Susanne von der Borch

Susanne Borch

Susanne von der Borch was born in Munich, Germany, in 1923. Her mother was a strong opponent of Adolf Hitler: "My mother went early on, before Hitler was elected, to a political rally and she listened to him yelling. She was convinced that something terrible was happening to us. As a child, I could not judge. I was simply besotted by it."

Susanne was considered to be the "ideal German girl" as she was "tall, blonde-haired, blue-eyed and mad about sport". She joined the German Girls' League (BDM). As she pointed out: "This was my world. It fitted my personality because I had always been very sporty and I liked being with my friends... I always wanted to get out of the house. So this was the best excuse for me. I couldn't be at home, because there was always something happening... riding, or skating, or summer camp. I was never at home." (1)

Her school work suffered because of her BDM activities: "I only managed to get to the end of the school year with the help of my classmates. I was a very bad pupil. I was only good at sport, biology and sketching, I was very bad at all the rest... And the school didn't dare do anything so I had my freedom and didn't go to school if I didn't want to." (2)

Susanne von der Borch was told in the BDM and at school that Germans deserved to control the world: "We are the master race... The world presented to us was filled only with beautiful people, master race people, full of sport and health. And, well, I was proud about that, and inspired by it. I would call this a grand seduction of youth." (3)

Kristallnacht (Crystal Night)

Ernst vom Rath was murdered by Herschel Grynszpan, a young Jewish refugee in Paris on 9th November, 1938. At a meeting of Nazi Party leaders that evening, Joseph Goebbels suggested that night there should be "spontaneous" anti-Jewish riots. (4) Reinhard Heydrich sent urgent guidelines to all police headquarters suggesting how they could start these disturbances. He ordered the destruction of all Jewish places of worship in Germany. Heydrich also gave instructions that the police should not interfere with demonstrations and surrounding buildings must not be damaged when burning synagogues. (5)

Heinrich Mueller, head of the Secret Political Police, sent out an order to all regional and local commanders of the state police: "(i) Operations against Jews, in particular against their synagogues will commence very soon throughout Germany. There must be no interference. However, arrangements should be made, in consultation with the General Police, to prevent looting and other excesses. (ii) Any vital archival material that might be in the synagogues must be secured by the fastest possible means. (iii) Preparations must be made for the arrest of from 20,000 to 30,000 Jews within the Reich. In particular, affluent Jews are to be selected. Further directives will be forthcoming during the course of the night. (iv) Should Jews be found in the possession of weapons during the impending operations the most severe measures must be taken. SS Verfuegungstruppen and general SS may be called in for the overall operations. The State Police must under all circumstances maintain control of the operations by taking appropriate measures." (6)

Erich Dressler was a member of the Hitler Youth in Berlin. "Of course, following the rise of our new ideology, international Jewry was boiling, with rage and it was perhaps not surprising that, in November, 1938, one of them took his vengeance on a counsellor of the German Legation in Paris. The consequence of this foul murder was a wave of indignation in Germany. Jewish shops were boycotted and smashed and the synagogues, the cradles of the infamous Jewish doctrines, went up in flames. These measures were by no means as spontaneous as they appeared. On the night the murder was announced in Berlin I was busy at our headquarters. Although it was very late the entire leadership staff were there in assembly, the Bann Leader and about two dozen others, of all ranks.... I had no idea what it was all about, and was thrilled to learn that were to go into action that very night. Dressed in civilian clothes we were to demolish the Jewish shops in our district for which we had a list supplied by the Gau headquarters of the NSKK, who were also in civilian clothes. We were to concentrate on the shops. Cases of serious resistance on the part of the Jews were to be dealt with by the SA men who would also attend to the synagogues." (7)

These demonstrations against the Jews, that later became known as Kristallnacht (Crystal Night), also took place in Munich. Susanne von der Borch was woken by the sounds of people screaming: "My mother was at the window. I sat up and saw the house opposite in flames. I heard someone screaming, Help! Why doesn't anyone help us? and I asked my mother, Why is the house burning, where are the fire brigades, why are the people screaming? And she just said, Stay in bed."

Her mother left the house. "After a longtime, my mother came back. She had fifteen people with her. I was shocked because they were in nightgowns and slippers, or just a light coat. And I could see they were all our Jewish neighbours. She took them into the music room and my brother and I were told, Be quiet and don't move. My mother was very strict, so we didn't move. And we heard our mother phoning people up, and my sister was sent here and there to get drinks for them. Then these people were driven away by our chauffeur to relatives or friends."

