My Mother’s Life


Margot Nicolaus 1968

Margot Nicolaus, Passport Photo 1968

By Martin Nicolaus

My mother, Margot Nicolaus, wrote this manuscript at my urging for the benefit of her two grandsons, Fred and Jack Nicolaus.  She gave it the modest title, “A Mosaic of Life in the Old Country.”  Apart from a small portion,  Mosaic 46, having to do with liberation in 1945, which was previously published in a local newspaper, she kept the manuscript to herself.  I found it among her effects after her death in 1997.

I have copied my mother’s text for the web with negligible editing for typos, punctuation, and occasional word errors.  I have made only one change of substance, and that is in the case of a woman who appears in the sections on “The Village,” where it is clear that my mother misremembered her name. There are a few other points where my mother’s memory differs from the documentary record or from the memory of others; I intend to add notations or comments when time allows.  I have added the chapter titles and the main title.

I am grateful to  Dr. Hartmut Ludwig of the Theological Faculty at the Humboldt University in Berlin for his inquiry about my parents in connection his writings about the Bekennende Kirche, the anti-Nazi underground section of the Protestant Church in Germany, to which my parents belonged. Ludwig’s inquiry stimulated me to gather together my mother’s papers and photographs and to put them up on the web, where not only my parents’ grandsons — my sons — but also other interested readers can see them.  Dr. Ludwig also alerted me to the fact that several archives in Germany had copies of letters and other documents concerning my parents.  Thanks to Ludwig and to staff members of the archives, I have been able to add a number of letters from my mother in the Postscript, and I have been able to sketch a biography of my father.  I am grateful to the staff members of the archives for their courtesy and efficiency in making copies available to me.

I am also grateful also to P.C. Loewenberg, who appears in my mother’s text, for his own reminiscences, and for copies of correspondence between my mother and his parents.

— MN 2011

Table of Contents

To My Grandchildren

[Translate] MOSAIC #1 I want to tell you, my grandchildren, how life was in those days after World War I in Germany for my family and millions of others. First of all, we were very fortunate because our father – the only breadwinner in the family – was at all times fully employed (until the …

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My Childhood

[Translate] MOSAIC #2 My father was lucky: He did not have to go to war. He did not become one of the 1,773,000 Germans killed or one of the four million wounded. In 1914, when World War I broke out, he was 30 years old, had recently married my mother, Lydia Streck, and he had …

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Berlin Before 1933

[Translate] MOSAIC #8 I do not remember when exactly (1924, 1925 or 1926?) our family moved from Darmstadt to Berlin where my father had a new job with a company that made small civilian airplanes, the first all-metal airplanes made in Germany, as my father explained proudly. On our train trip from Darmstadt to Berlin …

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Berlin After 1933

[Translate] MOSAIC #12 On January 30, 1933, the infamous thing happened: Hitler took power in Germany. It was my last year in high school. Soon the curriculum changed drastically and we were told absolutely laughable lies. For instance, the Jews (and the Arabs) had contributed nothing to civilization. Albert Einstein was not a Jew. Jesus …

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[Translate] MOSAIC #29 After returning from my hitchhiking trip in the late summer of 1937, a big surprise hit me. A letter arrived from Basel, Switzerland, inviting me to spend the winter semester as guest student of the Department of Theology of the University of Basel. I could not believe my eyes. This was incredible. …

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[Translate] MOSAIC #36 In the fall of 1940 I left Berlin where I had been living with mother, and in the beginning of October I was married to Albrecht Nicolaus. His family and I would have liked to have a church wedding in the Marktkirche in Essen where the family had close and long-lasting ties …

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Frankfurt 1939

[Translate] MOSAIC #33 In the summer of 1939, Albrecht F. Nicolaus (Martin A. Nicolaus’ father and Fred and Jack’s grandfather) was a young pastor who served as “Vikar” (an assistant pastor before he gets his own parish) in a small, picturesque town, Braunfels on the Lahn River, about 30 miles north of Frankfurt on the …

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The Village

[Translate] MOSAIC #41 The city of Essen, where I lived since my marriage in 1940, was the home of the Krupp factories where heavy weapons were manufactured in large quantities. Naturally, this city was one of the main goals for bombers from Britain. Day and night the sirens screamed urging people to go into the …

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Frankfurt 1945

[Translate] MOSAIC #47 I had asked my mother who still lived in war-torn Berlin, to come and live with me and my little son in Fürstenhagen. The building and the apartment where she lived had been heavily damaged by bombs. Most of her furniture had burned and life in Berlin was hazardous because of frequent …

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Postscript: Letters to Gollwitzer

[Translate] By Martin Nicolaus Among my mother’s papers was a letter she had written in May 1992 with some additional recollections. Pastor Wendlandt of the Gethsemane Church in Berlin, and his two daughters — his daughter Ruth, then a theology student like me, was a friend of mine — hid a young Jewish man, Ralph …

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Life After 1953

[Translate] My Mother’s Life After 1953   Because a lifespan is uncertain, I will jot down here just a few words about my mother’s life after our immigration to the United States in January 1953.  As she writes in the concluding paragraphs of her memoirs, we settled first in Brooklyn, N.Y., in the Sea Gate enclave …

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