Telling a story of suffering, survival and remembrance

November 10, 2003

Gail Rosen, a Pikesville storyteller with curly gray hair, spoke mostly in English; Eve Rennebarth, a young German artist and filmmaker, spoke mostly in fluid German. Their voices alternated, echoed, interrupted each other, sometimes overlapping.

Together they told the story and read the poems of Hilda Stern Cohen, a German Jewish woman who survived deportation to the Lodz ghetto and Auschwitz to make a new life in Baltimore.

It was an extraordinary performance.

Rosen is a member of The Patapsco Players, a Howard County storytelling troupe. Speaking in Cohen's words, Rosen told of her family's deportation from Nieder-Ohmen, a town in the German countryside, to the Lodz ghetto in Poland; the deaths of her parents and grandparents from starvation and disease; her life in Auschwitz; and the death march on which she slept while walking because stragglers were shot.

Cohen was 9 when Adolf Hitler came to power. At 11 she was forced to leave public school. She was in her teens when her family was deported. Of the 1,300 people on her transport, to the best of her knowledge, she was the only one to survive to the end of World War II.

Her story, told in prose drawn from interviews with Rosen and in poems she wrote while waiting in a displaced persons camp at the end of the war, was interspersed with fragments of Hebrew prayer.

"With abundant love have You loved us, Hashem our God; with exceedingly great pity have You pitied us," the women read from the Siddur, the prayer book Rosen called "Hilda's book."

The performance at Goucher College on Nov. 3 commemorated the 65th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the pogrom against Jews in the German Reich on Nov. 9, 1938, and honored Cohen. It also celebrated the publication of a book of her writings, which her husband found in a dresser drawer after her death in 1997.

The book's title, Genagelt ist meine Zunge, published in German by the University of Giessen (not far from Nieder-Ohmen), is also the first line of one of the poems.

This is my tongue

nailed to a language that curses me

it was hammered

into my ears

with the tones of love

and devouring hate.

The piece has been performed in Giessen, Nieder-Ohmen and Steyerberg, Germany, and in Berlin as part of the German-Jewish reconciliation project "Healing the Wounds of WWII," sponsored by the Compassionate Listening Project.

It was performed last week at the Sixth and I historic synagogue in Washington and at the German School in Potomac.

- Fay Lande


Graduates: Airman 1st Class Matthew D. Berrey, son of Michael and Clara Berrey of Ellicott City, has graduated from basic military training at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas.


Andrew Bryce Stanley: To Sean and Pamela Stanley of Elkridge on Oct. 14.

Around town

Peer support: The Department of Citizen Services' Office of Aging is sponsoring a 10-week SPRING peer support group with the theme "Ac-cent-chu-ate the Positive!" from 10:30 a.m. to noon Thursdays in the community room of Colonial Landing Apartments, 6391 Rowanberry Drive, Elkridge. The free group, SPRING Sunbeams, stresses creating positive relationships with family and friends, and is open to older adults from the Elkridge area. 410-313-7466.

Reunion: The Mount Hebron High School Class of 1983 will hold its 20-year reunion Nov. 28. Chris Pfister McComas, cdmc

Young firefighters: The Elkridge Volunteer Fire Department's Junior Firefighter Program seeks new members, ages 9-15, to learn basic firefighting skills. The Junior Firefighter Program, which meets from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. the second and fourth Sundays of each month, conducts training and fund raising and assists with department functions at the fire station. 410-966-2831.

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