I would like to thank the organisers of this event for allowing me to relate my family’s story: it is the story of one family among the millions that suffered from racial hatred and genocide during the second World War, a hatred that unfortunately still pervades parts of this fragile world.
Nid fy stori i yw hon: stori yw hi am rai sy ddim bellach yma i adrodd eu hanes, a stori rhai na chafodd gyfle i wneud hynny.
Mae llawer o storïau tebyg wedi gorfod aros heb eu dweud. Fy ngobaith i pnawn ma yw cyfrannu ychydig at wneud yn siŵr na fydd stori’r chwe miliwn yn mynd yn angof.
Rwy bellach wedi bod rhyw ddeg o weithiau i Wittenberg, tref enedigol fy mam, a thref Martin Luther. Rwy wedi bod hefyd dair gwaith i Ravensbrück, y gwersyll crynhoi lle cafodd fy mam-gu, Käthe Bosse, ei lladd, a dyw mynd yno fwy nag unwaith ddim yn gwneud y daith honno’n haws.
A question arises: how could you have survived the Nazi terror, if you were Jewish, a gypsy, a Jehova’s witness, of if you belonged to what the Nazis considered to be an inferior group or race? The answer could be: a journey. Not to journey could mean death.
Journeys today are undertaken by most of us for pleasurable purposes. But in Nazi Germany, if you in any way opposed the system, or were not an acceptable part of the system, a forced journey could be the only means of survival. On the other hand you could be taken on journeys to concentration camps from which there would be little chance of return. My grandmother’s family were of Jewish ancestry, and so had to face the reality of forced journeys, to one direction or the other.
Fe ddechreua i gyda thaith fy mam, taith a ddechreuodd trwy anffawd colli swydd, ond fe achubodd yr anffawd yna ei bywyd, yn ôl pob tebyg.
It was my mother’s fortune that a fellow worker betrayed her. She was working in 1936 at the Egyptological Museum in Berlin. Her boss, on learning that she was of Jewish descent, had no choice but to dismiss her. No-one of Jewish descent was to hold any public post following the Nürnberg Laws of 1935. After a difficult period trying to find a country which would take her, she first went to Scotland, then England and lastly to Wales. The Rhondda, one could imagine, was not a destination that would have appealed to any German, but it was in the Rhondda that she found a Welsh speaking family and community which embraced her. Wales, and the Rhondda, can take pride in having welcomed a refugee. She soon developed a love of Wales and its language, having found a country where literature, song and language, together with tolerance and co-operation formed the basis of civilized society. This was so far removed from the perfected system of evil of Nazi Germany.
Roedd pethau’n gymhleth yn achos fy nhad-cu a’m mam-gu. Cawson nhw gyfle i ffoi i Dde America, ond gwrthodon nhw fynd.
Who could have blamed my grandparents for thinking that there was still hope in a country so full of hatred? They refused an offer to flee to south America. Their position was somewhat complicated. My grandmother, Käthe, was of a Jewish family, but my grandfather, Paul, was an obedient and proud German. He had served in the First World War, and was wounded. He became the chief surgeon at Wittenberg hospital. But in 1935, he was told that he would have to divorce his wife, or lose his job. That was the position when an explosion occurred in a nearby munitions factory killing scores and wounding hundreds. My grandfather, Paul, successfully treated the patients. Hitler, Goebbels and Himmler all came to the hospital to show their concern. Paul asked for his family to be spared from Nazi persecution, but to no avail.
Paul was later that year thrown out of the hospital, and started a small hospital in the family home. There were increasing restrictions. His wife was not allowed to work in the clinic. His son, Günther, although he had qualified as a doctor, was not allowed to practise. Another son, Fritz, was not allowed to continue his education.
Roedd hanes Eva, chwaer fy mam-gu’n un truenus iawn, a’i hunanladdiad – ofer i raddau – yn glwyf sy’n dal yn agored yn hanes y teulu. Nid oes aberth mwy na rhoi eich bywyd dros eraill.
