Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Gertrud Mainzer

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:21 - Her family's move to the Netherlands / her husband's arrest and escape

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Partial Transcript: --when you were born, because it didn't work.

Segment Synopsis: Mainzer describes her family background and her family's departure from her hometown of Frankfurt, Germany to the Netherlands when Hitler came into power in 1933. She mentions her acquaintance with Anne Frank in the Netherlands. She describes her husband Richard's arrest following the German invasion of the Netherlands in May 1940, which, because it was an arrest on legal grounds and not out of political persecution, allowed him to escape to the United States via Cuba when he was released several months later. Meanwhile, Mainzer explains, she stayed behind with the children.

Keywords: Adolf Hitler; Anne Frank; Cuba; Holland

Subjects: Emigration and immigration.; Jewish refugees.; Netherlands.

GPS: Frankfurt (Germany)
Map Coordinates: 50.117, 8.683
00:12:00 - Hiding from the Germans

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Partial Transcript: So then I moved back to my parents' house, because they lived in Amsterdam. And then they picked up--then you really lived from one day to the other in fear that you were picked up.

Segment Synopsis: Mainzer describes the scattering of her family into hiding from the Germans, who at this time had begun deporting Jews to concentration camps. She describes the family who sheltered her in Dordrecht, Netherlands beginning in August 1942.

[[Recording is interrupted at 20:24.]]

Keywords: Amsterdam (Netherlands); Compassion; Mauthhausen (Concentration camp); Star of David; Theresienstadt (Concentration camp); Westerbork (Concentration camp); Yellow badge

Subjects: Dordrecht (Netherlands); Jewish refugees.

GPS: Dordrecht (Netherlands)
Map Coordinates: 51.817, 4.667
00:21:42 - Her children apprehended

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Partial Transcript: During that time everybody exchanged food already, you know, in '43. It was all these shortages.

Segment Synopsis: Mainzer explains that in 1943, one year after her separation from her children, the house in which the children were staying was raided by Germans, and the children were taken to Westerbork transit camp. She digresses onto the topic of child psychology, commenting on the fact that when she was eventually reunited with her children in 1944, her young son Frank did not not remember her. Returning to 1943, she says that when she found out where her children were, she decided to seek them out.

Keywords: Bergen-Belsen (Concentration camp); Westerbork (Concentration camp)

Subjects: Child psychology.; Children.; Foster parents.; Jewish refugees.

00:31:18 - Sneaking into Westerbork

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Partial Transcript: But then, this man from the, from the Jewish guard, um, he knew that at that time already, towards the end of the year, the Germans already at the end of the year of '43 were already worried about their German prisoners of war.

Segment Synopsis: Mainzer recounts her sneaking into Westerbork transit camp where her children had been moved, first explaining the purpose of the camp: to detain Jews who had family outside of German-controlled territory, whom the German leadership decided not to send to their death in Auschwitz because of possible consequences after the war. She expresses her admiration of a Jewish cabaret band that played for the camp commander. She speculates on why among the Jewish survivors many marriages ended in divorce after the war, and she observes that women were much more likely to survive in concentration camps than men.

[[Recording is interrupted at 47:53.]]

Keywords: Auschwitz (Concentration camp); Cabaret Band; Cuba; Marriages

Subjects: Bergen-Belsen (Concentration camp); Divorce.; Sex (Biology); Westerbork (Concentration camp)

GPS: Westerbork transit camp (Netherlands)
Map Coordinates: 52.918, 6.607
00:48:06 - Her detainment in Bergen-Belsen

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Partial Transcript: The day they caught you, do you remember any of that?

Segment Synopsis: Mainzer describes the train ride from Westerbork transit camp to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in April 1944. She describes the Jewish prisoners' efforts to keep up a school and remain organized, efforts that were not continued as the camp became more and more overcrowded and conditions worsened. She discusses her efforts to be a good mother amid inhuman living conditions. She notes that the German camp guards, despite their heinous treatment of adult Jews, were nevertheless sentimental in their treating the Jewish children as children rather than being cruel to them. She describes the work that was done in the camp, as well as what social structure was left among the prisoners.

Keywords: Diseases; Food; Hygiene; Kapos

Subjects: Bergen-Belsen (Concentration camp); Child psychology.; Children.; Concentration camps.; Parenting.; Work.

GPS: Bergen-Belsen concentration camp (Germany)
Map Coordinates: 52.758, 9.908
01:10:19 - Liberation from Bergen-Belsen

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Partial Transcript: I think basically--you probably have a lot of descriptions of Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen and different camps--it doesn't make that much sense to talk more about that.

Segment Synopsis: Based on her experience during the war, Mainzer claims that the idea of freedom is not inborn, but rather taught. For the sake of illustration, she explains that after she and her children were released from the camp in order to be traded for German prisoners of war in Switzerland, her son Frank did not understand freedom and was afraid of ordinary situations; even Mainzer herself was afraid to leave her temporary home in Biberach, Germany with her brother, who came to pick her up. She describes her daughter's reaction to the end of their trials, and her daughter's refusal to talk about them even to the present day.

[[Recording is interrupted at 1:19:36, 1:20:52, and 1:23:13.]]
[[Recording ends at 1:23:16.]]

Keywords: Biberach (Germany); Fidelio; Human rights; Liberation; Liberty

Subjects: Freedom.; Psychic trauma.; World War, 1939-1945--Jews--Rescue.

GPS: Biberach an der Riss (Germany)
Map Coordinates: 48.100, 9.783