David and I were up until 2 AM. Going through documents, sitting side by side on the guest-room sofa behind our laptops, filling out our forms, planting the hydroponic seeds of the hangover I have today.
After breakfast, I call the German Consulate to make an appointment. The outgoing message says that the operator is on another call, please call back. It takes a few calls to get an actual person.
“Hello,” I say, “I’m calling to make an appointment to discuss applying for restored German citizenship under Article 116, paragraph two.”
“Yes, I will transfer you to Tmfrrsh Vermgshhr,” the operator says in a neutrally toned German accent. I wonder how many calls she gets like this a day?
The operator transfers me to the voicemail of Thomas Vogelbacher, only I don’t know the guy’s name is Thomas Vogelbacher because he speaks quickly on his outgoing message and I can’t make out the name. He says on the message that an email is the best way to reach him, but then he spells out his email address too quickly for me to jot down. So I call back the operator. She transfers me back to his voicemail and I leave a message. But when I hang up, I’m doubtful. What if he doesn’t get the message? What if he overbooks himself in the meantime? He said the best way to reach him was email. So I call the operator back and ask her to transfer me again. Her tone stays neutral, although if I were her I’d be annoyed. This time I get his email address jotted down, and I dash off an articulate plea:
Dear Mr. Vogelbacher:
I am hoping that you will be able to schedule an appointment for me and my brother, David Ebel, to meet with you and begin the application for restored German citizenship under Article 116, par. 2.
My brother and I are descendants of a German Jewish family from Berlin who fled Germany during the Third Reich. We have an archive of many original documents dating back to the 19th century that includes our father and grandparents’ Third Reich passports, and can provide great detail about our family’s history in Berlin as well as the circumstances and timing of their escape.
I live in Los Angeles and am returning tomorrow evening, so this is a very rare opportunity for my brother and I to visit the consulate together. (We were planning on walking in to the offices tomorrow, and only just realized that an appointment is necessary.)
I would be most grateful if you could accommodate us and look forward to hearing from you.
I then begin to check my email maniacally. And within about 30 minutes, he responds.
Dear Mrs Ebel,
I do have 5 appointments already for tomorrow. I could meet you around 11.30 am, if you do not mind that I have remainings of a flu that prevented me from working last Friday and yesterday. Today is my first day and I cannot guarantee that I am 100% “restored”. Please let me know if despite my health condition you still would like to come in tomorrow at 11.30 am.
German Consulate General
Yes! Alright! High-five! Way-to-go, relentless Jewish girls everywhere!
David and I drive down to Utrecht Art Supplies and get a few portfolios with clear plastic sleeve inserts. We come home and unpack the accordian file, spreading our documents across his granite kitchen island. We separate the official documents from the family correspondence, creating a special pile of random envelopes and copies of our Uncle Richard’s various documents. (Uncle Richard is developmentally disabled and, thanks to the trust fund my grandmother established for him, has lived most of his adult life in an assisted living facility in Florida.)
As David painstakingly scans each document, some of which are cloth bound booklets with many crumbling pages, I organize the portfolios. We are going for a chronological approach. Our earliest document is a bound family geneological record book, or “Hammilien-Stammbuch,” dating to 1866.
We see that the Ebels were granted visas in 1938. Also, their Nazi passports don’t have Jewish stars. Is this going to screw us? If you get out before it’s too late, does that mean you haven’t suffered enough for your grandchildren to come home?
And yet we also have a typed personal memoir that tells the story of Anna Ebel’s family. Our grandmother’s parents and siblings, the Salomons, were naturalized German citizens during the Third Reich, but not full citizens. The Germans expelled them back to Poland. Only our grandmother escaped expulsion, because she was married to our grandfather, whose family had resided in Berlin for close to 100 years. There is a frenzy of Ebel paperwork in 1938 between the Polish and German bureaucracies, and we have the copies. I don’t know what any of it means, despite parking myself infront of an online German-English dictionary for a good part of the afternoon. But I suspect that our Grandfather scurried to get our Grandmother’s German citizenship secured just as the rest of her family was being expelled to Poland.
My grandmother’s family hid in a “peasant’s house” in Poland.
They were betrayed by a Jewish acquaintance who was a Nazi sympathizer.
They were shot.
Dear Mr. Volgebacher:
Yes, please, we would like to meet with you tomorrow at 11:30 AM.
We have no concerns about your health but do wish you a speedy recovery.
Although I am aware I can go through the Los Angeles office, my brother is in possession of all of the original documents and I appreciate the opportunity to present them to you, as well as the rare chance for my brother and I to have the conversation with you together, as well as in person.
Many thanks again and we look forward to seeing tomorrow.
Kathy Ebel and David Ebel