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'The Hands of War': A Washingtonian Reflects On Childhood Consumed By Conflict

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Marione and her mother before the bombings began.
Marione Ingram
Marione and her mother before the bombings began.

Marione Ingram, 77, says if it weren't for one of the 20th century's worst firestorms, she may have been lost in the 20th century's worst genocide.

Ingram grew up Jewish in Hamburg, Germany in the late 1930s and early 1940s, and recounts the infamous 1943 bombing of her town in her new memoir, "The Hands of War: A Tale of Endurance and Hope, From a Survivor of the Holocaust."

"We had gotten a notice to report to the place where all the Jews were rounded up," Ingram recalls. "My mother tried to commit suicide, and I found her and managed to pull her away from the gas oven."

As the bombing began, Ingram says she and her mother were barred from the bomb shelters because they were Jewish, a fact made evident by the bright yellow Stars of David they were forced to wear on their clothing.

"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," she says.

Surviving war as a child

Ingram begins the book by describing herself as a child of war: "As a tree may be forced by fire or lightening to bloom in winter," she writes, "a child can be compelled to become an adult long before it is time. I was such a child."

"Starting as a 5-year-old, I was aware that there were forces that wanted to kill me," Ingram explains. "And because we were so isolated, because all of my mother's family had already been exterminated, 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 have to be more grown up than your years would indicate."

Ingram says although she was 10 when the war ended, she never really was "a 10-year-old."

"I don't even know what being a 10-year-old girl is like," she says. "I cannot even imagine it. I get it from books. I see it in friends who have daughters, and [my husband] 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."

While Ingram spends the majority of the book telling her own tale, she devotes an entire chapter to "Uri's Story": Uri being an angry and withdrawn Jewish youth whom she met at Blankenese, an estate/school for Jewish orphans from the Bergen-Belsen camp, as well as other Jewish youths displaced during the war.

Ingram says she included this chapter because Uri's story was different from hers. His family was killed, only he and his sister remained.

"He is the more typical Holocaust survivor in as much as he had been in a concentration camp, and he had suffered an entirely different war than I had — his in many ways, far more cruel than mine because 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."

A timeless lesson

As Ingram's first love, Uri left an indelible mark on her. Not only has she thought of him much through the years, and pondered his whereabouts, but she's also held on to a lesson he taught her back at school.

"I very much wanted a watch," she recalls. "This was post-war, and we were in Blankenese, 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 bribe him into friendship. And Uri took the watch, looked at it, and threw it on the ground and stomped on it."

Rather than being angry or sad, Ingram says she was nothing short of impressed: "my eyes were popped wide-open and I'm thinking that at that moment I really loved Uri."

As to why Uri responded the way he did, Ingram says he later opened up to her and confessed that he didn't want a watch since back at the concentration camp, "everything was done by the watch. And the only people who had watches were the guards and the people in charge. Anybody who ever had a watch, it was confiscated. So nobody had watches, except the people who imprisoned us."

Ever since then, Marione Ingram has refused to wear a watch.

"I have not worn a watch since," she says with a smile. "I do not intend to wear one. And I don't want anybody to give me one!"

[Music: "Grande Polonaise For Piano and Orchestra, Op. 22: Andante Spianato in G Major" by Janusz Olejniczak from The Pianist (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)]

Marione Ingram reading from her chapter, “Gomorrah”

Marione Ingram reading from her chapter, “New Worlds”

Photos: "The Hands of War"


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