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The Accounts of a Young German Girl (June 1935- August 1935)

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The Accounts of a young German Girl (June 1935- August 1935)
My name is Eleanor Wagner, I grew up in Hamburg, Germany. I recall being friends with all the neighborhood children. I was about nine or ten years of age as were most of my friends. There was one girl in particular who I considered to be a very dear friend to me. Her name was Helena Koch. Her family was very tight knit and consisted of her mother, father, and two younger siblings, a brother and sister. Our parents were friends as well and worked closely in a business not far from home. As innocent children we saw no differences in one another, and soon that would all change. I was of German decent and Helena was a German-Jew. An order came into effect that month of June 1935, which ordered all Jews out of their homes and forced into a poor neighborhood not very far from our own and was known as the “Ghettos.”
At this time I was too young to understand why my friend Helena had to leave with her family. We were happy and they did no wrong. I remembering trying to visit Helena in her new home but it was closed off from everyone else. There were so many people in this small neighborhood and it reminded me of a sardine can. I can only imagine how they felt. My mother did not know what was going on either and fumbled for answers when I would bombard her with questions of Helena and her family. She would just tell me “maybe it is just temporary, and at least her family is together.” I think she wanted to keep the hope for me but I believe now she didn’t have a clue what was really going on.
A month or so later, at the end of July 1935, after passing by the ghetto I caught a glimpse of Helena walking home from her new school after not being allowed to attend to the same school as I. She was with her younger brother and sister, and I yelled out to her, “Helena!” My dear friend looked up and saw me waving ecstatic. I ran over to the fence and handed her a cloth filled with sweet treats my mother had baked the day before. I asked her how they were and the smile that once lit a room was now solemn and sad. They had no joy like the days we rode our bikes down our block. She said they were residing with five other families in a small apartment. Most of their belongings were confiscated, along with any currency and valuables. They had a curfew and soldiers would come by once or twice a week and take people away. They didn’t know where either; rumors were to work for cheap labor in factories and others said to be sent somewhere more horrific and unknown. I couldn’t believe my ears, and to know my young friend was going through this on a daily basis saddened me. I told her we would always be friends and I would come back when I could to visit her again. We hugged through the fence and she left with her brother back to their apartment before the curfew hour. That would be the last day that I saw Helena.
In early August of 1935, I went to try and visit Helena but she was gone, her family was gone. I asked a little boy walking by if he knew of her and her family and he said yes but they were taken away by train a few days before. I was horrified of the thought where they could have gone. I ran home to my mother tears in my eyes and told her what had happened. She too began to cry.
I was just a child, there was nothing I could do to help Helena or her family. Not even my parents knew of anything to get them back. Not a day went by that I didn’t think of my best friend, hoping she was ok and wherever they were they were happy and well. My father got word from a friend that a lot of the families from that ghetto were separated and sent to places called camps. One in particular that wasn’t far from Hamburg a place called “Bergen-Belsen.”
Months turned into years and I became a young woman married a local business man and had children of my own. The atrocities of the Jewish people surfaced and I was mortified at the thought that such heartless acts could be committed on innocent people…
My name is Eleanor Wagner, and I was a young German Bystander during the Holocaust. My close friend and her family, as well as many others suffered through this horrific time in history. Although the word “bystander” is most often associated as a negative term especially in this time, I was still a child and there wasn’t much I nor my family could do. We knew not of the fate of the Jewish people or to think of ways to help them.
After the war was over and camps were liberated of the remaining survivors, people tried to get back any type of normalcy of what little lives they had. Raising children of my own, I still prayed for Helena and her family. I even named my daughter Mary Helena. One day while walking home from the market, my daughter ran to pick up a ball that had rolled passed us and walked it over to the little girl who dropped it. The little girl looked so familiar with a beautiful smile so bright and cheery. The child resembled my dearest friend Helena. It brought back happy memories of the two of us playing and then sadness entered my heart as I thought of losing my friend. Snapped out of my daydreaming I looked back at the child and then glanced up towards her mother who was introducing themselves to my daughter. To my amazement it was Helena! She realized it was me and we both screamed with happiness and overjoyed with tears, I could not believe she had survived.
I invited them back to our house for dinner where we talked nonstop about everything that went on in our years and lives apart. She explained that after the ghetto in Hamburg she was separated from her father and brother and sent to Bergen-Belsen. Her mother grew gravely ill there from the harsh winter and passed away not long after. Her and her sister were then sent to Auschwitz where they lived everyday like it was there last, fighting for stale bread for meals and hiding in corpses to stay alive from one day to the next. They did this until the camp was liberated. Malnourished and very sickly they didn’t give up their fight to live. It wasn’t until after relocating back to their first home back in Hamburg that they made the discovery of their Father and brother had not made it back and died in Sobibor. Helena married a fellow survivor who happened to be the boy who had told me she was taken from the ghetto years before. They had a daughter and named her Mary Eleanor. She said she always thought of me and our friendship was something special. I turned to her and said “We will always be friends.”…...

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