MS. REBECCA SHEIR
Welcome back to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir and this week we're throwing our usual thematic approach to the wind and brining you one of our Wild Cards shows. Coming up we're going to hit the stage in a very rural corner of Virginia and we're going to read from your letters. First though, we're going to meet a woman who bore witness to a major event in world history. And at the age of 77, has written a book all about it.
MS. MARIONE INGRAM
"Mother thoroughly dampened her blanket and draped it over us. The terrible explosions seemed to have abated, although hundreds of incendiary bombs had fallen close by, some landing in rubble no more than a dozen yards away."
That's D.C. resident Marione Ingram, reading from her brand new memoir, "The Hands of War: A Tale of Endurance and Hope, From a Survivor of the Holocaust."
"As the phosphorus burned and dripped its way through floor after floor it looked like the lights were being turned on by someone descending methodically through the building."
Ingram grew up Jewish in Hamburg, Germany, in the late 1930s and early 1940s. And the passage she's reading here recounts the infamous bombing of Hamburg in 1943. I recently visited Ingram at her home in Foggy Bottom to learn more about the book and the bombing, which she says actually, miraculously, saved her and her family from being sent to the concentration camps.
We had gotten a notice to report to the place where all the Jews were rounded up. A place called the (word?) by the University of Hamburg and in front of a train station. Oh, my mother tried to commit suicide and I found her and managed to pull her away from the gas oven and she revived. And the firebombing, oh, we were not allowed to go into bomb shelters because we were Jews. We wore the Star of David on our clothing. So we went into hiding for a year and a half, for the rest of the war. And miraculously survived both the genocide as well as the 10-day and 10-night bombing of civilians.
Right off the bat in the book you refer to yourself as a child of war. In fact, the very first line in the book, it's so poetic, I want to read it right now. "As a tree may be forced by fire or lightening to bloom in winter, a child can be compelled to become an adult long before it is time. I was such a child." What are some ways you were forced into adulthood long before it is time, as you say?
You know, starting as a five year old, I was aware that there were forces who wanted to kill me. And because we were so isolated, because all of my mother's family had already been exterminated, there was no group, there were no children to play with. So you start asking yourself as a child, why is this? Why are people trying to kill me? What have I done? Why is being Jewish a reason to kill me? All of these things add to the sense that you had to be more grown up than your years would indicate.
I was a 10 year old when the war ended and I was not a 10 year old. I don't even know what being a 10-year-old girl is like. I cannot even imagine it. I get it from books. I see it in friends who have daughters and Daniel and I have two amazing grandsons. But I really also would have liked to have a granddaughter, because I wanted to see what it was like to be a girl child.
One part of the book that I find so every fascinating is the chapter devoted to Uri's story, Uri being -- I don't know how to describe him -- a rather distinctive fellow Jewish student to whom you took quite a shining. What was your motivation from taking a break from your own story for an entire chapter and dedicating that chapter to telling his tale?
Because his story was different from mine. His family was killed. It remained only Uri and his sister. And he is the more typical Holocaust survivor in as much as he had been in concentration camp and he had suffered an entirely different war than I had, his in many ways, far more cruel than mine because I would up at the end of the war, I didn't have any other relatives, but I still had a mother and a father and my two sisters. Uri had no one.
Speaking of Uri, there's a very significant passage in the book about a wristwatch. And I notice you are not wearing a wristwatch right now. Can you talk about the meaning of the wristwatch?
Yes. I very much wanted a watch. This was post-war and we were in Blankenese in the school set up for children of Bergen-Belsen and some children who had been wandering around Europe and I actually got a watch. And that was also the time when I was trying to talk to Uri and he wouldn't talk to me. So one afternoon I decided to give Uri my watch to, you know, bribe him into friendship. And Uri took the watch, looked at it and threw it on the ground and stomped on it.
And for some reason it just impressed me to no end. You know, my eyes were popped wide open and I'm thinking that at that moment I really loved Uri.
Uri later told you the full story...
...as to why he reacted so strongly. Can you share that?
Well, that's when Uri began to talk to me about his experiences and his story. And one of the reasons he said that he didn't want a watch is because everything was done by the watch. And the only people who had watches were the guards and the people in charge. And anybody who ever had a watch, it was confiscated. So nobody had watches, except the people who imprisoned us.
And you haven't worn one since?
No. I've not worn a watch since. And I do not intend to wear one. And I don't want anybody to give me one either.
Marione Ingram is the author of "The Hands of War," just out from Sky Horse Publishing. You can hear Marione reading some more passages from her memoir on our website, metroconnection.org. And if you'd like to see Marione reading in person, she'll be at Politics and Prose, Saturday afternoon at 3:00. We have more information about that event on metroconnection.org, too.
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