Holocaust Survivor Recounts Tales Of Life Under Hitler's Rule
Margot Webb was lucky enough to leave Germany at the last second, but her family paid a steep price for her freedom.
70 years ago, the world was very different for Margot Webb. Back then she was a pre-teen girl in Germany, going to school, somewhat oblivious to the implications that awaited the Nazis' rise to power.
Her father owned a department store, and her mother was a socialite. Over time, she began to get the feeling that her beloved parents were hiding something from her. After confronting them, they divulged the true nature of the situation.
"My father spared me nothing. He said ‘the Nazis hate Jews, they hate our disabled people, gypsies, they hate homosexuals. And they're trying to get rid of us,'" she recalled hearing.
Her parents were preparing to flee to America. While they sensed the pressure rising in their country, full-scale genocide activities had not at that time become standard.
But her country's attitude had changed, and Jews were living in fear.
One day the Nazis came to Margot's house and gathered up her family and took all of their jewelry. Just a child, Margot felt left out and so she offered her coral bracelet to one of the soldiers. He laughed and said that her bracelet was junk, but asked if there was anything that she really loved. She jumped at the chance to show him a small pony her grandfather had recently given her.
"The one Nazi said ‘you know I would really like to see your horse and pet it. Is that ok?' and I said ‘sure, of course.' And we went out there, and he looked at the horse and shot it and killed it. I watched the horse shaking for a few minutes and that was that."
"So daily life was no daily life. You never knew who was going to be killed or who was going to be beaten," she said.
Her grandfather was also arrested and beaten in jail. When he returned home, he told young Margot that the Nazis were cowards. An SS officer on the street overheard his comment and he was on his way to a concentration camp that afternoon. Because he was wealthy he was able to buy his way out after two weeks.
But later, both Margot's grandparents were caught trying to flee to Amsterdam. They were sent to a concentration camp and forced on a death march. After her grandmother collapsed in the snow, both grandparents were taken back to the camp and executed in the gas chambers.
Margot soon found out why her grandparents had chosen to flee to Amsterdam.
Word came that Margot's father had secured a visa to immigrate to the United States for her and her mother, so they went to Berlin to meet with the U.S. consulate and then to the docks to board a ship headed to Ellis Island.
While walking to the boat, both Margot and her mother were stripped, searched and interrogated by Nazi guards who thought they were spies, but eventually they were allowed to board the boat and leave the country.
What Margot didn't know at the time was that her and her mother's visas had actually been given to her grandparents. It was they who decided to pass them along to Margot, and in turn they ended up paying for her freedom with their lives.
Even though Margot was, by many standards, wealthy, she says that she has trouble feeling fortunate for her escape from the clutches of Nazi Germany.
"To know that two people gave up their lives for me. I want to say yes, but...no."
Upon arriving in America, Margot and her family lived briefly in Pennsylvania, than moved to San Francisco.
Since then she has dedicated her life to preaching the value of pacifism, even working with Hispanic gang members for a time.
She has written numerous books, both about her experiences in Germany, and about parenting and street gangs.
We have preserved the full audio clip of Margot's interview as a podcast, which you can hear by clicking below. Her interview was a part of the California State Assembly's Holocaust Memorial Project, organized locally by Assemblyman Cameron Smyth's office.