Monday, January 21, 2013

The Nazi Officer’s Wife: How One Jewish Woman Survived the Holocaust by Edith Hahn Beer with Susan Dworkin 1999

"A well-written, tense, and intimate Holocaust memoir by an author with a remarkable war experience." from a review in Kirkus Reviews 9/1/1999
This very interesting and moving memoir was written by the Holocaust survivor, Edith Hahn Beer with the help of Susan Dworkin. The author, 85 at the time of its publication in 1999, had grown up in Vienna, lived out most of the war years in Germany under a false identity, and then left for England after the war where she lived for over thirty years. After her second husband, Fred Beer died, she settled in Netanya, Israel.

The title of this memoir underlines the most unusual aspect of her life. Provided with false identity papers by Austrians who did not support the Nazi regime, Edith Hahn Beer married a German member of the Nazi party whom she met at an art gallery, and who, after a short romance, declared his love. She shared her secret, but although his politics were not pro-Jewish, his personality was such that he chafed at authority and felt compelled to protect her and her secret. When he was drafted toward the end of the war, he became a Nazi officer.

Because the author spent most of the war years in Germany, we get a detailed look at what it was like to first be a slave laborer on an asparagus farm, then a worker in a box factory.  Then, once she got her false identity papers, she became what she calls a “U-boat” – a person living amongst the enemy - and we see what it was like living amongst Nazis and Nazi sympathizers through her eyes. The details she provides allow us to become emotionally involved in her close calls – in her need to be careful in order not to give away her identity. This meant that she was constantly strategizing, constantly being fearful that she might implicate herself and others who had helped her.

Edith Hahn Beer survived for a number of reasons: she was lucky, and she met a few sympathetic Austrians and Germans who provided help and cover at crucial moments. Mostly it was because she was smart and made the right decisions. However, she never would have suffered as she did, she realized much later, had she decided to leave Austria before Hitler invaded, as her sisters had done. For a variety of reasons she had not wanted to leave her beloved Vienna and she, like many others, was convinced that Hitler, who she considered an “idiot,” was not a real threat.

Throughout the years she kept in touch with her Austrian Christian friend Christl Denner Beran who helped save her life by agreeing to hand over her papers so that Edith Hahn Beer could assume her identity. For this selfless act of humanity she has been honored by Yad Vashem.

To see a trailer for the movie of the same name which includes a short clip of an interview with Edith Hahn Beer, click here.

To read an in-depth article on Germany's use of forced and slave labor during World War II called "German Industry and the Third Reich", click here.

Author’s family (Father and mother were distant cousins. Both had Hahn surname.)
Author’s father’s family
Leopold Hahn – married Klothilde Hahn
            Edith Hahn – daughter of Leopold and Klothilde; married to Werner Vetter; married to Fred Beer; author
                        Maria Angela Vetter Schluter – daughter of Edith and Werner
            Mimi Hahn – daughter of Leopold and Klothilde; married Milo Grenzbauer
            Johanna (Hansi) Hahn – daughter of Leopold and Klothilde
Gisela Hahn Kirschenbaum – sister of Leopold
Isadore Hahn – brother of Leopold
            Selma Hahn – daughter of Isadore

Author’s mother’s family
Ignatz Hoffman – Klothilde Hahn’s uncle – exact relationship unclear
            Klothilde Hahn –niece of Ignatz Hoffman;  married Leopold Hahn (see above)
            Richard Hahn – brother of Klothilde; married Roszi
            Elvira Hahn – sister of Klothilde
                        Jultschi – daughter of Elvira; married Otto Ondrej
                                    Otto Ondrej – son of Jultschi and Otto
            Marianne Hahn – sister of Klothilde; married Adolf Robichek

Max Sternbach – author’s cousin; relationship not clear

Friends and Acquaintances
Bertschi Beran – married to Christl Denner
Liesel Brust
Kathe Crohn
Heddy Deutsch
Suri Fellner
Philippe Halsmann
Max Hausner
Steffi Kanagur
Sigfried Kanagur – brother of Steffi
Mina Katz
Lily Kramer
Erna Marcus
Felix Roemer
            Wolfgang Roemer – nephew of Felix
            Ilse Roemer – sister of Wolfgang
Josef (Pepi) Rosenfeld
Hermi Schwarz

Vienna, Austria
Stockerau, Austria
Hotel Bristol, Badgastein, Austria
Hainburg, Austria
Osterberg, Germany
Munich, Germany
Brandenburg, Germany
Netanya, Israel

Monday, January 7, 2013

Assembling My Father: A Daughter’s Detective Story by Anna Cypra Oliver 2004

"Oliver's memorial to her elusive dad—and the way researching and writing it changes her own identity—is unforgettable." from a review in Publisher's Weekly 2004

