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The Assassination Attempt

The Assassination Attempt

The payback for a good deed comes 25 years later.


My grandmother managed to escape from the hell on earth that had been created by Hitler and his Nazis in a totally unforgettable and unique way.

This tale actually began long before anyone had even heard of Hitler; even before the advent of World War I. During that period, ambitious Jewish girls could work for German aristocrats before they got married and settled down to raise families of their own. So in the summer of 1913, my grandmother Theresa, at age 18, accepted a job in Baden, Germany, as a governess to two privileged little boys.

Little did she know that 25 years later it would determine her fate and that of her future husband and children.

My grandmother's job as a governess was apparently not very strenuous. She was free to walk in the beautifully sculptured formal gardens every evening, weather permitting. Tall and thick hedges bordered these gardens and there were benches placed at periodic intervals, surrounded by ordered beds of fragrant and vary-colored flowers.

My grandmother told me that on one typical evening, just as it was getting dark and the trees' shadows started casting strange shapes, she overheard two men talking. They were speaking about a well-known German army officer. She was curious, naturally, and listened more closely. But when she started hearing details about plans to assassinate the man, she was terrified.

She passed the incident off as 'teenage gullibility.'

As soon as she felt it was safe, she went to the police station to file a report. Grandmother Theresa did remember being puzzled that, although the police officers were polite to her, they didn't appear to take her story very seriously. In fact, when she returned later in the week, she was told that it had been a hoax, and not to worry about it anymore. So she passed the incident off as "teenage gullibility."

Years passed, and the incident was forgotten. Grandmother Theresa married a man from Warsaw. Since my grandmother's family was very snobbish, very German, and very patriotic, her marriage to a Polish Jew was against family wishes. Luckily, he had money of his own, but her family's attitude toward him was such that they did not settle down near her extended family who had lived on both sides of the Holland/German border since the Spanish Inquisition. Instead, they moved to the beautiful city of Cologne, where they would run their four textile factories and raise their four children.

Bureaucratic Race

Fast forward to the summer of 1938, in the desperate months preceding the deportation of Polish Jews living in Germany. My grandmother managed to gather together 10,000 deutschmarks, which she used to bribe the German guards at Dachau -- enabling her husband (my grandfather) to disappear from the camp, as the bribed officers shuffled papers to cover up his escape.

Ironically, it was my grandfather's threatened deportation that motivated my grandmother to make plans to leave Germany. No one else in her family believed things could get that bad. Each and every one of them perished.

Through family connections (the Chief Rabbi of Cologne was a distant cousin), my grandmother managed to get visas to Palestine. But she encountered difficulties getting permission from the German government to leave. Apparently the factories they'd owned, though they had since been confiscated, had held army contracts.

Any one person, for any reason whatsoever, could stop her from leaving Germany.

So, in the way of all bureaucracies, my grandmother raced from office to office, standing in one line after another, to get many people to stamp loads of documents. And the threat loomed that any one person, in any office, for any (or no) reason whatsoever, could stop her from leaving Germany.

In addition to all her other worries, my grandmother was tending to three young children (including my very rambunctious father), and was five months pregnant. In these offices other parents and children were adding to the noise and confusion, and as the summer heat grew more oppressive, she felt as if she would not be able to continue for another minute.

Remember Me?

Finally, my grandmother reached the last office. She only had one more person to see, but this person would give the most important stamp of all: the one dealing with their former army contracts. When the factories were confiscated, many records were lost, and there was no way to prove that all their contractual obligations had been fulfilled. Certification of that fact had to be made by a high-ranking army officer. For days she had been dreading this moment, trying to think of some way to explain the lack of documentation and to prove her honesty.

The officer, heavy with medals, rose from his chair to stand in front of her.

When she was at last called into the office, a man in a starched and pressed uniform, heavy with medals, rose from his chair and walked around his desk to stand in front of her. Even if she had been tall enough to look directly at him (she was 4-foot-10), she would never have dared do so.

The officer held the sheaf of documents in his hand and asked if her maiden name was Arendt.

This question was out of the ordinary, and anything unusual was something to be feared. She worriedly answered, "Yes."

Then the officer held out his hand and smiled. "I'm glad to be able to thank you at last. Do you remember me?"

"No," she replied.

"I'm the man whose life you saved, 25 years ago in Baden."

My grandmother was totally speechless, but no words were needed. The officer just smiled again and handed her the stamped and validated papers.

She left the office and went home to finish packing. Nine days later, my grandfather, my grandmother who was pregnant at the time, and their four children left Germany.

The assassination that never took place saved eight lives, including the officer.

Jewish Watch Dog

I grew up surrounded by memories of the Holocaust. I saw a documentary on the Warsaw Ghetto when I was four years old and can still recall the pictures of men shoveling dead bodies into wheelbarrows. I knew about the atrocities long before I heard my grandmother's story -- or any other rescue story for that matter.

I've always been proud of being Jewish and willing to fight for its dignity. The phrase "Never Again" meant exactly that to me and I never was lulled into any false sense of security that it couldn't happen again anywhere. I fought with my fists when I was a child and now I fight anti-Jewish and anti-Israel propaganda with my writing and my website.

I believe that every Jew that is born to a Holocaust survivor, and their children, are the best answer to Hitler and the horrors of the Holocaust. I have two daughters, and I consider myself blessed to be one of those Jews who have a story to tell, to help keep the memories alive for those Jews who can no longer speak.

Am Yisrael Chai!

May 28, 2005

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Visitor Comments: 15

(15) Dafna Yee, April 24, 2007 7:12 PM

Answers to questions in comments

Sander Postol 5/31/05
When my granadmother reported the plot to the police, she gave the officer's name which was spoken by the plotters. I don't know if she knew the reasons for the plot; if she did, she never included them as part of the story.

Francis Jeffrey 5/30/05
When my grandmother told the story, she used the officer's name but I don't recall it. It didn't seem important to me as a child and I haven't heard the story from her in about 40 years.

Jane Lewis 5/29/05
My grandmother assumed that he learned her name from the police report.

(14) Tom Daniel, March 14, 2006 12:00 AM

We must never forget

When will the horrors stop. Not in my lifetime, but perhaps in my son and daughter in law's lifetime or my granddaughters' lifetime. But I pray that it will end someday.

(13) Teresa, December 12, 2005 12:00 AM

The Holocaust

These stories were gripping, it touches the heart. And I hope that this will be a reminder to never let this happen again. God bless the jewish people.

(12) Anonymous, July 5, 2005 12:00 AM

lovely story

the best and sweetest story i have heard in a while

(11) EDIT SZÛCS, June 28, 2005 12:00 AM

Connected to your story, I am Hungarian.
One of my grandma's brother was policeman on the period Jewish people wre persecuted, and I visited him when he was 70, and asked him "Did you at least tried to help them somehow?"

He told me that once, when he was sent to guard the train station, a train appeared, full with Jewish women, children, some women were pregnant, and such a crowd was jamed together, that they had no place to move their feet either, no air, food, water, and I knew many of them will die before they reach Poland, and I knew there is no way to help them, but as a sudden a saw a can nearby, I rushed to the fountain, filled it with cold water, and I handled quickly to them, this is all what I dared to do" and he began to weep.

You can be proud of your nation, there is no nation in the world, that after nearly 2000 years can join together, make a State, and live in such a way, there is no city in the world I would like to visit, but Israel, Jerusalem, and when I write this I weep, May God of Israel fulfill His promisses on you

soon, I know He well soon visit You, He did not forgot about you, I feel, something outstanding will happen to your nation, God will fill Jerusalem with glory, soon, I feel that.

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