1930 - July 8, 2013
Many students who attended General H. H. Arnold High School, later Wiesbaden High School in Wiesbaden, Germany remember Mr. Willie Kolinski - a math teacher who had a teaching career that spanned the better part of 40 years.
But not many knew Willie Kolinski's life story, his background or what he endured to be able to stand in front of that classroom, day after day, year after year, tucking his hand in the waistband behind his back, rocking on his heels and having fun reading the school cafeteria's menu for the day...
'Ladies and Gentlemen, rrrrrrrrree-con-shtructed chicken!'
Once you know Willie Kolinski's story, you may never think of him the same way again.
Berthold and Fanny Kolinski, married on June 9, 1929 in Berlin, Germany. Their ceremony was officated by a Rabbi and then the Kolinski's moved to Frankfurt.
Berthold Kolinski, born in Frankfurt, was the son of the widow Betty Kolinski. He was a manufacturer and merchant for leather goods. Fanny Kolinski came from Nussloch, her parents were merchant Louis Neumann and Philippina Neumann (Rosenwald). Berthold and Fanny had two sons, Willie Markus, born in 1930 and Leo, born in 1931.
Fanny and Willie Kolinski
The house they lived in on Mauerweg in Frankfurt (now Friedberger Landstrasse 17) belonged to Fanny Kolinski's brother, Julius Neumann, who, like many Jewish people at the time, fled Germany, to Paris in 1933 and later to New York.
Their residence was a multi-story proprety that housed several families and Willie's father managed the property in the absence of Julius.
In 1939, as anti-Jewish sentiment escalated in Germany, the Kolinski family themselves fled to Antwerp, where Willie's paternal grandmother, Betty and her daughter had been living since 1934. After German troops marched into Belgium, they fled to southern France, where Berthold Kolinski was arrested in 1940. He never saw his family again.
Fanny Kolinski arrived with Willie and Leo at Rivesaltes, a military camp located in southwestern France near the border with Spain. Rivesaltes' darkest period happened in 1942, when 2,251 Jewish people, including 110 children, were transferred from Rivesaltes via the Drancy Internment Camp in northern France, and then on to the Nazi extermination camp, Auschwitz, where they were murdered. Willie Kolinski's parents were among them.
But Willie and Leo were not.
Despite the danger of being caught, Fanny arranged for Willie and Leo to escape Rivesaltes- seeing them off was the last contact 12 year old Willie and 11 year old Leo would have with their mother. The boys were taken to a city called Opio, near Grasse, in southeast France, through a Jewish organization, and they were kept hidden there by Madame Diane van Dommelen at her chateau.
After the liberation by the US Army on August 24, 1944, Willie and Leo lived with another brother of their mother, in the Neumann family. He had also fled Germany with his family and was hiding on the southeast coast of France, in Nice.
Willie's grandmother, Betty Kolinski was arrested in Belgium and deported from Malines / Mechelen to Auschwitz on October 31, 1942, and was murdered there.
Date of birth: 05/31/1901
Escaped to: Belgium 1939, to France 1940
Detention: June 1, 1940 Gurs, January 30, 1941 Rivesaltes
Deportation: October 21, 1942 Drancy, Auschwitz
Date of death: unknown
Murdered in Auschwitz
Fanny Kolinski (Neumann)
Date of birth: 01/12/1895
Fled/Escaped to: Belgium 1939, France 1940
Detention: June 1, 1940 Gurs, January 30, 1941 Rivesaltes, September 13, 1942 Drancy
Deportation: September 16, 1942 Auschwitz
Date of death: unknown
Murdered in Auschwitz
Pictured above and below: In the city of Frankfurt, historically protected plaques are prominently displayed on the house(s) the Kolinski family lived in prior to WWII.
On July 18, 1947, Willie and Leo Kolinski went with the Neumann family on the ship 'Sobieski' to New York. There they were received by Julius Neumann. In 1952, Willie and Leo received American passports. After serving in the U.S. military, they both studied at Columbia University, in New York.
Willie became a teacher and Leo became an optometrist. Leo stayed in America, and sadly, ended up taking his own life on April 2, 1998, by falling from a bridge.
Willie worked as a teacher for the children of the US armed forces, first in the US, then in Ankara, Turkey and later in Bitburg, Germany. In 1962 he switched to teaching at the high school level and headed to Wiesbaden. He started in the Science department and moved between science and math as needed.
Willie Kolinski was also involved in several student groups and activities. He coached the swim team for a couple of years, as well as a few technical clubs. When it came to STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), he was a 'quadrupal threat.'
In 1971, Willie met Ingrid Hartmann in Wiesbaden. They became life partners, eventually marrying in 1992.
Willie Kolinski spent the rest of his life in Wiesbaden, becoming a teaching legend in his own time, as well as a permanent fixture at the high school and in Wiesbaden. He made a home there.
Addendum from Lindy, Class of '88: To this day, many former students sing Mr. Kolinski's praises because they learned so much from him. As a late-80s under-achieving math student in Junior year, one of the most delightful things to do in algebra class was to talk, laugh, whisper, make noises, anything to interupt the class. Invariably, such things would cause Mr. Kolinski to pause, look over his shoulder, lift his eyebrow, turn and approach the front row of desks, shake his chalk and say, 'No more Micky Mouse, Frau Hirschman und Frau Duplicki!'
-but the sternness in his voice never sounded believeable and there was always a sense of bemusement that accompanied everything he said that wasn't related to math or science. ...not to mention the corner of his mouth often twitched with a supressed smile...
Doing impersonations of Mr. Kolinski over the years has always been something I love to do, because the man was SUCH a character. I genuinely loved studying his mannerisms, and observing him as much as, I suspect, he observed us. But what has become clear is that many of us had no idea just how much character this man had. To have lived through what he did and still find the joy in life, I can't find the words to describe the awe that he has inspired.
Willie Kolinski died on June 8, 2013 in Wiesbaden. His widow, Ingrid donated his extensive HH Arnold yearbook collection to the school and the school made arrangements to send the majority of them to the Alumni Association. A small, but treasured part of Mr. Kolinski's life lives with us.
Willie Kolinski showed up to class everyday with a spring in his step and a zest for life. Looking back as an adult, I can see that he truly appreciated the opportunities he was given, the life he was given through tremendous sacrifice. And against staggering odds, this man was an absolute success in life.
I would never have guessed what put that spring in his step every day, but I think I know now.
Rest in Peace, Mr. Kolinski.
Even in death, you teach us to value the time we have and the life we've been given.
Willie Markus Kolinski