142. Sophie’s life’s work.

By Peter Fraenkel

Keeping her husband, Martin, alive was grandmother’s life’s work. She dedicated most of her waking hours to it. And yet, I always had a suspicion she was somewhat ambivalent about Martin. She told me there had never been a dispute between them… never an angry word. That, I thought was only possible if one partner in such a relationship had been completely crushed and had subordinated him or herself. What aroused my doubts was when she spoke about her sister’s husband Mamlock.  What a handsome man he had been! How fortunate her sister was.

I was puzzled. I did not find Mamlock handsome. But he did have one quality that Sophie admired greatly: he was tall!

It seemed to be a matter of distress to Sophie that her husband, Martin was short: an enormous head with a powerful mind, topping a very short body

Martin was a successful lawyer. He served on the governing committee of the National Association of German Lawyers. He was also the treasurer of the Breslau Jewish community. These two posts demanded that he and his wife frequently had to appear at public functions. And she was very conscious that when they appeared together, she towered over him by almost a head.

I don’t think this mattered to Martin. He had a more serious problem which did.  He had early onset diabetes. It was diagnosed when he was in his early twenties. All the years that remained to him he had to inject insulin twice a day. I guess the adults in the family knew that sufferers do not normally live long. I did not.

I saw him injecting himself on several occasions. He did not object to his little grandson watching this, but I felt very uncomfortable with it.  I was, however, too young or too timid to say so.

Martin’s diet had to be strictly controlled. Everything had to be weighed, written down and calculated.

This became a full-time occupation for Sophie. She was very conscientious.   I suppose it was her work that kept him alive.

He was, however, not a good patient. Whenever he had to attend the funeral of an older colleague – and there were many of those – he made for a “Konditorei” and ordered forbidden cakes: apricot or strawberry or cherry cake with large blobs of sugared whipped cream – and more of it floating on his coffee.    “One lives only once” he would say. What he probably meant was I shan’t be around much longer.

As expected, he died early at, I think, 64. Sophie was devastated. What was she to do with the rest of her life?

She went into a deep depression. She had to be taken to a nursing home in Berlin. My mother went to visit her every second week. It involved a train journey of four or five hours each way.

It was a very bad time for a German Jew to be incapacitated: November 1938, Krystallnacht – the night of broken glass. Nazi thugs smashed up Jewish-owned shops and set synagogues alight. Even my father, who had long refused to consider emigration, now realised he had been wrong. He took the train to Berlin and went to see Sophie.

“We will have to get out.  Yes, you too Sophie.”

To her family’s amazement Sophie managed to pull out of her depression. She came back to Breslau with my father and proceeded with packing up.

My parents had anticipated they would have to do all that for her. They did not.  But she wasn’t quite ready when they were. They offered to delay their departure.  She would not allow it. “Men are in far greater danger. They haven’t dragged women to concentration camps – well, not yet.” She reached South Africa, were her daughter and son-in-law were by then installed, two or three weeks before the outbreak of war – just in time.

She lived there to the age of 99.