By Ethan Del Campo, Staff Intern
Inge Seymour was a half-Jewish, 11-year old girl when Adolf Hitler and his regime marched through her hometown of Vienna, Austria in 1938.
Seymour, now 93, vividly describes how her life turned upside down from then.
“Up until March 1938 and my age of 11, my life was very good. We lived in an upscale district of Vienna, we had a summer home on the banks of the Danube, and we had a car,” she recalled. “But my father was Catholic, my mother was born Jewish, and I was raised as a Catholic. The (Nuremberg) laws were such that if a person was born Jewish, a conversion did not matter.”
The Nuremberg Laws, enacted by Nazi Germany in 1935, classified the population according to percentages of Jewish background and determined whether or not they could be considered full citizens or were approved to marry and have children. As Seymour was half-Jewish, she could not marry, because doing so according to the Nuremberg Laws, would contaminate Hitler’s Aryan race. These laws did not affect her until Hitler invaded Austria in 1938.
“My good life changed rapidly — all school children had to join the Hitler Youth, whether they liked it or not,” Seymour said. “Of course, half Jews were not allowed to join the Hitler Youth, and because all of the other students now wore the uniform of the Hitler Youth, I stuck out as the one to be bullied and quite often spat at,” she said.
“There were still a number of Jewish girls in my class, but they soon left the country with their parents. It was very difficult for Jewish families to get visas allowing them into foreign countries and many parents sent their children on ‘Kindertransports,’ mostly to England to make sure they were safe. For many, it was a last goodbye because their parents did not survive the extermination camps.”
Kindertransports, literally “Children’s Transports,” were a rescue mission that took in 10,000 children to the United Kingdom from Nazi-occupied countries, as it was hard for Jewish adults to get visas to flee those countries, and many wanted their children to survive. A large percentage of these children were the only surviving members of their families during the Holocaust.
As Hitler’s laws and policies started becoming more dominant in Austria, Seymour got expelled from school at 13 because the school adopted a new policy sanctioned by Hitler stating that half-Jewish children were no longer allowed to attend school. Thankfully, her parents hired a tutor and she taught herself English. A few years later, her parents enrolled her in a private secretarial school for two years.
“My mother’s freedoms started disappearing,” Seymour said. “We had to sell our summer home because she was not allowed to go there. Jews were not allowed to sit on park benches. And wherever you went, people stuck out their right arm and praised Hitler. Because my father was Christian, my mother had some protection — she didn’t have to wear the yellow star which other Jews had to wear. As a diabetic she was denied getting her life-saving insulin and my father had to buy it on the black market. We lived in constant fear of being picked up and sent to a concentration camp, because I was born with a paralyzed left arm. I would not have survived a day — anybody with a physical defect wound up in the ovens.”
The fact that Jewish people were being taken away to concentration camps didn’t strike her as reality until this.
“One day, it was a bitter cold and windy winter day with snow and ice on the ground, and I took my most loyal companion, my Irish terrier, for a walk and we came to a railroad crossing where trains went east, likely towards the direction to Auschwitz Death Camp in Poland,” Seymour said. “We had to stand there for quite a long time to see a long train with freight cars, all, with closed doors. Suddenly I saw a human arm sticking out from an opening, then another, and another from the last car screaming ‘Help me, help me!’ I couldn’t understand that human beings were in those cattle cars. And as far as news went, it was propaganda.”
To counter the propaganda, the only other option for Seymour and her family was to listen to the BBC in London by radio. Seymour said the reception was poor and her family risked the death penalty for listening to an enemy station. However, Seymour felt it was worth it as the voice of Winston Churchill lifted their spirits.
“In 1944 I witnessed Marie Ausch, my beloved maternal grandmother, then 82 years old and almost totally blind, being picked up and shoved into a truck and taken to Theresienstadt Camp,” Seymour said. “After the war I found out she died three months after being taken. She is the reason why I converted to Judaism. I wanted to replace her! Also, my father who was in the textile business and probably known not to be a friend of the Nazis, was contacted by a French owner of a factory and asked for help for his youngest son Pierre, who was picked up in the street by the Germans and sent to a work camp near Vienna. My father went to see the camp commander and bribed him with some very valuable fabric for a suit and was able to bring this young man to our home. He could stay with us but had to show up to work every morning. It was a very dangerous thing to do because we had some members of the Nazi party living in our building and we had to keep Pierre’s presence away from them.”
Seymour met a Jewish-British soldier, Siegfried Spiegel, who moved out of Nazi territory. Spiegel lost both of his parents, as well as his siblings, during the Holocaust. In England, his name got changed to Sidney Seymour and married her.
Seymour feels that Holocaust history should be taught at every school, and describes people having tough times getting Holocaust history approved to be a part of the curriculum in multiple school districts.
“To the next generation, if you ever come across unfairness and injustice in life, do not look the other way, even if it’s an inconvenience,” Seymour said. “Speak up about it. It will do a lot for your self-esteem, and prevent another Holocaust.”