-Joseph, The Last Watchman of Old Cairo
Erika Dreifus is most recently the author of Birthright: Poems (Kelsay Books), in which "Mannheim" appears. Erika is also the author of Quiet Americans: Stories, which was named an American Library Association/Sophie Brody Medal Honor Title for outstanding achievement in Jewish literature. Visit Erika online at ErikaDreifus.com and follow her on Twitter @ErikaDreifus, where she tweets “on matters bookish and/or Jewish.”
I did not cry the first time I went to Mannheim,
when my father and I studied the nameplates
listing the residents of the building on Ifflenstrasse
where his mother had been born, and grown up.
The building she left one April day in 1938, just in time,
and had never re-entered.
I did not cry even when the current second-floor residents
invited us in, and I stood in the high-ceilinged rooms
where my great-grandparents had withstood the Kristallnacht.
In the photos my father snapped
to show my grandmother, back in Brooklyn,
I am smiling.
I did not cry the second time I went to Mannheim,
when my father and mother and sister and I toured the city,
armed with Grandma’s handwritten maps,
and visited the shiny blue synagogue.
From the hotel we telephoned Brooklyn
before driving away on the Autobahn.
The third time, the train from Stuttgart stopped.
I descended to the platform.
And the signs read,
This time my grandmother was gone.
Not just from Germany.
But back in New York her namesake had just arrived.
I blinked a few times. Bit my lip.
Stared at the sign, and swallowed.
Then I walked, fast, through sunbaked streets,
straight to the department store
where I bought the baby a sweater
and tiny socks
before I hurried back to the train station.
Photo of the Mannheim apartment building where her grandmother's family lived appears here courtesy of Erika Dreifus