In this interesting memoir Anna Oliver investigates the trajectory of her father’s life through to his suicide in 1974 when her father, Lewis Weinberger, was 35 and the author was five years old. Both her father and her mother were from well-established, wealthy Jewish families and grew up in Queens in New York. Lewis Weinberger married Teresa Oliver in 1960 when they were still college students. He was the son of a successful housing developer; she was the daughter of a Jewish mother and a father who was an artist from Chile and a lapsed Catholic. Trained as an architect, Lewis eventually moved with Teresa to Miami, following the relocation of his parents and older brother, and tried working for his father. But he was restless and Teresa was unhappy, so in 1970 they set out for New Mexico where they lived amongst many others who in the 1960s and 1970s had dropped out of living conventional lives and had joined the counterculture. Sometime after his death, the author’s mother joined a Christian fundamentalist sect. Anna Oliver lived with her mother and two successive step-fathers and eventually left when she went off to a Christian college in Minnesota.

Anna Oliver reconstructs her family’s history as a way of examining the past for clues that would unlock the mysteries that surrounded her father’s life and death. She was longing to know a father she did not remember, to find comfort in learning about him. She felt that doing so would bring him closer, help to make him real, and help her to better understand her own roots. In order to find the pieces of the puzzle and to be able to assemble them, she conducted many interviews, following up on leads from family and family friends. She explored historical archives and found useful resources in unlikely places. She rescued a journal her father had kept from an old friend of her father’s who lived in New Mexico and who had found his body after the suicide and had kept some of his effects. She quotes relevant passages in her memoir and reproduces some passages in his handwriting.

In taking on this project, the author experienced the pleasures and frustrations of amateur genealogists. She met and got to know a number of relatives she had never met or barely remembered, including her father’s brother Joe who was able to pass on to her both facts and insights that she found invaluable. When her mother finally agreed to talk about her past she learned a lot about her mother’s earlier years and her relationship with her father. And she learned that an interview or source could very often lead to unexpected outcomes. For example, she contacted a friend of her father who, it turned out, had her father’s voice on audio tape. Finally, she came to realize that some of her assumptions were just that – assumptions not based in fact. From all the sources she consulted, she was able to draw informed conclusions and put together a textured portrait of her father although there are still many gaps that she doubts that she will ever be able to fill.

In a thread of the memoir Anna Oliver explores her own relationship to Judaism. She had always known that both her parents had been born into non-religious Jewish families but, having been brought up a Christian fundamentalist in New Mexico she knew nothing about Judaism. She had been close to her maternal grandmother who she visited fairly frequently in New York but she did not consider exploring Judaism as an option until she was well along in researching her father’s life and had spent extended time with members of his family and with some of his Jewish friends from when he was growing up in Queens. It took years before she could throw off the restricted life she felt was imposed on her by her mother's conversion to Christian fundamentalism. She felt the imprint deeply and ventured out into the world beyond Christian fundamentalism with trepidation. Partly, she was concerned about how it would affect her mother.

This memoir places her parents within the wider context of the turmoil of the second half of the twentieth century in the United States. In sketching in the chaotic socio-political decades of the 60’s and 70’s, she demonstrates that some young adults in her parents’ generation, including former friends of her parents, dabbled in alternative lifestyles and then moved on to live more or less stable and conventional lives. Not so her parents who seemed to have lost their way. For a host of reasons she explores they seemed vulnerable to the darker elements that were part and parcel of the counterculture. They had worked deliberately to put geographical and psychic distance between themselves and their upbringing, but they lost their way.

To read an article by a former hippie still searching click here.

Author’s father’s family
Morris Weinberger – married to Kate
    Joseph Weinberger – son of Morris and Kate; married to Myriam
        Stephan Weinberger – son of Joseph and Myriam
    Miriam Weinberger – daughter of Morris and Kate; married Robert
        Michael – son of  Miriam
    Lewis Weinberger – daughter of Morris and Kate; married Teresa
        Peter Weinberger – adopted son of Lewis and Teresa; marries Julie
        Anna Cypra Oliver (Weinberger) – daughter of Lewis and Teresa; married to Stephan Klein; author

Author’s mother’s family
    Rose – daughter of Nathan; married to Juan Oliver
        John Oliver – son of Juan and Rose
        Teresa Oliver – daughter of Juan and Rose; married Lewis Weinberger (see above)
    Anna – daughter of Nathan

Irwin Sollinger
David Levine
Bobby Blender
Ernie Kirschman
Jerome Yavarkovsky
Barry and Runja Klein
Donald and Elaine Singer
Robert Greenberg


Miami, Florida
New Hyde Park, NY
New York City, NY
Mahopac Lake, NY
Roscoe, NY
Taos, New Mexico
Blaine, Minnesota