If you’re a lover of classical chamber music living in Asheville, NC, you can thank the efforts of Jeanette and Joe Vanderwart for helping make that performing art available locally. This couple moved to the area in the 1950’s, and Joe’s work in the lumber industry provided a good living. They were able to introduce the idea of forming the Asheville Chamber Music Series, a program they then helped support for over thirty years.
Jeannette’s parents had given their only child a cultured family life that included seats at the opera back in Kassel, Germany. But by 1936 the Nazi rise to power had become alarming, and so that year 24 year old Jeannette Goldberg was able to arrange passage to New York City based on an affidavit submitted by a US resident. Her parents, lacking such an affidavit, had to stay behind.
Jeanette had a cousin whose friend worked for the same wealthy family employing Josef Vanderwart as a butler and chauffeur. Jeanette’s cousin’s friend was a companion to the lady of the house. Jeanette’s cousin invited Jeanette to dinner to meet Josef.
Josef Vanderwart, at twenty-four years of age, escaped the initial Jewish roundup in Ober-Riedenberg, Germany in 1939. Adult males were the first targets for concentration camp deportations, and Vanderwart understood it was only a matter of time before the Nazis would find him. He knew two Jewish women in a larger city whose father had already been taken away. Since the registered male of that house had been picked up in the first round of deportations, he reasoned that they might not return to that location. He reasoned incorrectly.
One day the Nazis circled the house, and when Joe tried to escape he was caught. He was taken to a police station. There, one of the policemen happened to know one of the Jewish women who had hidden Joe, so he released him—an incredible stroke of fortune. As a diabetic he needed daily insulin shots. He could not have survived for more than two days in jail.
By this time Joe and his sister Gerda had applied for visas at the consulate and were waiting for their quota number to come up. It is unclear from family records who had sent them an affidavit.
While waiting at the consulate one day, Gerda met another hopeful immigrant named Kurt Loewensohn who was applying for a visa for South America. They later married and Kurt changed his last name to “Vandewart” as it sounded “less Jewish.” Together Josef, Gerda, and Kurt came to the USA.
Joe took up residence with a German rabbi in Flushing, New York. This rabbi had been sponsored in the USA by one of the owners of Sears – Roebuck. “The rabbi was brilliant and worked as a doorman,” Jeanette Goldberg recalled. He married Joe and Jeanette two years after they first met, and Joe’s sister Gerda and her husband Kurt were the witnesses.
At first Joe, Jeanette, Gerda and Kurt all lived in Forest Hills, New York. Later these four moved into the same apartment building in Queens, New York.
After World War II ended, an American soldier contacted Jeanette to inform her that Marie and Moritz Goldberg were alive and in Germany. Jeanette wrote the Department of Justice requesting visas for her parents. As a result Marie and Moritz joined their daughter and son-in-law in the Queens apartment.
In the 1950’s, Jeanette and Josef moved permanently to Asheville, NC. He died in 1985 and she ten years later.