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Part Three Fighting Back

Bea’s family began evaluating their new reality. In 1937, her uncle, aunt, and grandmother decided to leave Germany for the wild and unknown territories of Palestine, where Jews hoped to migrate to establish a Jewish population in the land of Zion and save themselves from the escalation of events in Europe: “My uncle knew what was going to be. So he took my aunt and grandmother and left for Palestine,” Bea recalled with sadness (Interview Karp). Unfortunately, she never got to see her beloved grandmother again, who died before Bea had a chance to make the trip to Israel. Her father Moritz and mother Rosa were hesitant about leaving Germany. “I think my father was a bit scared of leaving Lauterbach because, you know, where were we going to go? What were we going to do? My father had responsibilities. He had a family to feed” (IHE 17).

However, Hitler’s sanctions continued to hurt the family. After 1935 and the implementation of the Nurnberg Laws, Bea’s father lost his textile business, making it impossible for him to provide for his family. That is when Jews were decreed as “non-citizens,” stripping away any social liberties or sense of belonging. Moritz and Rosa were in a state of disbelief. Their citizenship taken away and their dignity destroyed, they couldn’t comprehend the magnitude of these events. Germany was their home for generations. It was the only home they knew. Click here to learn more about the Nurnberg Laws.

Losing the family business forced Bea’s family to leave Lauterbach and move to the city of Karlsruhe, near the western border shared with France, where her father’s three siblings lived. The sanctions made their mark on the non-Jewish population in Karlsruhe as well. It took Bea’s family more than six weeks to find an apartment. No one was willing to lease property to Jews. The family was forced to share a small apartment with her uncle’s family. Unable to find work in the textile industry, Moritz had to make a living working manual labor (IHE 18).

The hatred and Anti-Semitism were getting worse. Bea was ridiculed at school, her non-Jewish friends refused to play with her, and adults were violently attacked on the streets. Throughout all of this, anger was rising in six-year-old Bea. For the first time in her life, Bea recognized a new and unpleasant emotion—hate.

“One day we were playing in the streets and two Nazis were passing by. And that was the first time I saw Nazis so close up. So I looked at them. And for the first time I hated. I had never hated a person before. And I was mad at them because I knew they caused a lot of problems for my family. So I went to the gutter, I picked up some pebbles, and as they passed by, I threw those pebbles. But I really didn’t mean to hurt them.” Some of the pebbles must have hit the soldiers, for before she knew it, they started chasing her and her friends. Luckily, young Bea knew the alleyways better than the soldiers, and she managed to get away (Interview Karp 19).

When she made it home, her mother was standing at the doorway, wearing a displeased face, anger and fear mixed together. “‘From now on, I cannot trust you to play outside by yourself. Either your father or I will have to be with you. You are a stupid girl.’” Bea laughed as recalled her mother’s reaction. “I heard that a lot—‘you stupid girl.’” Bea now knows that her mother’s anger only masked fear for her daughter’s life (Interview Karp 19). However, what one sees as stupidity, another might see as courage. Some of Bea’s childhood decisions both risked her life and marked one of the only ways Holocaust Survivors could have fought back. Those little acts of defiance embody the courage and dignity of those who died and of those who survived.

When Bea tells her story, she makes sure to note those small incidents of fighting back. She believes those are an important part of her and others’ survival. “It always upsets me because Jews and non-Jews say that everyone just followed [orders]. But that is not really true. We didn’t have a choice. First of all, if you had said anything to a Nazi, he could have killed you, hit you. If you have gotten their attention, something horrible could have happened to you. We didn’t have a choice. They had the guns” (Interview Karp 19).

Bea and her family didn’t have guns, nor did the other six million Jews. However, today Bea has her words, and she uses them whenever she can. Bea’s story is marked with small acts of defiance. Her entire apartment is decorated with her victories—the Jewish art on the walls; the framed letters from her mother; her daughter’s careful sketches; pictures of her daughters and grandchildren smiling at the camera. These are her victories. This is how Bea fights back. This is how now, over sixty years later, she stands up to those guns. The incident with the pebbles was not the only time Bea stood up to the Nazis. Her young courage led her to do things grownups wouldn’t have dared to think about.

 

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Part Four Small Resistances

When Bea was eight, she, her family, and the rest of the German Jewish population were transferred to concentration camps. They were taken to Gurs, the first and largest concentration camp built in prewar France. Gurs was located in the Basque region of southwestern France and was situated in the foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains northwest of Oloron-Sainte-Marie (USHMM 1). In October 1940, Nazi Germany deported about 7,500 Jews from southwestern Germany across the border into France. The French Vichy government concentrated most of them in Gurs, and Bea’s family was among those deportees (USHMM 5). Bea recalled how a friend who went back to Germany in the 1970’s traveled to that camp. All he found was an empty, vast field, no recollection of the horrid time she and so many others spent there.  Click here to learn more