In Memory of Alfons

 

LINA

On July 16th, 2017, I fulfilled a dream.  I sang in a night club in Berlin.

Summertime and the living is easy

Fish are jumpin’ now and the cotton is high

I had traveled to Berlin with my sister, mother and father.  Even though our parents have been divorced for over 25 years, we were on a family history tour.  Like all good families, after 72 hours of profoundly moving experiences and a lot of togetherness, my sister and I needed a break.  

The jazz club was named, "The Hat" and is located below the train station in Charlottenbourg, a fancy section of Berlin.  Thirsty for a stiff drink, my sister spied something cool and refreshing.  "What's that?" she says to a young woman in a blue dress and a bright smile.  The young lady offers us a taste, but we politely decline.  We take our seats at the end of the bar and gesture to the bartender, "We'll have what she's having.”

Sipping on our cool libations, we were amused to see our new friend pick up a saxophone and walk on the small stage at "The Hat."  She counted the band off and started to play.  

My sister and I didn't subject ourselves to traveling overseas so that I could sing in a jazz club in Berlin.  Oh no! We were here on a mission.  A life's journey.  A quest for closure.

The year was 1943.  The height of World War II. My grandmother, Lina Banda Weber, perished at Auschwitz. They say the cause is angina.  We will never know. Lina was 44 years old.

40 years later, like a wandering Jew in the desert, my mother, Ginger, formerly known as Bela, was reunited with her six siblings.  At the age of six, three years after her mother Lina was murdered, the Weber children came out of hiding, got baptized and emigrated to America.  Seven siblings arriving intact in 1946 was significant - today, a large black and white photo of the children standing in front of the SS Flasher ocean liner in New York Harbor hangs in the last gallery of the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC.  After four weeks of quarantine in the Bronx, The Jewish Children's Bureau brought Alfons, Senta, Ruth, Renee, Gertrude, Judith and Bela to Chicago - they wanted all seven of the children to stay as close together as possible. But the children were all placed in foster care, and although they remained in daily contact, my mother, Bela, who was renamed Ginger because of her flaming red hair, was young enough and had another stroke of good fortune; she was adopted.  But the adoption came at a price and for the first time, although all seven children remained on the south side of Chicago for the most part, the siblings were officially and legally separated.  My mother eventually married and had a family as did all her siblings.   In the late 1960s my mother's German family reached out to her.  Their father had emigrated to America in 1956 and he was nearing the end of his life. My mother politely declined not wishing to upset her adoptive parents, really the only parents that she ever knew.

So why did it take forty years for Ginger to agree to meet with her brother and five sisters?  That's a very good question. But the more interesting question, was why now?

My mother, a dancer and wanna be cowgirl, broke her neck skiing on February 23rd, 1984. Like her mother Lina, she was 44 years old.  But my mother Ginger's story didn't end as tragically as her Mama's. In some ways, you could say my mother picked up where her mother left off. And rather than fighting for freedom and working for the black market and the underground which placed Lina on a suspicious persons watch list which ultimately took her to the camps, Ginger takes great pride in getting arrested at rallies supporting rights for the disabled. Mom has continued to dance despite her quadriplegia. She has traveled the world supporting women's rights and bringing culture wherever she goes.

On July 24th 1994, my husband and I gave birth to our first son. I would soon learn that July 24th was also the anniversary of my husband's brother Keith's death in 1967. Keith lived for 26 days and died of SIDS.

In 1996, we gave birth to our second and third sons. Two months early our twins decided it was time to meet the world. Coincidentally, my mother happened to be coming in town for a visit.  Little did she know she would meet her grandchildren on the anniversary of her paralyzing skiing accident. My sister would manifest the same synchronistic circumstance when she would give birth to her son, also on February 23rd, nine years later.  I know I digress, but how can I not mention that my sister's sister-in-law would do the same thing.  So, we celebrate five birthdays in our family on the same day. One could say that my mother's survival from her accident was the birth of her new self.

