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

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"My mother loved chocolate and went to a fine small shop where the best chocolate was. And one noted very early on in conversation, they were Nazis. So we never went there again. In a certain sense it wasn't that simple, since she liked this chocolate so much, but she didn't go again. Those are such small things one could do. It's really only that one relinquished something, but one did nothing active. Not that."

Thinking of "nothing active," I asked what happened to the family that owned the dry goods store. Speaking very slowly, Frau Beyme said, "They left, but I believe they got out in time. To the U.S. I did not hear they were killed." She said specific fates generally were learned after the war, when a survivor wrote to old friends. "It was talked around who still lived and who did not. But it took years until one knew."

In the meantime, she herself saw some of what was happening in her hometown. "Once, to my horror, I saw, who can that be? A lawyer suddenly having to do road work, to dig out the tracks for the streetcars. I could see him. He'd dug a deep hole in which he stood. He'd hacked it out. Suddenly I recognized him as a fine gentleman I'd seen on the street."

The Nazis also went after one of Marion's friends, "an unbelievably beloved gymnastics teacher. She had so many students. She was also very musical and always played beautiful piano accompaniment to the exercises, especially beautiful. And she put a little box on the piano and one threw one's money in for the gymnastics course. She never checked to see if everyone paid. There were so many, she couldn't. She was so beloved. Then suddenly came word she's half Jewish and can't give classes anymore. From one day to the next.

"There was another gym teacher here who worked at the school and was a Nazi. She had made it known. And my friend, who was married to a lawyer, moved to Berlin and hid, so to speak. You can do that easier in a big city. Two small daughters. They lived in a rented apartment in the middle of Berlin and I visited her there a lot. She gave classes to me and another friend, in her room. Her husband later was punished for marrying a half-Jew. He was put in the Waffen-SS, on what one called a 'commando trip to heaven,' with which one figured you didn't return. But he did." Safely.

I asked if he might be one of the Waffen-SS soldiers buried in the cemetery in Bitburg. She said yes.

Back in Marburg, the prevailing mood was pro-Hitler. Frau Beyme said she would gauge her own neighborhood as 90 percent for and 10 percent against. "You could not say anything on the street. There was something called the German look [der deutsche Blick]." She demonstrated it by looking behind her and to each side before talking. Another street routine, she said, was to develop a wait-and-see attitude with people whose politics you did not know. "If they liked Hitler, you could tell very fast. For instance, I met one on the street, from my old school class. I noted immediately she'd become a Nazi, and since then we didn't speak." She said the classmate would not have greeted her with "Heil Hitler!" although it was compulsory. More likely, she said, the woman "had spoken enthusiastically about the war, 'Now we have another great victory,' and so on.

"Most apparent was who was for [the Nazis]. They said it loudly and acted the same way. You could tell by their uniforms or insignia. The opponents, naturally, were much softer and quieter and more hidden. It's hard to say how many opponents there were. The supporters certainly were in the majority." In tallying supporters, she included the "ones who simply went along with it and didn't get outraged by it."

One time, the pull of the Nazi phenomenon came close to nabbing her again, too. She happened to be in Hanover on a day Hitler was there for a rally. And she happened to be standing where the Nazi motorcade drove by. From an open car, Hitler waved to the wildly cheering crowd. "I noticed, although I was opposed, how such a mass of people screamed so enthusiastically and raised their hands and threw flowers, that I was in danger of being pulled along. It is very dangerous to stand in such a throng of people. Somehow it's fascinating. The throng's so enthusiastic, it can infect you. And you think, could you be wrong and all the others be right? One does become uncertain."

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