110. South Park

By Peter Fraenkel

Südpark, Breslau. T.

It was only some 20 minutes’ walk from our apartment, that South Park. Had we wished, we could have taken a tram but only grandfather Goldschmidt, who was old and diabetic, ever did that. My father and I walked. The terminus and repair yard for trams was sited immediately opposite the park entrance. When I knew it, it was a well-established park with a lake, a café, a restaurant and tall trees…. All – as I learnt later – created quite recently out of swampland.

This park had been a gift to the city from one Schottlaender, a Jewish industrialist. He had commissioned the professor of botany at Breslau University, a Prof Kohn, to design the park. Kohn had set an army of navvies to dig a lake which drained the swamp land. The soil dug out was used to build up the banks. When I was a kid my father occasionally hired a little boat and we rowed around the lake, stopping at a little artificial island where we could tie our boat to an overhanging tree. Excess water was flushed into the storm water drains and carried down to the river Oder, a mile or two away.

In the vicinity of the park Schottlaender had bought up farmland and parcelled out large building plots. They were soon taken up and opulent villas came to be built.

Strollers might not have realised how recently this area had been swamp land, but a reminder was provided. At the entrance stood a statue entitle The Gardener … a sturdy muscular man leaning on his spade.  He did not look much like a university professor. Was it a likeness of Prof Kohn or merely a symbolic gardener? I do not know but set into the pedestal was a marble plaque commemorating Kohn, the designer.  I assume he had died by then.

When the Nazis came to power in 1933 they had that marble plaque removed. When they brought it back, a week or two later, the marble had been re-polished. The inscription in praise of a man with a typically Jewish name had now disappeared.

But not for long. During the second or third night someone with a diamond cutter had scratched four letters into the marble: Kohn.

Again some men removed the marble slab for re-polishing, but after the second instance, when my father and I came walking there, we noticed a policeman patrolling the area. He surveyed us suspiciously.

We laughed. Back at my school I suggested to a classmate that he and I, and perhaps a few more of our mates, now wander around that entrance regularly. A day or two later we saw that the policeman had been withdrawn but a civilian seemed to be hanging around the area. Gestapo?  Possibly. We talked: we would bring more of our schoolmates to stroll in the area. We would keep the entire Gestapo occupied… a whole brigade of them!

Small boys. Big talk!

We didn’t.

We knew, instinctively, that the fatherland had changed: The Nazis didn’t require legislation to deter us. They could have given us a severe beating and a few black eyes. There was no one who would have questioned their right to do so.