by Paul Bonart
After Bertha (my first wife) and I arrived and settled in this country more than half a century ago, several of our friends urged us to write a biography of our lives in Nazi Germany. We often talked about it, but put the idea on hold because our day-to-day activities seemed more productive and satisfying than turning the clock back to the dark and long past times in Germany.
Perhaps we did not think hard enough, but we also had a problem finding the perspective and form which would interest the American public. It had to be different from what had already been written about the Nazi regime. Obviously, we never considered writing another “History of the Third Reich.” That had been done many times over. And the mass-murder of millions of Jews and other minorities has been well documented and retold by thousands of reliable eyewitnesses.
Those who perished in the Holocaust were “Innocent Victims.” Neither Bertha nor I ever considered ourselves to be victims. Racially, we had nothing to fear. Bertha came from old, German peasant stock with large and poor families.
My own ancestry was more complex. My mother’s forefathers were lower middle-class, small-town Germans. I remember her father, a rural policeman (Gendarme), patrolling the streets of Blankenhain and its surrounding forests with two huge, black Doberman dogs. He did everything “by the book.” Her brother Paul, an official of the Justice Department, wrote poetry about his heroic adventures in the First World War.
My father’s roots, as well as the lifestyle of his parents, were entirely different from those of Bertha’s family. My parental grandmother was a well educated woman. She loved books and the arts. Grandfather was a good musician and piano tuner, very intelligent, a free spirit with a great sense of humor. On one of his visits he showed me a booklet in which he had traced our family roots back to a small village in Alsace. He claimed that our family name, Bohnhardt, had originally a much simpler and more beautiful orthography, and that the letters “h” and “d” were later additions.
Both Bertha and I liked the simple spelling and in March 1952, when we became U.S. citizens, we changed our name legally to “Bonart.”
Bertha and I were political activists. Bertha enlisted very early; she was not even 18 years old. Political considerations and duties were for nearly two decades the guiding stars of her life. My decision to get seriously involved into politics came later. I was already 21 years of age by the time I became convinced that the Nazis presented a real and imminent danger.
After Hitler’s rise to power we made a conscientious decision to join thousands of others by going underground and continuing our fight in one of the resistance organizations. We knew what we would be up against and had no illusions about what might happen to us. We considered ourselves active opponents of Hitler and the German government, not innocent, persecuted victims of the Nazi regime.
After Bertha’s sudden death I realized that we had made a serious mistake in not writing down our experiences earlier. Her contribution to this work would have been invaluable. I finally made up my mind to sit down and record our lives and our experiences before and during the years of Hitler’s rise to power as well and as honestly as I can remember. I hope they will add to the understanding of a time which almost defies understanding.
I want to thank my wife Margaret for her consistent encouragement and patience. I also wish to thank my editor, Tara Smith, for her corrections and insightful suggestions.
─ Huntington Beach, April 2003