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Frau Marion Beyme’s Memories of Marburg and Berlin during the Third Reich (Retrospective Account)

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Frau Beyme still lives in Marburg, in a bright, attractive home she designed herself. She shares it with her second husband, Leonard Beyme, a folklore scholar. He is a thoughtful man of droll humor. It was evident from the start the Beymes live a comfortable, and readerly, life. Their home exudes careful taste and much evidence of her family's prosperous past, including such treasures as a lovely oval oil painting of her lovely mother and the remainder of her father's antique beer stein collection. (Frau Beyme said most of it was destroyed in the weeks after the war, when American occupation soldiers tossed the steins out the window and onto the sidewalk, apparently after drinking from them.) Herr Dr. Beyme's collection of prints of old Marburg lines one room. Thousands of books are here and there, neatly, in bookcases. The wooden floors gleam, the tea is choice, the bedsheets are of ironed linen (Frau Beyme had invited me to stay before we met), and the herbs are homegrown, in Dr. Beyme's organic garden.

It also was evident from the start that the couple's life is cultured old-world conservative every way but politically. The reason seems largely to be the Third Reich. The passive anti-Nazi turned into an active antimilitarist and antinationalist. But being active in the 1980s helped no more than being passive in the 1930s and '40s, said Frau Beyme. Freedom to protest changed nothing. She listed all she had done, to no apparent avail, she said, against nuclear weapons. And being horrified by the Germany of the early 1990s, and reading about it constantly, helped nothing either.

Yet the lessons of the Third Reich permeate the way the Beymes see the world. During a first and extensive discussion, they mentioned, for instance, being wary of the Greens' movement. They did not like its celebratory view of "Made in Germany" products. The emphasis seemed nationalistic. And as the Berlin Wall came down, the Beymes were aghast at other Germans driving to East Germany, buying carloads of cheap state-supported goods, and gleefully showing them off back home. "We're ashamed," she wrote me. Herr Dr. Beyme, who had retired after careers in teaching and radio programming and an avocation in peaceful protest, said at one point he has given up and just works in his garden.

But Frau Beyme continued to fulminate. Her letters to me usually included a neatly clipped and underlined newspaper article about something that she deplored, from the United States' bombing of Iraq, to West Germany's politics toward East Germany, to the neo-Nazi hate crimes. It sometimes seemed to me that she had never relaxed since the Third Reich ended, or began.

The Nazis' boycott of Jewish-owned stores in April of 1933 may have been Marion Beck's first confrontation of conscience. Her mother led her through it.

"She always went into Jewish stores, even when the SA stood out front to see who entered. Once I went in with her. SA men in uniform stood outside. My mother really gave me courage.

"This Jewish merchant was someone from whom one could buy sewing needles and cloth and wool and scissors and so on. It was so terrible—such a very large store and completely empty. The owner came over to us. He was so thankful that someone came. My mother really had nothing to buy, but wanted to show him, I'm still coming. So she bought two small spools of thread. And in his zeal and happiness that someone was there, this man, Herr Blumenfeld, said, 'Shall I have them sent to your home?' But it was sad, naturally, he said it."

Frau Beck, declining the offer, put the thread in her purse and left with Marion. There were no consequences from the Nazis at the door. "We probably were very lucky. More could have happened. Nothing really did. They just half looked at us and could have recognized us, but didn't write down our names. One stood at each side of the door. It was so dumb. They'd been ordered there, probably hadn't thought about it a lot."

Soon after similar shopping excursions, "the stores were closed. The problem was taken care of." Frau Beck then followed a personal dictum of not buying from Nazis.

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