One day while temporarily living in Spain, Omi played hookey with her younger brother Fritz. She wrote “The dirigible, Hindenburg, sailed majestically, and silently, across the bay. It was a big thrill, and we would have missed it if we had been in class.”
Okay, so I’m nearly there. The story is starting read like something you can link together. The characters have some punch, some beauty, and some warts. There is almost enough flesh and bones on them to have coffee with them. My book is almost ready for the first harsh edit!
Today I worked on the end of the book that brings me back to my grandmothers story of survival during world war two. I, the first child of refugees from Germany to be born in the USA, now work with refugees. I like that.
Redemption is, in my opinion the most powerful word in the English language. How the story I was born into and continue to write, is being redeemed is one great example of why I feel so strongly about this word; about this quality of God.
As a preview snippet from my book, meet my grandmother, Omi:
In 1933, just after Adolf Hitler was elected Chancellor of Germany, an arsonist set fire to the Reichstag, Berlins primary government building. My grandma told me that “the fire was blamed on the Jews, and their persecution followed in earnest.”
On the same day my grandmother, then 12 years old, went to school and her teacher, Mr Nabel handed out little swastikas to all the kids in her class. They were told to sing as loudly and enthusiastically as possible as this would make the right impression on the authorities. Mr Nabel was grandma’s favorite teacher, so with all hear heart, she sang for the glory of Nazi Germany.
It would have been a great commercial for the Nazi party. My Jewish grandma singing her lungs out on a city-wide parade honoring Hitler.
Hitler was leading the way to a prosperous 1000-year reign of the blue-eyed Third Reich. His promises included a quick fix to a very broken economy, the end of most social problems, and a Germany that asserts it’s position in the world as the ideal of beauty, culture, and strength.
The German word for grandma is Omi. This is the only name I have ever used for my dads mother. She was Omi to me, not Karin Walbaum.
Omi’s dad, my great grandfather, overheard a conversation on a train ride to work that the fire had been started by Jews, and that they were going to be rounded up and questioned. When he got to work, he told a friend what he had heard. This “indiscretion” got him in trouble with the Gestapo, who visited his house a few days later.
He was warned that this “unfounded and vicious rumor regarding the Reichstag fire” must not be repeated. After a very uncomfortable day of interrogations, Mr. Fritz Walbaum, my great grandfather was sent home from Gestapo head quarters. Thinking he had convinced the officials that he had merely repeated what he had passively heard, he relaxed in his home, surrounded by family.
On April 20, 1933, the day Hitler celebrated his 40th birthday, my grandfather was fired from his job at AEG –the German arm of General Electric. On the same day the census office mandated a national tabulation of all residents of Germany.
Omi had no idea that she was Jewish at the time. In fact, she believed her family to be Lutheran, as her fathers baptism suggested. Omi also didn’t know that under the current of German propaganda, ovens were being constructed for the removal of the race that Hitler believed deliberately brought on the great Depression and made Germany lose world war one.
From the week that Omi and her family lost their job at AEG, they became refugees. They fled first to San Filiu de Guixols, a small village in North Eastern Spain. Great grandpa, under a pseudonym was translating AEG engineering documents from Spanish to German with the support of a lifelong friend in Berlin, barely making it month by month.
In Spain Omi excelled at getting out of schoolwork and skipping class to go to the beach. In her memoirs Omi wrote about her fun times that year with her younger brother, also named Fritz. “.. while playing hooky at the beach we received a big bonus. The dirigible, Hindenburg, sailed majestically, and silently, across the bay. It was a big thrill, and we would have missed it had we been in class. Being bad isn’t often rewarded so handsomely!”
In the summer of 1936 the Spanish civil war broke out, again displacing Omi and her family. With a skip through Berlin, Omi ended up in Italy where for a short time, Jews were safe from harm.
They rented two rooms from “Mama Lovatti,” a widow with 5 children of her own. Bruno, her oldest son was 24 and irresistible according to Omi. On the 15th of November during a lunar eclipse, Omi was grabbed by Bruno and given her very first kiss. She was 17.
In the fall of 1938, Mousilini made a bid of friendship with the Nazis by giving notice that in 6 months Jews would begin boarding the infamous trains North to Germany. Omi’s family of four (she had a younger brother, also named Fritz) was very fortunate to get permission to travel to Shang Hai, one of the last places granting visas to Jews during Hitlers Regime.
On the way to Shang Hai the ship docked in Madras, India. Word spread on the ship that two visas were to be granted to Jews who wished to work in the home of an RAF family stationed there. Omi, at age 18, and her 13 year old brother got off the boat.
When the war finally ended she was working for the same family. Then it was announced that all citizens of Germany living in India were to be put in POW facilities. Omi, hunted by her own country, then spent a year in a camp in Delhi as a German prisoner of war. She said it was fun.
After her time in India she married a British royal air force officer, settled down in Surry and started a family. Of the three boys and two girls born in the UK, my dad, Pete Thomsett, was #___. And finally, to pursue the thirst for freedom and opportunity, in 1960-something, Omi and my grandfather to be, Ronald moved to San Francisco, California.
Omi liked to introduce herself as a good bowler, a lifelong learner, and a woman who outlived three dictators. She told me to stop wearing bikini underwear after I got married. She said people who wear boxers are more likely to bear children. She really wanted great-grandkids. I don’t like boxers.
Omi’s mom, my great grandmother, is said to have stayed alive just to hold me, the first free born child in their new homeland of the United States of America. I have a picture of her holding me just after I was born in the house mom refers to as the commune. She died that year. I, Steven Ronald Thomsett, was informally christened “Omi’s Angel” in March, 1968.