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Episode 3

Annelies Herz

“I had seen an advertisement, that a big, big, big, more than a farm is looking for help. And, um, I wrote them a letter. Same story: we lost our parents, we have vacation, and we would like to work in our vacation, but only when, if I can bring my sister.”

                       

Teenage Annelies Herz saw that fellow Jewish forced laborers were disappearing. So to survive in wartime Germany, she and her twin sister went underground: they secured new identities and never stayed in one place for long.

Photos and Artifacts

Gertrud Bernstein with her three children, Annelies, Benno, and Marianne. Credit: Courtesy of Jeffrey Herz.

Gertrud Bernstein, Annelies’s mother. Credit: Courtesy of Jeffrey Herz.

Franz Bernstein, Annelies’s father. Credit: Courtesy of Jeffrey Herz.

Franz Bernstein, Annelies’s father. Credit: Courtesy of Jeffrey Herz.

The Bernstein siblings. From left to right: Annelies, Benno, and Marianne. Credit: Courtesy of Jeffrey Herz.

Annelies Herz, née Bernstein, at left, with her sister, Marianne. Credit: Courtesy of Jeffrey Herz.

Marianne and Gerd Wodrig, Annelies Herz’s sister and brother-in-law. Credit: Courtesy of Jeffrey Herz.

Wedding photo of Annelies and Helmut Herz, Washington Heights, New York City, January 11,1953. Credit: Courtesy of Jeffrey Herz.

Post office identification card of Annelies Stein. Stein was the name Annelies and her sister, Marianne, adopted during the war, instead of their real name Bernstein. The ID was issued in Berlin-Schöneberg in 1943. It bears a swastika rubber stamp on the right and a Hitler postal stamp affixed over Annelies’s photograph. Annelies obtained the ID by lying to the mailman; it was eventually declared invalid. Credit: Collection of the Museum of Jewish Heritage, gift of Annelies and Helmut Herz.

Document authorizing the use of transportation by Annelies and Marianne Stein, issued in 1945. Translation: “Certificate of authority to use a) special trains, b) means of transportation of any kind by Annelies and Marianne Stein.” At right is an NSDAP stamp of the local group of Breslau-Leerbeutel. Credit: Collection of the Museum of Jewish Heritage, gift of Annelies and Helmut Herz.

Personal identification card of Annelies Bernstein (her real name), issued by the Berlin police in 1945, after the end of World War II. Credit: Collection of the Museum of Jewish Heritage, gift of Annelies and Helmut Herz.

Post office identification card of Marianne Stein, Annelies’s sister. Stein was the name Marianne and Annelies adopted during the war, instead of their real name Bernstein. The ID was issued in Berlin-Schöneberg in 1943. It bears a swastika rubber stamp on the right and a Hitler postal stamp affixed over Marianne’s photograph. Credit: Collection of the Museum of Jewish Heritage, gift of Annelies and Helmut Herz.

By Dr. Samuel Kassow

When historians study Jewish resistance in the Holocaust, one topic that tends to get overlooked is escape and evasion. But, in fact, that is how a significant number of Jews fought for their lives after the Nazis began the Final Solution. One recent study of the Holocaust in Polish small towns and rural areas revealed that of the 1,250,000 Jews who lived in these places, as many as 150,000 tried to evade death by hunkering down in hideouts, fleeing into the forests, securing false documents, seeking help and shelter from Polish peasants, and devising other survival strategies. The odds were stacked against them, and most were informed on and murdered, often by people they trusted. Fewer than one in three lived to see the liberation, and those who did needed not just luck but also the help of trustworthy non-Jews. But their struggle to survive reminds us that, in the face of Nazi terror and humiliation, many Jews—far from being passive and cowed victims—summoned the will and the agency to fight for their lives.

As the remarkable story of Annelies Herz shows, Jews in Germany drew on that same determination and resourcefulness to survive. Especially in Berlin, many Jews became, in the slang of the time, “U-boats.” They lived under the radar, some with false papers, some in hiding, some constantly on the run, going from one place to another, staying just a few steps ahead of the police. Richard Lutjens’s important study, Submerged on the Surface, reveals that in Berlin alone, 6,500 Jews tried to go into hiding or live under false identities between 1941 and 1945. Of these, about 1,700 survived—Annelies Herz and her sister, Marianne, among them. Theirs is a story of luck, daring, brazenness, and hard-headed calculation.

