66. Was Opa kidnapped?

Grandfather Arnold Fraenkel was a great story teller. Of course we addressed him as “Opa” – the German equivalent of “gran’dad”. Cousin Ken and I would squat on the Persian carpet at his feet while he sat in his easy chair improvising cops-and-robber stories for us. These were, Ken told me, based on a book the old man had read about the once turbulent Abruzzi region of Italy.

One of these stories, however, was different. This one, he insisted, was true.  Long after his death I questioned my father. He immediately recognised the story and said he believed it was factual – however improbable I might think it.

As a little blond boy Arnold had been playing in the main street of his little Upper Silesian home town, Tost (or Thost in archaic German spelling). After World War II Silesia was annexed to Poland, and today the little town is known as Toszek.

A caravan of exotic-looking gypsies was travelling through. Sturdy cart-horses pulled their homes-on-wheels. Village boys lined the street – the one and only street.

Perhaps the gypsies had even brought a dancing bear. That would have been a great draw. Even many years later, in my own days, these could still be seen once in a while.

Later the family gathered for the evening meal. But where was little Arnold?

They called but he could not be found. The village policeman – there was only one – scratched his head: “The gypsies?” he wondered.

One onlooker claimed to have seen the boy on one of their caravans. Gypsies had often been accused of kidnapping children – especially blond ones. “They train them to beg and the blond ones are given more money than their own dark-haired kids.”

Now the whole of Tost was in a fevered state. “Go after them”, they shouted at the village copper.

“That caravan must be leagues away by now,” he protested. “This needs the cavalry.”

There were several garrison towns near.  This was a frontier region. The border with the Russian- occupied part of Poland was not all that far away. A mounted messenger was sent.

Orders were shouted, horses saddled.

My father claimed an entire regiment was sent after the caravan. Perhaps that was an exaggeration but they soon brought back our future ancestor.

But had little Arnold really been kidnapped? Or had he joined the gypsies voluntarily?  Certainly as a young adult he showed himself to be adventurous. He even succeeded in getting into the “Maybugs” – the Garde-Füsilier-Regiment – one of the most prestigious regiments in the Prussian army.  It was a regiment that did not admit Jews – normally. *

But had he been kidnapped? My father was never certain and we could, alas, no longer ask Arnold.  The last time Ken and I begged him for a story he had answered sadly: “I have no more stories” and he died a day or two later.

Nor could we ask anyone else from Tost – if we could have found one.  There was so much antagonism to gypsies that I would not have trusted what any of them told me.

Gypsies have suffered from racism as we Jews have – perhaps even more. Thousands were murdered in Nazi concentration camps, so I prefer to believe that young Arnold had chosen to join that caravan freely: a wonderful adventure!


*See page 18 of Peter’s “No Fixed Abode”. More of

his stories on website www.peterfraenkel.co.uk/

as well as links to his print-published books etc.