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Reform Magazine | December 7, 2023

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Lights in darkness

Lights in darkness

Hans Wuerth tells a story from the Holocaust, published in English for the first time

Warned by a neighbour of their imminent arrest, on 29 January 1943, Max and Karoline Krakauer, a German Jewish couple, went on the run. They kept it up for more than two years, without once staying so long as a month at the home of a rescuer. As they fled from one shelter to another, covering many hundreds of miles, they were harboured in 66 homes throughout Germany. The majority of their rescuers were Protestant pastors, their wives, and other family members.

Max published a memoir of their experiences in 1947, Lights in Darkness, one of the first autobiographical accounts of a Holocaust survivor. It is a very personal and intuitive recollection of how, where, and why he and his wife were able to endure the trauma of being pursued relentlessly by Nazi government officials, and to stay alive in a climate of antisemitism, segregation, hatred, persecution, war, and genocide.

How many Jews lived in Germany between 1933 and 1945? When the National Socialists gained power in January 1933, the Jewish population numbered approximately 500,000, less than 1% of Germany’s population, one-third of them in Berlin. By October 1941, 275,000 had emigrated. In early 1943, only 20,000 Jews remained in Germany. Of those in hiding, approximately 3,000 to 5,000 survived. The Krakauers’ survival was due to their perseverance, the remarkable assistance by their Christian helpers, and, Krakauer never failed to add, God’s protection.

The Krakauers tried to emigrate from Nazi Germany without success after the confiscation of Max’s lucrative business, a film rental agency in Leipzig. In January 1939 their daughter, Inge, escaped to England, but they were subjected to hard and dehumanising forced labour (Zwangsarbeit) in Berlin. This continued until both went underground in January 1943, having taken this drastic measure at the last possible moment, and literally only a few steps ahead of the Gestapo. Illegally travelling on foot and by public transport that was controlled by police, carrying false identify papers, and having little or no money or food, they initially stayed at seven places in Berlin. Subsequently, they were advised by members of the Confessing Church to take a precarious but necessary train ride to Pomerania, east of the Oder River. …

Hans Wuerth was professor of German language and literature at Moravian college, Pennsylvania. He is now professor emeritus. His translation of Lights in Darkness is available as an ebook


This is an extract from the October 2013 edition of  Reform.

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