You've asked a wonderful but substantive question about a memorable part of my life. I hope you won't mind my answer to it being so expansive but the answer is tied to a very important part of US-European History; so here we go:
In Jan. 1939 my father and I tried to leave Germany by walking over the Kehl-Strasbourg Bridge to spend a week with Uncle Otto before going to LeHavre to take the ship to New York. As I recall it, my main worry was about the jewelry, which my father had hidden in the bottom of a NIVEA Cream jar which was packed in his suitcase.
"The French immigration officials who at the time were as anti-Semitic as the Nazis, refused to let us into Strasbourg because, as they said, our transit visa would only allow us to travel directly to LeHavre. Our ship was not leaving for two weeks. They said that we did not need two weeks to travel from Strasbourg to LeHavre. I was sad and scared but my father was outraged.
We walked back to the German side where the Nazi Officials said they needed my help in their customs shed. They made me clean bicycles and then had fun pushing my hands against the hot stove. My father demanded that I be released; but they said, "You have no business here go to the middle of the Bridge and jump in the Rhine." The pride and courage of the former German Officer in him emerged and he said "I will not move from here; you can shoot me if you wish, but I want my boy out of that shed immediately". They were surprised by his guts, released me, and suggested we go back into Germany and try to find another way out of Germany.
We then took the train to Basel, where Uncle Otto, through a friend, had arranged for the local Rabbi to take us through Swiss Customs to the French side. As a result we were able to spend some time with Uncle Otto and Aunt Lene and our other Strasbourg relatives.
That Bridge has become the symbol of Peace in Europe.
Many leaders have played a key role in accomplishing this.
First, there was Lucious Clay, a Civil Engineer and Army General, who as Military Governor from 1945-49 took Hitler's Germany and gave its first good Constitution.
In sprite of opposition by the French and the State Department; he made Germany an economic success. He refused to turn West Berlin over to the Russians. He championed the "Air Lift"
Lucius Clay, Military Commander of Germany 1945-49
Then George Marshall then Secretary of State in June 1947 in two paragraphs of his Commencement Address at Harvard University Launched the Marshall Plan, which brought help and peace to war-torn Europe.
Konrad Adenauer Mayor of Cologne when I was born there and First Chancellor of the New German Republic 1949-63 and Robert Schumann (Jewish) Foreign Minister of France 1948-52 initiated the process that resulted in the European Union which brought economic health and peace to Europe for the first time in European history.
John Hume in receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 2000 for his efforts to find a peaceful solution to the conflict in Northern Ireland said: "In my own work for peace, I was very strongly inspired by my European experience. I always tell this story, and I do so because it is so simple yet so profound and so applicable to conflict resolution anywhere in the world. On my first visit to Strasbourg in 1979 as a member of the European Parliament, I went for a walk across the bridge from Strasbourg to Kehl. Strasbourg is in France. Kehl is in Germany. They are very close. I stopped in the middle of the bridge and I meditated. There is Germany. There is France. If I had stood on this bridge 30 years ago after the end of the second world war when 25 million people lay dead across our continent for the second time in this century and if I had said: "Don’t worry. In 30 years time we will all be together in a new Europe, our conflicts and wars will be ended and we will be working together in our common interests", I would have been sent to a psychiatrist. But it has happened and it is now clear that European Union is the best example in the history of the world of conflict resolution and it is the duty of everyone, particularly those who live in areas of conflict to study how it was done and to apply its principles to their own conflict resolution.
All conflict is about difference, whether the difference is race, religion or nationality The European visionaries decided that difference is not a threat, difference is natural. Difference is of the essence of humanity. Difference is an accident of birth and it should therefore never be the source of hatred or conflict. The answer to difference is to respect it. Therein lies a most fundamental principle of peace - respect for diversity."
This is the new bridge under construction. It's called the Peace Bridge it's a footbridge.
This is the present Railroad Bridge but that's the way I remember it
"The following is a summary taken from an interview with Hugo and Monique Hammel in March 1999. To read the complete interview, go to the "roots" file on Walter's computer.
Hugo's mother Lina wanted his birth recorded, and so she sent a messenger to city hall. The man there thought the name Hugo sounded too French, and so he gave Hugo the name Yoachim. Ever since then, Hugo's second name has been Hugo Yoachim Hammel.
Hugo was inducted as a soldier in the ground troops of the French Air Force in 1937. By 1939, he was due to leave military service, but war broke out in September and he had to remain in the service. In 1940, the Nazi government, which now occupied the Alsace Lorraine, evacuated the Jews from the area. Hugo was sent to help the Jewish refugees with medical care, psychological problems, sanitation problems, and social problems.
