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Edith Hahn Beer reflects
For Love, Life and Hope
Book review "Women in the Holocaust"
Like all other Jews, I had a feeling of being trapped in a world in which, I was a non-person, the object of official hatred and personal degradations organised into a body of laws which limited what I could do, and would eventually lead to my death. Unlike other Jews however, I had the experience of living in this doom-laden world as the wife of a Nazi.
I met my husband as someone else. I was helped to acquire a new identity by an SS Officer in Vienna and became Grete Denner, an Aryan. I was desperately afraid of being recognised to be a Jew, so I left Vienna and went to Munich, where I met my husband.
I was afraid I would be discovered and had to pretend to be a happy, confident young woman, like those around me. I tried to remember to smile, but not too much and not too often so that I did not stand out as being different. I met my husband, Werner, at an art exhibition. He was a tall, blond, classical Aryan and charm personified. He was also a Nazi party member and wore a swastika in his lapel. But by then I was getting used to everyone belonging to the Nazi party.
He impressed me by the way he fitted into society and his charisma and laughter lulled me into liking him. Yet he was an ardent admirer of Hitler and believed he could do no wrong. I was afraid of that side of him, although I did not say so. Werner fell in love with me within 7 days. Three weeks later, he proposed. He was so persistent, he loved me so much, that I risked my life and told him the truth that I was a Jew living under a false identity. He said it did not matter, he just wanted me.
We lived in Brandenburg where Wemer had a flat that belonged to Arado, building aeroplanes to help Hitler with his war effort. We never spoke of Jews at home. I was fearful that my terror would communicate itself to him and if he lost confidence, he would denounce me. But I lived in constant fear of revealing my identity. I found this almost schizophrenic existence hard to bear, enjoying being with him, loving him but always remembering the way my mother was taken from me. She was only 51 and all she ever wanted was to hold her only grandchild in her arms. But she was murdered because she was a Jew. This must always be remembered and the truth must not be distorted.
So now I believe that it is vital that deniers of the Holocaust must be tackled because their words are always linked to the rise of Neo-Nazis who could, potentially, repeat the nightmare. I salute Deborah Lippstadt's integrity and courage in stating the truth about men like Irving. He is a dangerous right-wing extremist and I am sickened that this anti-semite is using my poor murdered mother to further his own career. This is surely the most despicable way of furthering one's own interests. There are few left who can still tell the story of those days. But I am one.
These thoughts of Edith Hahn Beer were written as a response to the recent trial involving David Irving. They were read as BBC Radio 4's Saturday Essay on 15th April 2000 by her daughter, ACJR member Angela Schlüter.
Edith Hahn Beer's autobiographical book (written with Susan Dworkin) is entitled "The Nazi Officer's Wife"; it is published in the UK, price £18.99, by Little, Brown & Company, ISBN 0-316-84847-6.
A recurring theme of the day was that the purpose of remembering is, to quote one of the speakers, not for hate, but for love, life and hope. There are three motifs in teaching others about the Holocaust: learn about the Holocaust; learn from the Holocaust; involve feeling, not just thinking. When survivors tell their stories in schools, they should not just be "hard luck" stories; they need a purpose. Talks should include details to prevent the Holocaust from becoming too abstract or impersonal. Teaching within the family has to be approached carefully to avoid making the children think you are obsessed with the subject. And the lesson for all is not that discrimination against Jews is wrong; it is that discrimination against minorities is wrong, whether they are Jewish, black, Kurdish, or any other. I was interested to note that one of the participants (who came as a refugee) declared that he had never encountered antisemitism in Britain, yet others disagreed and there was visible security at the meeting.
The Sunday meeting in London was followed by an academic conference of several days in Oxford, further events for survivors and descendants and a number of artistic and cultural events.
Since the end of World War 2 there have been a considerable number of books published about the Holocaust, some autobiographical, most well known for example are Elie Wiesel and Primo Levi. Others have had their testimonies included as part of larger collections outlining the events of the time, in such books as Martin Gilbert's The Holocaust: The Jewish Tragedy and Anton Gill's The Journey Back from Hell: An Oral Conversation with survivors.
Little research has been undertaken that is exclusive to women and their experience of the Holocaust. There are Holocaust testimonies at Yad Vashem, The Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority, in Israel, The Forturnoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies in America and The National Life Story Collection in London. The verb 'collect' is used in the titles, and the above are exactly that, a collection of testimonies.
This book is a collection of essays divided into four parts, each one examining a different perspective of women and the Holocaust. It includes accounts of women's roles in Nazi Germany 1933-1939, women's role in the resistance and daily life in the concentration camp. There are also detailed chapters outlining the ways in which women were able to form 'camp families' with other inmates. Often these relationships were essential for survival. The very problematic areas of rape and preganancy in the concentration camp are also discussed.
Joan Ringleheim, noted for her research in the field of women and the Holocaust, has contributed to this book. She argues that the present literature remains gender neutral to the experiences of women and their perspective of the Holocaust. At the opening conference of the Research Institute of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 'lectures' addressed the persecution of the disabled, homosexual men, and blacks; the 'ordinary men' who became murderers; and the rescuers, the churches, the bystanders. But not one lecture concerned women or gender. When this omission was questioned, the response given by the organisers was 'we forgot'.
This book is an important addition to the gap in this area of Holocaust research.
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This edit 01jan2004
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