Marione Ingram is a 77-year-old Holocaust survivor from Washington, D.C. On April 8, an audience of 60 people, including some other Holocaust survivors, was given the opportunity to meet Ingram at the Central Queens Y in Forest Hills.
They listened to a first-hand account of her Holocaust experiences, which led to her new book, The Hands of War. During the question-and-answer session, some audience members relived their own experiences from that time. One man in particular indicated he was a bomber pilot who was proud of his service, thinking it shortened the war.
Holocaust Remembrance Day, also known as Yom HaShoah, began at sundown on April 7 and ended at sundown on April 8. Even though this most meaningful day has a chronological timeframe, every day marks a new beginning for us to memorialize the Holocaust.
We need to walk in our predecessors’ footsteps to fulfill the spirit of past, current, and would-be generations, and convey continuity for those who suffered and perished during a most painful time in global history. These unimaginable acts committed by mankind must never be repeated.
Despite the implementation of lessons in schools and community lectures, we continue to witness hate crimes, as in the recent anti-Semitic case of 12 ignited mezuzahs in a Williamsburg apartment building.
Ingram was born in 1935 in Hamburg, Germany. Rather than experiencing the freedoms and joys of childhood, hers was dominated by painful deportations, firestorm bombings of Hamburg, and death. She was forced to find shelter in the countryside and miraculously survived.
“We lived in a tar-papered garden shed and sometimes hid in an earthen dugout in a rural area not far from Hamburg,” she said. “We lived there for approximately a year and a half, until WWII’s end in May 1945.”
Other family members were not as fortunate. Her grandmother Rosa Singer, her uncle Hans Singer, and her great-aunt Emma Muller were deported and murdered in 1941, as well as nearly all of her mother's family over the course of the Holocaust. When she was seven, she witnessed her mother’s attempt to commit suicide after receiving a deportation notice.
“I shut off the gas, let in fresh air, and she revived after several hours,” Ingram recalled. “There was no one I could call upon for help.”
Despite experiencing sympathy, fear, and trauma, Ingram became an accomplished societal figure and a courageous parent, civil rights activist, writer, and an artist with works displayed in American and European galleries. Her mission is “to discourage war and genocide by encouraging people to see and feel those horrors through the eyes of a child who experienced them.”
Unlike Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl, Ingram never kept a diary, but relived her experiences in the late 1950s in New York. At age 19, she began composing what would become The Hands of War. Writing was her means of salvation.
“I was very happy to be living without experiencing anti-Semitism, but was experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder with recurrent nightmares and strong reactions to sirens,” she said. “I hoped that writing would somehow help me live more comfortably with my past. It did, but only after a night of recall in my husband Daniel's arms.” Then she took a break from writing, but resumed many years later.
“I came to see racial discrimination in the U.S. as a variation on what I experienced in Europe, but pursued writing again when it was clear that little had been learned from the horrors of war and genocide or the success of nonviolence,” she said.
Ingram completed her book in 2007. The title is adapted from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar regarding horrors inflicted by war, but most relevant, it refers to her mother's hand holding hers during the firestorm bombings of Hamburg.
“I was acutely aware at all time of the dangers we faced and that I might be killed at any time,” Ingram said. “Bombings and encounters with the authorities or militant Nazis were terrifying, but I was especially fearful of doing something that might jeopardize mine, since the Nazis used children to get at parents. In hiding, I felt intense fear and guilt when I disobeyed my mother, since I risked being seen and exposed, and angered the woman who was hiding us.”
When asked if she ever lost faith in God, Ingram responded, “I never had faith in anything except my parents’ love, since it seemed clear that no one else was trying to save us. Until I was 10 years old, I never said when I grow up. It was always if I grow up.”
She does not recall praying.
“I recall putting myself to sleep thinking up horrible things I would do to the Gestapo men who took my grandmother from me,” Ingram said.
Today, Ingram refers to her current family life as loving and joyful.
“Though my family is small, I feel optimally fortunate because it is so loving, and we have such loving friends,” she said. “My husband Daniel and I have been in love since we met in 1957. My son Danny and grandsons Sam and Noah are pure joy. My relationships with my sisters, Rena and Helga, were forged in extreme adversity, and have grown ever stronger and warmer.”
Ingram feels inspired on a personal and professional level.
“As a child, I was inspired by my mother's courage and spirit of defiance,” she said. “Years after I had left my father's side, I realized that I had absorbed his example to oppose injustice and his instruction to speak out for those who had been silenced. In the civil rights movement, I was moved by several activists, such as Fannie Lou Hamer who embraced nonviolence, and effectively gave all and risked all.”
Symbols can convey positive and negative connotations, which are deeply rooted in life. Reflecting upon her own life, those symbols are the Mogen David and the swastika.
“The first conveyed my will to live, and the second represented the efforts to crush life,” Ingram said. “I hope my experiences and those of others I have written about will encourage tolerance, support for those who are oppressed, and opposition to every excuse for killing.”
Ingram will also be taking part in two signings at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, a lecture and signing at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books and the D.C. Public Library, and a television interview in Los Angeles.