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Survivor tells her story; play depicts Jewish youth’s escape from Nazi Germany

By: Maria Allard | Mount Clemens - Clinton - Harrison Journal | Published April 29, 2015

CLINTON TOWNSHIP — When Anne Lehmann returned home to Berlin from Amsterdam at the end of summer in 1938, she felt so much had changed. Even though the 12-year-old had been away for just three weeks, her hometown felt different.

Waiting at the train station for her arrival were her dad, whom she called “Vati,” her mother, “Mutti,” and her best friend, Dorit, according to the ArtsPower National Touring Theatre’s stage play, “My Heart in a Suitcase.”

“It’s so good to have you home, and you’re never getting away from me again,” her mom said when she stepped off the train. Lehmann’s heart wanted the moment to “stay just like this forever.” But her return home occurred as Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany were coming into power, and the young Jewish girl would soon depart Berlin again — this time to save her life.

Lehmann was among 10,000 Jewish children who fled their European homelands in the late 1930s without their parents on the Kindertransport rescue mission to England prior to the start of World War II.

According to the website, the children were allowed to pack one suitcase, and they traveled by train across Germany, through Holland and on to the Hook of Holland. From there, they traveled by boat across the English Channel to Harwich to England.

Lehmann, who became Anne Lehmann Fox after she married an American soldier as an adult, detailed her experiences in the book “My Heart in a Suitcase,” which ArtsPower adapted into a stage play written by Greg Gunning. The show came to the Macomb Center for the Performing Arts for two shows April 21.

On stage, Lehmann was portrayed by Patrina Caruana and shared many scenes with her best friend — a Protestant — Dorit, played by Katie Fogarty. Caitlin Mileon was cast as Mutti while Nick Webster was Vati. All the actors reside in New York City.

People of all ages attended, including local students and Southfield resident Edith Maniker, whose own childhood mirrored Lehmann’s. The Leipzig, Germany, native was 8 when she fled her mother country for England in 1939 via the Kindertransport. Maniker shared her story during a brief question-and-answer period after the stage performances.

Maniker, now in her 80s, never attended public school in Germany because laws prohibited Jewish children from doing so. She remembers her mother always telling her, “Don’t let anybody know you’re Jewish.” Maniker said her sister, seven years her senior, left for England via the rescue mission two weeks before she did.

“That was the only time I saw my father cry,” she said. “When you are 8 years old and your parents cry, it’s frightening.”

When she left home, her parents said, “You’re going to go to England with your sister, who will be there waiting for you. We’ll see you in a few weeks. Have a wonderful vacation.”

But, sadly, she never saw her mother and father again.

“My parents were trying to get out of Germany. They got as far as Hungary. Through the Red Cross,  we would receive letters with a 20-word limit,” said Maniker, a docent at the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills. “By the end of 1940, they stopped. I never heard another word from my parents. Ninety-five percent of us never saw our parents again.”

One student asked her how she felt about surviving the Holocaust.

“You feel guilty. Why didn’t my parents survive? For years, I never talked at all about myself. How could I talk about myself when I wasn’t in the (concentration) camps? If I had not gotten on the Kindertransport, I would not be here talking to you. During the war, we didn’t know what was happening. Who knew that over 6 million people were going to be murdered?”

Maniker moved 10 times while living in England. She stayed with a family, went to school and learned to speak English. Maniker did not live with her sister, but they kept in touch through letters and were reunited in 1943. They moved to the U.S. four years later. Maniker was just 16 then and got a job working the counter at a dry cleaner.

“We had an aunt and uncle living in Detroit. That’s why we came to America,” Maniker said. “When you sing and talk about ‘America the Beautiful,’ believe me, it really is.

“Nobody really wanted to talk about the war,” she recalled. “The boys that had come back from the war, they wanted to go back to school and back to work. They wanted to go on with their lives.”

Despite the horrific world events that shaped her early years, Maniker told the crowd, “I am so lucky. I have so much to be thankful for. I was married to a wonderful man (for) 58 years. I have three children. I have four genius grandchildren. This past year, I became a great-grandmother.”

Maniker, a widow, visited with the cast on a lunch break between performances. She told Caruana that the hardest scene to watch was when her character departed for England sans her parents.

“I couldn’t imagine saying goodbye to my parents at that age,” Caruana said.

Mileon, who also portrayed schoolteacher Mrs. Waldenberg in “My Heart in a Suitcase,” said Lehmann’s story was “emotional” for her.

According to the stage play, both Lehmann’s parents were sent to concentration camps where they died. Her suitcase is in the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.

The Farmington Hills Holocaust Memorial Center is located at 28123 Orchard Lake Road. For more information, visit www.holocaust