By Deb Silverthorn
Dr. Siegfried Bruchsaler left behind his family history and heritage in a journal in his native German. It is now being deciphered, by his daughter Carol Alkek, years after his passing.
The delicate pages of the diary, in which he reflected on his late teens and early 20s, were written with an artistic hand and almost completely in German. To translate the precious memories, Alkek recruited Magie Furst.
“He started the diary in 1918, when he was 17 years old, and wrote until 1925, about the time he started medical school, with only a few pages later than that. I can speak and read German but his handwriting is difficult to get through,” said Carol. “I showed it to Magie and we’ve been making our way through the pages — her vocabulary in English and German is amazing.”
Since last fall, Saturday afternoons at The Legacy Midtown Park, where both women reside, have meant meeting together in Magie’s apartment. Magie reads the diary in German, translates, and Carol records the conversion with the intention of transcribing it to print when they are done.
“The diary is all in the old, scripted German in which he wrote of his philosophy of religion; the end of World War I and its horror; his warm, close Jewish family; about Jewish life there; and about a ‘terrible disease’ in 1918,” said Carol. “So much of what we’re reading could be written today about the pandemic, politics, the economy and Ukraine.
“He stopped writing, except for a couple of pages almost 18 years later,” said Carol. “On Nov. 3, 1943, he wrote in English about how grateful he was to be in the States, for his two little girls and to be teaching medicine.”
The handwriting of the diary and the choices of words and language are very similar to those of Magie’s mother Sida. “Some of it is coming to me very easily, and some a little more difficult,” said Magie, who was born in Germany. After her father Alfred died of a heart attack, brought on by the terror of the Nazis, and then Kristallnacht and the heightened terror, Magie, her brother Bert Romberg and their mother escaped to Great Britain by the Kindertransport.
Magie, who was placed by HIAS at a boarding school and who later worked for a dentist before coming to the United States in 1945, kept her own diary during the war. “I still have family in Germany, and I speak the language some, but it’s not the same. The Jews of Germany before World War II aren’t something I know very much about, but the minute I started reading it I could tell this was a man, even though he was young, with a brilliant mind. I admire him so.”
Bruchsaler, born on March 26, 1901, in Bühl, Germany, was the son of Karl, a cantor, and Mina, and the brother of Walter. Starting in seventh grade, Bruchsaler went to boarding school in Baden-Baden — 30 miles from home — returning home each weekend. The diary was written primarily as he rode on the train and while he was in college.
The family kept Shabbat, and Bruchsaler wrote of having to walk whatever the distance if Friday’s sundown approached. He’d then meet his father at the synagogue, which was close to the family’s apartment — above the rabbi’s home. He wrote of being an officer of a B’nai B’rith chapter, how he was arrested, then let go.
Upon arriving in the U.S. in 1938, with the help of Dallas cousins Leo and Carolyn Bruchsaler, the parents of Helen (Arthur) Stern, Siegfried and Irmgard Bruchsaler became known as Fred and Irma Brooksaler.
In Dallas, the University of Heidelberg Medical School graduate was required to repeat his residency, which he did at Bradford Children’s Hospital/Children’s Hospital of Dallas, beginning what would be an illustrious pediatric career. The Brooksalers had two daughters, Carol (Alkek) and Doris (Cowl, now of Baltimore, Maryland) and the family lived in University Park. Carol and her sister graduated from Highland Park High School.
Brooksaler joined the faculty at UT Southwestern Medical Center and became a professor of pediatrics. He received UTSW’s Outstanding Teacher Award numerous times, and at Children’s Medical Center conducted research in pediatric diseases and organized and directed the birth defect center.
When Carol was a teen, her father was a grantee of the Fulbright program and was invited to lecture at the University of Düsseldorf. A diplomat of the American Board of Pediatrics and fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Brooksaler served as president of both the Dallas and Texas Pediatric societies.
“My grandparents had been to seven camps during the war and the trips back to Germany were healing for my parents,” said Carol. The family returned again after she graduated high school. “After my grandfather passed away my grandmother came to live with us in Dallas. She was a sweet woman who read her prayer book every day and was one of Golden Acres’ first residents.”
Carol went to the University of Texas at Austin, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in Spanish with minors in German and education. She then taught Spanish and German at Memorial Junior High School in Houston before marrying David Alkek in 1964.
While her husband completed a medical internship at Baylor Hospital, Carol taught at Irving High School. In 1966 they moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where Carol worked as a substitute teacher while David fulfilled an internship in dermatology at Temple University Skin and Cancer Hospital. It was there that son Brooks was born.
After three years, the family returned to Dallas and daughter Kellilyn (Andrew Dropkin) was born. The Alkeks divorced in 1980 and Carol began a 28-year career providing corporate training at Blue Cross Blue Shield Medicare. She joined the National Council of Jewish Women as a teen and worked alongside her mother at the agency’s thrift shop.
As an adult she served as vice president of NCJW’s Ways & Means, then Administration, and volunteered with Kids in Court, the PACE Committee helping to determine project funding and HIPPY (Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters).
Affiliated with Temple Emanu-El all the years she’s been in Dallas, Carol spent 52 years — from the time she was a teen until 2008 — singing in the congregation’s choir, traveling with it to many countries. She has served on Dallas’ Grand Jury, and she enjoys mah jongg, canasta and meetings with her monthly “Tuesday Morning Book Club that Meets on Wednesday Night.”
“I’ve always loved to read and my father’s diary has me in his place, his time and his language. For years, at the end of our Seder, our family has read the English pages, of his appreciation of his family and being in the United States. It really is time to understand more,” said Carol, wanting her children and grandsons, Mason and Dylan, to share in the experience. “I only wish it went on and on.”