Tuesday 29 January 2019

Jewish woman recalls the day she gave Hitler flowers before escaping Nazi Germany

‘I distinctly remember a soldier on the left of Hitler taking the bouquet off me. All this time, the Fuhrer just stood there and didn’t shake my hand. I remember a stern face and uniform,’ Hanna Oppenheim recalls to her granddaughter Maya Oppenheim. Read on: 

Hanna Oppenheim’s parents would have kept her at home if they had known she would spend the day surrounded by Adolf Hitler and his SA Brownshirts.

Her teacher would also have been highly unlikely to choose the nine-year-old girl to present the Nazi leader with a gargantuan bouquet of flowers in front of a piazza full of people in Munich.

“I do not think my teacher would have chosen me because she would have been aware of the fact I was Jewish and she would not have wanted to expose me,” the 94-year-old tells The Independent.

“My classmates chose me. I remember being very pleased to be picked. It seemed a tremendous honour. It never occurred to me that I ought not to present the flowers.”

It was 9 November 1933 and my grandma, who was forced to leave Hitler’s Germany soon after the flower saga, was about nine and a half.

A photo of 10-year-old Hanna in 1934 – the year she and her family fled Germany for
Jerusalem (Images supplied by Hanna Oppenheim)
“Hitler had been in power for 11 months and he had decided to return to Munich – the home of the Nazi movement – for a special ceremony to commemorate the 10th anniversary of 1923 [the Munich Putsch].”

All of the state elementary schools in Munich had gathered at Feldherrnhalle – a building that is still standing to this very day.

“The piazza was full of kids and I remember being pushed forward by the crowds,” the nonagenarian, who was known as Hannelore back then, says. “As a little girl, the bouquet of flowers felt far bigger than me. I remember walking up the steps in front of a massive crowd, feeling a strange combination of terror and excitement.

“Of course he didn’t know I was Jewish, nobody in the crowd did apart from my teacher and the other children. I distinctly remember a soldier on the left of Hitler taking the bouquet off me. All this time, the Fuhrer just stood there and didn’t shake my hand. I remember a stern face and uniform. I then stepped back into the warmth of my classmates.”

Her parents were more than a little surprised when she got home and they asked about her day. After all, they had already started making preparations to leave Germany.

“They were very taken aback, to say the least, it was a total shock to them,” she says. “By this time, they knew we were leaving Germany and they were closing down the business, preparing their various documents and saying their goodbyes. My parents had noticed lots of changes since Hitler’s rise to power. Having read Mein Kampf, they were fully aware of Hitler’s intentions.”

Otto Frank, her father, was a timber merchant and he had noticed trade getting steadily worse since the Nazi Party’s rise to power.

“His orders became few and far between, as applications for building contracts were rejected from companies he had done business with for years,” she tells me. “My father also noticed that business letters were not signed as in the old days – ‘yours faithfully’ but as ‘mit deutschem Gruß [with German greeting], Heil Hitler’.”

Dr Max Meyer, her uncle, had been writing the family weekly letters from Jerusalem where he had already emigrated. The letters warned the family to get out of the country.

“At the time, Max was regarded as a terrible pessimist, like a prophet who prophesises the end of the world,” she says. “While my father was probably not as much of a pessimist, he was also a great realist and could also see that it was time to leave. Although it was still only the beginning.”

But she herself remained oblivious to what was happening to the country and had no idea she would soon be leaving or that the Nazi Party would go on to mass-murder six million Jews. She was too young to read the daily paper her parents had delivered to the flat and did not listen to the radio. Her parents also chose not to discuss the political situation in front of her.

“There was a feeling that if I’d heard it was a vile system at home, I might have felt resentful or rebellious in school,” she says. “So while they prepared their exit, I continued to read Hans Christian Anderson and Grimm’s Fairy Tales, none the wiser.”

