La Jolla Holocaust survivor Edy Lange and Del Mar Heights student Madeleine (Maddy) Jennewein were recently in Sacramento to commemorate California's annual Holocaust Memorial Week.
Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, R-San Diego, invited them after Maddy interviewed Lange and wrote an essay about Lange's experience living in and then fleeing Nazi-occupied Austria.
Maddy's essay and those written by other California students are available in the 2009 California Holocaust Memorial Project Book.
"My entire life changed in the course of one day - March 12, 1938," Lange said in a news release issued by Fletcher's office. "From my family's apartment in Vienna, I saw Hitler and his soldiers enter the city. That night, my father's business was destroyed, my school was closed and my family began to experience terrible prejudice."
Lange and her father sent letters to mayors and chief rabbis in large American cities, seeking sponsors so they could travel to America. The mayor of Minneapolis responded to the request, and Lange and her father sailed to America on the Queen Mary.
Maddy's full essay:
Leaving for Minneapolis
By Madeleine Jennewein
For the Holocaust Memorial Project
Not every Holocaust story is a story of concentration camps or resistance. Some Holocaust survivors are the lucky ones who got out just before the worst atrocities began. One of these survivors is Edy Lange who survived almost a year in Nazi occupied Austria before she sailed for America on the Queen Mary.
Edy Lange never expected the Holocaust. She grew up in Vienna, Austria, relatively sheltered from the Nazi regime burgeoning nextdoor. Edy was born on Feb. 19, 1923, as Edith Sonnenshein. She lost her mother at a very young age and lived with her brother, stepmother and an emotionally distant father. She lived a good life with school, friends and family until the German invasion that would change everything.
On March 12, 1938, as the family celebrated Edy's brother's birthday, the German army marched into Vienna. From this moment on her life would never be the same again. In that instant, her family lost everything. That night, her father's stationery store was smashed and looted; the next day the owner was not her father but a German shop-girl. In that one night other aspects of Edy's life changed forever too. Her high school, owned by a Jewish woman, closed and Edy was apprenticed to a seamstress simply to fill her time.
Immediately, the family knew that they would have to leave Austria. Even as most Jews stayed, refusing to believe the tales of death camps, Edy's father, motivated by a complete loss of income, fought to get the family free. To stay afloat that one perilous year, the family rented two of their rooms to an opera singer. Miraculously, it was this tenant who saved the family during that year by hanging a Nazi flag in the window.
Only a few weeks after the German invasion, Edy found herself standing in line for three days simply to gain a passport. While waiting, Edy and her father came up with an ingenious plan to speed their freedom, they would write letters. Knowing almost nothing about America, they picked ten of the largest cities and naively decided to write to the mayor and Chief Rabbi of each (unbeknownst to them, cities in America do not have Chief Rabbis).
In complete secrecy Edy and her father Josef wrote the letters, mailing each at a separate mailbox. In November of that year, after waiting through almost eight months and many apologetic refusals, Edy and her father received a cable from Minneapolis contained only five words but giving them hope enough to carry the family through many more months of oppression. "Help is on its way."
Soon the family, barred as Jews from any form of transportation, found themselves walking miles and miles from their home in Vienna to the American Embassy. After two attempts, the first thwarted by the foreign holiday of Thanksgiving, Edy and her family received their affidavit, signed by some unknown benevolent soul in America. The family had to wait three more months for their departure in late February. Leaving behind family, friends and Edy's brother, they sailed off on the Queen Mary toward New York.
When Edy and her family docked, they found a new and unfamiliar country, dissimilar from their Vienna home. After one more week of disoriented travel, the family found its way to Minneapolis where a synagogue had asked a congregant to sponsor them in. Edy received no welcome but instead walked with her father from the train station into the suburbs to find the house of the congregant who signed their affidavit. Here she was really welcomed to America with a giant meal that she can still remember to this day.
Even though Edy was lucky to escape Austria, the holocaust and the war formed a sharp boundary in her life that changed her forever. Only one day after reaching Minneapolis, Edy and her father parted company forever and she was left, at age 16, to support herself. Edy soon found a job in a textile factory and a friendly house in which to board. Edy joined many Jewish youth groups, which allowed her to meet her first husband, an ensign in the navy. Sadly, he was killed in the war.
Soon she met her second husband, Rolf Lange. With him she had three children and raised Rolf's two others. To this day Edy continues to help others, perpetuating the values of community service that she learned as a child. She writes regularly to servicemen and women in Iraq and Afghanistan and to sponsor a Passover Seder for Jewish servicemen.