My Dearest Max
August 20th, 2018
It was just like any other Monday morning here in Athens, the sun shined into my small yet to be decorated room I share with my best friend, the abrupt thuds of people opening and closing their doors fill the hallway as I slowly reach for my phone to turn off my alarm. However, unlike most mornings where I receive a “you better be up” text from my loving Jewish mother, I notice three missed calls from my mom and two from my dad. I instantly recognize something was terribly wrong. I listen to the thirty second voicemail my mom left me, pack an overnight bag and start driving to Atlanta.
On the ride back I began to think about my grandmother. I became overwhelmed thinking about all of the values and traditions she instilled in my parents, siblings, and cousins. She had learned about the importance of being Jewish from her elders. The importance of maintaining strong family ties through Jewish traditions. Her ancestors relied on this connection with faith and family to persevere throughout the Holocaust. Because of this, she made it her mission to never let us forget the meaning of being Jewish.
I arrive to the hospice home my grandmother, Carol Kamean, is currently living at around 11:00 AM. I sit by her bedside for hours. Holding her hand, I speak to her as she labors for every breathe she takes, she’s a fighter. I tell her about everything from my social life to the family bible project recently assigned. The entire time I have a gut-wrenching feeling that this is the last opportunity I have to spend time with her. I stay as long as I can. With tears in my eyes, for the first time in years, I say the longest goodbye to the strongest, most loving person I know. Around 10:00 PM my dad knocks on my bedroom door, I already know what he’s going to say. As a tear rushes down the side of his seldom melancholy face he tells me that his mother, my grandmother, has passed away. We lost a fighter. One who taught me to never have a give up type attitude. She beat cancer three times before it finally got the best of her. She could have given up years ago, but she didn’t she dug in and fought. Everyone in my family is a fighter, a Kamean never throws in the towel and its been like that since we got here in 1937. We draw support from each other which is then further strengthened from our Judaism.
Max Goodman was born in Brooklyn, New York, on September 17, 1907, to Simon and Celia Ghitman, changed to Goodman by US customs. Celia was from Austria and Simon was a talented tailor from Romania. After Max was born, they moved back to Germany. In Berlin, they raised Max and his siblings: Berta, Sabine, and Marcus. Max attended the Berlin Conservatory of Music, choosing not to follow in his father’s footsteps of becoming a tailor. There, he learned how to play the bass fiddle, guitar, banjo, accordion, and just about any instrument he could find. He became a renowned jazz musician during this time period. He traveled all around Europe performing and living the good life. He was single, a proud Jew and in the midst of the prime of his career. Life could not get better.
March 24th, 1933
Adolf Hitler has recently been appointed Chancellor of Nazi Germany. On this date he passes the Enabling Act; the Nazis legally materialize their racial ideology. The Nazis believed that native Germans were genetically and racially superior. They looked at many other races as competition and a threat to his ideology. The Nazis saw Jews, Gypsies and other minorities as “biological threats to the German (Aryan) Race,” what they called the master race. “Jews, who numbered about 525,000 in Germany (less than one percent of the total population in 1933) were the principal target of Nazi hatred.” The Nazis also produced propaganda that used the Jews as scapegoats for Germany's many economic problems. The following year Hitler declared himself der Fuhrer, and the Nazi German government officially became the Third Reich.
November 14th, 1934
In late 1934, My great-great-grandmother, Celia, and her daughter Berta write my great-grandfather Max Goodman pleading with him to come visit them soon. The letter begins with “My dearest Max”. They miss everything about him from his bright personality to his money. Max rarely had time to come home, but to him, family was everything. He had been taught at a very young age about the importance of a strong family connection and its importance in Jewish culture. He would write them as often as possible. Celia and Berta were responding from a previous letter where Max had sent them money. Celia, his mother, complains about poor vision, lack of help from his siblings, and not having enough money to support herself through the winter. Celia says his brother Marcus is getting on her nerves staying out late with his girlfriend while she worries for his safety. Berta, his sister, writes about how she got laid off from her previous job because she was Jewish. She continues by describing how at her new job she is the only Jew, and how her boss, a female, knows and is willing to help her. Although the Holocaust had yet to technically begin, religious discrimination against Jews was prominent in Germany during the years leading up to 1938.
November 9–10, 1938
Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, was the beginning of what became known as the Holocaust. On this night random attacks against Jewish businesses and families were carried out by the Nazi party. The Nazis burned homes to the ground, looted Jewish run businesses, and destroyed synagogues. Hundreds died and 30,000 Jewish men were arrested, incarcerated in concentration camps, most likely never to be free men again. The Nazi Anti-Semitic campaign continued until they were defeated by the Allied powers in 1945.
