What Hanna lost

October 3, 2013 • Posted in guest blog, memoir writing, Uncategorized by

Here’s an understatement: I learn a lot about history by listening to the essays the writers in my memoir groups read out loud every week in class. Last week I asked them to write about a meaningful object they’d lost, broken, or destroyed, and then explain why that object had been so meaningful to them. My guest blogger, 93-year-old Hanna Bratman, grew up in a Jewish family in Germany and was only 19 when she arrived, alone, in the United States. She generously agreed to let me share her very moving essay.

The Time of Loss

by Hanna Bratman

That’s Hanna, the author. (Photo by Nora Isabel Bratman)

Probably in 1936 or 37 Hitler’s need to finance the Army and the National Socialist Party had decreed that Jews could no longer own jewels, precious metal items, gold, silver , diamonds or precious stones. I well remember the day my mother carried a bag of things to the police station. Upon her return she no longer wore her beautiful diamond earrings or the ring on her finger. They just always had been a part of her attire. I had never before seen her without them. In return, to make this transaction official she received a detailed receipt from the police department.

We never talked about it.

I think it became about this time that my mother realized that Jews were indeed in for a difficult time in her Fatherland. Her belief, which she had often told, and I had heard time and time again, was this: “I was born in Germany, my husband, a pacifist in World War I, died for the Fatherland. He even got a medal for serving. What are they going to do to me?”

All our relatives and friends packed huge container boxes that we called “Lifts.” These were to be shipped through Holland on the Atlantic Ocean to America for storage as there were no more German boats allowed to go to the United States. We packed newly purchased furniture, bedding, household goods, clothing, anything you might need to start a new life in another country. We packed under the watchful eye of an official. Several Leica brand cameras were the favorite item to be included. They could be sold for needed cash.

Some of my clothes and personal things found their way into the Lift, some books, my tennis racket, ski pants, and jacket. I was especially watchful that the ski jacket was in a safe drawer, for it contained my secret: I had hidden my gold bracelet.

I could not bring myself to turn in my cherished gold bracelet that my mother had given to me for a birthday present. It rarely left my left arm. This charm bracelet had been converted from my father’s gold watch chain. I had seen him wear it. The only charm it sported was the watch fob, about the size of a quarter, with my father’s initials, M.S., in fancy script. Hitler was not going to get it to melt it down. This was mine. Hidden in my ski jacket.

I had sewn my bracelet between the quilted lining into the seams of the left sleeve, and the fob had found its way into the quilting. I was happy that it would escape Hitler’s clutches.

In 1941 we made a claim to Lloyd’s of London insurance company when they informed us that the container had been shipped on a container ship. The ship had been attacked and sunken by a German U boat. This was an act of war and the insurance did not cover war losses.

Years later the rumor had it that these Lifts never made it even to Holland. They were plundered by the Germans before they got to the safe border.

I often have wondered if someone found my father’s watch chain, MY bracelet. Over the years I have gotten several new bracelets, but I have never worn any of them.

Annelore Chapin On October 3, 2013 at 12:47 pm

Stories such as Hanna’s should be part of the curriculum of history classes in any country to stress the horrors of war. We must never forget the suffering of innocent citizens in Hitler’s Germany….. and in any war today. How incredibly sad!


bethfinke On October 4, 2013 at 9:59 am

Sad, yes, but the happy news is that Hanna is here with us and willing to share her stories, they teach us so much.

bethfinke On October 5, 2013 at 8:56 am

Like your idea of including stories like Hanna’s in school curriculum. See note below from Wendy Rice…there’s hope.