Her only encounters with Hitler came through school and in the form of indoctrination. There was a pro-Hitler brainwashing session once a week called Heimatkunde (“Study of Your Home Country”) and she still has an exercise book which contains evidence of it.

The notebook is replete with stuck-in pictures of Hitler and his stormtroopers and sketches she did of German flags, eagles and even swastikas. An essay inside the book talks about the huge cost of reparations that had to be paid after the First World War and issues of inflation and vast unemployment. “Out of this dreadful crisis, one man will liberate us – Adolf Hitler”, it concludes.

“At the end of the war, Adolf Hitler returned to Munich,” it continues. “He said: ‘I want a decent government, I want every German to be able to work: out of farmers, city dwellers, labourers we will make a German people. Germany needs to be powerful again’.”

A one million mark note alongside an essay about Hitler
“I thought, I’m just doing my school work. Hitler’s greatness was instilled in us,” she says.

But Ms Oppenheim does remember one day at school called the Hitler Feier (celebration) that her parents did not allow her to go to. She says she remembers a small boy who she walked to school with every day coming to fetch her but her not being allowed to go with him.

“He rang the bell as usual,” she recalls. ”I went down and I said ‘I’m not coming today’ and he said ‘why?’ and I said ‘because I’m Jewish’. I do remember the ensuing silence. He said, ‘well, it’s not your fault that you are Jewish’. The following day he came to pick me up. He was a nice boy.”

Soon after the day of the flowers, at the beginning of December 1933, her mother took her out of school. There was an epidemic of measles and she didn’t want her to get ill because they were due to leave at the beginning of January.

“I spent a lot of that month ice-skating and I had the whole lake to myself because all the other kids were at school,” she recalls. “One day on the way back from the ice rink, I ran into some children, who asked why I hadn’t been at school. They told me that the teacher, Frau Gruber, had left my drawing up on the blackboard, choosing not to wipe it off because I was leaving.

“I’m not sure how I passed a whole month with no school but I don’t think I was lonely, I had several friends. Although there was one particular girl who was no longer allowed to play with me. Her name was Inge and we lived in the same block, she was very pretty with blue eyes and blonde hair that was plaited on the top of her head. After Inge joined the League of German Girls and her brothers became part of Hitler Youth, she no longer came to play with me.”

Hanna Oppenheim’s notebook
Meanwhile, her parents packed up their possessions and removal men came to put the belongings in containers to travel by ship. To say their goodbyes, her parents threw a huge party with all of their friends, Jews and Germans alike. Before long, she was boarding a train and travelling east out of Germany.

“The minute we crossed the German border my father sat me down on his knee,” she says. “He explained why we were going to Jerusalem. He said Germany was no longer safe and Jews would no longer be able to lead a normal life. Despite the fact that we had lived in Germany for generations, he said we had to leave while we still could. As a young girl, it was only then that I grasped all of the things which had been hidden from me.”

They took the train through the Balkan countries, passing through Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Turkey and Greece before getting a boat from Athens to Jaffa and finally arriving in Jerusalem.

“Days after we moved in, I started school and within weeks I could speak Hebrew fluently,” she says. “I made friends quickly and settled into the Mediterranean climate. From then on, a totally different life began.

“When the war broke out, I was 15 and old enough to realise how bad the situation was. Things had been getting progressively uglier since the day I met Hitler. People had disappeared and been dragged into camps. All the things my father had thought would happen, happened. But they were infinitely worse than anybody could have imagined, with thousands and millions of people being gassed.”

From Jerusalem, they followed the news closely. “We had Jewish friends and relatives in Germany and learned that the Oppenheimer side of the family had been taken to Bergen-Belsen,” she remembers. “The parents, the three children and two sets of grandparents were all taken away. In the end, the parents and two sets of grandparents died and the three children survived, Eve, Rutzi and Paul. You feel sad about the ones you knew and the millions you did not know.”

(Source: The Independent)

No comments:

Post a Comment