Northeast Times

Indelible Memories

With the help of a teen­age friend, a Holo­caust sur­viv­or finds there are enough re­col­lec­tions of a dif­fi­cult life to fill a book.

Ilse Lindemey­er can tell you stor­ies, lots of stor­ies.

The Paul’s Run res­id­ent has been a refugee, an ac­cused spy, a fact­ory work­er, a Ger­man in­ter­pret­er and a Nazi hunter for the U.S. Army.

That was all be­fore she was 21.

Her life has been any­thing but bor­ing, she said dur­ing an in­ter­view last week at the Bustleton Av­en­ue home for re­tir­ees. 

Born Ilse En­gel­bert in Frank­furt, Ger­many, Lindemey­er’s also been a wife, moth­er and grand­moth­er. But most im­port­ant, she’s a sur­viv­or.

She got out of Nazi Ger­many as a child and was the only mem­ber of her fam­ily to sur­vive the Holo­caust. She made it through — but just barely — the bomb­ing of Lon­don dur­ing World War II and lived through in­tern­ment after she was ac­cused of be­ing a spy for Ger­many.

A book about Lindemey­er’s life was writ­ten by a young fam­ily friend who is now only a little older than Lindemey­er was when she left Frank­furt and every­one and everything she knew.

Gab­ri­elle Mar­lowe, 13, used Lindemey­er’s re­min­is­cences to put to­geth­er I’m a Sur­viv­or, which the Jen­k­in­town teen­ager’s fam­ily privately prin­ted.

It’s a slim volume, rich in de­tails of what happened in Europe be­fore, dur­ing and after World War II.

A BUDDY SYS­TEM

Gab­ri­elle and Lindemey­er are mem­bers of Con­greg­a­tion Kene­seth Is­rael in Elkins Park, Mont­gomery County. Gab­ri­elle’s moth­er, Lise, teaches the story of the Holo­caust in the Chel­ten­ham Town­ship schools. Some years back, Lindemey­er agreed to tell her story to Lise Mar­lowe’s pu­pils, and Lindemey­er and the Mar­lowes are now friends.

Al­though she now seems at ease dis­cuss­ing her ex­per­i­ences, Lindemey­er said it wasn’t un­til she went to a re­union of Holo­caust sur­viv­ors dur­ing the late 1980s that she ever really talked about that part of her past.

Even at the re­union, she had little to say.

“After a couple days, a couple doc­tors got hold of me,” she said last week. “They wanted to know why I was there if I had noth­ing to say.”

Lindemey­er said psy­chi­at­rists and psy­cho­lo­gists privately urged her to tell the story that young Gab­ri­elle wrote down.

“I star­ted to cry,” she said. “I was very up­set.”

The doc­tors per­suaded her to tell the story.

“I want people to know what it was like dur­ing the Holo­caust through the eyes of a child,” Gab­ri­elle wrote in the open­ing of Lindemey­er’s bio­graphy. “It’s hard to ima­gine that, at my age, Ilse had to leave the people she loved the most and lose everything just be­cause of her re­li­gion.”

THE DARK DAYS

When Lindemey­er was a little girl, the Nazis began their per­se­cu­tion of Ger­many’s Jews. That per­se­cu­tion had be­gun in the early 1930s as something her fam­ily had thought would blow over. After all, the fam­ily had been in Ger­many since the 1700s and her fath­er, Siegfried, was a dec­or­ated war hero.  But when it be­came clear to them, and to the world, that con­tin­ued life in Ger­many would be dan­ger­ous, Lindemey­er’s par­ents en­rolled her in Kinder­trans­port, a pro­gram in which Jew­ish chil­dren could be sent to foster homes in the United King­dom.

Only 10,000 could be taken, so names were se­lec­ted ran­domly.

“It was a lot­tery,” Lindemey­er said.

She was chosen, and on the day in May 1939 when she and oth­er chil­dren were to take a train out of Frank­furt, her par­ents and oth­er re­l­at­ives were forced to wait be­hind a gate. That’s when she got a spe­cial gift.

