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Short biography of Simone Arnold Liebster

“Home to the Reich” was the motto in Alsace in 1940. This meant that all National Socialist laws were also applied to Alsace. A year later, in September 1941 – I was 11 years old at the time – the doorbell rang. Mutti and I were expecting father back from work. When we opened, Gestapo officers were at the door, who then questioned my mother for four hours. As they were leaving, one of them shouted, “You will never see your husband again. You and your daughter will fare the same as him.”

Father had been arrested that morning – it was September 4, 1941. The monthly salary he had in his pocket was confiscated, the bank account was closed and my mother was denied a work permit. The motto of the SS was: “No livelihood for these vermin.”

During this time, the pressure on the high school continued to increase. When the teacher entered the classroom, all 58 students had to stand up and say: ‘Heil Hitler!’ with outstretched arms. When the priest came, he said: ‘Heil Hitler! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’ The students then replied: Heil Hitler!’ I refused to say the German salute. There was a warning that I would have to leave the school if there was no change within a week. Finally the day came when I had to announce my decision in front of the class. The principal gave me five minutes to either return the German salute or leave the school. To this day I know how I felt: my head was heavy, my legs wanted to give up, my heart was racing, but I persevered and was then sent back to elementary school. But I wasn’t allowed to tell anyone why I had to leave high school. They wanted to give the impression that I was a troublemaker and thief and had therefore been expelled from high school.

Simone Arnold Liebster portrait
Simone Arnold Liebster

I was also exposed to strong physical and mental pressure in elementary school. I was once beaten unconscious, and our family doctor was even forbidden to help me. I was interrogated by the Gestapo psychiatrist for over an hour, after which I was brought before the juvenile court. There I was given the prospect of being sent to a reform school, followed by transfer to a concentration camp, if I stuck to my convictions. “Threatens to neglect character, is a danger to their peers,” was the verdict of the court.

So when I was twelve, I was admitted to the “Wessenberg Educational Institution in Konstanz”. A new life began there. As soon as I arrived, my shoes were taken away, since all 35 children had to walk barefoot from Easter to autumn. Six children were older than 12 years and had to wash, mend, sew and do all the gardening. The day started at 5.30 in the morning with house cleaning. The morning meal that followed was a bowl of soup at eight o’clock. In the mornings there were school lessons in the institution, in the afternoons there was sewing and heavy gardening was done. All work was strictly forbidden to speak. We could bathe twice a year and wash our hair once a year. There was no time to play. Punishments came in the form of beatings and starvation

If a pupil was caught talking, he would be hit on the fingers with a flexible stick with all his might. After that, the child had to get up at dinner and say out loud, “Thank you, I can’t eat because I’m punished.” This could go up to seven times in a row – 7 hits / 7 times without eating. Alternatively, one could be detained for one to three days. In order to be well regarded by the educators, the pupils sometimes betrayed each other and watched with glee as the punishment took place.

A few months later I found out that my mother had been sent to a concentration camp. We didn’t find each other again until after the war ended. When my mother picked me up at the reformatory, I didn’t recognize her; she was starved, ill, her face bruised in an air raid, her voice barely audible. It wasn’t until she got legal permission from the judge to take me with her that it dawned on me that she was my mother.

We found our apartment again and started furnishing it. In May 45 father also came back, marked by stays in concentration camps in Dachau, Mauthausen and Ebensee. But he too had survived and was home again.

A biography of Simone Arnold-Liebster can also be found on the Stiftung Denkmal’s website:

Simone and Max Liebster as witnesses at the event Memoria de un testimonio
Simone and Max Liebster as witnesses at the event Memoria de un testimonio