Spontaneous Assistance 

In late 1942, Maria Nickel, a mother of two young boys, saw forced workers wearing the Yellow Star near her apartment in Berlin-Kreuzberg. One of them was pregnant. A devout Catholic, she spontaneously decided to help the Jewish woman and followed her to the factory where she worked. The owner let her talk to her.

Ruth Abraham was surprised at first, as contact between Jews and Gentiles was illegal. Her husband Walter Abraham was also suspicious. But Maria Nickel soon appeared at the Abrahams’ home with food. The women got to know each other. One day Ruth Abraham asked her new friend for help in acquiring forged identity papers. She and her husband had been planning for some time to flee once their child was born. Maria Nickel got a postal ID card issued in her own name and Ruth’s photograph was inserted. She gave Walter Abraham the driver’s license of her husband Willi, a truck driver.

In late January 1943, only a few days after the birth of their daughter Reha, Ruth and Walter Abraham went into hiding with their child. They paid a large sum of money for a rural address of an elderly woman near Landsberg an der Warthe (Polish: Gorzów Wielkopolski). This woman rented them a cabin, where they lived for a while without any outside assistance. One day during a police check the Abrahams presented the Nickels’ ID papers, which were confiscated for verification. The Abrahams managed to escape and called Maria Nickel to warn her. Although frightened, Maria Nickel managed to outwit the Gestapo when they interrogated her. They threatened to take away her children if they could prove that she was “aiding Jews,” but they ultimately let her go. Despite this intimidation, Nickel continued to help the Jews undeterred. She frequently took in Reha, and once she arranged for the baby to be treated in a hospital under her name. Maria Nickel remained the Abrahams’ most important helper.

When the Abrahams desperately sought a new hiding place in early summer 1943, they remembered a friendly greengrocer and his wife in Berlin-Charlottenburg, whom they had met in 1939. When Walter Abraham asked them, Bodo and Reinholde Goede spontaneously decided to take him in. The childless elderly woman treated Walter Abraham like her own son. Ruth Abraham and the baby could visit now and then. She lived with her daughter under a false name in Neudamm, east of the Oder River. Despite the risk, Walter Abraham visited his family regularly and brought them money from black-market trading.

The family was together in Neudamm when the war ended. After liberation, Walter was interned in a Soviet camp. He was finally released through the perseverance of his wife. The family returned to Berlin together. They immigrated to New York in 1948. Ruth Abraham and Maria Nickel remained close friends for the rest of their lives. Maria Nickel was honored in 1968 by the Israeli Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations.

Sokolow, Reha, and Al Sokolow. Ruth und Maria: Eine Freundschaft auf Leben und Tod (Berlin 1942–1945), edited and with an introduction by Beate Kosmala. Berlin: Metropol, 2006.
Sokolow, Reha, and Al Sokolow, with Debra Galant. Defying the Tide: An Account of Authentic Compassion During the Holocaust. Englewood, NJ: Devora Publishing, 2003.