Research

Geffen, Hilma

Survivor, False Papers
Berlin (Germany)

Geffen was born in 1925 in Berlin, Germany. She lived with her parents in a little town called Rangsdorf in the suburban area of Berlin. Geffen's family was the only Jewish family in Rangsdorf. Her father worked as an independent accountant and had received war decorations for his service in the German army during World War I. Geffen attended a public school in her hometown. She recalls, that her family had a good relationship with the Gentile population of Rangsdorf.

This changed immediately in 1933 after Hitler came into power in Germany. Neighbors refused to have any further contact with Geffen's family. Geffen was discriminated against by classmates as well as by her teachers. One of her teachers was accused in the anti-Semitic newspaper "Der Stuermer" of collaboration with Jews, since she had allowed Geffen take part in a Nativity play at her school.

But the living conditions for Geffen and her parents got even worse after the so-called "Kristallnacht" pogrom on November 11, 1938. The Nazis used the murder of a German diplomat by a Jew as a pretext for ravaging Jewish communities. In the evening, members of the SA and the SS came to Geffen's house and destroyed windows and furniture. The German government levied the Jewish Atonement Fine of 1 billion marks on German Jews, making them financially responsible for the Nazi rampage.

Geffen states that after "Kristallnacht" the anti-Jewish Nuremberg Laws, which had been implemented in 1935, started to affect the Jewish everyday life tremendously. Jews were not allowed to attend public schools, own any property, or run a business, and Jewish bank accounts were frozen. Geffen had to attend a Jewish school in the center of Berlin. Her father sold their house to one of his former clients in order to move with his family into an apartment in Berlin.

In 1941 any education for Jewish children was prohibited and all Jewish schools had to close. Every Jew age fourteen and older was forced to work in German factories. Geffen had to work for the Deutsche Telephon Werke in Berlin. All Jews had to wear the yellow Star of David on their clothes,and they were not allowed to use public transport, nor to own cars, telephones, or jewelry.

In the summer of 1941, the first Jewish families were deported to the east. Geffen notes that she knew of the existence of concentration camps and gas vans because her parents had received a few postcards from relatives who had been interned in the camps. In October 1941, the Gestapo arrested her parents, but Geffen herself managed to escape. Geffen learned after the war that her parents had been taken to Auschwitz, where they were murdered by the Nazis.

Geffen knew a young Gentile man, who provided her with faked papers and a new identity. This man introduced Geffen to a Gentile couple, who hid Geffen in their country house until May 1945, when the Russian Red Army liberated Berlin. In 1946 Geffen immigrated to the United States.

Interview Information:
Date: Feb. 15, 1985
Interviewer: Dr. Jon Fishbane
Length: 1 hour 30 minutes
Format: Video recording