Holocaust survivor speaks to FASPE fellows

By Lex Talamo

At the Museum Otto Weidt’s Workshop for the Blind in Berlin, a 92-year-old Holocaust survivor surveyed the group of listeners before her. Hair perfectly coiffed, a string of pearls around her neck, and a touch of blue eye shadow highlighting her bright eyes, Inge Deutschkron told the group to “SHOUT!” as they asked questions about her story of surviving Nazi Germany.

In a softly melodic voice, Deutschkron kept the group—12 journalism students and their professors from the Fellowships at Auschwitz for the Study of Professional Ethics program—spellbound for over an hour. Deutschkron began her narrative by recalling a disagreement between her parents. Her father, an active Social Democrat, had recently been fired because of his political activity, and her mother had raised the question of whether the family should leave Germany.

Deutschkron recounts her time in hiding at the Museum at Otto Weidt's Workshop for the Blind. (Marguerite Holloway/FASPE)

Inge Deutschkron recounts her time in hiding at the Museum Otto Weidt’s Workshop for the Blind. (Lindsey Anderson/FASPE)

Germany was their home, her father said. They stayed.

But the pogrom of 1938 made Deutschkron’s father realize that Germany was no longer a safe place to be Jewish. The violence she witnessed left its impact on Deutschkron as well.

“You can’t imagine what was going on,” she said. “Everything was being smashed in the streets, destroyed, and people were being arrested.”

Ultimately, only her father was able to emigrate. Deutschkron remembered standing at the train station and her mother pleading with her father to “do something” to get them out of Germany as soon as he got to England. Following that goodbye, Deutschkron and her mother went to the house of an elderly woman and asked for help. Although the woman did not know her family, Deutschkron said, she took them in.

The Deutschkrons shared space in the small apartment with some birds. With a gleeful laugh, Deutschkron related how her mother was terrified the birds would try to attack her hair. But Deutschkron’s moments of happiness were overshadowed by the dangers of discovery and deportation she faced every day.

Deutschkron worked as a housecleaner and as a factory worker. She hated the way she was talked to and treated by her supervisors. Her employer had deemed several women unfit for work, and Deutschkron wondered how she too could catch that “illness.” She started wearing high heels to her job, which required she spend up to ten hours on her feet. After obtaining a doctor’s note when she damaged her knee, she was dismissed.

In 1941, she found a job with Otto Weidt. Deutschkron started doing inventory and answering the phone for Weidt. She said the work was “totally unnecessary,” but that Weidt wanted to help her.

“He said, ‘You can stay here, legal or illegal, I don’t care,’” Deutschkron said with a smile. “In my mind, he was a hero … risking his life for us.”

Deutschkron worked for Weidt from 1941 to 1943. During that period, he continued to provide her and several other Jews with food, mentorship and a sense of stability.

When Deutschkron first heard what was happening nearby at the concentration camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau, she was shocked.

“We had no idea what was going on,” she said.

Deutschkron said the enormity of death and destruction caused by the Nazis was incomprehensible to those outside of Germany. She knew two people who escaped from Auschwitz and told their stories to incredulous audiences.

“No one wanted to believe it,” Deutschkron said. “And, of course, that’s how Auschwitz could go on.”

Deutschkron said she and her mother struggled a great deal at the end of the war when food was scarcest, but that they found people with “heart” to help them.

“These things helped me to see the Germans as human beings,” she said.

In 1955, Deutschkron began working as a freelance journalist in Bonn. In 1960, she became the German correspondent for the Israeli newspaper Maariv. Her reporting took her to London, Tel Aviv, India, Burma and Nepal. Later in her life, Deutschkron would speak to students in schools about her experience and knowledge of Nazi Germany.

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Deutschkron’s story and presence were thought-provoking and inspiring for the 2015 FASPE fellows.

“She has such humor and forgiveness,” said Jessica Davey-Quantick, a master’s student at Queen’s University. “It’s incredible.”

FASPE fellow and New York University graduate Laura Smith agreed, saying she was inspired by Deutschkron’s continued faith in humanity despite what she had experienced.

“She clearly has a keen awareness that the Nazis were trying to destroy her and her people,” Smith said. “It was admirable to see how fun-loving she is.”

Lindsey Anderson, another FASPE fellow and education reporter at the El Paso Times, added that people often only associate Holocaust survivors with concentration camps. Deutschkron’s story, Anderson said, added an important perspective for her and was one of her main takeaways from the morning.

Deutschkron had a take-away message herself.

“We have to learn that every human being has rights. That is very important,” she said. “To learn to live with them … but also to learn from them what they have to offer.”

(5/27/2015)

 

 

 

 

 

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