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Interview with a Survivor: Charlotte Guthmann Opfermann

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An interview with Charlotte Guthmann Opfermann, a survivor of the Theresienstadt Ghetto.

I was born in Wiesbaden, Germany, and attended public school there until the restrictive anti-Jewish legislation made this impossible.

My father was a prominent Jewish attorney in this town of -then- 260,000, my Uncle was a "Justizrat" (court counselor, a title conferred by the Kaiser to deserving lawyers) and it was understood that my older brother and I would study law and follow these footsteps. My father was an elected member of the administrative board of the largest (3000+ members in 1933) Jewish congregation and its elected secular leader and spokesperson during the most difficult years, 1938-1943.

The name of that particular synagogue was (using the street address) the Michelsberg Synagogue of Wiesbaden. It was built in the middle 1800s forming a conspicuous triangle in the center of town with a Protestant and an old Catholic church at the other two points--signifying the equal/common spiritual orientation towards one G-d. There were about 8 or more other, much smaller Jewish congregations in town, but the Michelsberg group was the largest, the most affluent, and its welfare program and educational efforts served and supported all the others. After this large and imposing edifice was totally destroyed during the November 10, 1938 murderous devastation known as Kristallnacht, the various congregations combined into one. From that time on, we worshipped at a smaller synagogue at a different address. This Friedrichstrasse synagogue escaped burning (was looted and desecrated, though), not out of any special consideration of mercy or concern but because it stood cheek-by-jowl next to the adjoining buildings on either side. They would certainly have gone up in flames as well.

My father was a prominent attorney in Wiesbaden from an assimilated German Jewish family. I had an older brother -- killed at Mauthausen in the Spring of 1945, just weeks before that camp complex was liberated by the US Third Army, after he had earlier experienced years in Theresienstadt, Auschwitz, Sachsenhausen, [and] Buchenwald concentration camps. My brother and my plans to study law and to follow my father's and uncle's footsteps came to naught when all education for Jewish children was canceled.

I spent my teenage years as a prisoner of the Nazis. My father initially declined opportunities to leave the country, stating that he had to help his clients and the members of the congregation first. When these efforts had been largely successful (more than half our membership emigrated to freedom), the situation had become much more difficult. In spite of extensive efforts and in spite of spending very large sums of money, we were unable to leave the country and, in due course, my entire family was sent to the concentration camps and ghettos in the East and killed--Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Mauthausen, Lodz, Riga, Theresienstadt and others.

By the end of 1942 there were only three Jewish families left in town, all others having been deported earlier. The local "Judenreferent" (Jew specialist) at the Gestapo informed my father that all of us would be deported to Frankfurt. We had a few days notice. We were sent to a collection point in Frankfurt where to-be-deported Jews were gathered prior to the actual transport.

I was 17 years old when we were arrested and deported.

I was terrified when we entered Theresienstadt. I knew a little bit about this camp, because several weeks earlier when my grandfather and all of our friends and my father's clients were deported there, my father had sent a courageous Christian friend and colleague to travel there and report back what he could observe from the outside and, if possible, to make contact with prisoners. I also knew that any concentration camp meant death. I did not know how we would die, however.

Our entire family was deported together, but we were not together for long. My father and brother were re-deported to Auschwitz. My father was killed upon arrival; my brother survived many subsequent death march re-deportations. He was seen at KZ Buchenwald, listed on the roster of KZ Oranienburg and, finally, killed at KZ Mauthausen just before the liberation of that camp.

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