A few months after the end of World War I, Wolfgang Mueller was born in Germany to two Jewish, college-educated parents. As he grew up in a happy, erudite environment, Mueller could never have known that the celebration of his Bar-Mizwa in 1932, coinciding with the rise the Nazis, would mark a very important turning point in his life.
As Adolf Hitler assumed the role of chancellor, Mueller was filled with fear and foreboding, as were his parents—feelings that instigated a subsequent decision to send Mueller to boarding school in England. After being recruited to work at an American company while still in school, Mueller details how he embarked on a journey in 1936 that carried him through life-changing experiences as an American soldier during World War II to a return to civilian life, during which he eventually married, started a family, and realized professional success.
Wolf shares the inspirational story of one man’s remarkable lifelong experiences as he escaped from Nazi terror to build a life in America and learned to appreciate his good fortune.
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By Wolfgang Mueller
Abbott PressCopyright © 2013 Wolfgang Mueller
All rights reserved.
The Mueller, Rosenthal, Schuster, and Schueler Families in Westphalia
My maternal grandfather, Louis Rosenthal, died in 1912. He left his wife, Emilie Schuster Rosenthal, with a great deal of property, a huge business, and six teenagers, three boys and three girls. He was only fifty-five years old, and he loved his family and his business and enjoyed a good life. His father, Abraham Rosenthal, had settled in the Paderborn area from Erwitte, where he had grown up as one of the sons of Levi Rosenthal, a prosperous merchant and farmer in the early nineteenth century, a period when the Jewish people in Germany were battling for freedom and citizenship. At that time, Jews had barely obtained the right to move from one place to another, and Paderborn especially was still frowning on having more Jews settle there. Very few were able to obtain that permission from the authorities. Abraham and his brother were among those few. At first they started a feed and grain business in Paderborn; this led to Abraham acquiring a small flour mill close to the main road leading out of town toward Neuhaus, a nearby village, the onetime residence of the local bishop who ruled there from a four-sided castle fortress with a moat as protection from the local peasantry. That castle had been turned into the garrison of a Prussian-mounted Husaren regiment during the nineteenth century.
Abraham was able to acquire a large, water-driven flour mill situated along the road leading to that castle. This became the firm A. Rosenthal & Son, a successful enterprise producing flour for civilian and military His son Louis, my grandfather, continued in that business and expanded it by building a modern, larger, seven-story mill at the edge of the village. Across from that mill he was able to acquire a wonderful site to build a beautiful mansion surrounded by a large flower garden with stables, outbuildings, and even a tennis court.
Many of the people in Neuhaus were employed at his mills. Because my grandfather was rich, affable, and a good horseman, he enjoyed very good relations with the commander of that regiment. At the beginning of the First World War, his sons, Charles and Heinrich, served in that regiment. Charles volunteered at age sixteen, received a battlefield commission, and was discharged as a decorated lieutenant at the end of the First World War.
My grandmother Emilie's maiden name was Schuster, the German word for shoemaker, and she was one of ten siblings from an equally prosperous family in Luegde, another Westphalian rural community. This family also lived in that town for centuries. She was one of ten siblings, and she was related to the Staabs and Nordhauses in New Mexico. One of her brothers, Bernard, lived in El Paso, Texas.
Since the eighteenth century, my paternal grandfather's grandfather, whose name was Calmon Mueller, the same as my grandfather, lived in the Westphalian village Stoermede. My great-grandfather Isaac Mueller still lived there in the nineteenth century but later moved to another little town, Geseke, where my grandfather was born into a large family. My grandfather Calmon Mueller established himself in the feed and grain business in Paderborn in the nineteenth century and married Paula, maiden name Schueler, whose father was a banker in Geseke. The Schueler family was one of the oldest Jewish families in that region. They were related to a famous rabbi who was instrumental in legislative proceedings to improve the living conditions for Jewish families in Germany in the ginning of the nineteenth century. None of these families exist in that area, as their descendants either fled to other countries or were slaughtered by the Nazis.
