By Laura Adelmann
MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. – Torrential downpours couldn’t keep hundreds of people from traveling to the Minnesota Capitol to hear Holocaust survivor Anita Dittman’s account of persecution in Nazi Germany at the annual March of Remembrance event.
Dittman’s compelling account of Nazi brutality, survival, faith and triumph during the Hitler’s reign is the subject of a new WND Films documentary created by filmmaker George Escobar, “Trapped in Hitler’s Hell.”
Christian radio host Paul Ridgeway, master of ceremonies at the Remembrance event on Sunday, had high praise for the film.
“[WND] … has done a great documentary movie,” Ridgeway said. “I have seen it; it’s fabulous. They showed parts of it yesterday at the Understanding the Times Conference. I would recommend all of you to get it and watch it.”
Dittman, 86, shared the contrast of how her life began happily but quickly transformed into a nightmare, and how she clung to the faithful God of Abraham who was her strength.
In her earliest years, Dittman danced, she said.
She had a proven gift for ballet and dreams of becoming a ballerina.
Her teacher recognized Dittman’s talents, evident at just four years old, and encouraged her ambition, predicting she would be a professional ballerina one day.
By age six, Dittman’s teacher advanced her to performing with older girls, and they spent weeks practicing for a big upcoming show.
“The music started, and I became completely oblivious to my surroundings, and I danced and I danced,” Dittman said. “I was in my glory because it was wonderful. I loved ballet. I lived it. When the music stopped, I was overwhelmed by the amazing applause I received.”
Hear some of Dittman’s comments:
Her performance was highly praised by her teacher and in the front-page review in the newspaper, but by then the country had started requiring the Jewish people to register, and after citing Dittman’s outstanding talents, the article announced “but the German people no longer want to be entertained by a Jew.”
Dittman said her hopes and dreams of becoming a ballerina “crumbled into a thousand pieces” after her father, an atheist, abandoned the family because he was an Aryan and was “not willing to make any sacrifices to be married to a Jew.”
Their lives would take a dramatic turn into poverty, and Germany became like a prison for Jews.
Jews were labeled “undesirables” and Dittman faced taunting and beatings from classmates, all members of the Hitler Youth. Nazi teachers targeted her in class. Eventually, she was forced to leave school because she was a Jew, a change the school administrator praised.
Dittman and her mother, forced from their home and into the Jewish ghettos, shared cramped dilapidated apartments with other families, lice and cockroaches and watched in horror as the Gestapo arrested friends, neighbors and family members they would never see again.
Eventually, the Gestapo came for Dittman’s mother, and soon she too was forced into a concentration camp.
Persecution of the Jewish people during Hitler’s reign from 1933-1945 should never happen again, declared the hundreds who gathered at the March of Remembrance event.
Prayers were lifted, but singing was banned, so words to the National Anthem of Israel, HaTikvah (“The Hope”) were instead read aloud:
“As long as the Jewish spirit is yearning deep in the heart, with eyes turned toward the east, looking toward Zion, then our hope, the 2,000-year-old hope, will not be lost. To be a free people in our land, the land of Zion and Jerusalem.”
Dittman shared the source of her own hope, Jesus Christ.
She said she became a believer as a child when she saw the morning sun shining through stained glass windows depicting Christ’s birth, life, death and resurrection.
“It was like Jesus stepped out of one of those pictures, and he came to live in my heart forever,” she said through tears. “He still does.”
She described it as a wonderful “experience for the soul,” and said she clung Christ through her experiences as she first watched friends and family taken away, until she was also forced into a concentration camp.
“The minute Jesus came into my life, it seemed that all the horror around me would not penetrate my heart and soul because Christ was in there,” she said. “And I felt a security I that had never known, even during that time when I had plush, middle-class living.”
The trials she endured, miraculous ways God protected her from Nazis intent on her destruction and her enduring faith in God’s goodness through it all has inspired generations of other people in their own life struggles sand faith.
Mariah Agness, 17, said hearing Dittman’s testimony encouraged her as she has gone through some hard times and is finding comfort in Christ.
“I get where she’s coming from when she says God is with her,” Agness said. “God has taken me through some hard situations. There has been some low points, but he has been with me and helped change my life around.”
Agness, of Coon Rapids, said she was also amazed at how strong Dittman remained in her faith through the devastation of the Holocaust.
“She inspired me,” Agness said. “I can’t even wrap my head around what she’s been through. To imagine walking in her shoes and she stayed strong in her faith and did not blame God… she has definitely had an impact on me.”
The book and movie are to be released May 6.