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DIVIDED LIVES


Spring 2001
Xavier University Magazine

Hitler's Wrath
By Lisa J. Mauch

There were two mysteries that intrigued Cynthia Crane as a child: why her father and grandmother never spoke about their life in Germany, and why her father did not have the same surname as her grandparents. "Growing up I didn't know a lot about my father's family. There were all these questions: 'Where are they from? Why is there all this secrecy?'" says Crane. "My grandmother finally started telling me stories, and I started learning more about my history."

The story that gradually unfolded took the 1990 graduate back in time to the days of Hitler and his Nuremberg Laws. According to those laws, children with one Jewish parent and one Christian parent, Mischlinge, were treated as second-class citizens. Crane's paternal grandfather wasn't Jewish but his last name, Cohn, was considered Jewish since it means "high priest" in Hebrew. As a result, the family was persecuted in various ways-Crane's father was beaten every day in school by a Nazi teacher, her grandfather had his medical license revoked, and the family shipping business was taken away.

By 1939, Crane's grandparents had moved their family to the United States. Her father, Carl Cohn, faced further anti-Semitism here because of his name, which he eventually changed to Crane.

Simply uncovering her family's past wasn't enough for Crane, who was compelled to do something more with their tale. That desire grew into the book, Divided Lives: The Untold Stories of Jewish-Christian Women in Nazi Germany. In 1994, Crane visited her ancestral home in Hamburg, Germany. There, she tracked down and interviewed other people who were labeled Mischlinge and survived the war. The book is based upon the real-life testimonies of 10 of these Jewish-Christian women.

One hurdle Crane faced in her research was people's fears of talking about their experiences. "There were problems with people going back in time," she says. "They were truly split and wanting to still be German. They were painfully asking, 'Do I really want to go back there?' Before the war they were Germans. During the war they were Jews and considered unclean. Some didn't even know they were Jewish. Then, after the war, they were back to being Germans but still living beside their persecutors. It's important for people to read these stories and learn what happened. Anytime you make a person an object, you make it easier to be violent toward them. In the end you become desensitized and you don't care what you do to them. I think the book is a warning of how people can hurt one another."

She believes the book has a message for everyone, not just people with Judeo-Christian backgrounds. The feeling was confirmed at a book signing, when she talked with a couple whose daughter was half-black and half-white. "I've had all types of people find stories in the book that relate to them," says Crane. "Divided Lives is about people who became outsiders and had their identities changed. Anyone who has been in this situation, trying to figure out their identity, is what these stories are about."

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