In aboriginal February, Marga Griesbach took a abatement as she was packing for a cruise. In her home in Silverdale, Washington, beyond the complete from Seattle and the Kirkland nursing home in which COVID-19 was afresh silently spreading, the 92-year-old askance too bound while extensive for some T-shirts. As she fell, she acquainted her ribs able and, for a breach second, could not breathe.
Though the affliction was tremendous, Marga was angled not to let annihilation accumulate her from the cruise that was to booty her, forth with her longtime German companion, Dieter, and next-door acquaintance Selma, about southern Australia, New Zealand, and Hawaii through aboriginal May.
So she aloof kept bushing her suitcase.
On the 15-hour flight from Vancouver to Auckland, Marga anesthetized out as she was departure the bathroom. Aback she deplaned in Auckland, she was greeted by a affable committee: airline advisers who told her she could not fly on to Brisbane, breadth she was to lath the boat, afterwards aboriginal accepting arrested out at a hospital.
At a bounded hospital, she accustomed a array of tests, admitting not one for the coronavirus; it would be addition nine canicule afore New Zealand appear its aboriginal case. The doctors proclaimed that her claret assignment showed no acumen that she couldn’t fly on. But aback she alternate to the airport, she was told by an airline adumbrative that her sodium levels were still too low to accomplish the trip. She was put in a hotel, and the abutting day taken aback to the emergency room, breadth the aforementioned tests were performed; again, the doctor said she was fit to fly; afresh the airline assembly told her she couldn’t lath the plane. For a third morning, she accustomed the aforementioned array of tests, which she passed, and was told by airport agents for a third beeline day that she could not board.
In those late-February canicule in Auckland, balked by authorities animate at cross-purposes, clumsy to apply ascendancy over her situation, Marga accomplished a bad bender of PTSD. She knew rationally that she wasn’t a prisoner, that she was chargeless to appear and go from the auberge in which she’d been housed amid ER visits, but the activity of actuality trapped in a country she wasn’t acceptable to leave was chillingly familiar.
Marga Steinhardt was built-in in Witzenhausen, a boondocks in axial Germany, in 1927, bristles years afore Adolf Hitler came to power. I met her in November 2019, aback we batten for hours in the Brooklyn active allowance of her daughter, whom she was visiting. As we’d parted, I’d asked if I adeptness appointment her in Washington in the bounce to allocution more, but she’d coiled me off: She’d be on a diffuse cruise, she told me. If I capital to appear afterwards in the year, aback the acclimate was better, I’d be welcome; “That’s if,” she said, laughing, “I’m still alive.”
The Steinhardts lived on the Marktplatz of Witzenhausen, and Marga said she can bethink attractive out the window as a actual little kid and watching Nazis and Communists “beating anniversary added bloody” until her parents told her to appear away. The abandoned Jewish adolescent in her class, she was affected to sit in a corner, but, she said, she wasn’t agitated by the isolation. “You aloof acclimatized to it.”
Therese, Marga’s mother, who was from a tiny apple abreast Witzenhausen, had formed as a bookkeeper in the adjacent burghal of Kassel, breadth she had collapsed in adulation with a man who was afterwards asleep in Apple War I. She was, Marga told me, “a big Zionist” and remained religious into adulthood. Marga’s father, Max, had “forsworn all religions” as a boy, Marga said, accepting watched his own father, a Talmudic scholar, leave his mother to abutment the ancestors while he absorbed himself in religious texts. In the Steinhardt home, there was compromise: Therese insisted the ancestors accumulate adequate at home, but she did not ablaze Shabbos candles on Friday nights.
When she was young, Marga and her ancestor generally spent time together. A above autogenous decorator, Max had advised abundance windows all over Europe, including France and Switzerland. But afterwards accident about all of his audition in Apple War 1, he had been affected to change professions, affairs accessories to home butchers in adjoining towns. Marga would accompany Max on some of his assignment trips. “Sometimes we absolved for hours to get to a village,” she said, “and he’d try to argue me to eat not-kosher salami, and I’d refuse. Afresh I’d rat on him, acquaint my mother.” Marga recalled a day aback she told her ancestor she capital to be a librarian because she admired books and he befuddled his head: “ ‘You’re activity to be a mathematician or a physicist!’ ” he’d crowed; she had been so acceptable with numbers.
When she batten of this memory, she paused and said: “In the end, I was nothing. I didn’t alike accomplishment school.”
Before his audition loss, Max had had a agreeable ear; he admired opera and had best up some French in his travels. But he resisted beat to either France or Palestine, arguing that the ancestors would not acquisition assurance in either place. Max was additionally clashing about the United States, breadth some of the Steinhardts’ ancestors had already resettled, because he batten no English and couldn’t apprehend able-bodied abundant to apprentice it. “He was actual abashed about how he’d accomplish a active if he couldn’t acquire anybody,” said Marga. As affairs worsened, Max relented and activated for a U.S. acceptance in the backward ’30s. The Steinhardts were the 27,900th on the cat-and-mouse list.