Hugo met a man named Robert Gamzon who believed Jewish young peoples should learn practical skills, such as farming. Hugo joined other Jewish young people, including Monique, on a farm to receive training. The two decided to form their own farm in the region of Agen. Initially, there were three boys, including Hugo, and two girls, but eventually grew to twenty people. The key crop was grapes which were used to make Armniac. The fact that they made Armniac helped to protect them from the Nazis. The villagers would show up regularly with large jugs and baskets to receive their armniac. As a result, a level of loyalty developed that caused them to warn Hugo and Monique every time there was a danger from the Nazis. Despite this fact, the two were in constant fear of being picked up by the Nazis. They had a system of bells throughout the buildings to warn when someone was coming. They only had one revolver and one Sten gun.
Hugo and Monique were in personal contact with the French Underground who received coded messages from the BBC. For three months, Monique and Hugo waited every night for ammunition and guns to be dropped by the RAF. But the farm was located too far from England, and they never came.
Every week, Monique's parents wrote her a letter. One week the letters stopped and she found out that her little sister Jacqueline was alone and her parents and other sister had been taken away by the Nazis. Hugo went to pick up Jacqueline, but she was located in the Dordogne, a section that was completely surrounded by the Nazis and closed off. Hugo took his false papers and boarded a train from Perig to Niversac. He knew he could not cross and go to the station in Niversac because the Nazi protective boundary included Niversac. He took a high risk by talking to the train conductor and explained to him that he was trying to pick up a child which was inside the protective boundary and appealed to him for help. The conductor said that just before they got to Niversac, he would slow down the train for Hugo to jump off. Then they promised to stop the train the next night for Hugo and Jacqueline to get on. Hugo was able to pick up and child and a farmer took him through some back roads back to the location of the train in a manner that avoided the Nazi guards that were set up around the Dordogne. Sure enough, the train blew its whistle, came to a halt, and allowed him to put the child on the train and climb on himself.
In 1944, word came that the farm was to be sold to raise money for a Jewish resistance army. Everyone moved to Castres, 350 miles away, except for Hugo and Monique and Jacqueline because Monique was pregnant and Jacqueline was too young to travel that far. They caught a ride with a vegetable farmer and Hugo hid in the back of the wagon. Every few minutes the wagon was stopped by the Nazis to check their paperwork. They finally made it to their destination and had to live in a terrible place full of flees, rats, and all kinds of filth . It was an awful place to live, but there was no other.
Hugo established an alibi by working on a farm in the area. All the farm personnel knew that Hugo was a Jew and why he was there. Times were tense because of the impending invasion of the allies. One day, two members of the German Military police came looking for Jewish partisans, but Hugo and his demented farm helper acted like they did not understand the soldiers and started to eat unripe peaches. The farmer's wife gave them wine and made them drunk. They were picked up by two other soldiers and left without ever questioning Hugo further.
Paris, December 2001
Walter Lyon's Interview with Hugo Hammel
Subject: Birth of Son (Jacques)
On June 6th, 1944, his partisan group in France got notified on that date that they were to be dissolved. The group was dissolved but they were to join a group of underground partisans in the neighborhood of Castres, east of Toulouse in France.
Since Monique was pregnant in her 8th month, she and her sister, Jacqueline and Hugo were advised not to take the rather dangerous trip. They had planned on a hiding place, approximately 30 miles from the farm where they had been located. The farm was in Barbaste, Lot et Garonne and the hiding place was on the other side of the Garonne. One of the officers of the underground took them to the hiding place in a delivery truck. He was a grocery merchant. Jacqueline and Monique sat next to the driver. Hugo was hiding underneath vegetable baskets in the back of the truck. Hugo, underneath the vegetable baskets noticed that the truck stopped many times and he presumed that the police were stopping him. But when they arrived at the hiding place, the driver wondered why there was so much military and police people in the area.
The hiding place was half of a ruin. There were other houses around but they were in a pretty decrepit state. Hugo was to work for the farmer that owned the place. They arrived at noon, in the middle of the day. As they arrived the farmer said, "Please be quiet, I'm listening to London, on the radio."
He had just heard that the Allied troops had landed in Normandy. That was June 6, 1944. The Germans had already gotten wind of this landing and that's why they saw so much police. German radio denied the success of the landing and said no one had landed; everyone had drowned in the process. But Hugo could sense and so could others that the Germans were very nervous.
Monique and Jacqueline lived in the house and Hugo worked on the farm everyday. Monique started into labor and took a bike and rode the bike fifteen kilometers to Agen. The clinic where Monique went was a Catholic clinic, which was headed by a civilian who, through a mutual friend, had been told that Monique would come when the baby was due. He had no idea that they were living under false identity papers. The birth occurred three days after Monique arrived at the clinic. The sisters did not know of Monique's identity as a Jewish underground protestant, but they noticed that as an alleged 'farm woman' she had awfully gentle and beautiful hands. They said nothing to Hugo and didn't suspect him because he was dressed as a poor farm worker.
