A few years ago, my wife Lauren found a photograph of my father and eight other men playing indoor bowls. Herbert stands in the centre of the group of men – who I imagine were his colleagues at the department store – as he is about to roll the ball for the game. All but one of the men in the photograph are wearing white shirts, ties and waistcoats, which was probably their work attire. Most are smiling or laughing, and my father is grinning widely, enjoying the camaraderie of a boys’ night out. This is the only photograph, apart from those on passport and travel documents, I have of my father before he left Germany.
The photograph must have been taken soon before or after the Nazis came to power. I find it remarkable how comfortable my father looks among his colleagues, and how ordinary this scene is. When I search for hidden signs of danger in the photo, I can’t find any. Like the photograph of my grandmother and her daughters in Berlin in 1937, the picture of my father playing bowls triggers in me an unsettling sense of foreboding. I look at it with the knowledge of what is about to unfold for him and his family. It is like a snapshot of the last rays of sunlight before a long, black night – before Herbert’s comfortable bachelor’s life in Erfurt began to unravel. At the same time, the photo also offers reassurance that my father had some good times in Germany before he had to flee.