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< Echoes of Memory

The Invitation Back to Germany and the Apology to Make It Right

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By Agi Geva

A barn was sold some 30 years after the war, not far from Calw, near Stuttgart, Germany. The buyer wanted it empty. When the last bunch of straw was moved from the back of the barn, suddenly an engraving became visible: a name, address, and a telephone number. The buyer needed an explanation. He wanted to know what it meant. The local school teacher was asked to come over and have a look. He was dumbfounded. All these years he had been sure that there had been no prisoners in his town during the war. There were no Jews, no forced laborers. He called the history professor of the nearby university. Together with the town mayor, they decided to phone the number engraved on the far wall of the barn and find out more about the barn’s Holocaust era-history. A lady from Budapest answered, invited them to visit, and agreed to be interviewed. The interview took three days.

When they got home, they discussed what had been learned during the interview. The woman in Budapest had been one of 200 women—20 Polish and 180 Hungarian, actually 179 Hungarians as one woman had died of typhus before the group arrived at the barn. They were forced to work in an airplane spare parts factory near Leipzig and later forced on a death march during which they stayed in that barn one night. The barn was over 300 miles away from the factory.

The mayor and the teachers became determined to find those 179 women, invite them to visit, hear them out, listen to their stories, and even tell them that the inhabitants of the small town never knew of what took place in the factory where the women were forced to work or the barn where they were forced to stay. They wanted to try to compensate and apologize.

The invitations were sent out to the 179 women, including my mother, Rosalia, my sister, Shosha, and myself, but only seven responded and were willing to visit. Their spouses were invited too. I was alone as I was already divorced by then and Shosha, despite being married, only received one ticket. Our mother was invited but we decided it would be too much for her.

Neither my mother nor my sister spoke about the Holocaust all these years later. They didn’t like to be asked questions and they didn’t mention anything about that year.

In Frankfurt we were greeted by newspaper and television reporters and our story appeared on the front page. After we arrived in Calw, I confronted the organizers as to why my brother-in-law did not receive an invitation. They said that Shosha and I were to be each other’s support and therefore they had not invited Shosha’s husband. I gathered that it would be very hard for her to be back in Germany, to meet people with whom she had gone through such an ordeal, and hear about the Holocaust all the time while being without her husband. So I convinced the organizers how important it was for her to have her husband, Shlomo, with her. At last they agreed and said, “We pay, but you make all the arrangements.” And I did.

There was no possibility to send someone with Shosha to meet Shlomo in Frankfurt so I volunteered to accompany her. We were scared. On the train we saw elderly people and we kept wondering if they had been one of the SS or Wehrmacht during those days. Were they serving in Auschwitz or were they on duty in Hungary when we were rounded up and put on those wagons? In short, we were scared to be on a train in Germany. On the way back Shlomo was with us and he made us feel safe.

We were looked after in every possible way. We were appreciated and pampered. We were asked where we would like to visit. We all wanted to be taken down the roads of the death march. We also wanted to return to Rochlitz where we were taught to make the spare screws for airplanes. But we did not get there for various reasons. Though, we did visit the factory where we had spent 12 hours working every night. Shosha took part in every discussion. She spoke constantly of all that she remembered.

We were asked to speak to teenagers from the local school about our experiences of those days. Shosha had someone accompany her and translate, but as I spoke German well, I went alone. When I faced the class of some 30 teenagers, I got a panicked feeling, as if I was facing the Hitler-Jugend of those years. There was silence in the classroom, and I did not know how to get over my feelings and begin talking.

Suddenly I got an idea. I lifted my left arm and asked them if they had ever seen a tattooed number that was done to the Jews in Auschwitz. So I got off the podium, and approached the teenagers and showed every single one of them my tattoo. They became very curious about my experiences even accompanying me back to the hotel where I spent hours answering all of their questions.

Tags:   agi gevaechoes of memory, volume 13

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