Rob Wertheim, Son of Fred Wertheim
My father, Fred, was born in Germany in 1925. The son of a baker, he lived in a village of 2,000 people. The town had very few Jews, ten families to be exact. As a young boy, my father had to look among the non-Jews for playmates.
By the time my father was eight, the Aryan philosophy of Hitler was gaining acceptance by most Germans. His best friends did not want to play with him anymore. His parents, who were prospering in the bakery business, held to the illusion that Hitler would lose his popularity and that things would get better once again for the Jews. Instead they got worse.
My dad’s family finally decided to leave Germany for America. However, wanting to leave and getting out of the country were two different things. Because of immigration quotas, they needed to apply to the Consulate for clearance. They were number 48,878 on the list of families waiting to leave Germany.
Meanwhile, on July 2, 1938, my father became bar mitzvah. He was the last Jewish boy in his district to have the ceremony. Four months later came Kristallnacht. His synagogue, along with hundreds of others, was destroyed. Six days later the Jewish children were expelled from the schools. At the same time, Jewish males 13 years and older were being conscripted for “labor camps.” My father, small for his age, was overlooked. Before long, entire Jewish families were being deported to the death camps. Yet, for some mysterious reason, his family was spared. Their immigration number came up, and in May of 1941 they left what had become Hitler’s Germany and traveled to America.
My father learned the English language quickly and, after having been in the States only two years, he was drafted into the U.S. Army. He took part in the invasion of Europe on D-Day. He fought his way through France and across the Rhine River, ironically, into his native Germany, where he was captured by the Germans! My father overheard the Nazis say they planned to shoot their captives, yet for some reason they changed their minds and took my father to a prisoner of war camp. The conditions were terrible, but he managed to survive. The Allies eventually liberated the POWs, and my father was rescued from Hitler once again.
Knowing what my father had been through caused me to be doubtful of Christians, since I held Christianity responsible for the Holocaust. That was until I read the Scriptures and came to realize that humanity is sinful and that those who used Jesus’ name to further their cause of anti-Semitism were following their own evil instincts, not the teachings of Jesus. Jesus taught people to love one another, and the fact that Jesus was a Jew further confirms that Christians who seriously follow Jesus’ teachings should love Jewish people.
My brother Steve was the first one in our family to become a believer in Jesus. My father was extremely upset about Steve’s newfound faith, so much so that when I, too, became a believer in Jesus, I was afraid to tell him. But on September 29, 1975 my father became convinced that Jesus is the Messiah spoken of in the Hebrew Scriptures. That night he actually saw a vision of Jesus standing in his bedroom doorway. I believe he needed something that extraordinary to overcome his years of narrow escapes from harrowing experiences. My father once remarked that he escaped from Hitler as a refugee, and then he was liberated as a prisoner of war, but he was never truly free until Messiah came into his life.
Rob Wertheim is a senior missionary serving with the San Francisco branch of Jews for Jesus. He has been on staff since 1988 and has participated in and led several outreaches during that time. Rob’s father and mother are Holocaust survivors, originally from Germany and are also believers in Jesus. His wife, Sandy, is a Jewish believer as well. However, she is the only one in her family that knows the Lord. Rob and Sandy have three grown children, Saul, Rose and Josh.