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Day Thirteen of the Omer: Yom HaShoah

The Seder Evening sinks slowly into the background and with it the phrase ''Pharaoh tried only to kill all the male children, but Laban the Syrian tried to kill all of them.'' Words so easily skipped over so as not to upset the families present. While researching for my grandfather's biography into the fate of Jews in Baden I came across this account (in ''Tätiger Anstand, Judenretter im Dreiländereck'' ed. Wette, p.74f.) It concerns Gertrud Luckner, born as Jane Hartman in England, adopted to Germany aged 7, who later spent a year studying in Birmingham and worked from 1931 in Freiburg.

One of those she tried to help was Eva Maria Liebrecht, born 12 January 1942 in Berlin – her parents were the Protestant 'Nicht-Arierin' (i.e. a baptised Jewess) Elisaeth Hertz and Major Max Hiller. Expecting a trial for 'Rassenschande', for having had a mixed-race relationship, Hiller committed suicide. Hertz remarried the 'Protestant Nichtarier' (i.e. baptised Jew) Heinrich Liebrecht but in summer 1942 she also committed suicide. Liebrecht was a friend of the (Catholic-baptised) Gertrud Jaffé and consulted with her and a Carer, Margarete Wünsch, what best to do for the child. Luckner approached the Freiburg Caritas director von Mann who in turn approached a Catholic secretary Gertrud Heidkamp from Düsseldorf to help. By February 1943 Liebrecht had been deported to Theresienstadt and Jaffé had gone into hiding: The plan was put into effect. Liebrecht's cousin Lilli Kaiser brought the baby to the railway station and handed her to a children's nurse for a Caritas orphanage in Erfurt. Here she was collected by Stefanie Baunach from Freiburg and brought to a Catholic orphanage in Düsseldorf and given 'emergency baptism' and a new name and then given as foster child to a couple.

After Luckner had been arrested on 24 March 1943 and interrogated, the ''hiding of a Jewish child'' was one of the charges brought against her. The Gestapo arrested Heidkamp and Wünsch, through a trick brought Jaffé out of hiding and were then able to trace the hidden child. In September 1943 Jaffé and the child aged one and three quarters were sent to Theresienstadt and from there shortly after, together with Heinrich Liebrecht, to Auschwitz. A Hungarian children's nurse Böszi Weiss accompanied the child and died with her. Liebrecht survived Auschwitz; all traces of Gertrud Jaffé end in KZ Stutthof near Danzig. Heidkamp was released after four months in prison after what the Gestapo considered ''appropriate punishment'' but was forbidden to work. The Reichssicherheitsamt planned actions against von Mann. Gertrud Luckner spent eight months in various police cells in Düsseldorf, Wuppertal and Berlin and was sent in November 1943 to KZ Ravensbrück.

Just consider the vast amount of police time and effort spent in tracking down and murdering an orphaned toddler and all those who had tried to save her life in some way; just think how many people must have been involved in these attempts - not knowing each other - and how they were punished for their courage; Then think of how many Israelites knew of a new-born son in one of the huts in the Israelite Arbeitslager and consider the Midrashim in which the Egyptian secret police would make babies cry in order to get other, hidden, babies to cry as well and so reveal their whereabouts; think of the risks all involved took, from the authorities, from informers.... of how the parents felt at having to hand over their child to an unknown destiny..... of how the Princess was able to create a 'cover story' and a new name for the child she had found in the river....

We count our way towards Shavuot and the Commandments, including the command to honour parents and the command not to murder. Let all those, known and unknown to us, or even forgotten by us, over the centuries, who tried to save innocent children, be remembered nevertheless by God as a Blessing.

Rabbi Dr. Walter Rothschild Berlin, Germany


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