Edith Hahn Beer was born in 1914 to Austrian Jewish parents Leopold and Klothilde Hahn. Her father was a restaurant owner and faithfully provided for his three daughters and adored their mother. They lived a fairly comfortable middle class life.
Unlike her sisters, Edith loved school – she craved knowledge. Although it wasn’t customary for girls to attend high school and beyond, one of Edith’s teachers recommended an exception and her father relented by allowing her to attend high school and continue to university where she planned to fulfill her ambition of becoming a judge – but then the Germans invaded Austria and brought an end to that dream.
During the years when Edith attended the University, Austria experienced waves of political upheaval. The country strove to remain a Christian country, even outlawing the Socialist Party (Edith herself was a socialist). After the rise of the Austrian Nazis, socialist leaders were assassinated and suspected socialists were interrogated. Edith thought she would have enjoyed being detained but somehow no one ever paid her much attention. She and her boyfriend Pepi managed to stay below the radar, however – something she would need in later years when Jews were persecuted and sent away to camps.
Edith tells a story of how dramatically her life was altered after Germany invaded Austria and began their relentless pursuit of Aryan superiority. Edith was forced out of the university just short of completing her degree and was sent away to a work farm in Germany. When she was finally able to return to Vienna (her mother had been sent away to Poland) she made a decision that would dramatically alter her life. A friend allowed Edith to “borrow” her identity which allowed her to be identified as an Aryan and relocate to Germany. Grete Denner, as she became known, had a chance encounter in Munich which brought a man into her life who would serve as protector and later her husband – someone who worked for the Nazis and later was drafted into service as an officer late in World War II.
Edith was always terrified of someone asking for her papers and always had her rehearsed story ready should she ever be accosted or interrogated by the Nazis. She managed to live through the war and even thrive as a Nazi’s faithful wife (even though playing the role of doting housewife was opposite of her personality). Later, however, she experienced some guilt (and was the object of Jewish derision) for having gone to the lengths she did to disguise her true identity in order to survive.
Edith’s memoir is a testament of her tenacity and determination to survive, even though some of her family members and friends did not. She eventually left Germany and immigrated to England and in later years made her home in Israel. The book is an amazing story full of harrowing twists and turns in her quest to not only survive but once again become who she really was – a Jewish woman named Edith Hahn.
Have a GREAT day . . . someday it will be HISTORY!
© Sharon Hall (Digging History), 2014.