by Laura Jamieson
As part of their study of World War II, fifth graders at Germantown Friends School heard Holocaust survivor Ilse Lindemeyer’s heartbreaking story of growing up as a Jewish child in Frankfurt, Germany, during Hitler’s rise to power.
In second grade, Ilse’s teacher sent her to the back of the class for not raising her hand to hail Hitler. After being picked on and beaten up by other students and treated cruelly by teachers, she was forced to switch to a Jewish school across town.
On the night known as Kristallnacht, Nazi soldiers knocked on the door looking for her father, who was in the hospital following hernia surgery. Ilse and her mother said that they didn’t know where he was, so the Nazis hit her mother and flipped over Ilse’s bed – with her in it.
After that, Ilse’s mother signed her up for the “Kindertransport” lottery, and Ilse was one of approximately 10,000 Jewish children chosen to relocate to England.
Mrs. Lindemeyer’s last memories of her family, who didn’t survive the Holocaust, are from the train station where she started her journey to England. She remembered her father running after the departing train shouting, “don’t take my baby” – the last words she would ever hear from him. She was afraid to leave her friends, family and country. She didn’t want to go, but her 91-year-old grandmother gave her a locket that her grandmother had given to her, and said that it would always protect her. Ilse has not taken the necklace off since.
In addition to Mrs. Lindmeyer’s story, Lise Marlowe, mother of Max ’20 and Gabby ’16, shared her family’s history as part of the Danish resistance. (In preparation for their guest speakers, the fifth graders read “Number The Stars” by Lois Lowry, which is the story of a family that helped its neighbors escape the Nazis). Lise’s family was part of the real-life, brave, and successful movement that rescued nearly all of Denmark’s Jews. Her great-grandmother helped Jews escape to Sweden in fishing boats.
The fifth graders listened intently to the guest speakers. After the talks, they crowded Mrs. Lindemeyer, asking questions and admiring her necklace. At the end of the school day, one fifth grader ran up to her mother and was overheard saying, “We heard from a Holocaust survivor today; did you know that we are the last generation that will get to talk to a survivor?”
The experience was a gift that gave the students a deeper understanding of that time in history and the people whose lives were forever changed by the tragedies of war.