Wednesday, November 9, 2016


From HUMANS OF BETH AM blog of Temple Beth Am, Los Angeles, CA: 

The Temple Beth Am and Library Minyan communities offer me spiritual guidance and nourishment as I engage in an arduous journey to uncover my family’s history, and shape a compelling documentary. The story weaves together Nazi-era German Jews and the motion picture industry. It is a story about Carl Laemmle, the founder of Universal Studios and how he saved Jews from the holocaust.
Thank you to Beth Am, the Library Minyan, and Pressman Academy for providing spaces for my family and me to find community, peace and inspiration. Peace from prayer balances me, and gives me wisdom to act in a careful, confident manner. We have made many wonderful friends at Temple Beth Am.
Growing up in Santa Monica and attending the Westwood “Free” Minyan at UCLA Hillel, I knew only that my grandfather’s cousin founded Universal Studios. I watched films at the Laemmle Theatres, started by my grandfather, Kurt Laemmle, and his brother, Max, and worked at the Monica Theaters in Santa Monica. At Brown University, I studied history, film, painting and photography; and then became a Waldorf teacher, and taught in New York, Kenya and the San Fernando Valley.
When I began researching Carl Laemmle’s life, spending hours in the Margaret Herrick Library of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, just down the street from Pressman and Beth Am, I soon realized that my uncle Carl Laemmle’s efforts to save Jews from Nazi Germany would make a fantastic documentary film. Carl Laemmle was a devoted Jew, who never abandoned his faith. He was a motion picture industry pioneer, who battled Thomas Edison in court and paved the way for independent filmmakers. He founded the longest, continually-operating studio in Hollywood; and was a champion of human rights, perhaps Hollywood’s greatest humanitarian.
He did not leave a list of the Jews he saved, but by his account the number was several hundred. It is a great thing to learn about one’s family; but because Carl Laemmle convinced the U.S. State Department to issue visas for approximately three hundred Jews from his native area of Baden-Wuttemberg, I feel it is my duty to share this story with the world.
As Carl Laemmle signed affidavits and saved Jews from Baden-Wuttemberg, my grandfather’s branch of the Laemmle family went through their own ordeal. My mother’s father, Kurt Laemmle, grew up in Stuttgart, Germany, and then left as a young man for America, where he worked at Universal Studios in distribution.
The Margaret Herrick Library of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
A place full of wonderful information about Hollywood History. I was able to find a lot of information about Carl Laemmle and Universal Studios here.
When Hitler became chancellor in 1933, Kurt decided to stay in the U.S. permanently, and wrote to his brother, Max, head of European distribution at Universal in Paris, expressing concern for their parents. Their father, Siegfried – my great-grandfather – a brilliant business man, who fought for Germany in World War I, and owned an oil and grease factory, refused to leave.
Kurt married Alyse and returned to Stuttgart on a “honeymoon.” In early 1938, they filled out papers for Kurt’s parents and left them at the Embassy. After Krysallnacht – and an incredible story of Siegfried feigning illness when the Gestapo came for him – Siegfried and Alice Laemmle sold their home and factory for pennies to the Nazis and shipped their antiques to Los Angeles, where they lived out their remaining days.
My grandparents, Alyse and Kurt
Laemmle. Kurt founded the Laemmle
Theaters with his brother, Max, in 1938.

My mother inherited those antiques; I never understood how my family could have saved furniture from Germany, while so many others perished in the Holocaust. I suppose we have Carl Laemmle to thank. He came first – arriving in 1884 – and paved the way for other Laemmle’s to learn the “film business” in America.
I understand now what my grandfather meant when he said: “Laemmle Luck!” Any European Jewish family that survived the Holocaust is lucky, but perhaps it is more appropriate to say, “It is a miracle from G-d.”
Sadly, I have also learned through my research that many of my grandfather’s cousins perished in concentration camps. I will say the Kaddish and remember them this High Holiday season. My husband, Warren, and daughter, Esther, will be there, as will my parents, Rabbi Susan Laemmle and John Antignas. Family strengthens us in the present, and one never knows where researching one’s past may lead! 
POSTED: OCT 7, 2016 on "Humans of Beth Am" at the Temple Beth Am website 
Temple Beth Am is a dynamic center for Concervative Judaism located in Los Angeles, California.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Alyse Laemmle - my amazing 100 year old grandmother

Grandma took me out to lunch for my birthday and we both got a little drunk on sangria.

