Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Hilma Geffen - February 15, 1985


Uh, about, I would say about in half an hour later or so my father came home and I must have hung around in the neighborhood because I saw him and I met him in the downstairs hall of the apartment house at the door and I said this is what happened. People are there to pick you up and Mom, but Mom told me to run away and I'm running away. And I turned around and I knew where to go. The first thing was I removed the star and uh, the yellow star and then I went to this particular house where I was supposed to go. And...that was the last time I ever heard of my parents or saw them or any notice. Later on after the war I learned that the transport on that day in October went to Auschwitz directly. So I don't think they made much to-do about that particular transport. They probably gassed the people right away or sent them to the gas chambers. And I started to uh, live underground. Or started assuming a new identity. And uh, I had a very good friend who has helped us in the past, I think I mentioned him, he was a Mischling, his mother was Gentile, his father was Jewish, but he was a Gentile. He finished high school. He could not, because he was a Mischling, he could not attend university, so he was a, an apprentice in an office. He had access to some personnel files. He, there was a girl working in that same office who was my age. We sent away for her birth certificate. And I assumed her identity. Of course, without, she didn't know anything about it. And I, because of my birth certificate, I got new papers. We said we were bombed out, all my papers were lost. She, she lived in, she was born in a southern part of Germany which already had seen a lot of bombing, so it was very plausible that she was bombed out at one time and lost the papers. So I could um, so I, I received uh, papers. I had my picture taken and I assumed a new identity. Through...my friend's name was Gerhard, through Gerhard's intervention, I met some people. A Gentile couple who said they would hide me. They had a weekend cottage in the suburb of Berlin, to the west. It was called Waldensee. It was west of Spandau, where uh, eventually this weekend house was to be the home for all of us, because of, for Mr. and Mrs. Kerber and for me, because their apartment in Berlin also was bombed out. And they winterized the cottage, and we uh, lived there during the war years. I was to be their niece. I had money. I got the money from the people my mother gave the money to and for a while, I had enough to buy food stamps on the black market. When this source died out, dried out uh, we just tried the best way we could. We were in the country. We raised vegetables, we uh, had rabbits, we had chickens. So we had enough food. I--we were not hungry. I helped in the household and that is how I survived the war until it ended in May of 1945. Almost three years.

What kind of people where the Kerbers?

The Kerbers were what we would call blue collar workers. She was a, she was a tailor, she was a dressmaker. And she earned uh, she worked at home and she earned extra money as a dressmaker. She also was a very good cook. She, they had one son who had died. So they were childless. They uh, he was a postal worker. He also was a political activist. He was a Social Democrat. In 1933 he was arrested with a lot of other Social Democrats. Act...active Social Democrats and was sent to uh, uh, a concentration camp. He was there for six months.


No, it was in Sachsenhausen.


Mm-hm. And he was with others and eventually was released. He went back to the postal service. He was not a letter carrier. He was, worked inside. And uh, was, lived an inconspicuous life after that. Never agreeing with Hitler's policy or anything. Uh, when the opportunity arose and people, friends of friends told him about me. Uh, as I said Gerhard's parents knew some friends who knew them. They said they wanted to help me. It was their way of uh, fighting Hitler, to be precise. He was in the army. He fought in uh, France. Although he was already above the uh, age, the legitimate age. He was drafted and he was in France. He returned and was dismissed and he went back to the postal service. He worked in the post office until '44, when everybody was drafted again. From 14 to 70. So he was drafted again. He was not sent to the front, but he was uh, uh, on the post. He bought, every so often, he bought us some bread. On weekends he came home. Several weekends. Once or twice during the month on weekends he came home and he bought us some bread.

But you were alone with Frau Kerber?

Yeah, the two of us were by ourselves. And a dog. And uh, when a, when the uh, in May he was with us. He was not in the army. I think he managed to come back just before the war was over and uh, we were liberated by the Russians. The Russians came March or April. May, Berlin was freed in May. We did not hear anything of the war. I mean, we heard way in the background we heard shooting but uh, there was no shooting where we were. Because the army had, the German Army had retreated into Berlin and there was the last stand in Berlin. The same thing with air raids. We had air raids toward the end practically day and night, but the airplanes flew over us. There were no targets in our suburbs. The target was Berlin. And the Siemens factories and all this. We had only occasionally a bomb would fall when a plane was hit by the flack. But uh, so we were already uh, liberated when they still were fighting in Berlin. Of course, there was no communication whatsoever. Except that we saw Russian soldiers on their little horses. These step...stepping...steppe horses. Small horses, very widely, very small but very sturdy horses. With their carts going by for hours and hours. And on these carts they had all their war materials. At uh, a tank, an American tank, was posted at the end of our corner of the street and we uh, that was our occupation. They came to us, the Russian soldiers came into each house and looked around and said if there were any weapons, any German soldiers, and since we didn't have anything, they left. That was all right, later on the occupation troops were the ones who raped and stole.

We'll take a short break.

[interruption in interview]

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