Apr 22, 2006
Toledo Blade, Religion Section.

Women tell their stories of the Holocaust
Author of 'Divided Lives' speaks at UT in observance of Yom HaShoah
By David Yonke
Blade Religion Editor

With observances scheduled around the country Tuesday for Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day, one Ohio author is taking a different view of the persecution of Jews by the Nazis.

Cynthia Crane, in her book Divided Lives: The Untold Stories of Jewish-Christian Women in Nazi Germany, writes about 10 female mishlinge - German for half-breeds, as Hitler called them - who survived the Third Reich Nazi regime in the 1930s and '40s.

Ms. Crane, an assistant professor of English at the University of Cincinnati, said in a recent interview that she was inspired by the memoirs of her grandmother, Herta Bahlsen Cohn, who wrote personal stories about her life, including the oppression under the Nazis.

"Her writings were amazing," said Ms. Crane, who is speaking at a history honors banquet at the University of Toledo on Friday. "As I read her memoirs, the stories kept unfolding. I found out what had happened to my grandmother and my dad."

Her grandfather, Dr. Felix Cohn, and her grandparents fled Nazi Germany before the start of World War II.

Her father was a Christian but had the Jewish surname of Cohn, Ms. Crane said. When her father was a boy, he was beaten repeatedly in class by a schoolteacher who wanted to show the other pupils how good a Nazi he was.

"The teacher made an example of him in front of the kids," Ms. Crane said. "Also, he was a little kid, sort of a runt, which makes it even more horrifying to me - the whole broken trust thing between a teacher/authority figure and a child. I think it made my Dad very tough. He really doesn't stand for any injustices."

Her father never discussed the abuses under the Nazis until Ms. Crane discovered them in her grandmother's memoirs.

In researching Divided Lives, she said she found that many people victimized by the Nazis are still reluctant to talk about their experiences, even 60 years after the war.

"It takes a lot of time and patience to earn their trust and get them to open up," she said.

When Ms. Crane began preparing to write the book, she decided she would interview women because most Holocaust books are told from the men's point of view.

She traveled to Hamburg on a Fulbright scholarship and began searching for women to interview.

"Information on women in Nazi Germany is hard to find. Women didn't have a public life then," she said.

Ms. Crane, who speaks fluent German, placed an ad in the local newspaper, and after several women contacted her the doors began to open.

"They were still very private, still hesitant to talk," she said. "It made my job difficult. There weren't any women running down the street waving a sign saying, 'I'm Mischling, Please Talk To Me!' They wanted to blend in. They did not have good feelings about being mischlinge."

She said that after finding the women, they were not interested in speaking to German journalists or authors, but were willing to speak to an American writer.

"There is still a lot of paranoia. Anyone coming from outside, looking with a hard eye, might not understand. But having a real understanding of the history, I can be very empathetic," Ms. Crane said.

While the women's stories can be emotionally stressful, ultimately their lives are inspirational, she said.

"It's not all about concentration camps, although they are in the book. It's sort of their lives before Hitler came to power, and then after the war, and how they're living now. Some of them are very funny, they have a great sense of humor."

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