Thorsten Fehlberg met with Edith Grube for a conversation about her family history to find out what influence it has had on her political commitment. Edith Grube was born in Munich Haidhausen in 1963. Her father, Werner Grube, the son of a Jewish woman and a communist, was sent to Theresienstadt concentration camp in 1945 at the age of 14. Edith Grube has been increasingly politically active since 2007. Above all, the public debate and the ban by the City of Munich on laying ‘Stolpersteine’ (stumbling stones) on public land motivated her to become politically active.
Thorsten Fehlberg: Hello Edith, it’s great that you’re taking the time and are interested in our conversation. Inge Kroll introduced us to each other, and I learnt a lot about you back then. Today we want to talk a bit about your political commitment and what the history of your parents and grandparents has to do with it. Can you tell me how your political involvement started?
Edith Grube: My political involvement started even before I was born. My parents went to demonstrations: against war, against nuclear power plants, for peace, for better working conditions. Both of my parents were members of a union. My mother was also a part of the works council.
Thorsten Fehlberg: So that started really early. And what was it like after you were born?
Edith Grube: I was always aware of it somehow even when I was a child. I went to (election) events organised by the DKP (German Communist Party) with my father and we handed out leaflets. I was involved from an early age. At school, of course, everyone knew that my father, Werner Grube, was a communist in quotation marks and that he was Jewish. I didn’t have a special status in that sense, at school and in kindergarten, but I was always treated a bit differently.
Thorsten Fehlberg: You grew up in a very politicised environment. Your father and your uncle, Ernst Grube, were both politically active. There’s even a Wikipedia entry about your uncle. How deeply were you involved and when did you come into contact with the persecution history of your relatives?
Edith Grube: I can still remember us at May Day demonstrations, at the concentration camp memorial in Dachau and at union events. I can also remember events where they took action against old Nazis, where they [the police] used water cannons, but against us. So, these events were co-organised by the union. My uncle Ernst was also there, he was also active in the union.
So at the ‘Freizeitheim’, one time they came up with the idea of offering a bit of political education. The social workers then asked me if my father would be available to answer questions. Everyone there knew me, even from the playground, the Jewish girl. There was already an interest in their stories and perhaps that’s how my political work came about.
Thorsten Fehlberg: What did your father actually tell you about the Nazi era?
Edith Grube: As a child, I learnt a few things. But they also wanted to protect us. I learned new details about the history of my father and my uncle at these eyewitness events. But as children, we also knew that my (paternal) grandmother’s entire family, all her siblings, the men and children – the youngest was six months old – were murdered in the Sobibor, Treblinka and Piaski extermination camps.
My father’s family lived at the back of the old synagogue. The houses belonged to the Jewish community and my grandmother was a nurse in the Jewish hospital. Then the synagogue was demolished, and the houses were taken away from the community. And my father told me that he was no longer allowed to use a bicycle or the tram. The electricity and water were cut off. Little by little. At one point they eventually lost their jobs.
My father, his brother Ernst and his sister Ruth were separated from their parents. The children were sent to a Jewish children’s home. My grandfather was a communist and he utterly refused to get a divorce. That probably saved the lives of the children and my grandmother; the other children from the children’s home were deported and murdered. On 21 February 1945, however, also my father, his siblings and my grandmother were deported to the Theresienstadt ghetto. My father spent 12 March, which was his 15th birthday, in the concentration camp. Together with other adolescents, they had to throw the dead onto a cart in Theresienstadt. The Red Army saved them. So, these are all things that I only really realised later when my father spoke at events.
Thorsten Fehlberg: I would like to take a step back and talk to you about your political activities. It was also influenced by your father’s experience of persecution. What is your motivation for getting politically involved today?
Edith Grube: Well, generally speaking, I am a committed democrat. Somehow that also has to do with my childhood and youth. I am committed to commemorating the crimes against Roma, Yenish and Sinti. As a child, I had a Yenish friend, a traveller. But people weren’t travelling so much anymore. The people who lived there had jobs with which they had to travel: they were circus people, knife grinders, basket weavers and so on. But they also worked as day labourers for the farmers in the area. They were described as ‘living the gypsy way’. But they were not necessarily Roma, Sinti or Yenish, but simply people who lived like that.
And it was the case that nobody wanted anything to do with them. And I didn’t care, I played with them. They lived under very poor conditions and didn’t have a bathroom. We had a bathroom and then I took one or two of the girls with me once a week. I remember they bathed upstairs with us. Then they didn’t have to go to the public baths.
Thorsten Fehlberg: Lastly, can you tell me what you want to achieve today and what you are doing to get there?
Edith Grube: So, the main aim of my political activities today is simple: I want to raise awareness and understanding and thus break down prejudices.
I learnt about the ‘Stolpersteine’ from my father and my uncle in the early 2000s. Five or six years ago, I put flyers in letterboxes if people had lived there in the past who had been murdered. The idea was to make the current residents aware that ‘Stolpersteine’ could also be laid there. I put relatives of those murdered in touch with the ‘Stolperstein’- initiative and I do public relations work.
When I go to events, political events such as laying ‘Stolpersteine’ or commemoration days for the Sinti and Roma, which we have had in Munich for a few years now, then of course I try to take my friends and acquaintances with me. In the beginning, everyone always said to me, you and your ‘Stolpersteine’. Now they tell me when they hear about initiatives: “Have you heard that they’re laying ‘Stolpersteine’?” So, I am promoting listening, I would say, both privately and politically.
Thorsten Fehlberg: I recommend the book “Wir kehren langsam zur Natur zurück” to anyone who wants to find out more about your family history. It tells a lot about the history of your father’s painting business and also about the anti-Semitic graffiti on his nameplate after 1945. Thank you very much, Edith, for the interview.
 Comparable to a youth club
 Nazi jargon that was still used after 1945. During National Socialism, such an attribution led to persecution and murder