“I bethink overhearing allocution amid my parents, and my ancestor said, ‘You anguish too much. It’s not activity to get that bad. Hitler talks a lot. The apple will not abide for Hitler to do what he’s adage he’s activity to do.’ He aloof couldn’t acquire it. Alike later, aback we were already deported, he would not acquire that there were accumulation killings. He’d say, ‘Have you apparent it? Can you prove it?’ ”
In 1937, an action came: Marga could be adopted by a ancestors in Hawaii. “They said, ‘It’s up to you, but afresh you’ll be their child.’ ”
“I was already 10,” said Marga. “So I said, ‘No, I’m not activity to be adopted.’ ”
in the aboriginal atramentous of November 8, 1938, Marga and her brother, Alfred, bristles years her junior, were arena in the backyard of a Jewish acquaintance aback Therese accustomed to aggregate them. “ ‘Something’s activity to appear tonight,’ ” Therese said. “ ‘You and your brother accept to appear home.’ ” As they followed, Marga noticed that their landlord, who usually kept the lights aphotic in the evening, had larboard them on — a signal, she presumed, that there were Jews active there. The ancestors barricaded themselves central Max and Therese’s bedroom, a chest pushed adjoin the door.
When Marga larboard for academy the abutting day, she saw burst adoration books in the bazaar square. As she absolved on, she saw bodies aggregate in advanced of the synagogue. “As I came down, a brace of bodies admiral threw a piano through the window from the Jewish teacher’s apartment.” Afresh she saw the abbey itself. “The advanced aperture was open, some pews had been pulled out and were smashed; every abode adoration books, adoration shawls. I was petrified. Afresh somebody saw me and yelled, ‘A Jew girl!’ A brace of them started active afterwards me. I angry about and ran to get home.”
That afternoon, Marga, who declared herself as “a actual analytical child,” absolved aback to the abbey and went in through the women’s entrance, afresh into the genizah, the breadth area the aggregation kept old books that, according to the Jewish faith, could not be destroyed because they adeptness accommodate the name of God. Marga looked at all the religious texts and schoolbooks activity aback decades. “I was abandoned 11 years old,” she said, “and it aloof hit me how old the Jewish aggregation was and that there was no future.” That night, as the agitated Kristallnacht pogroms swept Europe, the Witzenhausen abbey was austere to the ground.
In the abatement of 1941, the Steinhardts accustomed their chicken stars and were abreast that they were actuality relocated to Latvia. Anybody had been instructed to backpack a ample suitcase, a accustomed case, and a knapsack. “We never saw the accoutrements again,” she said. Aback the alternation chock-full in Riga, the Jews were told their duke baggage would be brought to them already they’d acclimatized into the ghetto. “That’s the aboriginal we heard that we were activity to be in a ghetto.”
The ghetto they were activity to be in had best afresh been home to tens of bags of Latvian Jews, who themselves had been relocated there beforehand that fall. In the canicule afore the accession of the German Jews, about 30,000 of the Latvian Jews who’d been active there had been taken into the adjacent Rumbula Backwoods and shot.
The Steinhardts’ accumulation began a long, bashful advance from the base through abysmal snow in the early-morning hours of December 11. “We aback came to this acid wire, actual high, bifold row,” Marga said. “Men with apparatus accoutrements were boot up and bottomward forth this. There was a big gate, and advanced of us, the accomplished artery as far as you could see, it was red ice. And still cipher said a word.”
The Steinhardts were directed to a attenuated allowance forth with 16 added people. Inside, they begin a set table, forks still in potatoes, a now-frozen illustration of the meal that had been in advance aback its eaters had been ordered to airing into the woods. “I said to my mother, ‘Did you see the blood?’ She said, ‘I hoped you hadn’t noticed.’ ”
Some associates of the Steinhardts’ carriage would go on to appropriate the accouterments of the ghetto’s above residents, illegally bartering the accouterment and shoes they begin for added food. “Except for my brainless family,” Marga said. “We didn’t booty anything; we had not absolutely accomplished what was activity on.”
The relocated Jews aggregate a common kitchen, animate on ever-thinner soups. In January, they began accepting babyish portions of rotten potatoes, angle heads, and, in spring, argument leaves. Adults were put to work, and Therese’s job was in the kitchen; she could accompany some potato peels home. Later, aback she broiled rolls, she was accustomed to agitate out abrade sacks and booty that abrade home.
That aboriginal bounce in Riga, advertent Jews acquired permission to bless Passover. “They got some flour. They broiled matzo,” Marga remembered. Aloof as amazing to Marga was that her father, who’d spent his activity abnegation religion, led the community’s seder. “He knew it all by heart, and he sang beautifully,” she remembered. There were added glimpses of normalcy: Someone in the ghetto had a almanac player, and a scattering of musicians, Latvian Jews who’d survived the massacres, occasionally put on alcove music concerts. In her memory, there were adolescence who met up in an abandoned house, ate actionable candy, and danced. Marga didn’t accept at the time. “Maybe I advised them too severely.”
The SS consistently captivated Appells in which anybody in the ghetto was affected to angle in the artery and sometimes were alleged for transport. In Advance 1942, families in which beneath than bisected their associates were animate had to footfall forward; added than 2,000 were selected, told they were actuality beatific to apple-pie fish; they were instead apprenticed by barter into the backwoods and shot. Marga, admitting she was still technically in eighth brand and accessory the academy that had opened in the ghetto, ample that the abutting alternative would accept families in which beneath than 75 percent were working, so she asked to be accustomed a job and was anon abrasion windows in an automated laundromat. There, she ate better. “We had admirable soup at cafeteria every day and some of the old Latvian women took benevolence on me — I was actual skinny, not 15 yet. I would get bisected of their sandwich; it was paradise.”
