Neustadt (Germany), Berlin
Annelies was born in 1923. Her family lived in a small town called Neustadt where her father owned a large tannery with 3000 employees. Both her parents were born in Germany. Aside from her parents, she had a younger brother and two grandmothers who lived nearby. In addition to these, her immediate family included her mother’s sister and her father’s sister. She also had a cousin who believed that nothing was going to happen to him and who was later killed by the Germans. Her grandmother and one of her two aunts were also killed by the Germans.
Her family was the only Jewish family in Neustadt. She went to an elementary school in town and then was sent to high school in another town. When Hitler came to power, she and her brother hid in the cellar one day while their home was attacked by a Nazi mob. Her parents went in Berlin for a visit. Shortly thereafter, her parents decided to move the family to Berlin, where her father managed to find a job. Her father served in the German army during the First World War and considered himself a German. The family was not observant even though she was sent to a school to learn about Judaism.
Prior to Hitler’s ascent to power, she experienced no discrimination. However, once Hitler came to power (1933) and after the family moved to Berlin and she was placed in another school, where she suffered extreme abuse. She was hit repeatedly by the other students, with the teachers cheering. Her injuries were so severe that she required an operation. After one year in that school, she told her parents (she was eleven) that she would not go to school again, so the parents decided to send her to a boarding school in Holland.
She stayed in the Dutch boarding school for five years and recalls this experience as the best time of her life. The school had very high standards. Indeed, one of the goals of the school was to prepare the students to the Oxford entrance exams. She actually took the exams and passed them, qualifying her to study at Oxford. Unfortunately, she was never given a chance to do so.
Her parents stayed in Germany for one more year after moving her to Holland and then her father got a job in Luxembourg in 1937 and the family moved there. However, shortly afterwards, when Germany declared war against Luxembourg, her father was arrested and placed in a concentration camp in Luxembourg near the border with France. Luxembourg arrested all Germans at the time. Once the short war with Germany was over, Germans were released from the concentration camp but the Jews stayed. When her father was interned in the concentration camp in Luxembourg, her mother, brother and grandmother decided to move to Belgium where they were staying with friends until they managed to secure a visa to France. They eventually stayed in Vichy France for six months in order to be close to their still interned father.
In 1940 while Annelies was still in Holland, the Germans invaded. Concerned for her safety, her father sent someone from the Dutch underground to take her from Holland to Belgium, where her mother and brother were staying with friends. Many Jewish children were no longer in the school at that time. In fact, one of her classmates disappeared on a visit to his parents in Amsterdam and his family received his remains later.
She was sixteen when she was reunited with her mother, grandmother, brother and cousin in Belgium. However, five days after she arrived in Belgium, her mother and grandmother had to leave for France because they finally received the visa and wanted to be closer to her father, who was still in a concentration camp in Luxembourg. The Dutch underground helped her again to cross the border from Belgium to France. For the trip, she wore a nurse’s uniform and travelled to Paris with German soldiers who were on their way to fight on the North African front.
In France, she re-united with her mother, brother and grandmother. Again, with help from the underground, they crossed the border to the Vichy controlled part of France and lived for the next six months in a motel close to the concentration camp where her father was held.
Interestingly, it was possible for the family to visit her father regularly in the concentration camp and he was released from the camp once a week and was able to visit them. Other than the visits to the concentration camp, life was good and she even had a boyfriend, who was also an inmate in the concentration camp, with whom she went on dates to the city of Marseille.
In 1941, when Annelies was 18, the family finally received visas for Mexico. Her father was allowed to leave the camp and go to Mexico with his family. They went to Portugal and from there took a ship to Mexico. Even though they would have liked to move to the United States, Mexico was the only country that gave them visas. Once in Mexico, her father went into business with a business associate who knew him from Germany, and started another tannery business. The family loved Mexico and her parents stayed there until their death. She eventually met another survivor from Germany, married him and the two have two daughters. Her boyfriend in Luxembourg survived the war, and also immigrated to the United States.
In retrospect, Annelies considers herself very lucky. She survived the war and had a very good life in Mexico. She finds it amazing that the people outside of Germany knew more about what was happening to the Jews there than the Jews who were there.
Date: March 25, 2008
Interviewer; Donna Sklar
Format: Video recording