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Sources of Joy: Germany Trip Coming Together

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Sometimes you don't realize how heavily an issue is weighing on you until something causes it to lift.

That happened to me this morning when I pressed the "Submit" button on the United tickets we were buying for Dunreith, Aidan and me to go to Dad's hometown in Germany in late May.

Receiving our confirmation number meant that one of the last major pieces in the proverbial puzzle has come into place.

All of a sudden, I felt lighter.

A lot lighter.

We've been talking for years, decades really, about going back to Germany with Dad to see the community where his family lived for close to 150 years before Dad was sent on a train to England and safety through the Kindertransport program.

At times, we even got beyond the general discussion to even talking about specific months and dates.

But, somehow, Dad wasn't quite willing to go back there.

In the past year or so, though, his attitude has changed.

I've written before about Gabriele Thimm, the German teacher who contacted me last fall. She had read an article I had written about a previous trip I had taken to pursue family roots in Essen.

She wrote to invite us to a memorial service she was holding with her students for the town's Jewish community.

Two of Dad's cousins were students at the school.

Unlike Dad and Uncle Ralph, they did not have the good fortune to have escaped Hitler's Nazi regime.

Like more than one million other children, they were killed.

Gabriele sought to educate the students about our cousins and other members of the Essen community who were murdered.

Although invited, we could not attend the ceremony. Instead, we sent a statement and family pictures that were projected onto the home of Joseph Lowenstein, our patriarch and my namesake.

Gabriele and I have been planning our trip for months, figuring out which days will work and what we'll do during the time that we are there.

Last week, she sent news that she had met with John and Maike Guntermann.

A client of my great-grandfather's, Mr. Guntermann's father owned a print shop. He was the person with whom Papa Joseph entrusted our family bible shortly before he was transported to his death at Auschwitz.

The elder Mr. Guntermann held the bible for years before returning it to family members.

When I visited him in 2004, the son had a notebook filled with 65 years worth of correspondence between our families.

The first was from 1931, and contained the death notice for my great-grandmother, Papa Joseph's wife.

The elder Guntermann owned and ran a print shop and made the card.

The final page was holiday greetings from my Dad's cousin Jan in 1996.

In between were generations of connection across a continent and through some of the greatest atrocities our planet has ever witnessed.

This included a letter from Mr. Guntermann the father to my Uncle Ernie explaining what had happened during the war.

The notebook also held receipts from care packages our family had sent theirs after the war.

It had instructions from Grandpa Max, my father's father, about what Mr. Guntermann should do to help our family receive the reparations to which the German government had determined we were entitled.

More than 100 pages long, the notebook was a treasure trove that unlocked the answers to questions I had had for many years about Dad's background, but had struggled to have answered directly by him.

Sitting in a cafe at which our ancestors had eaten, the Guntermanns and Gabriele met and talked about our upcoming visit.

Yesterday, Gabriele sent the invitation to the event she will hold at the Great Synagogue.

Entitled, "A Celebration of Life," the invitation is set against the backdrop of my great-grandfather's stately and angular yellow house.

It welcomes people in the community to learn about our family's history in the town, and, by extension, Essen's Jewish community.

The event will have music and, afterward, a reception, the invitation said.

The invitation started to reinforce the trip's imminent arrival.

Buying those tickets cemented it.

At this point in life, I've been around long enough to know that positive results and realized dreams and deeply held desires do not automatically happen.

Far from it, in fact.

But pressing that "Submit" button moved us a lot closer to moving this particular vision of family knowledge and experience from our head and hearts and into the world.

Today, that was enough to make me feel relief that we're finally, actually making this happen, grateful that the tickets were there and eager for whatever lies ahead for all of us.

I don't know exactly what is going to happen, or how Dad or anyone are going to find the time.

But I do know that I'm thrilled that we'll be there together to find out.

Our plane flies from O'Hare to Frankfurt in less than six weeks.