My mother didn’t get much mail when we were young. Most of the mail we received at our Brooklyn apartment was addressed to my father. But once in a while she would receive a business-size envelope addressed to “Frau Eva Rosenberg” and the name “Sondheim” in the upper left corner. It was from her German lawyer and I would make sure to hand it to her.
It usually contained a sheet or two of thin, almost translucent paper with German writing. She didn’t understand German or refused to admit that she did and would place the letter on my father’s desk and wait for him to return from work.
I would try to make out the words. German seemed to be composed of many words strung together. The typeset used strange symbols including one that resembled a cursive “B” (even though it already had a “B”!).
My mother had told me that Sondheim was a Jew, I wondered why he continued to write in the language of the people who had driven him from his homeland. I never asked her.
Following the signing of a treaty between West Germany Prime Minister, Konrad Adenauer and Israel’s Foreign Minister, Moshe Sharett in 1952, West Germany began to pay substantial sums to the new State of Israel and individual Holocaust survivors as “reparations”.
My mother and her three sisters, who had been in Auschwitz, applied and began to receive benefits.
Years later, I read that some reparations recipients had bought mink stoles with their early benefits. They called them “Adenauer Tallises“. It was raucous example of survivors’ gallows humor. The Germans had persecuted them for being Jews and now they named their purchase after a symbol of Jewish observance and West German Prime Minister.
Anonymous, unseen Sondheim kept on sending his gothic missives to my mother and she kept on receiving her “pension” as she termed it, until the day she died.