The following day Susanne von der Borch attended a meeting of the German Girls' League: "A few of the Hitler Youth leaders were there, who I normally liked a lot. And they were standing there telling us how they had spent the night. They said they had been at a shop, the Eichengrun in Munich, and they'd smashed the windows, and they'd got hold of one Jew and shaved the hair on his head. And I said, You horrible pigs! And I thought, I have to find out the truth, what was really going on. And that was when I really started to ask serious questions." (8)

Invasion of Poland

On 23rd August, 1939, Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin signed the Nazi-Soviet Pact. A week later, on 1st September, the two countries invaded Poland. Within 48 hours the Polish Air Force was destroyed, most of its 500 first-line planes having been blown up by German bombing on their home airfields before they could take off. Most of the ground crews were killed or wounded. In the first week of fighting the Polish Army had been destroyed. On 6th September the Polish government fled from Warsaw. (9)

After the government surrendered later that month, Poland was designated as an area for "colonization" by ethnic Germans. On 21st September, 1939, Reinhard Heydrich issued an order authorizing the ghettoization of Jews in Poland. They were expelled from their homes, their land was expropriated and they were deported to the eastern areas of Poland or to ghettos in the cities. (10)

An estimated 500,000 Germans, many living in territories in the Soviet sphere of influence, were now offered land in central Poland. It was decided to send members of the German Girls' League (BDM), under Schutzstaffel (SS) control, to "feminize and domesticate the conquest". Their task was to "Germanize" them, "teaching German culture and customs to the families, many of whom didn't even speak the language." (11)

Susanne von der Borch was asked to a resettlement camp of 800 Bessarabian Germans in central Poland, to teach children art and woodwork. "I told my mother about it and she said to me, literally: If you do that and if you go there, then I never want to speak to you again. And I don't want to see you ever again. And I thought, I have to risk that.... Imagine, I was seventeen years old. I was a blonde girl. My parents were writing me off. They knew the camps were run by the SS and they thought I was going to be drawn into their hands and that would be my fate... Formerly they had been rich farmers, breeding sheep, and they were plunged into misery. They didn't have any ration cards, they were living in poverty in these camps." (12)

In 1941 Susanne visited the Jewish ghetto in Lodz: "The windows were covered with paint so you couldn't see through. The tram doors were locked and then we drove through the ghetto. People had already scratched little peep holes in the paint. And I scratched a little more to see as much and as clearly as possible what was happening in the ghetto. Jewish children stood there, half-starved, wearing their Jewish stars, at the fence, this barbed wire fence. They were in a terrible state, dressed only in rags, like all the other people. What I saw - it was dreadful. It was worse than my worst fears... I saw one Jewish child, I couldn't see whether it was a boy or a girl, and he was there at the fence and he was looking out with huge eyes, starved eyes, in rags and obviously in despair... The ghetto was horrific and when I returned to the camp I was totally shattered." (13)

On her return to Germany, Susanne von der Borch made a report on her experiences for the BDM. She decided to include "everything that was important to me, I didn't keep silent about anything. I didn't gloss over anything." Her group leaders were horrified; BDM reports were read out to the girls at the weekly home evenings. One of the leaders told her: "You know that concentration camps are there for young people too." The report was returned to her a few weeks later with her signature, "but all the things that were important to me had been taken out. It was a beautiful trip and an exciting trip, and it was just a description of a trip". However, Susanne was not punished for her report but she now decided to distance herself from the organization: "For me personally, I drew the line and decided that this movement, which had been so very important, was now finished for me."

Susanne von der Borch married a man in the German Army. They rented two rooms in Munich. By this stage the couple were highly critical of Adolf Hitler and decided to take his photograph off the wall. When the landlady discovered what they had done she reported them to the authorities. His army commander thought highly of him as a soldier and he intervened on his behalf and his punishment was limited to a 500 marks fine. "That was a huge amount of money, we couldn't afford it. My father gave it to us." (14)

Primary Sources

(1) Susanne von der Borch, interviewed by Cate Haste, for her book, Nazi Women (2001)

My mother went early on, before Hitler was elected, to a political rally and she listened to him yelling. She was convinced that something terrible was happening to us. As a child, I could not judge. I was simply besotted by it...

This was my world. It fitted my personality because I had always been very sporty and I liked being with my friends... I always wanted to get out of the house. So this was the best excuse for me. I couldn't be at home, because there was always something happening... riding, or skating, or summer camp. I was never at home...

I only managed to get to the end of the school year with the help of my classmates. I was a very bad pupil. I was only good at sport, biology and sketching, I was very bad at all the rest... And the school didn't dare do anything so I had my freedom and didn't go to school if I didn't want to.

We are the master race... The world presented to us was filled only with beautiful people, master race people, full of sport and health. And, well, I was proud about that, and inspired by it. I would call this a grand seduction of youth.

