Read Underground in Berlin Online

Authors: Marie Jalowicz Simon

Underground in Berlin (4 page)

BOOK: Underground in Berlin
9.32Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Soon after my sixth birthday I began going to elementary school in Heinrich-Roller-Strasse. It was 1928, the time of mass unemployment. Many very poor people lived near the catchment area of this school. All the same, my parents did not want to send me to an exclusive private school. I was to learn the social environment there, along with its Berlin dialect, and learn also to assert myself in those surroundings. At the same time, however, they wanted to limit my contact with that world.

The first day at school; Marie Jalowicz in 1928, aged six
.

For many years my father took me to school every day. Our morning walk together, and the good conversations we had, strengthened the bond between us. I was collected from school by my nanny, Levin. As soon as I got home I was stripped and washed from head to foot. My clothes were either put in with the laundry or hung up to air, and I wore a fresh set: apparently I had taken on the typical, musty smell of the school.

I skipped the third year. Even before 1933, my parents had a pressing sense of inner uneasiness, and wanted me to get through my schooling quickly. Like my mother and my aunts before me, I changed to the Sophien-Lyzeum elementary school. The three years that I spent there did not mould my character in any particular way. What impressed me most was the arrest of our mathematics teacher Frau Draeger.
*
This must have been in 1933; from my desk, I saw her being prevented from entering the classroom. Two men in civilian clothes were standing outside the door. She was white as a sheet. A little later I heard the click of handcuffs. Of course I talked about this incident at home. ‘Ask a few questions inconspicuously,’ said my father, ‘and try to find out who else saw it.’ I did as he said, with the result that I was apparently the only child to have observed the scene.

2

My mother was only fifty-three years old when she died, on 30 June 1938, of the cancer from which she had been suffering for a long time.
*
We spared our non-Jewish friends the dilemma of whether or not to attend a Jewish funeral by intentionally sending out the death announcements too late for them to come.

We were in a terrible situation. My father was earning almost nothing now, and he had run up debts everywhere. He had not been allowed to practise as a notary since 1933. His permit to run a legal practice was valid until September 1938, on the grounds of a regulation making an exception for Jewish ‘frontline fighters’ in the First World War. But when that date came, his career in the law ended. We had nothing left except for a small pension, and what I could earn by providing schoolchildren with extra coaching.

Aunt Grete had had to move out of Rosenthaler Strasse long ago, and was now living with Arthur in a small apartment in the same building as ours. She ran the typing bureau from it, keeping herself and her brother as best she could.

Arthur too died that summer, only two months after my mother. He literally starved to death. He was stricter than the most Orthodox of rabbis in observing the dietary rules, and among other things had eaten no meat at all since ritual slaughter was forbidden. I was present when one day Grete served meat all the same. Eyes flashing, he asked, ‘How do we come to have something so good in this hovel?’

‘It’s the new kosher, you see,’
*
explained Grete. He pushed his plate away, saying, ‘New kosher is
treife
.’

Because of his stomach ulcer, he had to go to hospital several times in the months before his death. ‘His ulcer is not so bad in itself,’ the doctors told Grete, ‘he’s ill because he refuses to take nourishment.’ And it was no joke when he said that he wanted to sacrifice himself, but his answer to the political situation.

The big apartment at 19a Prenzlauer Strasse was much too expensive for us now. We needed somewhere else to live, and found a place through a former client of my father’s who was an opponent of the Nazis, and a faithful friend to us. Herr Weichert was so short-sighted that he was almost blind, and so hard of hearing that he was almost deaf, but he drove at breakneck speed through the city in a little delivery van. One day he came to see us and said, ‘I have just the thing for you.’

He had entirely misunderstood us, and thought we wanted to buy a small house, which would have been grotesque in view of our situation, for in the late summer of 1938 we not only had to give up our apartment, we also had to sell the plot of land on which our small summer house in Kaulsdorf in the Wuhlheide stood. My father and mother had bought it seven years before. The new owners were Hannchen and Emil Koch, acquaintances of my parents who came from Kaulsdorf and had previously rented our wooden house there.

But Herr Weichert had also misunderstood the people with whom he put us in touch: they didn’t have a small house for sale at all, only sewing machines. Adolf and Margarete Waldmann, as Jews, had to give up the little ready-to-wear clothing business that they had run at 47 Prenzlauer Strasse, so there was a large room left empty at that address, and we moved into it.

