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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 and I had the same response. Horrified as we were by his story, we were equally horrified by how coldly he told it. I suggested, coldly in response, he write the Pentagon.

The incident reestablished my trust in Frau Beyme (Marion to me by then), and of course made pressing her about the Holocaust more difficult. But press I did. Still, nothing she said changed over the years; it just became more pointed.

The first time the subject approached, I opened a wide gate by asking her response when she meets someone who claims not to have known "what was going on." She answered that anyone who read a newspaper could tell what was going on. I quoted a village woman as saying she had had neither the time, the money, nor the inclination to read a newspaper.

"One must grant her that," she said. "That can be right. Moreover, I believe it varies. I'd believe it of many, because there was much I myself didn't know. I never suspected there were so many concentration camps. I'd have thought two or three. And I only learned particulars about a concentration camp by pure accident.

"During the Third Reich, we lived in a two-family house that belonged to my mother. We lived in one half and the director of the humanities high school lived in the other half. He was a good anti-Nazi and had a lot of anti-Nazi friends who visited him. One day, a friend who'd been released from a concentration camp came to him and said a few things. Not a lot, but we heard about them too. Otherwise I'd have heard nothing about all the cruelties and the horrid games they played. For instance, when there was bread, the SS took the pieces, sort of big scraps, and threw them in the air and the hungry prisoners had to catch them. A completely humiliating, degrading thing. I heard about things like that." She said the neighbor also said his friend must have been shackled a long time, for he stood and slept as if he were still tied up.

The neighbor did put himself in what she called "a certain danger" to let his old friend stay with him and had to be careful whom he told about him, lest he endanger them both. (The Nazis forbade ex-prisoners to talk about camp experiences.) Yet in Frau Beyme's eyes, the neighbor was not altogether a good person. "A very cultivated man who ate and lived with great seriousness," as she described him, he missed the prewar good life. So when he was drafted and stationed "at some transportation place in France," he availed himself of whatever luxuries were to be had. "I really got angry about him. He sent an enormous number of things here from France. Vast quantities of tobacco and canned meat and everything, and a beautiful Jewish lamp. We did not find that nice. They had so much, they asked us to store things in our cellar."

She said she did not believe he stole the items, but took advantage of a terrible situation. "Maybe one could buy the crates of things from poor Jews, I don't know. But I couldn't have bought a Jewish lamp if it had cost five cents. Because one could think of its history, no? He was no enemy of Jews [Judengegner], and maybe one could say things were safe with him and he cared for them and knew their history. One could say."

She could not. But had she not known him, she maintained, she would not have known any details of the camps. "Therefore I can believe many people who knew little or nothing."

Herr Beyme, sitting with us just then, related an incident confirming his wife's statement. He said that during the war, he and some fellow soldiers tried to find out about the closing of a road in Weimar—near Buchenwald concentration camp. They had not even got to the barricade, he said, when armed SS guards peremptorily turned them away. If uniformed German soldiers could not find out what was going on, he asked, how could the German public?

One possible way was by rumor, or so-called whisper propaganda. I asked Frau Beyme about it. She said it "was not all that frequent. It certainly existed. But it certainly went right by a lot of people. One didn't even risk saying something of the kind. You'd be scared telling it to someone you didn't know well, for what he'd do with the news, if he'd report you and say, 'She's a defeatist, she's hindering our victory.'"

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