“Maybe,” my father said. At this point, there’s no way to know.
My family loaned its copy of Mein Kampf to Kehillah Schechter Academy in Norwood, where it became part of an exhibit on prejudice.
Its spot in a glass case made it look like a relic. But it’s not — it’s a story, evolving with each email I exchange with the Jess children, bringing the ripples of World War II into the 21st century.
A gold plaque inscribed my family lore into the book’s history. It read: “The book was a war ‘souvenir’ taken from a dead German soldier by Fred Mandell’s uncle Eddie Cohen during a World War II battle.”
When the school’s facility director, Steve Greenberg, heard me say that the Mein Kampf’s original owner survived the war, he offered an unambiguous response.
“I like the story on the plaque much better,” he said.
On a drizzling day last June, I stood in front of a strip of stores in Luebeck.
On the street level there was a Greek fast-food joint, a lingerie boutique and a shoe outlet. But it was the floor above these shops that captured my attention. That’s where the Jesses, an ordinary German couple, lived in 1938 when they became married.
The Jess family didn’t live there anymore. And the Jess children were out of the country on vacation.
At the church in Luebeck where Walter and Klara Jess wed, I told the woman selling books there that I knew of a couple who got married at St. Mary’s in 1938.
“That was a very long time ago,” she said.
But history is always with us.
While Walter and Klara are no longer alive, my research has put me in touch with their children, which has pushed me to consider difficult questions. This was only possible by viewing the Mein Kampf as a book that is not relegated to the dark alleys of history but as an object that can shed light on my family’s history today and that can connect me to two people I didn’t even know existed.
I do not yet have children. But if one day I do, then this journey, including my search for Axel and Heike, will be part of the amended Mein Kampf story I tell them.
And now, unexpectedly, my family’s lore has become etched into the Jess family history, too. That, perhaps, is the bridge-building I was after.
On July 13 I received an email from Heike that struck a personal chord.
“So, I wish you luck with writing a family saga and [offer] hope with some resolution,” she wrote.
I never told her or Axel that I was in search of something as clear-cut as a “resolution.”
Yet they knew.
Hinda Mandell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.