Emma Arnold biography
An Unfailing Courage

 


Chapter 6 : 1945-1979

Return to Life


 

During the winter of 1944-45, Allied troops crossed the Rhine River. All the dangerous prisoners had to be “evacuated” to other camps in the German interior. Emma would be sent to Ravensbrück. But there was no train line to there from Gaggenau. A few SS guards forced Emma, along with a group of male prisoners, to walk. They stopped at a prisoner-of-war camp in Villingen, but at daybreak their forced march continued on toward a train station. That night the guards locked the prisoners in an empty cellar and slept in the apartment above. In the morning, one of the French prisoners discovered that the SS had fled. The men broke down the door and escaped in the direction of the Allied front—all except for Emma, who was determined to find Simone.

She left the liberating army behind and headed south, mingling with fleeing refugees. A flatbed truck stopped, and the driver offered the escapees a ride. Emma climbed aboard. A low-flying plane strafed the road, bringing the truck to a sudden halt and ejecting the riders. Emma fell face down on the concrete road. But despite her wounds and blood in her urine, she continued her journey. Finally, she came upon a small train station where people were distributing hot soup. A first-aid booth offered rudimentary treatment. They only had a red-colored antiseptic to clean the deep gashes in her forehead, nose, and chin.

A train pulled into the station and all the refugees ran to get on board. At the sight of Emma’s wounds, tattered clothes, and fragile condition, they backed away and let her board first. When changing trains, she took the opportunity to get medical treatment at another Red Cross station. In addition to the red antiseptic, this one offered a black powder to cover her open wounds.

When she arrived in Constance, she first went to the hospital to seek further treatment, but they had run out of supplies. The most a nurse could find was a pink adhesive bandage, which she cut into tiny strips to try to pull the edges of her cuts together. Emma resumed her search, her wounded face a palette of red, black, and pink. More than seven months had elapsed since Eugenie’s last letter to her in Schirmeck. The advancing battle front had cut off all connections, prompting Emma’s growing anxiety.

 

Her Daughter Doesn’t Recognize Her

Emma arrived at the Wessenberg’sche Erziehungsanstalt and sat at the same table as before. 22 month had passed since she had been forced to leave her girl there. The matrons called Simone into the room. She entered and curtsied, reciting her qualifications as a maid, just as she had been taught: “I can cook, wash, iron, and mend.” She brought samples of her embroideries and needlework and spread them out on the table for inspection. Then she stood back, stiff, numb, and silent. She was the same height. She hadn’t grown at all. She was mute, just as she had been the day she came to Constance.

Emma too could not find words. She could not even smile because of the wounds on her swollen face. Finally she asked if Simone could be released. The answer was no, not without a release from the court. Emma could go there and try to secure the necessary documents. Simone knew the way and could lead her there. They walked side by side the long way to the courthouse, neither speaking a word, neither reaching for the other’s hand.

As Emma went from office to office in search of release papers, her personality came to life. The judges had all fled. The clerks had no authority to give her a release document. She wouldn’t give in. Suddenly, Simone started to weep, trembling all over. Emma wrapped her arms around her and tried to calm her uncontrollable sobbing. She promised that she would find a way. The French army was getting closer to Constance, so surely the authorities would let her go. That is exactly what happened. As the army approached, the director, Fraülein Lederle, turned Simone over to Emma, saying, “We give you Simone back with the same mental attitude she had when she came.” Emma could barely contain her feelings.

Wessenberg Educational Institution for Girls, which was remodeled after the war

The Swiss border ran past the boundary of the Wessenberg grounds. The Swiss help center offered shelter, food, disinfection, and medical care to all former victims of the Nazis. They could also obtain free passage by train to a French help center in Evian and further on in Langres. During the journey, Emma tried unsuccessfully to get Simone to open up. She remained withdrawn and silent.

