Daring to Resist

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Barbara Rodbell, a balarina putting on make up

Barbara the ballerina.
Barbara making up for a ballet performance in Amsterdam.

"I had always been willful and very much my own person. If I believed in something, I tried to follow up on it."

Born: Berlin, Germany, 1925

Barbara on streaming video

Family Background
Barbara Ledermann Rodbell’s family considered themselves more German than Jewish. Her father, Franz, a prominent lawyer with many non-Jewish clients, was fiercely proud of Germany and he enjoyed sharing its music and arts with his two daughters. Barbara’s special love was dance.

In 1933, when Hitler’s power was surging in Germany, the family visited Barbara's grandparents in Holland. Dutch friends urged them not to return to Germany, but Franz Ledermann was unconvinced and returned, alone, to his Berlin law office. There, he found a notice stating that Jewish lawyers could serve only Jewish clients. This would have made his law practice impossible. He rejoined his family in Holland, where he began studying Dutch law in order to start his career over again.

Barbara and family in Berlin
Barbara and her family enjoy
the Berlin outdoors.

Anne and Margo Frank playing with Barbara and her sister Susanna
Anne and Margo Frank playing with Barbara and her sister Susanna Ledermann

The Ledermanns settled in a neighborhood of Amsterdam where many other German-Jewish families had immigrated, including the Frank family. Barbara and her sister, Susanna, became close friends of Anne and Margot Frank.

Even after the Nazis invaded Holland, Franz Ledermann continued to believe that law and reason would prevail.

"My father just didn’t want to believe something like that [genocide of the Jews] was possible — it’s very understandable. He just couldn’t believe the humanistic Germans he knew would do such a thing."

Roots of Barbara’s Resistance
Barbara was "just an ordinary high schooler" in Holland, concerned with friends and dancing, unaware of politics. However, when she fell in love with Manfred Grunberg, who was already involved in resistance activities, her awareness changed.

Manfred and his friends convinced Barbara that the Nazis planned to exterminate the Jewish people. She realized that her father’s trust in the ultimate humanity of the German government was misplaced. At age 17, she was just old enough to be independent.

With support from Manfred and other resisters, Barbara left her family apartment in Amsterdam and set out to pass as a non-Jew. She acquired false identification papers, her first act of resistance. "I changed my name, I took off my star, I became a non-Jewish person," she recalled. Because of her street smarts and determination, blond hair and Aryan looks, twice she was able to escape the Nazi round-ups that ultimately sent her parents and sister to the gas chambers of Auschwitz.

Boyfriend Manfred with Barbara
Fellow resister and boyfriend Manfred with Barbara in Holland.

"I was exactly the right age to be on my own. If I had been younger, like my sister, I would have stayed with my parents. If I were older, with children, I just don’t know how I could have done it."



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