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The Jewish Press of Tampa and the Jewish Press of Pinellas County are Independently- owned biweekly Jewish community newspapers published in cooperation with and supported by the Tampa JCC & Federation and the Jewish Federation of Pinellas & Pasco Counties, respectively. Copyright © 2009-2018 The Jewish Press Group of Tampa Bay, Inc., All Rights Reserved.


 

February 27, 2015  RSS feed
Front Page

Text: T T T

German teacher connects family history for Pinellas man

By BOB FRYER Jewish Press


A long neglected letter from German schoolteacher Detlev Hrebst helped Livingstone Treumann of Redington Beach connect six generations of his family. Top photos (L-R), Leo Treumann holds his grandson, Horst, in 1931 in Germany. Horst’s parents, Adolf Alfred and Alice Treumann, in Brazil in 1942. Horst’s son, Livingstone Treuman, right, with Detlev Herbst at the recent Obermeyer Award ceremony at the Berlin Parliament. Bottom photos (L-R) Horst’s grandson, Livingstone Treuman Jr., kneels at the grave of his greatgreat grandfather, Leo Treumann at a cemetery in Berlin. A few weeks later, Livingstone Jr. had a son, and named him Leo in honor of the boy’s greatgreat great-grandfather. A long neglected letter from German schoolteacher Detlev Hrebst helped Livingstone Treumann of Redington Beach connect six generations of his family. Top photos (L-R), Leo Treumann holds his grandson, Horst, in 1931 in Germany. Horst’s parents, Adolf Alfred and Alice Treumann, in Brazil in 1942. Horst’s son, Livingstone Treuman, right, with Detlev Herbst at the recent Obermeyer Award ceremony at the Berlin Parliament. Bottom photos (L-R) Horst’s grandson, Livingstone Treuman Jr., kneels at the grave of his greatgreat grandfather, Leo Treumann at a cemetery in Berlin. A few weeks later, Livingstone Jr. had a son, and named him Leo in honor of the boy’s greatgreat great-grandfather. Sometimes the unpredictable nature of life leads to extraordinary results, and in the case of Livingstone Treumann of Redington Beach, a letter written by a stranger years ago and thousands of miles away had profound results – it gave him a heritage he would never have known.

The letter wasn’t even addressed to Treumann, but to his father, Horst, and was ignored for years. “While cleaning out my mother’s room at an assisted living facility in 2004, I came across a 1991 letter, handwritten on blue stationery, written to my father [who died in 1994] from Detlev Herbst.”

Herbst, a school teacher, was intent on finding all the family of those Jews from his small town in Germany. He had traced the name of Treumann’s father through the German consulate in Brazil.

“He correctly identified my father as a resident of Brazil who as a boy fled Germany in 1937 with his parents, Adolf Alfred Treumann and Alice. Detlev asked for confirmation and more details to preserve the history,” Treumann said.

“However, my father never responded and never told me about the letter. I would know nothing else if I had not stumbled upon it by happenstance,” said Treumann, 64, who moved from Brazil to the United States in 1993 with wife Sandra and three children.

Treumann contacted Herbst online and three days later got a call from him. Since then, they have become close friends.

Remarkably, Herbst, a gentile, has taken extraordinary interest in the history of the Jewish community in and around the town of Uslar, in Lower Saxony, about 200 miles southwest of Berlin.

Along with documenting the lives of those Jews who fled the area or were killed as Hitler rose to power and locating their relatives, Herbst’s efforts helped reclaim and build a forgotten synagogue and restore a local Jewish cemetery

For Treumann, Herbst’s efforts helped uncover his family roots that otherwise would have been lost.

In response to the teacher’s kindness and amazing work, Treumann nominated Herbst for the Obermeyer German Jewish History Award. Last month as Treumann and his wife looked on, the award was presented to Herbst in the Berlin Parliament.


(L-R) Detlev Herbst with Livingstone Treumann Jr. at a synagogue that Herbst helped rebuild in Gottingen, Germany. Treumann Jr.’s great grandparents were members of the synagogue before fleeing Germany in 1937. (L-R) Detlev Herbst with Livingstone Treumann Jr. at a synagogue that Herbst helped rebuild in Gottingen, Germany. Treumann Jr.’s great grandparents were members of the synagogue before fleeing Germany in 1937. “In virtually every town and city in Germany one can find people trying to commemorate the Jews who once lived among them. These are the kinds of ‘Righteous Gentiles’ we don’t hear much about, as they are trying to ensure that ‘Never Again’ is not an empty promise,” said Dan Fleshler, an American publicist familiar with the story of Treumann and Herbst.

