Survivor STORY

Marianne Hannelore Reinach Forchheimer was born in Wuppertal, Germany, in 1925, the daughter of a Lutheran mother and Jewish father. After the Nuremberg Laws were passed, life became more and more difficult for the family. Marianne's father was fired from his civil service position as an engineer in 1935 and the family moved to Dusseldorf, where he found another job in private industry. After a year, he was fired again, and the family moved north, to Celle, where Marianne barely finished high school in 1942 before she would have been asked to leave public school. Her younger brother was kicked out of school.

After graduation, Marianne and her classmates were put to work for the Nazi regime, although Marianne, because of her status as a "mixed race" person was to be sent to a much lower level of forced labor. Her father put an ad in the paper looking for a job for her, and she was sent to a farm near the Black Forest to work for a couple who, unlike every other respondent to the advertisement, did not sign "Heil Hitler."

Marianne's father was soon deported to a labor camp; the Gestapo approached her mother and told her that she should apply for a divorce and tell the lawyer that the children were really not her husband's, but that she had had affairs with Aryan men. They threatened her that if she refused to follow this suggestion, they would take her children. She ended up completing the paperwork with an anti-Nazi lawyer, who kept it in his office until she was required to file, but that day never came.

When it was clear that Allied Forces were moving eastward, Marianne moved back to Celle, and was sent to another job in an oil refinery. The British Army entered the city soon afterward, and Marianne and her family returned to their apartment from a hunting lodge in the forest, where they had gone to seek shelter. Marianne's father survived the war and was reunited with the family. Marianne's Jewish grandmother perished in Terezin (Theresienstadt).

Marianne was given the opportunity to move to the United States, and she relocated to Columbus, Ohio, where she lived with relatives. She married Peter Forchheimer, a Jewish German refugee, and the two raised their three daughters in Ohio. They moved to Atlanta after Peter retired from his family business.

Coming to America

The first thing she said to me was, I mean when we got home, they had a furnished apartment and they rented a furnished room for me across the street, but I ate with them. And she said, "Now two things we have to buy for you first, right off, right away, is a bra and lipstick." And she did! I don't know if I should mention this here, but that's how it was. I mean, in Germany, we couldn't buy anything. And apparently, I was heavy enough to - she didn't like the way I was dressed, ok? And the lipstick. When I wrote to my parents that she made me buy a lipstick, or she bought me a lipstick, my father wrote back, "Only loose women wear lipstick!" That wasn't customary in Germany yet at that time. And now we don't wear lipstick anymore, that's the funny thing.

Anyway, then ok, she said, she showed me the room that she had rented for me and there was a radio in there. A radio, the Gestapo had taken from us, I told you before, when they came, because Jews were not allowed to have radios, so they couldn't listen to the English channel with all the truth. And there was a little radio, an Emerson, blue, small. I was in seventh... I said, "Is that radio mine?" "Yes, it's yours, we got that." They were so sweet, I mean they got me stuff and they took care of me.

Making a Living

Then I said, maybe on the fourth day, I said, "I want to go downtown and look for a job." My aunt said, "No, you have to recuperate from the war and all this bad stuff, you don't have to look for a job yet." I went anyway. I walked downtown to save the streetcar money. It wasn't far. In Columbus there was a store, Lazarus, which was a department, which is now Federated, Federated Department Store. It was called Lazarus, biggest department store in Columbus. I went in to the employment office. My English was pretty good. And I filled that out, and the woman said, "Oh, we can use you in the cafeteria." They had several restaurants there, cafeteria. Your English isn't quite good enough yet to be behind the counter to hand out what people want, but you can be the bus girl. So I had to push this cart. Clean the tables and push this... And I was tired, even the work on the farm didn't make me as tired as that. All day long on your feet and pushing this cart into the kitchen. And I got some tips, and people of course asked me how long have you been here, how do you like it? That's always the first thing, how do you ...

And in '47 it was a novelty to see a German person here in this country so soon after the war, just two years after the war. And you know, the sad thing was that the German quota was very high. In those days they still used the quota system. They would let only so many people into the country from a foreign country. A certain number only, which was based on something. Based on something in the 18th century. English was the largest, German was the second largest. Now they didn't have enough German non-Nazis to fill the German quota, but they had all these concentration camp survivors that were Polish citizens or Russian citizens, but the quota numbers were much smaller. And I actually got out of Germany in '47, when some of these concentration camp survivors from Poland and Russia with numbers on their arms couldn't come because their quota was not large enough to admit them.

Life and Survival in Europe

We were invited by the city of Celle, they paid for myself and a companion, they paid for the flight. That was in 1988, when it was the 50th anniversary of the Kristallnacht. And they invited us, and they took care of us, they paid for the hotel and the meals. And they took us to Bergen-Belsen one day to look that over, and I couldn't imagine that, that being so close that we didn't know what was going on there. We did not know. Even Jewish people did not know. And when my grandmother, on the other hand, when my grandmother was taken to Terezin, that we knew somehow what was going on there and that she would not come back. Maybe I was too young to ask enough questions, or maybe I just didn't want to know what was going on, or maybe I was too carefree, or... When you're young things just slide off your back much more easily than when you're old. And now, when I think about it, I mean, I know that other people that talk about this start crying and can't talk about it, but I get mad, I get really mad. How is such a thing possible? And the madness overpowers everything else.

Marianne Reinach Forchheimer