Six of us were leaving Aschersleben for Vienna. Our travel permission stipulated that we must report to a certain place on a certain day for Umsiedlung – “relocation” – in the east. But every rumour we had heard suggested that we should not keep this appointment.
“But how?” asked a girl named Hermi Schwartz, as we packed for the journey. “They’ll see the yellow star and grab us right away.”
“I’m not wearing mine,” I whispered. “If I wear the star, I’ll never have a chance to see my cousin Jultschi and to hear how Mama was before she left. I won’t be able to spend any time with my friend Christl or with Pepi.” I was imagining the warmth of their welcome, a few days of love.
“But we can’t even get on the train without the star,” Hermi said.
“True,” I answered. “But we can get off the train without it.”
We met in the dark of the early morning, the last Jewish slave girls of Aschersleben. We embraced and whispered good-bye and, so as not to attract attention, agreed to travel in groups of two, each pair in a different compartment. Hermi and I rode together. It was a pleasant train, full of families on vacation. For a people at war, I thought, the Germans seemed awfully carefree. In my isolation, I had not yet learned that they had been winning victory after victory and, in June 1942, fully expected to conquer all of Europe.
About an hour into the journey I made my way down the train corridor to the lavatory. I shimmed past chatting policemen, murmuring “Excuse me.” I held my coat over my arm and my handbag over the place where the star was sewn. Once inside the lavatory, I tore loose stitches and dropped the star into my handbag. On the way back, I met Hermi in the corridor. She was on her way to the bathroom to do exactly the same thing.
You will ask why we did not think of Berta, our friend who had been sent to a concentration camp for doing this. I will tell you that we thought of nothing but Berta, that every uniformed man who passed the window of our compartment filled us with terror. But we tried to appear calm, and we exchanged pleasantries with the other passengers. One of them said she was going to Vienna to visit her daughter. I wished her a happy visit. I turned my face away so she would not see that I was fighting back tears, thinking of Mama.
At the station, my dear friends melted into the Austrians the way flesh melts into dust. Does anyone remember them? Did anyone see them at the end?
I stood absolutely still. I had a sense that the holes where I had sewn the star onto my coat were forming a vivid Jewish outline for everyone to see. I expected the Gestapo to spot me an arrest me.
Excerpts from pages 133-135 of: The Nazi Officer’s Wife, written by Edith Hahn. An outspoken young women studying in Vienna when the Gestapo forced her and her mother into a Ghetto, issuing them papers branded with a ‘J’. Soon, taken away to a labour camp, Edith returned home to find her mother had been deported. Edith tore the yellow start from her clothing and went underground, before fleeing to Munich with a friend’s identity papers. There she met Werner Vetter, a Nazi party member who fell in love with her. And despite her protests and ever her eventual confession that she was Jewish, he married her and kept her identity secret.
Edith and Werner later had a daughter, Angela. Angela moved to London at a young age, at 16 she went back to see her father.
Angela will be joining us at the Saatchi Shul, Shabbat 4th of February to tell us her story. There will be a Dairy brunch. Please RSVP: http://www.facebook.com/#!/events/312109055491200/ Hayley@SaatchiShul.org. Service 9:30am. Jan 27th is Holocaust Memorial Day.