Renate Aris

* 1935

  • "But on February 13, on Mardi Gras, my father, like others, had to go to the Gestapo and he had to pick up the orders, that on the 15th/16th, him and us children, and the other Jews who still lived in Dresden, were to be deported to the concentration camp Buchenwald… transport to Buchenwald. And my father had to convey this to other community members as well. And he didn't tell my mother until that night on the 14th, the next major attack was on the 14th February. And she said: "I will not let my children go to their deaths." And then my mother gave us children a small backpack each, and in the night of the 15th to 16th, we set off. She said, “We're going towards Prague”. Because the Red Army was already closing in there. But after walking for a day and a half through the burning city… We had to climb over corpses. That was the only thing that didn't burn. Nowadays you would say corpses, but they were torsos, sometimes. Arms and legs were piled up with pitchforks at the Altmarkt and then burned. We went this way because everything was ablaze. And in the district Weißer Hirsch, we ended up with friends of my parents. My mother rang the bell. The house, it must be said, had a long staircase and in front of the entrance, there was a locked gate. And this friend got it right away: Mother shouted the name “Müller”. And so, when he greeted us, he called us “Müller”. And my mother said, “Can we rest here?” He said, “No. I have a small spare room, I'll hide you there.”"

  • "Well, the 13th to 14th February, of course, those were the major attacks. The house we lived in wasn't destroyed, only a few windows were destroyed and so on. But I think that in a huge area around the city centre everyone, whether their house was hit or not, thought, “The house is going to collapse.” So it was really, really bad. You thought everything was collapsing on top of you, even though everything had remained intact. “Intact” in quotation marks. The city, including Briesnitz, and the surrounding area were brightly lit. The so-called Christmas trees. And what I saw in a film once… This is what is condemnable: they knew what they were destroying. They knew where the bombs would fall. They could see it. And when you say, “They targeted only the industrial area”, not a single bomb fell there. Of course you have to keep in mind which companies were there, among other things: Koh-i-Noor, meaning foreign companies. But it was terrible. When the attacks, or well, the bombing was over, there was a crackling noise everywhere. It was an unbelievable sound when walls were tumbling down. And the city, we could see that from Briesnitz, as it is a bit higher, it was ablaze. An inferno."

  • "My father did forced labour, or had to, since 1941 in various companies in Dresden. I say forced labour. Every job has to be done. But under what conditions is the question. And those conditions were catastrophic. You have to say that the men or the forced laborers, they weren't just men, but also women, and young people… Particular streets were not allowed to be used. You can look up a lot, like in Klemperer's diaries, especially '43 - '45. Both of them, my father and Klemperer, did forced labour together, for a time. And you can look up a lot there. How hard it was. The hunger and especially the cold. There were also very, very cold winters. You can look up what these men, women, or young people had to suffer."

  • "And we were of an age, in 1945, where we were affected by all these things. 10 years old, 11 years old. And when we asked my father, my parents, but my father in particular, he said, “You have to study now.” Well, he didn't want us to... we have experienced a lot ourselves. But he did not want to burden us even more. Of course, we noticed from an early age, when it was said, “The grandparents had to hand over this, hand over that”. You know that. There were, I don't know how many, pogroms, but all did not affect everyone. But everything had to… Radios had to be handed over, the bicycles had to be handed over. The German citizenship that was the first thing to be revoked. Of course, as children, we noticed that something was going on there. But we also experienced a lot at first hand. For example, when it was normally the time to start school, we were told, “You can't.” “You must not go there, you must not go there.” These are all things that I still remember. And later, I would say, with the beginning of the war and especially, of course, in '41, the obligation to wear the star. Those were of course big changes and things that we remember very well. That we were told, “You are only allowed to walk the streets with this star.”"

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A childhood under the Yellow Star

Witness Renate Aris in 2022
Witness Renate Aris in 2022
photo: Photo by Dominik Janovský

Renate Aris was born in 1935 in Dresden. Since her father was Jewish, she and her brother were also persecuted as Jews by the Nazi regime. Her father was subjected to forced labour in several companies in Dresden. Meanwhile, Renate Aris was allowed to live with her mother and brother at her maternal grandmother’s apartment in a suburb of Dresden. There, she witnessed the bombing of Dresden in February of 1945. The remaining Jews in the city were supposed to be deported the following day but Renate Aris’ family was able to use the subsequent chaos to their advantage. They found refuge at a friend’s house who hid them until the end of the war. After the collapse of the Nazi regime, Renate Aris was finally allowed to go to school. She became the head of the costume department in various theatres and later also in television. Today, Renate Aris is an active member of the Jewish community in Chemnitz and dedicates her life to the remembrance of the persecution and the Holocaust by talking to young people about her experiences of growing up as a Jewish girl in Nazi Germany.