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Inge: A Girl's Journey Through Nazi Europe

Inge: A Girl's Journey Through Nazi Europe

by Inge Joseph Bleier, David E. Gumpert
In Early 1939, after Kristallnacht, young Inge Joseph's family in Germany is broken apart, and her desperate mother sends her alone to Brussels to live with wealthy relatives. But she soon finds herself one of a hundred Jewish children fleeing for their lives following Hitler's invasions of Belgium and France. For a time, in 1941 and 1942, it seems as if Inge and the


In Early 1939, after Kristallnacht, young Inge Joseph's family in Germany is broken apart, and her desperate mother sends her alone to Brussels to live with wealthy relatives. But she soon finds herself one of a hundred Jewish children fleeing for their lives following Hitler's invasions of Belgium and France. For a time, in 1941 and 1942, it seems as if Inge and the others have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams, as they find shelter through the Swiss Red Cross in an idyllic fifteenth-century French chateau. Inge even finds love there. But the rumors and horrors of the Holocaust are never far away, and eventually French gendarmes surprise the children, taking them from their protectors to a nearby transit camp. In their desperate attempts to escape, Inge and her boyfriend face unexpected life-and-death decisions -- wrenching decisions that will haunt Inge for the rest of her life.

This powerful, never-before-told memoir is based on Inge's own sixty-six-page manuscript, found after her death; David Gumpert has also drawn from Inge's personal letters, from the recollections of friends, relatives, and people who were with her in Europe, and from his own close relationship with his aunt. One of the most dramatic stories of Christian rescue of Jewish children during the Holocaust, Inge is at the same time a totally frank account of the life and feelings of a teenage girl struggling to survive the Holocaust on her own -- and of how the effects of that experience reverberated through her life and on into the lives of her descendants. No matter how or why one reads it, Inge is a story of survival not soon to be forgotten.

Editorial Reviews

This Holocaust memoir is written from the perspective of Inge Joseph, whose teen years were consumed by hiding from the Nazis. Inge wrote a sixty-six-page diary about her experiences, but after she took her life at the age of fifty-seven because of her deteriorating health and haunting memories, her nephew David began to research Inge's life and completed the memoir in his aunt's voice. As the Nazi threat was growing in Germany, Inge was sent by her family to a wealthy relative's home in Belgium. When the Nazis advanced, Inge was deposited into a home with other Jewish children. From there her story is one of hiding, primarily in an old chateau in Southern France, with dozens of children who were assisted by a stubborn Swiss Red Cross nurse, Rosli. Inge's experiences included one brief stay at a concentration camp from which Rosli extricated the children, one failed escape attempt into Switzerland, assumption of a false identity, and finally her successful escape to Switzerland. Inge's story moves at a deliberate pace. The foreknowledge that her depression moved her to suicide looms over the account. An illuminating note by Inge's nephew emphasizes that she never shared her whole story with anyone, even as she sank into illness and drug dependency to mask her pain and unhappiness. Not until David obtained her diary and did years of research did her whole story emerge. Teens who are interested in Holocaust stories will find this memoir an interesting and sad reading experience. VOYA CODES: 3Q 4P J S (Readable without serious defects; Broad general YA appeal; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2004, Eerdmans, 313p.; Photos. Maps., $24. Ages 12to 18.
—Mary Ann Darby

Product Details

Eerdmans, William B. Publishing Company
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.22(w) x 9.22(h) x 1.10(d)
Age Range:
14 - 18 Years

Read an Excerpt



Chapter One


[February 1983]

It was the summer of 1959 and we were driving along the Pennsylvania Turnpike when my husband suddenly said, "Why don't you write a book about your life?" The image filling my mind was a happy version of The Diary of Anne Frank. By the time we reached Lancaster, this seemed a pretty good idea.

