Documentary will 'rescue' heroes from being forgotten

'MISCHLING': Lilo Gloeden


EXPERIENCED journalist Fergal Keane is no stranger to the horrors humans can inflict on each other.

As the BBC's southern Africa correspondent, he covered the genocide in Rwanda in the early 1990s.

He has delved deep into the minds of both perpetrator and victim, including those who survived the Holocaust.

But, around a year ago, one story from the Shoah piqued his interest.

Fergal was at a friend's house when he noticed a book about resistance in Nazi Germany.

Picking it up, he saw the face of Lilo Gloeden "staring out at him". And he wanted to know more.

It led to Fergal and producer Alice Doyard making The Remarkable Resistance of Lilo, which will be broadcast on Sunday (2pm) on the BBC World Service.

Elisabeth Charlotte Gloeden - known as Liselotte or "Lilo" - along with her husband, Erich, hid Jews in their home in Berlin, before arranging safe passage for them out of Nazi Germany.

Both Lilo and Erich had Jewish fathers, so were considered by the Nazis to be "Mischling", a legal term which denoted a person deemed to have both "Aryan" and Jewish ancestry.

"If you spent any time studying the Holocaust, the really striking thing is the number of people who just vanished into history because so many families were wiped out," Fergal told me.

"As the survivors become older, the memories they could have passed on die with them.

"What we wanted to do with Lilo and Erich was rescue them from the obscurity the Nazis had imposed on them.

"These are people the Nazis intended to vanish, but now their names will be, hopefully, known to millions of people around the world through his programme.

"You cannot rescue someone from the death imposed on them, but you can rescue them from being forgotten."

In the documentary, Fergal speaks to a number of historians, as well as a witness to the Gloedens' arrest in 1944 for hiding General Fritz Lindemann, who was being hunted by the Gestapo for being part of the plot to assassinate Hitler.

"Roughly around 1,900 Jews survived hiding in Berlin," Fergal said. "It was because of their own courage, luck, and because some Germans did the decent thing.

"The overwhelming majority of Germans supported Hitler or passively went along with what happened. Lilo was not one of them, but she paid with her life."

Lilo, who was 15 years Erich's junior, was driven out of the legal profession as Nazism soared.

Her father, Martin Kuznitzky, was hounded out of the Alpine club he belonged to, as well as his role as an adviser at the Hamburg Museum.

"The man was destroyed and Lilo could see that," Fergal explained.

"Both Lilo and Erich had ambiguous positions -once the deportations began in 1942 and it became clear a final solution was on the cards, the pressure on 'half-Jews' began to exponentially increase.

"They did not know what was going to happen next."

Erich, whom Fergal describes as a committed Zionist, worked as an architect for Operation Todt, the civil and military engineering organisation in Nazi Germany which was responsible for a huge range of projects in the country and in its occupied territories.

Through that, he helped Jews in ghettos and in the concentration camps.

The end for Lilo and Erich came when they were arrested by the Gestapo in 1944.

"When Lilo was interrogated by the Gestapo, she said she acted out of pure human compassion, a phrase which they would not have understood, of course," Fergal explained.

"It was such an amazing phrase to use in the context of that time and place.

"To be in a place which is saturated with such evil, as I discovered in Rwanda, is not a place for the average person to make a stand, but Lilo looked that evil in the eye and tried to confront it.

"I cannot get that kind of courage into my head, having experienced a society which was overcome by evil and where the moral order is turned entirely upside down.

"The roots of hatred is something we need to confront constantly. It wasn't something which just happened from 1933 to 1944.

"It was stereotyping and appalling tropes which led to the death camps, and we find them repeated in different societies in different ways."

As a caveat, producer Alice's grandfather also hid a Jewish family during the Holocaust.

"When his neighbours asked who were the strange people staying with him, he replied that they were from Brittany, in northern France, a people who spoke their own language," Fergal said.

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