When we were children, we spent many weekends and even vacations at the "Natt" house in Langenlonsheim. The house was on one end of a large garden; at the other end was the building with the huge wine presses, and underground were tremendous wine cellars with many, many large barrels into which the grape juice flowed to be fermented into wine.
We always had a wonderful time there. In the fall we went with the workers into the vineyards to help with the picking of the grapes, which were thrown into containers strapped to our backs. When the container was full, its contents was emptied into a horse drawn cart, which brought the grapes to the wine presses. It was a special treat to go down later on into the wine cellar and to taste a little sip from as many barrels as possible. By the time we came upstairs again, all of us, Papa as well as the children, felt unusually happy and were unable to walk straight. We would then sit down to a huge meal - in those days people did not know about diets - washed down with lots of wine. It was an idyllic life in Langenlonsheim. Jews and Christians lived together in peace and harmony for many years. By the time I was born, the family had expanded into quite a few of the neighboring towns and villages, to Bingen, Bad Kreuznach, etc.; and everybody was busy on weekends visiting and being visited by the cousins in the other towns. All this came to a tragic end after Hitler came to power, as described later on.
Fritz Natt and his family emigrated in 1939 to Bolivia, where he and his wife Else died. Hans Natt, the sole survivor of this family, after a stay of several years in Israel, returned to Germany where he presently lives in Bingen with his wife, Louise.
We also spent many a vacation and holiday in Bingen at the home of Uncle Carl and Aunt Lili Brueck, nee Natt, my fathers cousin, with their children, Walter and Lotti Brueck. Walter went to Israel in 1939 where he lives under the name David Barkai, and his sister Lotti perished in the holocaust. (David Barkai died in 1988)
Up to the time the Nazis came to power, we all were very patriotic Germans and identified closely with the Rhineland. This is a very beautiful area of Germany, mountains crowned with many ancient castles on both sides of the river Rhine, and a very romantic landscape. After World War I, the Rhineland was occupied by the French army until about 1929. I still remember the celebrations when the French occupation ended. Dear Papa and we three boys made a special trip to Bingen on this day in our new huge 8-cylinder Wanderer convertible. Dear Mama was not at all enthused about this and did not come along. We all drank, sang, and celebrated throughout the night, going from tavern to tavern. By the time morning came around, we all were very tipsy, and dear Papa, getting very impatient with the careful driving of our chauffeur, took the wheel and drove us home in record time. Dear Mama was not pleased when we arrived home at last.
We had a good life in Frankfurt up to 1933, with a lovely home at No. 14 Holzhausenstrasse. Since Papa had an extremely busy practice, it was dear mama's responsibility not only to take care of the house, but to bring up us three boys and to take care of all the bookkeeping and other business matters connected with the practice as well. We had servants to help her. While we lived in Frankfurt, Mama always kept a kosher house, with special dishes for Pesach, and looked after our religious education. On weekends, the whole family went on long hikes; when we were young, into the beautiful forest surrounding Frankfurt, and when we got bigger, into the Taunus Mountains. We went on vacations every year as well, although Papa usually joined us for a few days only.
The family in Frankfurt was very close-knit. Both parents' families lived in the same house in Humbodtstrasse 3; Papa's family on the ground floor and Mama's parents, who owned the building, one flight up. Mama used to tell us that one of the reasons Papa dated her was the convenience of living in the same house - since he was very busy he did not want to waste any time courting her. We lived right around the corner from the two grandmothers, which was very nice for us children. Not only were we able to converse from house to house, but it also was very easy to visit our grandmothers. As a matter of fact, whenever I was a bad boy - and this did happen occasionally - and therefore did not get any dessert after dinner, I would sneak over to my grandmothers, and first get a dessert downstairs, and then another one upstairs.
While we usually, of course, were quite good, we were not perfect all the time. Ernst and I used to fight quite a bit, but never Bernhard. Whenever Ernst and I were fighting, Bernhard used to climb atop of one of the high wardrobes (there were no built-in closets in those days) and read a book, at the same time watching our fighting from atop with amusement.
I don't recall anymore why we were fighting so frequently, other than just for the fun of it. The only incident which stands out in my mind was the time when I replaced the cigarettes in Ernst's brand new case with chocolate cigarettes just before he went to a dance, and how furious he became when his friends could not light the cigarettes offered.
Playing ball in the street was strictly "Verboten" (prohibited). Of course we took special pleasure in doing so just the same. Eventually we got caught by the police, arrested, and locked up in the police station. Only due to the fact that we were the sons of Herr Dr. Natt, who had to come down to the police station to get us, did we get off with just a warning.