Of course, I now know better. How could I have been so naive, so stupid, to not have appreciated the Pandora's box I was opening? Besides, who would want to read such nonsense? Those initial written meanderings from back then really had been better off buried in the attic for all these years. But this urge to write is like the terrible itching of my scalp from the lice we used to get in France - it won't go away. No matter how many painkillers I take, I can't stop my crazed mind from always returning to that first draft and the events and people it conjures up, especially Walter and Mutti.

And then there is the photo of Walter and me. Each time I view it, it is as if I must shield my eyes from the sun. I want so much to destroy it - cut it into a million pieces or burn it. But I couldn't bear to be without it. So what choice does that leave me? It keeps eating a bigger hole in my heart, and now I suspect that there is little left. I'm pretty much skin and bones, and I can barely think a lucid thought.

Exactly when was the photo taken? Probably during the summer of 1941, since we're dressed for warm weather. Why is Walter wearing his Dutch wooden shoes? I thought he had gotten rid of them by that time. How did I come by such elegant shoes and that pretty dress? Maybe Inge Helft loaned them to me, since she worked so hard to preserve her nice clothes. Why is Haskelevich in the photo between Walter and me? Did Haskelevich ask to join the photo, perhaps to symbolically place himself between Walter and me? He always seemed resentful of our relationship. Did I ask him to join the photo to avoid having to face the awkward moment of deciding whether to hold Walter's hand? Did Walter invite Haskelevich in for the same reason? Maybe the photographer, probably someone from the Swiss Red Cross, invited Haskelevich. And why is Haskelevich wearing a suit and tie instead of his trademark black beret and knickers? Or is it possibly not really Haskelevich at all, and rather some visitor from the Swiss Red Cross? It's so difficult to be certain, since I rarely saw Haskelevich without his beret.

Despite my delirium, certain things are becoming clearer. One is my craziness in thinking I could create a fairy tale existence here in Chicago - that if I had a husband, child, house, car, and gourmet food, it would light up the blackness.

Now with the darkness enveloping me, I know why my family members act as they do. I would probably cheat on Frank the way I suspect he is cheating on me if I discovered him, as he has discovered me, unconscious in the kitchen from drug overdoses every few weeks. And I would be like my daughter, Julie, going out as often as possible, looking for parties and boys and avoiding school work, if my mother lay in bed all day moaning and groaning and crying out for her own dead mother.

I don't know what gave me the idea that doctors could cure the oppression that is now part of my being - the skin infections and failing kidneys, the stomach and leg pains ... and that I could take uppers and downers and endless painkillers without consequence. I am a nurse, after all, and I know. I just don't seem to learn.

I even took the advice that came to me incessantly from relatives and friends: I consulted with a psychiatrist, actually two psychiatrists. But they were as I expected - no better than the quacks I visited to cure my skin and kidney problems - two sides of a coin. "Let's talk about your past," they said at first. When I told them I didn't know where to begin, it was too complicated to just start talking about, they didn't persist. Well then, "We can come back to that," one said. "For now, let us not forget the many positive things in your life ... how you advanced to chief nurse of obstetrics at a major hospital ... how you've written two widely adopted textbooks for nurses ... how you've earned a master's degree in journalism well after most people even think about school ... how you created a new family." They almost had me convinced I was normal. No, I could tell from the sympathetic nodding of their heads that they didn't have a clue about what lay behind the facade. They just wanted me to keep coming back in hopes I would eventually say something rational, or irrational, I never could be sure. So one of the few smart decisions in my life was to take my leave of them - one after three visits and the other after four. Think of all the money we'll save in the process, I thought.

I suppose back in 1959, driving across the rolling hills of Pennsylvania in our purring Ford Fairlane, everything seemed possible. More than fifteen years had passed since the war, and I had assumed a real-person life. I trained as a nurse, advanced in my career, married a pleasant man from Austria (Jewish to boot). Having children seemed like a possibility. I deluded myself that I could get past the three earlier miscarriages and produce a child. I saw so many children being born every day at Weiss Memorial Hospital in Chicago and was certain I could do that. When it turned out I couldn't, I even turned that problem into an opportunity, adopting beautiful Julie when she was just a few days old. Looking from the outside in, I suppose it would seem as if I had accomplished my goal of starting life afresh. That's what I wanted everyone to think. But looking at it from the inside out - that was an entirely different matter.