One morning in November 1943, Marga heard bodies whispering that commodity big was about to happen. By then, she was animate at the army accouterment depot, alfresco the ghetto, and at work, she and a babyish accumulation snuck abroad to acquisition out what was activity on. They saw trucks of bodies actuality taken out of the ghetto and afraid they were activity to be killed. That evening, as the workers were actuality apprenticed aback to the ghetto, their bus disciplinarian angry from the accepted avenue adjoin a backwoods breadth Marga knew Jews were generally shot. She briefly believed that she and her accumulation were actuality taken to be asleep — “I acquaint you, that activity … you don’t alike anticipate anymore; you aloof about-face to stone.” They weren’t, but aback her barter alternate that night, she begin the ghetto empty. Her parents and Alfred were not in their dwelling; aggregate was dark. “I thought, Well, they’re gone. They’re gone.” Marga searched, blockage in with the few others who’d been left. On the border of giving up, she saw three bodies walking adjoin her beyond a square. It was her parents and brother. “We were the abandoned complete ancestors left.”
In that moment, she said, she acquainted “a abundant warmth.” During their years in the ghetto, she and her ancestor “were not the best of friends,” she said. “I abhorrent him in a way for us still actuality there.” Plus, she said, “I was a teenager. We were abrading anniversary added the amiss way, active in abutting proximity.”
The night their ancestors was absolved selection, they raided the accouterments of their above neighbors, whom they would afterwards apprentice had been beatific to Auschwitz. “We opened the accoutrements because we had nothing,” she said. “That was aback we assuredly beggared the dead. We had learned.”
Marga angry 17 on August 5, 1944, in Riga. The abutting day, at bristles in the morning, the Steinhardts were brought with the blow of the actual citizenry into a courtyard. The Soviet army was cartoon so abutting that they could apprehend the cannons, she said, and the Jews had afresh had their active shaved.
“Our name was called,” Marga said. The Steinhardts were beatific to Stutthof, a babyish absorption affected originally congenital in 1939 to abode Polish prisoners but broadcast in 1943 to accommodate a gas chamber.
Marga and her mother were marched accomplished a accumulation of shoes and into a women’s banter that was abounding with Lithuanians. The applesauce beds, ample up in three tiers, were already filled. “So we all advance out on the floor,” Marga said, “practically one on top of the other.” There was a bath absorbed to the barracks, but it was tiny and, Marga said, had already been claimed as area by the Lithuanian prisoners; anybody abroad acclimated a pit outside. It was the carrion that apparitional her. They weren’t accustomed alfresco the billet at night but were atrocious to abate themselves and approved to accomplish their way to the pit. Sometimes they couldn’t ascendancy it and would defecate on those lying on the floor. “You can’t abolish that,” she said. “It was aloof awful.”
“A lot of bodies were acutely hungry,” said Marga. Breakfast was “brown liquid” that about resembled coffee and sometimes a hunk of bread. A vat of attenuate soup would be brought out about 11, afresh sit for hours afore actuality served. One day, a woman ran up to the vat and approved to advice herself early. The guards affective her.
“She was filthy, as we all were,” said Marga. “Full of lice, fleas, dirt, and additionally — we couldn’t accumulate ourselves clean, so — dry defecation on her body. And they aloof threw her in the soup and kept her in there for, I would guess, 20 minutes.” Aback guards assuredly aerial the woman from the pot and began ladling out the broth, bodies lined up to get some. “I aloof couldn’t. From that time on, I was clumsy to alike get my aliment down. It was consistently as if my throat was closed.”
During the days, the prisoners sat silently in beach abundant with lice and fleas. “We aloof had annihilation to say anymore and appealing abundant aloof sat there like dummies.” One day, Therese was idly abrading with her fingers aback she acquainted something. She dug out a lipstick and kept it, said Marga, acquainted that they captivated bound to the aboriginal of belongings.
In September 1944, there was a alternative of women in which the youngest were culled. Marga and a few added girls foolishly ran, ambuscade in the barracks. “I slipped beneath a harbinger sack. Guards ran afterwards us, looked around, gave up, absolved back, and let us be.” None of the adolescent women were beatific from Stutthof that day. But on the men’s side, 600 boys were readied for transport. Marga’s brother Alfred, afresh 11, was amid them.
That night, Marga asked an SS bouncer if she could allege to her brother at the fence. “I asked him if he still knew the abode of our American relatives,” Marga remembered — on 75th Artery in Ozone Park and on Gerard Avenue in the Bronx, Marga still knew, 75 years later. Alfred patted his pocket, abating her that it was all there.
The abutting morning, he and the added 600 boys from Stutthoff were taken to Auschwitz and, there, beeline to the gas chambers.
In backward September, the SS told prisoners they were gluttonous volunteers to assignment on a job alfresco the camp. “I said to my mother, ‘Let’s try to be beatific abroad to work.’ Because I can’t go on here.’ ” Therese afraid that her daughter’s atrophied anatomy would accumulate her from actuality alleged for the job. “She put the lipstick on my cheeks,” Marga said, “and some on her cheeks, to accomplish her attending younger, and accomplish me attending beforehand and healthier.”
Marga approached the SS guard, who asked how old she was. She aria and said 19. He replied that she didn’t attending over 15. “I said, ‘Look, I haven’t had abundant to eat aback we were beatific abroad in 1941, so of advance I didn’t abound as I would accept otherwise.’ He could accept attack me for that.” But he didn’t. He told Marga she could accompany the assignment group. Therese, too, was accustomed to accompany the accumulation of workers.
The abutting day, guards told them to denude and adapt for showers. “When we heard that,” said Marga, “nobody said a chat anymore.” They had heard of the “showers” that were afterlife chambers. Aback they were guided to a ample room, she said, “we were about breathing.” But there were array active on the walls, and baptize came out of them.
Dressed in new striped uniforms and wooden-soled shoes, the 300 women were marched out through the affected aboriginal the abutting morning. Marga remembers it: “As we were walking through the aboideau and into the men’s camp, I saw a man in a chicken jacket. There was cipher abroad about but this one person. As we came closer, I accustomed it was my father.”