Soon after my mother’s death, Margarete Waldmann became my father’s last great love. She was much younger than him, had a small son, and felt greatly honoured because my father adored her so much. He wrote verses to her, and even though we didn’t have any money at all to spare, he spoiled her with presents of good things to eat. At the age of sixteen I could easily see that she was just toying with his affection. You didn’t need either maturity or intelligence to work that out.

At the same time, there was the possibility of his contracting a marriage of convenience with a school headmistress called Dr Schiratzki, so that he could emigrate with her. The suggestion came from the Palestine Office.
*
You just marry her, I thought, and I’ll never have anything to do with you again!

Outside the quota regulations, there was a chance that my father might be granted what was known as a veteran’s certificate for Palestine, a permit for a deserving former soldier who was a member of the Zionist movement to emigrate there. The certificate would probably have covered me as well, and we would both have escaped from Germany. But then, in a rather dubious manner, it went to someone else, and the chance fell through.

The Waldmanns were also trying to emigrate. The only possibility was for them to go to Shanghai, and they planned to make the immensely long journey on the Trans-Siberian Railway. That woman tried to make my father believe that she was going to jump off the train at the last moment. ‘My husband will leave with little Martin on the train, and then I’ll be all yours,’ she promised him. ‘Don’t believe her nonsense!’ I protested. We had a terrible quarrel, and he almost won it. I was still too immature to recognise this ridiculously youthful love of his for what it was: a flame flickering for the last time before death.

The situation was becoming acute. If we didn’t want to be turned out on the street, I thought, then I must do something – which meant making myself available to the woman’s husband. I had some sexual experience already, and I thought: what does it matter? Let’s get it over and done with.

In fact it happened only twice. Herr Waldmann and I went to the once very respectable King of Portugal Hotel, a Jewish-run establishment. And whom should I meet on the steps outside it but my gymnastics teacher? We smiled at each other. So she, too, was here with a man. And I was still a schoolgirl.

In the autumn of 1938, all Jews with Polish passports were expelled from Germany. Several boys in my class at the newly founded Jewish secondary school in Wilsnacker Strasse were affected. Most of these fellow-students of mine were natives of Berlin who had been born in the city or had arrived as babies. Now, all of a sudden, they had to leave. Our class reacted to the parting in a remarkably disciplined manner: for a while we kept silent, and then lessons went on. There was nothing to be said about what had happened.

The places formerly occupied by these classmates of ours were not left empty for long. The next thing to happen was that all Jewish students were expelled from non-Jewish schools, and crowded into our classrooms. More and more chairs were brought in, and many students had to write on their laps.

Our supervising teacher was one Professor Hübener, a specialist in the philology of modern languages. He had been in a relationship for years with our class teacher Fräulein Philippson, who was Jewish. He was not a very courageous man, and he clearly felt it uncomfortable to be in charge of this Jewish school. When he fell ill, the headmaster of another secondary school, Herr Schröder, was appointed to supervise the school-leaving examination, the
Abitur
. Reinhard Posnanski, a fellow-student who had previously been taught by Schröder, was horrified when he heard that. ‘For God’s sake,’ he said, ‘Schröder is an officer in the SS.’

We were all dreadfully afraid of him. When he marched into the classroom, all of us taking the exam gathered together, along with the teaching staff. In the sharpest of military tones Schröder barked, ‘Posnanski! Come forward!’ My classmate went white as a sheet, but the supervising teacher put out his hand and said, ‘Greetings to you as my former pupil!’ And that was all there was to it.

I had chosen German as my special subject, and in the oral examination I was given a poem in Middle High German to read aloud. When I had finished, Herr Schröder told me, ‘That was really excellent! You look so young, yet you could have stepped into this room straight out of the Middle Ages.’ Our teachers told us later that when it came to marking the exams, Schröder had insisted on giving them all a score higher than the original assessment, and in fact that was definitely a fair judgement of our achievements by comparison with those of non-Jewish schools. Apart from that, this was a difficult time. Most of my fellow students came from families who were doing all they could to be allowed to emigrate. The happy life usually enjoyed by young people who had just taken their school-leaving examination was not for us any more.

None the less, my father wanted to have dinner at Grete’s apartment in celebration of my exam results; there was no way of doing it in our own room. The Waldmanns were to be among the guests. ‘If he dares to bring that tart into the house so soon after my dear sister’s death, I’m not lifting a finger to help you!’ declared my aunt. I was at my wits’ end. I was still very inexperienced as a housekeeper, and now I had to cook dinner for a dozen people. Furthermore, of course there was no money.

