A & E
Search for roots leads couple to Germany
PART TWO OF A THREE PART SERIES DETAILING CHRISTIANE HELBIG AND PHIL SANDERS' SEARCH FOR PHIL'S MOTHER
Special to The Ebbtide
In the last issue, Christiane Helbig took readers on a quest to find her husband's mother's grave in Germany. Phil Sanders was adopted as a child, and had little knowledge of his biological family. The couple traveled to Germany in January 1999, where they visited the orphanage in which Sanders lived during the first six months of his life. They visited a cemetery, and the cemetery official found unsettling records about Sanders' mother's death. She had committed suicide in December 1953 and taken her 9-year-old daughter with her.
Since making the decision to research Phil's background, we both had taken the risk of opening doors not knowing what we were going to find behind them.
In a few hours, we had learned everything and nothing about his mother. We had found a few answers which created a myriad of other questions at the same time. The detective in me took over, and I was determined to find my husband's mother's grave.
I spent the next morning on the phone trying to obtain more information about where the funeral urns had been sent.
|Photo courtesy of Christiane Helbig
A portrait of Frieda Angeloch nee Kniee, Phil Sanders' mother. The search for family has brought Phil and Christiane across the Atlantic.
Jaegersburg had been recently incorporated, and all the records were sent to Homburg. A very nice lady at Homburg City Hall suggested looking in church books and gave me the phone number of the Jaegersburg minister.
It turned out that the book containing the death records for 1953/54 had been sent to the central archiving facility in Speyer. These records had been moved since they were in poor condition.
I decided to call the police to find out if they keep any records on suicide. I was told that suicides are considered "closed cases," and the records are destroyed after five years.
Time was marching on, and it was already Wednesday. We were looking into every possibility to gain any bit of information. We made a trip to the youth welfare office in Mannheim since an official from this office had signed the adoption contract on Phil's behalf in 1951. Maybe this office would have records about the mother who gave up her child for adoption?
Phil always felt very grateful toward his natural mother. He was told by the orphanage in Heidelberg that she had made sure he got orange juice instead of milk since he was allergic to milk and could have died. His mother also created an orphan fund into which money was deposited quarterly until Phil turned 18.
Even a few pieces of her jewelry were sent to Phil's adoptive father and are now in Phil's possession.
In part one of this series, originally published in the January 31, 2003 edition of The Ebbtide, Phil Sanders was erroneously refered to as Phil Helbig.
I hoped the Dresdner Bank, where his mother had worked and the orphan fund had been opened, might have information on when the account was established. Phil thought it may be possible that the bank would have a will.
However, bank bureaucracy stopped us rather quickly. Our request required an application to the bank's records division. A very unfriendly bank employee finally filled out a request form after we convinced her that it was very important to us, and we were not going to leave until she filed the application for us.
To our disappointment, I received a letter six months later informing us that there were no records found.
We ran out of leads in Mannheim and felt it was time to visit Jaegersburg and Homburg. The registrar office in the Homburg City Hall had converted all the data to computer files, and we were given a print out with information about Phil's mother indicating that she lived in Homburg from July 1, 1945, until Nov. 2, 1975.
Phil looked at the page and said "1975? How can this be, she died in 1953." We assumed the records got mixed up when they converted all the data to computer files. In my mind I was hoping against hope that she was still alive.
As we were leaving the city hall, I looked in the phone book for Homburg and the surrounding areas and found only one listing under Kniege. I called the number and a woman answered. She told me that Mr. Kniege no longer lived there. For a moment I thought, "The last relative has just died."
|Photo courtesy of Christiane Helbig
The Heidelberg Castle overlooks the town where Phil was born.
Fortunately, she continued and said that he had moved, but she did not know his new phone number or address. I was relieved knowing he was still alive.
Taking a much-needed lunch break in a Homburg café, we speculated about Phil's mother's life and attempted to answer why she chose to end her life.
If she lived and worked in Mannheim, why was her urn sent to Jaegersburg? Was there a family? Did she not have anyone to talk to? We tried to put ourselves in her position and imagine what life might have been like so close to the end of World War II.
Since we knew the urns had been sent to Jaegersburg, we assumed they were buried in the local cemetery. I rushed through the rows of graves reading every gravestone hoping to find "Frieda Angeloch nee Kniege." Unfortunately, it looked like the cemetery had recently been remodeled. We were told that there used to be a wall with all the urns, but it had been removed.
Part one of this series is in the January 31, 2003 edition of The Ebbtide.
Part three of this series is in the February 28, 2003 edition of The Ebbtide.
© 2003 Shoreline Community College