Heinz Motulski had always excelled at his studies, and the principal of his high school in Dresden had quietly encouraged him. Heinz was grouped in the back row with the high achievers, and the fact that he was the only Jewish boy in his class never had seemed to matter.
Yet, when he entered his classroom on the first day in September 1935, his world was transformed: all the boys, including his best friend, were wearing the uniform of the Hitler Youth, with its prominent swastika armband. The virulently antisemitic newspaper, Der Stuermer, was pinned up on the walls of the classroom. On the blackboard in front, in immense letters, someone had scrawled “Jew Motulski.”
Heinz then noticed that his seat was occupied by another student. None of his fellow students said hello: they treated him as if he were invisible. When the teacher entered, he placed Heinz in an isolated chair in the front row, with the lowest achievers.
From that day forward, the teacher refused to call on him when be raised his hand. In the school yard or walking to and from class, no one would speak to him. In gym class, when the boys boxed, Heinz was regularly paired with a student in a heavier weight class to ensure that he would be beaten up.
For the next three years, he was ignored and demeaned to the point of complete isolation. Heinz knew his parents would take him out of the school if he told them about his treatment. So be kept silent in order to graduate. The price he had to pay, in addition to the daily indignities and cruelties at school, was to live as an emotional stranger within his own family.
In 1936, in the midst of this crisis, Heinz Motulski met Lottie Apt. A student at the nearby girls’ high school, she became Heinz’s confidante. They met while riding bicycles, and she sensed he had a lot on his mind. Heinz, too, sensed an emotional connection deeper than friendship. The natural urgency of young adults trying to understand their own identity while negotiating the humiliation and pressure of life under the Nazis accelerated the pace of their relationship. Heinz began to think that if they and their families could ever find a way to escape the unfolding Nazi terror, he would ask Lottie to be his wife.
Heinz Motulski’s experience of malevolent ostracism in school mirrored what was being unleashed against Jews throughout German society. At the time he had returned to his high school in the fall of 1935, the Nuremberg Laws codified the antisemitic principles of Nazi ideology.
As a reaction, Heinz, Lottie, and other young Jews began to live dual lives. Although excluded from all public cultural life, they organized their own house parties and participated in the Jewish community’s own newly expanded sports clubs and cultural events in Dresden. Struggling for normalcy, they organized themselves into scouting groups and went hiking, camping, and biking.
More than one hundred thousand Jews emigrated by 1938, but many, including Heinz’s and Lottie’s families, still waited—and hoped. Heinz’s compassionate high school principal awarded Heinz’s diploma in private, so that Heinz might be spared humiliation at the official graduation. He confided to him when he handed Heinz his diploma: “The political climate is like a wave. Now there is an upsurge but it will recede again, and then it will be over.”
But the reign of terror had barely begun. On November 9 and 10, 1938, Kristallnacht erupted, the orchestrated national pogrom and assault on the Jews of Germany and Austria. On the first night, at his relatives’ apartment, Heinz was told that the Leipzig synagogue had been set on fire and that he must run with them to the nearby park to hide. Some instinct told Heinz not to flee, and indeed, his relatives who went to the park were arrested. The men were sent by the Gestapo to Buchenwald, one of the concentration camps established by the Nazi to detain their political enemies.
Thousands of Jews were detained at Buchenwald and other camps in the roundups following Kristallnacht. Hundreds died there—some were murdered, others committed suicide, and still others died from heart attacks and other illnesses exacerbated by the brutalities of imprisonment. Those released, including Heinz’s and Lottie’ fathers, had to prove to the Nazis that they would emigrate within a specified time in order to gain their freedom. They also had to divest themselves of their property and possessions. Of course , now the more urgent challenge became, with so many suddenly wanting to escape, where could they go?
Fortunately, in response to Kristallnacht, England briefly liberalized its immigration policies, permitting entrance to limited nunbers of immigrants who promised to work as domestic servants and farmworkers. Lottie Apt and her parents managed to go there while Heinz’s parents traveled to Cuba and then to the United States. Heinz chose to follow Lottie.
In July 1939, two months before war broke out in Europe, Heinz and Lottie were reunited in London. They refused to speak German, as an expression of revulsion at what Germany had become under Hitler, and to accelerate their adjustment to their new country.
Heinz Motulski changed his name to Henry Morley. He enlisted in the British army and worked in a battalion that did the dangerous work of clearing away damaged structures that had been bombed by the Germans in London. In 1946, Henry and Lottie came to the United States to start their family and rebuild their lives.