Lindemey­er, who was born in 1927, al­ways wears a small medal­lion on a neck­lace that her 91-year-old grand­moth­er quietly gave her as she was get­ting ready to leave Ger­many. It has an im­age of Moses on one side and a Hebrew pray­er on the oth­er. To this day, the tiny, col­or­ful piece of jew­elry looks new, al­though Lindemey­er ima­gines it could be hun­dreds of years old. Her grand­moth­er told her she had got­ten the piece from her grand­moth­er.

As she was about to board the Kinder­trans­port train that would take her to Eng­land, Lindemey­er’s grand­moth­er told her to wear it al­ways and that it would al­ways pro­tect her.

Lindemey­er has al­ways done just that.

Her last im­age of her fath­er was him jump­ing over the gate and cry­ing, “Don’t take my baby,” be­fore he stumbled. It was the first time she had seen her fath­er, who was wounded in World War I, without his cane. Her last im­age of him was see­ing him fall.

She nev­er again saw any mem­bers of her fam­ily. They all per­ished. While in Eng­land, she lived with a child­less middle-aged couple and learned Eng­lish.

A RISKY PHOTO

After she was there for a while, she wanted to send a pic­ture of her­self to re­l­at­ives in Amer­ica — which was not yet at war with Ger­many — who pos­sibly could get that photo and news of her to her fam­ily. That’s when she got in­to some big trouble.

“I did something stu­pid,” she said.

She asked a friend to take the photo, and as she posed, a po­lice con­stable asked what she was do­ing. The con­stable al­most im­me­di­ately sus­pec­ted her of be­ing a spy, not only be­cause of her heavy Ger­man ac­cent but be­cause there were Brit­ish army tanks passing be­hind her.

That led to nine months of in­tern­ment on the Isle of Man in the Ir­ish Sea. After her foster par­ents gathered sig­na­tures of sup­port for Ilse, she was re­leased and re­turned to Eng­land. She sewed uni­forms in a fact­ory. That’s where she met her fu­ture hus­band, Her­bert Lindemey­er. It also was where her life was saved by a rat.

Ger­many reg­u­larly was bomb­ing Lon­don, she re­called, and she and an­oth­er girl were in the fact­ory dur­ing a night raid. They might have stayed had they not been frightened by a rat and run out of the build­ing.

“We were look­ing for a sol­dier to kill the rat,” she said.

Be­fore they could find one, a bomb smashed the fact­ory they’d just fled.

START­ING A NEW LIFE

She and Her­bert were mar­ried in Eng­land and both joined the U.S. Army, which needed in­ter­pret­ers after Ger­many sur­rendered, she said.

The couple helped the Army track down Nazis who had gone un­der­ground after the war. Lindemey­er was a mail cen­sor and sifted clues from the let­ters she read.

In one in­stance, she used let­ters from the wife of an ex-Nazi to un­cov­er a plot to smuggle stolen jew­elry out of Ger­many.

When she and Herb, who had fam­ily in Phil­adelphia, de­cided to move to the United States, their Army ser­vice smoothed the way. 

“If you’re good enough for the Amer­ic­an Army, then you’re good enough for us,” she said im­mig­ra­tion of­ficers told them.

The Lindemey­ers had two chil­dren and two grand­chil­dren. Ilse Lindemey­er has lived in Phil­adelphia since mov­ing to the States.

Be­fore leav­ing Europe, they found an old Frank­furt neigh­bor of Ilse’s who had saved fam­ily memen­tos for them. She said last week that she nev­er would have seen some of the pho­tos used in the book that Gab­ri­elle put to­geth­er had that neigh­bor not pre­served them.

Ilse had been plan­ning to write a book but lost her notes in an ac­ci­dent­al fire at her Fox Chase home. Fam­ily kept her from stay­ing in the house to re­trieve those notes as the fire burned. She later learned she would have died had she risked do­ing that.

“As usu­al,” she said, “I was a sur­viv­or.” ••

Gab­ri­elle Mar­lowe’s “I’m a Sur­viv­or,” the story of Holo­caust sur­viv­or Ilse Lindemey­er, can be found at Jew­ish com­munity cen­ters in the re­gion.

Re­port­er John Loftus can be reached at 215-354-3110 or jloftus@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at jloftus@bsmphilly.com.

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