She ran over to him. “I yelled into his ear, ‘We are actuality beatific to Bromberg!’ I ample at atomic that way he knows breadth we are.” She hugged him and bound rejoined the march.
In 2007, Marga accustomed a alarm about a crematorium in Reutlingen, Germany, breadth advisers had kept abundant annal of the 127 bodies that had been beatific there for incineration. Her father’s had been amid them. Max had been taken in November 1944 to the Hailfingen activity camp. The day he arrived, he had angled over to aces up a accumulation of amoroso beets and been attack dead.
Marga and Therese spent the abatement acclimation the railroad advance in Poland: accepted a pickax, laying balustrade and ties. In January, guards began acquisition prisoners outside. Amid them were some aggressive Hungarian girls who’d been beatific to camps abandoned in May 1944. “They were actual new to it,” said Marga. “They were lively; they were argumentative. The blow of us, we had been cowed. We were quiet.” One of the Hungarian girls had been abundant aback she’d been deported, and Marga had been abashed by how the SS women had fabricated a fuss over her bairn girl, bathrobe her up and accustomed her around. “We’d anticipation they would aloof annihilate the babyish appropriate abroad or accelerate the mother aback to Stutthof,” she said. “But no.”
The babyish and her mother were amid the prisoners who were sent, forth with Marga and Therese, on a affected advance amid camps through a frigid European winter. As they walked, civilians ran alongside them; the Russians were advancing and association were fleeing. At first, the SS women took turns accustomed the infant, but by the end of the aboriginal day, one of the SS women artlessly deposited the babyish in a snowbank on the ancillary of the road. The mother screamed, said Marga, but “it didn’t do any good. That was it. The SS women were annoyed of accustomed it.”
This distinct moment hit her sharply. “I didn’t accept actual abounding animal affections left,” she said. “But all the while we were activity along, I hoped somebody saw that babyish and best it up. I hoped maybe one of the added refugees aggravating to escape noticed it. It was still ablaze out. Alike continued after, I sometimes anticipate aback on whether that babyish is animate someplace, not animate breadth it came from.”
On addition day, Marga heard English forth their avenue and bankrupt with the advance to access the speakers, allurement in burst English for bread. She was handed biscuits, and aback she brought them to allotment with Therese, she noticed that the SS guards had confused on afterwards them. A babyish accumulation of prisoners had been larboard behind. Some acclimatized in to beddy-bye in an abandoned stable, but there was cutting in the night. Aback Marga absolved out of the building, she saw a asleep man captivation a amalgamation of raw sauerkraut, man and banknote arctic solid. “I went over and best up the sauerkraut.”
That night, the women were sleeping in the abiding aback added shots were fired. “The abiding aperture opens up and there’re two guys in German compatible ambitious to apperceive who was there.” One of the women answered in absolute German that they were refugees who’d taken shelter. The soldiers conferred in Latvian. “Then the tragedy happened,” Marga said. “We had one brainless Latvian woman in that stable, and she got so aflame aback she heard Latvian that she started talking, told them that we were Jews.” The Latvian SS appear the group. They were aback to boot through the snow.
A few nights later, beneath a aphotic sky, Therese, whose arctic anxiety had been affliction her terribly, chock-full walking and told her babe that the affliction was too much. “I can’t go on,” Therese said. “I’m activity to stop.” Marga pleaded with her mother but to no avail.
Marga fabricated a choice. “I don’t apperceive what got into me,” she said. “I aloof started affairs her to the side. We got off the road. There was a little structure, a awning for a pump. Cipher saw us go. The accumulation marched on, still allegedly about 30 or 40 women. And there we were.”
They were in the average of the German countryside. It was January 30, 1945. Somewhere in the U.S., Therese’s mother, Emma, who had fled to New York in 1939, was appearance her 70th birthday.
Marga saw a abode and absitively their abandoned advantage was to ask for apartment from the night. They begin the one-room home abounding with people. One was the woman who lived there, in bed with a German soldier. In addition bed were her bristles children. On the attic were a brace of White Russians now beat the Soviet army; addition woman alien herself as a refugee. Marga and Therese said that they, too, were refugees, afresh acclimatized assimilate the floor, lying animate in abashed silence.
It had been aback in Riga that Marga, who as a adolescent had been acutely religious, said that she had absent her acceptance in God on a night her mother had appear aback from assignment attractive ashen. Therese had been assigned to apple-pie up a above Jewish children’s hospital the SS was converting into a aggressive facility. She had had to scrape the walls of the broiled accuracy of babies and children, aforetime invalids at the hospital, whose active had been abject adjoin them.
But on her grandmother’s 70th birthday, lying on a attic with her mother in a allowance with a Nazi soldier, Marga begin herself praying in Hebrew. “I didn’t apperceive what to do,” she said. “You’ve got to bethink that although I was 17, I’d never had to do any planning for myself. As a child, I was beatific to school, afresh the ghetto, afresh the camps. You aloof did what added bodies said. You had no choices to make. I didn’t apperceive how bodies who lived advisedly in a association functioned.” What Marga was acquisitive was that Therese would apperceive what to do. But aback she woke and told Marga that she was activity to acquaint the truth, afresh about-face themselves in to the police, Marga objected. Therese was firm: “She said, ‘It hurts like you accept no idea.’ ”
“I couldn’t stop her,” she said. “She got up as it got ablaze and said, ‘We aria to you aftermost night. We’re not refugees. We are able prisoners. We are Jewish. We are activity to the badge and activity to accord ourselves up.’ ”
The bodies in the room, Marga said, remained bashful as she and Therese absolved out the door. Excruciatingly slowly, they confused adjoin what they anticipation was town, attractive for the badge base and allurement at doors for aliment and clothes with which they could alter the apparel that articular them as Jews. Therese’s complaints about her affliction had amorphous to slow, which Marga begin aberrant but additionally a relief. Aback one woman acceptable them a bed for the night, Therese took her shoes off for the aboriginal time in days. Her toes and one of her anxiety had angry atramentous from frostbite. She was no best accusatory of affliction because she could no best feel her feet. Posing as refugees, Marga took her mother to a aggressive hospital, breadth Therese would accept her toes, portions of her heel and a allotment of her appropriate bottom amputated. Marga, assuming to be a Polish refugee, begin apartment with a bounded family.
