Three Generations Return to Germany to Remember a Grandmother

The Jewish News
Joyce Wiswell

Joyce Wiswell

Steven Meyers does not remember a whole lot about his grandmother, who was murdered in Treblinka, but he wanted to honor her memory.

“She was a nice lady, a good cook — the usual grandmother,” Meyers, 92, said of Paula Stern Klein. “She deserved remembrance somehow.”

Meyers of Farmington Hills got the idea when he visited his native Germany last year. At a cemetery, he noticed the memorial plaques some families had added to commemorate relatives who perished in the Holocaust.

Meyers immigrated to the United States in 1939 at age 14, about six months after Kristallnacht, “the Night of Broken Glass.” He was unaware of the pogrom against Jews until he was walking to school the next day.

We were three generations right there. The kids felt like they were part of the descendants.

Steven Meyers

“I walked by the barber shop and the barber said, ‘Go on home; you shouldn’t be out.’ We didn’t realize what was going on because the night before the manager of our apartment building told [the Nazis] there were no Jews living there,” he said.

He doesn’t remember a lot of the details about the subsequent decision to move to America or why his grandparents didn’t come along. He arrived with his parents in New York in May 1939; an aunt met their ship, and the family settled in Detroit. Meyers graduated from Cass Tech High School in 1943. He then entered the Army — “went back to Europe paid for by Uncle Sam” — and after World War II attended Wayne State University on the GI Bill.

Steven Meyers at an old family grave in Gemunden, Germany.
Steven Meyers is flanked by his family at the May 2017 unveiling of the new gravestone in Nuremberg, Germany. From left are granddaughter Andrea Rottman, daughter Fran Martin, daughter Karen Rottman, son-in-law Morris Rottman and granddaughter Emilie Rottman

 

Except for a brief time during the war and once in the 1970s, Meyers did not return to Nuremberg until 2016, when he visited with his daughter and son-in-law, Karen and Morris Rottman of West Bloomfield. That’s when he got the idea to add a commemorative plaque to the grave of his grandfather, Isaac Klein, who died of pneumonia in 1941. (Meyers had earlier learned his grandmother was deported to the Theresienstadt “camp-ghetto” near Prague, and then to the Treblinka concentration camp in Poland, where she was killed.)

“His grandparents were the same age as Dad’s, and they happened to belong to the same synagogue,” Karen said. “I like to think that maybe they were friends.”Karen reached out to the Nuremberg Jewish Community Center for advice on obtaining a commemorative plaque and was helped by its president, Rudi Ceslanski, who had done the exact same thing for his own grandfather.

UNVEILING IN MAY

Meyers returned to Nuremberg this past May to see the unveiling of the stone. In addition to his daughter and son-in-law, he was accompanied by another daughter, Fran Martin, and granddaughters Andrea Rottman and Emilie Rottman.

Joined by Ceslanski, the family held an informal memorial ceremony at Isaac’s grave where the new charcoal-grey stone honors Paula Stern Klein with the words “ermordet [murdered] in Treblinka.”

“I printed some things from the internet and we each read from it, and adapted a poem about ancestors and put my great-grandmother’s name in it,” Karen said. “My dad told a little story that he remembered about his grandparents, but it was so long ago that he does not remember a lot.”

Said Meyers, “We were three generations right there. The kids felt like they were part of the descendants. We saw the apartment building where we lived and it was rebuilt just like it was nearly 80 years ago. I showed the kids where my bedroom was.”

The family also visited the town of Gemunden, where they saw the former synagogue (now a private home), the graves of some paternal relatives and the names of three uncles on a World War I memorial.

“We met the mayor and he gave us a plaque,” Karen said. “We felt like celebrities for the day.”
Meyers, a member of Oak Park’s Congregation Beth Shalom, had a long career as an industrial engineer that included stints at General Motors, Ford, Chrysler and Volkswagen. He is still learning to adjust to life without his wife of nearly 65 years, Marcia, who died in February 2016.

“I tell you, we enjoyed life together,” he said. “Now I’m busy, busy, busy, playing golf, playing bridge with lots of good friends.”

He’s glad he could commemorate his grandmother’s life and tragic death.

“I know,” he said, “she would have appreciated what we did.”

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