Olivia Newton John passed away following a decades-long battle with cancer. She was an Australian singer and actress who was probably most well-known for her role in Grease opposite John Travolta. Who would have known that she was actually the daughter of a woman who’s parents were Jewish refugees who left Germany in 1933 to escape the Nazi regime?
There were more than half a million Jews in Germany in 1933 when the Nazi Regime took power and quickly consolidated total control over all of the institutions of power in Germany. Although many Jews left in the first few years after the Nazis took over, many stayed. This has always been a mystery to me until recently.
A great-grandchild of a German immigrant to South Africa explained to me why his family stayed in Germany for so many years under the Nazi regime. They did end up leaving in 1938. But why did they stay for the first 5 years? The Nazis made life miserable for the Jews, and there still were ways to get out for those who wanted.
The answer for many families lies in World War I. Nearly all the heads of Jewish families in their 40’s and 50’s were World War I veterans. Most estimates claim that there were 100,000 Jews who served in the German Army in World War I. 12,000 Jews were killed in action and 18,000 German Jews received the Iron Cross. These Jews figured that they would be treated differently than others, and of course, very few people could have imagined just how long and horrible the Nazi regime would be.
Newton-John’s Grandfather, Max Born and Albert Einstein were two of many brilliant German Jewish physicists who fled Germany and changed physics forever.