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Stories from World War II
updated: Oct 20, 2012, 11:00 AM
By Lauren Bray
While perusing the Edhat event calendar a few weeks ago, a striking headline captured my attention. It
read, " Two Refugees from Hitler's Germany: One Gentile, One Jewish." Now that's not the typical wine
and cheese party event you usually see in Santa Barbara.
My interest grew as I read more. The event listing read, "Based on audience demand and community
interest, Santa Barbara Village members Eva Menkin and Ursula Mahlendorf are returning to the
speakers series, Faces of Santa Barbara Village, to share more about their experiences as refugees from
Nazi Germany, under very different circumstances - Eva as a Jew, Ursula as a former Hitler Youth."
Hooked, I am in. Not only is it fascinating to hear first person accounts of the most infamous event in
our world's history, but this is also during the same time period for the book I'm writing.
Thankfully Ed granted me a few free hours so I could attend this event at the Bronfman Family Jewish
Community Center. About 40 people gathered into the meeting room to hear these two women speak.
In the background was a map depicting Germany from 1933 to 1945. As the women began to speak the
room fell silent.
Ursula Mahlendorf, with her thick German accent, spoke candidly about her early years as a teenager in
the Hitler Youth. "Most of the adults were drunk when they discovered the truth about the Nazis," she
said. "We were all horrified about what was done in our name, in our country's name." I felt chills as she
spoke about being displaced with her family after the war had ended. She discussed being on a train,
tightly packed with other refugees. An elderly man had
passed away on their train, which caused it to stop. Ursula described how this odd occurrence actually
saved her as two other trains passed them while they switched their route and traveled to
West Germany. She spoke about the train pulling up to a town where armed men would drop off families
at each home and force the owners to let them live there. "Imagine if a train filled with homeless people
pulled into town and you were forced to give them a room in your house," she said. I felt transported
back in time as I listened to her stories and intimate details.
Eva Menkin then spoke about being a young Jewish child living in Berlin. Her mother had worked for a
newspaper and she said because of that they knew Hitler was not to be trusted. "I was always warned to
stay away from the brown shirts," she said of the Nazis. Eva discussed being carted around Europe with
her mother, living in Ibiza and Paris, partially to escape the growing tension between Nazis and the
Jewish community. Eventually Eva and her mother sailed to the United States when she was about 10
years old. Eva gave a vivid and nerve-wracking account of her mother having a psychotic break on the
boat. "She made me hide under the small table in our room and feared that the Nazis would find us…
but we were safe," she said. Eva described her memory of Ellis Island and starting the 1st grade at 11
years old without knowing any English.
I was in complete awe to learn of their personal journeys, struggles, and ultimate victories. These
women are undoubtedly inspirational and I thank them for letting me listen in on a small glimpse into
their past. Both women have written books about their lives and are available at Chaucer's Bookstore,
and both books will soon find a place on my bookshelf.
"A Moving Experience: A Personal History" by Eva Menkin, available at Chaucer's Books.
"The Shame of Survival: Working Through a Nazi Childhood" by Ursula Mahlendorf, Available
This fantastic event was hosted by the equally fantastic people at Santa Barbara Village. Santa Barbara Village is a community-
based membership organization focused on empowering older adults to live happily, healthfully, and
successfully in their own homes as they age by providing a network of resources that addresses
members' living needs as well as their social, cultural, and educational interests.
Lauren Bray is a member of the Dedicated Edhat Staff and is currently working on her first novel.
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