A brief explanation of these family names: It was only at the beginning of the nineteenth century that Jews were permitted to have surnames recorded at the courthouses. Mueller and Schuster are unusual names for Jews, as at that time it was prohibited to assume names that conflicted with the guilds. A few people were able to avoid that regulation because their names had been used prior to the promulgation of those rules. In my case, the first Mueller went to the village priest to have his sons' name recorded, and when asked what his name was, he must have responded "Mueller" because that was his nickname at the time. In the case of the Schusters, it must have been similar. Rosenthal was a typical name chosen by folks who availed themselves of the new rules to choose surnames. Schueler, meaning student or scholar, was normal for a family who had emerged from the ghetto and probably was also in use prior to the new rules. When Jews had their own civil administration, the babies were always named with biblical Hebrew names in their synagogues.
I also want to mention that Jews in Germany did not hold full German citizenship until 1870; however, they were granted new freedoms, permission to serve in the military, and surnames after Napoleon brought the French Revolution into the country with his conquests.
It is also appropriate to mention here that Moses Mendelssohn, a famous Jewish philosopher who lived in Berlin in the eighteenth century, effectively sponsored emancipation for the Jews of Germany. He labored for acceptance not only by the state but also by the Jewish communities, who traditionally preferred to be separate from the general populace.
I am one of the few still alive to tell this story, and I am proud to be able to prove that Hitler's attempt to exterminate the Jews in Europe did not succeed. I have collected information about my ancestry for many years, made repeated trips to Germany, visited many of the sites and graveyards, and conferred with local historians. Today, there are folks in most of those places who compile information about the Jewish families who lived there before the Second World War.
My Parents' Wedding Banquet, July 6, 1913
Wedding Dinner Menu
July 6, 1913
The Baroque-Style Banquet Hall
Beluga caviar on ice
Saddle of venison, garnished with truffles and mushroom
Wine: Liebfrauenmilch and Medoc, Margot
Fresh lobster from Helgoland with mayonnaise and head lettuce
Roasted goose with various pickled fruit (Oderbrucher)
Asparagus with melted butter
Vanilla ice cream with whipped cream
Paderborn is a midsize town in Westphalia, located at the confluence of several rivers. It also boasts the rise of the Pader River. The name Paderborn means "spring of the Pader." Charlemagne culminated a campaign in Germany around 1000 CE and is said to have baptized Germans at that spring. Today there is still a large church, the Paderborn Dom, standing above that spring, and the immediate area is the venue of a large diocese headed by a bishop and his retinue. Paderborn remains principally a Catholic community, in contrast to most of the lower Saxony environment, which is Protestant. A sizable Jewish community arose in Paderborn in the mid-nineteenth century. My great-grandparents and grandparents, the Rosenthals and the Muellers, lived, prospered, and raised their families there. Both of my parents were college educated.
She was twenty-two years old; he was twenty-eight. Her name was Anna Rosenthal, and she was one of six siblings (three boys and three girls). Her mother had been widowed for about a year. Louis Rosenthal had been the second-generation owner-operator of A. Rosenthal & Son in Neuhaus, twenty minutes by streetcar from the center of Paderborn. My father, Ernst, was the oldest of three sons of Calmon Mueller and his wife Paula, nee Schueler, and a feed and grain merchant in Paderborn. Their patrician home and adjoining warehouse was located across from the hotel on the Bahnhof Strasse, the main thoroughfare of Paderborn.
