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78 years after Hans Maier’s death, his legacy is recalled, renewed & honored

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78 years after Hans Maier’s death, his legacy is recalled, renewed & honored

Five descendants of Hans Maier at Stopersteine Ceremony, 5/17/15, Frankfurt, Germany (Peggy West, Gwen Lopez-Cohen, Gabriel Cohen, Betsy Lopez and Jacob Cohen)
By Peggy West

I never met my grandfather, Hans Maier, who died before I was born as a result of suicide in 1937 when he was 49 years old.  I was surprised and amazed when I learned that so many years after he “gave up on his life,” his legacy was being honored in Frankfurt where he had lived and worked.

Five descendants representing three generations of his family traveled to Frankfurt in May to participate in the installation of a stolpersteine (“stumble stone”) in the sidewalk in front of the his last residence in Frankfurt, at Fuchshohl 27.  Little could he have imagined that he would have 27 direct American descendants, including 7 grandchildren, 12 great grandchildren and 8 great-great grandchildren by the time his work and life were rediscovered in his native Germany.

The ceremony at his last address was attended by more than 50 people.  In addition to the five descendants in the picture posted here, those attending included Dr. Bernard Heidenreich, a representative of the city of Frankfurt; the director of a German Association for Public And Private Welfare on which my grandfather had served on the founding board in the 1920s; and the present head master of Lessing Gymnasium where my grandfather completed his Abitur in 1907. 

It is difficult to imagine what this honor and remembrance might have meant to my mother, Hanna Maier Barrows; to my uncle, Henry Maier, a much-admired professor of social work at the University of Washington for more than 30 years; and to my aunt Margaret.  All of them died without knowing about this event honoring their father’s life and work. 

My great aunt Mathilde Maier once recounted to me that she “watched the joy go out of my mother” while at age 22 she sat by her father’s bed in the hospital as he slipped away. 

Hans Maier's Stumble Stone

My mother spoke very little about her father’s death other than to say that “Hitler killed him.”   My uncle Henry recalled wondering if the hospital had done all it could during those days of political and racial persecution to save his father’s life. 

At the “stumble stone” installation, my grandfather’s death was spoken of as “flight into death as a result of Nazi persecution.” Through the events surrounding the stolperstein installation and the generous hospitality of the German sponsors of my grandfather’s stone (Ulrich Stascheit and Hanna Eckhardt), we learned much about the legacy and history we carry that was mostly unspoken of in our family. 

I would like to think that we have honored my grandfather through the life we are living and contributions all the descendants have and will make that in some ways continue his legacy and life’s work. 

His descendants include two social workers, a child psychiatrist, three lawyers, five university faculty members, advocates for public policy and contributions to medicine, journalism, business, education and the arts.  Among the great grandchildren and great-great grandchildren some are also continuing the legacy of Judaism of his family.

The “stumble stone” is a permanent remembrance of a life cut too short by tyranny and persecution. The remembrance so many years later lets us know that his memory and legacy are not lost, and it provides some lost family history for us the descendants. 

It is sad that my grandfather’s immediate family – my mother, uncle and aunt, as well as his brother Max who lived many years in Brazil after 1938 – did not live long enough to know of and participate in this event.  

Peggy West is a member of the Forefront Advisory Board with more than 45 years of experience as a social worker including 30 years as a clinical faculty member of UW School of Social Work and 20 years of work as a national, regional, state and local leader in suicide prevention.  She received her MSW from UW School of Social Work(’68) and a PhD from UW College of Education in Educational Psychology (’84).  She recently retired as Senior Advisory for the national Suicide Prevention Resource Center.

How has suicide affected you or your family? If you have a First Person story to tell, please send your essay to ffront@uw.edu. (Your essay should be limited to about 800 words.)