The long voyage home

The long voyage home

Eric Loeb left Frankfurt with his family in 1936, in the face of worsening Nazi persecution. Together with his parents and older brother, the 8-year-old left behind not only the city of his birth but a childhood friend.

This spring, 7′ years after Loeb’s departure and at the invitation of the city of Frankfurt, the now 80-year-old Teaneck resident returned to the city and was reunited with that friend, Arnulf Borsche.

"It was a great joy," said Loeb, adding that the two took an immediate liking to each other. "It was the re-establishing of a friendship."

Loeb’s visit to Frankfurt was set in motion when he learned from a friend that the city’s policy of inviting former Jewish citizens might be coming to an end.

Eric Loeb, left, and Arnulf Borsche in Frankfurt, 1936.

"Certain cities in Germany invite former citizens back to make [amends] for the Holocaust," he said. "Some cities can no longer afford it, but Frankfurt is still doing it."

Loeb mailed a copy of his birth certificate to the group coordinating the trip and soon received an invitation.

"Seventy people were invited this year," he said. "They were an interesting group. They came from all over — South Africa, France, South America. When the volunteer contacted me, I got the idea [about finding Borsche]. She asked if I wanted to know anything and I said I wanted to know if Moppel [his childhood nickname] Borsche was still alive."

He was, and the volunteer found him in a suburb of Frankfort. According to Loeb, Borsche had served as a member of the State of Hesse Legislature and was apparently well known.

The two boys grew up in the same house, said Loeb, and Borsche, a non-Jew whose father was a professor at the local university, often shared Saturday meals with the Loeb family.

Loeb, who moved to Teaneck in 1969 and raised his family there, said he remembers many Frankfurt sites from his childhood, although much of the city was damaged during World War II. Noting that the city today boasts a "thriving" Jewish population, Loeb said that during his visit, he received an aliyah at the same synagogue his family frequented when he was a child.

"The building was preserved as a warehouse," he said, adding that it was reconditioned after the war. "They’ve got a thriving congregation. After the Shabbat service they had a kiddush and served cholent" — something that did not happen in pre-war days, he said. He noted also that a commemorative wall "with hundreds of plaques" now stands outside the Jewish cemetery destroyed by the Nazis.

Loeb said his family did not come to the United States immediately after leaving Germany in 1936.

"We spent three years in Milan," he said. "I went to school after I fought with a fascist teacher who didn’t want to accept me. He gave in after my mother baked him a cake."

They moved from there to Cuba, where they lived for 15 months.

"The ship we sailed on is now a rusting hulk in the harbor," he said, pointing out that the French used it to block the harbor by scuttling it there.

In 1940, the family came to the United States, landing in Key West, Fla., "because my father wanted to see some of the country. But he wasn’t used to the air conditioning and he got an ear infection." From Florida, they took a bus to New York.

Loeb said he is now in regular contact with Borsche.

"I wouldn’t have known him and he wouldn’t have known me," he said, describing his reaction on first seeing his old friend. "But if health allows, I will go back."

read more: