Albert Camus

Don't walk behind me; I may not lead. Don't walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

The Wolves at My Shadow: The Story of Ingelore Rothschild by Ingelore Rothschild

"Ingelore’s bright, observant nature and remarkable capacity for befriending those along her way fills her narrative with unique details about the people she meets and the places she travels to."


Published: May 1st, 2017

Ingelore Rothschild was twelve years old when she was whisked out of her home in 1936. It was her first step on a cross-continent journey to Japan, where she and her parents sought refuge from rising anti-Semitism in Nazi Germany. A decade later, as she sails away from what has become her home in Kobe, Japan, Ingelore records her memories of life in Berlin, the long train journey through Russia, and her time in Japan during World War II.

Each leg of the journey presents its own nightmare: passports are stolen, identities are uncovered, a mudslide tears through the Rothschild’s home, and the atomic bombs are dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Ingelore’s bright, observant nature and remarkable capacity for befriending those along her way fills her narrative with unique details about the people she meets and the places she travels to.

The story of Ingelore and her prominent German Jewish family’s escape is an invaluable account that contributes to Holocaust witness and memoir literature. Although she was forever marked by her traumatic past, Ingelore’s survival story is a painful reminder that only European Jews with significant financial means were able to carefully orchestrate an escape from Nazi Germany.


On Monday, 8 June 1936, the day before her twelfth birthday, my mother, Ingelore Erna Rothschild, received a diary as a gift from her parents. They were in a café at an impromptu party in the Siberian city of Irkutsk in Eastern Russia. For the next two years she regularly wrote in it (German was her native language) recording her memories and reminiscences of her amazing journey from Berlin, Germany across half the world to Kobe, Japan. In April 1938, during a particularly severe rainy season, a mudslide tore through her home in Kobe and destroyed her diary. Eight years later, while sailing from Japan to America she began writing again in a pad given to her by her father.

After settling in Queens, New York, she enrolled in a secretarial course sometime during the summer of 1948. To practice her dexterity and her English she translated and transcribed all her handwritten recollections from the pad, typing them on onionskin pages. Dozens were on the backs of used papers. Some were single-spaced. Sadly, her handwritten remembrances are lost.

Half a century passed.

In 1999, my mother gave me a box. “Here,” she said, “is a part of my life.” It was not until years later, after she had died in 2006, that I opened it. Inside was a litter of three hundred and forty-two unbound typewritten pages. Had I known then, seven years earlier, that those sheets would reveal an incredibly fascinating, tragically heartbreaking, and at times a supremely joyous and humorous story of her experiences and travels as a child and as a young woman, I would have gathered them up immediately, carefully read every word, and then sat down with her to have her tell me more about her story. After her death, I pored over them. What I learned about her during the first quarter-century of her life is something I cherish but with a sense of emptiness. In an odd way I feel foolish and cheated. I know it is my own fault. While she was alive her account was there for the reading. I have missed her since the day she died and now I miss her even more.

My mother kept a fairly complete record of her incredible journey from Berlin through Eastern Europe, across Russia on the Trans-Siberian Railway to Manchuria, to China and Korea, to Japan and then to America, much of which I did not know. Like many of her generation, those who lived through the Great Depression and World War II, she chose not to talk much about the ominous times, strange places, dark observations and difficult learning experiences that for better or worse gradually shaped her personality, values and outlook. Through her writing it was fascinating to see her blossom from a young child into a young woman. I know my mother much better now. Her father, Kurt Rothschild, my grandfather, died the month after I was born. I did not know him at all. But now I can picture him as a person. He has come to life. I sense a bond with him in a deeply personal way. I understand why his story is a part of my story.

I knew my grandfather spent his entire adult life working for the J. Gerber Company. Information from its website archive revealed its interesting history. In 1907 Meyer Hirsch Goldschmidt set out from his hometown of Hamburg, Germany, to proceed to South Africa as the sales representative of the Berlin Export Trading House. The advent of World War I put an end to this operation and Goldschmidt was interned along with many other aliens. This led to dramatic plans for the future, as it was during his internment that he met with an old friend in George Griesbach (who eventually hired Kurt in Berlin) and Jakob Gerber. A post war structure emerged with Gerber and Griesbach setting up in Berlin and Goldschmidt handling the Capetown, South African business (where Kurt’s brother Hans was employed). The company supplied the following to international markets, governments, institutions and corporations: textiles, raw materials, high quality processed fruits, vegetables and other foodstuffs and ingredients for the food processing industry, as well as protective clothing and safety items for use in industrial environments. George Griesbach set up the London, Kobe and New York City offices of the company. Kurt served in many capacities at Gerber, as salesman, office manager, company manager in Kobe, and as an assistant and resource person to several other management teams and personnel. He and George Griesbach were lifelong friends.

Doris Chasanowicz Rothschild, my grandmother, endearingly called Omi, was in my life always until she died in 1982. When I was born in 1949, I am told she was ecstatic, holding me every chance she could. She watched me grow from infant to toddler to adolescent to teenager to young adult. After I married she held my children the same way she must have held me. What has been of surprising interest in the pages that follow is seeing her as a young woman and as a wife and a mother during the years before I was born.

Using my mother’s writings of her early years in Berlin as a point of reference, I understand now something of the time and place in which she, Kurt and Doris knew so well. During the 1920s, most German Jews were accepted as German citizens. At that time, Berlin’s Jewish community was the largest in Germany. In 1925, there were more than a dozen synagogues in the city. By 1933, German Jews were largely urban, well-represented in the professions, prosperous in business and culturally integrated. My grandfather was among the fortunate. He was well-to-do and respected as a businessman. He and his family enjoyed an affluent social standing. They often attended the philharmonic and the opera, and their home was filled with books, oriental rugs, interesting curios, art and strains of music. Kurt could regularly afford gifts for his wife and child and maintained the employ of a
housekeeper from the day Ingelore was born until their departure from Berlin. Sadly, with Hitler’s ascendency, he knew things would change rapidly; hence his concern for his wife and child and the subsequent planning for their escape to Japan.

Part One describes the hunt and the chase, as she and her parents flee from the escalating Nazi juggernaut in Germany just prior to the outbreak of World War II. Part Two is her recollections of their voyage across half the world from Berlin to Kobe, Japan. Part Three recounts a decade spent on the island of Honshu, from her arrival in 1936, through the war years and during the Occupation by United States military forces.

I consider her story a revelation, a discovery and a legacy. I am very thankful it has survived, not only for me, but also for my brother, my husband, her grandchildren and her great-grandson Aidan Steinberg, so they will have the same opportunity, as I did, to learn more about her.

Darilyn Stahl Listort

About the editors
Darilyn Stahl Listort, daughter of Ingelore Rothschild and Harold Stahl, is a retired public school teacher, counselor, and school administrator.

Dennis Listort is a retired public school teacher and administrator. A poet and a freelance writer, his work has appeared in magazines and newspapers. He is the author of The Writing Box, a work of adult contemporary fiction.

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