Deutschkron, Inge (1922—)

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Deutschkron, Inge (1922—)

German-Jewish Holocaust survivor and author whose memoirs are considered to be among the most fascinating chronicles of survival to come out of the Holocaust. Born Ingeborg Deutschkron in Finsterwalde, Germany, on August 23. 1922; daughter of Martin and Ella (Mannhalt) Deutschkron.

Selected writings:

Bonn and Jerusalem: The Strange Coalition (Philadelphia, PA: Chilton, 1970); … denn ihrer war die Hölle: Kinder in Gettos und Lagern (Cologne: Verlag Wissenschaft und Politik, new ed., 1985); Milch ohne Honig: Leben in Israel (Cologne: Verlag Wissenschaft und Politik, 1988); Outcast: A Jewish Girl in Wartime Berlin (Translated by Jean Steinberg. NY: Fromm International, 1989); Unbequem—:Mein Leben nach dem Überleben (Cologne: Verlag Wissenschaft und Politik, 1992); Sie blieben im Schatten: Ein Denkmal für "stille Helden" (Berlin: Edition Hentrich, 1996).

Born in 1922 during a period of political chaos and economic inflation, Inge Deutschkron grew up in a family of assimilated German Jews who felt themselves to be as loyal to the Father-land as any other Germans.

Inge's father was a teacher and a committed Social Democrat who believed that German democracy had to be defended by all possible means against its enemies, particularly the violent Nazi movement led by Adolf Hitler. Among Inge's earliest memories were the hours she and her father Martin spent in the smoke-filled back rooms of a Berlin taverns, folding political pamphlets. The annual May Day demonstrations of Berlin's workers and intellectuals gave her "a taste of the shared feeling of commitment and unity of politically engaged people." These heady years of her youth ended in 1933 for Inge Deutschkron and the rest of Germany's Jewish population when the Nazi Party seized power and set up a dictatorial regime vowing to cleanse the nation of the evils of Marxism, democracy, and liberalism. Not yet 11 in 1933, she learned from her parents, who were not religiously observant Jews, that she was Jewish and would thus be subjected to taunts and insults in the new Germany, the Third Reich.

In 1935, all German Jews, including the Deutschkron family, were classified as aliens by the infamous Nuremberg Laws. Now officially segregated, German Jews in the next few years suffered ever-increasing discrimination and humiliation. In 1938, all Jewish males had to add "Israel" as a new middle name; females had to add "Sara" as a middle name. The bloody Kristallnacht pogrom of November 1938 made it clear that Germany's Jews now faced a future that was bleak at best. Deutschkron's father, who had found work in a Jewish school, realized that the time had come for his family to flee Germany. In April 1939, believing that he would soon be able to secure permission for his family to follow, he was able to immigrate to England. In August 1939, Inge and her mother Ella Mannhalt Deutschkron received the good news from her father that he had been able to find work for both of them in the home of a professor in Glasgow. Unfortunately, within weeks Germany attacked Poland and this last avenue of escape was shut down. Although Inge still received an occasional letter from her father, he could now do nothing for his trapped wife and daughter. The harsh regime under which Jews lived became even worse as Jewish-owned radios were confiscated and telephones in Jewish homes were disconnected. Living in a state of permanent curfew, Jews were not allowed to leave their homes between the hours of 8 pm and 5 am. Among other restrictions, Jews could no longer visit theaters, concert halls, and movies. Parks and public recreational areas were closed to them, except for specially segregated park benches marked by Stars of David.

Almost from the start of the punitive regime initiated against Germany's Jews in 1938–39, many of them began to depend on the support of non-Jewish friends and neighbors for assistance. Inge found domestic employment in the home of Dr. Conrad Cohen, an official of the Berlin Jewish Community. Although many Germans supported Nazi anti-Semitic policies, and even more remained indifferent to the fate of Jews, a small but significant minority helped Jews on the basis of religious, moral, and political principles. In the case of the Deutschkrons, some of the family's Socialist friends from pre-Nazi years continued to remain loyal despite the dangers.

Starting in April 1941, Deutschkron became subject to compulsory labor. At first she found work in an I.G. Farben plant that manufactured parachute silk. Although Jews at this point did not yet have to wear Jewish stars on their clothing on a mandatory basis, here they were required to do so. Ten hours daily work in front of a rotating spindle watching thread in a room that was hot and noisy was exhausting. The factory administration emphasized the segregated status of its Jewish workers by herding them into a separate canteen with only a table and no chairs. Within days of starting work for I.G. Farben, Inge's knee became excruciatingly inflamed and would not bend because of the long gruelling hours on the job and an additional three hours standing in the train to and from work. Needing medical certification to find a less stressful job, Deutschkron went to a non-Jewish physician other Jews had consulted and found trustworthy. Dr. Damm examined Deutschkron, quickly signing a form declaring that she was unable to perform work that required her to stand. He also certified that she urgently needed sick leave. After some weeks at minimum pay sick leave, she found a secretarial job at a workshop employing mostly blind Jewish workers that produced brooms and brushes for the German military.

By September 1941, German Jews were required to wear a Jewish star on their clothing when out in public. The process of isolation of Jews and Germans was now virtually complete, setting Inge and Ella Deutschkron apart from others who had once been neighbors and fellow Germans. When on the street, she noted, some individuals "looked at me with hostility, others with sympathy, and still others averted their eyes." Sometimes touching experiences took place without warning when a stranger would come up to Inge on the street and slip something into her pocket, an apple or some meat ration stamps. By October 1941, a small but growing number of Germany's Jews were being transported to the east as part of the Final Solution of the Jewish Question. After more than a year of watching the majority of Berlin's Jews being deported to their deaths, including her 85-year-old uncle and his unmarried sister who was taken from a Jewish old-age home, Inge was compelled in January 1943 to go underground when her place of employment was shut down. Even though they were blind and their work was of value to the war effort, virtually the entire work force of her workshop was deported to the death camps of the east.

