New Year's Eve Poems 1933
From the Ganz Family's Last New Years Eve in Germany
I’m currently working on a piece about my family’s history in Cologne and my cousin Gottfried Ballin, a member of an anti-Nazi resistance group, who was arrested for high treason, and murdered in Auschwitz. While doing research, I read Fritz and Brigitte Bilz’s Die Familie Ganz und die Lengfeld’sche Buchhandlung – Lebensgeschichten einer jüdischen Buchhändlerfamilie — The Ganz Family and the Lengfeld’sche Bookstore — Life story of a Jewish Bookseller Family, a documentary history of my family’s bookstore in Cologne. Inside, I found something remarkable that I had not seen before. On New Years Eve 1933, the Ganz family gathered at the house of Karl and Minnie Ganz, my great aunt and uncle. As was tradition, they shared poems written for the occasion. Hitler had taken power and this would be the last time they’d all gather together for New Year’s Eve: they’d be scattered in the coming year. In 1934, my great grandfather Felix and his wife Resi, along with their children Eva and Peter, my grandfather, would flee to Palestine, Karl’s family would go to France, Anna Ballin’s sons Wolfgang would end up in America and Arnold in South Africa, but Anna and her middle son Gottfried would fatefully remain in Germany, where he would be arrested in the coming year.
My great grandmother Resi kept these poems and gave a copy of them to Helene Ballin, Gottfried’s fiancée. They could not marry under Nazi law because he was Jewish and she was “Aryan,” but after the war she applied to take his name. Beate, the daughter of Karl and Minnie, who was too little to contribute a poem, later wrote her recollections of that New Years Eve:
They are all there on this December 31, 1933, all united in Cologne for one last celebration, one last exchange of love and solidarity. They look at each other, judge each other in their particularities, but understand that this judgment is fleeting, because everything that has been going on for some months since the elections that brought Hitler to power…
…I see them gathered around the punch, a punch that Papa Karl knew how to prepare: a mixture of fruits preserved in cognac, white wine and champagne sparkled in a large crystal vessel. I still have the crystal pipette with which the precious liquid was sucked in and distributed into the glasses. Shortly before midnight, the occasional poets would recite or read their work, and at midnight the last poem would bury the completed year and celebrate the birth of a new one. With this last toast the gathered family buried much more than just a difficult year: they buried - more or less foreseeing this - the era of happiness and balance
I’ve decided to share a few of the poems: the ones from my direct relatives—Peter, my grandfather, who was 17 years old; Eva, his sister, who was 18; my great grandmother Resi and my great grandfather Felix, along with the poem that was written by someone in the name of New Year’s Eve itself. I took German in college, but I’m not very proficient in it, so these translations may be a little crude and have mistakes, so I apologize in advance. Where I didn’t fully understand the language, I tried to convey what I believed the spirit might be.
Ihr kennt mich alle, wollt ihr's auch nicht wissen;
Wehrt ihr euch gegen mich, es nutzt euch nichts;
Ich bin, erschauert, euer schlecht Gewissen Und drück euch oft kraft meines Schwergewichts.
Und heut' zur Jahreswende werd ich euch befehlen, Zu sagen, was ihr sonst in euch verschließt;
Vertraut einand' die Tiefen eurer Seelen!
Hinweg begeb' sich, wen dies Tun verdrießt.
Doch kündet deutlich auch, was ihr zu sagen, betont das rechte Wort zur rechten Zeit, Es stört die Wirkung, muss man' zweimal sagen, und schadet der Gemeinverständlichkeit.
New Year’s Eve 1933
You all know me, even if you don't want to know; If you defend yourself against me, it will be of no use to you; I am—shudder—your bad conscience And push you often with the power of my heavy weight.
And today, at the turn of the year, I will order you, To say what you otherwise keep within yourself; Trust each other with the depths of your souls! Anyone who is offended by this deed should go away.
But also announce clearly what you have to say, stress the right word at the right time, It spoils the effect, if you have to say it twice, and harms general understanding.
Meine Haare ließ ich in Pillau am Meer;
Meine Lieben sin über die Welt verteilt,
In Europa is mir die Luft zu schwer,
In Deutschland bin ich zu lange verweilt.
Vor mir liegt tausend und eine Nacht,
Die Tage sin weiß Gott verworren
Schon Vater Alex hat immer gesagt
Von Knochen, die in der Wüste dorren.
Doch wüste ich nicht und dorr' kein Gebein,
Ergeb' mich dem Buchhändlerbauernstand,
Und sage: Omen, so soll es sein,
I'm erwählten gelobten Land.
