“In May, 1945, just days before my fourth birthday, Adolf Hitler killed himself. A few days later, Nazi Germany surrendered and the war was over. I remember radios blasting the news all over the neighborhood and people dancing in the street. But the celebration outside didn’t compare to my mother’s unimaginable relief when she cautiously  began to accept that now we were really safe, beyond the clutches of the murderers, the liars, and thieves.

“But soon her elation turned to anxiety. While the war raged, she could hold out hope that some of her family would still be alive, but now the time had come when the truth would become known, worse yet, if it didn’t. Then we learned that her father, Professor Dr. Fritz Wachsner, and mother Paula were arrested in Berlin and sent to Riga to their immediate deaths, and all of her family had also perished.

“But what about her mischievous little brother, Ernst, whom she so adored? Her hopes rose and fell with conflicting reports that he had been sent to Auschwitz or that he was seen alive. She was sure we would find him and bring him to America. Together, they would try to put their trauma behind them and heal. They would relearn how to look forward to a bright new future and create new families. But in time, hope faded. Can you imagine trying to live a normal life, knowing that your entire family had been brutally slaughtered by nameless killers who would now return to their families, and go on with their lives largely unpunished, as if nothing had happened? I don’t think Mother ever really could come to terms with the tragedy.

“My father joined the US Army and returned to Europe. After a time, my mother became a nurse here in Los Angeles. Years later, as soon as I was old enough, I went to Germany myself. I would be on the very soil where my family had lived for centuries. I wanted to do the impossible, to take hold of and fathom the monstrous crime that had taken place there. In Berlin, I chanced upon the truth of what happened to my Uncle Ernst, shot by the Russians when he came out of hiding. I never told my mother. In going through her many papers after she died, I came across that wonderful letter my grandfather wrote in May, 1941, when he learned of my birth in America. Each time I hold it in my hands, the feeling comes over me that he knew I would read it years later as an adult and that I would find it a living expression of his love, a bridge between me and the grandfather I would never meet.”