Since Papa had a car, we boys at times were too lazy to walk and asked to be driven whenever possible. Papa was a strong believer in physical fitness and was not happy about this at all. So one beautiful afternoon he took my friend, Gerhard Loewenstein, and me for a ride into the countryside, about 25 miles from home. When Gerhard and I stepped out of the car to admire the landscape, Papa sneaked back into the car and had it driven away, leaving us on the spot without a penny in our pockets. We had no choice but to hike back home and arrived there late at night.
Some Sunday when I was about 10 years old, the whole family was just about ready to go out for our customary Sunday afternoon "Spaziergang" (stroll), with us three boys in our Sunday best. We boys usually walked ahead of the parents, with us holding hands. Mama and Papa followed us, arm in arm. Whenever we passed acquaintances or patients of dear Papa, we doffed our caps in unison. It so happened that on this particular day, the streets were cut open for repairs to the sewer lines. Since the parents were delayed in coming down for some reason, we boys started climbing down into the open trenches, and before long were covered head to toe with the tar which was used for sealing the pipes. Imagine the surprise of the parents when they finally came down. Of course all of our clothing had to be discarded, and it took days of washing with benzene to get us clean again.
Our life in Frankfurt was very pleasant in these years, with a lovely family circle both in the Rhineland and in Frankfurt.
In Frankfurt we had Mama's family, her sister Adele (1883-1970) and her brother Simon (1885-1977) and their families, as well as many cousins and friends.
Adele Bischheim was married to Norbert Mayer, a leather wholesaler, and had three daughters. He left Frankfurt in 1933 and settled in London. Else, the oldest daughter, wife of Hugo Klugman, a jewelry merchant, had one child, Margot, who lives now in London as wife of Freddy Haas, a barrister. They had three daughters as well. Emmy Mayer, the younger daughter of Adele, passed away in 1963, and Hilde, her youngest child, still lives in London. Neither Emmy nor Hilde were married.
We saw Hilde Mayer, my first cousin, many times while we were in London, and some years ago we spent two weeks with her, as well as Susi and Ernst and Judity and Bernard in Klosters (Switzerland) and she always was wonderful company. While she claims (and she probably is right) that I used to chase her around all the time when I was a young boy, she does not hold this against me anymore.
Simon Bischheim, a fabric wholesaler, moved to London in 1935 and visited us many times in the U.S. He frequently stayed at our home in Bayswater. He left Frankfurt in 1935 with his wife Elsa and their four children: Bernhard (born 1920), Helen, also called Didi (born 1921), Eric (born 1922), and Richard (born 1925). Bernhard, with his four children, moved to Jerusalem, whereas Eric, Didi, and Richard still live in London. Bernhard's four children, Jennifer, Stanley, Jeremy, and Elliot, are living in Jerusalem; Eric's oldest daughter, Jacqueline, who visited us many times, is now a radio broadcaster in Jerusalem, and the two younger girls, Patricia and Joanna, are living in London. Richard's children, Robert, Clive, and Claudia, are in London as well. Bernard passed away in 1987 in Jerusalem, and his wife Naomi in 1997.
Of the Beecham family, we were closest with Helen (Didi), who for about a year lived in New York when we spent time together frequently. Her husband Michael Robertson passed away in 1975 and during our frequent trips to London we always enjoyed her beautiful hospitality (and cooking) when she prepared delicious Shabat dinners for us, inviting many cousins at the same time - often as many as 15 people.
Also Bernard Beecham (he passed away in 1987) and his wife Naomi (she passed away in 1997) always kept in touch with us, and during our four visits to Israel they always were very hospitable. In 1989, when we visited Israel for Beths Bat Mitzvah she had our whole group for dinner, together with quite a few cousins. We all had a lovely time.
As children we had many friends, both Jewish and Gentile - at the time there was little difference. My first six school years were spent at the Philantropin, at the time the largest Jewish institute of higher learning in Europe. This school was founded in 1804 by one of our ancestors, Siegmund Geisenheimer. When I was 12 years old, I was transferred to the Musterschule, which was a very demanding high school with extremely high standards and an unusually difficult schedule.
In this school it was not possible to pick courses, everybody had to be able to pass Latin, French, and English, as well as math and physics, etc., etc. Even religion was taught in this school, with separate classes for Protestants, Catholics, and Jews. Corporal punishment was not only permitted but actually encouraged for any student who did not pay attention or misbehaved, in spite of the fact that most students were 19 years old by the time they passed the "Abitur" examination, which was equivalent to finishing the fourth year of college here in the U.S.
