True story about the war.
This story about the mascot of the family told NPR the son of Hertha Berliner, URI Berliner.
“Monkey fur is worn. She’s almost a hundred years, and at length she is only 10 centimeters. She had to survive the incredible events – the flight from Nazi Germany to Sweden and America.
And then she became the link that United the family.
The toy belonged to my father Gert Berlin, who, as a boy, was riding a bike in Berlin in the 1930-ies. A toy monkey hanging from the steering wheel. “I liked it,” recalls my father, who is now 94 years. “I decided that it brings good luck.”
“The night of broken glass”.
The photographs of those days my father looked confident, a little rebellious with a critical smile. But his life has been changed. Gestapo steadily eradicated every aspect of Jewish life in the city.
The peak violence happened in November 1938 during the Kristallnacht or “Night of broken glass”. Jewish stores, schools and homes were smashed and burned by the Germans in the civil and Nazi stormtroopers. Thousands of innocent Jews were rounded up.
“I remember that night,” recalls the father. “I went outside… circle lay a lot of glass, came the sound of sirens. Burning of the synagogue.”
We had to flee from Germany. Father helped Kindertransport – organized rescue operation, which occurred nine months before the outbreak of the Second world war. Thousands of children were sent on trains in England and Sweden and placed in foster care. They rode quite alone.
In 1939, at the age of 14, my father said goodbye to his parents, Paul and Sophie Berliner, and go to Sweden.
He got on the train in Berlin, going to Kalmar on the Baltic coast. He had a small bag. But there was a place for toy monkey – mascot.
The monkey was useless. But dad still took it with him. He’s worried about his parents. Fortunately, he was generous, kind family. First impression of my father was in Sweden the air. Free from the violence of Berlin, he could breathe. “Suddenly I could breathe, he remembered. “It seems that the air itself was different”.
Great loss and new life.
But the fate of his parents remains uncertain. Once they stopped writing. Paul and Sophie Berliner was captured by the Gestapo and sent to Auschwitz by train, transportation 38, 17 may 1943. There they were killed.
After the war my father moved to the United States. He left Sweden at the age of 22 years. He was an orphan. He had no siblings, and he was alone. Again, he took with him a toy monkey. But now it was something else: the only tangible link with his childhood, a fleeting moment of innocence.
Then he worked as a photographer and artist in new York city, new Mexico. And more than half a century his toy monkey traveled with him. But it was hidden so far away that even I, his son, did not know about a child’s toy, and about what it symbolized.
We rarely discussed what he experienced. He was a distant father. And I was a distant son, and a large part of our time we spent in awkward silence. I knew that our family – Berliner – was very small. There were only three members: my father, myself and my son, Ben.
A trip to the Museum.
In 2003, the architect of the Jewish Museum in Berlin by the name of Aubrey Pomeranz visited my father at his apartment in Manhattan. My father has already met with Aubrey and loved it. This time Aubrey asked for a favor. Have kept my father something from the days when he was a Jewish child living in Nazi Germany? Something personal?
My father hesitated. His wife, Frances, didn’t want him to break up with a monkey. It was the most intimate object that he had left from his childhood. But in the end he decided that the toy monkey needs to go back to the world where she would benefit more as a little Ambassador of history.
And here’s the monkey returned to Berlin. Aubrey said, probably, millions of visitors saw her and learned the story of my father. One of these visitors was Eric Pettersson. At some point, Eric went to the exhibit with images about life of Jewish children in the Nazi years. That was wooden boxes with lids that had to be removed to learn about children.
She only opened one of them. “This was a toy monkey and a picture of a small child, a Jewish boy by the name of Gert Berliner” – she recalled. “And I thought it was a coincidence. The name of my mother – Berliner”.
She told mother about it, and she started looking. At first she found the site of my father. There was an email address on which she wrote: “Maybe we are relatives?”. My dad read the message and called back.
The monkey did the job.
Agneta Berliner and her sister, Suzanne Berliner and the son of Susanna and Daniel agreed to meet with my father, when he was in Berlin at the opening of the exhibition of his pictures. And so all gathered.
It turns out that my father’s father Paul Berliner had a brother named Carl. Carl Berliner had two sons, and Carl has sent them to Sweden to safety. They were sent to work on an isolated farm in the depths of the Swedish countryside. These boys were cousins of my father. But they lost touch with each other.
Now, after about 80 years, the connection was restored?? with the help of a tattered toy monkey. This summer I went to Sweden to meet my newfound relatives and to retrace the steps of my father. My father did not go. In ‘ 94 my father could not walk a lot.
But even if he couldn’t to see relatives, he often thought about how one little thing from the past gave a big surprise.
Almost 80 years ago, he Packed the monkey in his suitcase. And it turned out that he had to abandon this cherished part of its history, to learn something new about the past. “It’s a gift,” he says. “In old age I discovered that I have a family”.
Looks like monkey really brought him good luck!