(The Jews from Volkmarsen, September, 1942)
On January 28, 1948, a plane containing 28 Mexican farm workers, who were being deported, and a crew of 4 Americans, crashed in Los Gatos canyon, California. Everyone aboard was killed. Woody Guthrie wrote a poem about the crash, “Plane Wreck at Los Gatos,” also called “Deportee.” It contained the lines, “Who are all of these dear friends all scattered like dry leaves? The radio said they were just deportees.” Later, with a melody by Martin Goodman, a Brooklyn schoolteacher, this became one of Woody’s most famous songs. He used both Spanish and English in the chorus: “Goodbye to my Juan, goodbye, Rosalita/ Adios mis amigos, Jesus y Maria/ You won’t have a name when you ride the big airplane/ And all they will call you will be “’deportee.’”
In September, 1942, all the Jews from a small part of the state of Hessen, Germany, were deported by train from the town of Volkmarsen to the Nazi concentration camps. The official line was that they were being “relocated” to other towns further east. No one wrote them a song. The deportees included two members of my wife, Carol’s family: Beate, and Johanna Frankenthal, her grand aunt and great grandmother. After hearing a speech by Ernst Klein of Volkmarsen in 2012 at an event commemorating the 70th anniversary of the deportation, and being struck by a question he asked, “Hat niemand bemerkt dass niemand züruck kam?” (Did no one notice that no one came back?) I went back to the house of Karl Heinz and Birgit Stadtler, where Carol and I were guests, and, using Günter Maier’s “second best guitar,” I wrote a commemorative song in the format of Woody Guthrie’s and Martin Goodman’s song. (Günter Maier is Vöhl’s retired Lutheran minister.) The verses are in English and the chorus in German. I subsequently performed the song in a local high school in the class of Kurt Willi Julius and in the Synagogue in Vöhl, which was the hometown of Carol’s great grandparents. The central figure in both the high school class and synagogue program on those two days was my wife, Carol who gave a talk about what happened to her family in the Holocaust. The Synagogue has been restored, largely by Karl Heinz and Kurt Willi and is now used for meetings, art exhibits, and concerts, since there are no Jews left in Vöhl. Tragically, Kurt Willi died in his sleep three years ago. In the foyer of the Synagogue there is a large plaque listing all the former Jews of Vöhl and what happened to them. The Moritz and Anna you will hear in my song, are on the plaque but were not Carol’s relatives.
“Deportieren” is the German word for “to deport.”
Their houses are sold and their businesses shuttered,
Their suitcases packed, and the train whistle blows.
We’re sending them East on a train fit for cattle.
The soldiers just stare when they’re asked where it goes.
The travelers come from our neighbors and classmates,
Our teachers and merchants; no one may refuse.
So why must these families all leave on today’s train?
The newspaper says it’s because they are Jews.
Auf wiedersehen, Moritz, auf wiedersehen, Anna, (Goodby, Moritz, goodby Anna)
Leb’ wohl, Beate und leb’ wohl, Johanna. (Farewell, Beate and farewell, Johanna)
Am Ende der Reise, hat niemand eine Name, (You won’t have a name at the end of your journey)
Vielleicht eine Nummer, veilleicht giftig Gas. (Perhaps a number, perhaps poison gas.)
The train leaves the station; we watch from our windows,
The smoke from the engine’s dispersed on the wind.
And then, from the East, we see smoke once more rising
As our friends and neighbors all come to their end.
Chorus: Auf Wiedersehen, Moritz……
The tens grow to hundreds and hundreds to thousands
And thousands to millions, whose smoke blocks the sun.
When ashes are falling like snowflakes in summer,
Shouldn’t we ask ourselves what we have done?
Auf wiedersehen, Moritz, auf wiedersehen, Anna,
Leb’ wohl, Beate und leb’ wohl, Johanna.
Am ende der Reise, sind alle verschwunden, (At the end of the journey, everyone disappeared)
Hat niemand bemerkt, dass niemand zurück kam? (Did no one notice that no one came back?)
Ja, wir haben bemerkt dass niemand zurück kam. (Yes, we noticed that no one came back.)
Stephen Baird 2012-2016