From as far back as I can remember, art and music were a part of my life. Father was an artist and I loved going with him on walks through the woods as we enjoyed nature near our home in France.
In 1938 my mother became one of Jehovah's Witnesses. My father was baptized as a Witness soon after. In 1941 I also decided to become a Witness. Three weeks after my baptism, my father was arrested for being a Jehovah's Witness. I was at home waiting for my father to return from work. When the doorbell rang, I ran to the door and jumped into my father's arms. Then I heard someone behind him say, "Heil Hitler" and realized I had hugged a Gestapo man. They had come to say Father had been arrested. For four hours they questioned and threatened my mother. They had taken Father's salary, closed our bank account, and refused to give Mother a working card. Father was sent to prison at Schirmeck, then to Dachau concentration camp, then to an extermination camp known as Mauthausen-Gusen, then to Ebensee. I didn't see him again for four years.
During the next two years Mother and I lived as best we could. Friends helped by giving us food in exchange for little jobs. Mother taught me to knit, wash and cook, since we didn't know what would happen to either of us.
At school I was under more and more pressure to "Heil Hitler," but I refused. I could not honor a man as if he were a god who could save people. Several times the teachers stood me in front of the whole school and tried to force me to say "Heil Hitler." Once I was beaten unconscious because I wouldn't do work to support the war. Eventually I was expelled from school.
One day I was put into a room with two psychiatrists who shone a bright light in my face and asked me question after question. The two 'doctors' turned out to be Gestapo agents. At the age of twelve I was arrested and sent to a penitentiary house where the Nazis intended to reeducate me. Enroute there, my mother told me, "Always be polite, kind and gentle, even when suffering injustice. Never be obstinate. Never talk back or answer indolently. Remember, being steadfast has nothing to do with being stubborn."
At the home we were not permitted to talk, had a bath twice a year and washed our hair once a year. For punishment we went without food or were beaten. We had to wash, cook, sew, garden and even cut down trees. I was assigned to clean the room of a teacher who demanded that I clean the springs under her bed everyday. I had a small Bible that I had smuggled into the house, so I wedged it into the springs. Thereafter, I lay on my stomach under the bed and read parts of the Bible every day. When it came to cleaning, they thought I was the slowest child they ever had!
Several months after I entered the penitentiary school, my mother was arrested and sent first to Schirmeck, where my father had been, then to Gaggenau. While being moved to Ravensbruck we were suddenly freed.
When the war ended, my mother came for me. Her face was cut and bruised. They said she was my mother but I just didn't comprehend it. Mother was told she needed a paper from the judge to secure my release. She took me by the hand and off we went to the judge. He was not there and she went from office to office insisting on getting this document. When I saw her fighting for my freedom, I knew that his was indeed my mother and I clung to her and cried. All the feelings I had held in for two years poured out. A few days later France was liberated.
We returned to our apartment and there got the news that Daddy was listed as dead. But one day he came home. He was in terrible shape. He could hardly make it up the stairs to our apartment and he had lost his hearing. The first two years we were reunited were very hard, but in time our physical and emotional conditions improved and we were a family once again.
Source: Dr. William L. Shulman, A State of Terror: Germany 1933-1939. Bayside, New York: Holocaust Resource Center and Archives.
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A Teacher's Guide to the Holocaust
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