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‘The Nazis Knew My Name’ tells heroic true story of a woman who saved lives at Auschwitz – Press Telegram

When Magda Hellinger was 87, she sat down and wrote a book about surviving for three years in Auschwitz during the Holocaust. Her beloved husband, Bella, who had also been in the camp for three years, had died at the age of 92 the year before, and Hellinger put pen to paper to provide lasting proof of what the Nazis had done.

“My mother’s purpose in writing the book was to stop Holocaust denial and help fight anti-Semitism,” says her daughter, Maya Lee. “Her struggle went beyond the human imagination. What the Nazis did was evil and inhuman. She wrote about it because she wanted the world to know so that people would learn.”

Hellinger told his daughters these horrible truths when they were children in Israel and then in Australia (where Lee still lives), but they finally did what all children do with their parents: they put their eyes on it and asked their mother to stop telling them. old stories. .

“She always wanted to tell her story, but when we were kids we weren’t listening,” Lee says.

And like so many children, Lee began to appreciate late what his mother had to say, and he also recognized the historical significance. So when Hellinger wrote his saga, Lee offered to help edit it. “After ten pages, he lost his temper and said it was enough,” Lee recalled recently in a video interview. Hellinger printed a small batch of books and sold them to raise money for a charity.

But after Hellinger’s death in 2006, Lee decided that his mother’s story deserved a fuller story and a wider audience. She brought it to life in the very detailed and grimly compelling book, “The Nazis Knew My Name,” which credits the mother and daughter as co-authors.

“I would be very proud; that’s what she wanted, ”Lee says.

The book tells an intensely personal experience of the extermination camps while documenting how the Nazis operated, using Jewish prisoners to work while developing, as Lee says, a “systematic and standardized” approach to murder (though Nazi officers would also torture and kill on a whim without punishment).

Lee developed the original book and kept the narrative in his mother’s voice by listening to oral histories that Hellinger provided in the 1980s and 1990s to Holocaust museums in Israel, Australia, and America, and to the Steven Spielberg Shoah Foundation. Those testimonies offered facts and stories that were left out when old Hellinger wrote her story. Lee also discovered that his mother frequently interviewed academics and writers by mail … and photocopied all of his answers, providing another treasure trove of information.

“It was great to find all of these letters in more detail,” Lee says.

But Lee knew that he also needed to strengthen his mother’s story: because Hellinger, who grew up in Czechoslovakia, spoke German fluently, he spent most of his time in Auschwitz as an official in charge of supervising hundreds or thousands of women at a time.

“She was in this place and had no choice, the only option was to survive,” Lee says.

A natural leader and a kindergarten teacher who knew how to nurture and make people work together, Hellinger constantly broke the rules and challenged authority, keeping quiet even at gunpoint. “My mom had to be wary of not doing anything that could be shot, but she wasn’t afraid,” Lee says. “She also knew how far she could go.”

The title derives from the Nazi dehumanization technique of tattooing numbers on the arms of prisoners and referring to them only by that number: Hellinger was 2318 years old, but because of everything he achieved many senior Nazi officials knew and addressed her by name.

After the war, many people in positions of power in the camp were accused of being collaborators. Lee’s research found that Hellinger herself had faced several audiences, but that there was growing evidence that not only was Hellinger not a collaborator, but she had also risked her own life countless times to improve or save lives (in some cases only temporarily). ). of course) of thousands of women.

“She knew she was doing the right thing,” Lee says, but to make sure the reader understood what had really happened, Lee reinforced her mother’s story; a cousin gave her survivor testimony she had interviewed about Hellinger and Lee found more evidence in the museum archives. He also included excerpts from articles, such as the one published in Tel Aviv in 1953 by Dr. Gisella Perl, a Romanian Jewish gynecologist, who proclaimed Hellinger “a righteous person … Someone who, everywhere and at all times, has kindly helped us.” he defended them and saved them. “

“I wanted to include them in the book because I wanted my mother’s whole story to be told and verified,” Lee says. “I wish I had the sense to ask her about all this when she was alive. I just know what happened to her through my investigation.”

Lee adds that one of the most notable aspects of his mother’s story was that his ability to survive matched his ability to keep his eyes on the present and the future. “When he left Auschwitz, he left Auschwitz behind and moved on,” says Lee, adding that Hellinger even had his daughters visit cousins ​​who had reported Hellinger after the war for slapping them on Auschwitz when they behaved in a way that got them. murdered. “She just didn’t take the trauma. She was an incredibly strong and pragmatic woman.”

‘The Nazis Knew My Name’ tells heroic true story of a woman who saved lives at Auschwitz – Press Telegram Source link ‘The Nazis Knew My Name’ tells heroic true story of a woman who saved lives at Auschwitz – Press Telegram

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