Chapter 1. Selma’s Story
Selma Metzger, her husband, and her daughter Eva were picked up by the Gestapo on December 11, 1941, and deported by train from Rheine, Germany to Riga, Latvia. Since Hitler had gained power they had been persecuted and gradually stripped of their civil rights. First they were required to wear a Star of David on their dresses or coats. They were not allowed to walk on the sidewalk, nor could they speak with other citizens in public. Their ration of food was smaller than that of other citizens, and they were not allowed fresh fruit or vegetables. They could only shop in stores between one and two PM. on Mondays.
In their small town of Rheine in Westfalen they were one of a few Jewish families; their daughter Laura was the only one of three Jewish girls who had not been dismissed from school. Since her father was a war veteran she was allowed to stay in school. She was completely alone in the school; the other girls in the class belonged to the Hitler Youth, and they were afraid to talk to her. She sat in the back of classes by herself until she could no longer tolerate it, and she asked her mother to take her out of school.
Selma wrote a letter to Laura’s teacher asking for Laura’s dismissal from school, but the teacher would not agree, and asked for a conference with Selma. The teacher finally agreed to Laura’s dismissal after Selma explained how Laura felt. The teacher asked to give private lessons, but Selma refused, fearing she would endanger the teacher’s position by allowing her to tutor a Jewish girl.
One Friday evening, the beginning of the Jewish Sabbath, Laura came home crying. She had gone to the post office to get the mail when an eighteen year-old boy spat in her face. She pleaded with her mother to write their cousin Katy in New York and ask her to write an affidavit for Laura’s emigration from Germany.
Three months later, in the fall of 1937, they received a letter from America — Katy had Laura’s emigration papers. In March 1938, Laura’s father Morris took her to Hamburg and Laura boarded a boat for the United States. It was a sad good-bye for everyone.
As the year of 1938 passed, their situation became more unbearable. They applied to leave Germany, but the quota for the United States was now full. Selma’s brother-in-law tried to get visas to South America from a Latin-American man. The man accepted the money, but he never delivered the visas. In the meantime her husband’s business — selling household goods such as porcelain, crystal, and pans — failed because of the boycott on Jewish merchants. They were ordered out of their apartment; the official reason given them was that they should not be given the chance to influence their neighbors who were not Jewish. Morris’s business was closed and he had to work at manual labor — road construction- – at very low wages. He arose every workday at six in the morning and returned at six that evening. Selma’s brother Norbert was a cattle salesman; his business was also taken away, and he too was forced into hard manual labor.
In November, 1938, on “Krystal-Nacht”, Hitler gave the order to destroy Jewish houses and businesses. The apartment where they were living was stoned by school children. A man broke into their rooms and stole jewelry, silver, and money. Under seige, they fled to a neighboring apartment (all their neighbors were now Jewish), where a couple had a six-month old baby and a two year-old boy. The brother of the man living downstairs came for them in a car and took them with his relatives to the small town of Meteln, 40 kilometers away. The next day this man and his two brothers were put into jail. They escaped from the jail and fled to Holland.
Before they left the country they asked Morris Metzger if he would go with them; he refused since he had to stay with his family, whose future was endangered.
When they returned to their apartment they found that not only had it been robbed, but it had been vandalized: Preserved eggs had been thrown on the walls, their clothes were strewn about, and a painting of Laura had been slashed. The Jewish landlady of their apartment house had died of a heart-attack during the violence, and her furniture and possessions had been demolished. As Selma surveyed the destruction, the Gestapo came to report the thefts and vandalism. The man asked Selma in an incredulous tone of voice,
“Do you think the S.S. would do such things?”.
Selma was now worried about her mother, brother, and sister in the nearby small town of Ahlen. She phoned there and heard that her parents’ home was demolished. While it was being attacked, her brother had jumped from a window and had run to a farmer’s house. A first cousin of hers had been beaten to death by the son of his landlord, who was a notorious anti- Semite. She learned that her brother, sister, and mother had fled to their cousins’ house.
A synagogue in Rheine was burned by the S.S. from another town nearby. The local S.S. did not usually commit major crimes in its own town — it went elsewhere, so that the perpetrators of the violence could not be recognized. As the synagogue burned, the fire department did nothing.
Around ten o’clock every night townspeople gathered around her cousins’ house screaming that they wanted Ahlen “Judenfrei” — free of Jews. Her mother’s and her brother’s homes were now completely demolished, and they were forced by the S.S. to move to Berlin along with other Jewish families. But Selma and Morris stayed in Rheine, while Eva went to Berlin so that she could attend the Jewish high school there.
She attended high school there for almost two years, until she heard that many Jews were being deported to concentration camps. The first deportations were in the big cities, where they would not draw as much attention as in the small towns.
Eva realized that she was in danger of being deported and since Jews were not normally allowed to ride trains, she obtained a special permit from the Gestapo, telling them that her father was sick (a lie) and that she had to return home to see him.
In November of 1941, Selma’s sister called from Berlin and told her that she had received an order to go to concentration camp. They had already heard rumors that they would be ordered to go to camp. Times were already very difficult. They now lived in two rooms — a kitchen and a bedroom. They were not allowed to go into the streets after four in the afternoon. Since they lived near the border, they heard British bombers going over every evening. They were not allowed to go into the town’s bomb shelters with the other citizens, but they went into a nearby cellar anyway.
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