Feb 12, 2001
CINCINNATI -- When Cynthia Crane went in search of her heritage, she was looking for people who had survived persecution similar to what her family endured in prewar Germany.
Her book, Divided Lives: The Untold Stories of Jewish-Christian Women in Nazi Germany, tells the stories of 10 mischlinge -- children who had one Aryan parent and one Jewish parent. Adolf Hitler mockingly called mischlinge "half-breeds,'' even those far removed from practicing Judaism.
"There was an air of mystery about my family history,'' said Crane, an English professor at the University of Cincinnati. "I knew something was different, but I didn't know what it was. My father didn't like to talk about it. He blanched whenever I asked what it was like in Germany.''
As a teen-ager, Crane was shocked to learn that her father had been beaten as a child because he was born with the surname Cohn, which means rabbi. He later changed it to Crane.
Little by little, she learned her family's story.
Her family was an old German family, traceable to the 1700s, and had been Protestant for generations. Her great-grandfather had been a city official in Hamburg. Her grandfather, a physician, fled Germany in 1938. His wife and children left the following year and the family settled in Hamilton, just northwest of Cincinnati.
Crane learned that her father had sustained permanent hearing loss from daily beatings by a schoolteacher eager to show that he was not soft on Jews.
She learned that her grandmother had written a book, which she never published, about her torment.
Crane felt the need to sort out the conflicts in her life, so she went to Germany to seek out mischlinge women.
"It was cathartic,'' she said. "In Hamburg, delving through the archives, I had a feeling that the family had been plundered. I could feel my grandmother, the desperation and the pain.
''The women Crane interviewed echoed those thoughts even though they, like Crane, were not considered Jewish under Jewish tradition, which traces lineage through the mother, not the father.
But Hitler saw Jews not as practitioners of a religion, but as a race.
"Even now, the question of who is a Jew is a hot topic in the Jewish community,'' she said.
Michael Rapp of the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati said that debate is mainly because of a "turf war'' fought by Orthodox rabbis to maintain their monopoly over marriage, divorce and burial in Israel.
Rapp, who teaches "History of Anti-Semitism'' at Xavier University, a Jesuit school, said he immediately addresses the question of religion vs. race with his students.
"One of the topics we discuss right at the beginning is what is a Jew,'' Rapp said. "The definition of who is a Jew initially, basically, is religious.'
Mischlinge saw themselves as neither racially nor religiously Jewish.
"The difference between Nazi anti-Semitism and traditional Christian anti-Semitism is that traditional Christianity always allowed for an escape clause -- conversion,'' Rapp said. "Nazis said being Jewish is a racial definition, and nothing can change that.''
Crane said she felt emotionally drained after eight years gathering interviews, translating them and putting her book together. She's negotiating the rights for possible foreign release of the book this year.
"There's a lot of hope and survival in the book,'' she said. "That's the point: People can survive incredible trauma in their lives.''
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