Ernst had just passed the Bar after studying in Freiburg, a college town in the so-called Black Forest. He was a tall, handsome chap, and at university, he had acquired dueling scars on his left cheek, a badge of honor at that time for German university scholars. Anna was a petite, very attractive, accomplished girl having studied in Lausanne, Switzerland, and fluent in both English and French. Their courtship had been passionate (I have a copy of a poem she wrote to him) but overshadowed by the sudden, recent death of Anna's father. Her mom had frowned somewhat upon the untimely and sudden engagement but condoned it, especially because Anna's sister Hilda had recently married a Catholic fellow, a situation that was abhorrent to her. Anyway, Emilie, my grandmother, was overwhelmed, having to take over the huge responsibilities of ownership of the large enterprise bequeathed to her after the untimely death of her husband. My grandfather, Louis Rosenthal, had inherited A. Rosenthal & Son from his father, Abraham Rosenthal. I only knew him from his portrait, but I know he must have been a very impressive and active merchant who loved his family and beautiful horses and exulted in the success of his business. He built a large home on the main street leading into Neuhaus, and he owned extensive acreage across the street. He had a second mill built, a very modern, six-story building, equipped with the latest machinery for milling the finest flour. The mill was driven by electric water turbines, which were also propelled by the swift flowing Pader River. Apparently his business was flourishing at that time, and he and his family could afford a wonderful lifestyle. He was vacationing on the Frisian island resort Norderney, where he went swimming in the North Sea and suffered a heart attack after overexerting himself at the beach. The year was 1911, and he was fifty-five years old.
It was not too long after his funeral that my mother fell in love with my father and they decided to marry.
My Parents' First Years in Hannover and Starting a Family
The newlyweds' plans for their future included his decision to accept a position with a law firm in Hannover. Their honeymoon featured a trip into the mountains of southern Germany and an ocean voyage to England on the new luxury liner Vaterland. Just as they reached England in the summer of 1914, the First World War became imminent. Since the ship was discharging passengers in Southampton and was scheduled to proceed to New York, Anna suggested that they continue to America. "Nonsense" was Ernst's reply. "I must return and fulfill my duty to serve my country." He therefore joined the German Army, served four years in the trenches, and was awarded the Iron Cross.
After Gertrude was born on February 8, 1915, Anna moved back to Neuhaus to stay with her mother and get help with the infant. She also accepted a job to work with Allied war prisoners in the nearby village of Sennelager. I understand that Ernst was unhappy with those arrangements, and thus began serious rifts early in their marriage. The war ended in 1918, and I was born on March 10, 1919, at No. 18 Ferdinand Walbrecht Strasse, where my mother had rented a rather luxurious two-story apartment and furnished it, no doubt, with the help of her mother. She was alone at the time of my birth and had to call a neighbor to help her with the delivery. She nursed me, and she told me in later years that I had been an incredibly greedy little baby. I have some dim recollections of my parents' bedroom and spending time in their bed. My mother started to read to me in bed when I was still very, very little, and I remember that she was pleased with me when I showed some comprehension of the material.
At about two or three years old, I remember my father coming in. He must have been out all night, and my parents were yelling at each other when I said something to him in defense of my mother. He cuffed me, and I started crying. She held me and called him a brute, and he stormed out. I can't believe I still remember that incident. It must have been during that period that we took my first trip to the beach resort of Norderney. I somehow remember the journey on a steamboat, probably from the port of Emden to Norderney, in the company of my nurse and my mother. I remember getting seasick. In Norderney we stayed in a pension—a bed-and-breakfast—and I spent time on the beach, probably learning to walk. These visits were repeated in subsequent years, as I have photos of myself with some of my cousins when I was still very little. Now I ascribe my relatively good health to those periods at the shore.
It could not have been much later when an early traumatic experience stuck in my memory: my nursemaid kissing me good-bye in the downstairs kitchen of our home, and me crying bitterly about her leaving. I have a memory of my mother coming down the steps to pick me up and console me.
Another early memory that stuck with me is my fourth birthday. (Somehow I remember that it was the fourth.) I received a little train set, and I remember playing with it under our dining room table. We had a balcony at the rear of our home facing a backyard and a big linden tree. One day I was swinging between two pieces of furniture out there, and my sister pushed me, causing me to fall and knock my head on the brick balustrade of the balcony. It gave me a nasty cut in my forehead, and I carried that scar for many years. I remember people laughing when I told them about the bandage caused by "mein Kopf im Loch"—my head in the hole. I remember because already at that time I began to realize that I meant my hole in the head. In subsequent years I endured several bouts with chicken pox, the measles, earaches, and once even pneumonia. My ears were frequently lanced—this was before antibiotics—probably bringing about the beginning of my subsequent hearing impairment, which have required me to wear hearing aids for the past fifty-plus years.