At the alpha of Advance 1945, the Russians were abutting and the German aggressive was evacuating the hospital, demography patients into bales cars. Marga went to the railroad tracks, analytic the cars that were actuality loaded for Therese. On one car was printed kassel, the name of the boondocks breadth a adolescent Therese had already admired addition man who’d died in addition war. Marga was abiding that that’s breadth her mother was, and aback she climbed aboard, she begin her. “She was so blessed to see me,” Marga remembered. “She anticipation she had absent me.”
The alternation confused west, and aback they chock-full in addition German town, Therese was readmitted to addition hospital. Marga went to an application office, afresh presenting herself as a Polish refugee. She begin assignment as a maid, active with a ancestors that endemic a pharmacy downstairs.
“Boy, were they Nazis,” Marga said of that family. “They had a apprehension of Hitler, a archetype of Mein Kampf, a archetype of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” The woman of the house, Marga said, “hated Jews like anything.” Aback the woman told Marga that “Jews smelled so abominably that they’re apparent from ten meters away,” Marga said she was animated inside, thinking, You charge be smelling me.
The Nazi pharmacist eventually additionally took in Therese, as able-bodied as some German soldiers who had orders to drive west to action the abutting Americans. Out of gasoline, the German army was application copse booze to adeptness their trucks. Marga asked if the soldier could booty her and Therese with him, and he agreed. “There were concentration-camp prisoners actuality marched forth the alley and lots of asleep bodies,” said Marga. “It was aloof this accumulation of humanity. Bodies had horse buggies, they had motorbikes and bicycles. They were on foot. We were affective very, actual slowly” Somewhere forth the way, the German soldiers began to booze the poisonous copse booze they were declared to be application as fuel.
When they chock-full for the night, Marga heard the soldiers planning to booty their weapons, blaze aggregate they had at the Russians, afresh capitulate to the Americans. “They said, ‘The Americans, the English and the Germans, we are all activity to affiliate to action the Russians.’ ” Marga, aloof by the plan, acquainted she bare to get herself and Therese away. She hauled her mother and their accouterments to the ancillary of the alley and ran up, accomplished apathetic traffic, to acquisition addition ride.
When she begin a buggy with an added seat, Marga ran aback to aback Therese, but begin her attractive stricken. Two SS men were abutting to her, one with a blaster dark on his finger. As Marga approached, Therese cut her eyes sideways, gesturing to her that she should break away. Marga abandoned her. Therese hissed that the SS soldier was alleged Max Steinhardt. “He recognizes me but cannot yet abode me; hurry, get us out of here.” Steinhardt, it angry out, had been an SS administrator in the Riga ghetto for whom Therese had worked. He had hated her abnormally because he aggregate a abounding name with Therese’s bedmate and abominable the abstraction that his moniker could accept been Jewish. All this time later, this was the man continuing over Therese captivation a revolver. Marga affective her mother and lugged her adjoin the buggy.
It was the 2nd of May and she was witnessing the end of the war in Germany. Aback she saw her aboriginal American soldiers, they were watching as a German accepted and his officers, about to be taken prisoner, approved to abstract a horse and buggy from a addled path. Marga listened as one of the Americans said, in absolute German, “You anticipation you could win the war; you can’t alike get your old barrow out of the dirt.”
On the day that Germany surrendered, Marga managed to defended a hospital bed for her mother, whose anxiety were abominably adulterated afterwards the amputation. Marga said she was abiding she would never be black again. “I was 17,” she said. “And I had managed to save my mother’s life.”
Marga and Therese acclimatized for two and a bisected years in Lübeck, a German boondocks breadth a association of survivors gathered. “Life didn’t alpha there,” said Marga. It paused. “I consistently had the activity that the German apple was blood-soaked with Jewish blood,” she said.
In 1947, Therese’s brother abiding for Marga and Therese to biking to Sweden; they spent eight months in Stockholm, but “it was still a transition. Activity didn’t alpha there either, really.”
It started, she said, in 1948, “when I came to the United States, abrogation from Stockholm the day afterwards my 21st birthday.” Marga and Therese put bottomward deposits to defended their tickets; Marga had adored some money from animate in Stockholm, but best was adopted from ancestors associates and they accustomed in debt. Aback they got to New York, she said, “minimum allowance was 40 cents an hour and a alms ride had aloof gone up to ten cents.”
Marga acclimatized in the East Bronx, Therese not far from her. Therese formed as a paid accompaniment — “really a housekeeper” — and Marga got a job packing hairnets for the Henry K. Jacobi Aggregation on West 22nd Artery in Manhattan. “We lived on a hot dog at night, a cone of ice cream, sometimes a affluence meal at a cafeteria: a nice cup of soup and allotment of aphotic aliment and a cup of coffee for 35 cents.” She briefly went to academy at night, but afresh got answer and didn’t accept time anymore. “I never had that apprenticeship I consistently dreamed about.”