It was harvest time and everybody's help was needed. Unfortunately the farmer's son was a prisoner and was not available, but the parents helped and there was another man, who was sort of mentally limited who was a farm hand, in addition to Hugo. These people knew what was going on with Hugo and they knew and understood his identity. There was never any discussion of politics except when there was good news, such as the landing in Normandy, that anybody said anything about the war situation. In spite of all the need for work, they allowed Hugo to visit Monique daily. One of the nurses, who was a sister at the clinic told Hugo that she had been advised that a German munitions train had arrived. An earlier train, which was standing in the freight siding of the local station, had been exploded by the underground. At that point the clinic was also severely damaged.
The story about the clinic blowing up was a supposition of what might happen if and when the new train would blow up. So they decided that in case the child were killed, that he should be christened before such an event. They arranged for a minister to come and do this. Monique announced that she did not want the child christened because they were agnostics. Thank God the train left the area and blew up a much bigger distance away from Agen.
One of the nurses told Hugo that he could not go back on his bicycle because the Germans were requisitioning everything that could be used to move, such as trucks, motorcycles and bicycles; to move the troops toward the North and try to stop the Allies. The Germans had captured what later became known as a "Red Army." These were Russian prisoners that came from the Asiatic part of the USSR, who had promised to help the German army rather than to be prisoners. They participated in the activities of the German army in France, near Agen. The members of the Red Army were pretty barbaric, uneducated people and if you didn't give up your bicycle or your truck, you simply got shot. The nurses said, "Look, you can't take your bicycle, you'll just have to go home on foot."
Since Hugo had lost the use of his bike, he decided that he would spend the night in the community so that he could see Monique the next day, but he didn't think of staying in the clinic, instead he decided that he would try to find the place in the station maybe in the waiting room where he could sleep. Hugo decided to trust the station manager. In France, these people could be trusted; they were local people. He said, "Look, I have to spend the night to see my wife the next morning, what do you suggest?"
The station manager said, "Well, we have a place where the train crews stay, and most of those train crews were German, and you simply go over there and go to sleep as if you were a member of one of the train crews, no one is going to bother you."
While he was lying there, Hugo over-heard the conversation between two German engine men who said (without knowing that he was listening and understood, that)
"We've got to make some plans, the situation is really almost over, the Allies are moving very fast, and the Germans are running away. We're going to have to do something to save our necks."
The Germans were also commiserating about,
"The Dog Hitler, who has gotten us into trouble."
One mentioned an aunt in Dresden that had been killed, and another one said,
"I saw what they did in Russia."
Hugo now finally understood what was going on around him. He had not known how successful the Allies were and how the remaining Germans, who were left in France, were dropping out of the regime and he felt very satisfied and went to sleep.
The next morning, Hugo thanked the stationmaster and went to Monique at the clinic and told her what he had overheard and what the situation was. Obviously the people at that time didn't know, but Hugo had gotten good information from the German train crews.
Five to six days later the daughter of the farmer came to the clinic to pick up Monique, with a horse and carriage, to bring she and the baby back to the hiding place. The baby lasted through the event like a doll. He was quiet and happy and content. A visitor came from the Milice. (Milice: Police arm, made up mostly of civilian people, French, collaborating with the German authorities (SS-Gestapo…) (Monique's parents were caught by such people)). They were people who were allied to the Vichy government under Petain, (who was the Prime Minister of France) as part of the Vichy government. He arrived at the hiding place. There were five or six of these militia men, who were heavily armed. They arrived at the farm, (which was the hiding place) and demanded food. They demanded food and wine and meat from Monique, but she said,
"I only have vegetables and milk, I'm very poor myself."
So they left and didn't harm anyone. Hugo said it's possible that Monique gave them some bread, but even that was very rare. Soon after heavily armed, French Partisans arrived, who asked whether Monique had seen the malice and she said,
"Yes," and she told them what had happened." And they said,
"Well, we want to know where they are because we are out to get them."
They left and went after the malice.
They had a friend who lived in a cave with his wife and a small child. He was a doctor, who promised to do the Britmila for Jacques, the new baby, and this was a problem that Monique had to face because a Britmila had to be done within a week of the birth. An award of a million francs was out after his neck by the German Gestapo. Eight days later, they came through a hidden pass through the woods; in order to do the Britmila and they also brought a cheesecake, which was a real big treat in those days. Many years later he wrote a letter to Hugo to say that the day of Jacques Britmila was the nicest day of his life. His name was Doctor Heini Muller. He was a cousin of their family doctor in Strasbourg. In spite of the terrible situation, Jacques was a very happy baby and also a very hungry baby. He ate a lot and drank a lot of milk. Monique bathed the baby everyday. But the local people said that that was a mistake. To bath a baby everyday would ultimately make them lose their minds and go crazy. To bath a baby properly you used 2/3 milk and 1/3 red wine. In spite of the absence of red wine, he grew up very well. "