Into the Tunnel

The Brief Life of Marion Samuel, 1931-1943

Götz Aly

Metropolitan Books

Into the Tunnel
Chapter 1
Who Was This Marion Samuel?
IN 1951, THE GERMAN PHILOSOPHER RUDOLF SCHOTTLAENDER proposed that "the city of Berlin should designate a location where the Jewish children murdered under National Socialism" might be remembered. He noted, though, that such a memorial would be effective only "if it does not swim in the unbounded memory of all the victims of tyranny, the evil that is still happening and may yet happen, but rather is fixed on the zenith of inhumanity revealed in each and every murder of a million Jewish children."1
The proposal came to nothing in both halves of the then-divided Berlin. More than forty years later, Ingrid and Walther Seinsch took up the idea; they decided to commemorate the Jewish children who had been killed by establishing a historical research award. For the name of the prize, they picked a child at randomfrom a memorial book for deported German Jews: Marion Samuel. All that was known about her was the place and year of her birth--Arnswalde, 1931--and the date of her deportation from Berlin to Auschwitz: March 3, 1943.2 A detailed history published by the city provides only a slightly more extensive entry: "Samuel, Marion, b. July 27, 1931, in Arnswalde, Brandenburg; [Berlin-]Prenzlauer Berg, Rhinower Street 11; transported March 3, 1943, Auschwitz; place of death: Auschwitz; presumed dead."3
At the end of November 2002, I received a brief message from Walther Seinsch: "We would like to honor you with next year's Marion Samuel Prize." I thought, who was this Marion Samuel? I had heard the name somewhere before, and at first I vaguely supposed she might have been some Jewish intellectual of great promise who was murdered while still young. Eventually, I found an article on the Internet that I myself--strange as it may sound--had written in 1999, when Raul Hilberg received the inaugural Marion Samuel Prize. In the article I speculated that, most probably, on account of her age Marion Samuel was "poisoned with Zyklon B" in Auschwitz "immediately after her arrival." Furthermore, I said, it was likely that "her father had performed forced labor in a Berlin factory as a so-called armaments Jew. These Jews were replaced by young Poles who were brought to Berlin."4 As I know today, both of these speculations were correct.
On that same evening in November 2002, I decided that I wanted to find out more. The award ceremony was scheduled for May 2003, and I resolved that my acceptance speech should be a biographical sketch of the short life of Marion Samuel. I immediately came up against difficulties. Marion's whole family had been murdered in Auschwitz. They were ordinary, and therefore left behind few traces. The entry for Marion Samuel in the Berlin databank of material assembled for the memorial book of the deported Jews produced some information about her parents, where the family had lived in Berlin, and which schools Marion had attended. Still, it seemed almost impossible to gather enough evidence to provide a more detailed picture.
I turned to old Berlin address and telephone books, and to archived bureaucratic records. The German federal archive holds a collection of the special file cards that were created for each Jewish student. Marion's card, for example, notes that she was inoculated against smallpox on June 4, 1932, and allowed me to reconstruct her progress in school with some accuracy.5 At the archive I alsofound the Samuel family's responses to the May 17, 1939, census. Families were required to answer the question, "Was or is one of the respondent's four grandparents a full Jew?" Instructions for filling out this section of the questionnaire read, "Racial status alone, not confessional affiliation, is definitive." On the basis of the answers--supposedly confidential--local authorities created special registration systems that later enabled police to track down the victims and made identifications error-free, unlike those based on denunciations or "racial assessments." For the historian, this largely intact file--with its birthplaces and birth dates, its names and addresses of family members--renders visible people who were soon to disappear almost without a trace.6
German Jews assembled for deportation were required by the Nazi government, acting out of a mixture of greed and bureaucratic thoroughness, to fill out a property declaration. The Berlin expropriation files have been preserved, and in the case of the Samuel family there are three sets of forms. The records note that their rental apartment had been sealed. They track the recovery of even the smallest of debts and include an assessment of the apartment's inventory, carried out by an executor of the upper court. The documentation concludes with a balance statement. Whatever funds remained were transferred to the German Reich: that is, they were nationalized for the benefit of the German majority.7
Beyond these specific administrative records, we can also get important clues to the conditions that shaped Marion Samuel's life from the detailed historical monographs that have been produced in an impressive variety over the past two decades. These accounts--about the Factory Action to which the Samuel family fell victim, for example, or about the Jewish schools in Berlin--have allowed me to include memories of contemporaries who crossed Marion's path, orwho lived near her or her parents or underwent similar experiences. In addition, most of the important historical dates for the Jews who once lived in Marion's hometown of Arnswalde can be found in the Heimatgruss-Rundbrief aus den ehemaligen Kirchengemeinden im Kreis Arnswalde (Neumark), a voluminous, lovingly created journal of the Germans who were expelled when that town became part of Poland after the war. The journal appears four times a year, and is entering its seventh decade of publication. Fifteen years ago, its editors decided to include the previously unmentioned fate of the Jews of Arnswalde. The Jews were, after all, the first to be expelled from the city, hunted by those who would themselves become refugees in February 1945.
