Charlotte woman, 98, shares story of escaping the Nazis 8 times

Published: Nov. 8, 2013 at 7:07 PM EST|Updated: Nov. 9, 2013 at 1:31 AM EST
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Frieda Van Hessen
Frieda Van Hessen
Frieda Van Hessen
Frieda Van Hessen

November 9, 2013 will mark 75 years since Nazi soldiers began their tack on Jewish families in Germany.

"Kristallnacht" or the "Night of Broken Glass" was the beginning for what would become almost a decade of Nazi persecution. Just a few short years later, a Charlotte woman would find herself escaping the Nazis 8 times.

Some say all we have are our memories. Some happy, sad, and some are so vivid that they feel like just yesterday.

"I remember the clothes I was wearing when I was five years old," said Charlotte resident Frieda Van Hessen.

Today, Frieda Van Hessen is 98 years old. She was born in Amsterdam in 1915.

She has almost a century of memories. Happy ones like touring her home country as a famous opera singer in 1938.  She sang the part of Snow White in the Dutch version, still seen by children today, but when the Nazis invaded, her singing career quickly ended.

"I'm one of the few people from the Holocaust that is still alive," she said.

Her younger brother and parents were killed behind the brutal gates of Auschwitz. Though Van Hessen escaped from Nazis a total of eight times, she says the first time was the especially nerve-wracking.

"That was the 11th of September. I had my own 11th of September," she said.

Van Hessen and a friend sat quietly inside their home, both frantic to stay still as Nazi soldiers shined flashlights through the black shutters.

"The whole house was lit up," she said.

She left through a tiny window, and would go on to escape the Nazis seven more times, but she lost many family and friends.

Van Hessen says the pain of losing so many family members led her down a different spiritual path. Though she calls herself culturally Jewish, she became a Christian in 1945 after the war.

Van Hessen has traveled the world sharing her experiences. At age 96, her memories started leaving a mark.

These last two years it's for the first time that I cried. I went to the I Internet and I saw a lot about how my father and mother died," she said.

Today, Van Hessen still drives, talks with friends, and goes to church.

"I'm still so very grateful that God has given me an opportunity to live this life, have a beautiful daughter and granddaughters," she said smiling.

She says what happened to 6 million of her people though horrifying, is a memory worth keeping.

"Never again I should forget. I have been able maybe in a small way to help against Anti-Semitism. It's poison," she said.

Van Hessen wrote a book about her survival. It's called "Life in the Shadow of a Swastika." It's printed in English, Dutch, Russian, and Spanish. Van Hessen will turn 99 in April.

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