But let's go back to Germany.  Let's go back to 1925 when my mother’s father, Alexander Weber, a Catholic from Paderborn, Germany, met his future wife at the well. I just don't think you can get any more biblical than that. He voluntarily converts to Judaism, they marry in 1926 and give birth to their first son Alfons in 1927. It is 1929 the same year as Black Thursday and they give birth to their second child, a daughter named Senta and the family of four moves from Dortmund to Berlin where they live on welfare. In 1930 Aunt Ruth is born, in 1932 Aunt Gertrude is born and in 1933 Hitler becomes Chancellor of Germany and it is Alexander’s, first of several arrests for being favorable to Jews.  Despite his conversion to Judaism the law still views Alexander as a Catholic.  This turns out to be a very good thing.  He is incarcerated in the labor camp Oranienberg and serves 10 months.  By 1935 the Nuremberg laws are enacted and Aunt Renée is born. In 1936 Berlin hosts the Olympic Games and in 1937 Aunt Judith is born. By 1938 every Jew must have a J on their passport and I.D. cards with the names Israel or Sara are mandatory.  It is the year of Kristallnacht.  In 1939 the true beginning of six years of warfare, 12 out of the 1000 years intended Reich, my mother is born.  The Nazis have invaded Poland and by 1940, Alexander denounces, on paper, his Judaism.  In 1941, Lina was arrested several times, Uncle Alfons becomes a bar mitzvah and on October 18th the first official round up of Jews from Berlin to concentration camps takes place.  In 1943 on February 27th, the one and only public protest against the Nazis, in their 12 year reign, takes place in Berlin.  Gentile women married to Jewish men protested.  So it comes as no surprise that just a few days later, on March 9th, Lina was arrested.

It was the middle of the day, there was a knock at the door. Lina took my three-year-old mother, Bela, and put her in the broom closet. There was a scuffle.  The front door was closed and somehow my mother knew in her bones it was safe to come out.  She climbs up to the third-floor window and looks down to the street where she lays eyes on her mother for the very last time.   At the end of the day, Alexander and the other children come home to find three-year-old Bela but no Lina to be found.  Alexander walks to the police station to locate his beloved, and he himself is arrested. The next day on March 10th, a man comes from the Jewish community and takes all seven children to a hospital in their neighborhood that has been set up as an orphanage. Four weeks later Alexander is released by the Gestapo and the children are returned to his care.  They received two postcards from Lina; one that she is at Braunschweig Labor Camp and the next card, she is being transferred to Auschwitz.  A third correspondence has come.  It is official and is delivered to the police station.  Lina Banda Weber is dead.

Alexander learns that his children's names are on a list.  

Destination, extermination.

A fruit farmer named Arthur Schmidt, who rents an apartment in their building, where he stores his crates for the central market, owns a truck and an orchard 60 km east of Berlin. This humane gentile, who belonged to the Nazi party in name only, along with his wife, as well as the mayor of the town of Worin, hide my mother and her siblings for the next two years of their lives.

So, my mother at the age of 77, has decided it's time to face her past. We come to Berlin, pull out our maps and family histories and walk the streets where she once lived.  Nothing is the same anymore, even the street names have changed.  But we all bring out our inner detective and trace the steps looking for lost souls.

“V'yit gdal, v'yit kadash, shm’ay rabah.” We say the mourner's Kaddish, for Uncle Alfons who died last September. We say kaddish on the plot of land where he became a bar mitzvah.

We drive to Worin and are hosted by the Schullers.  They are the town historians, who greet us with homemade goulash, champagne and tears. We are looking through documents and photos.  It is July 16th.  It is Lina’s birthday.

We walk to the farm where one original wall remains standing.  We stare at the field where my mother dug for raw potatoes and lived in fear.

My Uncle Alfons, who worked as a physicist for the last 60 years, presented papers around the world.  His final treasure was a formal request in support of recognizing Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Schmidt and Mayor Rudy Ferhmann as Righteous Among Nations at Yad Vashem in Israel.  It is not easy to bestow this honor. Yad Vashem is meticulous in their research. But the merit has been granted and the award will be given. And who will be there to witness this act of heroism? 

The town historians, Herbert and Marlis Schuller, have located the closest living relative of Paula and Arthur Schmidt.  

He is standing before me.  He is 6 foot two

And we hug and I tell him, “it is so good to meet you”.

He is the farmers’ grandson and he is my age.

He is a fine artist from Hamburg and has come all this way.

 

My mother and Arthur Schmidt III, dive deep into each other’s smiles. 

We are now having coffee, homemade cakes and more wine.