I began life in Darmstadt, Germany, in 1925.My father had a factory that produced soap and shoe polish, and he rode to work on a bicycle. My sister, Lilo (short for Liselotte), also had a bicycle. I did not have a bicycle, so every once in a while I swiped Lilo's before she left for school. I got to school on time, but how I had to watch out during recess! I never rode the bike home from school - Lilo was bigger and stronger.

We had much fun together, though. We spent many hours in our huge garden, trying to snatch apples off the trees by swinging high up on the swing, or teaching our cousins new tricks on the horizontal bar. In the evening, after we went off to bed, we harmonized "Wanderlieder."

My father's father, Hermann, lived just a block away in the "Louvre." He was a huge man - must have weighed over two hundred pounds. He was disabled from a stroke suffered a few years earlier, so we visited him daily. Our affirmative answer to his usual query, "Have you been good today?" always produced a big cookie jar. That was the time for Lilo to put on her charm - she always walked off with stuffed pockets. I had theorized at an early age the main reason my grandfather kept his grouchy housekeeper was because he needed her for baking our daily cookie supply.

One of my favorite pastimes was reading. I read for hours at a time - Dickens, Goethe, Marlowe. I also spent much time at various sports. We belonged to an athletic club for children and young adults, which met weekly at a meticulously maintained sports field. Here, being the youngest (I was only eleven) and having no bicycle were advantages. Invariably, the trainer picked me up and set me on his luggage rack for the bicycle trip to the club. Thus transported, I was the envy of the teenage girls among us because the trainer was not only about twenty, but also blond, handsome, and muscular. I did the broad jump and fifty-meter runs, and at several sports festivals I came away with second and third prizes.

Sundays during the summertime were a special treat. My parents met with the rest of the family at the home of my maternal grandmother, Josephine, and from there we began day-long excursions to the neighboring villages and mountains. There were leisurely walks where we could run and play to our hearts' content. On these excursions, I learned the distinguishing features of the various fruit trees, berries, and flowers - knowledge which would be indispensable just a few years later.

Oma Josephine was a diminutive woman and an organizer, a doer. When her father died in his forties, she took over as manager of his textile business and turned it into a thriving shop in the center of Darmstadt at a time when women weren't especially independent.

I always seemed to be the youngest child around. Lilo was three years older than I. My first cousin, Hilde Loeb, wasn't really a child; she was in her early twenties, but she was around a lot. Maybe because I was athletic, the older ones included me in their games and conversations. Hilde was very sophisticated and pretty and became my idol, or at least my first idol. When she talked to Lilo and others about one boyfriend or another or about the latest fashions, she didn't try to shoo me away. Instead, she seemed genuinely interested in me, in what I was doing in school. She admired my athletics, probably because it was not something she did well. Our paths would cross again years later, in southern France. And then many years after that, in the United States, she was one of the few people who knew what I had experienced. When she died a few years ago, she left me that much more alone.

Anyway, I have always enjoyed athletics. Until just a few years ago, when my kidney problems began acting up, I loved playing tennis. I think it's one of the reasons I married Frank. We had such good times playing tennis together.

Chapter Two


Subtle changes gradually crept into the carefree days of my childhood. I became more and more aware of serious discussions between my parents. More often than not, my mother sent Lilo and me out to do the grocery shopping because Jewish children were treated with somewhat less disrespect than Jewish adults. It was not until weeks later that we also noticed the signs placed on practically every store in Darmstadt, "JUDEN UNERWÜNSCHT" (Jews unwelcome). Attending school became more and more of a daily struggle. Everyone knows now about the ruthlessness and aggressiveness of the members of the Hitler Youth. But how was I as a child to understand the sudden rejection and insolence of neighborhood children who previously had claimed to be my friends?

