Free of anger, woman recalls escape from Nazism CARROLL COUNTY SENIORS

June 23, 1993|By Katherine Richards | Katherine Richards,Staff Writer

Regina Steinberg has spent more than 40 years as a volunteer helping the mentally ill at Springfield Hospital Center and other institutions.

She says her work honors the American family who took her into their home when she was a refugee, and the Nazi who paid for her freedom with his.

Mrs. Steinberg, a Jew, now 70, fled Nazi Germany at the age of 12.

She said she was saved by the foresight and courage of Wilhelm Horlacher, a Nazi, who was her family's landlord.

Mr. Horlacher paid for his actions in a concentration camp; he was turned in by his adopted daughter for aiding Jews.

Wilhelm Horlacher "was the Nazi leader in our town," she said.

He was also the family's landlord in Merchingen, a farm community of 700 people northwest of Munich.

"He and his wife lived on the first floor," Mrs. Steinberg said. Mr. Horlacher's father lived on the third floor. Regina Hamburg and her family lived on the second floor.

The Horlachers were childless, she said, and accepted the Hamburg children as part of their family.

"We called him Uncle," she said, "and his wife was Aunt Anna."

The Horlachers were sent to a concentration camp -- Mrs. Steinberg has never discovered which one -- after their 12-year-old adopted daughter, Hedwig, a member of the Hitler Youth, turned them in.

Many town residents joined the Nazi party in the early days of the Third Reich. Some, Mrs. Steinberg said, believed only the Nazis could salvage the wrecked German economy.

The true nature of the Third Reich didn't make itself obvious in the countryside as early as it did in the cities, she said.

Mrs. Steinberg said she is not bitter toward the old neighbors and friends who joined the Nazi party. "I can understand," she said, "because they were promised the sky."

Later, she said, most gentiles in her town joined the Nazi movement.

"They had to, whether they wanted to or not," she said.

Regina's father, Isaak Hamburg, made and repaired boots for a living. Eventually, the Nazis banned gentiles from doing business with him.

But many townspeople circumvented the rule. They arranged clandestine drop-offs with Mr. Hamburg, leaving their shoes and boots for him in barns and haystacks.

When the Nazis began searching Jewish homes for contraband and valuables, the Hamburgs' neighbors tried to protect them.

Before a search, the searcher would warn the family, so they could hide things. When the searchers arrived, Mrs. Steinberg said, they often brought a present, perhaps some home-baked bread, by way of apology.

Mrs. Steinberg recalled her fourth-grade teacher taking his Jewish students aside and apologizing to them for the Nazi uniform he was required to wear.

He asked them to greet him with the Nazi salute when outsiders were present, she recalled, saying, "Please say 'Heil Hitler!' or I'll lose my job."

She said, "He had a family. He did what he had to do."

In 1930, Mr. Horlacher told Regina's parents that his position as local Nazi leader would protect them.

"As long as your family lives under my roof," he told them, "no one will touch you."

But in 1932, Mrs. Steinberg said, after a big Nazi party meeting, Mr. Horlacher told her parents, "Get your family out of Germany."

He had realized what was going to happen, she said, and that he would be powerless to protect them.

Regina's mother, Miriam, eventually took his warning to heart.

In 1935, she put Regina and her brother Herbert on a boat to America. Their trip was part of a campaign by the New York-based Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society to help 500 German Jewish children and their parents leave Germany.

Regina's sister, Claudine, made the voyage about three months later.

Eventually, Regina's parents and baby brother also reached Israel. Four of Regina's aunts and uncles were killed in death camps.

Regina Hamburg was 12 when she and Herbert sailed for America. She thought her parents would soon be joining them.

But Mrs. Steinberg did not see her parents for 13 years. As the situation in Germany deteriorated, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society decided to evacuate Jewish children before adults.

Mrs. Steinberg never returned to Germany.

She said if she could drop into her hometown by parachute, and not travel through the rest of Germany to get there, she would go. "But I do not want to spend one red cent going through Germany," she said matter-of-factly. "I can't see giving them my money.

"There is no anger," she said. "I just don't want to be there. . . . Perhaps if the Horlachers were there, it would be a different story."

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