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The initiative of the granddaughter of a Hitler bodyguard

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The initiative of the granddaughter of a Hitler bodyguard

Tales Without Voice

The executioner faces the victim, not to seek forgiveness that makes no sense, not out of victimhood or self-pity, but to win a challenge and build a future together.

What I want to tell you is the story of Rossana Ottolenghi and Maite Billerceck, two women with a heavy past even if profoundly different.

Photo from Pixabay

Let’s go back to September 1943. Rossana’s grandfather is the owner of a hotel located in the municipality of Meina, on Lake Maggiore.

The Germans become occupiers in Italy and deportations and massacres begin. They arrive on the lake to block the escape routes to Switzerland and here they promote the largest massacre of Jews after that of the Fosse Ardeatine. From a tip-off the Germans discover that the Jews arriving from Thessaloniki, who fled hoping to find a different climate in Italy, are hidden in the hotel of Rossana’s grandfather, who is also Jewish.

The Germans take over the hotel and take everyone prisoner. During the night they take the Jews, including Rossana’s grandfather, and kill them. Rossana’s mother, who was 13 years old, incredibly survived.


Maite Billerceck now lives near Berlin and is 55 years old. In 2013 she decided to start doing in-depth research on Hans Roehwer, brother of her grandmother and apparently amiable and nice person, but with a dark past within the SS. The more she delves into her research, the more the worst hypothesis she had made about it emerges from the picture that emerges: Grandma’s brother was part of a special SS group. At just 28 years old, he was among Hitler’s bodyguards.

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At this point Maite cannot help but delve further into his research, even if the weight he slowly feels on his shoulders grows disproportionately. What she discovers is terrible.

Hans Roehwer was responsible for the Lake Maggiore massacre of September 1943 and after the war he returned to a normal life, even practicing the teaching profession, until in 1963 a trial began on the events that occurred on Lake Maggiore.

Hans Roehwer was also framed by Rossana’s mother who recognized him and said that she remembered that he was limping, which was later certified as true. The sentence was life imprisonment, but in 1970 he was acquitted by Berlin which in the meantime had modified the laws on war crimes, transforming the crimes into prescribed ones.

For Maite all this is an unbearable shame and after years of research he decides to deal with history. He goes to Meina to pay homage to the plaque in memory of the people killed and decides to get his hands into the heavy history of his family. He feels the need to give a voice back to every single person who died in that massacre.

At this point the lives of Rossana and Maite touch each other. Maite learns about Rossana and contacts her. They decide to meet even if looking at each other is a little scary, because for both it is clear that it will be right not to slip into a forgiving meeting, designed to close and forget, but that it will have to have a sequel. Rossana understands Maite’s need to take a journey of memory and redemption from that unbearable weight. Rossana’s anger and Maite’s shame meet in Liguria and from that meeting something is born that they both know cannot change things, but which could however give both of them the feeling of not taking part in the silence and denial of this which it was. It is a sign for democracy and human rights against the resurgence of anti-Semitism.

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After that meeting, on the lawn where the hotel stood and now there is a memorial park, Maite and Rossana told their stories together. It is important to elaborate and not leave it in silence, to talk about Judaism without talking about forgiveness through a third party, that is not the objective. For Maine, the meaning of the word redemption is important. She also has a foundation in memory but is not looking for self-pity but an antidote for the future.

Maite with her musician partner also created a piece of music to give a name to each person killed, a piece in which every single person is mentioned and remembered personally.

Marco Conti

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