LIFE WELL-LIVED: Marlies Green celebrates her 100th year at Tallebudgera's St Andrew's Retirement Living and Aged Care ... always grateful for the help which saved her life during the Second World War.
LIFE WELL-LIVED: Marlies Green celebrates her 100th year at Tallebudgera's St Andrew's Retirement Living and Aged Care ... always grateful for the help which saved her life during the Second World War.

Spared by Nazis, Marlies marks milestone

THERE were times when Marie-Louise (Marlies) Green didn't think she would make it to 25 never mind 100.

Her warm smile belies the hardships and horrors she witnessed having been born to a Jewish family in Essen, Germany on May 22, 1920, just 13 years before the Nazis came to power.

Her secret, she said, in the lead-up to her 100th birthday celebrations at St Andrew's Retirement Living and Aged Care, Tallebudgera, is to "keep smiling, keep busy, keep laughing, enjoy everything in moderation … and lots of sleep".

"It's also important to get active every day - I walk every day, which I picked up from my parents who took me hiking in Switzerland as a child."

However, listening to Marlies speak in an oral history interview with the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2002, it is clear that an empathic heart and having inherited her parents' strength have a lot to do with it as well.

She said she did not speak much about her experiences, but was recording her story then because "The world should know what happened …

"I always thought after the war that people might have learned and it would never happen again, but I was quite wrong because you see it happening not just for the Jews but in other countries, the cruelties go on for ever".

Farewell Germany

Marlies recalled an almost idyllic childhood, completely free of discrimination, despite being the only Jews in their area.

"We felt as German as anybody else," she said, attending synagogue only on high holidays and even joining in Christmas celebrations so the children would not miss out.

Only in early 1934, with the rise of Hitler, when her school fearing closure threw out all the Jewish students, Marlies said "that was really the first time I felt different".

Faced with ever-increasing rules about where Jews could and could not go, and after her brother was bashed by a group of boys for being Jewish, her parents decided to leave Germany for rural Holland.

Marlies recalled her mother as "a wonderful, strong woman; not really physically strong, but mentally … she could do anything that she wanted to do".

That included having sent Marlies to a then-revolutionary Steiner school in her early years, and raising the family as vegetarians because "God didn't create animals for us to eat them," long before this was an accepted philosophy.

Holland is Occupied

When Holland was then occupied by the Nazis from May 1940, shops and restaurants were closed to Jews, they were forced to wear yellow stars on all their clothes and travel restrictions began.

Dutch resistance was quickly snuffed out when, having attempted to boycott the new travel rules, the Nazis "picked out about 100 men and shot them" in punishment.

Living in the countryside, Marlies and her brother found work on farms, because farm workers were needed to feed the German army.

Even so, in August 1942 they were summonsed to attend Westerbork transit camp - the first stop for many on their way to concentration camps.

They were lucky to be given a reprieve thanks to a determined neighbour and the farmers insisting to German authorities that the siblings were essential for production.

"…it was good for me and my brother, but leaving all the others behind was a dreadful feeling," she said, with tears in her eyes.

Marlies still treasures that piece of paper, saying "this is my most precious document which gives me the permission to leave the camp, and that is what has saved my life, just that little piece of paper".

However, her parents were ordered to Amsterdam's Jewish quarter, and a month later the children were ordered to join them - four living in a single room and watching in horror each night as Nazi trucks picked people up at random … waiting for their turn to come.

They were told people were being taken for work parties, "and we tried to believe it, but in the back of our mind, we did know it was not just that".

"All the possessions of the Jews who had been sent to concentration camps were sent to Germany by train and the trains had big placards on them: 'This is a gift of love from Holland', so that the German population would think that Holland was on their side … so they were brought up with lies left and right," Marlies said.

The Family's Fate

Again, Marlies said she and her brother were blessed to find friends who, despite putting their own lives at risk, separately took them in and hid them for the rest of the war - 2½ years.

Her parents were not so fortunate, with her mother saying, "if all Jews have to go, I go with them".

After the war, she learnt that her parents had died at the Sobibor extermination camp in Poland, where at least 170,000 Jewish people were killed.

Marlies met her mathematician husband, Bert, who worked with Albert Einstein, in Edinburgh, married in Dublin and the pair moved to Australia for him to start a new department of mathematical physics at Adelaide University.

She has two children, Roy and Joanne, of whom she is very proud.

Joanne, who was able to be there for the 100th celebrations, said her mother always wanted to repay the help she received during the war, and "adopted" anyone new to Adelaide, ensuring they weren't lonely.

"She's been such a loving mother, grandmother and 'second mother' to so many people," Joanne said.

Many years after leaving, Marlies did return to visit German friends, but admitted, "It was a strange feeling, especially when people came and shook my hand … I wondered what that hand had done.

"You couldn't really trust anybody: they all said they hadn't done anything … but they must have … somebody must have."

To learn more about the Holocaust, go to https://www.ushmm.org/.