- Sylvia Collins (born Sylvia Glaser) is the daughter of attorney Janos Glaser and Inge (nee Flettner) Glaser. She was born in Berlin on December 31, 1932. Janos was born in Bratislava, Slovakia. After World War I, his mother decided that he, his parents and three siblings should become Lutherans since it was socially advantageous. Inge Flettner was baptized as a Catholic, but her own mother, Lydia Freudenberg, had been born a Jew. After marrying Anton Flettner, a Catholic, at the age of 16, Lydia converted to Catholicism to allow her to teach elementary school.
Janos Glaser who had become a Communist during his studies in Leipzig, became active in the underground after the Nazi seizure of power. In 1936 he was caught smuggling documents from Czechoslovakia to Germany, and the Gestapo arrested both of Sylvia's parents. They released Inge after a few days, but Janos began an odyssey which included work camps, a brief stay in a concentration camp and months of solitary confinement. He then was sentenced to eight years hard labor for treason against the German state in a penitentiary in Dieburg, Germany. Ironically, having arrested Janos as a Communist, the Nazis never realized that he had been born a Jew despite his appearance and circumcision. Inge was allowed to visit him once a year. Though she asked questions, Sylvia was not told anything about her father's whereabouts until she was 12 years old. Sylvia received her first letter from him in 1944. Sylvia and her mother moved to Bavaria to avoid the bombings of Berlin.
Meanwhile, her maternal grandfather, Anton Flettner, had become a noted inventor. He even earned a ticker tape parade in New York for inventing the Rotor Ship. By the early years of the war he had a factory in Berlin which built some of the first helicopters designed to provide support and rescue services to the German military. He never became a Nazi but in effect used Nazi funds to develop his inventions. His contributions were so valuable that the Nazis agreed to overlook the fact that his wife had been born Jewish, particularly after he told Himmler that he could not function and work without her. In 1944 Anton Flettner's factory moved to Silesia to escape the bombing in Berlin, and Inge along with Sylvia joined her parents there for the last year of the war.
In 1944 shortly after he had started to correspond with Sylvia, Janos was released from prison to join a battalion of prisoners and political undesirables who provided support services on the Western front. He was killed by a shrapnel wound three weeks before the end of World War II. Sylvia, her mother and grandparents fled from Silesia before the arrival of the Russian army and ended up in Hof/Saale, in central Germany, where they were joined by Inge's Hungarian boyfriend, Tibor Dioszeghy. Inge briefly worked for the American Military Government after the war and was able to get Tibor a license to start one of the first daily newspapers in post-war Germany. Inge eventually married Tibor, and she gave birth to another daughter in 1951. Sylvia graduated from high school in Hof after spending a year in a boarding school in England near her father's family. Shortly before the start of World War II, they escaped from Czechoslovakia to England realizing that their baptism and forged papers would not protect them from Nazi persecution. In 1947 Anton and Lydia Flettner immigrated to the United States where Anton continued to develop scientific inventions. Sylvia joined her grandparents in 1953, and she married Gerhard Hoff, a German law student, the following year. They later divorced, and Sylvia married Jerome Collins in 1987.