We drive back to Berlin, the feeling is surreal, sublime. 

One of these mornings you're gonna rise up singing

You're gonna spread your wings and take to the sky

But til that morning there ain’t nothin’ can harm you

I turn to this young saxophone player, she smiles and gives me a hug.

“We must meet again,” we promise, and take a photo. 

“How will I find you on WhatsApp?” I ask.

She says, "my name is Lina."

I've been Mrs. Robinsoned - already!

There is no question that going back to school after you've had a life - a big: mortgages, raising kids, downsizing, moving cross-country, saving the family dog from death (not once but twice), saving offspring from death, those things.  There is no question that going back to school at a major university, or any university, is a big deal.  The fact that I applied at all was a big deal. The fact that I got "in" was monumental.  

 

I'm a simple woman.  Not really, but I like to think I have my values straight.  My husband and I have been married for decades.  Everyone tells us how nice and polite our kids are so we did something right.  No one has been arrested or flunked out of school, yet.  I like to say that I decided to go back to school to avoid having to get a real job.  That's a stupid thing to say, offensive actually.  I've had a real job my entire adult life.  Yes, raising three sons in New York and Los Angeles is a real job. I've also raised a lot of money in philanthropic circles - also very real.   I've also enjoyed a modest but respectable career running my own interior design consulting firm.  So perhaps I should amend my quip to "I'm avoiding a desk job," or "I'm avoiding going to work for someone else."  Actually, I am walking right into the lion's den of libraries and formal scheduling.

 

It's the year of the bucket list.  I have enrolled at UCLA in the graduate acting program in the school of Theatre, Film & Television.   Joel and I are not only empty nesters, but the kids are thoroughly ensconced in their new lives and have been now for a few years.  They come home for a few weeks at a time, or maybe the summer, but technically, I am no longer scheduling my life around theirs.  I actually get to create my own. Sort of.  

 

Like you, I have the bucket list and it's long.  I have always wanted to enroll in a yoga teacher training and, I have always wanted to go to India.  When an email came across my desk last December to actually participate in a yoga teacher training in India, I jumped at the chance.  There were no weddings or Bar Mitzvahs, no graduations or parental milestone birthdays on the calendar.  I decided to go for it.  Twenty-four hours to Istanbul, another four hours to New Delhi, yes another flight up to Dehradun and then one hour taxi ride to my hotel overlooking Mother Ganga, I then settled into a routine for four weeks in the foothills of the Himalayas, still another sixty minutes up into the hills, an experience worthy of its own blog.

 

Just before I left for India, I received an invitation from UCLA to join the 3rd Cohort of a new acting program led by a man who quite literally embodies everything I believe art should and could be.  Lofty it sounds and indeed, he is mortal and probably has some habits I will learn to loathe, but for now, my dream of collaborating with other artists who care about craft and the opportunity to train like an Olympian is my new reality.

 

"Are you excited?"  Everyone is asking me in the weeks and days before Orientation.  "Yes of course, but it just doesn't' seem real yet."  I receive information in May to apply for my parking permit over the summer. I meticulously put the date in my calendar and even though I am on vacation in July, stuffing my face with homemade strawberry shortcake and rhubarb turnovers, I fall asleep the night before the on-line portal opens to purchase the promised permit committing to memory that I must apply and pay for the permit the minute I wake up.   Naturally, like all good sugar-coma vacationers do in Northern Wisconsin, I wake up, have some coffee and go for a walk along the water, the trail.  Lord only knows what on earth I did that day.  I definitely did not apply for my permit.  Probably somewhere in the middle of another swig of beer or fish 'n chips I scream, "Oh shit!  Where the f**k will I park?"  Like a terrier chasing a rat, I got myself to my computer pronto, applied around midnight and by the grace of God I was allowed to drop $700 bucks on a tiny decal that would literally save me from commuting on LA's most esteemed public transportation.  Round One and I survived.

 

Orientation began last week with the entire graduate school gathered to sit in on panels from grant money to health care, activities fairs that included the ballroom dance team to cross-gender bathrooms.  Finally!  Honestly, am I the only woman who swears there are more men's rooms than women's rooms?  I mean the men's rooms are always right at the top of the stairs and so easy to find.  Women are usually forced to go through a maze like a gerbil just to locate the loo.  My biggest fear of spending so much time on an enormous, albeit beautiful campus, is that I will be the only one running around like a mad woman, clutching my undies desperately trying to find a ladies room.  Does anyone feel me?