Grandma (nickname: G'ma, me and Esther, my daughter)
She is my mentor, my friend, my inspiration. She is the best friend I ever had -- always listening, always there for me. Maybe I have such a strong attachment to her because she got on a plane and flew to Germany when I was born to help my parents. And swung me from the balcony upside down, a Hungarian tradition, apparently.

She bakes chocolate chip cookies for her accountant, and cheesecake for her doctor. She takes me shopping every year and can pack a care package like nobody's business. I got a package every semester when I was at boarding school -- ten kinds of cheeses, crackers, all kinds of goodies. Everyone flocked to my room for snacks!

How did she get to be such a generous person? Did it all start when she was making speeches for ORT to raise money for Israel and Jews in DP Camps after World War II? Perhaps. The irony is she grew up, for most of her childhood, with a step-father who was Protestant, and didn't even realize she was Jewish until she married a Jewish man in a synagogue, and then somehow it was revealed to her. I wish she remembered more details about this. All I know is that it was probably just one of those things everyone knew, but no one talked about openly, so she probably knew, but didn't know that she knew, or doesn't remember.

She ended up studying for an adult Bat-Mitzvah later in life, and then joined the choir at her Temple and got involved, so they asked her to write a poem every year for the newsletter. I think her spirituality is a sort of universal spirituality, which I relate to, since I meditate, and I really believe that we are all one. How we behave is what counts.

Here is short film I made about her that screened at her 100th birthday party at the Laemmle's Royal Theater in West LA on May 19, 2016.

Who inspires you and what can you share about that person?

Sunday, May 29, 2016

My uncle Carl Laemmle, founder of Universal Studios

CARL LAEMMMLE, founder of Universal Studios 
Carl Laemmle's life makes an incredible story. My grandfather's cousin, Carl came to America in 1884 with fifty dollars and struggled as a bookkeeper, learning English. He eventually settled in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, and managed a clothing store.
The White Front Theater, Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago, Illinois
In 1906, he opened his first nickelodeon theater, which was popular with the recent Polish and other Eastern European immigrants, who could not afford live theater and were still learning English. Film was the perfect new form of entertainment!

Monday, February 8, 2016

I Was Born in Germany.

How did I -- a second-generation German-Jewish American -- end up being born in Germany in 1964?
view on to freiburg freiburg is also the gateway to
Freiburg, Germany
But, before I answer that question (one I always get asked) isn't Freiburg beautiful? On the edge of the Black Forest, it harbors a Medieval town center and a University.

Now, for the answer:
My father, after graduating from Bolt Law School decided to refine his knowledge of German Law at the University of Freiburg.

My mother was very brave to accompany him. I was born on September 12th, soon after they arrived and stayed seven months. In the Spring, Mom returned to LA a bit early to spend some time with her parents. My father joined her a few months later.

Museum of Tolerance, Los Angeles, CA
A menorah is a symbol of light. Of course, Jews light it on Hanukkah. But the story of this object goes back much farther to the original Temple in Jerusalem. I see the contradiction between being born Jewish in post-Holocaust Germany as a chance to shed light to the world.

As I research my family's past in Germany, I meet new relatives and historians. Germans care today. They are trying to help make amends and this heals both sides. Gabi Bayer's husband, Udo, was the top researcher of Carl Laemmle in Germany and perhaps world wide. Gabi is working to publish Udo's writings -- a biography of Carl Laemmle. Udo has published several articles, most of which are in German, but they are being translated into English slowly. 

From left: Gabi Baer from Germany, me, Ron Bernheim (a relative of Carl Laemmle) and Monika, also from Germany. Gabi's husband, Udo, wrote a book about Carl Laemmle.

How can Germans and Jews heal their past? Any ideas to share?