3B Text

My father Harry Petzal was born in Charlottenburg, Berlin, in September 1908. His brother Werner was two years older (top left and center right, each with Harry on the left and Werner on the right). Their parents Hermann and Selma Petzal (nee Hirschberg) (top right) lived at 13 Tile-Wardenberg Strasse (centre and bottom left), close to the Zoologischer Garten (the Zoo park) and the River Spree. In this solid, middle-class, area, the Petzals had a first-floor apartment in an ornately decorated mansion block, with art deco doors (bottom left).

My father and I visited the building on a restitution visit to Berlin in 1986. The building, although unscathed by the allied bombing, had been stripped of all its exterior decoration. Painted a dull yellow, it looked down at heel, though it still retained its interesting wood and glass entrance with rounded arch doors. Inside, a generous stone staircase with decorative handrails led to the upper floors. On a later visit I asked to view a flat, which still retained the original polished parquet floors and tall windows facing out onto the balcony. By my father’s account the flat was spacious. It was substantially furnished, with a table seating 12, a Bluthner grand piano, cabinets of silver cutlery, vases, pictures, table lamps and of course there was a room for the housemaid (bottom centre).

The Petzals were a large and gregarious bourgeois Jewish family. Hermann was one of ten siblings and Selma one of five. My father recalled that there was a cousin’s birthday party most weeks. Hermann and Selma, however, were not at the prosperous end of the Petzal family. Hermann, although described as a banker, was probably a small businessman and went bankrupt in 1932. He was, as my father used to say, ‘more German than the Germans’, interested in hunting, shooting, fishing and a glass of wine. He looms large in the Petzal family photo albums, full of convivial outings to the country, sailing, swimming on North Sea beaches, skiing and some European travel. Sadly, none of the photos are annotated.

Hermann served in World War 1; we know virtually nothing about his service, but he was awarded the Iron Cross. Most German Jews supported the war out of patriotism; it was never in question.

The Petzals were cultural rather than practicing Jews. Nonetheless, in keeping with family traditions, my father, reluctantly by his account, had a Barmitzvah aged 13 at the Fasanenstrasse synagogue (bottom right). A liberal Jewish synagogue, close by in Charlottenburg, it had opened in August 1912. The monumental structure held a congregation of 1,720 worshippers and also included a religious school. Incorporating features of mediaeval German architecture, the synagogue was intended as a visible statement of German Jewish emancipation and integration. Rabbi Leo Baeck, the notable scholar and theologian, served at Fasanenstrasse as the leader of German Reform Judaism.

Many years later, in December 1938, when Harry was preparing to empty the flat in Tile -Wardenberg Strasse, he was compelled to make out detailed valuation lists for the regime. From these I know more of how he and his parents lived, and they correlate with what I inherited after my parent’s death: delicate gold rimmed Rosenthal plates decorated with paintings of fruit and ornate clear crystal champagne glasses. Unlike my Dresden grandparents, who loved contemporary painting, Bauhaus furniture and clean modern lines, my Berlin family were traditionalists.