Prayer for The Dead and The Living

by longformphilly


Daniel Rubin | The Philadelphia Inquirer | December 2003

We didn’t know about Rosa Lewinsohn when we decided to have our sons’ double bar mitzvah in our once-bombed Berlin apartment. We didn’t know about any of the old ghosts, not by name.

I had often wondered who was living in our building when it was hit. Sometimes at night, when the place was quiet and everyone tucked in, I would stand in the living room, with its mismatched pine floors and missing stucco, and try to imagine what had happened.

My landlord blamed the British, though perhaps he was just being polite. In early 1945 the British and the Americans were taking turns pounding the German capital – 84 air raids in the first three months alone. When he renovated the place after buying it a few years ago, he found he couldn’t get rid of the small, dark stains in the wood, no matter how much he sanded them. Phosphorus, he said. Firebombs.

I liked to picture that Nazis were living there when retribution thundered through the roof of Droysenstrasse 5 and into our top-floor apartment. More likely, it was ordinary Berliners. There were lots of them. Maybe they were the sort who looked down on Hitler. Maybe they hid Jews.

Maybe they did nothing.

Writer bio: Daniel Rubin, who teaches courses in Urban Journalism at the University of Pennsylvania, started writing for the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1988. He served as the Inquirer’s European bureau chief, based in Berlin, Germany, from 2000 to 2003.

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