Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Hilma Geffen - February 15, 1985


One of the people that seems so interesting to me is the person of Gerhard who, as a Mischling, had taken certain risks, certainly on your behalf. Could you describe how often perhaps you saw Gerhard and perhaps what happened to his families, his father and his mother?

Uh, Gerhard was a most unusual person. I met Gerhard when I was thirteen or fourteen. His uh, aunt had a weekend cottage in Rangsdorf, right across from our house. The uh, mother, there was a mother who was the aunt of his father. And the three daughters, she had three daughters. Uh, excuse me, no, two daughters. The daughters never married. He visited, he and his family visited his aunt and his, the cousins in Rangsdorf and since they were Jewish and we were friendly with them uh, I met Gerhard. I was 13, 14, and he was about two years older, 16. And we were very compatible. We did a lot of things together. We went swimming together. We went ice skating together. We went sleighing together, bob-sleighing together, and uh, whenever he and his family came to visit their relatives in Rangsdorf. Once we moved into, moved to Berlin in 1939, of course he went to school, high school. I went to school. We uh, were together almost weekly, on weekends. He uh, ordered, he helped us a lot as far as uh, cigarettes for my father. He managed to get, once in a while he brought my mother a chicken. I don't know where he got the chicken from, but he did bring. And we were really comrades. We, he was an outdoor person. I enjoyed the outdoors. In the wintertime we used to take the train to Havel or Grunewald and we would walk, and in the summertime we would go swimming together. We would go to concerts together. When I worked, when I wore the star, I would go out of the house and uh, to a neighborhood where I was not known then I would either take off the jacket or put on the jacket, whatever the case may be, and we would meet and uh, would go out together.

It was quite risky to do?

I felt pretty safe in his presence. I don't know whether he felt as safe in my presence. But we were actually inseparable. We were very close. On many weekends we met. Uh, our parents were not very enthused about our friendship. My parents because he was not Jewish. And his parents because I was Jewish and therefore a risk.

Even though his father was...

His father was Jewish but uh, it was still risky. If he had been caught, he would have been arrested and probably killed. We prevailed. As a matter of fact, we were very brazen, brazen. Looking back I uh, still don't understand how chutzpahdik we could have been. That's the only expression I really, we were so uh, not that we were unaware of the dangers, but we laughed at the dangers. We did everything in spite of the dangers. He had a boat. A rubber boat. A little kayak which was uh, in a marina at a, at the Havel River. Uh, it was stored there. It was a small boat for two. He uh, we named it Hatikvah. In all that war, in all that danger, we named the boat Hatikvah and we paddled around the lakes, the rivers in that boat. No one ever stopped us; no one ever made any comments on that name. It was, of course in Germany, Hatikvah was not known to be a Hebrew word. It was partly, people thought it was just a make-up word, as people do very often. They make up a name for a boat. But we knew what it was. And uh, evidently we never came across anybody who knew what that name meant. And uh, we uh kept on going until, until the end.

So you saw each other even when you were working and living with the Kerbers?

Uh, when I...well yes. Because he was instrumental in finding the Kerbers as I had mentioned and instrumental in getting me the papers. Whenever I needed help, I went to him, and he was always there helping me. He uh, would come out occasionally on weekends because he was working and visit us. He also, eventually toward the end of the war, he was drafted. Not as a soldier but the operation Todt. T-o-d-t. They took all the Mischlinger, Mischlinge and anybody else who was not honored enough to be a real soldier and put them in this uh, in this uh, organization, Todt. And they had to go uh, after the bomb burst, that their job, that they had to go and clean up. They had to uh, put the electricity back. They had to remove the rubble. They had to clear highways. That was the job of the job of uh, of those fellows. They wore, they wore uniforms. They were the black uniforms. And it was dangerous job because there were live wires. There were unexploded bombs that they had to remove and things like that. Besides, they were not treated that well either.

What happened to his father? And his mother?

His father, his mother and his father lived in their apartment. It was not bombed out through the war. And I understand his father passed away in the sixties, during the sixties, of old age. His mother was still alive in 1981. Was it '81? When we were in Berlin. I called her up. She was in her eighties, and I called her up and said, "Do you still remember me?" And she says, "Yes, I think I remember you, you were a friend of Gerhard's." So she did remember me. So she was alive in Berlin, in the same apartment. She lived with a companion there. Uh, Gerhard uh, as I said, was a very unusual person. He managed no matter what. He was not very tall. He was small. But he was very sturdy. Was very strong. He also was very, had a good mind. Excellent mind. He figured out, and he could uh, he always had been a very good student. He was good in math and he uh could manipulate things very well, as one could, see and organize. Shortly after the war was over, one day when I was still in Waldensee, he appeared at the gate of our garden and said, "Here I am." And he was one of the first people who returned. What happened? Well, there was such confusion where he was on the front that instead of going with the division, he went backwards. He separated himself somehow. Somehow got into civilian clothes and walked back. And he walked all the way from where he was, back to Berlin. And since there was a lot of confusion, a lot of movement, refugees going back and forth, either going to or coming from, it was unbelievable in those, right after the war, the end of the war in Germany that uh, uh, movement in the, on the highways. People fleeing, people going to, going back, coming uh, everything was happening in, on the highways. Plus the military retreating, dissolving, nothing worked. It was uh, unbelievable. And it was easy to get lost in that confusion and just uh, move back. Not to call any attention to yourself, but just walk. You were one of the refugees, one of the people who had to flee from someplace. So one day he arrived in Berlin. And one day he came out and visited us. It was as if he had never left. He a...after the war was over, I stayed for a short while with Mrs. Kerbers, with the Kerbers, in Berlin in, in Waldensee, and then I moved to Berlin. Uh, the allies opened the Jewish children's home. It used to be an old age home, but they made it into a Jewish children's home. And all the surviving youngsters from concentration camps, from all over, from all the camps were gathered there. It was one of the gathering places.

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