Press

DIVIDED LIVES


Dec 7, 2000
American Israelite

Author tells story of 'mischlinge' in Nazi Germany
By Jody Terhar
Contributing Writer

Words can be powerful weapons and few have used this concept more than the National Socialist Workers' Party (NAZI) when they convened in Nuremberg, Germany in September 1935. There they passed the Nuremberg Laws, defining who was a Jew and therefore would not be considered a citizen of the Reich.

The Nuremberg Laws also defined the term "mischling," a person of mixed Jewish blood. Products of a mixed marriage between Jews and Aryans were viewed by Nazis with disgust, as "monstrosities halfway between man and ape." Even non-Jews who had a parent or grandparent with a Jewish-sounding last name might be considered a mischling.

Though generally escaping the harsh treatment Nazis accorded those they considered "full" Jews, mischlinge were ostracized, mistreated and sometimes suffered the loss of a Jewish family member in a concentration camp. Overnight, the word mischling defined their lives.

Cynthia Crane's book Divided Lives: The Untold Stories of Jewish-Christian Women in Nazi Germany tells the stories of ten mischling women. Crane, assistant professor of English at the University of Cincinnati's Raymond Walters College, read from her book and answered questions at Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Rookwood Pavilion Nov. 28.

Crane came to the topic of mischlinge through stories told by her paternal grandmother. In Nazi Germany her grandmother, Herta Bahlsen, was considered "Aryan" while her grandfather, Felix Cohn, was determined to be of "Jewish blood." Though the Cohn family had been Christian as long as anyone could remember, it did not matter to Nazi authorities.

Felix Cohn was classified "non-Aryan" because of his last name. Crane's father was labeled a mischling and frequently beaten at school because of his "half-Jewish" status. After the family escaped to the United States in 1939, Herta Bahlsen-Cohn wrote down her memories of life in Germany before and during Nazi rule. Her manuscript lay buried and forgotten until questions from her granddaughter prompted her to dig it out.

Crane went to Germany on a Fulbright Scholarship in 1994. In addition to doing family and historical research, she decided to speak with mischlinge who were still alive to learn about their experiences first hand.

After Crane placed ads in local newspapers women slowly, and with hesitation, came forward. Over the decades, these women had re-entered the society that had persecuted them. Yet the anguish of "half-breed" status remained very real for them, even after almost half a century.

Crane found their stories extremely compelling and much like her family's experiences. She also found that in the great body of research on Nazi Germany, little had been written about the plight of mischlinge.

While the women she interviewed for her book grew up in different circumstances and led different lives after the war, Crane identified some common characteristics they shared. All suffered through traumatic, fractured lives. The father of one of the mischling women she spoke with was classified as mentally ill by the Nazis and "euthanized." Another woman's Jewish grandmother committed suicide rather than face deportation to a concentration camp and, later, her mother was taken to Theresienstadt.

Many of the women lost their sense of identity as a result of being labeled mischlinge. For 12 years under the Nuremberg Laws, they were told they were not German and many continued to struggle to come to terms with how they defined their own cultural or national identity.

Some changed their names. Many became adamantly Christian or agnostic. None maintained any links to Judaism or the Jewish community. [Crane's note: This is not the case; some did maintain links.] Some even felt the Jewish community had not been supportive of them. All experienced what Crane calls divided lives.

Crane will be at Borders Books in Tri-County Sunday, Dec. 10 at 1 p.m. To learn more or order copies of Divided Lives, visit the author's website at dividedlives.com.

Copyright dividedlives.com 2000. All Rights Reserved.

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