Gunter’s Story (Part III)

The Kaufmann family exodus had begun in the vicinity of 1936 with each of Gunter’s sisters emigrating with husbands; the eldest, Gerda, to Australia and his younger sister, Ellen, to Brazil.

In early 1939, Gunter’s parents would board a ship to join their daughter in San Paulo, Brazil, leaving their youngest child with his aunts and grandmother explaining their intention to bring him over after arriving and securing his travel papers.

It was a decision, that even 75 plus years later, Gunter found a tad peculiar, adding only that, “I don’t think my father thought he was actually able to take me with them initially.”

Whatever his parents’ reasoning, 20 year old Gunter was more or less on his own. For the next three months, with the Gestapo paying random visits to his aunt’s home questioning his whereabouts, he’d find himself bouncing between the homes of brave friends IMG_0005or, on many occasions, forced to sleep in the train stations of the Berlin Underground.

While the awareness of the brutal practices of the German secret police was still just gaining momentum, Kaufmann was privy care of the first hand experiences of two cousins. They’d be unfortunate enough to have been dragged off and badly beaten in what the Jewish community commonly referred to simply as the ‘Brown House’. Regarding his time on Berlin’s streets, he said only, “It was an incredibly scary time.”

Eventually, though, his eldest sister, safe in Sydney, Australia would come through with his travel papers setting into motion his own journey towards freedom. With a girlfriend, he’d endure the longest three hour train ride of his life from Berlin to the German port city of Hamburg all the while praying not to be intercepted by police.
The girl, whose name, Kaufmann now no longer remembered, bade him farewell with a kiss expressing the hope they would somehow maintain in contact. But, like so many of his relatives and friends who remained behind, Kaufmann would never see her again or, for that matter, learn what happened to her.

Yet, at the time, such pending sorrow was far from his mind. “I remember the moment I stepped aboard that ship, at that instant, that was the moment I knew I was free. An immense weight was lifted off of me and I could finally breathe again.”

Just shy of his 21st birthday, he had managed to escape Germany and with the Second World War breaking out between his stops in England and present day Sri Lanka, his timing could hardly have been better. Yet, less than two years after his arrival into Sydney in October of 1939, Kaufmann would soon learn his escape from Germany was destined to become the easy part.


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