How to hide in plain sight


During the third Reich, some Jews managed to hide in Germany until they either managed to escape or the war was over.  While Jews in camps lived (and died) in a constant nightmare,  life for the Jews hiding in plain sight could appear normal, but they were surrounded by a fog of evil, and any of the normal people around them might turn them in.  There was a sword dangling over their heads.
One of those who had to hide wrote a book about what hiding is like.  He says of himself (pseudonym ‘David’) and his sister Toni and his brother Leon and his brother’s girlfriend Lore:
We oscillated violently between dull despair and wide-awake terror, between hope and revulsion, bitterness and frivolity.   We faced inconceivable horrors every day of our lives–but we were healthy young people, and we were still capable of laughing.
So what was it like to hide in Nazi Germany?
Initially, some of the Jews were employed in the war effort.  David was not, but his sister Toni was, so David hid in her apartment.
During the day, David had to maintain absolute silence.  If he wanted to flush a toilet, he had to wait until a toilet was flushed on another floor, so that the sounds would coincide with his own flushing.  He took off his shoes to avoid making noise as he walked.  He oiled every hinge on every door.  He learned to suppress coughs and sneezes, and when they would not be suppressed, to bury his head under a cushion.
When this situation was not longer possible, a Christian shoemaker who was friends with David’s parents took in both David and his sister.  The sister made herself useful, cooking and cleaning, but it was harder for David to make himself useful.  The shoemaker had two sons at the front, and eventually one of the shoemaker’s sons came back on leave, found David in his room, and then had a major fight with his father.
David realized he had to find another place to live.
When finding new shelter became so important, David describes walking with his brother Leon  through the Tiergarten and on up the avenue called Unter den Linden to the old Royal Palace.  Before the war, this was a pleasant stroll to take, but
…how differently we looked at Berlin now!  Our eyes examined everything in terms of its potential as a hiding-place….We envied the birds their nests.
 Leon was so desperate that he was considering impractical ideas such as making a shelter out of the cab of a long-disused construction crane, or the interior of an abandoned van he came across, or of a hut that was used to store deck-chairs.
During the day, one refuge that David used was the city zoo.  To get warm he ducked into the tropical houses, visiting the lions and tigers and parrots and monkeys, but the smell and the noise pushed him to go to the aquarium.
So at a half past eight every morning, David would go off to study salamanders and turtles and crocodiles, and when visiting hours were over, he would ride around in circles on the S-Bahn, until it was late enough to go back to the shoemaker.
Finally, he landed a job with an engineer, Dr. Sell, who ran a small company making instruments and appliances for the air force and the navy.  As part of the job, he had to deliver these items to factories with portraits of Hitler and signs inside such as “beware of spies” or slogans such as “Leader, command us — we shall obey!”
When David’s situation got dire enough, he told the engineer that he was Jewish.
Sell replied as follows:
“You realise, don’t you, that you’re like an unexploded shell in my house, now that you’ve let me into your secret–a bomb that may go off at any moment.”
David looked at  him in consternation.
“Oh, you don’t have to worry about me,”, Sell added quickly, “I’m an old Social Democrat…It’s my duty as a human being to help you.”
As the engineer talked, his voice rose in anger.
I’m forced to let my son and daughter join the Hitler Youth, and then I have to be constantly on my guard against my own children!  Day and night that fiendish propaganda hammers away at one’s eardrums…They stand everything on its head with their lying and their ranting…
Oh yes, the enthusiasm’s falling off now.  Suddenly we’re getting pangs of conscience–ever since what happened at Stalingrad!  Many people now admit–in the privacy of their own homes–that there’s something not altogether healthy about this Third Reich…now we’re hearing people’s excuses, the reasons why they voted for him.  He wasn’t as bad as his speeches, they thought.  To begin with he seemed quite moderate.  He just had a bee in his bonnet about the Jews, otherwise he was quite a decent fellow…The most depraved hoodlum in the land–and they elected him head of state!  In error, they now claim.  To stop something worse happening!  They swore allegiance to a criminal fanatic!  By mistake!
Later, when David got to Vienna with a plan to get smuggled into Hungary, he says that he saw that