At home, since Papa was a very busy physician, it was my mother's responsibility not only to run the household, and practically by herself bring up the children, but also to take care of Papa's bookkeeping and billing. These were the days when a physician spent a good part of his time making house calls during just about any hour of the day, and even at night if needed. It was considered crude and insulting to pay a doctor after a visit. The customary procedure was to send out statements every three months. Whoever could pay did so, but if someone was too poor and not covered by insurance, the bill was just forgotten. Papa would never permit any pressure to be exerted against a patient of his, and we never knew how many people were truly poor and how many just cheated.
Usually Papa left the house early in the morning, then came back for the main meal of the day, which was lunch. After a short nap, he would go back to his practice and not return home until late in the evening. only on Sundays would we spend time with him, when the whole family went for a walk or hike, which usually ended in one of the forest-restaurants with hand cheese and hard apple cider. He was a very talented man, interested in any subject. His favorite hobby was writing poetry, especially limericks, of which he wrote hundreds. These were then read aloud to everybody's pleasure at one of the frequent family gatherings, often making fun of some family member.
My mother, Clara Regina Natt (nee Bischheim) was born 1889 in Frankfurt, the youngest child of Auguste and Bernhard Bischheim. Mama was a very quiet person, brought up in a strictly Victorian and conservative manner. She was a talented pianist and singer and had studied to be a kindergarten teacher at "Von Puttkammer's seminary for daughters of the upper classes" (Seminar fur Hohere Tochter). Married at the age of 23 to my father in 1912, when Papa had already established himself as a young and up-coming physician. Papa had lived with his parents on the ground floor of the apartment house the Bischheim family owned in the Humboldstrasse, with the Bischheim family living on the next floor.
After their marriage, they set up home nearby. Mama immediately had to take over the bookkeeping and billing for Papa, since she found things in a chaotic condition. Papa had an intense disliking for anything having to do with paperwork and had neglected to send out bills for well over a year.
When World War I started in 1914, Papa immediately returned from Holland, where he had gone to meet Aunt Emily, to join his regiment at the Western Front. From this time until the end of the war in 1919, dear Mama had a very trying time. For many months at a time when the regiment was cut off, there was no mail or any other news from Papa, and Mama did not even know whether he was still alive. Furloughs were very rare, not more than once a year. Ernst was born in 1913, I in 1915, and Bernhard in 1919. It was up to Mama to bring us up, with very little food available and tremendous shortages of clothing.
When Papa came home again in 1919, he had to build up his practice again; first by bicycle, then with a motorbike, until he was finally busy enough again to have a horse-drawn carriage, taken care of by our coachman, Mr. Elsasser. By about 1925, the coach was replaced with a Model T Ford, and later on by bigger and heavier cars. They were driven by our chauffeur, Paul Scherer, who was married to one of the women who worked in our house for my mother. The Scherer couple, who were German, proved themselves to be very loyal to our family and extremely brave after Hitler came to power. We were still in contact with them until Mr. Scherer passed away in the late 1960's and Mrs Scherer in 1985. Their names will be mentioned repeatedly later on.
Our maid Eliese (I don't remember her last name), a Gentile German, was very loyal to our family and proved to be of invaluable help to the parents. Since she had two cousins who held rather high positions in the Gestapo, she had no fear of speaking up to any Gestapo man and telling him off if necessary. She stayed with the parents until the day they left Frankfurt, and it was to a large extent due to her help that dear Mama was able to function during these terrible days in 1938 and 1939.
Although my parents were, at the time, rather opposed to it, I joined the Zionist youth movement in the late 1920s. We youngsters were at this time already becoming aware of the slow rise in anti-Semitism, which tended to bring the Jewish youth together. I spent many happy weekends and vacations on hikes and camping out all over Germany and Switzerland. At the same time, I was still in close contact with all my Christian friends and school mates.
All this suddenly changed on January 30th, 1933,, when Hitler came to power. I was determined to finish my schooling at the Musterschule and pass the "Abitur" examinations and graduation equivalent to high school and four years of college in the U.S. - in order to be able to go to medical school thereafter. Few Jews were left in the school, and by the middle of 1934, I was the only Jew among about l,000 students. I did not want anything to deter me from finishing my schooling as planned, but this was not easy. All my classmates had to join the various Nazi youth organizations, and any social contact with, or even talking to, Jews was strictly prohibited. Only two of my classmates were avid Nazis, and both of them perished on the Russian front. At the time of my graduation in 1935, and this was already the time when the campaign against the Jews was going into high gear, a delegation of my classmates came to my house to apologize for their behavior during the past year, inviting me to the graduation party as well.
Since at this time it was not possible anymore for Jews to attend a university, I joined the import and export firm of Gebr. Strauss as a business apprentice, completing my apprenticeship in 1938. In June of this year, I emigrated to the United States with the help of Mr. and Mrs. Marlow, who were descendants of the Schlesinger branch of our family, and whose forefathers came to the United States in the 1870s.
