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August 04, 1995 - Image 31

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1995-08-04

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For years she lied about her background. Even her chil-
Liesel seldom asked about the war, and her parents rarely
dren and ex-husband believed her father was a hero who discussed it in front of her. They taught her to proudly salute
saved Jews during the war. But recently she has begun to the German soldiers who marched daily through the streets.
come to terms with the ghosts of her past.
But the smoky clouds and the smell of burning flesh that
"I look back now for several reasons," Ms. Appel said in
permeated the air were a mystery to her. She did not know
a thick German accent. "I don't feel anymore that I have to the Jews existed since they had been evacuated from her
fix the world. But I do think we have to fix ourselves."
town before she was born.
Ms. Appel's most vivid childhood memories are of long,
rambling walks she took with her father through a near-
by forest. He taught her about nature and invented little
Germany seemed perched on the brink of victory in World songs and fairy tales to make her laugh. Yet he never failed
War II when Liesel Steffens was born in 1941. Her parents, to remind her she owed her existence to Adolf Hitler. It was
both almost 50 years old, had been told by doctors they could her duty, Mr. Steffens said over and over again, to make
not bear another child. But Adolf Hitler, at the height of his sure Germany stayed strong.
power, decreed that all able-bodied Germans must further
"My father was my hero," Ms. Appel said. "He was so tall
the Aryan race.
and handsome and he exuded strength. He made me feel
so special. I was con-
vinced nothing bad could
happen to me as long as
he was around."
Wilhelm Steffens in-
stilled a strong sense of
humanity in his daugh-
ter. Throughout her
childhood, he brought
destitute people into their
home for food and
warmth. "One German is
just as good as another
German," he would say
when his wife complained
about the dirty beggars
seated comfortably in her
best chairs.
"He did teach me a lot
of things," Ms. Appel said.
"I had blocked all those
good memories out for a
long time, but I have to
realize he made me who
I am. I have to give him
some credit for some of
the good things I do."
For her first four years,
continued to live a
charmed life. Then the
The Steffens already had a 20-year-old son, Fritz, who c onstant bombing suddenly stopped and different soldiers
fighting in the German navy. But Else Steffens duti-
"My father
warmed into town. Liesel's stately home became the south-
fully underwent a painful operation to enable her to become ern headquarters of the American Army. The Steffens bare-
brought a big
pregnant again. The pregnancy was long and difficult, but 1y packed a tiny suitcase before they were thrown out into
picture of
the Steffens were delighted to fulfill their obligation to the he
h street. Wilhelm Steffens fled in the middle of the night
Hitler to the
0 n his bicycle to escape the Allied forces who were hunt-
Hundreds of influential Nazis, including Mr. Steffens' ing him.
name-giving) closest friend, Erich Koch, attended Liesel's Teutonic name-
"I was bewildered," Ms. Appel said. "I was told our home-
giving ceremony in the Town Hall of Klingenberg. "Uncle 1 and had been attacked by some evil people. Everybody was
Erich," as Liesel knew him, was later executed for the mur- v ery gloomy and they were always whispering about things
and I was
der of 500,000 Jews and Poles.
I didn't understand."
"Religion had been abolished and Hitler had placed him-
A farmer offered Liesel and her mother shelter in a
self as the only divine power to be worshiped," Ms. Appel c ramped room in his home. Word reached them that Fritz's
dedicated in
said. "My father brought a big picture of Hitler to the cer-
front of all
-boat had been torpedoed. They also learned Wilhelm Stef-
ns had been captured by the Allies and was being "tor-
our family
ily and friends."
to red" in a "de-Nazification" camp. Ms. Appel later
and friends."
From that moment, Liesel was the darling of her com- dis covered her father and other Nazi leaders were taken to
munity. Despite the bloody battles raging around her, Liesel's Jibe rated concentration camps and forced to study remnants
room was filled with beautiful clothes, books and toys. Once of the horror they had inflicted.
her father brought her to the school where he served as
"German mothers and wives were supposed to make the
headmaster to show the students what a "perfect Aryan ul timate sacrifice without crying and complaining," Ms. Ap-
girl" should be.
pe 1 said. "But I saw my mother with red eyes a lot.
"I was very loved," Liesel said. "I had a very, very happy
"I thought everything was my fault. Maybe somehow I
ha dn't been good enough."
Ronni Dreyfuss is a staff writer for the Palm Beach Jewish Times.
A year later Liesel and her mother were permitted to re-

Anything For The Cause



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