Stalingrad had put paid to Austria’s enthusiasm for the Fuhrer… Vienna, safe from air raids [by the allies], had become one vast field hospital.  You came across whole groups of crippled servicemen in the streets.  A new symbol adorned the walls of public lavatories: the swastika shown hanging from a gallows.
David was in the uniform of the Hitler Youth, and he says when he asked directions, he was cordially pointed in the wrong direction, and sometimes prevented from boarding the tram.
Eventually David did get to Hungary, but the Germans invaded Hungary.  Nonetheless, he finally got to Palestine.
Are there any take-home lessons for us?
Today, in the year 2016, People like Salman Rushdie and various cartoonists have had to go into hiding from believers in Jihad. Jews hide their identity in many parts of Europe, at least in public, because they don’t want to be assaulted by Palestinians or Palestinian sympathizers.   Still, its not as difficult as having to hide from your whole society.
I would expect that people with contacts in the criminal world would find it easier to escape, and if not to escape, to find illegal means of income and also places to hide.  I actually read once a survey of teenagers claimed that if many of them needed to get an illegal gun, they knew where to obtain one.
It is not easy to hide today, in the United States, if you have to earn a living.  You would basically have to forge an entire identity, from your social security card on up, to really get away from people who are determined to find you.  Interestingly, we do have an underground economy, employing millions of illegals.  There is a large underground economy in Europe too, some of it criminal, but some of it based on normal economic transactions that escape taxation and government regulation.
Perhaps we should pay more attention to the possibility that our lives could change drastically and quickly and be able to join that underground economy if we end up in a situation where our government cannot protect us, or worse, becomes part of the problem.  Or at least we should be able to live off the grid for a while.  A terrorist attack could plunge us into cold and darkness in the depths of the winter, or remove our water supply in heat of the summer.
Its doubtful that our government would come after us, but you never know, society changes rapidly.  My great-grandfather got along with his neighbors in his small village in Germany.  In fact, they organized a little commemorative parade when he died.  My grandmother would swim with the neighboring girls in the Rhine, and went to school with them.  After she got married and observed the rise of Hitler, the last straw was when a child told my father “I’m not allowed to play with you anymore”, and so grandma persuaded her husband to move to Palestine.
But the point is, there was a period when these rural folk got along reasonably well with their Christian neighbors.
(My sundry ancestors would turn in their grave to find out how their descendant (me) behaved, but that’s in another post)
Even if you live in a society where you absolutely trust your government, you can run afoul of either ideologues or criminals.  Here is what a brave man, Roberto Saviano, author of the international bestseller Gomorrah: Italy’s Other Mafia now has to do:
For the last eight years, I have travelled everywhere with seven trained bodyguards in two bullet-proof cars. I live in police barracks or anonymous hotel rooms, and rarely spend more than a few nights in the same place. It’s been more than eight years since I took a train, or rode a Vespa, took a stroll or went out for a beer. Everything is scheduled to the minute; nothing is left to chance. Doing anything spontaneous, just because I feel like it, would be ridiculously complicated.
Geert Wilders is a Dutch politician who believes Islam is irredeemably anti-Democracy.  As such:
[He was] Expelled from Britain, banned from Indonesia, denounced by the UN Secretary General, prosecuted in court for his beliefs, forced into government safe houses, and constantly threatened with death.
Wilders wrote a book about this, titled “Marked for Death“.

In June 2010, Alexander Poteyev allegedly betrayed a network of 10 Russian agents — including Anna Chapman, the now-famous redheaded Russian spy — operating illegally in the United States.

He may have been assassinated in the U.S., at any rate, Russia claims he is dead.

Russian 800-meter runner Yulia Stepanova and her husband exposed the systematic state-sponsored doping regimen pervasive in Russian athletics and then the couple and their young son fled to the United States, fearing for their safety. Hackers found out their address, and they have fled again.

Yulia Stepanova

These people stuck their necks out.  Most of us don’t.  But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have a plan-B, in case the legal world fails us.

David – Testimony of a Holocaust Survivor  – Ezra Ben Gershom (1988 – Berg Publishers Limited)

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