Hiding in Plain Sight: The Incredible True Story of a German-Jewish Teenager's Struggle to Survive in Nazi-Occupied Poland

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Overview

"Bertel is twelve years old and living in Hindenburg, Germany, with her mother Ilona and her sister Eva. They are waiting for their American visas to arrive while making preparations to join Oskar in America. These plans are crushed in October 28 when the Nazis round up the Jews in Hindenburg, forcibly expelling Bertel and her family from Germany into Poland. For the next seven years, Bertel conceals her true identity. She learns to speak Polish, changes her appearance, and uses falsified documents. Living as a young Polish woman under an assumed ...
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Overview

"Bertel is twelve years old and living in Hindenburg, Germany, with her mother Ilona and her sister Eva. They are waiting for their American visas to arrive while making preparations to join Oskar in America. These plans are crushed in October 28 when the Nazis round up the Jews in Hindenburg, forcibly expelling Bertel and her family from Germany into Poland. For the next seven years, Bertel conceals her true identity. She learns to speak Polish, changes her appearance, and uses falsified documents. Living as a young Polish woman under an assumed name, she struggles to survive as she moves from town to town in Nazi-occupied Poland. Although at times there is the blessing of friendship and a helping hand, Bertel lives in constant fear of discovery and certain death." This is a story of faith, Providence, and the ability of a young girl to survive while hiding in plain sight, in the dark shadow of the Nazi death factory.
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Editorial Reviews

Midwest Book Review
Hiding In Plain Sight is a testament to the enduring human spirit and a welcome, highly recommended addition to the growing library of Holocaust Studies and eye-witness biographies.
Publishers Weekly
Even if you think you've read enough about the Holocaust, start this extraordinary eyewitness account, and you won't quit till you're finished. Bertel Weissberger (now Betty Lauer) was 12 in April 1938 when her father was expelled from Germany and went to America. That October, Bertel; her sister, Eva; and her mother-along with truckloads of other German Jews-were sent to Poland. Initially, they lived as registered Jews, with special curfews, work assignments and food rations. Then came armbands, herding into ghettos and the "liquidations" of ghettos by mass executions or transports to concentration camps. Bertel and her mother-the Nazis caught Eva-got forged papers and learned to pass as Polish Christians. This was a constant strain, as IDs were continually rechecked and bounty hunters were always searching for disguised Jews. Fleeing a series of near-discoveries, Bertel and her mother ended up in Warsaw, where they fought in the 1943 uprising and were deported to an internment camp, along with Bertel's Polish Christian "husband." They bribed their way out of the camp to take various work assignments, navigated the Russian occupation of Poland, walked to Auschwitz to look for Eva and stowed away on a ship from Poland to Sweden, finally sailed to America. Beyond the incredible journey, this day-by-day account of a teenager learning "survival dexterity"-how to extract assistance from the ambivalent, how to sense danger in the slightest gesture-is unforgettable. Map, photos. (Sept.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Among the multitude of personal accounts of the Holocaust, one is always struck by how quickly harrowing events become part of a routine life. In Lauer's case, the ongoing trauma never became routine. As a Jewish teenager in Germany and Poland, Lauer survived the Holocaust by blending in with the Christian population and constantly moving from place to place. She and her mother risked staying on their own while facing a constant struggle for identity papers, work, and housing. After some shockingly narrow escapes and participation in the Warsaw Uprising, Lauer found her life becoming a blur of transports and work assignments until she finally reached the United States after the war's end. She tells her story in a clear and devastating narrative, letting the unimaginable tension speak for itself. Lauer wrote the first draft in the 1950s, and the immediacy of the fresh memories is forceful. The book is distinguished by a wealth of careful personal detail, though the length may limit appeal. Recommended for Holocaust studies collections. Elizabeth Morris, Illinois Fire Service Inst. Lib., Champaign Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781575253497
  • Publisher: Smith & Kraus, Inc.
  • Publication date: 5/28/2004
  • Series: Smith and Kraus Global Ser.
  • Pages: 563
  • Sales rank: 804,763
  • Product dimensions: 6.12 (w) x 8.58 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Table of Contents

Part I  Descent into Hell



Chapter 1 Expulsion     .................................................2
April 1938, Hindenburg, Germany    .............................2
June 1938, Hindenburg, Germany      ............................5
July 1938, Hindenburg, Germany      .............................10
October 1938, Hindenburg, Germany    ........................11
October 28, 1938, Hindenburg, Germany      .................12


Chapter 2 Sanctuary  ....................................................20
November 1938, Chorzow, Poland ...............................23
January 1939, Chorzow, Poland ....................................26
June 1939, Chorzow, Poland .........................................28
July 1939, Krakow, Poland ...........................................32

Chapter 3 Blitzkrieg .......................................................39
September 1939, Krakow, Poland ................................39
January 1940, Bochnia, Occupied Poland ......................51


Chapter 4 Occupation .....................................................53
February 1940, Krosno, Occupied Poland ......................57
May 1940, Krosno, Occupied Poland .............................61
February 1941, Krosno, Occupied Poland ......................65
June 1941, Krosno, Occupied Poland .............................72
August 1941, Krosno, Occupied Poland .........................77
November 1941, Krosno, Occupied Poland ....................80
May 1942, Krosno, Occupied Poland .............................83
August 1942, Krosno, Occupied Poland .........................96



