„I can forgive, but I can’t forget. Impossible. I just can’t.“
Ilse Grünewald is sitting on her chair at her table in her small pretty room in Hogar Adolfo Hirsch and looks introspectively with her sad and kind eyes.
She remembers the time in Seelze, a town near Hannover. They were the only Jews there. “I want to forgive, but it is hard.” The memory of her time in Germany weighs like a boulder on top of her. “Look, I was born there, my brothers were born there. We lived there and suddenly all that ended.”
By that she means that the people of Seelze suddenly turned away from her and her family, the same people with whom she has shared her daily life since her birth in April 1914. “People were afraid to talk to us.” Only a single friend, the daughter of the school headmaster, was brave enough to stick by her. Up until recently, she has stayed in touch with this friend but now both are too old to continue writing to each other.
„Am I a ‘Schweinehund’, just because Goebbels says so?“
As she remembers Seelze, the humiliations come to the fore again: “Who am I? Am I a ‘Schweinehund’, just because Goebbels says so? Am I? Before, we were upright citizens and now we were reduced to being regarded as pigs.” The grief is so ingrained that she can only speak slowly. “I felt very German. I was a member of the German Gymnastics Association, until the whole organisation became a member of the NSDAP in 1933. They couldn’t send me out quick enough.” Until then she had felt completely and unreservedly at home in Seelze. But national socialism took all that away from her.
The young couple faces an uncertain future
By the time the Nazis take away her brothers’ business, she lives in Hannover with her husband, where she, too, soon loses her employment. She now works as a maid. She has no other alternatives. „It’s not that I’m ashamed to have worked as a maid, certainly not. We had no other opportunities. They left nothing for us.” Soon, the young couple can’t stand it in this hostile country any longer and look into emigration.
In order to obtain a so called permiso, they bribe the consul. A Dutch friend lends them the money. “We couldn’t pay anything. We had nothing left. We were only allowed to take 10 Marks. We were dirtier than pigs!“ she exclaims and her outrage is palpable even today, 67 years later. “In the end, we were no longer afraid. We didn’t care, we just wanted out.” Their longed-for departure succeeded before the 9th of November 1938. She is in the last stages of a pregnancy. “It was awful.” The young couple face an uncertain future.
Her eyes fill with tears
By that stage, Ilse Grünewald’s mother had passed away and the father lives in Sydney, together with his second wife and her daughter. Her two brothers lose their lives. On the last day, before the north Americans liberated the concentration camp in which her youngest brother was interned, “they shot him down into a pit.” A friend, who survived the camp, was a witness. “He told us, ‘Berthold got caught.’” Her eyes fill with tears, but she can’t cry. She doesn’t know what happened to her oldest brother. But she is certain that he, too, “was left behind in a camp”.
She is finally treated again as a human being
She has to venture a new beginning in Argentina and face the uncertainty of what the future would hold. Against all expectations, she didn’t encounter any difficulties because the Philanthropic Association for German Jews takes care of everything. And although she and her husband had to start again from scratch, she is finally treated again as a human being, with respect, she says.
Together with a friend they live in a rented room with a petrol fuel cooker in one corner and the beds in the other. “But we managed.” She says this not without a sense of pride. Her eyes are bright once more. Argentina has become a new home to her. By now she’s been in Hogar Adolfo Hirsch for six years. She came because of her husband, but he long since died. The great-grandmother of twelve feels very happy in San Miguel. “There are some people who moan about the home, but old people always moan”, she says and smiles. But she knows what this place means to her.
She doesn’t want to continue thinking about Germany. You have to draw a line, she says. “I can forgive, but I cannot forget and when I think about Germany, I get sick.”