Annelies Bernstein was born in the East Prussian city of Königsberg (now Kaliningrad, Russia) in 1922. She had two siblings: her twin sister, Marianne, and a younger brother, Benno. Their father was a respected banker. The Jewish community, small but economically secure, numbered about 3,500 when the Nazis came to power in 1933. Annelies’s early childhood was a happy one, and she had fond memories of summers spent at a family beach house on the nearby Baltic shore. But that happy home life was shattered when Annelies was 10 and her father, falsely accused of financial irregularities, took his own life. Meanwhile, even as a young girl, Annelies could sense that life in Königsberg was precarious; the Nazis were particularly popular in East Prussia, even before Hitler became chancellor in 1933. 

In her important book, Between Dignity and Despair: Jewish Life in Nazi Germany, Marion Kaplan uses the term “social death” to describe the steadily deteriorating position of German Jewry after Hitler came to power. Ostracism by their non-Jewish neighbors began early. And then the vise tightened: the elimination of Jews from the civil service, expulsions from schools, the enactment of the Nuremberg Laws, and the expropriation of property. After Kristallnacht in November 1938, the legal assault accelerated in the form of special identification cards, the mandatory use of “Jewish names,” forced labor, restrictions on the use of public transport, forced residence in special “Jewish buildings,” and, in September 1941, the compulsory wearing of a Jewish star. 

Deportations of Jews from the Reich “to the east” began in October 1941. By then, Annelies and Marianne were living in Berlin. Benno had been sent to live with relatives in Riga, Latvia, and later perished there. Their mother, who had stayed behind in Königsberg, was ordered to leave on an early transport. When the first deportations started, Jews still had little inkling about where they were going, so Annelies asked that she and her sister be allowed to join her. In the first of many strokes of luck, the SS denied Annelies’s request. Her mother never returned.

At the time, 73,842 Jews were living in Berlin. Annelies recalled the daily humiliations and gratuitous torment that the Nazis inflicted on them. For example, Jews could use public transport only if they lived more than seven miles from their place of work. They were only allowed to shop at fixed times, which usually conflicted with their labor obligations. And in the factory where she worked, Annelies was denied the mask and protective gear that German laborers got. 

By 1943, the only Jews living legally in Berlin were those in mixed marriages, certain foreign citizens, and the more than 15,000 who worked in armament plants, including Annelies and Marianne. Although the Jewish armament workers had won reprieve after reprieve, Joseph Goebbels wanted them deported, and in late February 1943 they were all rounded up in what came to be called the Große Fabrik-Aktion. Many killed themselves; many more, like Annelies and Marianne, refused to report and became “U-boats.”

(Although the dates that Annelies provided in her testimony differ, one can infer that she and her sister decided to go on the run in February 1943. There would have been no compelling reason to do so before the Große Fabrik-Aktion. Furthermore, she mentioned air raids in this part of her account, which did not really become a serious threat to Berliners until 1943.) 

In a remarkable display of daring, initiative, and sheer bluff, Annelies claimed that she and her sister had lost their documents in the bombing and wangled a postal identification card, which, for a time, helped them secure ration cards and get past random inspections. Annelies’s underground journey included a waitressing stint in a restaurant across the street from a concentration camp. A German fellow waiter who discovered her secret blackmailed her into having sex with him. Her subsequent pregnancy and the harrowing story of her abortion underscore both her vulnerability and the strength of her will to survive.

Another revealing incident was her narrow escape from the clutches of a Greifer (“catcher”), a Jew used by the Gestapo to identify other Jews in hiding. These Gestapo agents, who were promised their own lives in exchange, were extremely effective. One notorious Greiferin, Stella Goldschlag, is said to have found between 500 and 2,000 Jews!

As the Soviets approached Berlin and bitter fighting raged in and around the city, hopes for imminent liberation were tempered with new worries: being killed in the bombardments, being tracked down at the last minute by fanatical Nazi patrols, and the fear of rape by Red Army soldiers. But Annelies and her sister survived and, thanks to an uncle, were able to immigrate to the United States, where they settled in New York City. In 1953 Annelies married Helmut Herz. The couple settled in Queens, where they had a son, Jeffrey. Marianne and Annelies remained inseparable until Marianne’s death in 1987. Annelies Herz passed away on December 15, 2000. She was survived by her husband, her son, and two grandchildren.

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Additional readings and information

Annelies’s unedited testimony at the Fortunoff Video Archive (available at access sites worldwide): https://fortunoff.aviaryplatform.com/collections/5/collection_resources/1932/.

Kaplan, Marion. Between Dignity and Despair: Jewish Life in Nazi Germany. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Lutjens, Richard N. Submerged on the Surface: The Not-So-Hidden Jews of Nazi Berlin, 1941–1945. New York, NY: Berghahn Books, 2019.

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