Part II Hiding in Plain Sight

Chapter 5 Krysia Zolkos ................................................100
September 10, 1942, Krosno, Occupied Poland .............120


Chapter 6 Escape to Szczucin ..........................................132
October 1942, Szczucin, Occupied Poland ......................140


Chapter 7 Escape to Krakow ..........................................155
October 1942, Krakow, Occupied Poland .......................163
November 1942, Krakow, Occupied Poland ....................168
December 1942, Krakow, Occupied Poland .....................179


Chapter 8 Escape to Warsaw ............................................193
January 1943, Warsaw, Occupied Poland ..........................198
March 1943, Warsaw, Occupied Poland ............................206
April 1943, Warsaw, Occupied Poland ..............................216
May 1943, Warsaw, Occupied Poland ...............................220
June 1943, Warsaw, Occupied Poland ...............................224


Chapter 9 An Address, A Job, An Ally ................................226
July 1943, Warsaw, Occupied Poland ..................................226
August 1943, Warsaw, Occupied Poland ..............................230
November 1943, Warsaw, Occupied Poland .......................240
January 1944, Warsaw, Occupied Poland ............................243
March 1944, Warsaw, Occupied Poland .............................249
April 1944, Warsaw, Occupied Poland ................................254
May 1944, Warsaw, Occupied Poland ................................260
June 1944, Warsaw, Occupied Poland .................................263
July 1944, Warsaw, Occupied Poland ..................................265



Part III Resurrection

Chapter 10 The Warsaw Uprising .........................................274
August 1944, Warsaw, Occupied Poland ..............................274
September 1944, Warsaw, Occupied Poland ........................292


Chapter 11 Spellen Internment Camp, Germany .....................304
October 1944, Reoccupied Warsaw, Poland .........................304
November 1944, Spellen an der Wesel, Germany ..................331


Chapter 12 A Visit to the Third Reich ....................................344


Chapter 13 The Health Clinic at Myslowitz ............................370
December 1944, Myslowitz, formerly Poland,
now annexed to the Third Reich ............................................386
January 1945, Myslowitz, formerly Poland,
now annexed to the Third Reich ............................................400


Chapter 14 Liberation ............................................................403
February 1945, Katowice, Liberated Poland ..........................403
March 1945, Myslowice, Liberated Poland ............................418


Chapter 15 Swietochlowice: The Search for Loved Ones Begins ..428
April 1945, Swietochlowice, Liberated Poland .............................430
May 1945, Swietochlowice, Liberated Poland .............................448


Chapter 16 On the Way to America .............................................475
June 1945, Sopot, Communist Poland ..........................................475
July 1945, Communist Poland ......................................................479
August 1945, Sopot, Communist Poland .......................................483
September 1945, Warsaw, Communist Poland .............................491
September 1945, Sopot, Communist Poland ..................................496
October 1945, Sopot, Communist Poland ......................................503
November 1945, Sopot, Communist Poland ...................................506
January/February 1946, Sopot, Communist Poland .........................510


Chapter 17 Stowaways to Sweden .................................................514
March 1946, Sopot, Communist Poland .........................................515
April 1946, Sopot, Communist Poland ............................................527
May 1946, Landskrona, Sweden ....................................................535


Epilogue .........................................................................................547
Weissberger and David Family Trees ..............................................551
Chronology ....................................................................................552
Index .............................................................................................554
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First Chapter

CHAPTER 1Expulsion(APRIL 1938 ( HINDENBURG, GERMANY"Wake up." I felt Eva's hand on my shoulder and opened my eyes. "If you want to come along you must get up now." My sister's voice was firm. "Where are you going?" I asked, but I quickly got out of bed because I knew. "You have five minutes. If you are not ready to go, I will leave without you." I hurried into my clothes. "Is there enough time? Do you think we will see him once more?""Don't talk now, just hurry. Here are your shoes."Together we raced down Kronprinzenstrasse. We crossed at the Kochman-Ecke, took the shortcut through Peter-Paul Platz, and then turned left at Bahnhofstrasse. Eva ran into the railroad terminal; I followed close behind. On the platform stood our parents. They were crying. My father looked surprised. He let go of my mother's hand and put an arm around each of us. "Why did you come?" he asked. "This is so difficult. We said our good-byes last night. I thought it would be better for you not to come to the station, easier for all of us." He looked at us while tears ran down his cheeks. My mother, her eyes red from crying, sobbed fitfully, her face distorted.The previous evening, after we had eaten dinner, Father had said that Eva and I would say good-bye to him then and only Mother would accompany him to the terminal. Our parents remained in the dining room while Eva and I cleared away the dishes. When we returned from the kitchen, the dining room door was closed. Eva and I stood before the closed door, listening and trying to make sense out of the sentence fragments we could hear between sighs and whimpers. I started to cry. My hands clutched my aching stomach. "Stop crying, they will hearus, you must stop crying," my sister said. She put her arm around my shoulder. "You must stop being silly. You heard what Papa said. It won't be too long, perhaps only two or three months, and then we will be together in America."After what seemed a long time, my father came out.

