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Staying in Germany

CHRISTIAN LAHUSEN, who had been a combat pilot for Germany in World War I, established himself as a conductor and composer in Munich. 


A deeply religious man, "his feelings are clearly present in his musical compositions, mostly devoted to Christian choral music," says his grandson, Thomas Lahusen. "But he hated the church as an institution because of its role during the Nazi era."



RAHEL HERRMANN LAHUSEN, my grandmother's sister, was a great beauty, my father told me.


She was sitting in the lobby of a hotel in Munich when Christian Lahusen, a man eight years younger, spotted her. He told her he wanted to marry her then and there. "You're a fool," she told him. But a romance ensued and some years later -- after their first child was born in May, 1919-- she did indeed marry him. It was 1920, and she was 42 years old. Soon she was pregnant with their second child, a daughter, born in November of 1920.







Christian Lahusen's family, of Bremen, had founded an important wool company, Nordwolle, and owned properties in Argentina, including the great sheep ranches that provided the raw material for processing in Germany. Because of this, Christian had been born in Buenos Aires and held an Argentinean passport. This fact helped protect the couple from the worst of Nazi persecution.


There are fascinating twists and turns to the story.  Lahusen and his friends were Christian intellectuals who were quietly opposed to Hitler. Yet the Nazi youth movement (the Hitlerjugend) actually used some of the songs he had composed.


The couple lived for a time in Berlin, then moved to Überlingen, on the shores of Lake Constance,  close to Switzerland, where Christian worked as a composer and as a teacher in the progressive Salem school.


CHRISTIAN LAHUSEN'S musical compositions, especially Christian choral music, such as Ein Schöpfungsegesang  (A Song of Creation), are still popular around the world.

DURING THE NAZI PERIOD, CHRISTIAN TRIED to persuade Rahel to leave Germany, even finding a place for them to live in the Engadine Valley in southeastern Switzerland.


"Rahel refused," says Thomas Lahusen, their grandson. Why? "She maintained that Germany was her country. She believed that "this fool" (Hitler) would not stay long."


Rahel was relatively safe because of her marriage, at least until 1944, when being married to an Aryan ceased to be a protected category, and she could have faced deportation. With some difficulty the couple managed to obtain an Argentinean passport for Rahel too, so she could remain in Germany.


Still, it seems incredible that Rahel wanted to stay in Germany even though she had the opportunity to go to Switzerland. Even though her husband wanted to leave. And even though  her siblings had taken desperate measures to leave (my grandmother) or had been deported to concentration camps (Frieda and her brother Moritz).



HELLWARTH AND RHEA LAHUSEN, the children of Rahel and Christian Lahusen, grew up in Germany

AND THEIR CHILDREN? My father told me that the Lahusens' daughter, Rhea, wanted to join the Bund Deutcher Mädel, the girls' version of the Hitler Youth, which she, and many others, viewed as something much like the Girl Scouts.


She couldn't join, her mother told her: It was part of the Nazi movement, so of course  children of Jews were not welcome. Rhea, who hadn't realized that the Nazis controlled even this organization, cried in disappointment.


Rhea's son, Thomas Lahusen, has another revealing story about his mother's life in Germany. When she was in her early 20s (in the early 1940s), attending the Academy of Music in Berlin, she was expelled after it was discovered that she was 'half-Jewish.'


"We can't have a pig like you in our school!" she was told. Her father wrote a letter asking the school to reconsider. He had served Germany as a fighter  pilot in World War I and had been awarded an Iron Cross medal, he pointed out. He signed the letter with the "Heil Hitler!" conclusion expected of every official letter. To no avail. The school refused to re-admit Rhea.

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