Remembering Inge Deutschkron, a Force of Nature Holocaust Survivor

 

The death of a legend who outwitted Nazis in wartime Berlin.

by Evelyn Leopold

Inge Deutschkron, Holocaust survivor, author, and lecturer, was a force of nature. She died at the age of 99 on March 9, 2022, and was buried on April 8 in her hometown of Berlin, where she fought for justice against right-wing extremists.

Inge Deutschkron

She was honored by officials and political leaders from Berlin, few of whom knew her personally, at the funeral she planned at the Südwestkirchhof Stahnsdorf cemetery near Potsdam, Germany. It has architecturally striking tombs and burial places of famous people, but is difficult for friends to reach.

I happened to be in Berlin that day. I was not one of the invited guests but was told about it. Inge Deutschkron and I met in 1970 in Bonn, then the German capital. She worked out of the Reuters office for the Israeli paper Maariv and often stood over my shoulder, lecturing me as I struggled with news and the German language. We met over the years when I worked in and visited Berlin.

‘I Wore the Yellow Star’

Inge left Germany in 1968 for Israel where she worked in the foreign affairs section of Maariv. I had known she escaped the Nazis by living underground but not much more. When I was visiting Israel while working for Reuters, she gave me a copy of her book Ich trug den gelben Stern (German for “I Wore the Yellow Star”; Outcast is the English title), for which she became famous. It was her first of many books.

Inge wrote of the life-threatening experiences she and her mother faced while fleeing the Nazis—using a false identity, hiding in 22 places (backyards, garden sheds, and abandoned apartments), and constantly fearing capture. Her father, an educator and Social Democratic Party activist, fled to England before the war, but Inge and her mother were denied entry until after the war.

In one notable scene, when starved for food, she and her mother joined refugees fleeing to Berlin. Asked at a collection site her address, she said: “Giesen, Adolf Hitler Strasse, 2” (a guess she made that a town square had been named after Hitler in the village of Giesen), rightly assuming the Fuhrer was cited everywhere. She got the food.

Of the 200,000 Jews in Berlin before World War II, about 7,000 Berlin Jews had gone into hiding, and only 1,700 of them survived.

Among those who helped Inge survive was Otto Weidt, who hired her and other Jews (many of them blind and deaf) under false names for his factory that made brooms and brushes. He was the Oskar Schindler in her life, and she honored him by helping to resurrect his workshop into a museum. She told me how the blind Jews whom Weidt had harbored were finally ordered to a Nazi deportation site. They walked along streetcar tracks, single file, one by one.

A play based on her book, which is still performed in theaters in the German-speaking world, “Ab heute heist du Sara” (“From Now On, Your Name Is Sara”), depicted her odyssey during the war. I once joined the “Saras” at a party for Inge.

Why Did I Survive?

In 2013, 90-year-old Inge Deutschkron gave a speech in the German parliament on Auschwitz Memorial Day recalling those who had not survived the Holocaust: “At night, I saw them in front of me, and could not stop thinking of them. Where were they? What was done to them?… What right did I have to hide, to duck out of a fate that should have been mine as well? That feeling of guilt haunted me, it never let me go.”

In her speech, Inge also recalled the early postwar years in Bonn under Chancellor Konrad Adenauer. She said that Chancellor Adenauer “had claimed in a government statement in parliament that the majority of Germans had opposed crimes against the Jews” and that “many of them even helped the Jews escape their killers.” “Ah, if only that had been the truth!” she said.

Parliamentarians stood and applauded—except for delegates from the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AFD) party, who sat in stony silence.

Was Returning to Berlin a Wise Choice?

Inge Deutschkron returned to Berlin from Israel in 1988. Annette von Broecker, the former editor-in-chief of the Reuters German-language news service, thinks the move was a mistake and believes Inge thought so too. Annette mentored Inge during her last years.

“She could have gone back to Israel and had a nice life and even written about her own experiences as an exile,” Annette told me.

While in Israel, she and Annette often took holidays together. “She was interested in so many things and enjoyed life,” Annette recalled. But in Berlin, where Inge lectured in schools and elsewhere, “she was confined to one topic: the Holocaust.”

Inge Deutschkron had the potential to have done so much more in other areas, and yet she dedicated her life to the remembrance of the Holocaust and the rise of fascism. As the number of Holocaust survivors dwindles, it is remarkable that she made such a significant contribution to educating the public about a horrific history—one that could be repeated if its memory is left to wilt.

This article was produced by Globetrotter.

Evelyn Leopold is a writing fellow and correspondent for Globetrotter. She is an independent journalist based at the United Nations and the winner of a UN Correspondents Association gold medal for her reporting. She served at Reuters as a manager, editor and correspondent in New York, Washington, London, Berlin and Nairobi. She is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and head of the Dag Hammarskjöld Fund for Journalists.

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