My mother stood behind him, both their faces red and puffy. My father put his hand on my head and recited a blessing. His hand felt heavy while he murmured the Hebrew words. Then he kissed me and hugged me hard. "It will not be a long separation, I promise you. Believe me, it is for you that I am leaving. Don't cry. Think of your mother and your sister. You must sustain each other, and take care of each other. You must be courageous. If you get too upset, your stomach will ache, and that causes your mother to worry. You must be strong now, my brave, intelligent daughter. Don't get up in the morning to say good-bye. It's difficult now. In the morning it will be even more difficult." He led us into our room, and once again we hugged and kissed. I did not want to let go of his hand."Einsteigen," the conductor called. My father embraced us once more and then kissed my mother. He was crying hard. My mother watched him climb aboard the train. There was a strange look on her face, as if she had been beaten. The train began to move out of the station. Father was standing at the open window. Mother held onto his hand. She ran a few yards with the departing train, then let go. Father waved his handkerchief. For a long time Eva and I waved our handkerchiefs, our eyes glued to my father's head, then to the fluttering handkerchief, and finally to the back of the last disappearing car. Mother looked defeated, reduced in size.When there was nothing left to see, we started for home. We walked back to our apartment, each of us holding one of Mother's arms as we climbed up the two flights of stairs. Eva unlocked the door. My mother ran to her bedroom and slammed the door shut.Wailing sounds came from the room. My mother could not make such terrifying noises, I thought. They sounded like the howls of an animal in anguish. For hours we crouched at the door, fear paralyzing the urge to communicate. My big sister wept. I snuggled up to her and put my head on her shoulder. She stroked my hair. "Mother will stop," she whispered. "You'll see. Mother will stop."I held Eva's hand and looked into her face questioningly. "Yesterday I overheard Mother say to Papa that he should not worry, that she will manage, that she will take care of everything," I said."She will." Eva's voice was reassuring. "It has only been two weeks with so much to do and so little time to think. Now Mother is reacting to the stress and tension of the past two weeks." The Nazi government had sent my father an Ausweis, an expulsion order. He had been allowed two weeks before he had to leave the country.In the late afternoon we finally went into the bedroom. Mother was lying across the two twin beds, pushed next to each other, sobbing softly. Eva and I lay down on the beds next to her. Together we remained there for two days, crying and sleeping. I could feel the fear; it was lodged in my stomach, dark and spreading. Eva was fifteen years old, and I was twelve.JUNE 1938 ( HINDENBURG, GERMANYOur store was closed. Although my parents had closed the store before my father left for America, they had maintained the appearance that it was still open for business. They felt that it would be better for us if the date of Father's departure remained vague. But now all pretense was dropped. Mother even stopped entering through the back door. She asked Herr Navrat to board up the store windows. Herr Navrat was the superintendent of the building, and it was through my father's intercession that he had gotten the position. He was a carpenter, and he had been an active member of the Communist trade union. When Hitler came to power, Herr Navrat was accused of treason and incarcerated.

He was subsequently released, but could not find employment until my father stepped in and got him the job. He had three young children, all girls, and a wife who was very unhappy. Herr Navrat was always eager to help us, but his wife had told my parents that if he continued to associate with us, he would once again wind up in prison.Each day when I passed the closed store I noted additional cracks in the store windows and broken glass from rocks thrown through the grillwork installed on the outside of the windows. We didn't bother to wash off the multiplying swastikas with their threatening messages. Still, I felt relieved that the store was closed. There were daily torchlight parades through Kronprinzenstrasse, but our boarded-up store was no longer targeted. The marchers used the parades to harass the Jewish population of Hindenburg. During the parades, which occurred mainly in the afternoon, two SA, or Sturmabteilung, men, wearing black trousers, brown shirts, and black hobnailed boots, would position themselves in front of every Jewish store or office. Before the store closed, I would walk home from school while a parade was in progress and see two uniformed men standing in the recessed entrance leading to the front door of our store. The men stood erect, a red banner with a large swastika spread out between them. With burning torches held high in their outstretched hands, the menacing-looking Nazis were a blood-curdling sight. It took much courage for me to slip under the banner and into our store. This display of force kept even the most loyal customers at a distance.In our apartment, across the street from our store, we were busy emptying drawers and bookshelves. Mother was paying surreptitious visits to neighbors and former friends. Jews were not permitted to sell their own possessions, but Mother decided to try and sell small items one could carry without calling attention to oneself. Since my sister left for work early in the morning, I would have to be the courier. I would have liked to work, but I was still too young. Within a relatively short time, Eva had learned shorthand, and she was a good typist. She worked full time for Dr. SchŠfer, who had been my father's lawyer until Father left for America.Mother gave me careful instructions. "Tomorrow, early in the morning, you will take these packages to Frau Pilne," she said. "Don't stop to speak to anyone and make sure no one sees you at Frau Pilne's door. Should you sense that someone is following you, or watching you from a window, don't stop to think and don't hesitate-just keep walking and return home.""What should I say to Frau Pilne?" I wanted to know. I did not like the errand. Frau Pilne, the daughter of a meat-and-sausage merchant, was married to the owner of a bar, whose business had prospered. Both Frau Pilne's father and her husband had been customers in my father's clothing store, and for many years a friendly relationship had been maintained between our families. I was aware that for the past year Frau Pilne had been avoiding us. She no longer responded to my greeting, and recently she had crossed the street rather than acknowledge Mother and me."There is nothing to say. Frau Pilne is expecting you," Mother replied. "She does not want you to ring the bell, and she urged me to warn you not to speak to her."Earlier I had asked my sister if she thought Frau Pilne would buy the piano. Eva was sure that she would not. She knew that Frau Pilne had offered to store our paintings and the piano until our return to Hindenburg. "But we will never return. She knows that," said Eva. "Why should she buy the piano when she will get it for free?"I carried parcels wrapped in brown paper and tied with string: a desk lamp, the metronome, and a tightly rolled small Persian rug. As I approached Frau Pilne's apartment, I saw the door was slightly ajar. The door opened, and Frau Pilne received the first package without saying a word. I looked into her eyes. They were friendly, but she put a finger to her lips. I did not even say Guten Morgen. After the third trip, when I delivered the rug, Frau Pilne whispered, "No more today."Our apartment no longer looked friendly. Shortly after Father's departure, Mother had taken all the paintings off the walls.

My favorite picture depicting a tulip market in Holland-it was also Father's favorite-was gone. Only the photographs remained hanging. Over my parents' twin beds were portraits of my mother's mother and father on either side of a large portrait of my father's father. My paternal grandfather was dead now, and Father's mother had died shortly after the end of World War I. I longed to visit my remaining grandparents who lived in Poland. I did not speak about that because our parents had decided that there would be no more visits to Poland.Saturday was the best day of the week. Eva and I, dressed in our nicest clothes, our hair carefully brushed, walked together to the synagogue to attend Sabbath services. At the steps leading to the main entrance of the synagogue, we met up with our respective friends, and Eva and I separated. Together, with our friends, we walked up to the women's section on the second floor. In the past, my friends and I used to gather in a spot that gave us a good view of the main floor, the male section of the sanctuary, and where we also could be seen. We must have giggled a lot, because often my father would look up and let me know that I was out of line.Now, no one giggled. The seat where my father regularly sat was empty. The atmosphere was solemn, the faces of the worshippers serious. We read our prayers and sang our psalms responsively, but we all knew that everyone was waiting to hear the sermon. Our rabbi, Dr. Katz, was a fine orator and a very learned man. He selected readings from the Torah for his sermons, and through that biblical text, he instructed and guided us. If someone from the Gestapo had been listening, he would have had great difficulty in divining the portent of the sermon. However, we understood well what Dr. Katz was saying. He said it again and again, and most succinctly when he preached through the metaphor of Exodus. The message was: Don't tarry. Make your preparations carefully but expeditiously and leave "Egypt."After our midday meal, we once again dressed carefully and took off for afternoon youth services, which were conducted in the main section of the synagogue. All the young people of our Jewish community wanted to be present at that service. It was the only place left where we could gather. After services, we would gather in groups according to age in one of the rooms of the Jewish Community Building, which was part of the synagogue complex. Without the constraining presence of adults or parents, we were able to speak about the matters that concerned us most. Many of the young adults, those in their late teens or early twenties, were leaving Hindenburg, and we wondered if we would ever meet again. Saying good-bye was difficult. Those departing friends were apparently heading to a brighter future, whereas for those remaining, the future looked bleak.A number of Eva's friends had left, or were in the process of leaving, for Palestine, as were some of mine together with their parents. Both Eva and I would have liked our parents to go to Palestine. We were a Zionist family, and we dreamed about swinging a pickax and tilling the soil. My father had tried to emigrate to Palestine but had been unable to obtain a certificate, a permit issued by the British Palestine Mandatory government, which had the League of Nations mandate over Palestine. The permit was denied because England did not want merchants to emigrate to Palestine. However, young people with technical or agricultural qualifications had been able to obtain the coveted certificate.During inclement weather, when it was not possible to gather in the fenced-in synagogue garden, all of us crowded into the narrow recreation room. We took turns playing ping-pong, we listened to group discussions led by the older members, and often we would sing together. The person I was most eager to see during the Sabbath afternoons was Ernst SchŠfer. We called him Zack-short for zickzack or zigzag-because he was constantly in motion and always eager to help. He had also become rather popular. In addition to leading the afternoon youth services, he had lately taken charge of deepening our appreciation of literature. Since Eva worked for his father, he knew our situation. Zack knew that I was sad and missed my father. I had confided in him and told him my dark thoughts. At night fear was gnawing away at my insides, and I did not want to burden my mother. Zack felt that reading could bring me some comfort. He brought me books, and we discussed them. In Jakob Wassermann's book, Der Fall Maurizius (The Maurizius Case), I perceived the powerlessness of the innocent individual when confronted by the limitless power of an accusing state.It was not easy to find opportunities to discuss the books I was reading. My mother insisted that I walk to and from the synagogue with Eva. Mother always worried when we were out alone; it was dangerous to walk in our neighborhood park or to enter a playground. It was true that I had a penchant to linger or greet people, and the latter could have dire consequences.

