A Past in Hiding:
The Story of Marianne Strauss

by Kristine Arnold

December 5, 2005

for Prof. Marcuse's lecture course
Interdisciplinary Perspectives on the Holocaust

UC Santa Barbara, Fall 2005

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Introduction (back to top)

Mark Roseman, a biographer in the late twentieth century, came to be aware of Marianne Strauss after she published an article in an obscure journal, Das Munster am Hellweg (1984), titled "Escape and Life Underground During the Nazi Years of Persecution, 1943-1945". Because Roseman had worked in Essen and had never heard of Marianne Strauss, he was immediately intrigued. He was also amazed by the idea of a network providing a Jew with shelter from town to town throughout Nazi Germany. He wrote to Marianne asking her permission for an interview, and over the next seven years a story would unfold that would become the subject of Roseman's book, A Past in Hiding.

"I love the 'I' too much; all the different 'I''s within me.
And the true person who should be and wants to be somehow gets lost.
One is always playing a role to oneself and to others. One is never really 'I'".
~ Marianne Strauss, 1944

This was the effect of the Holocaust on Marianne Strauss, a Jew from Essen, Germany. Although her mother, father and younger brother were taken away for deportation, Marianne was able to escape the Gestapo. She fled into the wings of an underground group known as the Bund and was able to travel throughout Germany in 1944 and 1945 posing as several different identities. Marianne was different than most Jews in Nazi Germany in that through the wealth and status of her family, they were able to escape deportation until well into the war, 1943. However, after she courageously escaped from the clutch of Nazi persecution, Marianne's story and her ultimate survival rested exclusively on the interrelationship between the Jewish and non-Jewish world.

Discussion (back to top)

Born June 7, 1923 in Essen, Germany, Marianne Strauss came into adulthood in one of the most difficult times possible for a young girl, especially a young Jew. She was lucky enough to have been born to a wealthy family who had enough status and connections within Germany to keep them relatively safe throughout the early years of the war. In 1942 she lost her fiancé, Ernst, to deportation to Izbeca where she learned about the realities of life for Jews in the ghettos and concentration camps through letters that she was able to get snuck into the camp by a German soldier. She never heard from Ernst again after that winter. From that point on she vowed that that would never happen to her.

Despite everything her family was able to do to keep off the deportation lists, in August of 1943 they could do no more. The Gestapo came into their house and told them to have their stuff packed for deportation within the hour. While the Gestapo were downstairs raiding their cellar, Marianne waved good-bye to her family and slipped out the front door. She went to the one place she knew could help her, the Blockhaus, location of her hiding for the first few weeks. She immediately cut and dyed her hair red. Her host, Sonja Schreiber took her in and took responsibility for her. However, it soon became too dangerous for her to continue hiding in Essen and she began her almost two year journey underground through Germany.

She spent those years spending a series of brief stays with different Bund members throughout the country, traveling by train or tram, a dangerous task for a Jew in Nazi Germany. Traveling without any papers, she was especially at risk. However due to her quick wit and her fortunate 'Aryan' looks she was for the most part able to slip by unnoticed. Only twice was she ever stopped and she was able to talk her way out it through her striking personality. The SS that stopped her both times, after being distracted by their conversations with her, never even asked to look at her papers. After spending almost two years floating in the underground Bund network, Marianne was liberated on April 17, 1945 when the United States Ninety-seventh infantry battalion took over Düsseldorf, where Marianne was hiding at the time, and the city surrendered.

Marianne was able to marry, have children and survive to be 73 years old because of her courage and will to survive, and the Bund members who helped her in her endeavor. It must be acknowledged right away the heroism of the Bund members who helped Marianne as they were putting their lives and families in extreme danger to keep her hidden. The Bund was a socialist society who wanted to strengthen the cultural and educational level of the working class. They sought to bring together Marxist thinking combined with ethical laws to govern the individual. Marianne came in contact with the Bund in Essen through its leading member, Artur Jacobs, a non-Jewish German. In fact, the majority of the Bund members were not Jewish. Jacobs told Marianne that if she ever needed help, she knew where she could find friends.

However the real success of Marianne's survival was her ability to hide herself among the German population. She never had to go into hiding in the traditional sense of the word. She never had to hide in a permanent dwelling place for the duration of the war, but rather was able to move about Germany with relative freedom. This was only possible through her cooperation with the Bund, the cooperation between the Jewish and non-Jewish parts of society. She hid herself by disguising herself usually as an Aryan woman. In general she maintained three major identities, the first of which was her true Jewish identity, though very few people except those in the immediate Bund circle knew this truth. There were a few who simply knew her as a politically endangered Aryan woman. Most believed her to simply be a German and in each hiding place she had a different identity: a young woman with a child, a distant relative, or a bomb-victim who had lost her home. The consequence of this, as noted in Marianne's diary entries of the time, was her loss of identity. She had so many different forms of herself she began to feel like her one true self did not exist anymore.

Biographer Mark Roseman notes that the Bund was so effective in saving Marianne's life because so few other left-wing groups were conscious of the true power and danger of Nazi racism so early on, and the Bund was lucky enough to have an extraordinary leader in Artur Jacobs who planned rules and procedures for events that might eventually happen (336). Through the Bund, Marianne was able to shed her "Jewish identity." In her diary she very rarely used the word Jew as it was imposed on them in the Nazi Germany, and began rather to identify herself as being one of the Bund.

Roseman notes that in his interviews with Marianne about the end of the war he "didn't get the payoff I was expecting. Marianne said she had learned for so long to be cautious that at the end of the war she felt no release" (339). This feeling lingered with Marianne throughout her whole life. She could not regard the end of the war as a liberation when it underlined the reality of her family's murder. For this reason, guilt was an emotion that would haunt her for years to come, guilt that her family died, but mostly guilt that she survived. But survive she did, and it was only through her past in hiding as a Jew with her relationships with the non-Jewish world that carried her through the war.

Reference (back to top)

  • Roseman, Markroseman, past in hiding. A Past in Hiding. (Metropolitan Books: New York, New York). 2000.
    This book is a history of the burden of a past in hiding, based on years of recorded interviews between the author, historian Mark Roseman, and Marianne Strauss. He put together this book to preserve what he deemed an "extraordinary survival story" in that Marianne's story was one that showed the complex nature of Germany's relationship with its Jews.

About the Author (back to top)

Kristine Arnold
I am a senior history major, with a cultural Anthropology minor at University of California, Santa Barbara. I was born December 30, 1983 in Fairfield, California. I graduated from Vanden High School in 2002 and came to Santa Barbara as a freshman that same year. My interest in history came in my sophomore year in a class about the history of the Middle East. I realized how important it is to study and document human interaction. I am focusing my study in United States history, with a stronger emphasis on the Civil War. I plan to attend California State University, San Francisco this next fall to continue my further education with hopes of achieving a masters and PhD in American history. I strive to become a college professor. This project unfolded slowly. With a topic focused on Jewish life, we finally narrowed the field to how Jews were able to survive the war through different methods of hiding, disguise and deception. My focus was on the biography of Marianne Strauss, a German Jew who survived Nazi persecution through her connections with the underground Bund network, a German group of socialists who preached equality and the ethical law of nature. I am so glad I was able to read this book. It was extremely moving and full of information about the Holocaust from a completely different perspective. This was a story of human courage and survival and I am thankful to have been able to be a part of it.

prepared for web by Harold Marcuse on12/6/05; last updated: 12/15/05
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