Rosemarie Haymon had a recurring dream throughout most of her childhood. She dreamt of a small baby being left in the snow, and the sound of Nazi German soldiers marching nearby.
Only the dream Haymon kept having really occurred, and she was the actual baby. Haymon’s mother, a 16-year-old girl, left Rosemarie there in the German winter of 1956.
Haymon, in many ways, is like a lot of children of Holocaust survivors, who carry the emotional scars of their parents.
“Those nightmares plagued my childhood,” said Haymon, now 50.
But her wounds go even deeper because she’s the child of a black German Holocaust survivor.
Haymon, who was adopted by black parents in 1958 at age 2 while in a German orphanage, didn’t discover the truth about her past until she was an adult.
For the last 11 years, she’s tried to heal her wounds and those of Holocaust children and other actual black German Holocaust survivors as president of the Black German Cultural Society, an organization founded in the 1970s.
She’s shared the stories of black Germans across the country. Haymon will visit Oak Park next week, talking to students at schools in District 97 and District 200, along with schools in Forest Park and River Forest. She will give a talk at Oak Park Public Library on Monday night at 7.
The Dist. 97 Multicultural Education Center and the Gwendolyn Brooks Middle School Diversity Committee are sponsoring her visit.
“It’s a very important part of history that people should know about,” said committee chair and Brooks teacher Gail Liebman. “We are just hoping to bring this issue to the people of Oak Park.”
The Holocaust is well known, but few know of the black German’s experience, said Haymon, who has healed some of those personal wounds from the past. She’s candid about her life before and after discovering her past though she doesn’t want people to focus just on her story.
The Black German Cultural Society has 100 names on its mailing list, said Haymon, who lives on the east coast in New Jersey. Members stay in contact mainly via e-mail. She found others like her using the Internet during her discovery journey. Most are the children of survivors; a few are actual survivors. Many have spent a large part of their lives coming to terms with their past, which in some cases included abuse, depression and denial.
“We all have a lot of issues, and the healing came in finding each other,” said Haymon, “because we could talk to somebody that felt like we feel, and experienced what we experienced.”
There are at least 5,000 blacks of German decent living in the United States or those with multicultural ties to Germany.
Haymon joined the Black German Cultural Society shortly after discovering that she was not only adopted but the daughter of a Danish girl, who at age four was living in a German concentration camp toward the end of the war. Her birth mother, Ilse Möllgaard, by the time she was 16, was working in the home of an American forces soldier of Persian decent.
She was raped by the soldier and kicked out of the home when she became pregnant. Haymon said her birth mother told her the whole story when the two finally met a couple of years after Rosemarie found out she was adopted. They were estranged off and on, but Haymon said she can’t judge her mother harshly.
And hearing her birth mother’s story helped Haymon understood her childhood nightmares.
“That dream that I kept having of freezing in the snow and the German soldiers, I found out that wasn’t a dream when I met my mother,” said Haymon. “When I told her about that dream she said, ‘I did throw you in the snow.’ She basically told me the story.”
Haymon said she had other dreams of a baby screaming in the crib and no one coming to pick her up.
She found similar stories among survivors”and others connected to the survivors.
“I may not be a holocaust survivor, but I’m certainly the fruit of it,” she said. “It’s my heritage.”
Haymon, who has a son, 22, and daughter, 26, said some adoptees can’t deal with their past. Some members of the organization, she said, had to leave because they couldn’t deal with the pain and feelings of isolation.
Despite being “a person of color,” Haymon said it’s been hard for them to fit in anywhere. She said some never find out who they really are.
“It’s horrible to have no identity, coming from that childhood. Imagine all of us not knowing our identity and then finding out on the Internet that there’s someone like you,” said Haymon. “You always know you don’t belong; you just don’t know where you belong. We know what we feel like, and we know we don’t fit anywhere else.”
Haymon said one member, a woman in her 70s, was a child in the concentration camp, but she rarely speaks of it. She also said some have turned to substance abuse and even committed suicide.
Oddly enough, if it weren’t for her birth mother abandoning her, Haymon might have turned out the same.
The family Haymon’s birth mother left her with didn’t want her, and they took her to an orphanage. The family that originally adopted her brought her back because they really wanted a boy, she said.
She ended up being adopted by a U.S. Army husband and wife, who brought her to America. She said her adoptive parents, both black, showed her nothing but love. It was other relatives, though, who treated her badly, never really accepting her into the family, even though her light-skinned complexion was very similar to her parents. Her parents eventually told her that she was adopted, but she had to find out for herself.
“It broke my heart,” she confessed, “because my search was to prove that I wasn’t adopted; to really put those mean relatives who said I didn’t belong out of their misery.”
Soon after, she changed her first name back to her birth name, Rosemarie. Her adoptive parents had named her Wanda Lynn Haymon. She learned of her real name from a baptismal certificate that her mother kept, the only identification from her childhood other than her U.S. birth certificate and her passport. She still uses Lynn in her name.
Haymon married a Spanish man when she was 26, but they divorced around the time she learned of her adoption. Her children, Brandi and Brandon, carry both their parents’ last names.
Other black Germans find their own ways to identify themselves, she said.
The mostly 500,000 or so blacks living in Germany today use the term afro-deutsch or Afro-German to describe themselves.
Her organization provides descendents and adoptees with a support system and research tools. During her search, she discovered that her birth mother, who died last year, had three other daughters, none of whom are black. One of Haymon’s sisters, Debbie, who lives in Boston, actually had been trying to find Haymon for years. The two met a number of years ago and have remained close. Haymon and Debbie are the second and third oldest of their mother’s children. They’re still trying to locate the oldest sister.
Haymon said the stories of black Germans and of their experience need to be told.
“We don’t have a culture. We are every culture. That’s the message,” she said. “If we can come to terms with the multiculturism in ourselves, perhaps we can help the world deal with it.”