DAVID O. SOLMITZ

DAVID O. SOLMITZ

BRUNSWICK

Author David O. Solmitz’s father endured the horrors of the Holocaust, but spoke little of the trauma.

Solmitz, who grew up in Brunswick, said his father didn’t discuss being imprisoned just north of his hometown of Munich, Germany, didn’t discuss his capture after Kristallnacht — the Nov. 9, 1938, Nazi pogrom against German and Austrian Jews — and didn’t discuss the guilt of surviving the systematic slaughter that claimed more than 6 million lives by 1945.

While his father survived internment at the concentration camp in Dachau, he did not survive the lingering guilt of escaping while others remained behind.

Bowdoin College graduate David O. Solmitz, who grew up in Brunswick, will read from his new book, “Piecing Scattered Souls: Maine, Germany, Mexico, China and Beyond” at 7 p.m. today at Gulf of Maine Books, 134 Maine St., Brunswick.

Bowdoin College graduate David O. Solmitz, who grew up in Brunswick, will read from his new book, “Piecing Scattered Souls: Maine, Germany, Mexico, China and Beyond” at 7 p.m. today at Gulf of Maine Books, 134 Maine St., Brunswick.

He ended up a professor of philosophy at Bowdoin College, but his later years were characterized by trips in and out of mental institutions, unable to teach.

In 1962, Walter Solmitz committed suicide. Survivor’s guilt, his son told The Times Record on Wednesday, silently tormented the Bowdoin philosophy professor for the decades after his release and flight from Germany in 1938.

Tonight, David Solmitz will return to Brunswick to share a reading from his recent historical memoir titled “Piecing Scattered Souls: Maine, Germany, Mexico, China and Beyond.” The book details his father’s trials, his personal travels and his wife’s experience living through Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution in China.

With original research, interviews and personal memories, Solmitz weaves these histories with lessons he said translate to today.

Solmitz said his father’s chilling account of the experience in Dachau depict a society on the brink of atrocity, where even “good people” in the German secret police, the SS, “were simply forced to carry out these horrendous deeds.”

Solmitz’s mother saw this, too. Following Kristallnacht, Solmitz said his parents decided to turn themselves in. At the Nazi headquarters in Munich, Solmitz said, his mother approached an SS officer “with kind eyes.”

“She talked to him and he was very attentive,” Solmitz said, “and he began to give her advice.”

Secure passports, the officer told her, and hide them. At the time, Solmitz said, women were not being imprisoned and his mother’s work to secure passports and visas eventually freed his father for emigration after a six-week imprisonment.

After a year-long delay in England, the couple arrived in the United States.

As his father left the camp, “the others said, ‘please let our wives know where we are and that we’re OK,’” Solmitz said, “but they had no idea when or whether they would be able to get out.”

His father, “a philosopher by nature,” had already written grim predictions during his imprisonment, Solmitz said, that the Nazi reign would devolve into genocide.

“In his writing, (my father) goes much deeper than just a superficial description of the camp,” Solmitz said.

After the end of the war, while a professor at Bowdoin, his father’s foresight would continue to torment him.

In a “chapel talk” in 1948 — two years after joining the faculty — Solmitz’s father predicted perennial turbulence for the budding state of Israel and a continued dependence on Western support, which Solmitz said “has certainly turned out to be true.”

Solmitz said that the experiences in Nazi Germany made his father forever after “very conscious as to what was happening in the U.S. in particular.”

His father found Wisconsin Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s 1950s campaign to rout out American Communists horrifying, Solmitz said.

The construction of the Berlin Wall troubled his father deeply.

Solmitz, who graduated from Bowdoin College with a degree in history, said that he carries on his father’s vigilance. Images of police in full riot gear clubbing and pepper spraying Occupy Wall Street protesters and a national defense bill that could authorize indefinite detainment of suspected terrorists, including U.S. citizens are “very terrifying events” to Solmitz.

“It suggests that we are not healing but rather we are reacting in very dangerous ways,” Solmitz said. “ It is these kinds of things that both of my parents have experienced and my wife experienced in China.”

Through the network of stories in Solmitz’s book, he said he hopes to show that “ we need to change the approach on how we deal with people who are different from ourselves.”

In writing the book, Solmitz said he had barriers of his own to overcome. During successive trips to Germany to trace his family’s stories, Solmitz said he had to “overcome (his) own feelings toward the Germans.”

Meeting people in his father’s hometown of Braunschweig (which translates to Brunswick in English), Solmitz said, softened the history he knew through his father’s troubled relationship with his homeland.

The lesson he learned is the same he hopes to convey in his book.

“We all have the same feelings and emotions and we probably have more in common than we have in terms of differences,” Solmitz said.

Growing up in Brunswick, Solmitz said that feeling was what drove him to make friends with fellow students from a part of town known as “Moodyville” during his years at the Longfellow School.

“It was the worst slum area in Brunswick,” Solmitz said.

Solmitz said his visits to friends in that neighborhood inspired his first venture into social work, starting a project with the help of Brunswick Coal and Lumber Company owner Bob Morrill to help weatherize homes in “Moodyville” and on lower Mill Street in preparation for the winter.

Solmitz said his father’s compassion fueled his social work and also his nearly 40 years of teaching, 30 of those teaching high school social studies in Madison.

However, Solmitz said the lessons from his father made him somewhat “controversial as a public school teacher because of (his) approach to a democratic classroom.”

“I think the approach we’re using now in our educational system — to teach to the standards of corporate America and continue to test students to see if they have achieved the goals established by these standards is very dangerous,” Solmitz said. “The focus is more and more upon standards and that’s a real shame… if (students) are constantly intimidated by testing and we don’t make an attempt to interest them or relate to their own lives, we’re going to lose more and more of them.”

Through his story and his talks, Solmitz said his aim is to bring people together.

“My hope is that, through a story of this nature, we begin to realize that we are all connected and we really have an obligation to developing greater acceptance and understanding of people,” Solmitz said.


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