UCSB History 133Q
January 13, 2004
Mark Roseman, A Past In Hiding: Memory and Survival in Nazi Germany (2002), pages 1-247
"A Past In Hiding" by Mark Roseman is an extremely engaging biography about a Jewish woman’s struggle for survival in Nazi Germany. Marianne Strauss's story is particularly unique and remarkable because of several unusual circumstances and instances that she experienced. Because her parents were financially well off and had many connections to prominent authorities, she did not go into hiding until late August of 1943. In fact, "the Strauss family was left behind as probably the last full-Jewish family in the city, perhaps in the region" (page 243). Compared to many Jews during this time, Marianne was able to continue a "normal" lifestyle free from physical labor until fairly late in the war.
What makes the Strausses' story so compelling and what produces both feelings of frustration and relief, were the many opportunities the family had to leave the country as well as the many times they were spared from dismal situations. Marianne’s father Siegfried and his brother Albert established a successful business in 1919 which brought them prosperity and luxury though wealth. It can be argued that the Strausses' elite status both helped and hindered them in their chance for survival. [this is the thesis] An instance where the Strausses' wealth aided them was when they were relieved from the mass transport of Essen Jews to Izbica, a brutal ghetto in Poland. It was the Strausses' personal connection with the Deutsche Bank Director, Hammacher, that provided their crucial link to the Abwehr, the group that saved them from deportation. Without this connection the Strauss family surely would have been deported much earlier than 1943. Later, when fewer and fewer free Jews remained in Germany and countless regulations enforced, Marianne’s mother was able to give a Catholic woman "the most wonderful items of silver and Meissen and God knows what else in return for a piece of meat or whatever" (page 221). Clearly it was the Strausses' material wealth that enabled them these "luxuries" that most other Jews could not afford.
At the same time it is arguable that it was the Strausses wealth that prevented them from safely escaping the Nazi terror. [again, the thesis restated] Because the Strausses were so financially successful in Germany and knew that they would lose much of their assets if they did emigrate, they passed over many opportunities to leave the country when it still was possible. They naively had faith in the German government and "the fact remains that even after Kristallnacht, after Dachau, they still thought they might obtain justice from authorities" (page 82). It was because of this blind and ignorant faith that the Strausses held on to for so long that led to their demise.
After Kristallnacht the Strauss family realized it was necessary to emigrate, but at even at this point they did not truly grasp the idea that Hitler intended to murder all Jews. Only after the Strauss family learned the details of the harsh and brutal realities of Izbica did the true reality ultimately seek in. The Strausses were slow to grasp the concept of the Final Solution because they felt so strongly that they were German and had strong loyalties to Germany. These feelings of loyalty are due to the fact that the family was very assimilated and was upper middle class with many connections to both Jews and non-Jews. Both Alfred and Siegfried served in the German Army during World War I and even up to their point of deportation were very proud of their services.
The Strausses' story of their struggle for survival is truly phenomenal and rare. Their financial situation and social status allowed them to remain unusually free in a time when for most Jews this was impossible. Because of this they were able to gain much insight about the suffering of countless Jews, yet at the same time were unsuccessful in saving themselves.