In the end, exactly what I had predicted happened. My father took the Waldmanns to the station, the train began moving away, and Frau Waldmann did not jump out. At that moment my father was finally disillusioned. He collapsed completely, and from then on I just felt dreadfully sorry for him.

We moved out of the Waldmanns’ apartment, and rented two little rooms from a family called Goldberg at 32 Landsberger Strasse. They meant well, but they were typical
petits bourgeois
, and frankly inquisitive. We couldn’t put up with it in the long run. Frau Goldberg kept following me about, almost treading on my heels. The linoleum in the kitchen was always polished to a high gloss, and she would wail, ‘Mind you don’t let a drop of water fall on it!’ We soon gave up using the kitchen at all, which saved us a few marks. We made tea for ourselves in our room with a kind of mini-boiler element.

Early in 1940 we moved again, this time to a horrible, bug-ridden room with a family called Ernsthal at 9 Prenzlauer Strasse. My father was in despair. He kept saying that he wished he could offer me a comfortable life, but there was nothing he could do for me. And for my part I kept telling him that none of that mattered to me.

* Among the main features of Pessach is the ban on eating leavened bread (chamez, in Hebrew) or even having it in the house. However, no one eats matzo, unleavened bread, after those few days, although it is not forbidden. In the narrative read on the Seder evening we are asked: ‘Why is this night different from other nights? On other nights, we can eat leavened and unleavened bread (chamez and matzo), but on this night only unleavened bread.’

* Margarete Draeger was obliged to retire in 1933 because she had Jewish forebears. After several other activities, she became a forced labourer at Siemens in 1942, went underground before she was due to be deported, but was discovered in 1944 and sent to Auschwitz.

* Marie Simon says no more about this event; only that one sentence. More about the death of Betti Jalowicz can be gathered from Hermann Jalowicz’s diary. ‘5.5.38. Went with little Marie to see Betti. X-ray of her head. In great pain.
Very serious conversation with little Marie that night
. The child’s calm is amazing. Before, however, she wept a great deal. 6.5.38, little Marie has been sleeping in Betti’s bed since 4. May. 12.5.38, to see Betti with little Marie. Conversation with Dr Jakob. I felt ill in the hospital. – On foot with little Marie to the Gesundbrunnen underground station. Conversation very serious and moving. 31.5. Not a single peaceful night since she came home (the same as before she was in the hospital). […] The prospects are gloomy. True, Betti does not talk as sadly as before, but her thoughts are sad. At the end of May she told me she could hardly bear the pain, we must not mourn her too much when she is gone, it would be a release for her. June 1938: a considerable deterioration in the last week of the month. […] While Betti lies in pain on her deathbed, children are daubing slogans on the doors and windows of Jewish businesses. Later, other Jewish nameplates are defaced, for instance Jacobi’s, Eger’s, Michelsohn’s and my own. […] On Tuesday, 28.6, Dr Gorze urged me to take Betti to the hospital. Little Marie and I declined, since that was not Betti’s wish and she is incurable. 30.6. At three-quarters to three, the nurse woke me, I woke little Marie. We sat quietly with Betti, I held her hand in mine, until at six in the morning her heart stopped beating.’

 

* Under National Socialist law, animals had to be stunned before being slaughtered, which is contrary to Jewish ritual law. Becuase of this law, stunned animals were slaughtered by Jewish ritual butchers and the meat then called ‘new kosher’. However, in the view of strict Orthodox Jews, such meat was considered
treife
, ‘impure’.

† Arthur Eger left a short farewell letter to his girlfriend, Hilde Hauschild: ‘A special farewell to you, dear Hilde. Forgive me! Thank you for the last time for all the joy you have given me. I could not reward you earlier, nor can I now. May God reward you and give you a happy life. Do not mourn or weep, I beg you. Yours beyond the grave. Arthur.’

* At the Palestine Office in Berlin, which had been set up in 1924 as a welfare institution, Zionist groups under the aegis of the Jewish Agency organised the emigration of German Jews to Palestine.

BOOK: Underground in Berlin
9.32Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Nutcase by HUGHES, CHARLOTTE
Killertrust by Hopkins, Sharon Woods
Simon by Rosemary Sutcliff
Going Dark by Robison Wells