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H55 The Secret Journey

March 29, 2013

 

The story of Jewish survivor Bert Bodenheimer as told by his granddaughter Elyse Bodenheimer of Charlotte, North Carolina and illustrated by Chandler Whitefield of Gainesville, Florida.

 

This book was written with love by Bert's granddaughter Elyse Bodenheimer and illustrated by her friend Chandler Whitefield. Elyse would like her readers to know Bert was a man of courage, love and honor. She is pleased his story will always be remembered through this book. 

 

Elyse was in the tenth grade at Providence High School in Charlotte, North Carolina when she wrote this book. She is an honors student who loves math, swimming and running on her schools track team. 

 

She is so proud of her grandfather, she started a website www.myjewishlegacy.com in his honor. With this effort, she hopes to bring children and grandchildren of survivors together to share these important stories.

 

 

Siegbert Arno Bodenheimer was born on May 22, 1928 in a small town in Germany near the border with Switzerland. His father, Alfred, was the prosperous owner of a large shoe store, and his mother, Martha, an industrious homemaker.

 

Bert and his sister Inge had a happy childhood, which was interrupted by increasing anti-Semitism and the rise of the Nazi party. After Kristallnacht, Bert and Inge could no longer go to school in Germany, and his family, with many customers and connections in Switzerland, arranged for them to ride their bicycles to school across the border. The family was able to get a visa to America, yet like many others, had to wait for a long period until their "quota number" came up in order to actually emigrate.

 

It was during this time that ten year old Bert was assigned the task of smuggling across the border various important documents and papers, such as the deed to the Bodenheimer house, which he passed to a sympathetic teacher. As this was the time of rampant monetary inflation in Germany, the Nazi border guards were concerned primarily with searching travelers going from Switzerland to Germany, thinking that they might be bringing in foreign currency or other valuables. So every day when Bert came home from school, he was stopped by the guards, who even made him take the wheel off his bicycle for examination. Yet these same guards never thought to search the youngsters in the morning, when Bert actually had the goods.

 

It is not known whether Bert was assigned this task because he was naturally fearless, or whether the experience shaped his personality, or some combination of the two. Yet it is easy to see in this story the seeds of the man that Bert would become, particularly his determination and his conviction that most, if not all, obstacles could be overcome with optimism, courage, "sechel," and hard work.

 

Eventually, the Bodenheimers made their way from Germany to Switzerland to New York. Bert arrived in America on his eleventh birthday, May 22, 1939, and quickly adjusted to life in the United States. He excelled in math and physics, and so, elementary school led to Brooklyn Technical High School, which led to City College and a graduate degree in industrial engineering from Columbia. Then the Korean War intervened. Bert was drafted, knowing that his skills would be in high and dangerous demand by the Army Corps of Engineers.

 

After the war, Bert got his first job at Slater Electric and later left this job for a job with CBS Labs in Stamford, where he enjoyed new professional challenges designing audio equipment for the Gemini Space Program with a noted acoustic expert Ben Bauer. Later, he joined SeaLand Service in New Jersey working in refrigerated transportation, which became his professional area of expertise.

 

Bert invented and patented numerous innovations in the containerized shipping industry, including a new type of car carrier and a container for dry powdered goods that won a prestigious industry award. Bert traveled around the world for business, while Ellen worked first with the Stamford Health Department and later with the law firm of Mall and Friedman. Shortly after he turned 40, Bert went into business for himself, developing a successful engineering design and consulting firm of which he was enormously proud.

 

Bert worked hard, succeeded, and loved his family and kids. He became active in the community, serving on the Boards of Agudath Shalom and the Bi-Cultural Day School. With such a full life, he expected to grow old with the wife of his youth, Ellen. This was not to be, however. Ellen was discovered to have a rare blood disorder, and after several years of illness, passed away in January 1981, at the age of 49. Bert and Ellen had been married for twenty-six happy years.

 

From 1928 to 2008, Bert Bodenheimer lived the fullest life imaginable, with gusto, appetite for adventure, grace, and charm. His family will never forget Bert's wisdom, humor, optimism, and great pride in his family.

               

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