We celebrate, we mourn, we heal, we grow. We reach toward each other, find ways to carry on, to begin again. It’s why we’re here: to find peace and wholeness despite what’s lost, to use our gifts in service to each other and this beloved earth we share, to see ourselves in one another, to weave our stories into one.
In 2010, on a visit to Heilbronn, Germany, I’m looking through the window of our old soap factory—the factory our family owned before the Nazis seized it—when I hear shouting in German. Thankfully, after I stammer a response in English, the young German—Nicki—invites me inside, into what is now his family’s metal foundry.
A minute later we’re standing where so much of our family’s story unfolded—and bolted there, in the middle of the factory floor, is the original soap mill my great grandparents used before the factory was taken from them—before they lost their lives in the concentration camps—before my grandfather emigrated to America, where he eventually rose up out of poverty and imprisonment in an asylum to begin a new story—the story we carry on today at our Vista, California headquarters.
Woven through that story are so many others that helped connect me to a past my grandfather had largely failed to tell us, focused as he was on his All-One vision. We had been left with few threads to follow back to our family history before WWII, when his grandfather had started the first family soap factory in the basement of the family home in Laupheim in 1858, or when his father relocated to the nearby town of Heilbronn 40 years later to open a second soap factory. And so I am grateful for these seemingly random, fortuitous moments that have brought pieces of our family history back to us.
Like this moment, in 2017: I’m visiting Laupheim to give a few presentations on our family history, including one to the local historical society at the Jewish cemetery where my grandfather’s grandparents are buried, when an audience member comes up to me. She tells me she is the current owner of our ancestral home, which she had planned to tear down to build condominiums, but moved by our story, she offers to sell the property back to us at cost.
Another moment, this one in 2016: A woman recognizes us in the local German newspaper and invites us to her home, where we find ourselves sitting around our great grandparents’ table, saved from the Nazis by their devoted Catholic housekeeper, Agathe. Understanding that their future was in peril, our great grandparents had entrusted their furniture and valuables to Agathe, who faithfully returned all to our family after the war.
Then there is the moment when all of that history comes full circle, when our entire family gathers for a reunion in Laupheim, at our newly purchased ancestral home. Our grandparents’ home is finally back in the family again, and the town that had once forcibly, shamefully handed all Jewish inhabitants over to the Nazis during WWII has welcomed us back with open arms and a marching band.
And one more beautiful surprise: We’re celebrating the holidays with our Dr. Bronner’s family here in Vista when who should walk in, dressed as Santa Claus, but our dear friend Nicki Frank. He has come to return our family’s soap mill, which had remained in the old Heilbronn factory all these many years.
One day this old mill will greet visitors to our factory, telling the story of our family, but also—most importantly—reminding us of a larger story, our shared story. That through our loss and pain, we find deeper connection—to each other, to ourselves—and that healing comes when we begin to realize that we are utterly and inseparably bound to one another. In the words of my grandfather, founder of Dr. Bronner’s: “We are All-One or None! All-One!” —Mike Bronner