Ilse Scheuer Nathan mahnt aus Alabama: “People Need to Remember!”

von Hans-Dieter Arntz

Über das Schicksal der aus Sinzenich (Zülpich) stammenden Schwestern Ruth und Ilse Scheuer, die Auschwitz und dem Holocaust entrinnen konnten berichtete meine regionalhistorische Homepage schon mehrfach (vgl. die u.a. Links). Und mit Hilfe diesbezüglicher Online-Publikationen und weiterer Aktivitäten konnte bis zum heutigen Tage ein Kontakt zwischen den in der Voreifel lebenden Freunden und ehemaligen Nachbarn erhalten bleiben, denn nach jedem Bericht erhielten die beiden in Alabama verheirateten jüdischen Damen – Ruth Siegler und Ilse Nathan - Post und Anrufe. Auch der heutige Bericht dient wieder der deutsch-jüdischen Verständigung, Erinnerung und Mahnung.

Unter der Überschrift People Need to Remember! publizierte am 12. Juli 2011 die Journalistin Laura McAlister einen Bericht über Ilse Nathan geb. Scheuer. Als Journal Editor der Wochenzeitung “Over the Mountain Journal” erreicht sie etwa 40.000 Leser im Vorstadtgebiet von Birmingham im US-Staat Alabama, genauer gesagt im dortigen Bereich von Mountain Brook, Homewood, Vestavia Hills, Hoover and North Shelby County. Gerne gab mir die Journalistin die Genehmigung, ihren Artikel über Ilse Scheuer Nathan auf meiner regionalhistorischen Homepage zu veröffentlichen. Der Beitrag wird besonders für meine Leser in der Eifel und Voreifel interessant sein:

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‘People Need to Remember’

By Laura McAlister
Journal Editor

For the longest time, Ilse Scheuer Nathan covered up the small numbers tattooed on the inside of her left wrist. Though time has now faded those numbers, she’s much more apt to talk about them now.

Ilse is one of about a dozen surviving Holocaust victims in the Birmingham area. Her story was one she didn’t always want to discuss. But at age 87 and as one of a dwindling number of survivors in the area, she feels compelled to share her story of Nazi Germany.

“I can forgive,” she said. “But I can never forget. It happened, and people need to always remember that.”


Ilse Scheuer

Ilse Nathan looks at photos of her parents and brother, all who were killed in the Holocaust.
She and her sister survived and live in Mountain Brook


Ilse’s story started the year Adolf Hitler took power. At the time she was 9, living in a small farming town near Cologne, Germany. Her sister, Ruth Scheuer Siegler, was three years younger, and she also had an older brother, Ernst. Ilse was attending public school, which she had loved up until then.

“The town was very Catholic and very nice – until Hitler came to power,” she recalled. “After that, I hated going to school.
‘They would call me names, and I’d come home crying.”

Eventually she was taken out of school, and her father taught her. She was able to enter another nearby school but was kicked out once they learned she was Jewish.

Although life was hard on Ilse and her family, it wasn’t until Kristallnacht that they realized life would never be the same for them.

Her father was arrested but later released since he was a World War I veteran. After that, he fled to Holland.
The plan was for the rest of the family to meet him there and leave for America, but it was 1940 and Hitler had invaded Holland. Ilse’s father was sent to Westerbork, a refugee camp. Two years later, the rest of the family voluntarily joined him.
There they had jobs, so for the time being they were safe.

Then in 1944, Ilse’s brother didn’t take his cap off in the presence of a German officer, so he was arrested and slated for transport to Theresienstadt in Czechoslovakia.

“My father said if one of us go, we all go,” Ilse said.

The family was there for a month before they were taken to Auschwitz, where they were tattooed with identification numbers. Again, the girls and their mother were chosen for work.

“We were always carrying bricks, and we never knew why,” Ilse said. “That’s when we saw the crematories, and this huge mound of shoes.”

Not long after that, the two sisters, Ilse and Ruth, saw their mother for the last time. During an SS selection, the women – Ilse was almost 20 at the time – were stripped. The SS was the organization in Hitler’s Third Reich that was charged with implementing the Final Solution and carry out the killings at the concentration camps.

“My mother was 44. She had had a hysterectomy, so she had a scar,” Ilse said. “They put her to one side, and we were on the other. My sister and I always just kept quiet and held hands.”

The two would finally make it to America and freedom, but it wasn’t easy. They saw their father one last time in a camp in Birkeau. Their brother, they later learned, died in a camp in Germany just days before the liberation.

Ilse and Ruth continued working in camps. In 1944, they were sent to a camp in Stutthof, Poland. There they helped clear gravel landing strips for planes in Praust, Poland. It was there Ilse was punished for claiming to pick up a piece of paper to protect another in the camp.

“I was punished with a horsewhip,” she said. “I had to stand in front of a barbwire fence at gunpoint. I credit God and my sister for my surviving. My sister would help me work and share her food.”

In February 1945, the sisters, along with 800 other girls, were taken on a four-week death march toward the Baltic Sea. Sick with dysentery and typhus and weighing about 80 pounds, Ilse knew she couldn’t make it to wherever they were being taken.
Not many did. Only 50 survived.

Ilse and Ruth managed to escape, but not for long. They were found by Russian soldiers and were to be sent to Russia, but they escaped to Prague, where they finally found a safe haven.

“The Red Cross was in Prague, and they took care of us,” Ilse said. “They gave us clothing and cleaned us.

“We always had faith. We always hoped.”

The sisters also had each other. During their three and half years at concentration camps, they always stuck together, so much so that people there referred to them as “Ilse-Ruth.”

Today, more than 60 years later, they are still close. Ruth lives about a mile from Ilse in Mountain Brook, and they talk to each other almost daily.

After the sisters were rescued, they found some of their mother’s relatives. In 1946, they fulfilled one of their father’s last wishes and boarded a ship headed for America. They landed in Mobile but quickly located relatives in the North and moved there.
Then they met their husbands, both German-born Jews, and later moved to Birmingham. Ilse and her husband, the late Walter Nathan, had two daughters, one who recently passed away, and five grandchildren.

Despite three and half years in concentration camps, Ilse said she’s had a blessed life, as her father always hoped she would.
“When they separated us, my father blessed us, and said, ‘You’re young. Maybe God will let you live,’” she said.
He did, and Ilse counts her blessings and the many friends and family members who have entered her life since then each day.
“I always had hope,” she said.


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