Survival in Disguise – From Poland to Berlin 

Donata and Eberhard Helmrich were married in 1933 in Berlin. Both were staunch opponents of the Nazi regime and helped their Jewish friends in many ways, such as with their plans to emigrate. In the summer of 1941, Eberhard Helmrich, an agricultural expert, was sent to the German-occupied Polish city of Drohobycz, near Lvov, to do compulsory service as the director of the food and agriculture administration. He tried to mitigate the hardship of the Jews there by smuggling food into the Drohobycz ghetto. In the spring of 1942 the Hyrawka work camp was erected on his suggestion, where fruits and vegetables were cultivated to feed the local SS. He used his influence to protect the roughly 200 Jewish women and men in “his” camp and to ensure that working and living conditions were more or less tolerable. During SS raids he hid Jews in his house. When Hyrawka was liquidated in September 1943, Helmrich helped many Jews escape.

In the fall of 1942 he made it possible for several Jewish women to escape Drohobycz by procuring forged ID papers of Christian Ukrainians for them; he had them go to his wife in Berlin. Despite her concern for her own children, Donata Helmrich took them—including Anita Brunnengraber and Melania Reifler—into her home in Berlin-Charlottenburg. New quarters had to be arranged when neighbors became suspicious. Because many families sought inexpensive domestic help, Donata Helmrich found jobs for the young women as alleged Christian Ukrainians, who in contrast to Poles were permitted to work in German households. They first had to apply for a permit at the employment office. Then the “Ukrainians” had to undergo an official aptitude test, including head measurements. They had to be careful not to give themselves away among their supposed compatriots through their speech, and had to keep their cool during ID checks by the police. They couldn’t let the German families they worked for find out who they really were.

Crafty and undaunted, Donata Helmrich also assisted Jewish acquaintances from Berlin by either hiding them or forging registration papers. She “lost” her ID card several times, each time giving it to a Jew who had gone into hiding, such as Herta Pineas, who wished to flee to southern Germany. “We figured that once we saved two lives, we’d be even with Hitler if we were caught, and every person saved beyond that would put us one ahead.” That was Donata and Eberhard Helmrich’s attitude. It is estimated that they helped between 70 and 300 Jews.

The Israeli Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem honored Eberhard Helmrich in 1965 and Donata Helmrich (posthumously) in 1986 as Righteous Among the Nations.

Bibliography:
Schmalz-Jacobsen, Cornelia. Zwei Bäume in Jerusalem. Hamburg: Hoffmann und Campe, 2002.