NOTE: Diana Waring was a partner in this project. She has posted an excellent blog article about it as well.
I have been speaking at homeschooling conventions since the early 1990s. I always enjoy them, because I love to meet homeschoolers, answer their questions, learn what they are doing, and reconnect with others who are on the “convention circuit.” Every now and then, however, a homeschooling convention stands out as really special – one I will never forget. I suspect that this month’s Great Homeschool convention in Forth Worth, Texas will be one of those special conventions. Why? Because I get to meet a star…a REAL star.
No, I am not talking about a movie star or a sports hero. I am talking about Inge Auerbacher, author of I Am a Star: Child of the Holocaust. I read that book years ago, and recently I had the great privilege of actually interviewing her on the phone, along with Diana Waring. Inge is an amazing person, and she has a lot to teach us all.
She was the last Jewish child born in Kippenheim, Germany. At the age of three, she experienced Kristallnacht. Despite the fact that her father was a disabled World War 1 veteran and a recipient of the Iron Cross, he was sent to the Dachau concentration camp. However, he wrote a letter to the Gestapo about his war hero status, and as a “favor,” they sent him and his family to the Terezin concentration camp together.
In fact, this was a great favor. Terezin was better than concentration camps like Dachau and Auschwitz. For one thing, the families stayed together. When Diana and I spoke with Inge, we asked how she was able to have hope in the midst of a concentration camp. She said that she thought as long as she had her parents, they would take care of her. Because families stayed together, there were many children in Terezin, and they played games, had dreams, and talked about what would happen when they finally got out of the camp. Most of those who got out of the camp did so by dying or by being sent somewhere else to die.
This brings me to the most memorable part of our interview with Inge. She was talking about a doll she was able to bring with her to the camp. The doll’s name was Marlene, after Marlene Dietrich. In camp, she became friends with another girl who also had a doll. This friend’s mother would sew clothes for her doll from rags she was able to find in the camp.
Well, one day, her friend said that she and her family were leaving on a train. She gave Inge some of her doll’s clothes and told her that when Inge came to visit them in Berlin, she could give the doll’s clothes back.
The train was going to Auschwitz.
Inge said that no one (except the Jewish elder of the camp) knew about Auschwitz. They only knew that it could be worse for them elsewhere. Needless to say, her friend died there.
Now here’s the thing that nearly made my heart stop. When speaking of her friend leaving the camp, Inge said:
I was jealous that my friend was going on a train…I was waiting…let’s go too…I want to get out of this hell hole.
Of course, years later, she learned that had she gotten what she wanted at the time, she would have been killed, like her friend was. She ended up writing a poem entitled, “A Conversation with God,” where she asks God why He took her friend away and if He made the right decision by leaving her there to survive. I just can’t imagine having to deal with such questions.
As I already mentioned, I read I Am a Star years ago. It wasn’t for school, since it was published in 1986, after I graduated from university. I am not sure why I read it, and I don’t even remember when I read it. I do, however, remember of couple of things from it. One of them was the part where the camp was liberated:
We were finally liberated on the eve of May 8, 1945 by the Soviet army. The first thing we did was rip off the yellow star from our clothes. (From Chapter 7: Liberation)
I asked her about that star. She said that she still has it (pictured at the top of this post) and that she will be bringing it to the convention.
Think about that for a moment. Every homeschooler who attends the Great Homeschool Convention in Texas, South Carolina, or California will get a chance to experience history – real history. This incredible woman was there. She is a primary source. Her books are primary sources about this dark time in human history. I plan to attend her talks, because the interview I had with her just wasn’t enough. I want to learn as much as I can. As Inge said in our interview:
You learn from the past; everybody should learn from the past. Have we learned anything? Unfortunately, not very much. You see what’s going on today in the world. Horrible, horrible, the killing, horrible things. We didn’t learn much, unfortunately. But if I don’t speak up at all, maybe things would even be worse.