Contributed by Nara Hirschland, — June 8, 2011
(From Victoria: I recently received an unexpected email from Nara Hirschland of Porto Alegre, Brazil. I had known from Sarah and Edna’s story that a family member of theirs had fled to Brazil, but they had lost touch with the family. Nara recently shared with me her father’s story, and I have put her back in touch with her extended family.)
You asked me about my dad, Franz Yosef Hirschland. Let me tell you what I know. My dad was a very quiet man and didn’t like to share much about his past. Many times I found myself questioning him and my mom about my origins. My mom didn´t know much and respected his silence. But what we know was that he lived in Paris with my grandmother Erna and his stepfather when one day they looked up the sky and saw it full of planes. They took this as the first warning of war. My dad said he didn’t want to follow his brother Werner and his sister Lotte to Egypt. (Werner and Lotte were preparing to move to Palestine at the time.) He decided to travel to South America to see the Indians. Hahahahah.
Franz Yosef (also known as François), traveled on an British ship and brought with him enough money to survive and live for a whole year. My dad arrived in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on May 25, 1934. But my father didn’t know the value of money as his family was well-off and he started gambling in the casinos in Rio, losing all his money and his clothes. He never again wanted to play cards, even when it was just for fun.
So François found himself in a foreign country without speaking the local language and without any money. It was absolutely not easy at all. At first, he memorized some phrases in Portuguese and worked as a street vendor selling orange juice squeezers. People used to buy these because they thought they was imported.
Then, François moved to Uruguay and started working in a newspaper as a photographer. My father loved taking pictures. He lived in Montevideo and then in Rivera, Uruguay. He worked as a journalist and a photographer most of his life. He learned to speak Spanish and Portuguese but always had a very strong French accent and people thought he was French, not German. He hid his nationality, as he was afraid of being killed. He seldom spoke of his past: just childhood memories and about his grandparents.
I know my father was Jewish and I think it is a beautiful religion that I would like to know more about. But Dad never went into a synagogue again and he married Mom in the Catholic church. I was their only child. He never wanted to go back to Europe, and he and my mom were very happy together. His hobbies were photography and fishing. We had a house at the beach and we used to spend weekends there. My parents went fishing and I played at the seashore.
Everything my father had and all he acquired was through his effort and his wife’s. She was also a very hardworking woman. Once I remember that a few years before he died, he got a letter from the German government offering him reparations as he was the oldest son of his family. My dad refused to accept a single penny. He said:” I never needed that and I don’t want that now.” My mom and I said ok in that time, but I honestly think he should have taken that money. It was his money and could have helped us a lot. But, it was his choice.
My father died on August 6, 1990 from a heart attack. He seemed to be fine. Left home, went to the bank to withdraw some money for a business trip, and on his way back to the parking lot, he felt ill. He died when he got to the hospital. It happened very quickly, as I think he wanted.
To conclude, a year before my father’s death, Aunt Lotte, Uncle Werner, and Sara came to Porto Alegre, Brazil, where we live and the three siblings got together for the first time after 50 years. They laughed and played like kids! Beautiful to see!!! At the beginning, my dad didn’t remember how to speak German and they communicated in French, but a day later, all of a sudden, his mother tongue came back to him, so alive, and they went on speaking and laughing in German.
I do think that God brought them be together for the last time to be united and to say good bye to one another. Within a few years, Aunt Lotte died and after that Uncle Werner, Zeev, died .