Marian, The Holocaust, and Me
By Derek Eyster
Simi Valley, CA


 

There is a very old doll on the shelf of the china cabinet in my dining room. It is not a beautiful doll by anyone's standards. The paint under one eye is chipped, the head under the long braids is soft, and the German clothes it is wearing are worn and frayed. As a boy raised Catholic, without fear or prejudice, the Holocaust may seem to be an unlikely presence in my life. This however, is far from the truth. My knowledge of this violent period in Jewish history may appear to be confined to minor things. On the History Channel I've seen the frightening carnage and despair of concentration camps. I've read Anne Frank, visited the Museum of Tolerance, and watched Schindler's List. But because of the old doll, I have felt much more of those terrible times on a personal level. The doll's name is Marian, and she belonged to my grandmother.

My grandmother, Grete Dotzauer Edwards, was born in the small town of Thalmassing Germany in 1923. Her family had lived in this town for centuries, her Jewish family coexisting peacefully with their Christian neighbors. Then Hitler's power began. As survivor Eva Galler says: " The neighbors turned into enemies. The neighbors who weren't Jewish didn't want to know us anymore. They were friends before. During the war when everybody tried to kill us, nobody helped." This was certainly true for my grandmother. Her happy childhood changed in terrible ways that no child should have to endure. Slowly, her non-Jewish friends became distant as their parents refused to allow them to associate with her anymore. Today I react with rage, thinking of that little girl who is now my grandmother, being denied the small pleasures of friendship and play.

Around this time, while visiting the large town of Munich for dental work, she spotted a beautiful doll in the window of a sizeable department store. She returned time and again to look at the doll she so coveted. Her Aunt Martha, who was a very loving person, took note of the childish longing and eventually surprised her with the doll as a gift. My grandmother proudly took her back to Thalmassing, where she spent many long hours playing with her. In the absence of friends, she talked to the doll, whom she named Marian, made her clothes, and shared her secrets with her. Meanwhile, as Hitler's power grew, her mother (my great-grandmother who died last year at the age of 98) had the foresight to come to America alone to work and save money for my grandmother's passage. When it came time to leave Germany, although she was now 14 years old, Grandma hated the thought of leaving Marian behind.

Her Aunt Martha accompanied her to Hamburg, where she prepared to board the USS Washington to America. While there, she noticed a large box with her name on it placed next to her luggage. When she picked it up, she heard the word "Mama" call out from the box. It was Marian! It was, once again, another kindness from Aunt Martha. She was thrilled and carried the doll across the ocean to New York, and on the train all the way to Cincinnati by way of Cleveland to her new life in America.

Despite the difficulties of adjustment, particularly learning a new language, she readily made friends and embraced her new life. Being almost 15, she no longer needed to escape into a world of fantasy with Marian. Her Aunt Martha and a few other relatives eventually made their way to this country as well. She did, however, suffer the loss of many
family members, including her beloved grandfather to the brutal Dachau concentration camp. She became an American citizen, graduated high school, nursing school, and became a member of the US Army Nursing Corps. She married my grandfather nearly 55 years ago and raised her
three children. Marian stayed in a box in her garage for many years until she eventually gave her to her daughter, my mom.

Marian is more than an old family heirloom. She is a symbol of suffering and hope, loss and triumph. She stands for childish dreams that the worst hatred imaginable could not erase. She shows that despite the inhumanities of the Holocaust, a strong and wonderful people were able to survive and flourish. This old doll, and all she represents, is a triumph of one little girl's life.

The question remains: what can I, as a student do, to ensure that this type of discrimination does not affect our world today? I believe the answer is in education, particularly of those people of other faiths who are not as familiar with the Holocaust's horrors as they should be. Who better than I, the son of a Protestant father, Catholic mother, and grandson of a Jewish survivor to share the story of Marian? Bombarded daily with violent images, people become immune to events of more than 60 years ago, no matter how terrible. I can tell my Confirmation class at church, members of my Scout troop, and students in my classes at school about a doll and a little girl that could be anyone's daughter. By putting a personal face on this terrible time in history I know people will listen, even to a young person like me. As Anne Frank noted in her famous diary: "...you don't know how great you can be ... what you can accomplish! And what your potential is!" This inhumanity cannot happen again if we are willing to learn, and are ready to take action against those who refuse to do so. As a human being, as a person of faith, as the grandson of a survivor, and the great-great grandson of a victim, I can do nothing less.


Works Cited:


Edwards, Grete. Personal Interview. 23 March 2003.

Frank, Anne. The Diary of Anne FFA. Macmillan Press, 1980: New York http://www.holocaustsurvivors.org

 

 


The opinions, comments, and sentiments expressed by the participants are not necessarily those of Holland & Knight LLP or the Holland & Knight Charitable Foundation, Inc.

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