My brothers Ernst and Bernhard followed their respective careers.
Ernst Natt, who was born February 1. 1913, was always very handy and gifted in all matters mechanical. Even when still a young boy, he was able to fix almost anything. Quite a few boats to be used on the river Main later on were built by him, with me assisting, in our house. The biggest and most beautiful of them all unfortunately proved to be so big that it was impossible to get it out of the front door of our home - it had to be hoisted through the stairwell onto the roof and then down the side of the house. After an apprenticeship in a business firm, he took up the profession of dental mechanics which he first studied in Frankfurt for about three years. Ernst went to London in 1937. In 1948 he married a young lady, Susie Haas, whom he already knew from Frankfurt. As the children got older, Susie took over the paperwork in Ernst's office.
After a few years he set up his own firm, "Mayfair Laboratories" which he turned over some 50 years later to his oldest son Peter, who was born August 4,-1951.
At the time,, Ernst's laboratory was the most advanced in England, and he traveled all over Europe to demonstrate and explain his techniques at conventions. Ernst and his wife Susi, nee Haas, have two children, Peter, as mentioned above, and Antony, born June 3. 1954, who is a physician.
My youngest brother Bernhard was born on January 14, 1919. He always was a very quiet child and, amongst the three of us, always the best behaved. To my recollection, he never got into any mischief whatsoever. He attended the same school I did, but left three years before the Abitur. Since he was an ardent Zionist from an early age and felt strongly about his convictions, he moved out of our house in 1934 to live and train in a Zionist youth center in Frankfurt, preparing for emigration to Israel whenever he had completed the training in the trade of his vocation, namely cabinet making. He served his apprenticeship for three years with the master craftsman Steegmuller until he fled to Holland in 1938. His fate during the next years is told by him in his own words on this page.
Bernhard returned from Auschwitz gravely ill during the summer of 1945, first with the assistance of the Red Army by truck to Pilsen in Czechoslovakia, and then flown by the Americans to a hospital at Eindhoven in Holland. There he stayed in very critical condition until 1947. In spite of his illness and being completely confined in a plaster cast, he immediately started taking correspondence courses in engineering. Since Papa was not satisfied with the progress in this hospital, Bernhard was transferred with the assistance of the Jewish Welfare Board to various sanatoriums in Switzerland, where he stayed until 1950 when he joined the rest of the family in London. Continuing his studies at the University of London and after his graduate work at the University of Leeds, he worked for six years for an engineering firm in London and then left for Israel in 1960. In 1963 he married Judith Modovan. They have three children: Vera Yael, born January 19, 1964; Aliza Auguste, born August 9, 1966; and Jair Hugo, born September 7, 1970. Since 1960, Bernhard had been working for the largest engineering firm in Israel, where he was in charge of a department which designs pipelines and pumping stations for construction jobs in Israel, Africa, and Asia. In spite of his "retirement" in 1986, he continues working 3 or 4 days a week in his profession. He still lives in Raanana (Israel). As the children grew older, Judith started working in the physics department of the University of Tel Aviv. She "retired" in 1997 but went back to work part time in 1998.
Of Bernards children, Vera was married to Tuval Katz in 1995 and has a daughter named Noa, born October 1st 1985, from a previous marriage. Although she studied to be a teacher, she now works for the same firm Bernard used to work for. Her husband now works on computers. Aliza was married to Boris Abramovich, and they have two children, Tamar, born July 7th, 1994 and Nadav, born May 30th, 1997. Both Aliza and Boris are computer engineers. Yair, who is not married yet at this time, is a tax accountant.
My parents accompanied me to London in June of 1938 to see me off when I left aboard the SS Manhattan to New York from Southampton. I still remember clearly when the boat pulled away from the pier and the parents were standing there, waving to me and getting smaller and smaller in the distance. I felt very sad not knowing whether I would ever see them again and realizing that the good and protected life in Frankfurt was over forever.
Mama and Papa went back to Frankfurt; with Papa being the only Jewish physician left there, he was most reluctant to abandon all of his sick patients without any medical care just to save his own skin. At this time, German doctors were not permitted anymore to treat Jews under any circumstances. In the end, matters were taken out of Papa's hand, since he was released from the concentration camp Buchenwald under the condition that he leave Germany immediately.
They went to London in July of 1939, where we already had a very large circle of family and friends. Papa, being already 58 years old, had a hard time getting his license, and it took him about 10 years of study and internship in hospitals until he was able to practice again. He then practiced medicine up to the last day of his life on October 30, 1963. Mama stayed in their little house at 5 Dingwall Gardens in London until she passed away on March 13, 1976. Relly and I visited the parents, and later my mother just about every year ever since 1955.
© 1999 Walter J. Natt