The Apprentice

Hamburg 1932

Hamburg canal, 1940s
Nikolai Fleet, canal into Hamburg town center in the 1940s – © Collection Hans Hartz / by permission of Kulturbehörde Hamburg

Hans remembered the day he turned sixteen, the time when it was necessary for him to begin learning a trade. His uncle Hendrik, Ilse’s father, lived in the port city of Hamburg and offered him an apprenticeship repairing and outfitting small ships and boats. He could go to school there and be useful, too. As his father reminded him, without Hans at home, it was one less mouth to feed, and shipbuilding was an honorable trade. Hans was glad to go.

Hamburg was such an exciting metropolis! The second largest city in Germany, it was an international trade center and an important railway junction. Its harbor ranked second in all of Europe, and the people of Hamburg bragged they had more canals and bridges than Venice. Even Hamburg’s Hagenbecks Tierpark was famous. It was the first zoo in the world to put animals in enclosures instead of small cages. Visitors were separated from the animals only by shallow moats.

Hamburg 1930s, streetview
Hamburg in the 1930s – © Collection Hans Hartz / by permission of Kulturbehörde Hamburg

Hans never tired of running errands so he could explore the bustling city and watch millions of tons of cargo being unloaded and loaded. His uncle’s workshop was a few blocks away from the Hamburg-America line, the largest transatlantic shipping company in the world. Companies like Hamburg-America shipped to South America, Africa, India and East Asia. Whenever Hans walked the docks, smelled the sea air, and heard so many different languages and German dialects, he imagined himself sailing off for exotic, exciting adventures as a cabin boy, or exploring far off places like Japan or India. Sometimes he thought he’d like to jump on one of the ships as a stowaway and journey to some foreign land, maybe even America!

Lüneburg seemed small and dull compared to the cosmopolitan life he encountered every day in Hamburg. Even the food was unlike anything he had ever tasted. There was Birnen, Bohnen und Speck, green beans with pears and bacon; and something he never thought he’d like Aalsuppe, eel soup. But his favorite was Frikadelle, a special pan-fried patty made from a mixture of ground beef, soaked in stale bread, with egg, chopped onion, and salt and pepper. People called it a Hamburger.


Lüneburg, Walter Less 1933 – EBook Margaret A. McQuillan: An Orange in Winter / The Beginning of the Holocaust as Seen through the Eyes of a Child
Walter with a group of Jewish friends (see last row middle) – © Archive M. A. McQuillan

One day, on a break after working with Frau Less, Ilse came home for a short holiday. She looked pale and exhausted. An outbreak of typhus in Lüneburg had caused some of her husband’s family to become very sick. She had been caring for them while working for the Lesses.

“Can you imagine anything so outrageous?” She was curled up in a chair under a blanket, sipping a cup of tea. “Here was this young boy so ill, shaking with fever. You should have seen him, Hans, and their doctor wouldn’t even consider treating him! They really begged him, you know. They reminded him he’d been their doctor for twenty years. He closed the door in their faces, all because they were Jews!”

Hans didn’t even want to ask the next question. “Is Walter all right?” He held his breath waiting for the answer.

She nodded. “Yes, but only thanks to an old Jewish doctor, a psychiatrist, I think. Dr. Albert Nathan Ransohoff hadn’t practiced in years, but he actually came out of retirement to treat Walter and others who were sick. If he hadn’t, I don’t know what would have happened…” Her voice trailed off and she shrugged her shoulders.

“But Hans, if a respected doctor won’t help a family he has treated for twenty years, things must really be getting bad. Maybe it’s time I give Frau Less my notice and leave.”

Ilse pulled the blanket around her shoulders with a sigh and closed her eyes.


An Orange in Winter Copyright © 2017 by Margaret A. McQuillan and Geschichtswerkstatt Lüneburg e.V.. All Rights Reserved.


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