Others in the family tried to survive the difficult times in Germany as part of the system. Eva, my grand-mother’s sister, was married to a German general. He was instructed to divorce Eva. This would ensure that their three children could be accepted as Aryans. On the 26th of October, 1938, their daughter returned home from school to find their mother hanging from a rope. Eva had committed suicide to save her children. Her death was largely in vain. Their son, Joachim, was killed in the first weeks of the war, and Willibald, her husband, who then fought with Rommel in Africa, was taken prisoner by the Americans, and died in America. It was only last year that my cousin Ute searched army archives in Germany, and found a letter written by Willibald on the 26th of October, 1938, the same day as his wife’s suicide, offering his resignation from the army. He must have written this letter a day too late.
Teithio ymhell i gael byw oedd hanes Hans, brawd fy mam-gu. Byddai aros yn yr Almaen wedi bod yn farwol, ond llwyddodd i ffoi i Shanghai, a goroesi.
On Kristallnacht, the 9th of November 1938, the night when Nazi gangs attacked and burnt synagogues, and broke into the homes of Jews, the home of Hans, my grandmother’s brother, was looted. Hans was arrested and taken to Buchenwald concentration camp. A month later he was released and ordered to leave Germany or he would be taken back to Buchenwald. A place became available for him on a ship sailing to Shanghai, and this is where he spent the remainder of the war years. His unwished for journey saved his life, but his wife and two young daughters were left to fend for themselves in an increasingly hostile town, and then to try to survive the allied bombing.
Mae arwr, gobeithio, ym mhob teulu. Yn bendant mae un yn ein teulu ni. Cefnder fy mam-gu oedd hwn. Curt Ledien oedd ei enw. Cyfreithiwr yn Hamburg oedd e, a bu’n ddigon dewr i wrthwynebu Hitler a’i drefn. Talodd am hyn gyda’i fywyd.
There was little joy for those who opposed the system. My grandmother’s cousin, Curt Ledien, was a member of a small group in Hamburg that met to discuss ways of opposing the regime. They linked up with a group in Munich – the Weisse Rose – the White Rose – and distributed anti-Hitler leaflets. They were caught. Curt Ledien spent some time in hard labour, building bunkers for the Nazis, before being taken to Neuengamme concentration camp and shot. His name still lives, on a street in Hamburg, and also in a museum in Berlin which commemorates those who opposed Nazism.
Fel hyn y bu pethau, y teulu’n byw’n fwyfwy cyfyng trwy flynyddoedd y rhyfel, nes y gwnaeth Iarll Stauffenberg ymgais aflwyddiannus i ladd Hitler ym mis Gorffennaf 1944. Arweiniodd hyn at ddwysáu’r erlid ar y teulu.
So it was until the 20th of July 1944, Graf von Stauffenberg, the German officer, failed in his attempt to assassinate Hitler. Following this, Wittenberg Nazis arrested Käthe Bosse, my grandmother, together with her husband and three of their children.
The eldest daughter, Dolly, was released after around 5 weeks in prison, when the Nazi authorities relented following an appeal by her husband that she be released, as a mother of five children. When the Russians reached Wittenberg the following year, bringing devastation in their wake, Dolly fled with her children and her possessions in a pram on a fortnight’s illegal hike to western Germany.
Her two brothers, Günther and Fritz were taken to Zöschen concentration camp. This was a camp for foreigners, and they were made sanitory officers. They succeeded in reducing the numbers dying there from scores a week to just a few. My two uncles spent the rest of the war in the camp, survived typhus, but when the camp was emptied as the Americans arrived, they prisoners were send on a march. An officer was ordered to shoot Günther and Fritz, but he did not obey the order, and they survived.
My grandfather was imprisoned for some weeks before being taken to serve in a hospital in Osterode, a picturesque town in the Harz mountains.