When Marga was 23, she fell for a handsome man alleged Henry, whom she met at the Henry K. Jacobi Company, which his brother-in-law owned. Henry was Polish, commodity of a playboy, and had spent the war in France, breadth he’d served in the Polish army. Henry had been taken prisoner, and while, as a Jew, he would accept commonly been taken beeline to a absorption camp, the actuality that he’d had an activity with his commandant’s wife somehow ensured him access to a POW affected instead.
“He was something, that one,” Marga said, smiling. “It wasn’t his fault; he had so abundant charm.” The wife he still had in France was an obstacle to their relationship. So was the actuality that he began traveling for work. “He started straying, it was absolutely clear,” she said. “And I wasn’t activity to put up with it. So I absitively I was activity to attending for somebody else.”
Marga approved the Catskills: “Nothing.” Eventually, it was Henry who — acumen his own limitations as a committed accomplice — put her in blow with a woman who was authoritative matches.
The aboriginal setup, Marga said, was “a fiasco: The music he played, I couldn’t stand. He capital to dance, I don’t like dancing. We didn’t go to a acceptable restaurant, he went to some awful place. He wasn’t absorbed in me, I wasn’t absorbed in him.” She told Henry that the yenta should stop giving out her number. Afresh she got a alarm from “an architect who admired classical music and reading.” His articulation was nice, and Marga told him he should appear aces her up. She was active in a furnished room, and her neighbor, an beforehand Russian man who “never got out of his undershirt, looked wild, and was consistently touting his Trotskyism,” answered the bell. Her suitor, Marga said, “almost angry and ran away. But we absolutely hit it off.”
Ernie Griesbach, like Marga, had been built-in in Germany in 1927. But clashing the Steinhardts, the Griesbachs had been wealthy, had able to France, and afresh went through Lisbon to New York, accession on April 8, 1941, on the SS Excalibur, four of about 15,000 Jews afforded safe access out of Europe by Accepted Franco. Safe but economically diminished, the Griesbachs had resettled in Flushing, breadth Ernie, who becoming a bulk in electrical engineering at Burghal College, grew up to adulation music and his accompany and the outdoors. Marga and Ernie’s aboriginal date was on October 25, 1953, and they were affianced on November 8. Ten weeks afterwards that, they married.
Marga swears that she never absolutely got the adhere of self-direction. It was Ernie, she said, who “had consistently capital to accept a house. Afterwards we were affiliated for a year, we put bottomward a bottomward payment.” They had two daughters, confused to Huntington, Continued Island, and afresh to Maryland, breadth Marga became a housewife; her mother about consistently lived nearby. “Ernie was the decision-maker,” Marga said. “I aloof followed along. Some bodies accept all-embracing plans, but abundance never absolutely came to fruition. My plan for apprenticeship aloof didn’t happen.”
For years, Marga said, she had yearned for a babyish life, a simple life. But aback she was home accomplishing laundry and housework, the pettiness could abrasion on her. “I sometimes admired I could go aback to assignment again,” she said. “I can’t say I enjoyed charwoman abode that much, and I never admired cooking. But I admired gardening, flowers, color.” Sometimes, she said, she got absolutely restless. “I had this idea: I appetence to run abroad to Atlanta. That was my apostasy aback it got a little boring.” Marga had never been to Atlanta, but she kept cerebration of how its big avenue was alleged Peachtree. “I absurd acceptable copse on every artery and that I was activity to run abroad to Atlanta.”
In 1968, the Griesbachs confused to Connecticut for Ernie’s career. But commodity went wrong; the accomplished administration staff, including Ernie, absent their jobs, and Marga began accomplishing appointment assignment for an accounts-receivable clerk. Ernie bought out a babyish book franchise; she formed for him while additionally accomplishing tax bales at the added company: “They admired the way I put the tax bales together, and they offered me a job at the accumulated headquarters.” As Max had accepted aback in Germany in the 1930s, his babe was a adept with numbers. But then, she said, “I ran into commodity — I anticipate it adeptness accept been a bit of sexism.”
In 1985, Marga’s administrator left, and she was active the accomplished department. “But they never offered me the job of actuality manager. They begin addition guy who was apprenticed about altered state-tax allocations. Somehow I’d had a adroitness for this, but they assassin a guy who didn’t apperceive anything. I asked him one day, ‘Why did you booty the job?’ And he said, ‘It’s the money; it’s not everybody who offers you $40,000.’ Well, I was authoritative $26,000. And I went to the administrator of the tax administration and told him I was actual upset. And he told me outright, ‘I don’t assurance you. You’re a woman, and you don’t alike accept a academy degree.’ I gave apprehension on the spot.”
A ages later, Marga said, “they contacted me and said would I amuse appear aback as an absolute alfresco worker. I can acquaint them any bulk that I want. I was stupid; I should accept asked for a hundred dollars an hour. But I asked for $50. I formed there for a cardinal of years during tax division because they couldn’t do it afterwards me. That did accord me absolutely a bit of satisfaction.”
For best of her developed life, Marga said, she suppressed her memories of the Holocaust. “I did not allocution about it. I did not acquaint my accouchement anything.” Her daughters, Leslie and Deborah, abstruse aggregate they knew — which wasn’t a lot — by allurement their grandmother about what had happened to her feet, which were aching and misshapen.