My parents and their friends increasingly discussed "emigration," "America," and "affidavits." From 1936 on, events happened that would make any Jewish child mature rapidly. One evening late in that year, my father did not return home from work. He had been arrested.

Strangely, I wasn't as upset as you might imagine. I never felt especially comfortable with Papa. It's difficult to explain, except he just didn't seem particularly interested in Lilo or me. He was a big man - probably six feet tall and husky - and could have enveloped Lilo and me in his arms at once, yet he never hugged or kissed us (or even my mother, for that matter). In fact, his long face, interrupted by the carefully trimmed mustache, rarely relaxed or smiled. He seemed cold and distant, though sometimes I thought he was sad.

My most pleasant memories of him are associated with food. He did business with various butchers and often brought home succulent roasts and steaks. Mutti scolded him: He was being too extravagant, and besides, we shouldn't eat so much meat. But I loved the rare roasts and thick veal chops and tender soup meat. Years later, when there was nothing to eat, I dreamt about those wonderful pieces of meat. His softest moments came on occasional nights before we went to bed, when he would drop off a piece of chocolate to Lilo and me as he said his "Gute Nacht."

Papa often escorted Mutti to the opera on Saturday evenings-he in a starched white shirt, black suit, and tie, and she in a beige evening gown. He so tall and strong. She so small and elegant. Mostly, he was distracted and aloof, and Mutti sometimes tried to excuse him. "He's worried about the business," she sometimes whispered in an aside when he was uncommunicative.

Yes, the business. Always the business. To be technically accurate, it wasn't necessarily the business, but Papa's incompetence in running the business that created no end of problems for us. Certainly when it was running right, the factory was very important for us. We lived in the nicest part of Darmstadt, a pleasant, small German city, about twenty-five kilometers south of Frankfurt. It had elegant apartment buildings, carefully maintained parks, and streetcars winding through. The city's most distinguishing feature was the "Lange Ludwig," a fifty-foot-tall, narrow, black statue topped by Ludwig, Grand Duke of Hessen, which dominated the city center. Now it strikes me as a permanent reminder of German arrogance.

We had a large, airy house, three stories tall, with many bedrooms. It was on Alicenplatz, a wide street with lots of trees and flowers. In those days, owning a home in the city was a sign of special wealth. My clearest memory of our home is the cherry wood-paneled library on the first floor with lots of books where my father liked to spend his little free time reading and smoking cigars. We even had a live-in housekeeper who kept the house spotless, did the shopping and cooking, and babysat Lilo and me.

Papa's father, Opa Hermann, who later bestowed cookies on Lilo and me, was a shrewd businessman who grew the business from nearly nothing in the late 1800s, when it was run by his wife's family. It was an animal fat rendering business, and I have no idea what drew him to such a dirty, disgusting business. But he built it into a thriving enterprise. The rendered fat was sold for use in things like shoe polish and soap. I visited the factory occasionally, beginning when I was six or seven years old. The low-lying white building sat right next to railroad tracks in a crowded industrial area. Though the area was only about three kilometers from our house, it looked to me to be an entirely different world - no trees and lots of dust and trucks and freight trains and uniformed workers.

There were about thirty employees, mostly women, who worked in blood-smeared white jackets, stirring huge vats of animal fat and packing containers for shipment. Most of the women were nice to me, and a few even gave me pieces of chocolate when I visited. But I hated the foul smells of the animal remains and the chemicals used to break them down, so when Mutti asked me if I wanted to accompany her on a visit I usually said no.

In 1932, when I was seven years old, Opa Hermann had his stroke and was unable to walk. After a few weeks, he was sent home from the hospital, partially paralyzed on one side of his body. He spent all his time sitting by his second-floor living-room window, watching the comings and goings of the neighborhood.


Excerpted from Inge by Inge Joseph Bleier David E. Gumpert Copyright © 2004 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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