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  • Writer's pictureKaren L


Updated: Nov 9, 2021

Her name was Emmy. I know little about her. She was my great aunt, the older sister of my grandfather Karl. I never met him either, since he died in Shanghai--a stateless refugee--before my parents had met. He might have told me about his older sister.

No one to blame for the silence, I suppose. My mother left Germany when she was 11 years old. Her scant memories of this woman were the remaining tidbits of a living, breathing person. Thankfully, I possessed the prescience to ask my mother about Emmy during my mother's last years. My grandmother Kaethe--who lived until I was in my early 20's--never mentioned her sister-in-law who nagged her to dress more stylish. Omi Kaethe suffered severe depression and enumerable losses. Possibly, Emmy represented one more tragedy my grandmother could not bear.

Emmy sent her teenage son, Hans, to Shanghai before World War II broke out; my mother knew Hans in Shanghai. I met him in San Francisco as a young child, but he died early on, in the late 1950's. Hans and Elfie, his wife, had a son Robert. His wife, who I knew throughout my childhood, remarried. Their son, Robert, appeared at my wedding in 1976. That was the last anyone in the family saw him.

I am sure Emmy had friends in Berlin. She and her mother, my grandmother Klara, owned a fancy dress shop. Emmy and Klara exemplified the independent, entrepreneural, and fashionable women of the 1920's and early 1930's, a new demographic in post World War I Germany. I picture Emmy tall, handsome, and dressed in the 1920's style of cloche hats and knee length dresses with dropped waists. I love the style and emulated the mode in the 1980's when Laura Ashley clothes were the rage. I continue to wear cloche hats .

Emmy had relationships with men, as evidenced by her last name Brodnitz. Who was he? Emmy bore a son, Hans, with someone, but who? Hans was known as Hans Mayer. Emmy must have been a dutiful daughter, since she did not leave her elderly mother alone after the war began. She knew to send her son away though. I discovered evidence that she traveled around Germany, perhaps to evade the Nazis. Her end is terrible, sent to Estonia on a train and shot behind a depot. The Nazis tried desperately to destroy each and every Jew. However, they failed. I am here to remember.

My sister and I arranged to have a Stolperstein placed in front of her last residence in Charlottenburg--Wilmersdorf. a fashionable neighborhood in Berlin. A few people attended the ceremony today. Gunther Demning, the artist responsible for the Stolpersteine project, personally placed her stone in the cobblestone sidewalk. We say the Kaddish and her name. One of millions.

A picture of Klara as a young girl. I do not have a picture of Emmy.

Stolperstein for Emmy Brodnitz, 11/8/2021

© 2021 Karen Levi

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