Hassenstein was the wife of Otto Hassenstein, a German citizen
from Lüneburg who had made
his career in Forest Administration. Although not a member of the
Nazi Party, Otto was sent by the German goverment to work in Brody
during World War II. There he tried to save many Jews by
assigning them to forest work, posting special signs on their doors to
prevent Nazi officials from apprehending them. It was a ploy that
worked only temporarily, as most of these Jews were eventually
deported. One day, while Otto was away on a business trip,
Liselotte hid in her attic a Jewish woman, Lisa Hecht, who was a
seamstress of her acquaintance, together with Lisa Hecht's small
son. Eventually, she hid other Jews as well, keeping this secret
from her husband and children--a fact which saved the rest of her
family from punishment after Liselotte's role in Jewish rescues was
revealed to Gestapo officials. Liselotte herself was saved by the
Russian advance and died in May, 2004, at age 99.
Below, in her own
words, is Liselotte's story. Her granddaughter, Susanne, is
seeking people who are familiar with this story and know the names of
Jews helped by Otto or Liselotte. If you have any personal
knowledge of the Hassensteins and their attempts to save Jews in the
Brody area, please contact:
"I could not send them away"
we joined Otto in Brody: 17,000 citizens, 14,000 of which were Jews.
My husband in his duty had 16 forestries under his supervision. He employed about 1,000 Jews as craftsmen and workers. When the terrible time of the Holocaust started, my husband made sure that his people were left aside from the harassment. He created a separate meat store and food store; in those stores only Jews could shop because they could not get food anywhere else. The groceries and meat, Otto got from the places he governed.
My husband said, "Whoever works for me needs to be treated honestly, no matter if Jew, Pole, or German."
Otto tried to protect their apartments by putting up signs that said: "This house is under the protection of the Forest Master Hassenstein."
The German government was very suspicious of Otto and the other officers stationed in Brody, and other German families stopped socializing with us.
The harassment of the Jews took worse and worse shape. Every four weeks there were Aktions. It was unbelievable, and . . . I was ashamed to be German. I started to hide Jews in our house. Word got around, and more and more people came around; and I didn't turn any away. In our large attic, I hid mothers and children and brought them food myself, by climbing up a ladder.
When the Aktions were over, everyone could go home. But then the Jewish law got more severe and they instated a death penalty for anyone who housed Jews or gave them a piece of bread. I was warned by the Poles, but I had to help. When the ghetto was created and fenced in, the big suffering started. Still, some of them made it through to me.
One day, it was made law that every Jew on the street would be vogelfrei [meaning that they were "free like birds"--in other words, were not citizens of any place, had no rights, and could be beaten or killed legally. S.H.].
I still had a mother and son with me, and I could not send them away because it would have been sending them to death. This woman [Lisa Hecht] had jumped off a moving train twice that was on its way to gas chambers.* She stayed with me for weeks, until one day we were betrayed and the police came in to my home and found her.
My husband was taken out of his government services as punishment, and I was put in front of special tribunal in Lemberg [now Lviv] on Oct 1, 1943; and I got a death sentence for hiding and helping a Jew. I was in prison in Lemberg for 3½ months, until January or February, 1944, and then my sentence was downgraded by Otto's finagling to two years in prison . . . but they released me temporarily because of injury.** After gaining my health, I was supposed to be moved Ravensbrüch to serve the two years.
While recovering, I was supposed to report to Neuruppin, a town that was 30 kilometres from our forestry. In 1945, the Russians came and so the sentence was not carried out.
*According to Liselotte, everyone knew
about the gas chambers during the war. Thus, her testimony
contradicts that of other Germans who have claimed ignorance.
From dates provided by Liselotte, it appears that the existence of gas
chambers to which Jews were being sent was public knowledge at least to
some as early as 1943. S.H.
**Liselotte was told of her
death sentence at the end of the trial and subsequently tried to kill
herself in prison by running against the cell wall until she passed
On 6 June 2006, Liselotte Hassenstein was recognized as Righteous among
the Nations by Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyr's and Heroes'
Remembrance Authority in Israel.
Copyright © 2004 M S Rosenfeld