Wednesday, December 17, 2014


The world reels again today from news of great cruelty perpetrated by human beings on other human beings: mass killing of children in their school in Peshawar, Pakistan. We hear of such an event and must accept that it is true, even if we can't imagine the heartless brutality and can only dimly picture the devastation of families and the wider community.

Perhaps there is some larger context at work because today was the day my husband, Markus, and I became caretakers of two Stolpersteine in Heilbronn. The Stolpersteine are in memory of Karl and Rita Kahn, who lived at Wollhausstraße 40.

A Stolperstein is a brass plaque, about 10 x 10 cm, embedded in the sidewalk at the address of a victim of Nazi extermination. Name, date of birth, deportation, date and place of death are engraved into the metal surface. The verb stolpern means to trip, and pedestrians are meant to "trip" over the plaques, like uneven cobblestones, and take note.

The terse, non-euphemistic wording on the plaques can be a shock. "Murdered in Auschwitz" is the text on these two plaques. The sidewalk in front of my in-law's building in Stuttgart has a Stolperstein for a young man, Helle Hirsch, guillotined by the Nazis in 1937 for his role in the resistance. The plaque says "Decapitated."

Artist Gunter Demning began the Stolperstein project in the 1990's, and it has grown since then. Spend some time on the website to get an idea. Heilbronn joined the project in 2009. Yesterday, the Heilbronner Stimme printed a notice that the plaques in Heilbronn need caretakers. Markus responded, and we promptly received our assignment.

This morning we went to find the Stolpersteine and see what immediate care they needed. 

Karl Kahn and Rita Kahn, Stolpersteine at Wollhausstraße 40

We spent ten minutes rubbing metal polish across the surface with a soft rag. The "stones" cleaned up to be too shiny to photograph well with a smartphone. In reality, they look more textured with tarnish, and it's quite easy to read the text. We'll work on another photo.

At, you can read (in German) about the plaques in Heilbronn. A pdf gives biographical information about the Kahns. Here is a translation of that text. We hope to learn what became of the Kahn's son, Hans.

Wollhausstr. 40
Compiled by Dr. Gerhard Schneider (Freundeskreis Synagoge Heilbronn e.V.)
English translation by Mary Craig (Stolpersteinpatin, Flein).

Karl Kahn was born on December 26, 1890 in Hollerbach.* After completing state examinations to become certified as a teacher and a teacher of religion, Kahn worked in various locations in Württemberg before he came to Heilbronn in 1924. On March 28, 1929 he married Rita Meyer, born on April 23, 1906 in Bibra, Thuringia.

After 1933, as attendance of public school for Jewish children became increasingly difficult and ultimately forbidden, a private Jewish school was set up in Heilbronn—in the rooms of the Adlerkeller brewery restaurant in Klarastraße. Karl Kahn served as director of the school and its only teacher at times. His own son, Hans, born on February 11, 1930 also attended the school, which had the character of a Mittelschule (a standard, non-college prep school).

In 1939 Karl Kahn assumed the role of cantor at the synagogue after Cantor Isy Krämer and his wife emigrated. Kahn remained active within the steadily decreasing Jewish community, particularly in helping to arrange emigrations. “To save the small Jewish community, he gave his own life and the life of his wife” (wrote Hermine Rosenthal in a letter to Hans Franke).

Karl Kahn and his wife seem to have stayed in Germany to provide as much support as possible to members of their faith community. In 1939 they sent their then 9-year-old son to England on a Kindertransport, an effort to spare Jewish children from Germany the anticipated deportations. In the fall of 1941, the Kahns were forced to move to Stuttgart. From there they were deported by Sammeltransport (collective transport) to Theresienstadt on September 22, 1942. They were both murdered on October 6, 1944 in Auschwitz.

*In Rheinland-Pfalz, 175 km northeast of Heilbronn.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014


Last week I repaired a king size comforter cover, one we've had over a decade. I guess we've used this one the most. Along the top edge, where we clutch it around our necks at night, the fabric has thinned, now soft and flimsy compared with the rest of the thing. It was torn along the top seam. Re-seaming it a half inch down would extend the comforter's life, at least for a while.

I dragged out my sewing supplies, setting up my heavy Viking/Husquarna of unknown age on the kitchen table. I bought my current machine, used, for about $200 dollars to replace the one that was dropped when we moved in '95. I always go for metal working parts--that's why I buy the old machines. I have a lot of sewing experience, but it takes a while to get things set up these days. I have to find the power converter so I can plug the machine into my German wall.

Turned inside out and pressed flat, the edge of the comforter cover was ready. I found a familiar spool of off-white Dual Duty poly-cotton thread, the American brand I've known all my life. The spool was close to empty; part of the plastic showed above the wrap of thread. I threaded it in anyway. The machine whirred and pulled, whirred and pulled across the long seam. Six inches from the end, the thread's tail leapt off the spool and wormed through the mechanism of the machine. I watched it, wondering how long it could keep going, wondering if it would last.

The thread ran out one inch before the end of the seam. Odd. I've had this experience before with yarn. My knitting is generally a "make it up as I go" approach, and I mix yarns and colors. More than once, I've reached the very end of a complicated little kid cardigan or multicolored vest and truly had less than a yard of the main color left. There's a good deal of suspense and tension in working that way, but it's a little crazy!

The moment had arrived. The entire length of off-white thread was gone, all 250 yards, I imagine, although the label has long since fallen away. I finished the seam with a bright white thread, which is also nearing its end, as you can see in the photo.

Even the largest spools run out.

How long does a large spool of thread in basic black or white last in a life? Conscripted into countless and varied projects, yard by yard it winds away. It's the kind of commodity that feels as though it would last forever, like a 20-kilo bag of rice. Surprised, we eventually reach the last grains. Rice goes on the shopping list again.

Maybe I can't take credit for all the sewing that used up these spools. I may have filched them from my mother's box. I also have Granny's supply of buttons and threads, dating back into the '40s. Nonetheless, whatever it measures, congratulations to me for the years I've lived and the seams I've sewn. They are adding up.

Wednesday morning, 8:00 am (flash post)

Raspberry sorbet streaks across a moody sky. A slash in the gray glows aquamarine. Beyond the village, day asserts itself after a long December night. Tightly packed buildings block my view, so I walk away from the rising light into the western fields where openness and distance give me sight. I stride down the straight paved path, along fields combed and troughed for next year's potatoes, past soil now grassy with next year's grain. Behind me the sky is molten orange. Ahead of me, clouds wear my faded memory of children's liquid pain reliever, shaken and frothy in a tiny cup: cherry brightening to pink bubblegum then warming to Motrin orange. The clouds furthest from the sun are indeed the reddest. Long waves of warm light arrive first; cool blues and greens balance the palette of day only after the sun moves overhead. Now the cloud that blushed so pink is merely whiter than the grayer ones. As I loop back, the sky over the village is skim milk spilled on Prussian blue, grape Tylenol tracing the shadows.

Further reading:
What Determines Sky's Colors at Sunrise And Sunset?--Science Daily

If you're in the mood for sunset/sunrise photos:
Sunset to sunrise, slide show 7