Holocaust Horrors: A story of surviving and thriving
ABSAROKEE — Although World War II was raging in the background, the young girl hurrying home from school on a July afternoon in 1944 in Frankfurt, Germany, had no way of knowing her life as she knew it was done.
Margit Chinkes was the 14-year-old daughter of a German military man and was being raised as a Christian-Protestant.
Margit, her father and her grandmother knew her deceased mother was Jewish. So did her stepmother.
Angry at having to look after the teenager, as well as Margit’s grandmother, her step-mother did the unthinkable — told a nosey neighbor the girl was part Jewish. That neighbor told the authorities and Margit was arrested on the street by the German Gestapo and taken to a detention camp.
She would spend the next nine months in concentration and work camps, enduring unspeakable horrors of the Holocaust, including near starvation, a death march and rape before returning to her home at the end of the war.
Margit was the mother of Absarokee resident Angelica Osborne, who has just published her mother’s story in a book titled “L’Chaim: Margrit Chinkes Holocaust Survival Story.”
Initially intended to be a family history book for her three children and nine grandchildren, Osborne undertook the momentous task of researching her mom’s life and family through multiple trips to Europe and Washington D.C.
The book was five years in the making and was published on Mother’s Day, 2017, by Sweetgrass Books in Helena. That date holds special meaning to Osborne, as it marked the 22nd anniversary of when she first wrote down what she knew of her mom’s experience, following her death in 1995.
WHAT SHE KNEW
Margit almost never spoke of the concentration camps, but Osborne always knew four things about her mother’s time in hell on earth.
•She was only 14 years old when she was imprisoned in two different camps.
•In a train boxcar, on the way to one of those camps, a gypsy had read her palm and told her she was not going to die in the camps.
•Her mom cleaned the office of a German commander, who left a slice of bread for her in his top desk drawer. This is what kept her Margit alive and is noted that “even in the darkest hours, one person in a Nazi uniform who each day made decisions of life and death chose to show a small kindness amid the cruelty,” writes Osborne in the book.
•And she knew her mom had rescued herself by walking away from the camp to a farm at the end of the war and that she held a deep appreciation for that farmer’s generosity, keeping in contact and sending packages even after she was married and living in the United States.
There was something else that Osborne knew. Despite living through the horrors of the Holocaust, her mother did not let it define her. Instead, Margit grew stronger, found love with an American soldier, raised a family and made a truly happy home for herself, her husband and her children in the United States.
“My mom never acted like a victim,” said Osborne.
It’s that strength of character and perseverance that Osborne wants her grandchildren to know and understand — that if their great-grandmother could overcome such incredible obstacles, they too can overcome any obstacle in their own lives.
Margit was the daughter of an Orthodox Jewish mother named Frieda, whose parents disowned her when she became pregnant. Her German father, referred to in Osborne’s book as “Hugo,” married Frieda but was more absent than present. Frieda committed suicide at age 20, while Margit was still an infant. Hugo’s childless sister raised Chinkes until her death, at which time Hugo and his mother took her in. Her life was good until her stepmother’s betrayal put her in the Ravensbruck concentration camp.
Margit did not understand why she had been imprisoned and was initially classified as a political prisoner. That was later changed to “mixed race,” and she was given the number 009598 and was transferred to a sub-camp in the industrial complex Watenstedt/Salzgitter. Her number was not tattooed on her, but it replaced her actual name.
Within days of being arrested, she wrote the following letter to her grandmother:
“Dear Oma, I just realized everything is over for me. I have to go to camp for a few years. The social worker for juveniles was here to talk to me. If Hanni (her step-mother) would have been here, I would have had it out with her as it’s because of her I’m in this situation. I can hardly keep from crying, but the tears won’t solve my problems!”
Osborne’s research told her that at concentration camps, the people stood in line while guards told them where to go — children, the elderly and the disabled were pointed in one direction, to the gas chambers. Children under the age of 13 were considered “useless eaters” with 1.5 million children being murdered during the Holocaust, Osborne writes in her book. Adolescent children ages 13 to 18 were used as forced labor for Germany.
END OF THE WAR
On May 2, 1945, Margit and her fellow prisoners awoke to find the Nazi guards gone. The now 15-year-old walked out of the camp until she came to a farm, where the people nursed her back to relative health over a period of several months. Once she was strong enough, the farmers arranged for her to be smuggled back to Frankfurt. But the suffering was not quite done for the teenager.
The smuggler took seven members of the group across a river and told Margit to wait for him. When he returned, he told her she would have to give him her body in exchange for safe passage. Although she refused, the man raped her several times before taking her across the river.
Margit found her way back home, rang the doorbell and hoped her family would be on the other side of the door. Her father, grandmother and her father’s new girlfriend were home, but did not embrace her and welcome her back. Instead, she was taken to a basement washroom, stripped of her clothing and scrubbed.
A BRIGHT, NEW WORLD
A mature 19-year-old Margit and 28-year-old American-Italian GI Angelo Pascetti found each other in Frankfurt, marrying in 1949. Within a year, their first daughter, Angelica, was born, and Angelo was sent back to the United States. Margit was forced to stay behind with the couple’s daughter until her paperwork was approved. Once the couple was reunited, two more children were added to the family.
Osborne said her childhood was a great one, filled with love, fun and animals. While Margit did talk about the gypsy reading her palm on the train to the concentration camp, Osborne said her mother chose to focus on the good things in life.
“My mom never acted like a victim,” said Osborne. “Family was very important to her. Always.”
In her book, she writes the following about her mother:
“My research revealed the incredible spirit behind my mother’s amazing life. She never had any self-pity but had a huge reservoir of resilience, laughter, and courage that enabled her to manage difficult circumstances.”
Osborne is a retired registered nurse who with her husband, Tom, has called Absarokee home for five years. They have lived in Montana since 1976 and have three children and nine grandchildren.
“L’Chaim: Margrit Chinkes Holocaust Survival Story” is available for purchase through Sweetgrass Books via the toll free number 1-800-821-3874, or on-line via the website www.sweetgrassbooks.com, which runs through Amazon. In addition, the book has its own website: lchaimbyangie.info.