Carefully enunciating each word in a thick Austrian accent, Holocaust survivor Ilse Loeb recalled a night in the winter of 1944 when she was almost captured by the Nazis.
A Jewish “hidden child” in German-occupied Holland, Loeb had secretly ventured out with others to gather firewood. While they were chopping an evergreen, a Gestapo jeep approached. Miraculously, the tree did not fall until the vehicle had passed by.
Regardless of how many times Ilse Loeb has told “The Falling Tree Incident,” the emotion with which she spoke revealed a mind of both painful memories and joyous optimism.
Perhaps it was her will to survive that saved her from the Holocaust and brought her to the College’s Music Building auditorium 60 years later.
It was easy to tell that Loeb’s primary concern today is a different kind of survival: the survival of Holocaust memories, or more precisely, memories of what it took to overcome such a terrible event.
She admitted there were many miracles that allowed her to successfully avoid capture from the time of Vienna’s invasion in 1938 to the end of the war in 1945.
Nonetheless, she couldn’t have done it without her selfless cousin and his wife who risked their own lives to save her. She believes that more of this sort of altruistic behavior is exactly what the world needs. “If I can touch someone here and show them that if one person helps another it can make a difference, then I have succeeded,” Loeb said. “I want to make listeners witnesses.”
Loeb gave her recollections of the infamous Kristallnacht, or “Night of Broken Glass,” in which mobs attacked Jewish families and individuals in their synagogues and places of work; almost 100 Jews throughout Germany, Austria and Sudetenland were killed and many more were injured.
When this happened it was still only late November 1938 and Loeb’s family hadn’t yet been forced out of their home. When the eviction notice finally came, Loeb was the only one able to escape to Holland.
With very little money, a passport bearing the label “J,” and a few belongings, Loeb bid farewell to her mother and father.
“I never saw my parents again,” she said. “Looking back I’m surprised myself how I was able to handle this at age 13.”
As one of the 6,000 people who went into hiding and survived, she said her life was “in constant danger.”
The classical music, walks in the park and delicious food she had once enjoyed were replaced by household confinement; the only factor that kept her from boredom was the peril that could not escape her mind.
Every now and then, however, something out of the ordinary would happen that shed light on the darkness of her situation.
Loeb remembers vividly the night two famous musicians stayed in her cousin’s house. Taking an incredible risk, they played the violin and piano for their hosts. “It was the most beautiful music I had ever heard,” Loeb said.
Even when the war had ended, Loeb’s pain did not subside. The only remaining member of her family was her older brother and a sudden spell of tuberculosis prevented her from coming to America.
Although she eventually came to America, she has since returned to Europe to speak there as well, about her survival.
Few Holocaust survivors have felt comfortable speaking in Germany about their experiences; Loeb is one of the exceptions. Loeb feels it is important to teach today’s generation and become as big of a role model as possible.