INGE AUERBACHER: KEYNOTE SPEECH*

The Holocaust really began for me on the night ofKristallnacht. In my town it began on November 10, in the morning; I wasn't even four years old yet. I remember waking up quite early in the morning; we were awakened by the police. My grandparents had come to see us in the village of about 2,000 people. My grandfather was quite orthodox. He went to morning synagogue. There was a knock on the door. My father was told to get dressed and report to city hall. We recalled that we had heard about the unrest in Berlin.

I remember soon afterwards there was a mob going through the streets throwing stones at the Jewish houses. My mother saw how the Ten Commandments on top of the synagogue were broken. The glass all around us was broken. We were going to hide in the shed outside our house; it was like a riot. When we were just about to leave, a man came up to our window and saw the chandelier and said, "Hey, there is one still standing there." Then he took aim. He meant to hit the chandelier but almost hit my head instead. My mother grabbed me and hid me in the shed in the courtyard the whole day. That whole day people banged on the door.

We spent the night at a Jewish friend's house. We spent the next day boarding up the windows on the houses of Jewish friends. The synagogue had been destroyed, but it was not burned because of the fire threat to all the neighboring Christian houses.

The next day one of the soldiers came to my mother's house with a basket filled with ties and belts and other things. He said that those were the remains of our men. My mother asked if they were still alive because my grandfather who had been praying in the synagogue was taken. We later found out that they were taken to the Dachau concentration camp.

Somehow, after about six weeks, my grandfather returned, but it was only because my mother went to an SS embassy and showed them a bogus ticket that we were on our way out. When my father and grandfather got home, they told us what had happened. My father was a very decorated war veteran, and so we never thought they would do anything to him. He was disabled during World War I.

At that point we decided to leave. My grandfather and father told us what had happened to them in the camp. Of course, their clothes were taken from them, and they had to wear the blue and white striped uniform. They had to stand for roll call for hours and hours in the freezing cold. And if someone even so much as wanted to blow his nose, because it was cold, they hosed him down with cold water.

My father was there for about six weeks, and when he came back, we decided to sell the house. It had to be sold at a very cheap price, and we moved in with my grandparents at the end of May hoping to get out of Germany. My grandfather had a bad heart anyway, but soon after we arrived, he died, not only of a bad heart, but of a broken heart. We had been living in Germany for so long that we became part of the German community, except we had a different religion. My grandfather never wanted to leave Germany. He said that he was born in Germany and that was where he wanted to die, and that is what happened in May of'39.

I did not experience any antisemitism before that. My friends in the village of Kippenheim, where I was born, were all Jewish. I did not really have any Christian friends at that time. I was the last Jewish child born in that village. I really did not experience any prejudice, and I did not really know that I was different. We lived a comfortable life side-by-side with our Christian neighbors. In a way, we also had our separate life within that community, the life was centered around the synagogue. Everybody went on Saturday morning; it was our Shabbat. It was a very closely knit group; we took care of each other. But in the midst of a non-hostile world, I could not say that it was always so non-hostile. There were always some undercurrents of hostility against Jews. Of course, I never felt this; my parents told me this. I didn't feel it until the day it mattered, and that was the day the Holocaust began for me.

The Nazi takeover from 1938 went very quickly. The Nuremberg Laws came out very quickly after that. And the erosion of Jewish life happened very quickly after Kristallnacht. After that, we weren't real citizens anymore. We really had no more rights from that time on. In 1939-1941, we lived in this little village, Jebenhausen. Most of the people there, including my grandparents, were cattle dealers. Even today when I see anything that has to do with cows, I am reminded of that happy time in my life. In that village, there was not that bad feeling. Although my grandparents were the only remaining Jews there, people never treated us any differently. I really had many friends there.

This village was close to 50% Jews, until recently [just before the Nazi takeover]. They lived on two different streets, and were invited there by the Count of Leibwenhauser, to pay taxes. While I was there, I had many Christian friends. I ran up and down with them singing their songs, the Nazi songs. They took me in as one of their own.

My parents were first Jewish and then German. We were an assimilation; we still had our religion as our foremost priority.

I resent the ones who did this to us, but I cannot condemn the young ones today who did not do it. There were some good people whom we are still friends with today. There were some, like my maid, who would risk their lives to come in the middle of the night and give us prayer books, food, and pictures (which appear in the book). There was a school to teach the Jews despite the ban on their learning. Recently, I met up with some of my old friends from that time, and I still feel gratitude towards them. I don't "hate" the present German generation because to hate is to be consumed by negative energy. I'd rather do something positive.

It was called Terezin, and it was a transitive, holding area one step before Auschwitz. It held a lot of distinguished people, doctors, and lawyers, and there were a lot of old people there also. It was really, just a holding area, for the camps to the East. I had a friend there who was a Christian, a Christian girl. When my girlfriend was sent to Auschwitz was one of ths saddest times I had. I was actually envious of her, because I wanted to leave too. But she gave me her doll's clothing to take care of until we met again. We were really close; we shared bunk beds for two years. She was Christian, and I remember that she prayed every night. And her father made sure she remained a Christian.

I remember that at the end of the war there were gas chambers that were being built so that all the survivors could be gassed and killed, but they had not been completed. Once the liberation of Auschwitz and other camps, my camp began to be filled up by all the survivors who were being pushed on death marches into my camp to be killed by gassing or by drowning. The Nazis could have done this by opening up the dam and letting the river flow though my camp, which was more like a fortress.

The worst experience I ever had was on November 11, 1943, and they said people were missing in the camp. We didn't know there were so many people who came and went. We were told that we had to be counted, and they kept us out in the cold, and we were surrounded by guns. They probably had plans to kill us. I was afraid that I was going to be killed; I had real fear. It was an awful situation.

I remember when the Red Cross began to examine the camps But they were only showed a cleaned-up area with bogus money and schools, and they saw football games. There still exist Red Cross videos that show a football game and a life that wasn't really there. It was like a theatrical event. I remember I wanted to be in the film, and my mother told me not to. She said never to volunteer for anything. The Red Cross gave out bread and everything, but after they left, the Germans took everything back, and we were sent back to our normal life

During her speech, she read her poem:

"I AM A STAR"

Only "special" children wear a star,
I am noticed from near and far.
They have placed a mark over my heart,
I'll wear it proudly from the start.

A star's a reward, so I've been told,
This custom passed on from days of old.
I know all that the star is revealing,
But, I'll try to have a better feeling.
I am a star!

Papa told me to avoid trouble,
Come home from school on the double.
To me the star's yellow is gold,
I'll try not to act so bold.

I stand tall and proud,
My voice shouts in silence loud:
"I am a real person still,
No one can break my spirit or will!"
I am a star!

*The above is not an exact transcription of Ms. Auerbacher's speech, but instead was extracted from an interview available on the internet at www.iearn.org/hgp/aeti/1994-inge-auerbacher.html

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