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Posts Tagged ‘Oppression of Jews’

            Oskar’s disappearance in November of 1944 took the family by surprise.  Perhaps they were so used to Father Vorspel successfully hiding him whenever the Gestapo sought him out.  More likely, it was simply the result of Margarethe’s having to travel to the Black Forest to bring their daughters home to Essen.  Doris and Ilse had been sent to an abbey by the priest, as he was afraid they would be taken away as Jews.  However, after a year and a half of living with the nuns, someone from Essen happened to be travelling there and recognized them.  So Margarethe went to bring them home.

But it was not an easy journey.  First of all, Margarethe was pregnant.  Secondly, Doris fell ill with appendicitis.  She was hospitalized for two weeks.  No one visited her, but one nun brought her a knitting toy.  By the time she was able to travel and Margarethe finally got her home, Oskar had disappeared and no one had any clue as to how or when it happened.  One day a neighbor had seen him.  The next he was gone.

Margarethe would visit whatever remnant of the Jewish community was left to see if any word had come of Oskar’s whereabouts.  Finally they received a post card from him in Holzmindin, a transfer camp.  Doris wrote her father a letter but heard nothing back.  Once again his location became a mystery.

In the early morning of March 13, 1945, Essen suffered a heavy bombing by the Allies.  The house that Margarethe and the girls lived in was destroyed.  They had made it to the bomb shelter underneath the house but lay trapped there, under the rubble until 3 in the afternoon.  Now, with no place of their own and their possessions destroyed, they were fortunate that a theology student by the name of Theo Borges had room for them in his apartment.  But still, there was no word of Oskar.

By the end of March, 1945 the Americans arrived in Essen.  Margarethe had saved one of the yellow Jewish stars that Oskar had worn.  She showed it to the Americans who then took pity on them and treated them with great kindness, spoiling the girls with chocolates and treats.  But still no word of Oskar, even though the Jewish community was able to begin to function once again and Margarethe checked with them constantly.

Finally, after yet one more visit to the Jewish authorities, a neighbor hailed Margarethe as she was returning, saying, “Mrs. Romberg, something always happens while you are away.”  At their door was a piece of cloth, a rag really, with Oskar’s handwriting.  The note simply said, “my dear wife and dear children, I will soon be with you but I am still very weak.  My friend and I went on foot, but it takes more than two weeks until I will be home again.  I am yearning for my family.  I send you many kisses.”

Oskar had been taken to Theresienstadt.  The Russians liberated the camp just two days before he was scheduled to be gassed.  Oskar was free to go but needed to recover some strength, as he weighed only 85 pounds.  Oskar was given food rations and cigarettes.  After a few weeks he began the journey back to Essen partly on foot and partly by hitchhiking on trucks.  Oskar missed his wife tremendously and did not want to return to her empty handed.  He hoarded his cigarettes and then traded them for a cut glass set of a creamer, small bowl and tray to give Margarethe.  Doris has the set in her cupboard even today.

Oskar spoke very little about Theresienstadt.  He only would say that they always needed to treat people well, with respect.  The only stories he told were ones with a touch of humor.  For example, one day a group of prisoners had to paint a barracks.  They found some potatoes and hid them in the paints so the guards would not confiscate them.  Later, they cleaned them off and made a small fire to fry them.

When Doris got married and had her first child, Andrea, Oskar would only say how lucky the child was to be able to live in a safe time in which she would never see the experiences that Oskar had seen.  His grandson would not have to live on the edge.

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