A Surprising Request
Vickie and I were thrilled to learn that Pastor Ursula Sieg and her husband Pastor Martin Pommerening were coming to visit us in America. When we asked if there was anything special they wanted to do during their visit, they said, “If it is at all possible we would like to travel with you to San Francisco to meet Vickie’s mother, Stefanie Steinberg.” Although the request surprised us, it was an opportunity we eagerly embraced.
For our visit to Germany last fall, Ursula created and curated a remarkable exhibit about Stefanie’s life and travels. As a young child, Steffi had to leave her native Breslau and flee to Spain with her parents when the Nazis took over Germany. Not long thereafter, they had to flee again—this time to Switzerland—during the Spanish Civil War.
Eventually Steffi made her way to New York, then across the country to Los Angeles and ultimately to San Francisco. At 94, she is still active as an artist, who is well-known for her paintings, photography and collages. For several years now, she has done much of her work on her computer. She lives independently and keeps alert and in great shape by attending lots of lectures and classes, and working in her garden. She gave her most recent presentation to the San Francisco Women Artists, of which she is a past president, earlier this year.
“Why do you want to go to Germany?”
When we told her that we planned to spend ten weeks in Germany last fall, Steffi did not like the idea. Given all she had endured at German hands, her reaction did not surprise us.
As the weeks unfolded, it pleased her that her life had become the vehicle for German students to learn about the Holocaust and the basics of Jewish living in a more effective way than books alone could ever teach. Many of these students had never met a living Jew before Vickie and I came to their school.
By the time Vickie and I left Germany, several of the students had sent Steffi very touching emails and voice messages. They wrote that they would do all in their power to insure such horrors never happened again to anyone. The bond the students forged with her has been a healing balm for Steffi.
In addition, Vickie and I had the joy last January of presenting Stefanie Steinberg with an honorary diploma from the Holstenschule in Neumünster accompanied by a beautiful letter of gratitude from the Headmaster. The gesture touched Steffi deeply especially since the Nazi take over in Germany forced this erudite and accomplished woman to suspend her formal education years before she could graduate from high school.
For all of these reasons Steffi was thrilled when Vickie told her that Ursula and Martin were coming to visit her. When the big day came, they embraced like long-time friends. Steffi found more photos to give to her visitors because the exhibit will travel to other schools when Vickie and I return to Germany in September. Then the five of us enjoyed a sumptuous dinner overlooking the Pacific to celebrate Steffi’s 94th birthday.
A Fitting Celebration
It was a wonderful way to honor a remarkable woman whose life and work will always stand to testify against the horror that the Nazis reigned upon Europe. And it was a wonderful way as well to honor two visionary Lutheran pastors who are making heroic efforts to help Germans confront the horror of their past and replant Jewish life in the land where it once bloomed so beautifully.