During summer 2022, Ildiko Meny had the pleasure of meeting Bernhard Zimmerman (both alumni ES Karlsruhe). Below is her account of this so inspiring and heartwarming encounter.

In his impressive novel ‚Solaris‘, author Stanislaw Lem imagined another planet he called Solaris. This planet was steadily growing from unfulfilled human desires and tragic circumstances. While on mission to explore this planet, the protagonists were confronted involuntary with familiar people they already lost on planet earth.

The sensation to lose a beloved person or family member lasts a lifetime and even beyond. Many survivors of the Holocaust and their children became little planets full of stories of lost family members and friends, and tragic but also hopeful circumstances.

During my time at European School Karlsruhe from 1974-1987, I had the chance to encounter and  dance classical Ballet with Michèle Zimmerman, the youngest family member of four siblings. I only remember meeting her three brothers at the annual “Euratomfest” where I recall them showing up as fierce soccer players. But only in 2022, while browsing the website of the Karlsruhe school, I found out about their father‘s Jewish legacy and that one of Michèle's brothers, Bernard, took over this legacy, telling the history of their father‘s family fleeing the Nazis in history classes to pupils at the Karlsruhe school.

While I worked as performance curator for a Holocaust remembrance project in Vienna, Austria, I learned that history learning is so much dependent on how vivid history is taught at school and the importance of continuous research, discussion and public reconciliation process.

Therefore, I would very much like to recommend Herman Zimmerman’s booklet “An angel by my side” (Ein Engel an meiner Seite - EAN / ISBN-: 9783825371081), where he describes his childhood as the youngest child of a loving family of four children raised in Cologne. 

Soon after the Nazis started to hunt and murder the Jewish population, the family had to separate and find their various ways across Holland, Belgium, France, Switzerland, the USA and back to Germany. Herman Zimmerman describes the longing for reunification, the hardships, the worries, but also the hope to find safe spaces while crisscrossing Europe. After the war, Herman Zimmerman met his wife Eliane in Paris around the same time he lost his father and sister Miriam. They also had four children together. The family portraits of Hermann Zimmerman together with his parents and the ones with his own children, including Michèle and Bernard, gloom with a sense of his special empathy. A trait that I encountered also when dancing with Michèle – Mimi Zimmerman.  

When I met her brother Bernard in Summer 2022, I immediately had this feeling of “familiarity”. Bernard gave me the booklet his father Herman wrote and showed me the original “Fluechtlingsausweis” of his grandmother Mali Zimmerman, born 1900 as Mali Zuegman in Sokal, Poland.

Bernard told me parts of the stories of the past and current Zimmerman planet in such a compassionate way, I wonder why I never asked Michèle more about her father‘s legacy.

The motivation for ‚An angel by my side‘ is definitely also to come to terms with a painful search for his family members and to mourn the many friends perished and murdered in the Holocaust.

When Herman Zimmerman met the French activist Serge Klarsfeld later in life and was given proof about the murder of many friends, he made this pledge to teach as many school children as possible about what had happened. 

Unfortunately, I missed his lesson while in the European School Karlsruhe, but the new war in 2022 makes his statement for peace and healing even more urgent.

Ildiko Meny

Board Member Alumni Europae ASBL

October 2022

📸 Ildiko Meny

Link to English version of ‚An Angel by my side‘: