‘They discriminated against us, cursed at us, just because we were refugees … I was nine—the war wasn’t my fault.’

Waltraud Pless, child survivor, Germany

Even as a child, Waltraud Pless couldn’t help but see the way many Germans benefited from the Nazi regime. She didn’t have to look far: Her parents were broke when Hitler rose to power in 1933. Six years later her father was an officer in the Waffen-SS, the Nazi Party’s elite military division. By the time he went off to fight in the invasion of France, the family had two cars, a nice house, and a warehouse full of valuable “secondhand” furniture.

“Where did all his money come from?” Pless asks. “It’s clear to me now: It could only have come from Jewish households. No one can tell me he didn’t know Jews were persecuted.”

Her father once plopped her in the car for an errand to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp on the edge of Berlin. “I saw the people there, how they were living,” she says. Was she shocked? The impeccably dressed 85-year-old shakes her head and shrugs. “Things like that were just a given.”

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