My non-Jewish friends, who had been my playmates, did not want to be associated with me, and they often joined their comrades in taunting or chasing me. Eva was unhappy about having me tag along. She told my mother that having an AnhŠngsel (appendage) nearby interfered with her social life. However, it was no use arguing the point since my mother backed all her decisions with the statement: "Your father left me an awesome responsibility, and until we are united again, I must do what I think best."At the last literary meeting I attended, Zack read the whole short book of R. M. Rilke's Die Weise von Liebe und Tod des Cornets Christoph Rilke (The Bugler Christoph Rilke: How He Loved and How He Died). A very young officer is preparing himself for the ultimate sacrifice in the service of his country. I shuddered at his acquiescence to death, and I wondered about my own steadfastness. I did not have an opportunity to talk about the significance of Rilke's ballad poetry.JULY 1938 ( HINDENBURG, GERMANYMother was very nervous. No matter how good I tried to be, I was never good enough. Though I knew that it upset her, I kept asking, "When will we hear from Papa?" Mother's answer was usually, "You ask that question every day." I wanted my mother to sit down with me, take me in her arms, talk with me, and comfort me. Most of the time Mother appeared unreachable. She was busy perusing and sorting documents. Often I found her deep in thought, her lips compressed, her eyes distant.We received two letters from Holland. In the first one, my father wrote about his arrival in Amsterdam and of his attempts to communicate in English. When he asked a policeman to direct him to a certain address, the policeman smiled and told him to speak German so that he would be able to understand him better. The second letter was written on the stationery of the SS Statendam, the ship that would take my father to America. The letter was posted in Rotterdam. I wrote letters to my father every day, letters I was unable to send. I told him how much we missed him, how lonely we were without him, and how I was keeping track of the days and weeks since his departure. I wrote to him about my friends: Margot Schneemann had left for Sweden; Gretel Neuman together with Elli, Gerda, and their parents had departed for MŠrisch-Ostrau, Czechoslovakia, enroute to New Zealand; and Erika Kochman, in preparation for emigration to Palestine, was attending an agricultural school outside Berlin. I told him that Hans Kaiser was now an orphan because his parents had committed suicide by inhaling gas. Heinz Prager, who was two years older than I, had been found hanging from a rope in the attic of his apartment building. I also told him that I was afraid. I kept the letters hidden in a cigar box in a secret place so that Eva and Mother would not be able to read them.OCTOBER 1938 ( HINDENBURG, GERMANYLetters arrived from America. They were addressed to all of us, but there were also individual letters written to Eva and to me. Affidavits for the three of us had also arrived, and we received notification from the American consulate in Berlin that they were being processed. My father wrote that it was imperative for my mother to see the consul. But Mother had already made three trips to Berlin and had not yet been able to obtain an appointment. These trips were costly for us and difficult to finance. Most of our money was in a savings account, and we could only withdraw it for specific needs, such as food and rent. Each time Mother left for Berlin, she dressed carefully and elegantly. She wanted to look her best for her appointment with the consul.

Yet, each time when she appeared for the promised appointment, she was told that yet another document was missing, and until her file was complete, the consul would not see her. When Mother returned from Berlin, she would try to be optimistic. She would say that she had met the secretary of the consul, which itself was an accomplishment, since hundreds of people were waiting to get into the consulate building. However, after each trip, she looked very tired.OCTOBER 28, 1938 ( HINDENBURG, GERMANYOn Tuesday morning, at about ten o'clock, when Mother was once again in Berlin, perhaps with the last of the missing documents, the doorbell rang. Eva had left early for Dr. SchŠfer's office. I was home alone, recovering from the grippe, and I must have dozed off. As I walked to the door, the doorbell rang once again and with greater urgency. There were men outside. Someone pounded at the door. A chilling voice commanded, "Aufmachen, sofort aufmachen." Without removing the chain, I opened the door. It was the police. "Aufmachen, aber schnell," said the policeman. I removed the chain. Five men walked into the hallway. Two of them wore the familiar navy-blue police uniform, two wore the black uniform of the SS or Schutzstaffel, and the fifth man was dressed in civilian clothes, with the Nazi armband on his sleeve. One policeman held a sheet of paper. He looked at me and snapped, "Oskar Weissberger?""That is my father.""Where is he?""He is in America.""That is a lie," he shouted. "His name is on the list.""He is in America," I said again."Ilona Weissberger," he read from his list."That is my mother. She is in Berlin.""What is she doing in Berlin?" the policeman demanded. He turned to the man dressed in civilian clothes and asked if that was permitted. The man shrugged his shoulders."When is your mother coming back?""Tomorrow afternoon."He looked at the list again. "Eva Weissberger," he demanded."That is my sister. She is at work.""Where is she working?""She works in Dr. SchŠfer's office.""You are Berta Weissberger?""Yes.""So, they are all gone and left you alone-hmmm, a coincidence."I could hear the other men stomping through the apartment, opening doors, moving furniture."I had the grippe," I explained, "and my mother wanted me to stay home from school for two more days."I heard the snap of our front door lock. One of the black-uniformed SS men had left. The other returned to the dining room."No one in there," he said."Yes, we are doing very well, one out of four," one policeman said. Then he turned to me. "You come with us. There are some questions you will have to answer.""May I get dressed?" I looked down at my pajamas. I did not want to cry."Take a coat, that's all."He followed me into the room I shared with my sister. I reached for a drawer that someone had left open. "Only a coat!" It was an order.Walking out of our room, I picked up the skirt and pullover I had left on the chair. There was no underwear. I slipped into shoes while walking toward the entrance hall. The policemen walked close behind me. My coat was hanging on a hook in the entrance foyer. I reached for it, and while putting it on, I managed to slip into the skirt. I stuffed the pullover into my coat pocket."The key!" The man with the armband held out his hand. "The key to the front door." The key was hanging on a hook. He looked in the direction my eyes indicated and put the key into an envelope and then into his pocket. As we walked out the door, Frau Raschke, our neighbor, was closing the door to her apartment."At what time do you expect your sister?" It was the policeman holding the list."She usually returns home around five o'clock."We walked down the stairs and out of the house and turned right. People stopped to stare at us as we walked down Kronprinzenstrasse. I was walking between a policeman and a man from the Gestapo. The man in civilian clothes and armband walked behind us. I could feel the pajama bottoms I had rolled up slipping down my legs, but I did not dare bend down to fix them. It was a long walk. I could not see the names of the unfamiliar streets we passed because my eyes were full of tears.We were heading for the new police station. From afar, I recognized the tall building of red brick and the adjoining prison with barred windows. Once inside, we walked down long corridors, past many offices with names on the doors. I could hear voices and the clatter of typewriters.

