by Paul Marzell
Heimat is the story of four young men who left Germany in 1929 for the United States to find a better future and leave Germany’s dismal post-World War One economy and humiliation of defeat behind. Matthias, a baker, also went to avoid an intolerable family situation. Josef, a watchmaker, left on a whim to join Matthias. Edo, a tailor, left to escape government-sanctioned anti-Semitism and to prepare for his family’s emigration to follow. And, Feliks, an ethnic Polish, teenager because his family’s farm could not support him. Each hoped to return someday as an American citizen and a shining example of American success.
On the way to the TS Bremen for its maiden voyage to America from Bremerhaven, their plans began changing when they saved an American diplomat‘s life from the tracks in Berlin’s Bahnhof. Their heroic act bonded them and the diplomat in a friendship that sustained them through broken promises, misconceptions of the American dream, the Great Depression, Prohibition, assimilation into American culture, and World War Two.
Before the outbreak of the war, Matthias’s commitment to his plan wavered as letters from his mother, girlfriend, sisters, and others urged him to return to Germany as the Nazi regime improved Germany’s economy and raised its national pride. However, the war severed contact with his family for five years and sent him and his friends on separate paths. To a shipyard to build ships to carry the means to destroy Germany and their Heimat. Into the US Army to fight in the Pacific after surviving the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Conscription into Germany’s Wehrmacht to invade France, Russia and fight in the Battle of the Bulge against American forces. And the Nuremberg trials to bring Nazi war criminals to justice.