The Last Straw
Life became more depressing with every day. One evening, when we came home from work, we found mother very upset and at first she did not want to tell us what had happened. After a while we got her to open up. Above us lived the chief editor of the Koelner Zeitung (Cologne newspaper), it was a large newspaper, conservative and Catholic. His wife had come to Mother, crying bitterly. She had to talk to somebody. It seems that at the dinner table her husband talked very strong against Hitler and their eleven year old son, who had to belong to the Hitler youth, the Nazi version of the boy scouts, had told his father that if he would make any remarks like this again, he, the son would have to report him to the Nazi authorities. This characterizes the conditions that existed for any opposition.
In the meantime Hitler and his gang were building the "Siegfried Line", a defense line facing the french "Maginot Line". This Maginot Line was believed to be so strong, that nothing and nobody could penetrate it. This turned out to be a bad and costly joke. The French had built this fortification from Switzerland to Belgium. Belgium wanted to be a neutral country, together with Holland. They hoped that their neutrality would protect them better than a wall of fortifications. When Hitler started his invasion of France, his armies went first into Holland and Belgium and went behind the Maginot line on French soil. The Germans built this defense line, the Siegfrid Line, openly. It could not be kept a secret, the noise from the bulldozers and construction of underground tunnels, the blasting etc. could be heard for many miles, and particularly at night. Again, France and England did not take any action against Germany. They might have talked about it, but nothing was accomplished. Another hope, that somebody would stop Hitler. died. Looking at these happenings today, we did a lot of wishful thinking, they were pipe dreams. We were trying to find something to hold on to.
And one day, in July 1938, what we all had been afraid of and dreaded and what we knew about it from other Jewish business people happened to us. Father's business manager, a Fritz Sartory and Gottfried Meinerzhagen came to Father with a letter from the Gleischaltungsamt, the office to legalize the theft of Jewish property. I cannot forget the names of these men, because it meant the end of any hope for a miracle for our family. This letter demanded that Father and the family sign over to these two men the ownership and the entire stock of merchandise, pay all outstanding bills and do all this within a few weeks. We did not have any more chance to fight it because the laws had been changed to make these "Take Overs" legal and if you really wanted to try and oppose these orders, jail or concentration camp would have changed your mind very soon. Eventually father and the family signed the business over to Satori.
We had very nice furniture and Father and Mother were trying to take some of the furniture like chairs, tables, lamps, pictures, silverware and cut crystal, etc, with us, things which could be sold in a foreign country to raise money. It was one of father's master achievements, that he arranged to rent a small container, we call a lift. A customs' inspector came to oversee what we were loading and I remember that this inspector got quite a few things from our apartment, but he also let us load what we wanted. This container was shipped to Nice, France and it got there eventually.
Jews needed an exit visa to leave Germany and was not always easy to obtain one. Father, Mother and John applied for their exit visa. John got it, but the parents for some unknown reason, only got a limited exit visa, good for only three months. But once one was out of Germany, one did not have to return. It probably was done to make things a little more difficult.
Now comes my little problem. The Nazis internal revenue office wanted to know if they made an audit at a later date and found that additional taxes were due, who would take care of the taxes if we all had left. We decided the following. I had a passport which was issued at the beginning of the Nazi takeover and did not have the swastika on the cover. We are talking now of the year 1938 and this passport was issued at the end of 1933. We decided that I would pretend to stay in Germany and I would be accountable for any tax demands. Also, I would pretend that I had lost my passport in a boating accident. I was called to the tax office. Everyone was in SS or SA uniform. They asked me if I had a passport and I said no. They asked if I intend to leave and I said again no, I don't intend to leave Germany at this time and I would be available if there should be any questions. They believed me. One of the reasons was that most of the people in these offices were just put in these positions because they were good Nazis, but did not know anything about taxes. They might have been truck drivers, or street cleaners and were not IRS men.
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A Teacher's Guide to the Holocaust
Produced by the Florida Center for Instructional Technology,
College of Education, University of South Florida.
©1991 Kurt Lenkway.