Gert Berliner abiding this toy monkey in a attache aback he fled for his activity about 80 years ago. It’s now allotment of the accumulating at the Jewish Building Berlin. Jacobia Dahm for NPR adumbrate explanation
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The monkey’s fur is beat away. It’s about a aeon old. A well-loved toy, it is almost 4 inches tall. It was abiding abroad for continued voyages, on an escape from Nazi Germany, to Sweden and America. And now, it’s the key to a analysis that adapted my family.
The monkey belonged to my father, Gert Berliner, who as a boy in Berlin in the 1930s rode his bike about the city. Clipped to the handlebars was the toy monkey.
“I admired him,” recalls my dad, who is now 94. “He was like a acceptable luck piece.”
Gert Berliner, 94, angry the little blimp monkey to his bike aback he was a adolescent in Berlin. Claire Harbage/NPR adumbrate explanation
“Night of the Broken Glass”
In pictures from his adolescent canicule in Berlin, my ancestor looks confident, a tad alienated with a wry smile. But his activity was about to be eviscerated. The Gestapo would steadily drove every aspect of Jewish activity in the city.
It exploded in a beachcomber of abandon — in November 1938 — on Kristallnacht, the “Night of the Broken Glass.” Jewish shops, schools and homes were burst and austere by German civilians and Nazi storm troopers. Thousands of innocent Jewish men were angled up.
Gert Berliner’s Jewish character agenda was issued by the Third Reich in 1939. He able the Nazi afterlife camps because his parents, Paul and Sophie Berliner, got him on a Kindertransport, a children’s accomplishment train, to Sweden in 1939. His parents were beatific to Auschwitz in 1943. They were murdered there. Jacobia Dahm for NPR adumbrate explanation
“I do remember,” my ancestor recalls. “I went out on the artery … a lot of glass; you heard blaze sirens; synagogues were set on fire.”
You could breathe
Escape routes from Germany vanished. One that existed was for children, the Kindertransport. Jewish and Quaker organizations led a accomplishment effort, a affectionate of Underground Railroad, to advice save accouchement from the Nazis. Thousands of accouchement were beatific on trains, generally placed with advance families. But there were no takers for their parents. The accouchement had to go by themselves, alone. Mostly to England. My father’s destination: Sweden.
In 1939, at the age of 14, he had to say goodbye to his parents, Paul and Sophie Berliner. He boarded the alternation in Berlin, apprenticed for the burghal of Kalmar, on the Baltic Coast. He had a baby bag and there wasn’t abundant he could bring. But buried abroad in his attache was the toy monkey, his talisman.
Uri Berliner emerges from the Berlin subway. He came to the burghal to analysis his father’s and his grandparents’ lives, and to assuredly see his dad’s toy monkey for himself. Jacobia Dahm for NPR adumbrate explanation
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The monkey wasn’t useful. But he took it with him anyway. He was worried, aflutter about his parents. But he had accomplished shelter, taken in by a generous, affectionate family. My dad’s aboriginal consequence of Sweden was the air. Free from the abandon of Berlin, he could exhale. “Suddenly you could breathe,” he recalled. “It was like the air was different.”
A abundant accident and a new life
But his parents’ fate remained uncertain. Eventually their belletrist chock-full coming. Paul and Sophie Berliner were captured by the Gestapo and beatific to Auschwitz on a train, Transport 38, on May 17, 1943. They were murdered there.
After the war, my ancestor confused to the United States. He larboard Sweden for New York as a adolescent man of 22. He was an orphan. He had no ancestors and he was alone. Again, he best the toy monkey to appear with him. But by now it was article different: the best actual affiliation to his childhood, to a cursory moment of innocence.
The monkey has catholic far and wide: from Berlin to Sweden, with continued periods in New York and stints in Italy and New Mexico afore assuredly ambagious up in Berlin again. Jacobia Dahm for NPR adumbrate explanation
My dad has lived mostly in New York, alive as a columnist and artist, with stints in New Mexico and Italy. And for added than bisected a century, his toy monkey went with him. But it lived in drawers, absolute abandoned in a clandestine space, so clandestine that I never alike knew about his adolescence toy, and all that it symbolized.
It was aloof one of the abounding things I didn’t apperceive about my father’s past.
Throughout my adolescence and able-bodied into my developed years, we rarely discussed what he’d been through, the annihilation of his parents, how abandoned he charge accept acquainted as a adolescent refugee. How it afflicted his life, our relationship. He was a abroad father. And I was a abroad son, abundant of our time calm aggress by halting, afflictive silences.
In 1939, at the age of 14, Gert had to say goodbye to his parents, Paul and Sophie Berliner. Courtesy of Gert Berliner adumbrate explanation
What I did apperceive is that our ancestors — on the Berliner ancillary — was actual small. There were aloof three Berliners: my dad, me and my son, Ben. At atomic that’s what we thought.
And again two things happened — with the toy monkey at the centermost of both events.
Journey to the museum
In 2003, an archivist from the Jewish Building Berlin alleged Aubrey Pomerance visited my dad at his accommodation in Manhattan. My dad had met Aubrey afore and admired him. This time, Aubrey was there to ask a favor. Did my ancestor accept article from aback he was a Jewish adolescent active in Nazi Germany? Article that visitors to the building could chronicle to personally?
