Courage, ingenuity and intelligence

It was in Lubochna, before she was taken to a concentration camp, that the police came to their apartment and ordered Gerda Buergenthal and her son Thomas to pack their belongings and to be ready to go in a hour.

When they were taken to the police station, his mother demanded to see the police chief or the person in charge, Thomas Buergenthal remembers in his book A Lucky Child—A Memoir of Surviving Auschwitz as a Young Boy.

Gerda made a lot of noise while she waved a leather-bound document, with a lot of stamps on it, which she called her passport. Then, she slammed the document on the police officer’s desk. “We are Germans,” she said.

The officer apologized profusely. Of course, they were not deporting Germans living in Slovakia, he said.

Buergentahal later learned that his mother’s “passport” was a German driver’s license, which looked like a passport. Her German passport already had been confiscated.

“I continue to marvel at the courage, ingenuity and intelligence my mother demonstrated that day, character traits she was to reveal many times over in the future, under even more difficult circumstances,” Buergenthal writes. “Where did this young woman from a well-to-do, protective, Jewish middle-class home with barely a secondary school education derive the cunning and almost reckless gall to assess and take advantage of the weakness of those posing a serious threat to her and her family and come out the winner?”


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