Saturday, July 12, 2008

Flora Arnswalder Caspari: in memoriam

Flora, my maternal grandmother, the daughter of Louis Arnswalder (b. Wronke, Poland, ca 1846-- +Berlin 1935) and Berthe (Bertha) Bernstein (b. Obersitzko, Poland), had three siblings, Regina, and Alfred. Alfred became a physician, a profession shared with Flora's husband Paul Caspari. Flora was a striking young woman, with blond hair and blue eyes. She was a devoted wife, mother, and daughter, who lived a rich family life in Berlin, surrounded by her relatives. After my mother , Beate Caspari and her husband George Rosen obtained their medical degrees in Berlin, they emigrated to the United States, where George was a citizen. Flora remained in Berlin with her husband Paul. I found a correspondence carried out between my grandmother Flora and her daughter Beate, consisting of about 57 letters and postcards. The first is dated November 24, 1935, the final one, December 22, 1938. In 1937, Paul Caspari died during a gall bladder operation. Although he had travelled with Flora to the United States and were strongly urged to remain, Paul, despite the fact that he was not allowed to practice medicine, due to Nazi law, decided to return to Berlin because he believed that there would be Jewish patients who required care. He died during a gall bladder operation in 1937. On November 9, 1938, Kristalnacht occurred. Shortly thereafter, my grandmother sailed for the United States, at the very end of December. Once in the United States, she became an American citizen and lived there for the rest of her life; she died at the age of 72 of cancer.
She cared for my older brother Paul Peter Rosen, MD, and myself. She learned English quickly and refused to speak German to us, although she still conversed with my mother and father in her native language.
Looking back, I realize how very sad the later years were for her. Not only had she lost her husband, but her sister and brother were sent to Theresienstadt, the notorious Nazi prison camp that was presented to the world as a "normal" even culturally rich haven. From Theresienstadt the siblings were sent to their deaths in a killing camp. Indeed, her entire world collapsed, disappeared: the very large family circles had dissolved; a few were able to flee and survive, the rest died in the Holocaust.
Flora was a very loving person who did the best she could to make our lives interesting under very difficult circumstances. She possessed a powerful creative inclination, which manifested itself in exquisite embroidery and needlework. Like so many young women of her generation, her excellence in school never had the opportunity to flourish. According to her daughter Beate, Flora was a star student, but cultural expectations propelled her into a marriage not a career. Had she matured in her daughter's generation or later in the twentieth century her aesthetic skills and her intellectual promise would have giiven her the opportunity to fully realize her natural endowments.
I admire her immensely for her stalwartness in the face of tremendous adversity and love her for the care that she showered on me when I was so very young.

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