Long search for family heritage worth it to Prescott Valley woman
By Cheryl Hartz
Prescott Valley Tribune
With the new year, some folks may resolve to climb their family trees to learn about their ancestors. For those with no idea how to go about it, Prescott Valley resident Terri Brahm sets a good example.
Brahm did not know until after his death in 1981 her father, Ralph Uri Hanauer, had been in a German concentration camp.
“He never talked about it,” Brahm said.
But learning that fact from her grandmother led her on an eventual odyssey of discovery – to know more about those who died and to find surviving family members.
“You hear stories of Holocaust survivors, but usually not stories of those who died,” she said.
But “life intervened” as she raised a family, so she didn’t think seriously about gathering information until about 1997 after further conversation with her grandmother, who was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s.
In 2002, her Great Aunt Ilse told her her grandfather’s name (Ilse’s brother, Hans) and the name of the concentration camp where her father had been.
In 2005, Ilse’s best friend, Tutta, sent Brahm an heirloom bowl and plate from Germany. Hans, a wood apprentice, had given them to Tutta as gifts.
Brahm began to dig in earnest, for a specific reason.
“I’m so afraid the lineage ends with my granddaughter. She’s my driving force, so she will know her heritage when she grows up.”
Through countless letters and hours of computer research, Brahm traced her paternal family history back to 1727 and her maternal line to 1529.
What most interests her, however, is uncovering the tragedies of World War II.
“I have asked God for help every single day because I want to know the truth,” she said.
Her father, Uri Hanauer, was only 4 when the Nazis sent him and his mother, Ursula, from their home in Berlin to Theresienstadt in 1944. The Gestapo had sent his Jewish father, Hans, to the labor camp Gut Winkel in 1941, and to Auschwitz in 1943.
“Hans was murdered there,” Brahm said, when he was just 24.
She has copies of the train transport list from the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., and copies of papers showing his prisoner number and death date. She still wants to find the arrest warrant so she will know charges for his arrest and how he died.
“I don’t know what his crime was,” she said.
Brahm knows the Nazis had ignored the family for so long because Ursula’s mother’s Christianity had “protected” them until she died.
“Families that were half Christian were supposed to be protected if they stayed away from the synagogue and as long as the Christian spouse lived,” Brahm said. “My great aunt told me, ‘Your grandfather was not supposed to die.’ I didn’t know what she meant.”
It turns out a member of the Social Democratic Party had warned Hans to stay hidden because of his affiliation with people not of the Nazi mindset. Nazis arrested Hans when he left his hiding place.
Brahm also has a letter Hans wrote to his wife, Ursula, while on the train to Gut Winkel apologizing for ignoring the warnings. He signed it, “Your sometimes a little stupid, Hans.”
“It hurts when I read the letter he wrote to my grandmother,” Brahm said.
Uri gained release in 1945, one of only 132 children of the 15,000 who entered the prison camp to survive. Ursula went free, as well.
Ursula’s father, Jonas Rosenfeld, had earlier been held at Rosenstrasse, but earned release when 600 Christian women, including his wife, protested that their Jewish husbands and children were wrongly incarcerated.
Uri Hanauer took the name Ralph when he became a U.S. citizen at age 12. He kept his past hidden from his children.
The past of Uri’s Jewish grandfather, Max Hanauer, brings more questions than answers for Brahm. She learned he lived in America from 1903 to 1906, surviving the San Francisco earthquake.
She knows he served in the German army in World War I, somehow had protection during WWII and didn’t have to take the middle name of Israel on his documents, as other Jewish men were forced to do. She has a photograph of him wearing a German officer’s uniform and playing chess with Russian soldiers.
She wonders why some of her family history is so well documented. She knows some of the family possessed great wealth and owned lots of property, but not what happened to it. She doesn’t have death dates for either Max Hanauer or Jonas Rosenfeld.
What she does have is stacks of paperwork, pictures and some antique jewelry her grandmother sewed into her clothing when she left home. The jewelry passed to Ilse. Ilse, a blue-eyed blonde, had lived with Tutta and her husband in Berlin, and shared an ID card with Tutta. The girlfriends would go out into the city one at a time. The Nazis never caught on.
Although the road to family knowledge has been winding, Brahm said the information is out there for the curious.
“Anybody who wants to can find out about their heritage,” she said. “It has paid off for me.”
A good place to start research, she said, is at the LDS free site, www.familysearch.org.