Saturday, April 12, 2008

Some years ago Paul and Bertha Bonart were looking for someone to “house and dog sit” while they were on vacation, and I was looking for a place where I could get started on a dissertation. We were introduced by a mutual friend, and that first meeting blossomed into a friendship that I have treasured for many years. In time, Margaret, too, became a portion of that treasure.

Lately I have come to know several people who have lived into their late nineties, and to my mind at least, their lives in each case seem divisible into distinct periods. That is certainly true of Paul. His long life was marked by distinct changes in geography, language and focus. He and Bertha once told me that their experience in the underground had led them to a decision: They would find ways to contribute to the political and cultural life wherever they lived, but they would not put down roots too deeply in any situation. Their Berkeley home was the place they lived the longest. But they never let those years of stability lead to stagnation. They welcomed new ideas and were willing to engage in political and philosophical discussions with anyone. Several times when they needed help with yard work, I recommended some of my students from Holy Names University. In each case an acquaintance that began with labor in the yard concluded with the young gardener being invited to conversations in the house.

Paul’s life began in Germany, and he was clearly the product of the best that European education could offer at that time. His first language was, of course, German, but when he and Bertha left Germany they agreed to leave behind that language with its painful associations. They chose to learn and to speak the language of whatever country they were living in, even when they were alone together. That led to long periods of speaking Brazilian Portuguese, Spanish (with a Portuguese accent!), and English.

Occasionally, Paul would refer to himself as an “old jail bird.” Years after the war he once tried to get his record expunged, but the representatives of German government refused, arguing that however one might evaluate the laws of that time, they were in fact the laws of the land, and he had in fact broken them. His “record” was a badge of honor in the minds of us who knew him. While he could joke about some of the episodes of his imprisonment, on the whole it was no laughing matter. He once said to me that if he had to face arrest, solitary confinement and imprisonment a second time he wasn’t sure he could do it. He certainly stood on moral high ground, and could be very forceful in argument. But for all that he was generally not arrogant. He respected the fact that there were at least a few in Germany who hated the Nazi movement but felt that they could not risk active opposition. When he and Bertha left Germany it was because they felt that in the years while Paul was in prison the Nazis had consolidated their power and their control over communications to the point where any form of public opposition would fail. It would simply and immediately be snuffed out before anyone could take notice.

I heard many stories from the Bausch and Lomb years in both their Brazilian and New York phases. Characteristic of Paul’s creativity and technical competence is what occurred when I happened to mention that I was wearing new glasses. Paul asked for them, held them up to the light and read the prescription from the lenses, advising me to verify that what I had was identical with what the ophthalmologist had prescribed. It seems he had employed a number of strategies to open markets for B&L products in Brazil.. One was to offer to teach a course in writing eyeglass prescriptions for the Brazilian medical schools of that day. He spent many hours seated at the scope that calculates prescriptions, to the point where he could read the prescriptions back off the completed lenses. Bertha meanwhile was completing her university degree and then going on to art school. As I write this I can look up to see a copy of the poster she did for the 1985 Summer Festival at Robert Mondavi winery in Calistoga. The word “Jazz” runs down the length of the poster and the colors and movement of the dancer clearly evoke Brazil. After the years of risk and fear, Brazil must have been a healing refuge, but it was not a place of stagnation. The Bonarts and the Spences frequently went places as a foursome. Paul and Margaret Spence even entered (and won!) a samba contest in which most of the other participants were from the Brazilian Navy.

When the Bonarts moved to Berkeley it was in order to participate in the cultural and political life of the Bay Area. At times their home was a center for music. At other times the focus was on political and philosophical discourse. I gave them a copy of my completed dissertation, mostly as a gesture of gratitude for their friendship. In surprisingly short order they phoned to tell me they had read it and to ask when I could come over for the discussion. They really had read it!

I will miss them.

-Margaret Campbell

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Dear Paul, wherever you are, you know I am thinking of you. Remember we first met in Frankfurt, Germany in 1961 working for Bausch & Lomb.

I showed you Munich on your next trip to Germany and we met again in New York. You sponsored my immigration and introduced me to my subsequent job at Bausch.

You stood in at my wedding. You were instrumental in our decision to move to California. We lived with you and Bertha for some time. You have been my father figure, mentor, critic and good friend for most of my life and I will miss you.