I also remember a bit of the inflation in the post-World War I Germany, including shortages of food, soap, and other necessities. I remember food packages from Neuhaus supplementing our diets, including packages from America with all sorts of goodies.
I remember my father taking me for walks and bicycle rides in the Eilenriede, our city park, and visits to a restaurant in the park, where he would order a cup of coffee and a glass of milk for me and then put a little bit of coffee in my milk. My father in those days also had a motorcycle with a sidecar, and we took occasionally rides. The park was encircled by a road, the site of the annual motorcycle races that my father would take me to watch. It was very exciting. He also taught me to identify all sorts of various trees, and I remember collecting acorns from huge oaks.
One incident I will never forget involves my father arriving in front of our house in a motorcar. I looked out of the window and saw him getting out with another man. When they came to our door, I was standing in the hall with my thumb in my mouth. "That big boy still sucks his thumb," said the stranger. I was humiliated and never, ever sucked my thumb after that experience. My father bought that car that day, his first automobile. It was an American make, a Whippet. This must have been about 1924.
I was six when I was sent to Neuhaus to recover from a bout of pneumonia. I stayed in my grandmother's house for the rest of that year. She had nursemaids for me around the clock. They inducted me in all sorts of Catholic rites, including visits to the local churches and walks along the Stations of the Cross that abounded there. My health started improving, and I spent time with some of the local children and in the flour mills, even riding on the big Belgian dray horses and horse-drawn wagons that hauled the flour to the rail siding, loaded grain from the railroad cars, and transported the grain back to the mills in the village. During those months I also went to Paderborn and spent time in my paternal parents' home and with my cousins who lived downstairs. When I finally came back to Hannover, we had moved to another house, and my brother, Peter, had arrived. I remember the first moments when I saw him in my mother's arms—a tiny little baby!
There were always frequent visits to Neuhaus and Paderborn. One Sunday afternoon, my uncles Heinrich and Karl happened to be at my grandmother's home, and it was decided that we'd have an outing in the Teutoburger Wald, or forest. This was not too far and was a nice excursion by horse-drawn carriage. What fun it was to watch my uncles struggling to hitch the horses to the carriage! The men who usually took care of such tasks were off this Sunday. Finally we were off after piling into the conveyance, my grandmother carrying boxes and bundles of food and drink. Our destination was the Kreuzkrug, a restaurant in the middle of the forest. Oma, my grandmother, arranged for the dishes and utensils and served the food on outdoor picnic tables under the trees. We kids were not that hungry and wandered into the woods to play and pick wild raspberries and blueberries. We had so much fun that when it was time to go home we fell fast asleep during the trip. Once we stopped in Detmold, a little town nearby, and admired the Arminius Monument, a statue erected to honor a German warrior who had once ambushed a Roman legion.
Excerpted from WOLF by Wolfgang Mueller. Copyright © 2013 Wolfgang Mueller. Excerpted by permission of Abbott Press.
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Table of Contents
The Mueller, Rosenthal, Schuster, and Schueler Families in Westphalia...... 1
My Parents' Wedding Banquet, July 6, 1913.................... 5
My Parents' First Years in Hannover and Starting a Family.................. 9
Growing Up, Bar-Mizwa, the Nazis, and School in England.................... 14
Immigration to America.................... 20
WWII and US Citizenship.................... 34
Resumption of Civilian Life in Washington.................... 41
Marriage and Entering into Business.................... 63
Queens Manor, Chillum Place to Woodsdale Drive.................... 69
On My Own.................... 76
The Farm.................... 81
Art Collection.................... 86
From Wholesale Meat Products to Real Estate.................... 89
From Real Estate to the Seafood Industry (1991-2009).................... 92
The Aaronsons and the Dieners.................... 95
The Kilsheimers and the Kolkers.................... 100
My Grandson, Jeffrey Pearlman.................... 103
The Two Pearlman Girls.................... 106
Jonathan, My Oldest Grandson.................... 108
Monique's Daughters, Dana and Tali.................... 110
My Grandson, Joshua Mueller.................... 113
Gilmar Amaya.................... 116
The Beginning of Retirement.................... 119