 

The Return

Mother and daughter left Langres as free citizens. They boarded the Paris-Basel train and rode as far as Mulhouse. On disembarking, they heard an announcement calling the deportees from Germany who had arrived shortly before on the final special transport for victims. Emma and Simone had come from the opposition direction and were the very last passengers to come across the walkway above the tracks. From above, Simone recognized the little lady walking dejectedly toward the exit: Aunt Eugenie. Day after day, week after week, Eugenie had been coming to the train station to meet each new transport of returning deportees, all without success.

Emma (left) and Eugenie (right), about five weeks after Emma returned from the camp

Emma recognized Eugenie, but Eugenie was shocked by her sister’s appearance. She could hardly recognize her. They held each other close and wept. Even before reaching the station exit, Emma had the reassuring answers to all her questions. Bergenbach and the Koehls were all safe. Only Adolphe had not yet returned.

Emma now took up the difficult daily trek to the help center to check the board listing the missing. As weeks passed, the list grew shorter. Yet, “Arnold, Adolphe,” at the top of the list, remained. Finally, his name was marked “presumed dead.”

She would have to reorganize her life. Simone, now 15, lagged far behind in her schooling. But first they both needed to regain their physical health. The hope of seeing her father again in the resurrection comforted Simone, as did the final letters of Marcel Sutter, who had been beheaded in the prison at Halle at age 24.

To have her daughter with her and alive was a reason to be grateful. Moreover, their apartment was the only one left untouched during a six-week street battle between French and German forces. The Gestapo had sealed the apartment, but the City Welfare Office had also put its seal on the place as payment for Simone’s stay in Constance!

 

A Shadow Comes Back

One day toward the end of May, the bell rang. Simone opened the door to find Maria Koehl. She whispered something to Simone. Then a shadow of a man came from slowly up the stairs from behind her. Emma fell into Adolphe’s arms in a long embrace.

One month after his liberation, Adolphe recovered slowly with the help of his wife

The immense relief and happy reunion could not erase the shock. Adolphe had become an old man, with missing teeth, partial deafness, and shortness of breath. He was clearly on the verge of dying. A new battle began. Emma poured herself into the fight for his life, nursing him day and night, searching books on nutrition and natural treatments, trying to bring him peaceful nights. She also knew that her daughter needed a different kind of help. Her disposition worried both her parents. She obeyed and she happily participated in their religious activities. But otherwise, she seemed to have lost all her ambition and initiative. She became almost secretive, keeping very much to herself.

The Arnold family in 1945

 

Christian Forgiveness

Amidst bombed out ruins and an atmosphere of revenge, life could hardly be normal. The ever-present threat of arrest hung heavy over Nazi collaborators. Mrs. Eguemann, a neighbor lady in the apartment house, was one. Daily the Arnolds could hear her yelling through the door, “Why don’t they come for me…?”

Suspicion ran rife. An opportunity for revenge came along for Emma. She received a subpoena to appear in a Strasbourg court as a witness and complainant in the case against the female camp guard Lehmann, the Hyena of Schirmeck. Emma’s name as a potential witness had been submitted by the girls who the Hyena had abused for listening to Bible reading. The judge called on Emma to state her complaint. Emma did not speak of the weeks she spent in the Bunker because of Lehmann. She only asked permission to look Lehmann in the eye. It was granted. She approached and stood silently in front of the defendant, with a long, penetrating gaze. (Years later, Emma heard that Lehmann said those eyes were the worst punishment. She could not get that look out of her mind. She saw those eyes everywhere.)

Another summons from the local police afforded a golden opportunity to avenge the denunciation of all those “dogs” that had chased the “rabbit.” The police only needed Emma’s signature to arrest them. To the policeman’s surprise, Emma said that as a Christian, she followed the Bible principle that “vengeance belongs to the Lord.” She only asked to know who her betrayers were. He showed her the list: the Catholic priest, the Protestant pastor, and Mrs. Eguemann had been behind Emma’s arrest.