Jews were forced to wear a yellow star on their clothes and have papers on them at all times. The Nazis began actively hunting Jews to imprison or kill them. The Nazis put Jews and other minorities in camps based on their ability to work. There were three different categories of camps: labor camps, for those capable of performing grueling manual labor with a miniscule food supply, concentration camps, for those not “healthy” enough for labor camps where people were starved and worked to death, and death camps, where the sole purpose of the camp was to execute its inmates. Over 6,000,000 Jews were killed during the Holocaust from starvation, disease, bullets, and toxic gas. The Nazis were ruthless, even after surrendering they refused to give away the locations of these camps where they had left people to die. Some German gentiles saved lives by illegally harboring families in the cellars and attics of their houses or businesses. Others turned their back on their brothers and sisters. Natives would help the Nazis in any way possible in order to rid their nation of Jews.
Max Goodman fled Europe in April of 1937. Because of the connections he had made as a musician, he was able to secure a sponsorship to immigrate to the United States. He was granted entry from Ellis Island because he was a native-born citizen, despite not knowing a word of English. Unfortunately, his family was not as lucky as him. His sister, Sabine, moved to Belgium and worked for the French Underground. Right before Max’s father-in-law secured the documents for her asylum in the US, she was killed. His brother Marcus was sent to Brazil by his gentile boss on a “selling trip”. His boss told him to stay there for his own safety because Jews were starting to loose their jobs and their livelihood. His sister Berta, along with her husband and young daughter, Lily, perished under the Nazi regime. He never saw his family again. His parents, his sister Sabine, and his sister Berta along with her husband and three-year-old daughter were all murdered. Max persevered through these dark times by drawing strength from his faith. The Holocaust changed the course of my family history on top of millions of others; many people are unaware of the depth of the atrocities committed against the Jews.
August 25–26, 2018
It’s the first time I have seen my Dad’s side of the family together since my brother and sister’s B’nei (when a boy and girl share “Bar/Bat Mitzvah”) Mitzvah. We go out to eat at the local Italian restaurant, Novo Cucina, my dad’s attempt to make his family feel at home. We reminisce on all the joyous moments my grandmother Carol brought us. We talked about her perfectly crafted matzah ball soup, how she only needed one glass of wine to have a good time, and most importantly her style. She was a Jewish diva, now called “JAPS”, Jewish American Princesses. She had to have the perfect hair, perfect manicure, perfect dress as well as classy loop earrings and lastly, sass. According to some, her sass was far superior compared to many of the other Jewish divas, but it endeared us to her. If a family member was out of line she would make sure to let them know. If the food wasn’t perfect she would let whoever made it know. Its what made her, her. We miss her already.
We do not have a large family by any means, my dad is one of two kids as is his mother. My great-grandfather Max was the only one able to make it out of Germany and to America. The lack of connectivity in my family grew as my grandmother’s health deteriorated. She was the matriarch of our family, forcing us to be together throughout our upbringing. But as her heath declined, I began to see my uncle less and less. I have seen my second cousins once in the past few years. After everything we have been through as a family, and as a people, my grandmother thought Judaism would keep us connected. As of now, that is about the only thing keeping my family from completely cutting each other out. Despite all the values and traditions she had instilled in all of us, without her leading the way, our family was beginning to grow apart. At that dinner table, I made a promise to myself to never go a year without seeing my family again, and to keep in contact with them and stay updated in their lives during that time away. That is the type of family my grandmother wanted us to be and the one I want us to be. It is the type of family that our Judaism has taught each of us, though we have failed to maintain it. My goals for this project are to use Max’s story to keep our family connected over future generations and honor the memory of my grandmother by addressing my Jewish identity.
I am going to interview my great-aunt Sue (aunt Sue), my grandma’s sister. She lives in New York along with the rest of my family. As a strong believer in the lessons of Judaism and a direct descendant of Max Goodman, she will be able to provide the most insightful answers to my questions regarding Max’s journey, Carol’s life and our family’s future.
- What was it like growing up Jewish in New York in a Jewish neighborhood?
- How strong was your immediate families Jewish identity?
- How was Max as a father? What lessons did he stress?
- Tell me about Carol growing up?
- How would you describe our families relationship with each other?
- Most found memory of/with Carol
- Do you remember any stories Max told you?
- How do you think Carol did raising her family?
- What would you ask Max’s family that lived in Europe?
- What do you think is the most important factor in keeping our family together over the following generations?
“Kristallnacht.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 6 Sept. 2018, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kristallnacht.
“Europe/.” World Atlas — Maps, Geography, Travel, WorldAtlas, 7 Apr. 2017, www.worldatlas.com/webimage/countrys/europe/germany/detimeln.htm.
Primary Sources my aunt sent me include: letters from 1934–1941, birth certificate, passport, pictures, playbills, and affidavits
“Nazi Germany 1933–1939: Early Stages of Persecution.” My Jewish Learning, www.myjewishlearning.com/article/1933-1939-early-stages-of-persecution/.