Holocaust Survivor Edith Maniker’s Story Helps Others Glimpse the Horror of Genocide

Holocaust Survivor Edith Maniker’s Story Helps Others Glimpse the Horror of Genocide

Farmington Hills, MI – “I was seven years old. I have never been able to get that picture out of my mind,” said Edith Maniker as she told her story of surviving the Holocaust to students and visitors at the Holocaust Memorial Center Monday morning. She tells her story often, so that younger generations can learn about what happened with a human connection.

Maniker spent her earliest years in the southern part of Germany, in an apartment building with a view of the synagogue across the street. She had a mother, a father, and an older sister.

She shared that in 1933, Adolph Hitler had fired all Jewish workers from the government.  In 1935 Jews were not allowed to attend public school, public parks, or public swimming pools. Many stores had signs in the windows saying “No Jews allowed.”

In spite of the growing hate around them, Maniker had a happy childhood.  She said she and her family “were very close knit,” and she enjoyed going to a school for Jewish children. Cousins came to stay with them for a time, and neighbors looked out for each other.

But then came the Kristallnacht, “the night of shattered glass.”  Synagogues and Jewish-owned businesses were ransacked or burned. Jewish people were beaten, arrested, and murdered. Maniker’s father was not rounded up that night, because the building’s custodian lied and said there were no Jews living there.

“It was Nov. 9, 1938 when our synagogue was the only one in Leipzig that was not burned that night,” she said, explaining that the building was not a stand-alone house of worship, but that it abutted German-owned businesses on either side. So instead of burning it down, the mob pulled everything out – including holy robes and the hand written holy document – the Torah – and burned it all in the street.

“My father said, don’t turn on any lights, we don’t want them to see our silhouette,” Maniker said.  “I was seven years old. I have never been able to get that picture out of my mind, how this great big bonfire was burning and these men in uniforms were singing and dancing around it.”

War was clearly coming, and Jewish people who could flee, did so. Various refugee programs helped other escape. The largest effort was the Kindertransport which took Jewish minors up to age 17 to England to be placed with family members, or in foster homes, farms, orphanages, and hostels.

Both Maniker and her sister were sent away – with her sister going first.  When their parents took them to the train station, they said they were going off on a vacation, and that they would be joining them soon.  The lie kept the children from crying during their departures, though Mankier remembers seeing her father cry after her sister was gone.  It was the only time she had ever seen him cry. When she left her parents two weeks later, she had no idea that she would never see them again. She was only eight years old, and she left with full faith that she was headed to a vacation where her parents would soon join her.

Maniker’s journey took her to England, where she bounced around between relatives and fosters and a mix of city life and country life depending on where space was available.  At one point she was in the servant’s quarters of Lady Clementine Clearly, whose father had been a Marquis. She and three other kids lived in a beautiful country home for two years before being sent back to London so the rooms could be used –they later learned – to house American soldiers preparing for D-Day.

In London she was placed in a Jewish orphanage.  Then in 1943, she found her sister and the pair was able to stay in a home with another family.  Her sister had her own room, and Maniker roomed with another little girl.

One night there were air raid sirens, and the family and their guests gathered in the bunker.  “There was a blast of a bomb,” Maniker said.  “In my sister’s bedroom the blast of the bomb made the wardrobe fall on the bed.  The roof fell in on the bed, and bricks from the wall fell on top of that.”

“My sister was safe, but we needed a place to live.”

She stayed in London and survived another bombing, this time of her school.

“When I was a teenager, I was a nervous wreck. You dropped a penny to the floor and I would jump,” she said.

Eventually after a few more homes, they were able to come to America through an Aunt and Uncle living in Detroit.  In time, both she and her sister got their United States citizenship, had jobs they were proud of, found love, and started families of their own.

Maniker’s parents did not have passports, but they were able to escape as far as Budapest, Hungary.  Maniker’s mother sent short post cards courtesy of the Red Cross, and in time the correspondence simply stopped.  Her father was arrested, and briefly detained before being deported to Dachau concentration camp.  Just before Allied Troops made it to the camp, Nazis rounded up 7,000 prisoners and began a “death march” towards the Austrian border.  Maniker said her father was among those who died along the way. Most died of starvation, illness, exhaustion, and exposure.

Maniker has tried over the years to find out what happened to her mother. And even with the relatively recent accessibility of information via databases and the internet, she still does not know.

For a while, Maniker said, there was a lot of guilt.  She knew so many had died, and she didn’t understand why not her.  She felt guilt for all the help she received along the way.  But she talked through her feelings and realized that at eight years old she was blameless in the chaos, war, and death around her.

For a long time she had no desire to go back to Germany, but she changed her mind when she learned of an art project that placed bricks with names in the streets of Leipzig.  She and two of her children made the trip back to her hometown.  The synagogue was still there, mostly used by Russian Jews who had moved into the neighborhood after the war.  Her apartment was still there as well, though it had been divided into two units.  She said she’s glad she went back, and was surprised at the pleasant memories that came back.  “I was able to remember where my father would sit in the synagogue,” she said.

Her story was one of hundreds of thousands in a genocide that took the lives of over six million Jews, and ripped at the hearts of the hundreds of thousands who lost their homes, businesses, friends, families, and their country.

She said that when going through scary times, she would get through by “trusting the adults you are with – they’re doing the best they can.” Maniker also advised the young people to “get yourself a good friend to talk to you can trust.”

“I got through life being so grateful for everything I have,” she said.

Maniker is a widow now, who has three adult children who live out of state, four grandchildren, and one great-grand child.  “I see them, and I hear from them, and I am extremely proud of them,” she said.

The Holocaust Center is located at 28123 Orchard Lake Rd, Farmington Hills, MI 48334.  Learn more about their speakers program, exhibits and more at https://www.holocaustcenter.org.

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