After I was unable to find further information in the archives, I published an article in the local section of the Berliner Zeitung in February 2003, titled "Who Knew Marion Samuel?"8 The single response came from Hilma Krüger (b. Kaul), who had gone to elementary school with Marion in 1937. She mentioned that a class photograph was taken at the beginning of the semester, but that her own copy had been destroyed in the bombings. Hilma Krüger was able to recall the names of many of Marion Samuel's former classmates, but none of the names of these girls were to be found in the Berlin telephone book. I therefore published a second appeal, titled "Class Photograph Sought." After a brief introduction about the class taught by Frau Mollmann at the public school in the Sonnenburger Strasse in 1937, the article continued: "Because all the students in that class were girls who later married, their maiden names do not appear in the telephone book. We are thus dependent upon the help of our attentive readers to find these women. Among the girls, all born in 1930/31, who belonged to the class were Marianne Hübner, Ingrid Klaf(f)t, Inge Knapp, Gisela Lampel, IngeLexow, Gisela Schäfer, Helga Korzenburg, Vera Wetzel, Traute Zinke, Tamara May, Brigitte Fischer, Gisela Jonitz, Helga Kassube (a), Inge Klammt, Annelise Klawe, Inge Kretsch, Regina Luc(z)inski, Ruth Mattern, Anneliese Wischer, and Gisela Schulz.
"The list is not complete and may contain some errors, but Frau Hilma K., born Kaul, has a clear memory which is supported by the list of confirmands of the Gethsemane Church. The confirmation of girls born in that year took place on March 18, 1945, during a Volkssturm swearing-in ceremony and shortly before a heavy bombardment of the area. I would be grateful for correspondence with anyone who can provide clues."9
The very next day the twin brother of one of the former students contacted me--and he had a copy of the class photograph. Hilma Krüger immediately recognized Marion Samuel. The unknown victim had a face once more.
Marion Samuel died in Auschwitz on March 4, 1943. Her parents also perished there. The majority of her other close relatives likewise fell victim to destruction. I wanted to find the few who had survived, but this was not a simple task. I knew neither their first names nor their dates of birth, and Samuel is a very common last name. This situation was complicated by the fact that both the maiden and married names of Marion's mother were Samuel. In addition, a great part of the story had played out in Arnswalde, which today is in Poland, and in the formerly East Prussian Königsberg, now the Russian city of Kaliningrad. The residential registrations and municipal marriage records had been destroyed by fire at the end of the war. Despite all my efforts, by the time that I received the Marion Samuel prize in May 2003 I still knew almost nothing about Marion Samuel's extended family.
Restitution forms at the Berlin reparations bureau, however, had hinted that the Samuels might have been related to someone named Pohl in the town of Greifswald. I wrote to the Greifswald registry office to find out if they had any further information. A week after the award ceremony, the registry put me in touch with Erika Dünkel, who lived near Berlin. "Yes," she said when I telephoned her, "Marion Samuel was my cousin." I sent her a copy of the speech I had delivered at the award ceremony, which had been published in the Berliner Zeitung.10 She was quite moved, and confirmed the details: "The story has been written just as my mothertold it to us." Erika Dünkel's mother--Helene Pohl, born Samuel, an aunt of Marion Samuel's on her mother's side--had survived the war with her children in what was known as a "privileged mixed marriage" in Königsberg, where they later came under Soviet rule. They had been saved only because Helene Pohl's Christian husband repeatedly rebuffed government pressure to divorce her, for which he was eventually incarcerated in a labor camp. The Pohl family was not reunited until 1947.
