Posts Tagged ‘Nazi oppression of Jews’

            There is an interesting connection between my grandfather, Walter Romberg, and his younger brother Oskar.  Both originally married Jewish women.  Each fathered a son with their first wife.  Walter divorced his first wife, Martha, which is really no surprise as this was a forced marriage resulting from Martha’s pregnancy resulting in my father.  Oskar’s first wife died.  Each man then remarried in the year 1932.  The second wife of each man was Catholic, not Jewish.  Each of the women were significantly younger then their husbands – 15 and 14 years respectively.  Most strange, perhaps, is that each had the same name – Margarethe.  I cannot continue the story of the Romberg family without paying at least a small tribute to these two women.  They turned out to have much more in common than the fact they were both Catholic and had the same name.

Stop and think for a moment about the atmosphere in Germany in 1932.  While Hitler had not yet taken power, the Nazi party had grown tremendously in popularity.  A combination of the economic depression along with the humiliation most Germans felt by the victory in World War I by the allies primed the populace for the Nazi message which promised a return of German pride and power and improved economic circumstances.  Blaming the Jews for the country’s problems was not a tactic new or unique to the Nazis.  They were just more vehement and violent about it than any group previously in European history.  So even though Hitler had not yet become chancellor in 1932, that year did contain two national elections which saw huge support for the Nazis and their messages.

All of this means that even though there were no official government policies targeting Jews in 1932, hatred of Jews was certainly on the rise.  Hitler and the Nazis made no secret of their desires to carry out punishment for the Jewish “crimes” against the fatherland.  Despite this certain unfriendly atmosphere for Jews, both Margarethes fell in love with and married Jewish men.  Oskar’s in-laws were not happy that their daughter married a Jew.  They warned their daughter this would lead to trouble.  These warnings did not deter her.

Even more impressive for each of the women is how they stayed with their Jewish husbands as the laws against Jews became more and more harsh.  Both endured pressure from non-Jewish Germans to divorce their husbands.  In Essen, Oskar’s wife was called into the Gestapo headquarters a number of times and told she should no longer be married to a Jew.  Cousin Anne actually showed us the building which contained the Gestapo in Essen.  It is now just a benign office building, but Anne cannot help but think of what her mother went through each time she passes it.

In Cologne, Walter’s wife endured tremendous hardship in order to stay with him.  In the face of the pressure to leave Walter she actually tried to help Jewish families being deported by preparing food for their journeys and going to the gathering camp to bring it to them.  Both women tried to help Jewish shopkeepers clean up their destroyed stores in the aftermath of Kristalnacht.

Each of the Margarethes also walked a fine line between protecting their children but not letting them forget they were the children of Jewish heritage.  After Walter died in 1942 an allied bombing raid destroyed many of the offices containing official records in Cologne.  Walter’s widow told her girls not to mention their father was Jewish.  Now there was no way to prove anything.  Yet, later on when Charlotte got involved with an informal Hitler youth group in which the girls wanted her to be a leader, her mother told her not to forget who she was or where she came from.  In Essen, Oskar’s daughter’s, Doris and Ilse, endured comments and deliberate exclusion because their father was Jewish.  One time they told their mother that they were the only children on the block not given chocolate promised by a neighbor to all of the children.  Their mom said she knew the neighbor meant to give them some and found some bread for them as a kind of “consolation” prize.

Both women endured horrid living conditions.  Walter’s widow had to contend with constant allied bombings of Cologne, and often being excluded from the bomb shelters.  She had apartments bombed along with the loss of all their possessions as well as being evacuated to Sudetenland.  Oskar’s family had to move more than 20 times.  Often Oskar was gone (probably hidden by the priest when sought by the Gestapo).  His wife sent their daughters to south Germany to be hidden, and when they were discovered she went herself to fetch them, even though she was pregnant at the time.

Both women were the glue that held their respective families together.  This clearly had to be the case for Walter’s widow after he died in 1942, but for Oskar’s wife as well, she endured many times when he was being hidden, she had to be the one who worked to support the family and of course for a number of months she was alone with her daughters while Oskar was in Theresienstadt.

So I salute and honor both Margarethe Rombergs posthumously.  They were clearly two amazing women who helped our family navigate the hardest times and circumstances one can imagine.

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