All the doors were closed. We walked down a flight of stairs into another corridor, and then again down another flight of stairs. There were cell doors on both sides of the hallway. A guard opened a cell. The man in the black uniform pushed me inside, and the door was slammed shut and bolted from the outside. It was dark. There was a small barred window on the wall facing the door, but no light shone through, though I knew that it was still before noon. I was overtaken by fear. I called and banged on the door. No one came. I felt the urge to urinate. I pounded the door hard, screaming, "I must get out! Let me out!"Through a barred opening in the door a voice shouted, "If you don't stop that racket, someone will come and help you stop.""Please let me use the toilet," I pleaded."That's what the bucket is for. Use it." I wanted to see the guard who spoke. I stood on tiptoe, but I could not reach the barred opening in the door.Hours later, two guards escorted me up several flights of stairs into an office. An official in civilian clothes wearing a red armband with a swastika sat behind a desk. He asked me the same questions I had been asked in our apartment. Then he turned to the guards, and said, "Next." The guards walked out. He motioned to me to come closer and leaned toward me across his desk."There is nothing I can do for you. The orders came from above," he said. "I know who you are and your father, well, I have known him for years. Let's see, must be eighteen years." He shrugged his shoulders.The guards returned. With them were Herr and Frau Salomon. Frau Salomon was crying. As the guard led me out of the office, I heard Herr Salomon say, "Under which statute . . . ?" Back in the cell I felt somewhat comforted by having seen the Salomons. Apparently, they also had been arrested and brought to the prison.After some hours the cell door was opened, and I was led to a large room filled with familiar faces. Most of them were members of the Ostjuden Verband, an association of Jews of East European background. My father had been the president of the organization for many years, and for the last several years, as a member of the board of directors of the Jewish community, he had actively represented the interests and concerns of this constituency. Frau Pasmanik saw me and walked toward me. Her husband and daughter Susie followed. Frau Pasmanik put an arm around me. She knew that my mother was in Berlin. Shortly before my father's departure for America, he had helped expedite the departure of her older daughter, KlŠrchen, to Palestine."So they did not manage to get Eva," she said with some relief. "You stay with us, and you will be part of our family until things get sorted out." There were chunks of bread and black coffee on a table. Frau Pasmanik urged me to eat. "You must eat something," she said. "You will need it." I couldn't swallow even a morsel. My stomach had been hurting, and when I looked at the food, it began to churn. Frau Pasmanik asked the guard if I could return with them to their cell. Then she appealed to him saying I was too young to be left alone. The guard was adamant in his refusal. He kept repeating nicht erlaubt-not permitted.Back in the cell, after the door was locked, I could no longer cope with my mounting terror and screamed and cried. Hours later, the door was unlocked and my sister entered the cell. Eva was all over me. She hugged and kissed me and called me her little sister. She kept caressing me. "You look blue. Speak to me. Can you hear me?" she asked. She rubbed my arms and legs. I felt very cold. "Where are your stockings?" "They did not allow me to take them," I told her.She cradled my head in her arms. "What were they doing to you?" she whispered into my ear. "I could hear you screaming as I walked down the corridor.""They didn't do anything," I said. I tried to tell her what had happened, but I could not put the words together. I became agitated, and I could not control my sobbing. Eva kept stroking my hair. She told me that when she returned home from work and opened the door with her key, she saw them. They were standing on the doorstep to the dining room-a policeman and a man dressed in civilian clothes with an armband. "Where is my sister?" she had asked. "I want to be with my sister." Eva did manage to stuff several pieces of clothing into a bag."Did you bring some clothes for me?""Yes, but why didn't you pack some yourself?"Eva listened carefully while I recounted all that had happened-the interrogation at home and at the prison, seeing the Salomons, and the offer of help from the Pasmanik family. I was so glad Eva was at my side.At about eight-thirty in the evening, there was a lot of noise all around us. Cell doors were opened and slammed shut. Children were crying, and guards shouted commands. Guards opened our cell and led us into a room filled with people. Everyone was standing, pressing against someone else, some holding the hands of children. The room was quite dark. There were people in wheelchairs I had not seen before.

