This Must Be The Place: A Novel

Anna Winger
  • Review
By – September 16, 2011

To begin to under­stand con­tem­po­rary Ger­many as it relates to Jews, one must read This Must Be the Place.

In June the city of Frank­furt invit­ed my father and sev­er­al oth­er For­mer Frank­furters” to return for two weeks to the city of their birth. All of them had sur­vived the Holo­caust one way or anoth­er and we assumed the town want­ed to show them how Frank­furt has changed since the 1930’s. The city has done this annu­al­ly since 1980; my grand­moth­er was among those invit­ed that first year. 

My broth­er and I joined my father on this trip and one evening we were invit­ed to din­ner with the oth­er mem­bers of the sec­ond gen­er­a­tion” who had accom­pa­nied their par­ents to Frank­furt. I thought it was meant as an ice-break­er; after all, we would be spend­ing a lot of time togeth­er on a tour bus. But over din­ner it became clear that we’d all expe­ri­enced sim­i­lar feel­ings of oth­er­ness dur­ing our child­hood, feel­ings many of us had nev­er giv­en voice to, and pas­sion­ate con­ver­sa­tion went on into the night.

I real­ized that the city of Frank­furt orga­nizes these elab­o­rate trips (the best hotel, opera, the­ater, din­ner, muse­um tours) as much for their own chil­dren and the descen­dents of sur­vivors as for the For­mer Frank­furters them­selves. They want young Ger­mans to meet sur­vivors face to face to hear their sto­ries because their own par­ents or grand­par­ents are not talk­ing. We heard them wor­ry that the psy­chol­o­gy of this has affect­ed the culture. 

Anoth­er day my father was invit­ed to speak at a local high school about his expe­ri­ence as a Jew grow­ing up in Nazi Ger­many. When the orga­niz­ers learned that my broth­er and I would be there as well they changed the date of the lec­ture to accom­mo­date us. I was sur­prised to learn it was because they felt sure the stu­dents would have ques­tions for us as well. Sure enough, the stu­dents were equal­ly curi­ous about our feel­ings as sec­ond gen­er­a­tion” sur­vivors, a term I’d nev­er applied to myself. What was it like grow­ing up know­ing what our father had gone through? Did we hate Ger­mans? How did it feel being in Ger­many now? My broth­er answered them with the words our father had told us as chil­dren, To hate Ger­many and Ger­mans would be to hate him, because he was Ger­man, to deny this would be to grant vic­to­ry to Hitler.” 

It was serendip­i­tous then to read This Must Be the Place upon my return home, which embeds themes of iden­ti­ty and guilt for post-war born Ger­mans and Amer­i­cans, Jew­ish and not, into a sub­tly ren­dered sto­ry. Wal­ter Baum is a lone­ly has-been actor, a Ger­man John­ny Dra­ma with­out the entourage. He pur­sues Hope, an apt­ly named Amer­i­can woman liv­ing in his build­ing, but first he must deal with his past. In dar­ing and unflinch­ing por­tray­als, Winger puts us face to face with the inno­cents who inher­it­ed the lega­cy of the Holocaust.

Sara Leopold Spin­nell is a co-founder of Trav​elu​jah​.com, a web­site that pro­motes Chris­t­ian trav­el to Israel. She lives in New York City with her hus­band and two children.

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