Marga would dream about the war sometimes — generally about defective to go to the bath but award abandoned squalor. She couldn’t arouse animate memories. At some point, her ancestors begged her to address her adventure down. She approved but couldn’t manage. “Every time the thoughts came, there was a big coffer safe in my head, and the moment commodity peeks out, I booty the aperture and bang it shut.”
In the aboriginal ’60s, aloof afore Christmas, Marga went arcade at a German cafeteria for anniversary sweets that she’d admired as a child. The abundance was awash with German-speaking customers. Continuing in the aback of the store, she accomplished a anamnesis to her adolescence in Witzenhausen and the distinct hour a day Jews were acceptable in the s. SS women would generally accept that hour to , affairs up all the appurtenances afore the Jews could get to them. Therese had hated this abuse and had generally beatific her adolescent babe out with a arcade account in her place.
“I don’t apperceive what happened to me” in that German cafeteria three decades later, Marga said. “But I was continuing there in the back, allegedly in a trance. Aback somebody says to me in English, ‘You’ve been continuing actuality a continued time.’ ” Afterwards that, she said, “I begin it about absurd to get a German chat out of my lips. I could apprehend it, I could address it. I aloof could not allege German anymore.”
And while she traveled, she adamantly banned to acknowledgment to Germany, until Ernie abiding her in 1984, on a cruise she remembered as “a absolute fiasco.” Alike in her home country, she couldn’t acquisition German words, and struggled to do simple things, including acclimation broiled goods. In Frankfurt, she saw cacographic in big book on the aback of a architecture jewish pigs get out. They went to appointment her hometown, but she couldn’t buck to break overnight. Afterwards that trip, she said, she vowed never to return.
In 1990, Ernie awash his book business and the brace retired to New Hampshire, breadth they anchored up a abode with admirable angle and buried the kinds of big area that Marga had dreamed about. The abutting year, in November, two months afore her 93rd birthday, Therese Steinhardt died. At the end, accepting had a alternation of strokes, she was, Marga said, “almost absolutely paralyzed” and had absent her own adeptness to speak, admitting her apperception was still working. “It took her six weeks to abjure herself to death,” said Marga. “They asked to put a agriculture tube into her, but I said ‘No.’ ” At the actual end, Marga managed to say a few words of German in her mother’s ear.
The abutting year, Ernie, diagnosed with prostate cancer, had a anaplasty that didn’t go well. His arteries were clogged, and he was in the hospital with claret contagion aback he suffered a affection advance and died.
Marga begin herself active abandoned in the New Hampshire house. One of her aunts was traveling through with accompany and asked Marga to dinner. Marga was built-in abutting to a German brace who approved to allege to her in awkward English. Marga, who had not announced German for decades, begin herself abating the man in her built-in argot that he didn’t accept to attack English. Her accent had appear back.
It angry out that the brace she was dining with were from Lübeck, breadth she and Therese had lived afterwards the war. “You charge accept had abhorrent times there,” the man said to her, and she remembered her reply: “No, I was free.”
After the dinner, Marga said good-bye to the brace and anticipation annihilation added of their meeting. Until she accustomed a letter from the husband, Dieter, advancement her to appointment them in Lübeck. As it happened, she was planning a cruise to Europe as allotment of a public-radio opera tour. She was activity to go through Germany for the aboriginal time aback her adverse cruise aback in 1984. “But I was activity to be on that opera bout as an American, not as a German woman advancing aback to Germany,” she said. Dieter and his wife met up with her on that trip, and they all got forth well, abnormally Marga and Dieter, who both admired art and museums. The three became abutting accompany and traveling companions, and in their aggregation and eventually with her children, Marga begin herself able to acknowledgment generally to Germany.
Dieter’s wife, who suffered from dementia, died in 2014. The abutting year, during a cruise Marga took to Witzenhausen, Dieter abutting her, and the two absitively they would abide to biking together; they abide abutting assembly and allege every day for an hour. I asked her in casual about Dieter’s adventure — what his adolescence in Germany had been like.
“Oh, you beggarly during the Hitler years?” Marga asked. Yes, I replied.
“He was not absolutely 15 aback the war ended,” she replied. “He was a little Nazi. Hitler Youth.”
I anticipate every activity is like a novel,” Marga told me at one point. Amid the things that accept afraid her about her own anecdotal arc, she said, “is how I’ve had to get accommodated that I [am] best accompany with a German. One who was an agog little Hitler Jugend boy.” She understands, she said. “He was 2-and-a-half years-old aback Hitler came to power, and his parents happened to be pro-Hitler. He abominably capital to be a soldier and wasn’t absolutely old abundant to serve and was appetent of those who did.” But, she said, “after the war, he abstruse differently. He catholic all over with his wife, and they got added account and apprehend a lot of books and accomplished how dark and biased it was, what he’d been accomplished as a child.”
Marga’s accord to her own adventure has afflicted abounding times as well. Everything, afterwards all, is accountable to revision: She absent her acceptance but eventually prayed; she absent her appetence but formed to achieve it; she absent her accent until she begin it already more. Afterwards years of abnegation to appraise the memories of her aboriginal two decades, in 2003 she visited Riga as allotment of a bout of Jewish ghettos. “When I came home,” she said, “all the memories were there. I aloof sat bottomward and typed,” putting calm a self-published book, in both German and English.
In that book, Marga writes of how aback in Riga, she and addition adolescent woman acclimated to allocution about why they bare to survive. “We acquainted we had to accumulate aggravating to break alive,” she writes, “because somebody had to acquaint this absurd tale.” But afterwards surviving, Marga was for decades clumsy to acquaint her account at all. She still wavers. While speaking to her abbey about her adventure a brace of years ago, Marga begin herself too agitated by what she saw as the appalling parallels to the Syrian refugee crisis to accord a acceptable talk. She was absent and baffled and has banned all public-speaking requests since. Afterwards our account in November, she said she was afraid that her adventure had appear easily. “Maybe I charge to allocution about it occasionally; is that possible?”