There were old people who could hardly walk and a man on a stretcher. I recognized most of the people. I had seen them in the synagogue, at community or sporting events, or on parents' day in school. Many families were no longer intact. Fathers had been taken away to concentration camps, and some of the older children had managed to find refuge abroad. No one really knew exactly what a concentration camp was; however, we understood that these facilities functioned outside the law and that legal recourse did not apply.Frau Pasmanik was moving toward us. "Whatever happens," she told Eva, "let's try and stay together. Keep your eyes on us and stay near us." In past years, whenever Frau Pasmanik traveled to Hamburg to visit her parents, her husband and their two daughters would have Sabbath dinner in our house. In August 1937, Herr Pasmanik was picked up at his office and transported to a concentration camp. He was an accountant and respected member of our community. My father interceded on his behalf, and several months later, Herr Pasmanik was returned to his family. No charges had been made, but he had changed, and my parents said that the Gestapo had destroyed his spirit. Immediately upon his return, Herr Pasmanik and his wife began preparations for their daughter KlŠrchen's departure to Palestine.Shortly after ten o'clock in the evening, the doors were opened and we were escorted out into the prison yard. The yard was brightly lit, floodlights illuminating all corners of the large enclosure. The evening was cold, and there were stars in the sky. After the darkness of the cell, and the near darkness of the holding room, the yard appeared eerie in its brightness. Orders were shouted for us to line up four in a row, and men in different uniforms, perhaps soldiers, surrounded us on all sides. Moving slowly, covered trucks came into view. As the people ahead were loaded onto the trucks, and while Eva and I pressed against each other holding hands, we lost sight of the Pasmanik family. Through the rear flap of the covered truck pulling up in front of us, a suspended ladder was visible. The ladder was lowered to the ground, and families clinging to each other climbed into the truck. When the truck was filled with people, the stretcher was moved into the truck over the heads of the occupants. The man on the stretcher moaned and muttered a name. Just as the truck was about to pull away, two Gestapo officers with guns slung over their shoulders jumped aboard. They pulled up the ladder and lowered and secured the flap. The next truck moved up and stopped in the same place. The remaining people-there were now perhaps fewer than one hundred of us-were very quiet. Even the whispering had ceased. The only sounds one could hear were the clanking of the chains that held the truck flap open and the grinding noise of the bolts being shoved into iron slots.As I climbed onto the truck, I noted that the yard was filled with uniformed men. I was afraid to let go of my sister's hand until I felt her presence on the rung beneath me. People in back of us were pushing us toward the front of the truck. It was very dark. There was a short whistle blast, the sharp command abfahren-proceed-and then sudden total darkness when the flap was closed from the inside. We heard our names being called: "Eva! Bertel!" Eva pushed toward the rear of the truck and called out, "Mother, we are here!" The people around us were calling, "Here! In here!" The truck never stopped rolling. A traveling bag was thrown into the opening, and then our mother was lifted onto the truck. The people around us made room as Eva and I moved to the rear of the truck. Mother was sobbing and panting. When she calmed down, she put her arms around the two of us and murmured, "We are together.

