Werner Loval: We Were Europeans

On July 5, Werner Loval gave a very informative and incredibly moving talk about his fascinating life growing up in Bamberg during the Third Reich, fleeing Nazi Germany on one of the famous Kindertransporte to England, being reunited with his family in South America, moving to the US and eventually settling in Israel, where he began a long and successful career in the country’s diplomatic service. In 2010, Loval published his book We Were Europeans – A Personal History of a Turbulent Century, which intriguingly weaves together personal stories and family memories, as well as events from more than 80 years of European, South-American, US-American and, eventually, Israeli history.

Upon invitation by Prof. Dr. Iris Hermann (Neuere Deutsche Literaturwissenschaft) and Prof. Dr. Christoph Houswitschka (English Literature), and with the help of Alfred Römer, a childhood friend, Werner Loval came to speak to students of the university, professors, community members and even some relatives and friends in a packed auditorium. Introducing their guest, both Prof. Dr. Hermann and Prof. Dr. Houswitschka not only highlighted Loval’s life achievements and expressed their deep gratitude for his visit; they also stressed the importance of his narrative in particular for local history.

Born as Werner M. Löbl in 1926, Loval grew up in Bamberg in a well-established Jewish family of merchants and manufacturers. He was only seven years old when Hitler gained power, but soon noticed, even at that age, how the increasing number of anti-Semitic laws began to affect his family’s everyday life. Whatever hopes the family had still harboured for a future in Germany shattered, however, in the aftermath of the Reichskristallnacht on November 10, 1938, the one episode Werner Loval described in most detail during his talk. Werner was thrown out of school, the family’s most precious belongings were confiscated, and his father was temporarily arrested. As the situation became increasingly dangerous, Werner and his sister Erica were sent to England on a Kindertransport. Living in a Jewish-German boarding school, they waited for their parents to join them abroad, a hope that was disappointed most brutally for a large percentage of the Kindertransport kids. The Lovals, then Löbls, were lucky; and yet, the desired family reunion only took place three years later after the children’s arrival in England, when the family met up in Ecuador.

Although he maintained a demonstratively factual tone throughout his talk, Werner Loval related his childhood experiences in a captivating and memorable manner, first by loosely following certain chapters of his book, then by answering questions from the audience. He spoke about the shock of the Reichskristallnacht, about having to separate from the parents in the summer of 1939 and the fear for the family’s safety when war broke out. He also spoke about the constant hope that their parents would finally be given visas and the siblings’ worried excitement on the dangerous passage to South America during which their ship was in constant danger of being attacked by German U-boats. He mentioned their parents' adventurous trip through Asia and, last but not least, touched upon the family’s life in Ecuador, the US, as well as the move to Israel.

Already in 1954, at a time when the damages of the Third Reich and World War II could still be seen and felt everywhere, Werner Loval returned to Germany and Bamberg for the first time after he had boarded the train to England 15 years before. Since then, Loval, who is still living in Israel, has established a tradition: on their bar mitzvah, each of his grandchildren is given a trip to Europe, because, as Loval indicated, he is convinced that his grandchildren must see places their ancestors stem from in order to understand their own as well as global history and to see what it really meant to have been a Jewish family in Europe in the last century. 

 

Text: Judith Rauscher
Photographs: Christoph Ellßel