Mrs. Irmhild Sohl was born in Schleswig, Northern Germany near the border of Denmark in 1943. She grew up in Germany after the war. She lived with her parents, Hans and Charlotte Lagerman and her grandparents.
Her father was a businessman and her mother was a bank leader. Hans was in the army during the war in Russia. Her grandfather was a teacher in the high school. Her grandfather hated the Nazis and belonged to “Community for Brotherhood of the World”.
Mrs. Sohl was two when the war ended. She remembers seeing her father as he returned from the army, covered with dirt, became frightened and ran away.
She graduated from High School in Schleswig in 1960. The teachers never told their students about the war. One of her teachers said that Hitler would be king of the world and kill all strange people especially Jewish people. Other teachers would not allow discussions or questions about the war because they were Nazis themselves.
Mrs. Sohl married after high school and studied pedagogy, art and psychology. Between 1965 and 1967 she had three children. In her spare time, she worked at a school for homeless young men. At this point, her husband left her.
Years later she remarried and moved to live in her husband’s town in southern Germany with her three children.
Mrs. Sohl and her husband wanted to help orphans and adopted an Ethiopian child in 1976 from a German hospital; and also had another child with her second husband.
Her son, Tadesse Bezabeh-Sohl, was a happy and smiley child but told his mother that his teachers and children abused and bullied him. It soon became obvious that the Germans didn’t want an African child in this village. She remembered a man punching her child at the neighborhood swimming pool for no reason. When she took him to have his hair cut, the barber said “your hair is made by the devil and I will not touch it.”
Mrs. Sohl and her husband loved this child, but it wasn’t enough. The priests in the village told her that she sinned because she adopted an Ethiopian child. She reported the abuse to German officials and they laughed and said they were busy and it is nothing.
Her son committed suicide at the age of twelve. The villagers came to the funeral and cried.
Mrs. Sohl wrote a book about this torture which made the villagers angry. After the book was written, the villagers and city officials denied racism and abusiveness. They wanted to tell people that the book is not true. Neighbors poisoned the family dog and her husband was fired from his job. Adults and children kept calling and saying “your nigger died.”
The family had to leave the town and moved to northern Germany.
She said that people have lost their “humanism” and don’t like other people. They just see themselves.
Manfried Buchenback made a documentary about this story and a theatre piece was made as well. The book, “Tadesse, why?”, was translated into many languages and also Braille.
In response to the question, “What would you wish for Germany to be like?” Mrs. Sohl replied, “Hope humanism for Germany will come back and grow. Tell many people the story of Tadesse’s life.”
Date: June 1, 1994
Interviewer: Rabbi Charles Rosenzveig
Length: 1 hour and 14 minutes
Format: Video Recording