I left my hair in Pillau-by-the-sea; My loved ones are spread all over the world, The air is too heavy for me in Europe, I have stayed too long in Germany. Before me lie a thousand and one nights, God knows these days are confusing, My father Alex always spoke Of bones drying in the desert. But if I do not waste away and no bone withers, I will give up my bookseller's peasant life And say, Omen, so it shall be, In the chosen promised land.
Mein Rat ist international als praktisch annerkannt:
Ich hab oft mehrere zur Wahl
Und hab die stets gennant.
Tief innen bin ich ein Pädagog' fur mich und die andern,
Und wenn ich Menschen an mich zog,
Ließ reicher stets sie wandern.
Ich bin kein Freund der großen Worte
Und wirke in der Stille.
Doch künd' ich jeder Stund' und Orts;
Felix, mein Wunsch and Wille.
Wo er weilt, will auch in hingehn,
Beschor ich jung und lieblich,
Das Land der Väter zu besehn,
War damals noch nicht üblich.
Doch hab ich halb mal A gesagt,
Muss -Ganz- ich die Ferne:
Wer mich auf Herz and Nieren fragt,
"Am End' tu ich's doch gerne!"
My advice is recognized internationally as practical: I have lots to chose from And always give it. Deep inside I'm an educator of myself and others, And whenever I gather people to me, I always let them walk away richer. I'm no friend of big words And work in silence But I say in each time and place, Felix, my wish and will, Where he goes, I too will follow, When I was young and lovely, I swore I'd see the Land of my Fathers, It was not then the custom, But I said "A" half the time. so I must go the whole distance, Who asks my heart and soul, "In the end I do it gladly!"
Ich habe Bücher gebunden
Und Scheren geschnitten,
Mich mit Peter gestritten.
Klein bin ich gewesen
Und schaut, bin gewachsen,
Ich geb' nichts ums Lesen
Und um geistige Faxen:
Fühlt meine Arme—
Ja, das ist Rasse;
Ich werf' Meinen Charme in die Reisekasse.
I bound books and cut with scissors twisted braids, and fought with Peter. I was small, And look, I've grown I don't give a damn about reading, and intellectual nonsense; Feel my arm— Yes, that's spirit; I throw my charm in the travel fund
Ich bin ein guter Kamerad
Und geb' nichts auf Manieren
Denn wenn man aufrecht steht und grad',
muss man sich auch genieren.
Die Hosentasche is für mich
Die letzsche Zufluchtsstätte —
Wohin denn auch gerierte ich,
Wenn ich die nicht mehr hätte.
So bin ich denn von Kopf bis Fuß
Auf Linie eingestellt
Und schlag mich doch zum guten Schluss
Recht tapfer durch die Welt.
I'm a good comrade And don't give up on manners Because even when you stand straight and tall, you also should feel bashful. The trouser pocket is for me the last refuge place — Where would I end up, If I didn't have them anymore? That's how I am from head to toe, Set in line, And in the end I'll bravely fight my way through the world
Here are some more of Beate’s words:
Although I strive for the unity of this planet, for a universal humanism, I am unable to betray the victims of two thousand years of persecution. I resist belonging and am unable to give up my origins.
But isn't it precisely this origin that makes me related to the suffering minorities, whether they are black, Arabs, pariahs or others? After the storm that drove my family apart, I live in safety, a French citizen and mother of French children. But I maintain the keen awareness of one close past and a frightening present, because in a large number of countries people continue to condemn others, to massacre the non-conforming, and everything is capable of being considered a difference: the color of the skin, the faith or the political opinion. A phenomenon that is actually not new has found its way into people's consciousness: that of “displaced persons” (refugees).
Let's return to my own case and imagine this century without Hitler. I would have stayed in Cologne, in the safe environment of the family clan and its circle of friends. I would certainly have married a Heinz Isaac, an Andreas Rosenmeyer or another childhood sweetheart. I would have continued what had already lasted for centuries: the small Jewish community in Cologne.
The events that hurled me from this cocoon into new horizons and the war reinforced the upheavals that followed. Never, neither in Cologne nor in Fontenay-aux-Roses, would I have met all these young French people, resistance fighters and refugees like me. I would never have
met Jean and with him any other kinship than that of tradition, that of thought and spirit.
That's my story, but the phenomenon of political refugees is accelerating: refugees are streaming from everywhere into the still free countries. I have a utopian hope for the twenty-first century: that as a result of such mixing of peoples, nationalism and racial arrogance will cease and become completely insignificant.