Of Herbst’s efforts to reconnect him to his family history, Treumann said, “I do not know if I can compare it to finding a treasure, but to me.… I saw something materializing from when I was a child. I was always very curious about my father’s and grandparents’ backgrounds.”


A page from a book written by Detlev Herbst profiles the Treumann family in Germany. A page from a book written by Detlev Herbst profiles the Treumann family in Germany. Treumann stays in touch with Herbst via the internet and has made several trips to Germany since finding the letter, visiting often with Herbst and learning more about his family and other Jews who lived in the area before World War II.

In 2008, he joined Herbst in attending the reconsecration of a “lost synagogue” that Herbst was responsible for restoring. “I was one of only two grandchildren representing former members of the congregation,” Treumann said of the event.

As Hitler was rising to power, there were about 30 Jewish families living in the Uslar and Bodenfelde – towns in the area where Herbst teaches.

“My grandfather was a dentist and in 1936 the Nazis told people not to see Jewish attorneys, doctors or dentists or buy from Jewish stores. Those 30 families were influential in those two little towns. He had a wife and three kids. So they looked into where to go,” Treumann said, explaining the next year the family moved to Brazil.

Many of the other families also fled Germany, Herbst learned through his research. Treumann said some of his other relatives remained in Germany, including a great-aunt and great-uncle who were sent to the Treblinka and Auschwitz death camps.

“My contacting Detlev Herbst turned the few fascinating stories I had heard from my grandfather – before he died when I was 9 years old – into a tangible, documented, and fascinating family heritage that I will forever cherish.”

On one trip, Herbst took Treumann to his grandparents’ home, where a brick was laid as part of the Stolpersteine Program, a program to place small memorials at the last residence of individuals persecuted by the Nazis.

“He also showed me the office of my grandfather’s father-in-law, Felix Meyer – a professional dentist like my grandfather. Through this, I met the woman whose father purchased one of my grandfather’s dental practices,” Treumann said. “She still owned pieces of his furniture that once belonged to my great-grandfather, and today one large mirror and armoire are displayed proudly at my home in Florida.”

One of the stories Treumann recalled his grandfather telling him was of being beaten and left on the streets of his town in Germany for refusal to participate in a community event.

Treumann said Herbst helped him obtain several birth and death certificates and other important documents of his ancestors. Herbst took him to the Jewish cemetery in Bodenfelde, pointing out the final resting place for one of Treumann’s great- grandfathers. Herbst’s research also led Treumann to a cemetery in Berlin – where Treumann’s other great- grandfather, Leo Treumann, was buried.

Several weeks later, when Treumann’s grandson was born, he was named Leo, in honor of the baby’s great-great-grandfather, making a connection of five generations that would never have happened without the work of Herbst.

In biographical information about Herbst, provided by the Obermeyer German Jewish History Foundation, Herbst explains how his work to uncover the history of Jews in his area happened:

“In schoolbooks, I only found material about Jewish life in the cities … but nothing about the rural places,” Herbst recalled, “so we [he and his students] started to ask older people what they knew about Jews who had lived here before.”

The students turned up a wealth of information and soon they had names of Jews who had lived in the area before World War II, and found places where they had lived.

In the process, Herbst learned of a synagogue built in 1825 in the neighboring town of Bodenfelde that had survived Kristallnacht. It had been spared from destruction only because by then virtually all Jews in the area had fled and the structure had been sold in 1937 to a farmer who used it as a storage shed.

Herbst led fundraising efforts to purchase and dismantle the synagogue, which was in a bad state of disrepair, and move it piece by piece to a nearby town, Gottingen, where it was restored and now serves as a worship center for the Jewish community of 300. This is the synagogue Treumann came to in 2008 for its re-consecration.

Herbst also worked with more than 200 students to restore the Bodenfelde Jewish cemetery, established a museum of sorts telling the history of the local Jews and make sure they did not vanish from history.

He said he has done all of this because “I wanted to give back names and faces to the forgotten Jewish neighbors and help the descendants of Jews from Uslar and Bodenfelde find information on their families; history.”

He added that it shows today’s residents what the Jewish people from long ago did to establish shops and industries in the area, and also “because the Jewish population of this region was forced to leave this place, they were driven away and killed only because of their religion, and that must not be forgotten.”

Herbst wrote a book about the 30 Jewish families who lived in the area before Nazi persecution, and Treumann’s family is among those documented.

“Detlev Herbst has helped me and my family and these other families finally close some very important gaps in our Jewish ancestry findings, Detlev has been tremendously instrumental in giving us the real meaning of our roots,” Treumann said.


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