For more than two years, Inge Deutschkron and her mother Ella depended on a number of families to provide them with shelter, food, and protection. Out of a sense of solidarity and humanity, they kept Inge and her mother alive. On several occasions, mother and daughter had to change residences, rarely staying in one place more than a few months because of the enormous burden of risk their presence placed on their rescuers' families. One of their protectors, Lisa Holländer , a Gentile whose Jewish husband had been murdered by the Nazis, not only did not hesitate to offer her home to the Deutschkrons, she welcomed the opportunity. For some months, Ella was even able to use forged identification papers to obtain work in a nearby textile factory.

After many brushes with death, including near misses from Allied bombing raids, Inge and Ella Deutschkron were still alive when the war ended in the spring of 1945. Both had survived the Holocaust due to incredible luck, their own resourcefulness, and the courage of a large number of non-Jewish friends and comrades. They also survived the chaos of the final days of Nazism, when all semblance of civilized life broke down, and many Soviet troops took German women as the natural booty of a victorious and bitterly fought war. Inge and Ella eventually went to England to be reunited with Martin Deutschkron, who had often wondered if his wife and daughter had somehow been able to survive the Nazi cauldron. At first, Inge had hoped to re-main in Germany to be part of the democratic reconstruction of a physically and morally shattered nation. But she discovered that there was no future for a Social Democrat in a Soviet occupation zone dominated by Communists whose agenda included a rapid absorption of Social Democrats into a Socialist Unity Party controlled by German Bolsheviks loyal to Moscow.

Arriving in London with Ella in August 1946, Inge Deutschkron first enrolled at the University of London to study languages but dropped out to work in the offices of the Socialist International. By the early 1950s, she had traveled to a number of Asian countries on the invitation of their Socialist parties and written articles for several journals. Her growing reputation as journalist enabled her to move to Bonn in 1955 to write about the West German scene. In 1958, she became the Bonn reporter for the Israeli newspaper Maariv, a job that was upgraded in 1960 to that journal's correspondent for all Germany. In 1966, Inge Deutschkron became a citizen of Israel but remained in Bonn until 1972 when she moved permanently to Israel to work as member of Maariv's editorial office in Tel Aviv.

Clearly torn between her strong feelings for both Berlin and Israel, a land that gave her "something that I had never known: security and protection," in 1989 Inge Deutschkron moved back to Berlin, where part of her remained rooted. Her return was bittersweet. She could not fail to forget that some Berliners had risked their lives to save her own and her mother's life, but also detected strong elements of racism, indifference, and ignorance of the past, particularly among the youth. At times, she despaired of Germany's capacity to ever rise above the horrible legacy of the Holocaust. Anti-Semitic incidents in the early 1990s made her pessimistic, and she accused some Germans of "closing their windows so as not to be burdened by the stench of smoke." Having herself received threatening telephone calls and letters, she seriously considered leaving Germany a final time, but her continuing belief that "the solidarity shown me during those terrible war years had become a covenant" made her decide to remain.

Energized by the need to alert the next generation of Germans to the evils of racism and ethnic intolerance, Deutschkron remained busy in the eighth decade of her life in countless classrooms and lecture halls, informing the young about her own wartime survival and decades of activity on behalf of German-Jewish reconciliation. She also visited Jewish cultural centers in Berlin, Munich, and other German cities to relate her extraordinary life story to Jews still struggling with memories of the past and concern for the future. Deutschkron continued to write books, including a 1996 volume honoring Righteous Gentiles in the Holocaust, Sie blieben im Schatten: ein Denkmal für "stille Helden" (They remained in the shadows: A monument for "quiet heroes"). Never one to underestimate the impact of the media for both ill and good, she worked with the film producer Wolfgang Kolneder to help create a documentary film about her life in the Berlin underground, Daffke: Die vier Leben der Inge Deutschkron (Daffke:The Four Lives of Inge Deutschkron). In 1994, Inge Deutschkron was awarded the City of Berlin's Moses Mendelssohn Prize in honor of her unceasing efforts in "fostering tolerance toward those who think differently and as well as between peoples, races and religions."


Boehm, Eric H. We Survived: Fourteen Histories of the Hidden and Hunted in Nazi Germany. New ed. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-Clio Information Services, 1985.

"'Dann bin ich weg über Nacht'," in Der Spiegel. Vol. 46, no. 51. December 14, 1992, pp. 48–49, 51, 53, 56.

"'Der Holo ist beendet'," in Der Spiegel. Vol. 46, no. 47. November 16, 1992, pp. 65, 68, 70–71, 73.

Gross, Leonard. The Last Jews in Berlin. NY: Simon and Schuster, 1982.

Halter, Marek. Stories of Deliverance: Speaking with Men and Women who Rescued Jews from the Holocaust. Translated by Michael Bernard. Chicago: Open Court, 1998.

Kiersch, Gerhard, et al. Berliner Alltag im Dritten Reich. Düsseldorf: Droste Verlag, 1981.

Kolneder, Wolfgang. Daffke—! Die vier Leben der Inge Deutschkron: 70 Jahre erlebte Politik. Berlin: Edition Hentrich, 1994.

Ludwig, Volker. Linie 1; Ab heute heisst du Sara. Edited by Ingeborg Pietzsch. Berlin: Henschel Verlag, 1990.

related media:

"Daffke: Die vier Leben der Inge Deutschkron: politische Dokumentation in drei Teilen," by Wolfgang Kolneder (videocassette); Berlin: Carsten Kruger Filmund Fernsehproduktion, 1994.

John Haag , Associate Professor of History, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia