Save Story Save this story for later. I met Martin Ostwald in , shortly after I became friends with his son David, whose son was in the same kindergarten class as mine. By then, Martin had retired from his position as a classics professor at Swarthmore, where he had taught for many years. On holidays and long weekends, he and his wife, Lore, would sometimes drive from Pennsylvania to see their son and his family in New York, and it was on one of these visits that David arranged for us to meet over dinner. I immediately took a liking to this elderly gentleman with a thick German accent who wore a jacket and tie, always with a tie clip, David said, even to rake leaves or shovel snow, and whose Old World tact and bonhomie made him so beloved of his former students that many had emulated their mentor, becoming university professors themselves.
|Genre:||Health and Food|
|Published (Last):||28 July 2008|
|PDF File Size:||4.29 Mb|
|ePub File Size:||20.85 Mb|
|Price:||Free* [*Free Regsitration Required]|
Save Story Save this story for later. I met Martin Ostwald in , shortly after I became friends with his son David, whose son was in the same kindergarten class as mine.
By then, Martin had retired from his position as a classics professor at Swarthmore, where he had taught for many years. On holidays and long weekends, he and his wife, Lore, would sometimes drive from Pennsylvania to see their son and his family in New York, and it was on one of these visits that David arranged for us to meet over dinner.
I immediately took a liking to this elderly gentleman with a thick German accent who wore a jacket and tie, always with a tie clip, David said, even to rake leaves or shovel snow, and whose Old World tact and bonhomie made him so beloved of his former students that many had emulated their mentor, becoming university professors themselves. In the evening, Lore listened to classical music on headphones so as not to disturb him. Now, despite a severe case of macular degeneration, she spent her time pursuing her lifelong passion, art history.
When I told her that my wife and I would be visiting Siena that summer, Lore urged us to go to the Cathedral, where, a few steps from the Piccolomini Library inside, there is a Beccafumi cartoon on the floor. It was, she said, easy to miss.
Martin Ostwald in the Judean Desert, There was no donnish fussiness in his manner, just knowledge, which he was happy to share. Not being a scholar of the ancients, I would turn to Martin repeatedly in the coming years with questions about Greek literature and history.
One morning, I had a query about a word in Heraclitus; the answer came in the late evening. I could tell that Martin had pondered my question all day, in order to render the most thorough opinion. Later, I had a question about a short passage in German; again, by the evening, the translation arrived, with annotations, in case they proved useful.
The couple told me that they were flying to Israel that summer to stay with their eldest son, who was a Hasid. Martin and Lore were observant, but not Orthodox, Jews. As Martin explained to me, his father had been more interested in Ancient Greek than in Hebrew, though he insisted that his son learn both languages.
Photograph courtesy David Ostwald It was the first time the subject of the Holocaust had been raised between us. Yes, he replied, and something in his tone told me that he had reservations. In his memoir, which David showed me a few years later, Martin describes being sent with his brother Ernst to the internment camp at Sachsenhausen, for two months in Most of them arrived unaccompanied, and would never see their parents again.
Ernst Ostwald left and Martin Ostwald right with their cousin Eva Jonas, who was murdered at an extermination camp in Riga, Latvia, in The photograph was taken in Dortmund, Germany, in He shared a room with a young man named Freddy Gottschalk, and it was Freddy who told Ernst that he ought to encourage his older brother in Canada to write to Lore Weinberg, a beautiful young refugee who was living with her close family in England.
Lore and her family were more fortunate than the Ostwald boys, and were able to move to England, and later to the U. His widow, Grete, and her brother Wilhelm later died in a concentration camp near Riga, Latvia, and her sister Else died in Theresienstadt, in When Germans called to interview her husband, Lore would prohibit Martin from speaking to them; she even tried to prevent her son from visiting Germany on tour with his jazz band.
I had noticed that Martin and Lore seldom disagreed, but on the matter of Germany they were at odds. Over dinner at the Mermaid, it seemed that they were having an old argument. He still yearned to teach in a German university, even for a while. We walked over to a Greek diner, where David produced a manila envelope, containing a copy of a letter, he said, written by his grandmother to his father.
Martin had received the letter in the spring of , on the eve of his exams at the University of Toronto, when he was twenty-four. During their initial separation, Martin and his parents had corresponded regularly. It gave his mother no end of joy to read, via the Vatican Post, in a twenty-five-word note, that he passed a high-school exam while still in the internment camp.
Then, from , silence. On that evening in Canada, Martin had been reviewing Thucydides for his exam when he sat down to read the letter, filled with foreboding.
It had been written at the settlement camp of Theresienstadt, in what is now the Czech Republic. Courtesy David Ostwald The photocopy David showed me in the cafe was ten pages long, each numbered with Roman numerals. Today I am leaving Theresienstadt for an unknown destination. My only wish is to see you again. May God bless you! Your Mama, Hedwig Ostwald. She lists the names of relatives, friends, and other Jews who simply collapsed one after the other. She tells her sons that their father died of complications from prostate cancer.
Perhaps you will learn about that some time from history books. According to another account, Bachmann was liberated by the Russians in May, Bachmann had made his way to Switzerland and, with the help of the Red Cross, delivered the letter to Ernst in England after the war.
It was Ernst who had conveyed it to his brother in Canada. After reading the letter, I found myself thinking of the work of W.
A few months later, I learned some surprising news. Not only had Martin devoured the book, as I suspected he would, but so had Lore, who until then had never been inclined to read anything by a German writer, least of all one writing about the Holocaust.
As the author did not use e-mail, I obtained his mailing address and passed it on to them. Copies of their correspondence, which went on for five years, now sit on my desk.
And in view of this, the whole history of persecution, even if one knows its roots and reasons, seems all the more incomprehensible. Perhaps both of these are familiar to you. Sebald, Paris, And yet their narrative hovers in a misty zone typical of Sebald, who was loyal to neither history nor fiction but rather to an unstable confluence of invention, memory, and imagination.
Blurry images and illegible handwritten notebooks emphasize the imminent extinction of objects, people, places, or buildings that are already, or perhaps always were, on their way out. Jews, for Sebald, personify the very essence of transience and extraterritoriality, residents of a might-have-been world that has known better days. Sebald to Lore Ostwald, in anticipation of their first meeting, dated September 26, Courtesy David Ostwald Thirteen days later, Sebald writes back and lets Lore know that, although his schedule is very tight, he would be pleased to meet her and Martin, at the Gramercy Park Hotel, in New York.
A week later, he suggests a day and a time. From David, I learned that the three had immediately discussed the subject that had brought them together: not the Holocaust itself, but its aftershocks—those that reach into the future in insidious ways and that affect Germans as well as Jews. It changed them. The next day, Lore writes to Sebald, telling him that she was sending him a tape of a film about Primo Levi. Gradually it becomes clear that, just as reading and meeting Sebald have forced Lore to lift her embargo on anyone or anything German, for Sebald, these two octogenarian orphans have become a means of exploring and assuaging his own complicated feelings about his homeland.
Courtesy David Ostwald The correspondence is frequently punctuated by apologies on both parts for not writing. Care packages—books by Sebald, mostly—are shipped and gratefully appreciated. Sebald complains about his battles with his French and Italian translators, about the ever-gloomy situation at East Anglia University, where he teaches, and about the horrible new National Library in Paris. Eventually, Sebald did make a stop in Swarthmore. Days later, Lore took her photographs to a print shop to have some of the images reproduced, and, unable to determine which were the best, sent Sebald copies of all of them.
On January 4, , Sebald writes to ask a small favor. There are no copies of the book in England, and he wonders if they might make a color copy, for which he would be happy to cover the cost. The intrepid couple immediately put themselves to the task. To be honored by a living German would be the ultimate gesture of reconciliation and vindication; it would also be the most clamorous homecoming for both Martin and Lore. But now it is once more on my side of the bed.
A relative? Less than three months later, on December 14, , Sebald died in a car accident, most likely having suffered an aneurysm behind the wheel. They mourned him, I could tell, yet they did not wish to show it. Sebald was not aware of the Ostwalds at the time he made that request, but, after meeting them, their impact on his work cannot be doubted. Each time I saw them, usually around holidays, they never failed to mention how much they had grown to love Sebald, or Max, as he was known to his friends.
Photograph courtesy David Ostwald One morning, I took Martin and Lore to Penn Station, where they were catching the train to Swarthmore after spending a long weekend with their son and his family.
Lore was very frail, after breaking a couple of ribs in her sleep one night, and had difficulty walking. Martin was wearing a tweed jacket and a dress shirt and tie, with the inevitable tie clip. I walked them down one stairway, then another set of stairs. At some point, feeling they had asked of me more than they dared, they told me that I should head home. I hesitated; they insisted; and I was forced to bid them goodbye, though in the end I stood on the spot and simply watched them walk away—she leaning on his arm, he carrying a small, beige suitcase that dated back who knows how many decades.
W. G. Sebald
Selwyn fought in the First World War and has an interest in gardening and tending to animals. He commits suicide by inserting a gun in his mouth. A quarter Jewish , he found employment difficult in the period leading up to the Second World War , although he eventually served in the Wehrmacht. Teaching in the small school after the war, Bereyter found a passion for his students while living a lonely, quiet life. In later years, his eyesight began to fail and he moved to France , where he met and spent much time with Mme Landau, from whom the narrator obtains most of his information about Bereyter. Like Selwyn, Bereyter commits suicide, by lying down on railway tracks. In his youth, he accompanied this man across Europe, and into Turkey and Asia Minor, before Cosmo fell ill and was sent to a mental institution.
W. G. Sebald and the Emigrants
It was like a giant cheese wedge. The moral of the story is that I have a difficult time focusing my attention on airplanes. Sebald, however, overpowered my situational A. Again, I want to emphasize that Sebald earned my devoted attention against all odds.