“Silence. These were the habits that I wore as I lived what survivors of the Holocaust now call a U-boat, a Jewish fugitive from the Nazi death machine, hiding right in heat of the Third Reich”
These words from Edith Hahn Beer in her memoir, The Nazi Officer’s Wife lay the foundation for her captivating memoir about growing up during the Nazi regime. The memoir traces back to Edith’s memories of going to school in 1920’s with the constant prejudice against Jews already apparent. She traces the details of the change from prejudice to overnight hatred, deportment and work camps. At the age of 27, and only one test away from achieving her law degree, Edith was turned away from her University due to the ridiculous rules set up by Hilter and the Reich. Edith and her mom are trapped in the slow and agonizing decline of Jewish civil rights as they lose their ability to sustain themselves. Edith is sent to work in various work camps for years, under the promise that while she works, her family will be kept safe from the concentration camps. Her boyfriend Pepi, is often a detached source of hope and optimism for her, keeping her grounded and self-aware throughout her ordeals.
In keeping with the title of the memoir, on her way to Poland, Edith departs the train at Vienna, minus one gold star armband. Through the help of various friends, she manages to obtain papers of a German girl, taking the name of a German girl and becoming Grete Denner, a mild mannered, obediant women, instead of the starry-eyed, hopeful and intelligent Edith Hahn that she was. To further go into hiding and blend in with her new identity, Edith moved to Munich were she met the Nazi officer, Werner Vetter.
I won’t expand on any more of the story. Its an amazing read, I started yesterday and stayed up until 1am to finish the book. Edith’s storytelling is seamless, told through the eyes of a naive girl, living in daily terror of being found. I thought of the Diary of Anne Frank as I read this memoir. Both girls, trapped in worlds they did not create, victim to seething hatred that attacked their lives like an atom bomb during their youth. Anne Frank hid in a small attic in Amsterdam for almost 3 years, and Edith Hahn lived in the lion’s nest, married to a Nazi officer, living among Nazis. In Edith’s recanting of the tale, we do see the softer side of humanity, as she stresses that while the Third Reich movement spawned a deep hatred for Jews, not all Nazi’s were cruel. In a lawless society, individual’s set their own morality meter, allowing some to be more friendly and compassionate than others.
Edith’s work has since been turned into an A&E Presentation which would be worth looking up at a local video store.