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For themes of conflict, present in any country, see Studying War.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Guggenheim File. Die Akte Guggenheim. A German Jewish Family's Story. Sylvia (Guggenheim) Griffiths

Sylvia (Guggenheim) Griffiths.
A Personal Telling:  This German Jewish Family since 1580.

Salute her search into WWII and other trauma, the family's response; and its legacy.

Sylvia (Guggenheim) Griffiths has written a personalized and warm tour de force in The Guggenheim File, Die Akte Guggenheim. The book is autobiography, family history, German Jewish history,  Holocaust and Nazification and the WWII diaspora tracking.  She moves away from the academic and cold timelines of history, see, e.g.,, and describes real people in those situations, her people, family anecdotes, research, discoveries, connections, introspections.  German history becomes animate after being there.  The history was especially meaningful for us because we went to the Guggenheim home(s) in Hamburg, saw Worms, and the ancient Jewish Graveyard there; we went to the transport, labor and death camps -- Theresienstadt, Buchenwald, Auschwitz, Mauthausen, Bergen-Belsen.  Members of her family, or their friends, also passed through that way, only some surviving.  For us, the book was like sitting in a room and hearing first-hand stories filling in what had been statistics, hard facts. Her story is a kind of Beowulf -- a saga of origins -- but here documented well in history, and needing only the "Hwaet!" to get our attention around the fire during the long night. Note to editor:  Add Hwaet.
  • The joy of travel is ongoing deepening interest after return in places, individuals, history.  I have not met Ms. Griffiths, but we spoke by telephone and emailed when she found my reference to her family in a 2008 post regarding the beer business in Plzen, CZ -- see Czech Republic Road Ways:  Pilsener Urquell: The Brew. Who Got Pilsner Urquell after Nazi Confiscation. With her leads, we then went to Germany and found her family home in Hamburg and shared the photos.
So:  How did the Nazis go about divesting prominent Jewish entrepreneurs of their businesses and homes, and assets. Our children are not taught the details, is that so?  It was ruthless and methodical and humiliating, and even killing. And all Germany was complicit. With the information here, how could the reasonable think otherwise. And think of the value of such things if left in original capable hands. A superior-product brewery.  And what pittance, nod, was offered and acceptance forced, just to say a contract had been signed.  Who, me? All so very legal.

Family in maelstrom of Holocaust. The places of the stories extend into Britain, where Jewish children were sent by panicking parents as other routes to safety for adults were cut off.  Names were changed to protect the children.  Some were reunited. Parents then fled, if they could, and the Guggenheims, this branch, went to Brazil, after high hurdles in countries' foreign policies, and what to do with the Jews.  The Final Solution:  For many, it was.

The horrors and injustices, and the accomplishments and deep ties, of this one German Jewish family are recorded beginning in 1580 or so, a time of riots in Jugenheim. Then came family branchings (another branch is known for the Museum, for example), and then the panic and disbelief and expulsions of Nazification and the Holocaust.

Ms. Griffiths' last entry is in 2011, with her return to her family's home in Hamburg. There is a ripple effect when someone records, particularly in this unpolished, honest way. Others are drawn in and appreciate the history through others' experience.  The directness shows no sign of overarching editor interfering with tone, feeling, the writer's own words, a unique voice.  You can hear it., visualize the  impact of the whirlpool of dislocation, destruction, and then the heriosm and love that emerges despite it.

This interest in the German Jewish experience is not from my own background, but has become a living part of my every day.  When you are there, do go to the State Records office in Hamburg where the Guggenheim files were found.  The Germans were methodical and meticulous in safeguarding records despite bombings.

We found a non-ancestor at the Hamburg Archive, we are sure there is no relation, but someone with with our name, his will from the 1100's. Who here can read German Gothic?  Family history.  Worth exploring.
Transformative events.  Trauma.  TTT.  Ms. Griffiths looks briefly into this field, that hovers in the backs of our minds but cannot be "evidenced."  Transgenerational Transmission of Trauma, was/is an inquiry that apparently focused in research and scientific examination entirely on the Holocaust experience.*  Does the trauma that transformed their lives, have an effect on others, and later generations?  Ms. Griffiths was a child whose father experienced the whirlpool, separated from his parents, then reunited and lived with them in Brazil. He spoke little of it. Are we really looking at transgenerational transmission of the response to trauma.  A parent not talking; a child moved to fill in needed information, to heal.  See the examination of origin stories in our own pop heroes in  Smithsonian Magazine February 2013, article, We Need a Hero. Those experienced trauma, felt a sense of "destiny"in that there is no escaping what is happening, or perhaps the change in their lives was sheer chance. They were changed and reinvigorated, focused on making good out of evil.  What of the trauma they experienced be passed on to their children? 

Although there is not a scientific answer to the issue of transmission of the trauma, ask on an anecdotal, recollection level with your own family in mind: whether trauma alone is the issue.  Are transformative events transmitted not as the experience itself, but the response to it.  Is you family like ours, where successive generations do seem to grapple with a recurrent problem or pattern, as though this treadmill must recur until somebody gets it right.  Or is that too Eastern for the West?

Thank you for your work, Ms. Griffiths.  It helps makes us whole.


*  Search for Transmission of Transgenerational Trauma, See