From the property declaration submitted by Marion Samuel'smother, I knew that one of her brothers had emigrated to the United States. I had been unable to discover his name, but Erika Dünkel pointed me to one of several names I had drawn from the reparations file: Arthur Samuel. Men by this name were and are numerous in the United States, and I spent two months checking these leads. As it turned out, only a few of them came from Germany, and I eventually learned that the Arthur Samuel I had been looking for had died in New York in 1985. Of what use is an address in the United States when the person who lived there died twenty years earlier?
Erika Dünkel knew that Arthur had a son, Manfred, who was born in Germany and appears with other relatives in an old family photograph. However, contact with Manfred had broken off after the death of his mother thirty-five years before. "Manfred" could have become "Fred" or "Freddy," and Erika thought that Freddy had probably served in the army and might possibly have a son by the name of David. She did not have any more information than that, though, and even a search performed with the help of the specialists of the Survivors Registry at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington produced nothing.
After many detours, assorted hypotheses that turned out to be false, and lots of telephone conversations with various people named Samuel ("No, we are Christians!"), I finally found Fred Samuel via the Internet. The telephone books from each of the American states contained hundreds of Samuels named Fred and David; searching through all of them would have been futile. But somewhere in the depths of I stumbled upon listings in which a person's age as well as name is given. There I identified four seventy-year-old Fred Samuels, one of whom was Fred M. Samuel. The "M." could be, I surmised, a sentimental reminder of "Manfred."
He was indeed the person I had been looking for, although the middle initial turned out to be just a lucky coincidence. The family lived in a large Jewish community twenty miles from New York City. A week later, Fred Moritz Samuel, his wife, Carole, and their son, David, picked me up at the train station in Newark, New Jersey. We spent two days together, at the end of which we were joined by a reporter from the local press.11 Fred Samuel knew little about the relatives on his father's side of the family, only that they had been murdered during the Holocaust. He showed me the family photograph that his cousin Erika had described, but he could not tell me anything about it. In the photograph, Marion looks much more relaxed than in the school picture, but she is wearing the same dress with a collar and a similar ribbon in her hair. Her parents stand behind her, in the center of the family group. Fred is in the front row next to Marion; on her other side is Erika Dünkel's brother Wolfgang, who died in an accident in 1996. A detail from that photograph is on the cover of this book, and the photo itself is on pages 86-87.
In a way, the fact that I found both of Marion's living relatives rather late in my search proved to be an advantage. Had Fred and Erika been able to speak with me right at the beginning of my research, I would have been spared many detours--but I also might not have been driven to publish the newspaper articles seeking Marion's classmates and the school photograph, and I might not have checked a hard-to-find refugee newspaper for information on the Jewish families of Arnswalde. Thanks to all the twists and turns of my search, the sketchy history of Marion Samuel became clearer.
I could find no living relatives from the paternal side of Marion Samuel's family. Marion's father had five siblings; two of them(his brother Kurt and his sister Margarethe) were murdered during the Holocaust, and his three other siblings all died childless. However, my conversations with Fred Samuel and Erika Dünkel made it possible for me to describe the very different fates of the members of this Jewish family under persecution. Their history, which includes brief accounts of everyone pictured alongside Erika, Fred, and Marion in that family photo, is told in the last part of this book. Loyal, modest Germans, who for generations worked, paid taxes, and celebrated their holidays, they were suddenly forced to flee from the comfort of a small town in eastern Germany into the anonymity of larger cities--to Königsberg, Berlin, New York. Although emigration allowed some 70 percent of German Jews to escape the Holocaust, many in the Samuel family were not so fortunate.
During the past twenty years, Fred and Carole Samuel have traveled widely. They have been in Europe many times, and they visited Auschwitz without knowing which members of Fred's family died there. They never, however, entered Germany. On the second day of my stay with the Samuels, we decided to telephone Erika Dünkel in Berlin. Fred Samuel no longer speaks German: as a consequence of the trauma he experienced at the age of six, he lost every memory of his childhood in Arnswalde and Königsberg. Not even a memory of his voyage to the United States remains. Erika Dünkel does not know English. I encouraged them to try simply speaking with each other in their respective languages. On the telephone--very slowly, almost without an accent--Fred Samuel, speaking to his cousin, once again found a few German words.
Copyright © 2004 by S. Fischer Verlag GmbH, Frankfurt am Main