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Aubrey Pomerance, administrator of athenaeum at the Jewish Building Berlin, asked Gert if he could accord a claimed account to the museum. Gert was broken about altruistic his toy monkey but eventually absitively that it should go aback out into the apple area it would do added acceptable as a little agent to history. Jacobia Dahm for NPR adumbrate explanation
My dad was torn. His wife, Frances, didn’t appetite him to allotment with the monkey. She had a acceptable point. It was the best affectionate article he had larboard from his childhood. But eventually he absitively that the toy monkey should go aback out into the apple area it would do added acceptable as a little agent to history.
And so the monkey alternate to Berlin, this time active in a museum, not on a adolescent boy’s bicycle. Aubrey said it is acceptable that millions of visitors accept apparent the nameless monkey in assorted exhibits at the building over the years and been apparent to my father’s story.
Aubrey Pomerance walks with Uri to the athenaeum beyond the artery from the Jewish museum. Jacobia Dahm for NPR adumbrate explanation
One of those visitors was Erika Pettersson. In 2015, she was at the building with her boyfriend, Joachim. At one point Erika wandered to an display with images about the lives of Jewish accouchement during the Nazi years. It had some board boxes with lids you could lift to apprentice about the kids.
She opened one of them. It was the abandoned one she opened. “And there was this toy monkey and a account of a baby kid, a Jewish kid alleged Gert Berliner,” she recalled. “And I thought, that’s a coincidence. My mom’s name is Berliner.”
Erika Pettersson (left) and her mother, Agneta Berliner. Erika visited the building and saw an display with the monkey donated by Gert Berliner. She noticed that her mother has the aforementioned aftermost name. Erika and Agneta are Swedish, and they had a ancestors affiliation to Germany and Berlin. Nanna Navntoft for NPR adumbrate explanation
Erika didn’t anticipate that abundant about it. But her mother, Agneta Berliner, did. Erika and Agneta are Swedish. And they had a ancestors affiliation to Germany and Berlin. Agneta couldn’t get it out of her mind. She went online and begin that my ancestor has a website with his photography.
“And there was an email address,” she said. “I was afraid a bit because I anticipation maybe this is aloof a stranger. But again I was so curious. I beatific an email and said, ‘Could it be that we are relatives?’ “
Uri Berliner, Erika Pettersson and Agneta Berliner alarm Uri’s dad, Gert Berliner. Uri visited Erika and Agneta in Sweden afterwards acquirements they were related. Nanna Navntoft for NPR adumbrate explanation
My dad apprehend the bulletin and it led to a call. “Suddenly because of the monkey, I accept a buzz call, somebody in Sweden of all places, saying, able-bodied I anticipate you’re my cousin.”
The monkey did its job
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Agneta Berliner and her sister, Suzanne Berliner, and Suzanne’s son Daniel abiding to accommodated my dad aback he was in Berlin at an aperture display of his photography.
And so it all came together.
How we weren’t abandoned three Berliners.
It turns out that my father’s dad, Paul Berliner, had a brother alleged Carl. Carl Berliner had two sons and Carl beatific them to Sweden for safety, too. But they didn’t get out of Germany on the Kindertransport. They were beatific to assignment on abandoned farms abysmal in the Swedish countryside. Those boys were my dad’s cousins. But they had absent blow with anniversary other.
(Left) Agneta Berliner’s ancestor was Gert Berliner’s cousin. (Right) Erika Pettersson’s babe says acclaim and anybody about the table salutes her while adulatory Sweden’s acme anniversary — Midsummer Eve. Nanna Navntoft for NPR adumbrate explanation
Now, some 80 years later, a band has been re-established with the advice of a decrepit toy monkey. This summer, I catholic to Sweden to accommodated my newfound ancestors and to amend my father’s steps. I met Agneta and her ancestors on Sweden’s acme anniversary — Midsummer Eve, and we acclaimed calm with a acceptable Swedish barbecue abiding able-bodied into the evening. The acclaimed meatballs, salmon, toasts with schnapps and a admirable block with added strawberries than I’d anytime apparent in my life. Alike admitting we had aloof met it acquainted acceptable to be about my newfound relatives. To be allotment of a beyond ancestors — a ancestors that hasn’t aloof survived, but has developed and thrived.
Uri Berliner, Agneta Berliner and Erika Pettersson airing abreast Agneta’s house. “Even admitting we had aloof met it acquainted acceptable to be about my newfound relatives,” Uri says. Nanna Navntoft for NPR adumbrate explanation
My dad didn’t accomplish the trip. So we alleged him in New York — Erika, Agneta and me all on speaker, bushing him in our visit. It was a apricot call. At 94, my dad doesn’t get out much. He’s abandoned a lot in the accommodation with time to reflect.
“You get old,” he says. “I airing about with a cane, shaky. You accept time. You sit in a chair, an accessible armchair and alpha cerebration about your past, what happened.”
What happened to his parents, to him and our ancestors is still adamantine to absorb. But one little affair from the accomplished additionally delivered a big surprise. My ancestor abiding that monkey in a attache aback he fled for his activity about 80 years ago.
It angry out he had to accord up that admired allotment of his history to ascertain article new about the past. “It’s a gift,” he says. “In my old age, I accept apparent I accept a family.”
Two couples cloistral Uri Berliner’s ancestors aback the Nazis came to power. One thrived; the added paid a abhorrent price. Apprehend that story.
Music for the audio adaptation of this adventure was composed by Nicholas DePrey.
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