During my research for The Sturmtaucher Trilogy, I came across a remarkable photograph while searching for information on the Jewish residents of Kiel prior to the Second World War, and on what happened to them during the Holocaust.
The article I found it in was titled A Jewish menorah defies the Nazi swastika.
In Rabbi Avi Posner’s home in GartenStraße in central Kiel, his wife, Rachel, was lighting the candles on the Menorah in the window of her home for Chanukah, the festival of lights. Across the street, in the local offices of the National Socialist Party, the Nazis were just beginning to flex their muscles, although holding power was still a few years away for Adolf Hitler’s party.
Rachel, a photographer by profession, saw a dramatic dichotomy in her view from the window and rushed to fetch her camera. When she developed the photograph, she wrote a caption on the reverse:
‘Judea dies’, thus says the banner.
‘Judea will live forever’, thus respond the lights.
I knew instantly that the photograph, and the story behind it, had to be in the trilogy but I realised that the timing wasn’t right – my story didn’t start until January 1933 and the photograph was reported to have been taken during Chanukah, 1932, in December.
In fact, after further research further, the Jewish year of 5692 was 1931. The Julyan Calendar year written on the back of the photograph, 1932, probably referred to when the photograph was developed.
I did use it in the book – The rabbi shows the picture to Yosef and Jacob, two of the main characters in the book, and tells them his wife took it a few years previously. The Rabbi in my story is not Avi Posner, but he is strongly based on Rabbi Posner’s life in Kiel.
Rabbi Posner was vociferous in his warnings to the Jewish community that something terrible was happening in Germany and, late in 1933, he left the land of his birth with his wife and family, arriving in Palestine in 1934. His warnings were heeded by large numbers of Kiel’s Jews, who followed him to Palestine or travelled westwards to the the United states before the door to escape was closed at the outbreak of war.
Of those Jews who remained in Kiel, almost all were deported, and perished in the ghettos to the east, and in the death camps associated with them.
I tried to contact Avi Posner’s grandson in Israel to tell him I’d recounted the story of his grandmother’s photograph in The Gathering Storm, but the letter was returned ‘Not at this Address’.
The Sturmtaucher Trilogy is now in the Yad Vashem Library in Jerusalem, and I hope that one day, Rachel Posner’s descendants might read it, and understand why I included their forebears’ story in my fictional one.