Schindler’s List

Vivi with ParentsThis picture of my parents and my sister, Vivi, who passed away on Valentine’s Day 2015, was probably taken in Paris in 1963. She was so heartbreakingly young! She moved to Paris straight after her marriage to Ralph in 1962, where they lived for several years before relocating  to Holland. She returned to the States and a whole new life in 1973.

This is a picture of me at a comparable age, also taken in Europe. Like my sister, I married very young the first time, and lived in London until the late 70’s when I moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to finish my education.

Nicky at a cafe

Nicky's Parents

And these are my parents, Franyo and Gustavo, on honeymoon in Nantucket. Gustavo’s family left Hamburg, Germany in 1933. My grandfather, Julius Schindler, had the sense to get his wife and three children Lichtensteinian passports after Hitler’s first win. Gustavo was in school in England at the time and never went back to Germany. From England he went to France, where he had spent much of his childhood, intending to fight the Nazis with the French. But a friend in the American consulate convinced him it was too dangerous and he emigrated to the States via Canada in 1938.

Franyo got out of Germany in 1938 by sheer guts and luck. She was arrested and taken off a train by the Gestapo, having been caught dumping subversive newspapers in the bathroom. I’m not sure what year that was, but the Nazi official who interrogated her had seen her (and sent wine to her table)  in a cafe in Hamburg some months before.  He told her he hadn’t realized she was Jewish, was against the regime, and signed paperwork to get her out of prison. Somehow she managed to obtain an exit visa to leave Germany on a ship for New York. But she couldn’t take cash or valuables with her. When officials came to her house to inspect her goods and furniture, she invited them to drink brandy and played very Germanic drinking songs for them on her accordion. She had covered her antique furniture as best she could with doilies and table cloths. By the time the officials were ready to inspect, they were drunk and barely looked at anything. She got all her furniture onto the ship very soon thereafter. Once in New York, she moved mountains to get her mother onto a ship to Cuba. My grandmother, Alma, was on the last boat allowed to dock in Havana. I’m not sure what year she finally arrived in thDade States.

My parents met in MomNew York through mutual friends in 1939. They married in 1940 and Vivi was born in September 1941. It must have been an incredibly stressful time, with the war going on, Jews going to concentration camps and disappearing, and my grandmother in Cuba.  When my grandfather, Julius, who’d been head of the family and very dynamic, died of a heart attack three months after Vivi’s birth, their lives must have really fallen apart. I was born into a different time, when the war was over and there was a climate of hope and optimism. For this reason, I feel as if Vivi and I had quite different childhoods. And now I am the last remaining of that family. I have three wonderful children, five nieces and nephews whom I adore (and a nephew and niece whom I also adore on George’s side), and eleven great-nieces and nephews who are Vivi’s grandchildren. But I am the last of that family with its difficult and dramatic beginning.

(Portraits painted by Nicole in 2010)

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