Johanna Neumann speaks with gratitude and affection of the family who rescued her during the Holocaust. Yet her fondness for them exists alongside some profound contradictions.
The Family Pilku were very warm people, very warm people. Even before we lived with them, she would come many times to see us, and bring us things that she knew we could not have, or her homemade cakes and things of that sort. She really was a good friend.
When Johanna Neumann speaks of the Pilku family, who rescued her during the Holocaust, her voice is full of gratitude and affection. As an adult, Neumann went to great lengths to have her rescuers honored as Righteous Gentiles by Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Memorial. But her fondness for the Pilkus exists alongside some profound contradictions.
Welcome to Voices on Antisemitism, a free podcast series from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum made possible by generous support from the Oliver and Elizabeth Stanton Foundation. I'm your new host, Aleisa Fishman. Every other week, we invite a guest to reflect about the many ways that antisemitism and hatred influence our world today. Here’s Holocaust survivor Johanna Neumann.
I was born in Hamburg, Germany, and was fortunate enough to survive with my parents in Albania. We made friends among some of the Albanians. My mother met Mrs. Pilku and it's the family Pilku who rescued us, saved us, hid us in their home during the German occupation. Mrs. Pilku was a German, and this is actually how she met my mother because I guess somehow or somewhere she heard her speak German and so she introduced herself. And we became very close friends with the Pilku family. Mr. Pilku, he was a Muslim. I do not know whether she did or did not become Muslimthat's irrelevant. She was German. She certainly was a sympathizer with the regime in Germany. Her father apparently had been one of the early supporters of Nazi Germany. And she had a rather large picture of Hitler, framed in her living room.
Everything went smooth until the summer of 1943, when Germany occupied Albania. And at this point our lives became of course very much endangered. Since Mrs. Pilku was known to be German and her father obviously was a known individual in Germany, German soldiersofficers, SS officerswalked in and out of the house. And we were introduced at all times, as her family from Germany who were visiting with them in Albania wanting to get away from the bombardments, wanting to have some vacation. Whatever excuse she used. I mean they behaved in the most exemplary way.
I can go as far as telling you that we were hiding in her home, and one day I remember that Mr. Pilku heard that a group of Jews they had built themselves a rowboat to leave Albania on these boats. She immediatelyand I remember that so clearlyshe immediately said "We will take a walk along the beach, and if we encounter any German soldiers we'll engage them in conversation and if need be invite them to the house for a cup of coffee." And I remember going with them, and I remember doing this a number of nights. I mean so she had this humanistic feeling in her, despite the fact that she knew these guys had escaped from Nazi Germany. How she reconciled it, I don't know, we could really never figure this out. Germany had come through such terrible times after World War I, and I think from that point of view I would assume that she felt that this was the man who was going to remedy all of these problems and bring the glory of Germany back.
The complicatedness of human behavior I think is something that we see probably every day in our lives. I think people have many complications. They have many orientations. And I think this just in some people comes out in different fashions, and in different degrees. But I think we all have conflicts within ourselves. And at a time like this in such an upheaval in the world, I mean that's really what it was, a total upheaval, this is not a normal life at that point at all.
Voices on Antisemitism is a free podcast series of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Join us every other week to hear a new perspective on the continuing threat of antisemitism in our world today.
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