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Holocaust survivor and German-Israeli publicist Inge Deutschkron turns 95

Inge Deutschkron was one of 1,700 Jews who survived the Holocaust in the Berlin underground. Now 95, the renowned German-Israeli publicist has not tired of reminding the world of the atrocities committed by the Nazis.

"My child, from today onwards you are Jewish."

Inge Deutschkron was 10 years old when, in 1933, her mother told her that her family was Jewish. "We were not religious at all," recounts Deutschkron, but that didn't interest the Nazis. Once they came to power, her classmates suddenly started calling her a "dirty Jew." Her family would suffer from fear and persecution until the end of the war.

Inge Deutschkron and her parents were among 1,700 Jews in Berlin who courageously managed to survive the Holocaust in hiding. "Don't put up with anything. When someone attacks you, you must defend yourself," her mother told her when the persecution of Jews began. It's a sentence that continues to influence Deutschkron, who turns 95 on August 23.

As part of the Nazis' persecution strategy, Jews were forced to leave their homes and live in crowded barracks, which became common practice in Berlin in 1941. For Deutschkron, situation was unbearable and she would sometimes run away.

Sign reading Don't buy from Jews! from Berlin in 1933 (bpk Bildagentur)

"Don't buy from Jews!" Persecution began when the Nazis came to power in 1933

"I just couldn't stand it," she recounts. She would put on her jacket with the yellow star but take along another one without the star. She then swapped the jackets in the dark hallway and went to the theater. This was very dangerous, since going to the theater was forbidden for Jews and she could have been recognized. "My theater visits meants a lot to me. I was able to think about something else for two hours."

Read more: Should Germany keep its Nazi relics to teach young people about the Holocaust?

Opposition to Hitler

Until 1943, Deutschkron was able to find protection and support with a man named Otto Weidt. The owner of a workshop for the blind, he also employed Jews like Deutschkron in order to save them from being deported to concentration camps. 

By then, Deutschkron's father had already fled to Britain. As a politically vocal Social Democrat, the Nazis had him on their radar - and even came looking for him during the Kristallnacht pogrom in 1938.

"When I was a child, I helped my parents fold anti-Hitler pamphlets," Deutschkron remembers. "My parents always explained to me why they got involved. I often went with them to protests." 

Her father always felt like a German and wanted to stay in Germany, said Deutschkron, but when the Gestapo came after him, he fled to England where he had friends. His wife and daughter were to join him there later, but that didn't become possible until after the war.

During the Holocaust, Inge Deutschkron and her mother witnessed numerous deportations. At first, they were relieved that they were not on the transports, but then fear would set in: They could be next.

Track 17 at Berlin's Grunewald station (picture alliance/dpa/akg-images)

Track 17 at Berlin's Grunewald station was once the site of deportations, but is now a memorial

Non-Jewish friends finally persuaded them to go into hiding in the Berlin underground. "Our friends just couldn't bear to stand by and watch the suffering of the Jews, and they risked their own lives in order to save us," Deutschkron told DW. Until today, she refers to these friends as "silent heroes." Their courage, she says, should have been honored more in postwar Germany. 

The fight against forgetfulness

Over the decades since the Holocaust, Deutschkron has not tired of paying homage to those faithful friends, but also of reminding postwar Germany of the Nazi horrors.

Read more: Documenta cancels 'Auschwitz on the Beach' performance after hefty criticism

"I Wore the Yellow Star" is the title of one of her 12 books, which was later adapted for the stage and performed in Berlin's GRIPS youth theater. Deutschkron has also given countless talks to school classes, and her message has never changed: "It can never happen again. That's why we need to know exactly what happened and who the perpetrators were. The 'how' and 'why' are not discussed enough today," she said in a television interview with German public broadcaster Bayrischer Rundfunk in 2016.

"I must have been crazy to have endured all that for so long," she once said of her early years of suffering.

After the end of the war, she and her mother joined her father in England. In 1955, she returned to Germany where she worked as a correspondent for the Israeli daily Maariv in Bonn, the capital of what was then West Germany.

"Nobody was interested in what I was reporting - on the contrary!" Deutschkron was shocked to find out that former Nazis continued to be all over Germany - in offices, government agencies and political parties. "People used to say, 'Just forget it. That was such a long time ago.'"

Collective memory

But her tenacity and sense of justice have paid off - and people did start listening to her, even in the German parliament. In 2013, the writer was invited to describe her Holocaust experience in the Bundestag during an hour of remembrance for the victims of National Socialism.

"I found it hard because this was the first time that I had spoken to such an important group. When I started to speak, I afraid that something was wrong because the room was so quiet." She later found out that the reason for the silence was that the politicians and guests were so moved by her account.

Inge Deutschkron in the German Bundestag in 2013 (dapd)

Inge Deutschkron gave a moving speech in the German Bundestag in 2013

Inge Deutschkron, with her openness in speaking about the Nazi era, is an important part of Germany's collective memory.  

She co-founded the memorial site "Stille Helden" (Silent Heroes) in honor of those who save her life. She also initiated her own Inge Deutschkron Foundation, which promotes teaching about the Holocaust in school. And she has taken part in two historical documentaries.

Read more: At 90, Holocaust survivor lives to remember

Deutschkron moved to Tel Aviv in 2001, but has since returned to Berlin, where she keeps the culture of remembrance alive. Earlier this year, she protested against the demolition of a villa on Berlin's Fontanepromenade, where a modern housing complex with offices is planned.

During the Nazi era, the street was dubbed "Schikanepromenade" (chicanery promenade) because the central office for Jewish affairs, which sent 26,000 Berlin Jews into forced labor camps, was located there.

The German-Israeli publicist and author has received numerous awards, among them the Moses Mendelssohn Prize in 1992, and the Order of Merit of Berlin in 2004. One award that she refused to accept was the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany, arguing that some Nazis had been honored with it in the 1950s. 

The video below is a 2013 portrait of Inge Deutschkron from DW's archives.

Watch video 05:15

Fighting against Forgetfulness: Inge Deutschkron

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