Research

Shilling, Margot H.

Eyewitness

Frankfurt

Margot was born in Frankfurt, Germany in 1927.  Her mother was from Bavaria, the daughter of Barbara and Kasper Kohl.

Her father was from Holland, the son of Wilhelm Hintenauer.  Neither she nor her parents ever became German citizens.  Margot had an older sister, Gertrude, who now lives in Waldorff, near Frankfurt.

Margot was raised a Catholic and went to public school in Holland.  Church was very important to her family, who went to the Cathedral in Old Frankfurt.

Her father was unemployed during the thirties and, to support the family, her mother worked as a maid and cook.  They lived in a small, blue collar home.

Although her family was not political, Margot first heard about Hitler when she was twelve.  Her mother worked for Jewish families and felt very sorry for them.  Margot had one Jewish friend in school but a short time later, she disappeared.  Margot saw synagogues burning, but didn’t understand why it was happening.  Her parents didn’t seem concerned about the war.

One of her cousins owned a kiosk newsstand and showed her horrid pictures of Jews.

Margot remembers seeing pictures of Hitler in school and also many swastika images.  They always sang a song, which Margot sang during the interview, never forgetting one word.  She translated the lyrics:
“We love Hitler. . . .He is Holding Germany in his hands also the people of the Land.”

Margot wasn’t allowed to go to middle school because if cost money which her parents could not afford.  Instead, she became an apprentice to office workers in Frankfurt.  About this time, she met her future husband.

His name was Günther, later changed to Joseph.  His mother was Jewish and his father a Lutheran who had him baptized.  He was born in 1922 and was torn between his parents’ religions.  His mother and father divorced when he was four and his mother remarried in 1936.

His mother, whose maiden name was Guttheim, left for the United States and left her son behind.  He was very unhappy with both his father and future stepmother, Elsa.

One day, a boy named Rudy rang Margot’s doorbell, telling her he wanted to show his friend Günther how to meet a girl.  From then on, Günther picked Margot up from work.  He worked close by in a drug store.  Joseph (as she called him) was very smart and she kept her relationship with him a secret from her parents.  One day, Joseph’s father, who was then a Nazi, asked him if Margot knew he was a half-Jew.

His father told him that, although he was an active Nazi, he could go no further because his ex-wife was Jewish and so was his son.  Margot met her future father in law, but didn’t like him, nor did Joseph.

When he finally told Margot he was half-Jewish, she said “What’s the difference . . . we’re both human beings.”  This was in 1941 and Margot thought of herself as Dutch and not German.

When Margot became pregnant, they tried to get permission to marry, but could not.  She was advised not to try any longer as Joseph would be sent to a labor camp.  Margot’s father and mother registered as Dutch citizens, but her father was too old for the army.

They were unhappy about the pregnancy, but the Church would not marry them.  Their priest said “consider yourself married and just be happy.”

When Margot volunteered at a naval station, she met a high ranking Nazi and asked him permission to marry.  He told her never to tell anyone about her Jewish boyfriend . . . ever.

Joseph’s papers said he was a Jew and his school friends knew.  She was very frightened and continued to live with her parents and Joseph lived around the corner in a mission during the pregnancy.

When their daughter, Gertrude, was born, she was immediately baptized.  Margot got a six week maternity leave from work.

They were being rationed and there were bombings daily.  She was always afraid that Joseph would be taken away.  

In March of 1943, women with children were sent by train to the country.  She was given a room in a farmer’s house, which was paid by the state.  The family’s name was Kluger.  Joseph knew where she was and found a job as a courier.  Her parent’s home was bombed and completely damaged, forcing them to move to another apartment.

Joseph was found out and was sent to a labor camp with many half-Jews.  He was a digger until the Battle of the Bulge and was given only one slice of bread every other day.  He was there for six to eight months, escaping when the US troops arrived.  He took a German uniform off a dead soldier and went to the Red Cross and was so emaciated.  He was sent to the hospital in Frankfurt and then came to find Margot, taking her name so that no one would be suspicious.

The SS returned and hid with the pigs . . . trying to continue the fighting, but the United States took over.  After a few days, Joseph found a radio the Germans left behind, stole a baby carriage and hid the radio under the baby and walked with Margot and Gertrude to Frankfurt, sleeping in barns along the way.

Her parents were well and stayed with them in a vacant Nazi house.  Joseph’s father was in Poland during the war.  They tried to find his mother.  The war ended one month later.  Joseph wanted to go to New York to see his mother.  Margot and Joseph finally were allowed to marry in Frankfurt in 1946.

The Lutherans got them a boat ticket and gave them $10 for the trip.  When they arrived in New York, they had no plans, but got a job as a domestic couple--he as the chauffeur and she as the maid.  Joseph didn’t tell anyone that he couldn’t drive and crashed into his employer’s garage.

He then took correspondence courses and a pharmacy course and also went to night school for his high school degree.  While he was in pharmacy school, Margot took a job as a waitress.

They moved to California and had two more daughters, Irena and Carla, and they now have six grandchildren.  Their daughter Gertie became a Muslim.

They became citizens five years after their immigration.  Joseph died in 1991.

Joseph wrote to his mother during the war.  These letters were confiscated and censored, but, years later, after the end of the war, “Oma” (Joseph’s mother) received all of them.

Before he died, Joseph translated all the letters and Irena Friedman, the middle daughter, who was widowed at a young age, read them at the end of her mother’s interview.

Interview Information:
Date: July 12, 2005
Interviewer: Donna R. Sklar
Format: Video Recording