As a little girl, I was a very lively and naughty, and when we lived with the Nassimis, I used to bother their boys all the time, until my parents decided to send me to a boarding kindergarten. I hated it there! First of all, I was far from my family at such a young age, and did not know the language.
Secondly, it was hard getting used to the tasteless cooking when I was used to my mother’s and grandmother’s savory food; to sharing a room with other girls, who are not my sisters and do not speak my language; and worst of all — having to take baths in a large metal basin that was placed in the yard.
After 6 months away from home, I came back and they enrolled me in a regular elementary school.
One day, my teacher called my parents to say that I have to be more assertive with my classmates. Because they had broken my will in kindergarten, and on top of that, I did not know German, I became very quiet, as opposed to the wild girl I was before. My classmates used to hit me and pick on me, and the teacher told my parents they should teach me how to defend myself. She also said that because I’m not learning enough, I should go back home for another year before I go to school for 1st grade again. I found my assertiveness, and said: “No way! I will continue in school.” I didn’t want to stay the whole day at home!
I befriended a girl in class, and she helped me a lot: for months we went up and down staircases and read all the door signs. That is how she taught me to read!
The school I went to, which was a general school, was in a place that used to be the Jewish neighborhood, but I didn’t know it at ﬁrst. When I found out that it had previously been an all-girls, Jewish school, I couldn’t help wondering who sat in my chair before the war, and how many of them remained alive.
Moving to the new neighborhood in 1958, also meant a change of school. I was not very happy in the new school. In 6th grade the teacher asked who wants to take the examinations for Gymnasium (high school). It was a 14-day examination, and most people didn’t care for it. Passing it would mean going to Gymnasium and continuing your studies till the 13th grade, taking matriculation exams, and being eligible for academic studies. Not taking the test, or taking it and failing, meant either going to Middle School up to 10th grade and then getting a desk job or becoming a nurse, or staying in elementary school until 9th grade, and then leaving the education system to become a blue-collar worker.
I was not a very good student in elementary school, but I was very ambitious and wanted to change my school. I was the only one in the whole school who was interested in taking the exam. When I told my teacher I want to take the exam, he said: “You belong in a school for handicapped children, not in the Gymnasium.” But my father said: “What have you got to lose?” I didn’t have high hopes, but I wanted to give it a try: the two-week exams were always given in other schools and graded by other teachers, so they could be completely objective, unlike my own teacher.
The results came by post, and my parents received them before me. When I came home from school that day, I didn’t even think about the exams. But when I entered my room, it was full of ﬂowers and sweets! I burst into tears of joy. From that moment on — it was January — until the change of schools in April, my class teacher and all my classmates did not speak a word to me. For three months I sat in the classroom like a leper. The teacher never forgave me for his failure to recognize my potential.
In April, I went to the Wartenaugymnasium. The school was a newly established institution in an old building. All the other students came with their parents to the opening ceremony, but I came alone because it didn’t occur to me or my parents that they should accompany me. Then all of a sudden I heard the principal, Mr. Langhein, calling my name! I was completely surprised! The principal invited me to go on stage, gave me a little bouquet of ﬂowers and congratulated me because it was my birthday that day! I’ll never forget it. It was such a wonderful gesture, and for me a wonderful experience, especially after the treatment I got in my old school. I promised to myself to become an excellent student. I didn’t know at the time that while easy things are difficult for me, difficult things are a piece of cake. It is like that even today. High school was difficult, which for me, meant easy.
As an adolescent, I had a tendency towards depression and was very fat. I had a young beautiful mother, always smartly dressed, no less than the most elegant women in Hamburg, and I admired her. For me, she was holy. But I couldn’t live up to her standards.
My mother tried to help me, and always put me on diets. Once a week my father brought home some sweets and gave them to all the children, but my mother wouldn’t let me have any. This made me think I was fat and ugly, which made me even more depressed. I used to steal small change out of my father’s pocket to buy sweets, and gained even more weight.
And if my ﬁgure were not enough, around the age of 11 I got glasses. One day we went to the movies together. My mother saw one of the members of the Jewish Iranian community, and said: “Take off your glasses immediately!”
“But I can’t see the movie without them!” I tried to protest.
But my mother wouldn’t take no for an answer. To this day, I can’t tell you what the movie was about.
We were used to having a very big family, and moving to Germany made us feel very lonely. But not only because of the missing family: My parents ordered us to limit our contacts with Germans, even with our neighbors! They feared that we would get too involved with German people and wish to assimilate, and there was another thing: These were post-war times, and they were afraid of anti-Semitism: Nobody knew who was involved in the Nazi crimes and who was not, who really repented and who only pretended. They allowed us to invite them over to our place, but not to go to their houses.
We, the kids, didn’t want to have contact with Germans either: In the ﬁrst years we were more attached to the family, and when we moved to our own apartment, we got a television that broadcast only 2 hours a day, and what we saw there made us even more reluctant to have contacts with Germans: The television broadcast ﬁlms about the war in general, and the concentration camps in particular. Seeing all these atrocities on television is difficult for anyone, and we were only small children, I was just 10 years old! And just thinking some of our German neighbors may have been involved… We grew up with these ﬁlms, and then one day they just stopped broadcasting them. The ﬁlms were gone forever, or at least so we thought until YouTube came into our lives.
One of the holocaust ﬁlms that had the greatest impact on me, was Night and Fog (1956) by the poet Paul Celan. It was a documentary, and Celan wrote poems to go with the horrifying images, that still haunt me till today. It was a traumatizing ﬁlm to watch, especially at that young age, but I guess this lasting impact is what makes it an excellent documentary.
The radio always broadcast announcements of missing people — lists of names every 30 minutes. The soldiers’ barracks and social venues in the city were converted to refugee housing for people who ﬂed East Germany, which was under Soviet occupation. One of these refugee houses was located near us. We saw them, living 3–4 families in one room with bunkbeds, and one kitchen in the corridor. Later on the place was demolished.
Our own life was very comfortable: We had hard currency and could buy anything we wanted. But seeing these other things was a part of my childhood.