Such "defeatism" could, and did, lead to concentration camps.
Frau Beyme said her family's source of information remained mostly the forbidden radio broadcasts. I asked if they included reports of gassing. She whispered, "That I cannot tell you exactly. I don't know. I don't know."
I asked when she knew what.
"I did not see the transports," she said. "And learned the details definitely after the capitulation."
By "details" she meant gassing?
"Ja. One certainly had heard that. One thought everything possible, but whether it really was true was almost too terrible to believe. Only afterward, when one saw pictures, did one really believe it."
I tried to pin her down on when she heard which rumors. She said she had to disappoint me, that she simply did not know.
Then what were the specifics she did hear?
"That the Jews were being deported. First, we saw they had to work, lawyers and so on our streets, having to dig out the tracks for the trolleys." She added softly, "And didn't ride on them themselves. There they worked, very hard work which they weren't used to and which took away their strength. And one knew after they'd done that awhile, they were taken away. To a camp. One could not imagine more."
Yes, but rumors, I insisted [. . .]
"Perhaps it is unbelievable to you, but I did not hear much before the end of the war. It was more like a gloomy feeling [of] who knows what horrible things are happening to the people? But I did not hear particulars."
"Well, I did not know where the concentration camps were, how many concentration camps there were, what one was doing with them. And gassing certainly went on a long time before I knew about it." She whispered. "Even heard about it."
She also said she was unsure when she learned something, whether she learned something she knows now during the war, or after it.
What had she done with whatever she had known during the war?
She said her sole recourse was to tell her friends, and agonize together. "Things had gone so far, you could not undertake anything without being killed. It was already too late. We all woke up too late. It didn't help either, if you yourself were done away with." She said that because German women were responsible for elderly parents and children, they were the least independent and therefore least likely to risk their lives. "The man in the Third Reich thought, 'I can risk everything. My children are cared for.' The woman did concern herself with the children. But women could not count on a man to concern himself with the children."
"Furthermore," she said, "you needed a lot of courage. And it is my opinion not everyone is a hero. I believe one cannot expect every human being to be so courageous. That is asking too much."
Source: Owings, Alison. Frauen: German Women Recall the Third Reich. Copyright © 1993 by Alison Owings. Reprinted with permission of Rutgers University Press.