The police hunt for Nazi collaborators went on for years before the region was considered “clean.” Mrs Eguemann’s anxieties and tortured cries eventually subsided, but then they began again. She developed terminal cancer, and no medication could quiet the excruciating pains. She suffered severe hemorrhaging and had no one to change her clothes and her bedding. Emma rendered Christian charity, caring for her neighbor’s needs several times daily during her final weeks.

Emma’s own health began wavering. Fortunately, when she had her first heart attack, Simone was there and called for help. The family bonded again as they pursued their Christian activities. Despite the limitations of poor health, they tried to follow the lifestyle they had lived before the war. Simone finally agreed to attend art school. Adolphe recovered enough to do some artwork, and within two years of liberation, they had regained some strength. They often made the trip to Bergenbach to help Emma’s aging parents with the farm.

Adolphe and Emma went regularly to Bergenbach to help their aging parents with farm work

 

Beyond the Aftermath

All Emma’s strength went into her Bible teaching work, and together with Adolphe, they touched countless lives with their message of hope. Emma knitted many sweaters as gifts for fellow evangelizers. Goods were still rationed, but Emma found a way to sew many garments for Simone, who was preparing to move to another city to teach the Bible.

In 1950 after only five years of their being reunited, Simone moved away from home. Emma gave her enthusiastic support to Simone’s plans, but once she was gone, the family table seemed too big. She couldn’t stand to look at the empty chair. Adolphe was approaching retirement. They decided to move to a place where more Bible teachers were needed. Emma would have to learn to drive at 60 years of age. Cars were rare in those days, but Emma wanted to be able to visit people freely.

 

Aix-les-Bains 

In 1961, just a few months before Adolphe retired, Emma had a major heart attack. Simone and her husband, Max Liebster, who were doing their ministry work in Paris, took turns coming to help for some weeks. The doctor’s prognosis predicted Emma would survive and live for another five years. So the Arnolds and the Liebsters decided to move together to the pleasant Savoy region, to Aix-les-Bains, where there was not yet a congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The home of the Arnolds and the Liebsters in Aix-Les Bains

The home was surrounded by a lovely garden

Aix-Les-Bains lies on the shore of Le Bourget Lake

Simone gave Emma all sorts of therapies and treatments that helped Emma enjoy an active and happy life for seventeen more years. She helped to establish the new congregation in Aix-les-Bains. Meanwhile, Eugenie, who had been married and widowed again, retired in 1968 and moved from Oderen to be near her sister. From that day forward, she again joined the Arnolds every noon at their table. She survived her sister by ten years.

The last family picture

Emma’s strength gradually diminished. She lost her hearing and sometimes her voice was barely audible. She wrote short, encouraging notes and wrapped them around Watchtower magazines to give out. While sitting in a car, patiently awaiting the driver’s return, she would wave to passers-by and hand them a magazine with a note.

Simone with her widowed motherIn December 1977 Adolphe suffered a stroke. He was rushed to the local hospital, where he died. Simone returned wearing her father’s wedding ring. Emma looked at her serenely and said, “Yes, I know.” After a long pause, she continued, “When Adolphe comes back, he will have his hearing again. He will be able to teach and build faith in people, just as he did before.”

Emma survived for another 16 months. During that time, she read her Bible, making historical notes in the margins about the rulers of the kingdoms surrounding ancient Israel. Eugenie saw no point in the boring exercise and asked Emma why she did it. ‘In the resurrection when I meet someone who lived in the time of Sargon, I want to understand the conditions of that period and how it shaped his viewpoint. Only then will I be able to speak helpful words.’

The last week of her life began in March 1979. Emma, now 80 years old, was taken to the hospital for her final painful battle. Emma knew she was nearing her end. Simone sat at her side, and Emma gave her last wish, to visit a long-time Witness who had just undergone serious surgery: “Go see Joséphine. She’ll need you to look after her and give her comfort.”

 

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