors bore witness to an entire community coming to terms with its scarred history. 

Among the many townsfolk reaching out to us, the most emotional meeting took place with a soulful Simone Signoret look-alike who invited us to see her home—my parents’ former residence. Her Nazi father was killed during the war and she helped her mother raise five children. She wrote that after our meeting, she and a neighbor planted an “Edith Strauss rose” in my honor. So, though I continue to cry, what were tears of sorrow and loss are now tears of love, friendship and a deeper connection with a long-lost home.

LAST MOMENTS: Edie’s uncle, aunt and young cousin were captured during the Holocaust. Alfred escaped as part of the Kindertransport.
FAMILY HISTORY: Edie and Julie Ann stand near Edie’s great-grandfather’s home.
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