(2) Susanne von der Borch, interviewed by Cate Haste, for her book, Nazi Women (2001)

My mother was at the window. I sat up and saw the house opposite in flames. I heard someone screaming, "Help! Why doesn't anyone help us?" and I asked my mother, "Why is the house burning, where are the fire brigades, why are the people screaming?" And she just said, "Stay in bed."

And she left the house with my older sister. I woke up my younger brother who was two years younger. And we sat on the stairs and waited for a long time. It was very ghostly, because we heard these screams and saw the flames.

After a longtime, my mother came back. She had fifteen people with her. I was shocked because they were in nightgowns and slippers, or just a light coat. And I could see they were all our Jewish neighbours. She took them into the music room and my brother and I were told, "Be quiet and don't move."

My mother was very strict, so we didn't move. And we heard our mother phoning people up, and my sister was sent here and there to get drinks for them. Then these people were driven away by our chauffeur to relatives or friends.

And my mother told us afterwards that one of her neighbours, Frau Bach, was standing in front of her house without shoes in her nightgown, and my mother had a pile of coats and shoes and things, but Frau Bach said to her, "Well, at least I have my husband." And at that moment a car arrived with the SA, and they took Herr Bach into the car and he was driven to Dachau. But he was freed after a few weeks. He came back and they escaped to England, then America.

It was a shocking experience for me, and it did make me think more about the whole movement...

At a meeting the following day... a few of the Hitler Youth leaders were there, who I normally liked a lot. And they were standing there telling us how they had spent the night. They said they had been at a shop, the Eichengrun in Munich, and they'd smashed the windows, and they'd got hold of one Jew and shaved the hair on his head. And I said, "You horrible pigs!" And I thought, I have to find out the truth, what was really going on. And that was when I really started to ask serious questions.

(3) Susanne von der Borch, interviewed by Cate Haste, for her book, Nazi Women (2001)

I told my mother about it and she said to me, literally: If you do that and if you go there, then I never want to speak to you again. And I don't want to see you ever again. And I thought, I have to risk that.... Imagine, I was seventeen years old. I was a blonde girl. My parents were writing me off. They knew the camps were run by the SS and they thought I was going to be drawn into their hands and that would be my fate... Formerly they had been rich farmers, breeding sheep, and they were plunged into misery. They didn't have any ration cards, they were living in poverty in these camps.

(4) Susanne von der Borch, interviewed by Cate Haste, for her book, Nazi Women (2001)

The windows were covered with paint so you couldn't see through. The tram doors were locked and then we drove through the ghetto. People had already scratched little peep holes in the paint. And I scratched a little more to see as much and as clearly as possible what was happening in the ghetto. Jewish children stood there, half-starved, wearing their Jewish stars, at the fence, this barbed wire fence. They were in a terrible state, dressed only in rags, like all the other people. What I saw - it was dreadful. It was worse than my worst fears... I saw one Jewish child, I couldn't see whether it was a boy or a girl, and he was there at the fence and he was looking out with huge eyes, starved eyes, in rags and obviously in despair... The ghetto was horrific and when I returned to the camp I was totally shattered.

Student Activities

Hitler's Volkswagen (The People's Car) (Answer Commentary)

Adolf Hitler's Early Life (Answer Commentary)

The Assassination of Reinhard Heydrich (Answer Commentary)

Heinrich Himmler and the SS (Answer Commentary)

The Last Days of Adolf Hitler (Answer Commentary)

Trade Unions in Nazi Germany (Answer Commentary)

References

(1) Susanne von der Borch, interviewed by Cate Haste, for her book, Nazi Women (2001) page 131

(2) Susanne von der Borch, interviewed by Cate Haste, for her book, Nazi Women (2001) page 132

(3) Susanne von der Borch, interviewed by Cate Haste, for her book, Nazi Women (2001) page 135

(4) James Taylor and Warren Shaw, Dictionary of the Third Reich (1987) page 67

(5) Reinhard Heydrich, instructions for measures against Jews (10th November, 1938)

(6) Heinrich Mueller, order sent to all regional and local commanders of the state police (9th November 1938)

(7) Erich Dressler, Nine Lives Under the Nazis (2011) page 66

(8) Susanne von der Borch, interviewed by Cate Haste, for her book, Nazi Women (2001) pages 152-153

(9) William L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of Nazi Germany (1959) page 753

(10) Daniel Goldhagen, Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust (1996) page 145

(11) Cate Haste, Nazi Women (2001) page 164

(12) Susanne von der Borch, interviewed by Cate Haste, for her book, Nazi Women (2001) page 165

(13) Susanne von der Borch, interviewed by Cate Haste, for her book, Nazi Women (2001) page 167

(14) Susanne von der Borch, interviewed by Cate Haste, for her book, Nazi Women (2001) page 205