ELSE BERGMANN, THE WIFE OF THE PROTESTANT PASTOR IN HALLSTATT HELLMUTH BERGMANN, WAS "FULLY JEWISH" ACCORDING TO THE NATIONAL SOCIALIST DEFINITION. WHEN THE NATIONAL SOCIALISTS TOOK POWER IN GERMANY IN 1933 AND A FIRST WAVE OF MASSIVE EXCLUSION AND OPPRESSION TOOK PLACE, THE FAMILY DECIDED TO MOVE TO HALLSTATT IN 1934.
But even here Else and their children were not really safe. With the Anschluss in 1938, the exclusion began again. Marriage to an "Aryan" initially protected Else and the children from persecution, but anti-Semitic hostility and laws increased. The family was excluded from public and social life. Among other things, the older children had to leave grammar school. The family lived extremely modestly and, because they also received fewer food allotments, tried to make ends meet.
In February 1945, Gestapo orders were issued to all police posts to arrest Jewish women living in "mixed marriages" and to transfer them to Linz. Else Bergmann, like Mrs. Mühlbacher and Mrs. Wagner from Bad Ischl, was also to be arrested. But the local policeman allowed her to spend her last night at home to say goodbye to her family. Else Bergmann took the opportunity and faked her suicide in Lake Hallstatt. Even the younger two children were led to believe that their mother was dead.
Else Bergmann assumed the identity of her sister, who had already committed suicide in 1933 after losing her job as a nurse in the wake of the Nazi takeover. With her sister's papers, which were still marked without a "J" (for Jew), and wearing her nurse's uniform (Else Bergmann had once been a Red Cross nurse herself), she took the first train from Steeg to Attnang-Puchheim and on to Bavaria. In Passau, she reported to the municipal hospital and worked there, not "in hiding" but with a false identity, as a nurse from February 12, 1945 until the end of the war. On May 21, 1945, a US Army jeep brought her back to her family in Hallstatt.
A few years after the war, her children emigrated to the USA and Else Bergmann followed them in the early 1950s. She died in the USA in 1974. Her urn was brought to Lake Hallstatt and buried in the small Lutheran cemetery in Obertraun.
Research & Text: Mag.a Nina Höllinger, Contemporary History Museum Ebensee
Picture: Family archive Christopher New
VIDEO: Nikolai New, grandson of Else Bergmann, plays Bach for his grandmother. Johannes Krisch and Larissa Fuchs read from the novel "The Kaminsky Cure", which Christopher New, Else Bergmann's son-in-law, wrote about the family history.
This video was created as part of Teresa Distelberger's project "Vielschichtige Geschichte(n)" (=multi-layered HIStories) at the Festival of Regions 2021. The initiative for this commemorative plaque is a cooperation of the artist with the cultural association kunterbunt KulturBunt Hallstatt and the Zeitgeschichte Museum Ebensee, financed by the Protestant parish Hallstatt and the municipality of Hallstatt.
Franz Severin Berger, Christiane Holler, Überleben im Versteck. Schicksale in der NS-Zeit, Wien 2002.
Christopher New, The Kaminsky Cure. Saqi 2005.