With quiet courage, Holocaust survivor shares childhood memories

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by Donna Schillaci

 

“I just put up a wall around myself. I had to accept what there was, because I had no way to change things.”

That’s the way Edith Maniker, a Kindertransport survivor who escaped Nazi persecution in Germany as an 8-year-old child, describes how she coped with the stresses and horrors of being a young Jewish exile living in England during World War II.


Maniker, who was born in Leipzig, Germany but now lives in  West Bloomfield, spoke Monday evening at an event organized by the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies (CHGS) at Muskegon Community College’s Sturrus Center.


The Kindertransport (German for "children's transport") was an organized rescue effort that took place prior to the outbreak of the war. The United Kingdom took in nearly 10,000 predominantly Jewish children from Germany, Austria, Czech-oslovakia, and Poland. Large groups of children traveled to England, aboard trains and boats, without their parents, and once there went to live in foster homes, hostels, schools, and farms.


Maniker says she was not afraid when her parents told her she had to leave, because they explained that she would meet up with her sister there (who had left a short time earlier) and that they would be joining her soon.


“And of course I believed my parents, so I never cried,” she says.


Later, she found out that her parents left Leipzig for Pales-tine, but got only as far as Budapest, where her father was interred. Maniken believes her father was sent to a concentration camp, and later took the death march to Auschwitz, where he was killed.


But in what was perhaps the saddest part of her recollection, Maniker says she has never been able to find out what happened to her mother. Her mother wrote to her regularly, but “suddenly the letters stopped. It was as if she was plucked out of the country and disappeared.”


While living as a child exile in England, Maniker experienced a variety of living conditions. She moved between a small London flat, a large mansion in the English countryside, and a refugee hostel, depending on the state of the war and how much money was available to take care of her. But through it all, she and her sister stayed together.


Maniker described one evening when she and her sister were living with a family in London, and the air raid sirens went off. The father asked everyone to come downstairs and wait with him until it was over. A bomb hit the house and the ceiling fell in where her sister had just been sleeping. “That saved my sister’s life,” Maniker says.


After the war, when Maniker was just 16, she and her sister moved to the United States, settling in the Detroit area where they had relatives. Although she struggled at first, she soon made her way, and met her future husband at B’nai B’rith. She now has three children, four granddaughters, and one great-grandchild.


“I have so much to be thankful for,” she says, “I feel very blessed and lucky.”


Although Maniker had vowed to never return to Germany, a few years ago she did just that, to honor the laying of stolpersteine (German for stumbling stones) commemorating her family members who died during the Holocaust. She even had a chance to visit the synagogue she and her family attended in Leipzig.


After concluding her talk, Maniker took questions from the crowd of about 100 (see photo on page 1), then shared smiles and hugs with many who came forward to speak with her (as seen in photo at left on page 6).


Earlier in the day, Maniker participated in an outreach program for Muskegon County high schools. She was also scheduled to speak at a Shoah Commemoration Service on Sunday, but that was cancelled due to the icy weather.


 All of these programs were sponsored by the CHGS, which has the stated purpose of “cultivating values to diffuse hate and encourage diversity.”


Members of the CHGS board who attended the event Monday are pictured in the photo at right on page 6: (left to right) Rabbi Alan Alpert of Congregation B’nai Israel; Sarah Woycehoski, a teacher at Fruitport High School; MCC Instructor George Maniates; Anna Alpert of Congregation B’nai Israel; and  Pastor Chris Anderson of Samuel Lutheran Church. Other board members are Trynette Lottie-Harps of MCC and David Kremm, vice-chair of the Muskegon Area Intermediate School District.


In keeping with the goals of CHGS, Maniker offered final words of advice for young people in the audience which she borrowed from another speaker, but which are also strongly rooted in the life she has lived.


 “Don’t let anyone teach you how to hate, and don’t teach anyone else how to hate.


“It doesn’t matter if we believe different things, as long as we are kind to one another. Racism and prejudice are poison.”

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