Nancy On October 7, 2013 at 7:22 pm

We had the wonderful opportunity to welcome a German exchange student to live with us for a year. She attended the local high school, and took a U.S. History class which included a section on WW2. Students in the class were asked to interview someone who had been involved in the war, and write an essay based on the interview. Our student interviewed her grandfather by phone, a German citizen who had been forced into Hitler’s army against his beliefs and sent to the Russian front. He was among the few in his battalion who survived the brutal winter; sleeping in the snow, scrounging for food, watching his friends freeze to death or die of starvation. He was never a supporter of Hitler. After the war, he didn’t speak of his experiences much until our exchange student called and asked if he would help with her school project. The report she wrote from the interview was moving, amazing, and a completely different perspective from anything most U.S. students ever hear. She turned it in. The teacher never acknowledged it other than to give it a grade. I was flabbergasted at such a mindless loss! This lovely woman does not hold a lot of trust in governments (her own or others), and now I doubt that she trusts the American education system to hold open discussions about history. We need to hear the voices of real people – Hanna’s and others. Otherwise, the Hitler era is just a chapter in a history book.

Doug Finke On October 3, 2013 at 1:25 pm

Very touching story

bethfinke On October 4, 2013 at 10:02 am

Yes, I thought so too. Just think of that teenage girl keeping such a secret — she didn’t dare even tell her *mother* that she hid that bracelet. What doesn’t come out in this essay is that Hanna’s father died when she was 9 years old, he’d endured poisonous gas in WWI and in the end he died from that.

Mary McHugh On October 3, 2013 at 1:34 pm

What an incredibly moving story. I’m so glad I get your blogs, Beth. Always something of value in them.

bethfinke On October 4, 2013 at 10:04 am

High praise coming from a fine writer like you, Mary. You know from experience what a privilege it is to share human stories — your book “Special Siblings” brought the two of us together in the first place.

A On October 3, 2013 at 3:47 pm

This was indeed a very poignant story. I think it is one of Hanna’s best pieces. I will be sure to share it with others.

Janet On October 3, 2013 at 7:21 pm

Thank you to Hanna for sharing. I wonder what Minke would say to this question…

bethfinke On October 4, 2013 at 10:05 am

Hmmm. I’ll have to ask her!

Hava On October 4, 2013 at 7:21 am

Thank you Hanna for your moving account of this trying, frightening time in your life. It made me cry, yet marvel at your strength. May God bless you.

bethfinke On October 4, 2013 at 10:07 am

Oh, Hava, you are so right. Hanna is indeed a strong woman. Mischievous, too, and very witty. A real privilege to know her, and as you can imagine, everyone sits very quietly and listens when Hanna’s stories are read aloud in class.

Penn Nelson On October 4, 2013 at 12:40 pm

I pray that these stories continue to be published, I would hate to think that that part of history would ever be forgotten! It must never happen again….Maybe our politician’s should remember what happens when Government runs the country!

Wendy Rice On October 4, 2013 at 6:56 pm

I agree with the comment that this and other personal stories need to be included in a history curriculum, and, in my own small way, I will do just that. I’ve been putting together a Holocaust study for my middle school students, and I’m fortunate to be able to include Hanna’s story. While it breaks your heart, it also provides hope.
Thank you, Beth and Hanna!

bethfinke On October 5, 2013 at 8:54 am

Oh, Wendy, I can’t wait to share your news with Hanna and the rest of our writing class Wednesday, she will be so happy to hear this. She writes these essays so her grandchildren and great-children will know more about her early life, but she is also interested in teaching young people about what happened during WWII in hopes they will remember and do what they can to prevent anything like it happening again. Hanna (does* visit schools and speaks at other civic events from time to time, email me privately if you’re interested in having her come to talk with your students and I’ll see what we can work out.
Right now, though, I’ve got to get away from the computer and back to listening to WXRT. Circle game, Signed Sealed Delivered, Liar –what a start to my Saturday morning. THANKS, Wendy.

Judy Cimbotti On October 5, 2013 at 12:02 pm

Love Hannas writing. It makes the times she lived in real. She should have her own blog, to share more of her writing.

Sandy Gartler On October 6, 2013 at 12:37 pm

Thank you for sharing Hanna’s heart wrenching memoir. May Hanna’s personal message inspire future generations. We should never forget!
Sandy Gartler

Benita Black On October 7, 2013 at 11:05 am

A wonderful essay and, sadly, one of millions of such stories.

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