Last weekend, I journeyed to Columbus, Ohio, for a family Bat Mitzvah. There, I had the pleasure of spending time with Werner Frank, whose astounding genealogical research includes some of my own family history (on my dad’s side).
Werner, who emigrated from Germany as a child in 1937, has recently published a book focusing on a specific strand of this research: the story of the October 1940 deportation of Jews from the Baden region of Germany to Gurs, an internment camp in France. From Gurs, many of these Jews were eventually deported to Auschwitz. This helps explain the book’s full title: The Curse of Gurs: Way Station to Auschwitz.
The story is particularly painful because so many of Werner’s relatives were among these Baden Jews (as were some of mine). Moreover, Werner remains acutely aware of his good fortune in having left Baden before 1940 – a realization that I similarly share concerning my grandparents, who were also Baden-born.
I purchased a Kindle copy of Werner’s book while we were in Columbus; Werner was kind enough to then gift me with a print copy. As an historian, I was wowed from the outset by Dr. Michael Berenbaum‘s introduction:
Frank does three things remarkably well. He explores the towns of the Baden regions where Jews had lives for centuries, often in the same house, generation after generation, and describes the institutions of these towns, their synagogues and community life, their leaders and rabbis. He also conveys the narrative of the Jews who were deported, name-by-name, family-by-family. A genealogist through [and] through, he knows how to research community records and documents, and to create family trees. Because of this work, he depicts the extended members of his ancestors and their descendants in a network of relationships to the Frank family. It is a significant achievement.
Yet above all, he has entered the inner courtyard of Gurs and portrayed a sense of life in the camp, the spiritual life of German Jews who were exiled to a French internment camp where they were detained in horrific conditions until their fate was decided. He brings forth to the reader documents and letters, telegrams and artifacts, pictures and images, all of which enable us to enter with him into the camp’s brutal gates.
This book is not for everyone. But it’s a book that I, for one, am grateful for.