The Rare Case
Strauss was one of the very few people who were able to avoid being deported to a Nazi camp or a Jewish ghetto. To make things even more unusual, she didn’t even have to stay in hiding nearly as much as the lucky few who were able to avoid deportation. And this wasn’t because she had forged documents or wasn’t known the authorities, it was for a few other reasons. She was a smart, attractive young woman, who over time showed her bravery, and above all had connections with a number of Germans who were prepared to risk their lives for her.
Marianne was born in 1923 in Essen, a city in West Germany. She was born into a rich Jewish family. The father of the Strauss family was a very successful businessman, who did well even in times when everybody else in the countries was doing badly. Although the family feared what the policies of Adolf Hitler could do to them, they felt sheltered because they were wealthy and their region was more tolerant of Jews than the rest of the country. This shows that Marianne, probably didn’t have the same fear that most of the Jews in the country did of the Nazis. She was shocked when she went to a German high school and experienced racism for the first time.
Life in Upheaval
When the Nazis started deporting Jews, Marianne’s family was able to gain exemption from this, because they were respected in the Jewish community and were asked to inform other families of deportation. This did not mean they wanted to support the Nazis though, and the family members were extremely lucky to avoid deportation. While this was occurring, the Strauss family was attempting to immigrate to Sweden, America or a South American country. Unfortunately, all their attempts to do this failed. The Nazi authorities wouldn't allow them to leave even with modified papers, and the countries to which they wanted to flee also didn’t cooperate.
During this period of uncertainty, Marianne spent her time helping the Jewish community around her. She sent many packages of food off to people she knew in the Jewish Ghettos, and she helped people cope with what was going on around them. It was at this time, that she discovered a left wing organization of German and Jewish people called, "the Bund". The Bund was basically a group of people who were against the Nazis, but their aim was not to protest but rather to secretly help people get out of the country and use each other for moral support. It was really more of a large group of friends than an organization, but it was still effective at what it strove to do. Little did Marianne know, the bund would be the main reason she survived the Holocaust.
Soon, the Strauss’ were probably the only Jewish family in the region who had not been deported. One morning in August 1943, just two days before the family was set to immigrate to Sweden, Gestapo and SS officers appeared at their door. They said that the family had two hours to prepare their luggage for the next transport to the East.
At this time, Marianne was faced with a difficult decision, should she run, and risk an almost certain death or should she cooperate and hope for survival? Here is an excerpt from her account:
“The Gestapo officials did not let us out of their sight. The allotted two hours were filled with feverish packing of the few things that we were able to take with us–clothing which, in the unknown destination of a ‘work camp’, should be practical warm and with luck keep us alive. Then came my moment. The two officials disappeared into the basement, probably to find some loot. Unable to say goodbye to my parents, brother and my relatives, I followed the impulse of the moment, ran out of the house just as I was, with some hundred-mark notes which my father had stuffed into my pocket just a few moments before. I ran for my life, expecting a pistol shot behind me any minute. To go in that way seemed to me a much better fate than the unimaginable one that might await me in Auschwitz or Łódź, in Treblinka or Izbica. But there was no shot, no one running after me, no shouting!”
Marianne ran to the Bund, and immediately bleached and cut her hair, changing her appearance completely. The Bund decided that she could stay with various members, all around the country. Here is another excerpt from her account:
“It was decided that I should never stay for more than three weeks with any one person. We had to prevent the relatives or neighbours from getting suspicious. In any case, I had no food coupons, so my friends (from the bund), carried the great burden of having to feed me from their rations. But I had some money and access to suitcases containing clothes and linen that my parents had hidden some weeks before their deportation, so I was able to barter their contents with farmers in the country in exchange for food or clothing coupons. This was an essential but very dangerous operation.”
Life in Hiding
Over the next two years Marianne lived with families of the Bund all around eastern Germany, for short periods of time. This was very unusual as most Jews who were hiding stayed completely in one spot or if they were moving they would have tried to leave the country. But when she was with these families Marianne went out just like a normal German. She was able to do this as long as her papers were never checked. The only time Marianne really ran the risk of her papers being checked was on the trains between the cities that she was staying in. If Marianne boarded and traveled on the train like everybody else, she knew that she would be caught. So she boarded and rode in the carriages with all the Gestapo and SS officers and looked very German. If they ever asked her what she was doing, Marianne would say that she couldn’t tell them because she was under direct command from the Führer, Adolf Hitler. While Marianne was living in relative safety, the rest of her immediate family members were in a Jewish Ghetto or a death camp. Marianne lived constantly with uncertainty about them and wondered whether she would ever see them again. Marianne wrote:
“On 7 June 1944–on my twenty-first birthday, I was… in Beverstedt and heard on the BBC that the occupants of the transport that had gone from Thereinstadt to Auschwitz on 18 December 1943 had been gassed in the last few days. I knew my parents and my brother had been on the transport to Auschwitz.”
The Later Years
As Germany’s military situation worsened, Marianne fled to Düsseldorf, a town which soon fell to the US Army. Marianne was free.
They spent the rest of their lives in Liverpool. She worked as a teacher and also reported to the BBC on the rebuilding of Germany. Marianne died in 1996 and her account was published as a small article in a German Journal. Her story was put together by historian Mark Roseman in his book about her, “The Past in Hiding”.
- Sue Wright; Linda Hantrais; Jolyon Howorth (2000). Language, Politics, and Society: The New Languages Department : Festschrift in Honour of Professor D.E. Ager. Multilingual Matters. p. 29. ISBN 978-1-85359-487-8. Retrieved 5 November 2015.
All quotes taken from "A Past in Hiding", Marianne Strauss' biography by Mark Roseman.