Treppenwitz
 
Summer 1939. Mother with me (left) and John (right) in Le Corubert. We were staying with the Huchon family (Normandy).

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Physician's Memoir a Paean to America
by Aaron Leibel, Arts Editor for Washington Jewish Week

As young children in Poland in the 1930s, Oscar Mann and his brother, John, were enthralled by the Adolf Hitler they saw portrayed on newsreels.
     "Believe it or not, our parents never fretted over our misdirected fascination," the District resident writes in his self-published memoir (A Journey of Hope, Hamilton Books). "They must have felt, as many did, that Hitler's time would pass."
     This "denial" cost Mann's father his life.
     Mann's parents had immigrated to Paris in 1931 from Dombrowitz in eastern Poland. He was born in in the French capital three years later. In 1940, the family joined the mass exodus from Paris in 1940 to escape the advancing German army. Later that summer, hearing that the Germans were not mistreating people, they returned to the capital city.
     French police arrested his father in 1941. He was soon turned over to the Germans, who sent him to Auschwitz where he was murdered in the summer of 1942.
     The family fled again to southern France, living out the war on a farm owned by righteous gentiles.
     After a trip to America in 1948, the three returned to Paris, but Mann's thoughts were on the U.S. and Washington, which they had visited.
     "I had fallen in love with America and Washington, DC!" he writes. "I began to talk about my return to Washington and nothing else."
     In 1953, with help from relatives and the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, Mann got his papers, intending to gain citizenship and then help his mother and brother immigrate. Learning of a loophole in the law that allowed soldiers to become citizens in 90 days instead of waiting five years, he joined the U.S. Army and two years later was joined in America by his mother and brother.
     Both sons decided to become physicians ("doctors were held in great esteem [in Europe] and the profession appealed to me early on," he says). They studied in the George Washington University premed program and went to Georgetown University's medical school. An internist-cardiologist, Mann is a professor emeritus at the medical school.
     (His practice included caring for PBS' Jim Lehrer, who wrote the book's foreword, and "so many VIPs that I felt uncomfortable," he says, without naming names.)
     In a sense, Journey of Hope is a paean to America. "Mother, John and I experienced first-hand all the hope that America holds for newcomers," writes Mann, who belongs to the Conservative Tifereth Israel Congregation in D.C. "We were not disappointed, we found our destiny in this golden land."
     And it is a testament to optimism. "Hope is very sustaining," Mann says. "I was hopeful in coming to America and hopeful in becoming a doctor. People should never give up."
     At the same time, though, Mann worries about America today, seeing a frightening parallel between this generation's refusal to face the danger that terrorism poses and Europe's attitude toward Hitler during the 1930s.
     "We were complacent then and we are complacent now," he says. "I don't know if Washington is a safe place to live."




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      © Oscar Mann, 2006