In Memory of Charlotte Guthmann Opfermann
"The photo on top right of the front cover of my book, Stationen,
(left) is of my family (I'm about three-years-old at the time) and our maid, Emma Lehr, walking a
dutiful three feet behind.
The little pendant underneath (right) with a sketch of the garrison church at Theresienstadt (the
camp we were held in) was fashioned from an old spoon and given to me as a birthday present in
April 1944 in the camp."
I am sad to report that Charlotte Guthmann Opfermann passed away on November 22, 2004 after a brief illness.
Her daughter, Diane Opfermann Porter, was kind enough to let me know of Charlotte's passing. As it was Charlotte's wish to be buried in the Opfermann tomb in Mainz, Germany, they will not be having any services in the USA, but in Germany at a later date.
Shiba Hill's Webmaster
Charlotte Guthmann Opfermann
1 April 1925 - 22 November 2004
Charlotte Opfermann of Houston, Texas, passed away on 22 November after a short illness. Services will be held in Germany at a later date.
Charlotte was born on 1 April 1925 in Wiesbaden, Germany; the only daughter of Berthold Guthmann and Claire Michel Guthmann. Her early education in Wiesbaden was disrupted by the Nazi assumption of power and she, along with her family, were deported to concentration camps in 1942. Charlotte and her mother survived their incarceration at Theresinstadt and she immigrated to the United States in 1945 on the second ship of post-WWII German immigrants.
Charlotte established herself in Chicago, Illinois and worked as a buyer for Sears, Roebuck. She married William (Bill) Opfermann originally of Wiesbaden, Germany in 1951. She and Bill lived in Switzerland, France, Germany, and England, before settling in Toledo in 1968. Charlotte and Bill separated in 1976 and later divorced. While in Toledo, Charlotte was an active volunteer in the Toledo arts community. Her greatest contributions were as project organizer and fund-raiser for the Toledo Symphony Orchestra. She later owned and operated the Calypso Video (earlier Calypso Gifts) store in Southwyck Mall for ten years. In 1987, she moved to Houston, Texas, to be near her daughter, Diane.
In the last 15 years Charlotte has been a dedicated and widely respected Holocaust researcher publishing two books, The Art of Darkness, 2002 and Stationen, 1993, and presenting numerous papers and lectures at Holocaust symposia. She taught English at San Jacinto College, Houston, Texas, and lectured in Holocaust Studies at the American University, Charlestown, West Virginia; Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana; and the Uniwersytet Mikolaja Kopernika, Torun, Poland.
She is survived by two daughters, Diane Opfermann Porter and Claudia Michelle Opfermann.
The daughters request, in lieu of flowers, a donation in memory of Charlotte Guthmann Opfermann to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, D. C. or (202) 488-2642.
Tributes to Charlotte
- "Charlotte was a lovely lady with a wonderful sense of humor. I thoroughly enjoyed working with her to get her pages up and running on the Shiba Hill web site. She was always a step ahead of me, getting a guestbook, a webring and providing me with updates and changes frequently. I will truly miss her," Anne Doyle, Shiba Hill webmaster.
- "Charlotte and I 'met' online, then very soon began corresponding almost daily and sometimes several times a day. A few years later I met her in person at our annual Child Survivors' conference and from then on we met every year and roomed together. She had a wonderful sense of humor and loved to laugh. We were in the same concentration camp at the same time, though we didn't know each other then; she as 18 years old to my 10. I used to ask her questions about things I thought I remembered and she would always answer them. It turned out that my memory is very good about that terrible time. We became very good friends, very quickly. She was a wonderful woman, a wonderful friend and an extremely intelligent woman. She never stopped, in one way or another, to teach about the Holocaust: she spoke in schools, at conferences, wrote papers to present, wrote books as well. I'm sure the world will miss her; I KNOW that I miss her and always will," Gabriele Silton.
- "I met Charlotte last year (2003) when she came to Dayton to speak at the U.S. Air Force Museum, where she dedicated a small exhibit about Jewish fliers in World War I (including her father). I am not used to meeting women who tower over me (I am
five-foot-ten); Charlotte was at least six-foot-two, perhaps taller. I am not used to meeting fellow German refugees who did not arrive in America as children who could speak colloquial American English without an accent; Charlotte could. She was absolutely charming. And she could listen. In much of her writing she referred to her childhood nickname, Lotte. But as an American, she would not have it. 'Call me Charlotte.' But we had been friends a long time before that, e-mail friends. We shared our revulsion of today's Krauts (and she never objected to my calling them that), who in many ways were indistinguishable from the Krauts in my novel about murderers and war criminals. She promoted sale of my book at conferences in Texas and Philadelphia.
But there was one thing where Charlotte and I differed. I had to take her off my jokes list because as a thorough Texan, she would not permit any anti-Bush prose," Stephen Esrati, fellow author.