Fyddwn i ddim wedi mynd at i gasglu hanes y teulu at ei gilydd oni bai am hanes taith drychinebus fy mam-gu, Käthe, i wersyll crynhoi Ravensbrück, gwersyll i fenywod a phlant, lle y lladdwyd y rhan fwyaf a gamodd y tu mewn i’w furiau.
The last journey concerns Käthe, my grandmother, who was then in her early sixties. She was taken first to the local police prison. She was then transferred to a prison in Halle, a nearby town. A prison survivor later told my grandfather that she was terrified by the thought of being transferred to Auschwitz. That did not happen. She was transferred to another prison in Leipzig, and then on the 1st of November, she was transported to Ravensbrück, the concentration camp to the north of Berlin, which was built on Himmler’s orders to house mainly women and children. Of the 130,000 or so women who were interred there, only some 30,000 survived. Käthe was not one of these.
Six weeks later, by the 16th of December, Käthe was dead. It was a cold winter when she was taken to Ravensbrück. At the same time 4,000 women were brought there from eastern Europe. There was no room for them in the camp’s barracks, so a large tent was put up to hold them, without water, without sanitation. A lady who survived the camp told Paul, my grandfather, not to pain himself with thoughts of how they lived and died in the camp. Paul himself died two years later. The pain is still with us, two generations later.
One must wonder from where did the Nazis find their hatred of Jews and others. The answer is not too difficult. Jews had been massacred in many European countries and thrown out from scores.
Martin Luther, the protestant reformist, who lectured and preached in Wittenberg for forty years, advocated a seven point policy against the Jews. This included the burning of synagogues, burning their prayer books, prohibiting them from preaching, attacking their homes, taking their property and wealth. Martin Luther served the Nazis well as a precedent. His teaching was adopted with devastating effect.
One would have hoped that the world had since learnt a lot from the experience of Nazi Germany. Yet today we see still see suffering and killing because of racial hatred. Serbia and Bosnia, Sri Lanka, Sudan and now Syria, the list is a long one. Since the Second World War, those with political power and others who want it in many parts of the world have used weapons bought from Britain, the USA and Russia and other countries to oppress, torture and kill minorities. And we have also needlessly started several wars resulting in chaos and bloodshed. People have had to flee from their homes and countries in their hundreds of thousands.
There must be another way. That way is one of peace, which must begin with the love of people towards each other. That includes love for those who are different from the majority, love for those who are outside our community. Only when we are willing to take the sometimes more difficult and tortuous and possibly sacrificial journey towards peace, love and respect can we convince ourselves that we would have taken the honourable path, had we lived in Nazi Germany.
Mae’r ateb yn nwfn ein calonnau ni. Caru cyd-ddyn yw sail gwareiddiad. Am y tro, fe geisiaf gyfleu fy nheimladau wrth deithio fy hun mewn trên i Ravensbrück:
If you wish to visit Ravensbrück today, for 20 euros or so you can take the comfortable train from Berlin. When I went on this train, I could not but imagine how my grandmother made the same journey, probably in a cattle truck. I have tried to express this in a short Welsh poem which attempts to compare this with my comfortable train journey.
Y DAITH OLAF
Pa fodd aethon nhw â thi i’r uffern hon?
yr un ddogfen sy’n gofnod i’th gaethiwed.
Tachwedd 1, 1944.
Tri deg o enwau eraill ar y ddalen,
dalen wedi’i theipio’n ddestlus gan swyddogion yr SS.
A’r rheswm am dy ddwyn?
Politisch, debyg iawn,
celwydd arall yn y pair celwyddau.
A thi o dras Iddewig,
roedd bod yn Iddewes yn wleidyddol farwol.
Does dim dygymod â’r dychymyg,
a ninnau’n awr yng nghysur trên deulawr,
wedi talu ugain ewro am y fraint
o deithio’r llwybr i ddifancoll.