He left his heart in Heidelberg
Father, grandfather, shopkeeper, gentleman. Born in Neidenstein, Germany, in 1902.
Died in Toronto of heart failure at 96.
My grandfather was born in a small village in southern Germany. He did not
begin life, however, as Louis Wolf. His changes of name reflect a life of change,
some by choice, most by necessity, but all with a sens of noble acceptance that
characterized his life and outlook. His legacy is not one of public deeds ord
accomplishments, for his life was not one of opportunity, but he leaves the gentle
footprint of a peaceful soul that touched the lives of those around him.
Our surname was changed when my grandfather was very young, to distinguish from the
other Jacob family in the village. He went into the family leather
business, enjoyed refereeing soccer matches and fell in love with a young
woman named Hildegard from the bigger town down the road, and married
her in 1935.
When he became clear that the rise of Nazis meant the end of Jewish life in
Germany, he fled to the United States in 1938. My grandmother followed a
year later, on one of the last passenger ships, hiding her remaining possession
of value - her engagement ring - in a jar of cold cream. My grandfather's sister
could not get out; she was later killed in Auschwitz.
On arriving in New York, my grandfather found work at a teapacking factory,
then with a meat wholesaler. He finally opened his own shop in Queens Village
His given name was Saly, which Americans frustratingly tended to assume
as female, and he changed it when he became a U.S. citizen. Louis was not
chosen at random; it had been the name of his brother who had died as a child
My grandfather's Grade 4 education did not include any English. He taught
himself the language by trying to decipher the New York Times every day.
His was a bright mind underused, and the postgraduate achievements of his
two sons at Yale and Stanfort were a source of significant pride.
On the death of their younger son in 1986, Louis and Hilde planned to move
to Toronto to be with my father, my sister and myself. Delays in immigration
fated that my grandfather would make the trip alone, as my grandmother
passed away only a year later.
Still, he embraced his new surounds, taking his own apartment at 85. Among
the things he brought with him to Canada was a love of horse racing. He never
bet much - "you want go get rich on horses, you end up with nothing," he
would say with a smile. He simply enjoyed the environment, and many of my fondest
memories were summer afternoons spent with him at Woodbine.
As his memory began to fail, he didn't remember much about the track,
but always seemed to recall the "old man in the elevator" (funny, since
grandfather was just about the oldest around). The old man always had a kind
word for my grandfather as he took him up the service elevator so he wouldn't
to use the stairs. My mention of the old man in the elevator would bring a
smile of my grandfather's face even in his last days. I don't know the old man's
name, but I would like him to know he brought a simple joy into my grandfather's
My grandfather's other passion was song. After he left Germany and its painfull
memories, he turned his back on his homeland, reminiscing only in the
songs of his youth. His favourite was Ich habe mein herz in Heidelberg verlorem
(I lost my heart in Heidelberg). I always found the sound of his rich Teutonic
baritone a remarkable contrast to his frail body. His rapture in singing was
obvious, mostly in his shining eyes that never faded even as his body weakened
further in the months before his death.
I think my grandfather's delight in simple pleasures, and the easy humour with
which he faced the world, was the reaction of a vibrant spirit to a life of
challenge that could easily have led to anger and bitterness. "You can't fight
nature," he used to say. It is somehow appropriate that he passed away in 1999
- his was truly a 20th-century life. His gentle acceptance of life as it is,
represents a lesson not limited to his time. I don't face his challenges, and
few of us will, but I think all of us would benefit from being more accepting
of what life throws at us. Perhaps, then, we'd all live to the 96.
- David Wolf
David Wolf, the grandson of Louis Wolf, is a financial
economist with a
Canadian bank in London.