- "As a longtime member of the Shiba Hill web site, I got to 'know' Charlotte through her pages and her writings there. I especially liked 'Beware of Answered Prayers.' We will miss you, Charlotte!" - Jayne A. Hitchcock, fellow author.
- "It is sad to think of Charlotte Opfermann's passing away. I know of her from what I read at Shiba Hill; she was a great lady by all accounts," Raghu N. Mitra, fellow author.
Charlotte Guthmann Opfermann is a concentration camp survivor. Her play, "Die
Schwarze Hand," was written for and performed by and for German-speaking imprisoned
children in the concentration camp, Theresienstadt, in the fall of 1944, just a few feet away from
the office of the dreaded camp commander, Karl Rahm.
It is claimed that this play gave hope and encouragement to the German-speaking children
among the prisoners, much like the famous children's opera "Brundibar" (by Hans Krasa) did for
At the time, there had been considerable concern because another group of prisoners had been
caught by the guards during rehearsal of an opera, "Emperor of Atlantis," (Der Kaiser von
Atlantis) , a political satire composed by Viktor Ullmann, with a libretto written by Peter Kien.
All these artists were deported and killed for their act of defiance.
The manuscript and production notes for "Die Schwarze Hand" were taken east by the liberating
Soviet soldiers for evaluation and study in the Soviet archives. They are most likely lost.
Mrs. Opfermann and her Czech friend, Irma Semecka nee Frank, hid and preserved the
manuscripts of the gifted Czech composer Gideon Klein, as well as a priceless oil portrait of
him done by Charlotte Buresova, now on display at the Prague Jewish Museum.
Gideon Klein's work is now performed by major orchestras all over the world.
Mrs. Opfermann wrote another play since then, "Lambs at Play . . . for Time," which is
being performed in Germany in a German translation. She also authored Stationen, published
by Fourier in 1993, as well as several Holocaust-related videos which are distributed by the
German Government's Office For Political Education (Bundeszentrale fur politischeBildung) in
Mrs. Opfermann was hoping to attract the interest of an agent or publisher for her book, Ten Heroes in Search of their Best Battlefield - read a sample from this book, "Beware of Answered Prayers".
Mrs. Opfermann's publications and lectures included:
- Zwischen Geheimnis und Gebot -- Chapter about the famous Berlin Rabbi Dr Leo
Baeck in Theresienstadt; Bertelsmann Verlag 1998
- Problems Unique to the Holocaust, ed. Harry James Cargas, chapter: Suicide
or Murder?, March 1999 University Press of Kentucky
- Stationen, 1993, Fournier Verlag Wiesbaden
- Working with a colleague on "Surviving Survival," to be published by the International
Holocaust Scholars' publishing branch, Stockton and Temple University.
- "Beware of Answered Prayers" (about the International Red Cross 'Inspection' of the
Theresienstadt Ghetto/Concentration Camp in June 1944), a paper presented at
the March 1995 Holocaust Scholars Conference at Brigham Young University.
(This paper is available on CD-ROM from International Scholars Conference at
Stockton and Temple University.)
- Charlotte added: I witnessed this 'inspection' and had been recruited for some of the
preparatory work. During this inspection, the Swiss Red Cross representative, Maurice Roessel
from Geneva, took several photos of some of my child-prisoner charges -with me in the
background- as "proof' of the 'healthy condition' of children inmates. Within weeks, almost all
were dead. Out of 15,000 children, 100 survived. See the 1979 Lanzmann interview movie with
Dr. Roessel, which premiered in Washington DC June 1999. I have a manuscript in the works,
using these photos and individual biographies of the children and caregivers I knew.
- Holocaust Education in Germany (1945-1997), Holocaust Scholars Conference
University of South Florida, Tampa FL, March 1997
- The Holocaust and the Book (Drew University) 1996; published 1999 by
University Press of Massachusetts
- "Won't someone Please Bell Dr Joseph Goebbels' Cat?" - lecture about Allied
propaganda during WWII, at Haifa University ISSEI Conference, August 1998
- Nazi Justice et al, a series of five lectures given at Purdue
University, Spring 1998 and Spring 1999.
- (Charlotte was an annual lecturer at the
Purdue Tolerance Program.)
- The last Six Months of the 1000-Years-Old Frankfurt Jewish Community's Life,
Fritz Bauer Institute, Frankfurt, October 1996, published July 1999
- Radio programs (Berlin, Koeln and Prague) about the composer Gideon Klein, 1993
- (Charlotte noted: "His girlfriend Irma Semecka and I hid and preserved this composer's
- TV Program: "Menschen im Abseits," aired nationwide May 1995
- Several Movies and educational videos:
- "Ashes to Water," commemorative service at Theresienstadt 1997 (this video
was a runner up for the 1998 Amnesty International prize in Nuernberg1998)
- "I Can't Shake The Ghosts," Theresienstadt 1993
- Lotte Guthmann in Wiesbaden, 1995