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 Leonore Baeumler: Time Witness

Memoirs of a War-time Childhood in Germany

The 2008 Baeumler-Kaplan Holocaust Commemoration is headlined by a presentation from Leonore Baeumler, a first-hand witness to the emergence of the Nazi regime in Nuremberg, Germany. The presentation will be held at 4 p.m. on April 29 in the Weber Music Hall.

Leonore Baeumler is the wife of the late UMD Professor Walter Baeumler (1928-1993) who taught Sociology and Anthropology for 28 years. She will read from her personal memoirs, Zeit Zeuge, or Time Witness.

The Viewpoint of a Child

Leonore's story comes from a unique perspective. At an early age, and as the Nazi Party gained momentum, she saw events unfold before her eyes. When she was four years old, Leonore could tell that her parents did not agree with the Nazi regime. "My parents encouraged me to be of a critical mind," she says. It was that trait that allowed her to see through the spectacle the Nazis created in the early 1930s. "It became very clear to me that the visual part of the Nazis made it compelling to a lot of people. I knew my parents had an absolute disdain for all of that."

The Nazis created a visual impact by using the color brown. The "brown shirts," Nazi followers, were everywhere. Leonore's father was a part of a group of people named by the Nazis as "politically unreliable." At one point, Leonore was instructed by her father to make sure that if a certain man wearing a brown shirt came to the door, she was to bring him to the living room right away. Leonore's father was afraid the man would see certain books on the hall shelf that dealt with unions and social democracy.

Ensnared

Leonore will share stories such as the one where she witnesses a Nazi rally for herself. "I wanted to see it too," she says, "so a neighbor took me to a huge arena with thousands of people. I was somewhat inoculated spiritually against all of this." Nevertheless, Leonore had to put on an act. "If you didn't believe in it, you had to pretend you did. If you didn't show how enthralled you were, you were looked on with suspicion, which could be very dangerous. The watchdog mentality was everywhere," she says.

One of Leonore's distinct memories was of her father returning from Poland where he served in the German army. Leonore had to join the League of German Girls, part of the Hitler Youth. She was 11 at the time. As a member, she had to purchase a uniform. When she and her mother met her father at the train station at Christmas 1939, she was excited to show off her new jacket. "It was really innocent. I had never bought a new piece of clothing before," she says. "I thought he was going to be so happy to meet me, but he looked at me and said, 'How can you wear a jacket like this?' " I didn't know what was happening until I realized that he was [reacting to] the swastika on the jacket."

The War's End

Leonore's memoirs review incidents from the end of the war. In 1944, Germany was in ruins. Nuremberg was almost 95 percent destroyed by air raids. In March 1944, Leonore and her schoolmates and teachers were evacuated and transported to a school in Czechoslovakia.

As the Russian army approached, coming as close as 100 miles from the town where they were, a father of a girl in Leonore's school, an officer of the German army, came to bring the girls home. The director of the school, "a real fanatic Nazi," tried to block him, but the officer pulled rank. With a suitcase of cigarettes, which at that time could buy just about anything, the officer bought tickets for all the girls to ride the train headed back to Nuremberg.

Back in Germany, Leonore and her family lived in a small 300 year old farm house in the country. "It was hard to get there, but it was a lovely place," she says. "Between April 16 and 18, the sounds of the war became different," Leonore says. On April 18 as the Americans approached, the people of the village hung out white sheets to signal "surrender." Hearing the Americans move toward their village, Leonore stood on the main road with her family, the mayor and a priest, watching a jeep approach. When the jeep stopped, an American officer got out of the jeep.

Encouraged by her father, because she had studied English for six years, Leonore translated her father's words: "We are really happy that the war is over." Her father sent her to get a bottle of brandy that he had saved and some glasses so they could toast the end of the war.

In her presentation, Baeumler will read from her memoir, Zeit Zeuge.

About the Series

The Baeumler Kaplan Holocaust Commemoration was established in honor of the lives and legacies of Mortrud Kaplan and Walter Baeumler. The goal of the annual series is to educate and inform people, particularly the young, about the Holocaust and the forces that led to such tragic human events.

In addition to Leonore Baeumler's presentation, The Book Thief, a Readers' Theatre presentation with historical context, will be performed by Baeumler Kaplan Holocaust Committee members at 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday, April 23 in Griggs Center.

The play, Dear Finder will be performed at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 24, Friday, April 25, Saturday, April 26, Wednesday, April 30, Thursday, May 1, Friday, May 2, Saturday, May 3, and 2 p.m. on Sunday, April 27 in the Marshall Performing Arts Center. Baeumler-Kaplan Holocaust Committee members will take part in post-performance discussions of the play.

Questions or concerns can be directed to Deborah Petersen-Perlman at 726-6849, dpeters1@d.umn.edu. For info see:
http://www.d.umn.edu/cla/holocaust/main/index.php

by Thomas Gadbois and Mariana Osorio

UMD home page editor, Cheryl Reitan, creitan@d.umn.edu
NEW RELEASES, UMD media contact, Susan Latto, slatto@d.umn.edu, 218-726-8830

 

 

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