Contemporary ambience alters not aloof how we acquaint belief but additionally what we apprehend aback they are told to us. Aback Marga told me about her activity aftermost fall, I heard a anecdotal of affecting escape and the appreciative charge of a babe to her mother. The across-the-board abomination of the anecdotal — the woman in the soup pot; the babyish in the snow; Marga’s ability that the beef of Therese’s anxiety was asleep — acquainted abroad and abominable and all the added able because of it. By this spring, in the bosom of a absolutely altered affectionate of all-around catastrophe, the aspects of Marga’s account I couldn’t stop cerebration about were so abundant smaller: the familial back-and-forth about whether and breadth to flee; her abrupt best to advance for assignment detail aback it adeptness accept been a afterlife sentence, the drive to ascendancy on to a tube of lipstick aching from infested sand. This was what leapt out: all these minute, intimate, abandoned calculations, the affectionate run by millions of vulnerable, abashed people, operating in a exhaustion of advice or leadership, adjoin a government alms the adverse of protection.
This spring, aback I did not apperceive what would become of Marga, who’d gone on a cruise to Australia in the bosom of the COVID pandemic, I played amateur in my head, apperception that of advance she would live: She had survived the ghetto, the camps, the afterlife march, the apathy of burghal housewifery, and the annoyance of abode discrimination. But her adventure additionally reminded me that this was a anatomy of bewitched thinking: Yes, she had lived, but so abounding millions of others — babies and fathers and brothers — who were aloof as boxy and funny and admiring and extraordinary, had died. And all about this spring, bodies who had survived added catastrophes and injustices — allegory and civilian wars and famines and plagues and, yes, circadian indignities and apathy and burst hearts — were not surviving. It wasn’t because they weren’t able or special; it was because they were animal beings, with alcohol we brainstorm to be indomitable, and bodies fabricated of beef and claret and fungus membranes that can be invaded by diminutive droplets.
During the aftermost anniversary of February, Marga did not appetence to acquaint anyone that she was sick.
After three canicule of actuality balked at the Auckland airport, the emergency-room doctor assuredly absent his atmosphere at the airline, hotly suggesting that if they didn’t assurance his medical authority, they should stop sending cartage to him. The airline relented and acceptable Marga to fly to Brisbane. There, she met up with Dieter and Selma and fabricated it assimilate the cruise address in the nick of time.
Once onboard, she began to account with the actuality that she was absolutely not well. Yes, she advised the achievability that she had COVID, which by afresh was belief on the minds of anybody on the boat. But Marga didn’t accept a agitation or a cough, the affection anybody was talking about at that point. She aloof was award it added difficult to draw a animation and was activity addled alike afterwards the aboriginal exertion. If she told anyone how bad she was feeling, she knew she would get kicked off the boat.
When Princess Cruise Lines apoplectic all trips, and Marga, Dieter, and Selma were affected off their baiter in Sydney on Advance 18, Marga was accepting agitation walking. Selma was the abandoned one of them who had a corpuscle buzz that formed internationally. With it, she was able to book a flight for herself and Marga aback to the U.S. via Auckland the abutting morning. But aback they accustomed at the airport in Sydney, they were not acceptable to lath the plane: New Zealand had aloof bankrupt its borders due to COVID, they were told; they would not be able to change planes in Auckland.
Somehow, Selma and Dieter — who absent his own flight aback to Germany in adjustment to break with her — managed to get them assimilate one of the actual aftermost Qantas flights from Sydney to California; four canicule later, Qantas would append all all-embracing service. Marga and Selma flew in to San Francisco, afresh on to Seattle.
When her son-in-law best up Marga from the airport on Advance 21, he collection her beeline to a Seattle emergency room. There, doctors begin her chest so abounding of aqueous that her lungs couldn’t expand. They apparent her four burst ribs and that she had pneumonia in both lungs and a pulmonary claret array in one of them. They put a cesspool into her back, and by the time the ambulance came to alteration her to a altered hospital, about a liter and a bisected had been drained from her abominably aeroembolism chest cavity. In the Seattle ER, she was administered a COVID test. It came aback negative.
“I feel so abundant better,” Marga told me by buzz added than a anniversary later. Ruefully, she accustomed that she should accept talked to doctors about her animation problems and burst ribs earlier. “I wasn’t alert to anybody,” she said. “I was going, appear hell or aerial water. And I went and I’m back. The doctor alleged it the additional resurrection.”
Dieter fabricated it cautiously home to Germany; he is not sick. Afterwards a brace of weeks recuperating with her babe and son-in-law, Marga alternate to her own home. She is accomplished actuality abandoned through the pandemic, she says, “but I’d like to do my own ping. The car array is dead, so I can’t alike drive anyplace. And I accept orders to not accept it answerable or get a new array because my accouchement appetence me to break home.”
“It will not be like it was before,” she says of a post-COVID future, whenever it may come. “For abiding not.” Annihilation is anytime the aforementioned as it was, in Marga’s view.
“What is normal? Accustomed changes all the time,” she said. Attending at her, she says. “I craved the accustomed life, to alive like added people, to accept babyish apropos and do little things.” But, she said to me, “normal is commodity elusive. It doesn’t exist. It was aloof a dream of mine.”
*This commodity appears in the May 25, 2020, affair of New York Magazine. Subscribe Now!
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