Biography & Autobiography. History. Religion & Spirituality. Nonfiction. HTML: #1 New York Times Bestseller Edith Hahn was an outspoken young woman in Vienna when the Gestapo forced her into a ghetto and then into a slave labor camp. When she returned home months later, she knew she would become a hunted woman and went underground. With the help of a Christian friend, she emerged in Munich as Grete Denner. There she met Werner Vetter, a Nazi Party member who fell in love with her. Despite Edith's protests and even her eventual confession that she was Jewish, he married her and kept her identity a secret. In wrenching detail, Edith recalls a life of constant, almost paralyzing fear. She tells how German officials casually questioned the lineage of her parents; how during childbirth she refused all painkillers, afraid that in an altered state of mind she might reveal something of her past; and how, after her husband was captured by the Soviets, she was bombed out of her house and had to hide while drunken Russian soldiers raped women on the street. Despite the risk it posed to her life, Edith created a remarkable record of survival. She saved every document, as well as photographs she took inside labor camps. Now part of the permanent collection at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., these hundreds of documents, several of which are included in this volume, form the fabric of a gripping new chapter in the history of the Holocaustâ??complex, troubling, and ultimately triumphant.
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When Edith is sent back to join her mother in being sent to Poland (and the death camps), she decides not to report. While in hiding, she tries to stay connected to her friends and Pepi, but their fear of her and her Jewishness kills their love for her, and she finds herself adrift. I was struck by the relationship with Pepi and how it changes as she goes deeper underground. Edith is also very eloquent in her discussion of going underground from a psychological aspect. The long-term burial of her real identity, her real personality, her real feelings has a deep and lasting effect on her life for years to come.
Her marriage to Werner Vetter was fascinating. He was Aryan, yes. He was a Nazi party member, yes. But he was also a gifted liar, a lip-service Nazi at best, and fully aware of "Grete's" real identity. Her submission and real fondness for him wars with her re-assertion of self after the war. His fondness for her and very real enjoyment of flouting German law wars with his hidden antisemitism and his need for control. It is a complicated and volatile relationship. The story is a unique and seldom-told one, and I recommend it.
The title is somewhat misleading, since she did not marry a Nazi officer (her husband was nominally a Nazi, but not even in the military when she married him), and her marriage was only one of the factors that kept her alive and under the radar throughout the course of the war. Not only did she and her daughter survive, but so did a fairly extensive archive of letters, photos and official documents she and a former lover each held on to, at considerable risk. Those documents are now in the custody of the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. The author died in Israel earlier this year. Highly recommended as a revealing look at life in Nazi Europe from a rather unusual perspective.
The following pages really resonated with me:
"How can I describe you our confusion and terror when the Nazis took over? We had lived until yesterday in a rational world. Now everyone around us -- our schoolmates, neighbors, and teachers; our tradesmen, policemen, and bureaucrats -- had all gone mad. They had been harboring a hatred for us which we had grown accustomed to calling 'prejudice.' What a gentle word that was! What a euphemism! In fact, they hated us with a hatred as old as their religion; they were born hating us, raised hating us; and now with the Anschluss, the veneer of civilization which had protected us from their hatred was stripped away....
The Nazi radio blamed us for every filthy evil thing in this world. The Nazis called us subhuman and, in the next breath, superhuman; accused us of plotting to murder them, to rob them blind; declared that they had to conquer the world to prevent us from conquering the world....
Did our friends and neighbors really believe this? Of course they didn't believe it. They were not stupid. But they had suffered depression, inflation, and joblessness. They wanted to be well-to-do again, and the fastest way to accomplish that was to steal. Cultivating a belief in the greed of the Jews gave them an excuse to steal everything the Jews possessed.
We sat in our flats, paralyzed with fear, waiting for the madness to end. Rational, charming, witty, dancing, generous Vienna must surely rebel against such insanity. We waited and we waited and it didn't end and it didn't end and still we waited and we waited."
This is a fascinating read.
Well written, this book is interesting and face-paced. Miraculously, numerous documents and photographs survived World War II and are featured in the book. The reader sympathizes with Edith and feels her anxiety and worry over her situation. I would have liked to read more about her life after Munich and where she ultimately ended up. Overall, this was a very good book.
She had friends in Vienna, both jewish and not, who helped her and two of them helped her secure false papers and she went to Germany. There she fell in love with someone who was in the Nazi party and had a good position at the aircraft factory. He was angry when he found out she was jewish but married her anyway.
I hate to give anything away in reviews so I will leave it there. What a strong, person to endure what she did throughout the holocaust both physically and mentally.
During the course of it, she saved all her documents and pictures and her male friend in Vienna had done the same. It's a remarkable account and heart wrenching. About 3/4 of the way through the book she said "To live in ignorance, all you had to do was listen only the Nazi news" made me realize it could happen anywhere, anytime again.
What is interesting in that they still had access to post. Slave labourers in Germany seem to have better conditions than those in other conquered places.
Edith got a holiday to return to Vienna and was supposed to report for deportation to Poland but has heard how bad conditions were there from soldiers writing to Jewish girlfriends. The interesting thing is that she had many friends who were high up in the Nazi party. She was told to find an Aryan friend who would say that she lost her papers while boating in the Danube and would get new copy. Edith would get the old one but had to leave Vienna and find work in the Red Cross as all other jobs were on a national register.
In Munich she worked as a nurse aid. After the fall of Stalingrad, Goebbels called for 4 days of mourning and greater sacrifices in "total war"
You could be sent to jail for listening to foreign radio but she discovered that one neighbour would sing another would knocking woodwork while they all listened to BBC or Swiss Radio in German.
She learned that only 6000 German troop got home after Stalingrad.
On BBC she heard the voice of the writer Thomas Mann as well as the Chief Rabbi Hertz of Britain who spoke in German. Before the Russians came her husband realised that it was better to keep cash than to leave it in the bank. In The Russian sector instead of the Gestapo the Soviets brought the KGB again everybody were supposed to be informers so she knew she had to leave and got to England where she had a sister.
She eventually moved to Israel and passed her story and documents on to her daughter who encouraged her have it published.
While not the best writing I've read, Edith's story kept me interested and happy when she finally escaped to England and safety.