 

Orientation was a whirlwind. I met interesting grad students in entirely different disciplines.  Ladies of a certain age and I found each other in queues and we happily exchanged cards with each other in the hopes of "checking-in" once a quarter.  Most impressive were the speakers on the panels, various deans and provosts, and especially the graduate students who clearly had learned to develop their own voices.  My memory was harkened back to a time when my own voice was never in doubt, my confidence was palpable and I could "present" without questioning my integrity.  Perhaps this is why I want to go back to school, to feel that ownership again.  To feel like I'm not acting, even though that is exactly what I am here to do.

 

Remarkably, some of the other actors in my program, there are only eight of us, actually recognized me on campus most probably from our summertime Facebook group.  They pulled me aside and introduced themselves.  Of course, I'm flagellating myself for not recognizing them until they said their names.  "I have got to get better about that," I pseudo-promise myself.  I must admit part of me has given up a tiny bit.  I just love name tags, and wish that Steve Jobs lived long enough to develop some kind of secret spy gizmo so I'd never forget anyone's name or face again.  No one, luckily, seems to mind that I wasn't able to recognize them in a sea of hundreds and we settled on the lawn for our first "sit-our-butts-down-on-the-floor" event of the year.  More on that later...

 

Our second day of orientation offered more programming and wasn't just for the students of "diversity" as was the day before.  "Diversity?" you ask?  Yes, I'm still a woman and I'm still white. So why was I included on "diversity day?"  Do I really have to spell it out?  As somebody famous said, "Aging is not for the faint of heart."  Bette Davis?  Mae West?  

 

Day three of orientation narrowed our panels to specifically the School for Theatre Film and Television.  No more women in the queue who were studying public health or anthropology.  I am now alone and walking into a gathering at nine o’clock in the morning only to discover that this particular seminar is for both undergrads and grad students alike, which I should have been able to discern from the decibel level.  Young co-eds have a tremendous amount of audible enthusiasm even before coffee.  Ok, now I feel like I need to be careful.  Now I’m enormously self-conscious,  "should I take the Band-Aid off of my nose that is covering my brand new and very first basal cell carcinoma, or should I leave it on for fear of freaking someone out?"  Yes, now I have the voice in my head similar to Desperate Housewives.  “ Bree took out her husband's suit.  Laid out the gun...”  

 

Stop.  I immediately disallow this voice to take control, I mean I didn't go to India for nothing, and I find some of the screenwriters who maybe don't have kids as old as mine, but they could have if they wanted to, that is if they were teenage parents.

 

We are shuttled into the Freud Playhouse, a familiar setting for me as an audience member.  On this particular day, my colleagues and I find each other and we sit together mid-way back and enjoy a rather delightful and most expertly presented morning of entertainment; undergrads, short films, professors, deans and most notably, a Charlie Rose style interview with a very seasoned former chair and an alum who happens to be the CEO of DreamWorks.  It's all becoming very “real” now.  They don't have to sell us on the program - we already got into the program.  They do, however, have to make sure we understand that the stakes and it is clear they have given us some very fine role models.

 

After lunch we few hundred are reduced to only theatre students (my screenwriting pals were scooped off somewhere else) and the new brand spanking new Chair of the department presented a rather hilarious version of "we know what we're doing, trust us and if we don't have the answer today we will get it to you."  If you read a scripted version of this fireside chat, you might think UCLA and “world-class” should not belong in the same sentence.  The new chair, however,  is so affable and unassuming that he's kind of like a puppy dog.  He looks in your eyes and wins your heart.  The second afternoon session was reduced smaller yet with the 15 students in my cohort, 9 designers and 4 PhD students.  Our advisor walked us through the details of academia and I was relieved to learn that I had already paid my tuition; my fellowship funding had been allocated properly to my account. Ahhhhhh. I have survived Round Two.

 

Our final day of orientation began with a panel given by several librarians. Droll you might think?  Hardly.  I've never been so jazzed about libraries hearing these experts explain their special collections and archives and it's all at my disposal.  Wait, what?