Barbara Maxwell

I have known Paul for over 55 years, when I first met him, he seemed like a giant (I was only 8 years old). He was a great friend, able to listen and enjoy his friends, and he loyally kept in touch. I miss him very much already.

Sara Seltzer
I think that Paul Bonart was without any question the single most intelligent person I have ever met. What was so particularly remarkable about him was that, unlike many intelligent people--men particularly--he had a genuine humility about him. Mind you, he had strong opinions that he was never afraid to voice, and it was difficult to win him around to a way of thinking that was not his. But he always respected an intelligent and arrived-at point of view in another person, even as he disagreed with you.

The other indelible thing about Paul was his great and abiding kindness and warmth as a human being. I believe that no-one has ever put it more succinctly than Jean Jacques Rousseau who wrote: "What wisdom can you find that is greater than kindness?" Indeed, this quote describes Paul in a nut-shell, and that kindness shown out of him like a beacon.

I had the singular privilege to know Paul from the time I was a little boy. He and Bertha were my Parent's great friends, their history being linked all the way back to political days in pre-Nazi Germany. I remember the Bonarts visiting us when I was five, or maybe six, and I vividly remember how they came from Rochester to Sacramento when my Father died in 1956. Indeed, I can hardly remember a time when Bertha and Paul were not part of our lives, even if just in letters.

I valued them not only as friends of the family, but as inspiring role models (along with my own Parents, and our dear friends Thelma and Irving Wiener) for what a successful relationship between two deeply committed human beings should look like. The way that these couples supported and believed in one-another and the way they interacted as separate but equal entities was truly revelatory. And when Paul and Margaret married, after the deaths of their beloved spouses, their relationship entered that same constellation.

When Paul and Margaret moved to Huntington Beach I was selfishly sorry, realizing that I might never see them again. We continued our contact with phone calls and letters, and particularly after my beloved Mother died in 2001, Paul was my very last link to the world of my Parents.

I was especially proud of him for writing the book that everyone else found too painful to write--the unvarnished history of the ISK, and of the events that led up to the Hitler debacle. Unlike others in this movement whose memories became curiously selective when recalling history, Paul was unafraid to speak the truth. And speak it he did, with precision and clarity and courage.

For years, whenever Bertha and Paul and my Mother would get together the conversation would invariably turn to their shared history; and what always amazed me was how reluctant they had been to tell lies, EVEN TO SAVE THEIR OWN LIVES. The moral stature that this implied staggered me, and made me feel as tho they were giant beings from another age of the world. And I believe they were.

And now Paul is gone, the last of the last. But he leaves a huge legacy of friendship and kindness and honor that few people could have amassed, even over a life-span of twice 97 years. And although we will never hear his kind and unmistakable "Hello" again, or receive a silly forwarded email, or a cogent & concisely worded assessment of the current political situation, he will continue to shine brightly for those of us who had the very singular privilege to know and love him.

Franklin John Kakies--March 2008
A Few Words Saying Goodbye to Paul Bonart from Madeleine FLETCHER

It came as a great blow to me when Paul Bonart died because in the last few years I had come to depend upon his kindness, good sense and long life experience against which I would check my own conclusions and hypotheses on world history themes that I am writing about. He would disagree or point out other sides of the issue, but always helpfully, never disparaging or contentiously. It was an easy relationship because we had known each other for a long time, since my childhood in Rochester, NY and he had been a family friend. For me it was quite heartening that the grown-up I had known and admired when I was nine or ten or so did not develop feet of clay when I got to know him again almost half a century later. Indeed, I as an adult was able to appreciate him much more as we exchanged stories and views about the “real world” about which a child is ignorant. Even as a child, I had benefited from his encouragement. I recall that one day he was waiting in the living room for the adults to get organized and I was trying to read music at the piano, I forget whether at his suggestion or not. I became frustrated at my slow progress and I was at the point of giving up, shifting my weight to get down from the piano bench, and he said “no, no, stay, keep on going, you will get it”, at which point I did continue at it. This is somehow for me an important memory, a statement of moral value, and resembles my sister Pat’s memory that I read in her e-mail in the sense of its having been an essential encouragement, not as adults often try to curry favor with children by flattering them about their accomplishment, but simply in the act of giving the child a moral certainty that even in the face of present failure, persistence and continuous effort is a norm. I remember Bertha Bonart, his first wife, having come over many times for dinner and later while Paul (violin) was playing trios with my mother (cello) and grandmother (piano) Bertha would come in to my room and visit with me and ask me about my books and toys. Whatever we were doing, some project would occur to us and so very often there was some impediment to its realization, and I will always remember, the clearest memory I have of her, saying very often in her strong German accent, “Vee try”. Again, this is the same idea, the normalness of making an effort without being guaranteed success. It is not given to many people to have come through the level of hardship and horror which those two faced with an undamaged faith in the possibilities of mankind. But this emotional strength, in its simplest form, was clear to me as a child.

