Dave asked me what I knew about the letter of notarization that accompanied the falsified Paraguayan passport. “Nothing,” I replied, “but I’ll see what I can find out.”
I looked again at the letter. The notary’s stamp was clear. I did some internet sleuthing and I found his son, Avner Herzfeld, living part-time in Switzerland and part-time in Israel. And with a bit more sleuthing, I was in touch with him.
Nothing much came of our initial contact, but then, a year later, I was on my way to both Switzerland and Israel and I asked him if we could meet. I wanted to show him the letter that his father signed, which helped keep my grandparents, mother, and uncle alive. I wanted to hear stories about this man who falsified a document to save a family of fellow Jews.
We decided to meet at Ben Gurion Airport upon our arrival in Tel Aviv. Avner Herzfeld, and his partner, Judy Navon-Dreyfuss, and my son, who is studying in Jerusalem, were there to greet Dave and me when we emerged from Israeli passport control.
The five of us sat in a crowded, noisy coffee shop in the arrivals hall. Amid discussions in Hebrew, Arabic, Spanish and French, we stuck to English and we shared stories.
Avner told me that his father, Ignaz, was an attorney in Basel, Switzerland, and a stickler for rules. Once, when he was traveling on a crowded train, the conductor didn’t have time to stamp his ticket so it couldn’t be used again before Ignaz had to disembark. Ignaz was so honest that after he was off the train, he knocked on the window to get the conductor’s attention and then he ripped his ticket in two, in effect cancelling his own ticket and showing the conductor his honesty.
Avner said his father never would have falsified any document, but in this case, morality was more important than legality and that must have been why his father notarized this letter.
We kept talking, trying to find the connection between the two families. How did Ignaz Herzfeld come to help the Lichtensterns? Did he know Egbert de Jong (I write about Mr. de Jong in Tutti’s Promise)? No. Did he work with the metal industry? No. Did he know Jakob Jorysch? Yes! Avner’s family was good friends with the Jorysch family, as was my grandfather! We found the connection — a common friend — who must have been the link for this notarization.
But I still have questions: Did Ignaz Herzfeld notarize other passports? Did the law firm keep the original passports? How did the documents get from the Polish legation to Ignaz Herzfeld, then to Egbert de Jong, and finally to my grandfather?
This story isn’t over — not yet.