Now everything will be all right. We are together."We were standing propped by the other occupants who were pressing against us from all sides. In the dark I could sense the close proximity of the Gestapo officers with their guns. I planted my feet firmly so that I would not bump against them. We were told not to speak. I could feel my mother's arm around my shoulder. After several hours, the truck stopped. We were ordered to climb down, and as I did, I felt soft grass beneath my feet. There was noise as the people descended, stumbled, and fell in the dark. A hissing command told us to move silently. We were being pushed from behind across a large meadow until we reached the bank of a small river.The sky was dark and it had started to rain. In the near distance, I saw the outline of a forest. We were ordered to cross in single file a plank that had been thrown across a narrow stretch of the river. I had to let go of my mother's hand. Eva crossed ahead of me, and mother came after me. The plank was too narrow for the people in wheelchairs, and the soldiers holding the stretcher were cursing as they struggled to get it across. Finally, all the occupants of the trucks had crossed over. We stood together on the other side of the river. The glare of the headlights from the trucks illuminated the shapes of the men facing us. A row of uniformed Gestapo officers and soldiers stood along the bank as far as my eyes could see, their rifles pointing at us. We were commanded to be silent and to listen carefully. "We are standing on German soil," the speaker shouted through a loudspeaker. "You, however, having crossed this river, are now in Poland. You will march in the direction of the forest without looking back. Anyone attempting to turn back will be shot. This is a final warning. Whoever dares set foot on German soil again will immediately be liquidated."The truck lights were turned off. We started to walk toward the forest. It had stopped raining, but the sky remained dark. We walked for hours. Intermittently, Mother sought out friends, and together they discussed our predicament. Though some of the people knew Polish, most did not. All conversation was conducted in German and whispered from one person to the next. Some men came over to speak to my mother. She had graduated from a Polish secondary school and knew the language well. She advised against continuing in a group and suggested that people separate and proceed in family units. Mother felt that we were bound to run into a Polish border patrol, and she wanted to avoid such an encounter. We moved toward some bushes and stopped while the other people passed us. I wanted to speak, but Mother put her hand over my mouth. In the stillness of the night, I could hear people stumbling, asking directions of each other, while children, afraid of the dark, were calling for their parents. "Too loud," Mother whispered. "Too much noise."I was afraid to remain in the forest with Mother and Eva. When I finally asked Mother if she knew the way out of the forest, she answered, "Of course not." After everyone had passed us, she said, "This was an organized Aktion* to which the Polish government will surely respond. If we can avoid the border patrol and I can get to a telephone, I will call Uncle Zygmunt, but we will have to be very cautious while we move ahead." In the dark, Mother combed our hair and straightened our clothing. She took off her hat and brushed off the moisture, combed her hair, and powdered her nose. After she had applied lipstick, we continued on the path alongside the forest. We took turns carrying Eva's briefcase and Mother's small traveling case. "Should we be stopped," Mother said, "I will speak Polish, and I will say that the carriage in which we were riding broke down. Don't slouch no matter how tired you feel. Don't answer questions addressed to you. Just look alert and pretend to understand what is being said." Neither Eva nor I could speak a word of Polish.In the distance, through the early morning haze, we saw the outline of a village. We had walked throughout the night, and we were tired. Then we saw two men. They wore the khaki uniform of border guards and with them walked two policemen. They were carrying rifles. They stopped in front of us. In back of them was a police van. Mother spoke Polish to them, pleading with them not to put us in the van.They took us in the van to the local police station. At the station, Mother again admonished us not to speak. She told the official seated behind the desk that, unless they allowed her to telephone her brother, she would wait for the captain and only speak with him. Since they did not let her use the telephone, Mother remained firm in her resolve not to give a statement. When the captain arrived, Mother went into his office, while Eva and I waited outside.(Hiding in Plain Sight: The Incredible True Story of a German-Jewish Teenager's Struggle to Survive in Nazi-Occupied Poland by Betty Lauer (ISBN 1575253496)(Page 0Hiding in Plain Sight: The Incredible True Story of a German-Jewish Teenager's Struggle to Survive in Nazi-Occupied Poland by Betty Lauer

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 26, 2005

    A Modern Classic

    This is a modern classic, a book that as long as you read it you feel that you are living day by day in the days of horror. Because of the author's survival from age 13 (when she is expelled with no possessions from her native Germany) to 18 (when she smuggles herself from Poland to Sweden to escape the communists) she witnesses and experiences the major events of the holocaust - all except the gas chambers. The reader finds him or herself vicariously living the holocaust and learning about it in a way that is not possible from reading history books. The author barely escapes the evacuation of her small Polish Ghetto, she hides with Christians , she works with false work papers as a secretary for the Polish government, as a governess for a Nazi official, as a seamstress. She volunteers as first aide worker during the Warsaw Uprising and this may be one of the finest first person accounts of this forgotten bout of heroism. There is also story within a story: a single mother who favors her older sister, a girl striving to impress her mother to be loved equally and also a love affair with an older man which she conveys as deeply romantic, even thrilling. The author comes across as an everyday heroine -- yet even though she is describing herself , the author strikes the reader as a modest person. Her generousity and morality are very moving. In fact one leaves the book, surprisingly with a higher view of humanity than before the book was read. The narrator is the kind of teenage girl anyone would pray to have as a daughter or sister or a friend whom one might model oneself after The book indeed could also be termed 'The Rules,' -- not for dating but for surviving : always build alliances, never be alone, don't take 'no' for an answer, don't follow prevailing wisdom, never be passive, find a true friend, family is all. Another 'rule' could be added: Don't miss this book! Buy a book for your friends and family, particularly if they have young daughters. Bravo to Betty Lauer!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 2, 2004

    Excellent

    I have read many memoirs on the Holocaust, but never any as detailed as this one. Betty Lauer's depiction of her and her family's escape from the Nazis is written so vividly that I was able to clearly visualize her horrific ordeal. This book is a must-read for anyone interested in gaining perspective on what the experience was like for a Holocaust survivor who manages to stay out of a concentration camp.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 1, 2004

    Spellbinding

    By pulling the reader in to this harrowing story of survival, faith and love, Hiding in Plain Sight is an incredible read. It provides a very well-rounded view of the Holocaust and World War II's damage and devastating effects from both the Jewish and non-Jewish perspective.

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