There were clearly scars from the Nazi years for both Paul and Bertha. My grandmother, for whom two years spent studying piano in Berlin before the First World War had been a marvelous experience, adored Paul and really enjoyed speaking German with him. He and Bertha had kind of given up speaking German together because of their bad experience in the resistance to Hitler, which Paul relates in his book. But Paul indulged my grandmother, speaking with her in German and I think her friendship meant a lot to Paul who had lost both parents in the war.

At this point, a recent experience of mine illustrates another quality of Paul’s, his heroic discretion. In these last years, when I flew to L.A. to visit my son and his family, Edward would go with me to visit Paul who was working on his memoirs and we would listen to Paul’s reminiscences of his early years in Germany. He would speak about his birth in Erfurt and his childhood and about later years in Iena. He spoke about both of his parents and of the wonderful feeling of security it gave him that his mother was always there at home waiting for him when he came home from school. He told the story of his flight from Germany to Switzerland, about rowing with Bertha across a lake pretending it was just tourism, and that they were coming right back after the excursion. Then he said, “I never saw my parents again.” This past year I was watching the Ken Burns PBS Series “The War” and I saw that it said that at the end of the war, the Americans carpet-bombed Erfurt. But Paul never told us how his parents died, if he knew. Of course Thuringia being in East Germany, Paul would have been extra-sensitive to and probably informed about the failings of the East German government. In spite of his rhetoric he was by no means a dogmatic man of the left, although Bertha was much more ideological. I remember back in my childhood in Rochester we had a folksong book, which included Spanish Civil War songs of the ‘30s (from the “popular front” period when many people were enthusiastic about the Spanish Republican cause). I was playing one of these political hymns with great enthusiasm. Paul just looked at me quizzically and I could see just from his somewhat dry, skeptical attitude that there was a great deal more to it than that. His reticence influenced me more that a million ideological speeches would have done because there was absolutely no falseness in it. He was smart. Paul never spoke cynically, but he was very aware of the inconsistencies and absurdities of politics both at home and abroad. As I say, he was heroically discrete and I don’t think I will ever know his entire story, but these two qualities which made him able to encourage people and foster hope, but also to employ skeptical intelligence and extreme discretion to see behind the superficial appearances and get to the bottom of things were what I admired him for, both in my childhood and later when I talked with him at the end of his life.

There are giants amongst men, there are great men, and there are false prophets. Paul was an unsung giant, a great man who lived a life of purpose and great dignity and did it quietly. God bless him on his new way, and God care for his family of mourners.

dr phil dibble
I maintained a email correspondence and visited him when I could. He wrote me an email the morning he passed... we would talk about the state of the world, religion and humanity. I did not known him until about six years ago, but since that time, we had become good friends. I had asked him to marry my wife and I, he tried for a few months (in his 90's) to subdue his german accent and we he could not, he declined because my wife's family are Jewish and he was afraid his accent would draw unnecessary focus on our wedding day. He had a long history with my family, he used to play music with my great grandmother in Rochester NYC. My own mother and her sisters, who had lost there father when they we young looked up to Paul and for my mother (and maybe her sisters) he was her only male role . Having got to know him myself, I realize that is an impossible standard as he was without a doubt, the best, most honorable, ethical and true person I have ever met. I am so grateful for the time I got to spend with him and will take great strength from him to face the world now without him. He is so important to me as he is to so many who had the honor of meeting him. I am so sad to have lost him, I looked to up him and I loved him. I will miss him, as we all will. The world has lost the greatest man I've ever had the pleasure to have known.

[Edward Fletcher]