I, Walter Jacob Natt, was born in Frankfurt
am Main, Germany, on March 2, 1915. My parents were Dr. Hugo Natt, born April 8th, 1881 in
Langenlonsheim an der Nahe, and Clara nee Bischheim, born in Frankfurt am Main on
September 29th, 1899. They were married on April 14th, 1912.
At the time of my birth, my father, Dr. Hugo
Natt, was in the service as a captain and physician at the Western Front. Except for some
rare furloughs, I hardly knew and rarely saw him until he came home in 1919 when World War
I ended with Germany's defeat. My memories of the first four years of my life, of course,
are very dim. All I can recall are some stays in the air raid shelter when the English and
French dirigibles flew over Frankfurt, and some fights with my dear brother Ernst over the
toys Papa brought home when on furlough. Also - strangely enough - I remember the death of
my grandfather, Bernhard Bischheim, when all the grandchildren were called to his deathbed
to be blessed.
After the armistice was signed in 1918,
economic conditions in Germany were very bad with an unbelievable rate of inflation. The
price of a loaf of bread within a few months went from a few Pfennige to millions of
Marks. It was not unusual for the price of an article to double from one day to the next.
Papa had to completely rebuild his practice again after his return from the army. In these
days of inflation, it was common practice for a doctor to be paid in goods or services
rather than money, which was just about useless. In addition to the inflation, there was a
desperate shortage of food. Therefore, Papa often had to spend his weekends trying to get
some food at outlying farms, where he went by bicycle early in the morning, coming back
late in the evening.
Our family was well off financially, but
there were just hardly any goods available until I was 7 or 8 years old and the economy
began to stabilize.
We were a typical Frankfurt family, cozy and
comfortable in this city of 400,000, knowing that our forefathers on my mother's side had
lived there for over 400 years, or maybe even longer, since the records did not go back
any further. The Natt family came from Langenlonsheim by the river Nahe (a, tributary of
the river Rhine), about 50 miles west of the city of Frankfurt where our family had lived
for at least 400 years.
We were very conscious of our Jewish
heritage; on my mother's side, orthodox, and on my father's side, very liberal. At the
same time, we were very patriotic and conservative Germans, with Judaism just considered
our religion, but our nationality strictly and proudly German until our very rude
awakening when Hitler came to power on January 30th, 1933. Papa was a reserve officer in
the German army - there were only few Jews who became officers in Germany - and decorated
repeatedly for bravery during the war, including the Iron Cross First Class, which was
only rarely awarded in these days. He was gassed twice with poison gas, and it took quite
a few years until he had completely recovered.
The wealth of historical and genealogical
information which is available on my mother, Clara Regina Bischheim's, side was compiled
by my uncle Simon Bischheim, who did an outstanding job in his book, "The History of
the Bischheim Family."
My fathers family had been vintners
and wine merchants for many generations. At an early age, my father's parents, Joseph and
Rosa Natt, moved to Frankfurt to start a wholesale business in wine. He had four sisters
and three brothers,, but half of them died at a young age, as was not unusual in those
days. only four of the eight children lived to grow up: Julius, Rudolf, Emily, and my
father Hugo. My grandmother, Rosa Natt, died when my father was only 15 years old. After
my grandfather's second marriage to Rosa Fuchs, so much friction developed in the family
that it was completely split apart. Of the four children, only my father, through high
intelligence and very hard work, was able to establish a career and was very highly
respected in Frankfurt both as a person and as a physician.
A rather unique tribute to my father's
reputation came to our attention in 1982, 19 years after his death in 1963. The article,
part of which I am translating below, appeared in a Frankfurt newspaper on the occasion of
the 80th anniversary celebration of the Schaare Zedek Hospital in Jerusalem. This
celebration took place in the City Hall of Frankfurt. This hospital had been founded 80
years ago by the city of Frankfurt and its Jewish community and is being supported by them
to this day.
"Dr. Jorgen Schmidt-Voigt, Chief
Physician in charge of the County Hospital Main-Taunus in Bad Soden, praised the
importance and merits of the Schaare Zedek Hospital in Jerusalem. He reported in detail an
event from his youth, a health emergency in his family, which was only resolved through
the courageous and unselfish action of a physician. This event, which occurred when he was
only 10 years old, impressed upon him the ethics of a true physician. It was the Jewish
physician Dr. Hugo Natt who became his example and guiding influence. This tradition of a
true physician, not a businessman with a degree in medicine, who practices his profession
for humanitarian reasons, should also be the guiding spirit of the Schaare Zedek Hospital,
This tribute came from a Christian German
physician, about 40 to 50 years after he met my father for the first time.
The following are the fates of the other
three children of Joseph and Rosa Natt:
Julius Natt, my father's oldest brother, was
not known to us at all. He left Frankfurt at an early age, got married in France, and
moved to the United States. He had four children: Teddy, George, Marion, and Rosa. Teddy,
whom we last met some 50 years ago, was a career officer in the U. S. Air Force, at that
time a Lieutenant Colonel. George was in the Maritime Service. Marion lived in the New
York area. We were completely out of touch with this branch of the family until in
December of 1994 we received a call from Marion who had traced us based on information
received from Diane, the daughter-in-law of Ted Natt, grand-son of Julius Natt. Shortly
thereafter she came to New York to meet us, together with her husband, also named Ted. We
have been in touch ever since. The history of this branch of the family is shown on page
91 and 92.
My fathers brother, Rudolf Natt was a
businessman before World War I. While in service during the war on the Western Front, he
was wounded and buried for several days when his bunker was hit and collapsed. This
affected him mentally for the rest of his life, and he was never able to make a living
again. My father largely supported him and his family. He, his wife Rosa, and their son
Willy, who was a cantor, were deported to the East during the Hitler time and perished in
My father's sister Emily, whom Bernie and
Bobbie may still remember, was married in Frankfurt, but divorced a few years thereafter.
Due to the stigma attached in these days to a divorce, she had to emigrate to the United
States. There she married Pasquale Clemente, who was known to us as Uncle Patsy. Relly and
I were very close to them,, and they loved us dearly. Many a Sunday and holiday we were
invited there for tremendous Italian dinners. They took great pride in our progress here
in the United States and loved seeing Bernie and Bobby at their house. Uncle Patsy died in
1955 at the age of 85, and Aunt Emily in 1963 at the age of 89. Aunt Emily's daughter,
Betty, who was born in Frankfurt, died in 1960. Uncle Patsy was one of the nicest and
sweetest men we ever met, full of fun. He was a barber and had his shop, "Clemente's
Sanitary Barbershop," on 23rd Street in Manhattan, between 7th and 8th Avenues, where
Cavanaugh's restaurant is located now. The foundation of the old barber pole can still be
seen in the sidewalk there. They lived on the top floor of the apartment house across the
The earlier history of the Natt family came
to light only quite recently, largely from the study "History of the Jewish community
of Langonlonsheim" by Carl-Wilhelm Hoffler, published in 1991 and the copies of the
records in the village registry, to which my brother Bernhard managed to obtain access.
The study was based on the tax records of the provincial capital of Koblenz, as well as
the records of the "Schutzgeld", the moneys paid to the reigning prince or
bishop for protection. All Jews were subject to this levy if they wanted to live in peace,
although quite often this supposed protection proved quite ineffective.