Aunt Clara’s Story
Almost a century ago in 1917 to be exact, three small islands in the Caribbean by the names of St.John, St. Croix and St. Thomas, which had been under Danish sovereignty for the previous 300 years, were sold to the United States. These days huge cruise ships call in to Charlotte Amalie, the capital city of St. Thomas, but at the beginning of the century when this story begins, visiting ships would have been merchantmen and Danish naval vessels with the opportunity for the crew of those vessels to meet and mingle with the residents of the city and their families.
The head of one of those families, and part of a thriving Jewish community, was an apothecary of Jewish French origin by the name of Petit. He had a daughter, Clara (born 8 July 1862, died 3 April, 1963) whose name suited her admirably for she was indeed petite in stature. At a dance given for visiting Naval officers she met, and was wooed by my husband’s great uncle, eventually coming to Denmark to become his bride.
Two generations later I, another young island bride, this time from England, came to live in Copenhagen at a time when Great Aunt Clara, by then in her 80’s was, by right of survivorship, matriarch of the immediate Danish family.
She was a dainty, dignified figure in what seemed like her unchanging outfit of a long black dress, set off by a high white lace collar that complimented the elegantly coiffed white hair atop her head. A tiny velvet black ribbon circling the neckline completed the picture of a lady whose appearance seemed frozen in time.
She was a Danish citizen, but when the infamous round-up of persons of Jewish origin took place in 1943 during the German occupation of Denmark in World War II she was transported, with other Jewish Danes, in the utter indignity that a cattle wagon imposes on a human traveller, to a concentration camp in Eastern Europe, Teresienstadt. This camp is remembered to-day not only for the extremely inhuman conditions that prevailed there but also for the fact that before Red Cross Inspectors were allowed to make their one and only visit to report on what they saw and experienced, the camp authorities were instructed to create a façade of normalcy by planting flowers, painting buildings and permitting some cultural activities . A façade behind which brutality in every aspect of camp life was continuous and required to be witnessed, including execution of fellow prisoners.
Some two years later, in May of 1945, Nazi Germany surrendered to the Allied Forces and the return of survivors of the concentration camps to their homelands began.
I met Great Aunt Clara in the summer of 1946 when she was 83 years old, but soon learned from other family members that the subject of their horrific wartime experiences was never to be spoken of. She lived with her two unmarried daughters in a spacious fifth floor apartment reached by a spiral staircase of the style of the 1800’s buildings in Copenhagen, long before the advent of elevators. The fact that she lived to be almost 101 years old just may be attributed to the exercise imposed by those stairs?
Those readers of this story who wish to learn more of the camp above named and gain some concept of what this little lady and her daughters survived will find all the information they need on “Google”.
Submitted by Joan Schultz, this “is the story of my husband David’s Great Aunt Clara… As you doubtless know the name Schultz flows over the border between Denmark and Germany. My husband was honoured by the Danish nation for his participation in the Resistance during the German Occupation of Denmark in World War 2, 1939-1945.”