Thursday, December 31, 2009

#015: Ilse Sonja Totzke

ALONE AND FORGOTTEN: Ilse Sonja Totzke (1913?-????)
To the future or to the past, to a time when thought is free, when men are different from one another and do not live alone - to a time when truth exists and what is done cannot be undone: From the age of uniformity, from the age of solitude, from the age of Big Brother, from the age of doublethink - greetings!

- From the Diary of Winston Smith, April 4, 1984
In The Nazis, A Warning From History: Companion Volume to the BBC Television Series, by Lawrence Rees, (New Press, New York City, 1997) pp. 67-69, there is a discussion of the Gestapo files in Würzburg, which, almost unique in Germany, were found largely intact at the end of the war. The files contained information on a woman who otherwise would have been lost to human memory. Nobody had even heard of her before they found the file. The following quote is slightly edited.

Ilse Sonja Totzke went to Würzburg, Germany, as a music studient in the 1930s. [A Gestapo file in that city, still extant,] reveals that she became an object of suspicion for those around her. The first person to denounce her was a distant relative, who said that she was inclined to be too friendly to Jews and that she knew too much about things that should be of no concern to women, such as military matters. .This relative said that he felt driven to tell the Gestapo this because he was a reserve officer (though there was nothing in being a reserve officer that required him to do so).

Totzke was put under general surveillance by the Gestapo, but this surveillance took a strange form: it consisted of the Gestapo asking her neighbours to keep an eye on her.

There follows in the file a mass of contradictory evidence supplied by her neighbours. Sometimes Totzke gave the 'Hitler greeting' (Heil Hitler) and sometimes she didn't, but overall she made it clear that she was not going to avoid socializing with Jews (something which at this point was not a crime). One anonymous denouncer even hinted that Totzke might be a lesbian ('Miss Totzke doesn't seem to have normal predispositions'). But there is no concrete evidence that she had committed any offence.

Nonetheless, it was enough for the Gestapo to bring her in for questioning. The account of her interrogation in the file shows that she was bluntly warned about her attitude, but the Gestapo clearly didn't think she was a spy, or guilty of any of the outlandish accusations made against her. She was simply unconventional. The denunciations, however, kept coming in, and eventually the file landed on the desk of one of the most bloodthirsty Gestapo officials in Würzburg - Gormosky of Branch 2B, which dealt with Jews.

... in 1941, one of her neighbors denounced her, saying:

Ilse Sonja Totzke is a resident next door to us in a garden cottage. I noticed the above-named because she is of Jewish appearance.. . I should like to mention that Miss Totzke never responds to the German greeting [Hell Hitler]. I gathered from what she was saying that her attitude was anti-German. On the contrary she always favoured France and the Jews. Among other things, she told me that the German Army was not as well equipped as the French... Now and then a woman of about 36 years old comes and she is of Jewish appearance ... To my mind, Miss Totzke is behaving suspiciously. I thought she might be engaged in some kind of activity which is harmful to the German Reich.
On 28 October 1941 Totzke was summoned for an interrogation. The Gestapo kept an immaculate record of what was said. Totzke acknowledged that, 'If I have anything to do with Jews any more, I know that I can reckon on a concentration camp.'

But despite this, she still kept up her friendship with Jews and was ordered once more to report to the Gestapo. [In 1943, s]he took flight with a [Jewish] friend and tried to cross the border into Switzerland, but the Swiss customs officials turned her over to the German authorities. In the course of a long interrogation conducted in southwest Germany, she said:
I, for one, find the Nuremberg Laws and Nazi anti-Semitism to be totally unacceptable. I find it intolerable that such a country as Germany exists and I do not want to live here any longer.
Eventually, after another lengthy interrogation in Würzburg, Totzke was sent to the women's concentration camp at Ravensbrück....

In Saving the Jews: Amazing Stories of Men and Women who Defied the Final Solution, by Mordechai Palliel published ten years after the above account, it was revealed that she spent most of the war at Ravensbrück, was sent for several months to Auschwitz, then was returned to Ravensbrück, and was still alive at the time the camp was liberated by American forces in 1945.

Her ultimate fate to this day is unknown.

But this much is known:

Her name was placed on The Wall of Honor in Yad Vashem in 1995.


Poet David Clinch provides me the picture above plus the following poem in her memory. Posted with permission.

Dave Clinch

A Warning from History

From Gestapo photographs, Wurzburg

Ilse Sonja Totzke, born 1913

Look at you, looking at me
Out of the darkness
Unknown, alone, unfree

I am a warning
I am a warning from history

Look at me, I look like a boy – they said
Left side, right side, and ahead
The girl next door I will not be

I am a warning
I am a warning from history

The girl next door says I don’t ‘fit in’
Sees my friend, ‘she looks like a Jew’
(It’s my sexuality too)
Signs a letter, denouncing me

I am a warning
I am a warning from history

I welcome Jews and all nationalities
I despise your Nuremberg laws
I know the death camp waits for me

I am a warning
I am a warning from history

I look at you, now look at me
Out of the darkness
Unknown, alone, unfree

I am a warning
I am a warning from history

Dave Clinch

1 comment:

  1. According to she survived until 1987.