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In 1935, after the Nuremberg Laws were introduced, furthering anti-Semitic policies, 11-year-old Edgar became eager to join his relatives in the Holy Land, to escape the feeling of friendlessness and rejection in his grade school. Concerned by the imminent threat of war with the surrounding Arab countries, the Feuchtwangers decided not to make the move.
Instead, they took comfort from increased immersion in Jewish culture. As Edgar puts it:
“The stories are sustaining and splendid. I dream that I am David, Moses, and Samson … Then I return home by the usual route … as if protected by invisible armor. The Nazis don’t notice me, I look at them and no longer fear them.”
Only in 1938, after Kristallnacht when Edgar’s father was arrested and briefly imprisoned at Dachau, did the family resolve to leave. In 1939, Edgar was put on a train for England, armed with a few English phrases learned in a hurry, including “How do you do?… How old are you?… I am a Jew.” Once safely in England, he notes, he would no longer be required to use the last phrase in response to any interrogation by officials. Although his parents and uncle would also reach safety, not all of the Feuchtwanger family would be so fortunate. Some of them would be murdered in concentration camps, at the behest of their evil neighbor.
Benjamin Ivry is a frequent contributor to the Forward.