Flares of Memory: Stories of Childhood during the Holocaust

By Anita Brostoff; Sheila Chamovitz | Go to book overview

German Roulette Fritz Ottenheimer
b. Constance, Germany, 1925

My father was shaving when they came for him.

“Can I finish shaving?” he asked.

“Wipe it off and get moving, ” they growled.

It was November 10, 1938, the day after Kristallnacht, the Night of the Broken Glass. They had blown up the synagogue early that morning, our beautiful synagogue where I had celebrated my bar mitzvah just six months before. We had heard of many other Jewish men in Constance having been arrested by the Gestapo before they came to us. Now, my father was gone.

The two Gestapo agents took him to their car, drove a few blocks and stopped in front of a tobacco store. They ordered him to stay in the car while both agents went into the store to buy cigarettes. This was very irregular behavior, especially since the Swiss border was only a fifteen-minute walk from there. Either the agents wanted my father to escape into Switzerland, or they wanted him to make a run for it, giving them, or hidden accomplices, justification to shoot their prisoner “while trying to escape.” My father also considered the possibility that the border might be heavily guarded on this particular day and of the likelihood of punitive action against the family if his escape were to succeed. All these thoughts went through his mind. Only thoughts. No facts. He decided to sit still. After a few minutes, the agents returned and drove him to headquarters without any further conversation.

Most of the thirty thousand Jewish men imprisoned in camps on that day were released again one to six months after their arrest. But many, especially the old and the sick, did not survive the ordeal. My uncle in Stuttgart was neither old nor sick when he was sent to Dachau. After two months, my aunt received an official government letter informing her that if she would send one hundred marks to a specified address, the government would send her the ashes of her late husband.

One evening, at the end of December, there was a soft knock on our door. It was Papa! He had been released from Dachau concentration camp. He was very sick, had lost a lot of weight, was barely able to walk. With rest, he did recover during the following weeks.

Did my father make the right choice while waiting in the Gestapo car? Today, looking back, we have tons of wisdom about what should have been done. But at the time, we had to make life-or-death decisions without the slightest idea of what our options were. We guessed. Then we lived or died.

-83-

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Flares of Memory: Stories of Childhood during the Holocaust
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Acknowledgments vi
  • Contents vii
  • Foreword xiii
  • Timeline of the Holocaust xv
  • Map of Concentration Camps in Europe xxviii
  • Preface xxix
  • Introduction xxxiii
  • I - Snapshots: Jewish Life Before the Holocaust 1
  • Snapshots 2
  • War Arrives in Lithuania 3
  • A German Family 7
  • Betrayal 11
  • Parting 13
  • II - The Destruction of a Society 15
  • Herr B. 17
  • A Kristallnacht Journey 18
  • An Action Against the Jews 20
  • Leaving Germany, Leaving Home 24
  • Escape to England 26
  • The Best-Laid Plans 28
  • A Life-Defining Impression 30
  • The Harbinger of What? 32
  • The Beginning and the End 33
  • A Family Gone, One by One 34
  • The Abandonment of Mielec 36
  • A Shtetl's Life is Ended 37
  • What Ever Happened to the Jews of Skudvil? 40
  • III - Ruthlessness as a System 43
  • In the Dark 45
  • Theresienstadt 47
  • Dachau 50
  • Auschwitz, 1944 55
  • The Tenth Woman on Block Ten 56
  • The Means to Survive 58
  • The Gypsies 60
  • Nazi Murderers 61
  • How Many Made It? 63
  • The Law in Lithuania 64
  • Horrors of War 70
  • IV - The Lottery of Death and Life 81
  • German Roulette 83
  • My Sister Rieke 84
  • A Definition of Survival 86
  • An Unforgettable Passover Seder 89
  • Trying to Go Home 90
  • Bar Mitzvah Boy 93
  • The Skull with the Golden Braid 95
  • The Concentration Camp Lottery 96
  • The Girl with Wooden Shoes 101
  • The Wagon 102
  • The Child 103
  • V - Disguise as a Way of Hiding 105
  • In Constant Terror 107
  • Posing as a Christian 114
  • I Choose Life 116
  • Lost Families 119
  • Beyond Memory 121
  • A Hidden Child in Greece 123
  • VI - The Sustaining Power of Family Love 143
  • The Promise 144
  • A Mother's Courage 147
  • Miracles 151
  • A Dream of Milk 155
  • In Praise of Manual Labor 156
  • A Son in Deed 158
  • The Psychologist 162
  • VII - The Virtuous and the Vicious 163
  • A Narrow Escaper 165
  • The Kindness of Strangers 168
  • A Saintly Person 170
  • The Convent in Marseilles 173
  • Among the Righteous 176
  • The Killing Hunger 179
  • Captain Zimmer 180
  • The Volunteer Group 181
  • Mazel 182
  • The Farmer Kowarski 185
  • A Surprise Package 187
  • VIII - Disguise as a Way of Hiding 189
  • Lithuanian Friends 191
  • Unsung Heroes 199
  • Friend or Enemy? 202
  • Resist in Everything! 208
  • IX - Emergence into Light 225
  • The Golden Chain of Judaism 227
  • Flight to Freedom 236
  • The Last Hiding Place 243
  • One Day War, the Next Day Not 245
  • The Long Road After Liberation 247
  • On the Way to Health 249
  • An Ending and a Beginning 252
  • The Tiny Flame 254
  • X - The Aftermath: Remembering 257
  • The Aftermath 258
  • The Barber 260
  • Kaleidoscope: Salonika, Greece, 1945 261
  • The Sewing Basket 263
  • Children from the Camps Going to England 265
  • The Chief of the Gestapo 268
  • Herr Schluemper 270
  • The Miracle 272
  • To Bear Witness About the Holocaust 274
  • It Shall Not Be Forgotten nor Forgiven! 276
  • Addendum - Seen with My Own Eyes: Stories by American Liberators 279
  • The Photograph 281
  • Germany, 1945: View from a Tank 283
  • Gusen: A Nurse's Tale 286
  • A Letter from Dachau 288
  • I Saw Buchenwald 291
  • Re-Entry 296
  • Biographies of Survivor-Authors 298
  • Biographies of Survivor-Authors 298
  • Photographs of Liberator-Authors 336
  • Author Index 342
  • Story Index 343
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