Since I first started exploring the roots of my mother’s family here, lo these many years ago, my sense of who I am and where I came from has shifted. So too has my view of the Jewish diaspora. Forced from Europe by the Nazis, members of the Kornmehl family fled to Curaçao, Singapore, Australia, and Brazil, as well as to more common destinations like Palestine/Israel and the U.S.
Interesting, yes, but most of my far flung kin have remained abstract to me — until recently, when I heard from a cousin in Spain.
Hitler, Franco, Trujillo… the tale she shared was one of survival from the terrors of three dictators. And also a love story.
From Vienna to Brazil
To summarize: Reisel (Resi) Kornmehl married Leopold (Leib) Farber in Vienna in 1903. They had two children, Hermoine (Herma) Farber, born 1905, and Ernst, born 1903. Herma married a Czech man named Ludvik Alt. Ernst married…well, I’ll get to that in the next section.
Leib was a butcher, like his father-in-law and three of his brothers-in-law.
Leib and Resi fled from Vienna to France in late 1939. They lived in Paris until early 1940, when they received permission to move to Brazil. They were met by their daughter Herma and son-in-law Ludvik Alt; the couple must have paved the way for them to get to this South American refuge that was popular with both Nazis and Jews, or at least inspired them to go.
They all lived in Rio de Janeiro, where Ludvik and Herma were part owners in a company called Decal Lumax, Ltd. which manufactured labels. Leib, who listed himself on his entry application as a butcher, practiced his trade there.
In the Dominican Republic
Why Ernst Farber decided to strike out on his own to the Dominican Republic rather than live with the rest of his family in Brazil is hard to say, but some time between 1940 and 1945 he settled in Ciudad Trujillo, now Santo Domingo. There he went into the family business: He was the administrator of a matadero, a slaughterhouse.
In Santo Domingo, he met Maria de la Concepción Menéndez, who was born in Spain in 1912; she was nine years his junior.
Ernst applied for visas for the couple to visit his parents in Brazil several times. In 1956, they asked for, and were granted, permanent residence.
All this was gleaned from documents gathered by Jill, but it turned out there was more to the story–and a story behind the story.
From the Dominican Republic to Spain
Early in 2017, I was contacted by Cristina Menéndez of Seville, Spain; I’m not sure who was the most startled by her discovery of a mutual relative — Cristina, I, or Cristina’s mother. I have cobbled together a narrative from our correspondence over several months. Cristina also sent two color pictures, taken in the 1960s, with captions that identify only the two subjects of this story, her aunt and uncle. I respect the family’s desire for privacy.
I found Freud’s Butcher because I was looking for information about my father’s family. My father’s sister, Mª de la Concepción (in my family we always called her aunt Marujina), fled from the Spanish Civil war to the Dominican Republic. There she met Uncle Ernesto. Marujina de Farber, as she was always known after her marriage, was a teacher of “declamacíon” (scroll down to section II, pt. 1 of this link) and “maestra” to Maricusa Ornes, founder of the children’s theater in the Dominican Republic (see pp. 16-17).
When I showed the site Freud’s Butcher to my mother, she was amazed. All she said was, “So that’s why he knew so much about meat.” She knew that he had had a good position in the DR as manager of the slaughterhouse, but not that he came from a family of butchers, or that he had a profound knowledge of the subject.
Within a few years after they married, Aunt Marujina and Uncle Ernesto left for Brazil on a tourist visa, with the excuse that Uncle Ernesto’s mother was gravely ill. In reality, the Trujillo dictatorship had become dangerous for them. They left everything behind. They lived for a while in Brazil and Mexico until they came to Spain, around 1964. Uncle Ernesto died in 1976.
My aunt was Catholic, but did not practice. My uncle was not a religious Jew either. They did not have any children, but they had a wonderful marriage; they were very much in love and happy until the end of their days.
My mother remembers that Uncle Ernesto was very patient, family-oriented, and organized. He always exuded great warmth and had a fine sense of humor. He liked classical music and also the horse races. He sometimes took us on Sundays to the races at the Sevilla track, where he encouraged us to make small bets; he also bought us pastries/cakes. He was very loving, friendly and sensitive. We loved him very much. I remember perfectly his smell, he was always clean and it must have been from his aftershave, it smelled really nice. We also remembered his hands, poor thing, he had arthritis. He taught us a recipe for foie gras. He said it was only for female family members. We still use this recipe, especially at Christmas.
I asked about the other members of the family, especially Ernest’s sister Herma.
My mother met Herma (Uncle Ernesto called her Mushi or something like that). As far as she remembers, Herma only came once, without her husband, and then returned to Brazil. They didn’t have any children either.
The escape stories are harrowing, but what remains untold is haunting too. My parents’ stories — especially on my father’s side — were also filled with silence.
In the 60s, when Uncle Ernesto and Aunt Marujina arrived in Spain, we were still under the dictatorship of Franco and no one spoke about the old days of the Republic, nor about the Civil War or the Second World War, especially in front of the children; even among the adults they did not speak of it. It was so horrible that they learned to live in the present and nothing more. They could think what they wanted, but to speak … they spoke little or nothing of the matter. The only thing we knew was that Uncle Ernesto was an Austrian Jew who had fled Europe because of the Nazis. No one asked questions. We didn’t ask our parents about the Spanish Civil War, either. We learned that the subject was taboo. And it was like this for all the families. Later, over the years, after democracy arrived, my mother did talk about it, but my father never did.
A Final note
Cristina’s English is very good; my Spanish…not so much. There’s more to this story than I was able to discern, especially the parts about Marijuna de Farber and Maricusa Ornes in Mexico; another picture of them is at the top of this page and you can read about them in the links that Cristina provided. It’s all rather unlikely, the idea of a gentle administrator of a slaughterhouse from Austria finding love in Latin America with a beautiful young teacher of the theater from Spain. I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Thanks to my friend Jane Onstott, a writer and artist living in Mexico today, who helped with the translation.