14 OLAM | DECEMBER 29, 2017
F E AT U R E
THE MISCHLINGE ARE A LITTLE-KNOWN GROUP. BY RHONA LEWIS
The Mischlinge Expose
h o wa s m y f a t h e r ? ” “Who am I?” “What is identity?” These are the questions that prompted pianist Carolyn Enger to produce The Mischlinge Expose, a many-layered multimedia performance that centers around family history, personal experience and Judaism.
THE MISCHLINGE “Our house was filled with secrets, but children pick up what their parents don’t tell them,” says Carolyn. Her voice is gentle. She pauses sometimes to find the precise word to convey the nuances, like a pianist searching for the exact chord. Carolyn’s father, Horace (Horst Joachim) Enger, was, in fact, Jewish. His Jewish mother had converted to Evangelical Christianity in 1919 in Breslau after marrying her husband Kurt Enger. Horst grew up as a Christian in Germany, staunch in the belief that all religions are political. Six years after arriving in America in 1947, he married Elaine Saunders, a Presbyterian from Philadelphia. They set up an American Christian home
in Tenafly, New Jersey, filled with American Christian children. Carolyn was baptized in a Methodist church. But Judaism was a silent, resonating presence. The Nazi label Mischling, slapped on by Nazi policy, obviously had no regard for Jewish law, and yet it stuck. “My father, like other Mischlinge, was neither here, nor there,” says Carolyn. The Mischlinge are a little-known group. Mischling (plural Mischlinge) was the legal term used in Nazi Germany to denote someone with both Aryan and Jewish ancestry. The word has the general denotation of hybrid, mongrel or half-breed. As defined by the Nuremberg Laws in 1935, a Jew was a person who had at least three grandparents who had been enrolled with a Jewish congregation. A person with two Jewish grandparents was also legally “Jewish” Hoarce Enger if that person met certain conditions, such as marriage to a Jew. But what about anyone else with Jewish ancestry? A person who did not belong to any of these categories, but had two Jewish grandparents, was classified as a Mischling of the first degree. A person
with only one Jewish grandparent was classified as a Mischling of the second degree. The 19th century saw many Jewish Germans converting to Christianity, most of them becoming Protestants rather than Catholics. According to the 1939 Reich census, there were about 72,000 Mischlinge of the first degree and about 39,000 of the second degree. Many of the Mischlinge went to court to try to get them reorganized. Horace Enger and Rosemarie Steinfeld, Carolyn’s godmother, were both branded with the Mischlinge label. For Horace, the label meant that he was stripped of his German army uniform. In 1944, he was sent to a forced labor camp. The official purpose of those interned in the camp was to dig trenches to stop the Russian tanks. In fact, the Nazis’ goal was to exterminate these mixed-blood people. After the war, Horace decided to head west. Enamored with American jazz, Horace felt that a country with such fine music would be a good place to live. The Church World Services sponsored his emigration to the USA with his first wife, Ursala (Engel), a Mischling whose father had been Jewish. “The Jewish agencies, pressed to their limits with refugee requests for help to leave Europe, gave Mischlinge a lower priority as they were overloaded with Jewish refugees,” says Carolyn.
WHO AM I? Living the average American dream should have quieted any questions
about identity that hummed in Carolyn’s subconscious. Instead, every now and again, dissonance sounded. The ring of Judaism was impossible to muffle. “I wasn’t actively searching for anything, but there were a couple of incidents in my childhood that I can’t explain,” says Carolyn. Sunday school was part and parcel of Carolyn’s years in elementary school. One Sunday, as an introduction to Easter, the teacher told the class about Passover and the Exodus from Egypt. “We bake matzah on rocks,” young Carolyn declared. Years later, now in high school, Carolyn’s best friend invited her to attend her family Seder. “I felt very comfortable here,” she says. And then, in 10th grade, Carolyn attended a viewing of Night and Fog, a French documentary of the death camps of the Final Solution and the hellish world of dehumanization and death. Carolyn was left in uncontrollable sobs. “I realized that I identified myself as Jewish,” she says. In college, Carolyn transferred to a Catholic school, Molloy College, in order to remain under the tutelage of her piano teacher who had received a position in the school. Here, she attended an introductory class on Judaism given by a Reform rabbi. The knowledge she gained strengthened her link to Judaism. An increased commitment to some Jewish rites, such as lighting Shabbos candles, didn’t feel like a big step, because “I already identified myself as Jewish,” says Carolyn. “When I lit candles, I felt myself connecting to my
Published on Dec 27, 2017