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A German couple dedicates their baby daughter to Adolf Hitler and the Fatherland, in a Teutonic name-giving ceremony.

Photograph | Digitized | Photograph Number: 49919

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    A German couple dedicates their baby daughter to Adolf Hitler and the Fatherland, in a Teutonic name-giving ceremony.
    A German couple dedicates their baby daughter to Adolf Hitler and the Fatherland, in a Teutonic name-giving ceremony.

Pictured (left to right) are Else, Fritz, Liesel, and Heinrich Steffens.

    Overview

    Caption
    A German couple dedicates their baby daughter to Adolf Hitler and the Fatherland, in a Teutonic name-giving ceremony.

    Pictured (left to right) are Else, Fritz, Liesel, and Heinrich Steffens.
    Date
    1941
    Locale
    Klingenberg, Germany
    Photo Credit
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Liesel Appel

    Rights & Restrictions

    Photo Source
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
    Copyright: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
    Provenance: Liesel Appel
    Source Record ID: Collections: 2009.172

    Keywords & Subjects

    Administrative Notes

    Biography
    Liesel Appel (born Liesel Steffen) was born in Klingenberg, Germany in 1941 to Heinrich and Else Steffens. She had one older brother, Fritz (b. 1921). Heinrich worked as a headmaster in a public school and joined the Nazi party in 1933. In 1935, the Citizenship Law was enacted which encouraged German women to have as many Aryan children for the Fatherland as possible. Although Heinrich and Else were no longer young, Heinrich had become an ardent Nazi, and they had a strong desire to have another child. They sought out the assistance of a fertility specialist, and Liesel was born in 1941. Shortly after her birth, Liesel's parents held a Teutonic name-giving ceremony, where they dedicated her to Adolf Hitler and to Germany.

    Late in the war, Heinrich was appointed Minister of Education in occupied Poland by his good friend, Erich Koch (Gauleiter of East Prussia and Reich Commissar of the Ukraine). Liesel was too young to understand precisely what his job entailed, and her parents did not offer any information other than that he was doing important work for Germany. After the war's end, American soldiers sought Heinrich for questioning so he left the family to live in hiding, while Else and Liesel moved to Else's hometown, Bottrop, to live with her parents. In 1948, Heinrich returned with stories of his life on the run and eventual arrest. From then on, he stayed with the family at night, but soldiers arrived each morning to take him to a de-Nazification camp. His trial was scheduled, but details of the charges were kept from Liesel, and he died of a heart attack in 1950 before the trial could take place.

    In 1951, Liesel was playing outside her home, when a stranger approached her. He explained that before the war, his family had lived in the house next door and had owned the nearby store. During Kristallnacht his family had been attacked, he said, and his infant son was thrown off a second floor balcony. The stranger had returned to search for the man who had caught his baby and cared for him until he could be reunited with his family years later. Liesel, who had been especially close to her father, thought that her father must have been the baby's protector. Her father had died, she told the stranger, but she invited him to her house to visit her mother.

    Her mother, shocked and furious that Liesel had brought a Jew to their home, sent her to her room and ejected the stranger to the street. As her mother chastised her, Liesel began to draw connections between the stranger's story and the pieces of information she remembered about her father's wartime activities, and was horrified. Unable to reconcile her love for her father with his Nazi past, she distanced herself from her mother and, as soon as she was able, left Germany for England. She was married and divorced twice, and had two children.

    Many years later, while living in California, she encountered the daughter of a Holocaust survivor at a seminar. As she confessed her family's role in the war, she began the process of slowly coming to terms with it. In 1988 she wrote an article for the Los Angeles Times about her childhood experience, after which she received many invitations to speak from both Jewish and Christian groups. She discovered the name of the Jewish stranger she had met as a child (Willi Meyer). She sought out the person who had actually saved the infant thrown from the balcony years ago, Friedrich Sommer, but he had since passed away. She contacted the woman who had hidden the baby until his parents could reclaim him, Johanna Banner. And lastly, she attempted to learn more about her fathers' activities but found that the information was sparse, since the investigation was halted after his death. She did find, however, a huge amount of evidence against his friend Koch. Koch had organized the murder of countless Jewish and Polish civilians, and Liesel's father had been in charge of the children.

    In June 1990, Leisel converted to Judaism and married an American Jew. She continues to travel the U.S. to educate and promote peace.
    Record last modified:
    2010-05-07 00:00:00
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