 

Our next panel lost the designers and the PhD students and we were now down to 15 students.  This will be my group for the next quarter at least.  We are shrinking and there is nowhere for me to hide.  The professor who invited me to join the program, the academic dean, another playwriting professor and, the seasoned former chair are all in attendance.  I quickly discover I don't have to open my mouth at all.  Everyone else has loads of questions and things to express.  I can be the strong and silent one.  We'll see how long that lasts.

 

It's Erev Yom Kippur and I'm off to services for the next 24 hours.  My brain is distracted with a new speech from Dante's Inferno.  I roll into my one and only class on this Thursday morning.  It's finally the first day of school.  It's delicious.  My advanced acting class is not just the 15 of us; we have the 9 students from the second Cohort and the 7 students from the first cohort.  We can observe them, learn from them, and we are even instructed to stand behind them as we practice our deep Suzuki style plies.  At last, I feel safe.

 

Our second day of classes consisted of the same advanced acting class.  I took lunch in the sculpture garden, a rather amazing collection complete with a Richard Serra Torqued Ellipse. I still cannot believe I get to walk next to a Serra every weekday for the next three years.  After lunch, we have Directing class 260.   I know that my professor for this class is the guy with the puppy dog eyes and dry sense of humor.  He can parry anything without making you feel dumb.  Smart, irreverent and completely likable.  So, I feel somewhat safe, other than the fact that on Facebook, the Chair enters a very professional and appropriate post announcing his new promotion, to which my little sister, my very own flesh and blood replies, "congratulations Brian, look out for my sister Beth Lane.  Wait what?

 

I've been alerted on Facebook that my name has been mentioned in a post.  I immediately text baby sister, “how on earth do you know so and so?  ”  Oh, he was a classmate of mine in high school.  We went to a Duran Duran concert and…" she replies.  

 

We are learning about dramatic tension in class.  How to control the tension, mold the tension, manipulate the tension.  We are paired up into groups of three and told to go make a 30 second scene that demonstrates dramatic tension.  I'm paired with two guys.  Good guys.  One is nice and tall, the other looks like a baseball player.  "How bad can this be?”  I ask myself.  Then it happens.  The inevitable.  The boys, who are barely older than my children, decide that our scene should be about an Ashley Madison hook up between them and me.  Seriously.  I mean I ain't no Demi Moore... or could I be?  Then they did it for real; they used the "m" word.  They said, "ok, you be our mom and we will ‘pick you up’ on the park bench." "I'm the mom?"  I'm mulling it over.  I know the part well.  “And you both are going to hit on me?”  I'm not saying I was "hit on," not at all.  However, Day 2, Class 2, I have to explore sexual tension with students I definitely could have given birth to?  I'm not quite sure which was more mortifying.  Having to say to puppy-dog-professor-former-classmate-of- sister,  "what you see in this room stays in this room," or in the bathroom after my audition nine months ago when a young lady came up to me and nervously giggled, "Oh isn't this great?  Do you have a child auditioning?"   To which I replied, "No dear, the child who just auditioned, is me.”

Up With a Twist!

Todd Todd Sherry, yes that's Todd x 2... and Heather Olt have invited me to perform in their monthly cabaret "Up with a Twist" on Monday September 21st @ 8 - Rockwell Table and Stage

What do National Pecan Cookie Day & September 21st have in common?

They're the same day as our next...

UP, WITH A TWIST!

songs you know...unlike you've ever heard them before

Hosted by Todd Sherry & Heather Olt

UP, WITH A TWIST! is celebrating summer with another incredible lineup for our September 21st show! 

Among those scheduled to perform:

Ashley ArgotaCorey BoardmanJulia Black

Steve KnillBeth LaneEuriamis LosadaHadley Meares, 

Shawn RyanRena StroberTom Kiesche & Deirdre Moncy

PLUS

Todd    &    Heather

with Ron Snyder on piano

Monday, September 21st

8:00 pm (doors at 6:30 pm)

ROCKWELL TABLE & STAGE

1714 North Vermont Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90027

Tickets start at just $10!

Tickets available HERE!

Reservations are STRONGLY encouraged

DISCOUNT CODE ALERT!

Use the code TWIST50 when checking out HERE!  NO Goldstar fees, just 50% off of your order!  

For even more details and up-to-date performer info, check out our Facebook event or follow us on Twitter!