By Leo Adam Biga
Originally appeared in the Omaha "Jewish Press"
Hanne Wolf of Albion, Nebraska - Condensed from Mrs. Wolf’s autobiography, A Child of Two Worlds
Hanne Lore “Hannie” Wolf was born in 1925 in Ulm, a city in southern Germany on the Danube. She was the only child of Felix Baer (7/4/1894 to 6/30/1965), a successful grain dealer, and Hilde Frankfurter (1903-?).
Prior to Hitler’s coming to power in 1933 German Jews, Catholics and Protestants freely associated. After 1933, when the Jews began to be blamed for all of Germany’s problems, Christians were forbidden from associating with Jews. Hannie, though, continued to communicate with her best friend who lived above her, a Catholic girl, Rosemarie Lang, by talking through the bathroom water pipes. Jews were also forbidden to shop at stores and eat in restaurants. Over time it became necessary for Jewish children to move about in groups for their own safety. Even then they were spat upon, had rocks thrown at them and were called “dirty Jews.”
Hannie’s father’s business began to suffer because Christians stopped doing business with him. One day he referred to Hitler as a “fool” to a supposed friend who reported him to the police. He was arrested and the next day his picture appeared in the newspaper as “The Chief of the Jews.”
Because they couldn’t frequent the same places they once had, the Jews in Ulm formed their own sports and music clubs, were active in theatre productions and developed their own school. But over time they were forced to hardly venture out at all.
The Polish Jews living in Ulm were “resettled” in Poland and never heard from again.
The Gestapo would often arrive unexpectedly in the night. They would search the Baer’s apartment, taking anything they wanted - including the prized family radio. One time they tore the family’s grandfather clock apart looking for hidden weapons.
From Hannie’s book: “Disaster struck on November 7, 1938. Hershel Grynszpan, whose parents were among the Jews deported from Germany to Poland , assassinated Ernst von Rath, the Third Secretary of the German Embassy in Paris . As a reprisal the Nazis set off a night of plunder and burning. November 9, 1938 became known as the ‘Kristallnacht’ (night of broken crystal or glass). There were anti-Semitic riots all over Germany and Austria. Jewish businesses were looted and burned. Windows were broken and nearly all synagogues were burned to the ground.”
The Synagogue of Ulm was among those burned. Hannie’s father kept a small fragment of the remains, which is now on display in Temple Israel in Omaha. He wrote upon it in ink a message which translated reads, “This stone tells of suffering and pain. November 9, 1938.”
Again, from Hannie’s book: “During the riots, male Jews were arrested and sent to concentration camps. Papa, while wearing only his night clothes, was taken from his bed to be interrogated that the police station. His only crime was being a Jew. Mamma ran to the police station carrying some warm clothing. Her pleas for his release went unheeded. He was sent, along with others, to the concentration camp in Dachau where he remained for many weeks. While at the concentration camp he had a sad reunion with his brother Sigbert, who was arrested the same night…”
After a number of weeks, Hannie’s mother was able to find her husband’s military papers from WWI, allowing him to be released from Dachau. Hannie wrote “Papa was thin and gaunt when he returned from Dachau. He suffered from boils, his body was ailing and his spirit broken. From that time on he lived alone with his thoughts. Perhaps wanting to spare us the horror, he never divulged any of his experiences in the concentration camp. He took those secrets with him to the grave.”
When WWII began on September 1, 1939, Hannie’s father’s grain business was confiscated. There were frequent air raids on Ulm at night. Jews were not allowed in bomb shelters but the Baer’s landlord allowed them into his.
The family knew it had to immigrate to another country – preferably America. Many of Hannie’s father’s relatives lived in America and Martin Schuller and his wife Hattie ultimately sent an affidavit enabling them to come to America.
Hannie received her last report card from Jewish school in Ulm on February 29, 1940. By bribing officials, Hannie’s father arranged for them to travel from Berlin to Moscow in September 1940, and from there to Manchuria, Korea, Japan, British Columbia and finally to Seattle on Halloween of that year.
From Seattle they traveled to Portland and then over the holidays to Denver and then Golden Colorado. Hannie graduated from high school in 1943 and then studied at the Barnes Business College. She eventually found work as a secretary at a large insurance company. Her father worked as a custodian at the National Jewish Hospital and her mother as a clerk in a dime store.
The Baer’s became American citizens on May 2, 1946. Hannie married Bob Wolf in 1947, two weeks after having met him at a dance. Hannie’s father’s brother Siegbert survived the war doing hard labor in a stone quarry. Hannie’s father’s relatives Ernst Wolf and his daughter Marian both died in the Holocaust, as did Hannie’s friends Edith Weil and Bobby Hirsch. Most of Hannie’s mother’s family died in the Holocaust, including her grandmother Emmy.
Through the International Red Cross Hannie’s family received a last letter from Emmy on November 3, 1942. Hannie shared part of this in her book: “‘My Dears, These are my last lines to you. I am going into the unknown. I am well and hope you are the same. God Bless you. A hug and Kiss. Mother.’” Emmy was sent to Theresienstadt. She perished along with six million other Jews during the Holocaust. The site and date of her death are unknown.”