Thursday, September 21, 2006

Did the Husband Know?

Sometimes, news is really news.

For 47 years, Elfriede Rinkel lived a seemingly blameless life in a rundown apartment in San Francisco. She was a first-generation German immigrant whose husband, Fred, was a German Jew who had fled the Nazis.

Together, they mixed easily in Jewish circles, attended synagogue and donated to Jewish charities. When Fred Rinkel died two years ago, his widow buried him in a Jewish cemetery, his gravestone adorned with the Star of David - with space for herself next to him.

This week, however, it transpired that the little old lady from the Tenderloin district harboured a secret she withheld from her husband, her family and the US authorities.

For the last year of the Second World War, Ms Rinkel - then known by her maiden name Elfriede Huth - worked as a guard and dog handler in the Ravensbrück concentration camp, not far from Düsseldorf. More than 130,000 women passed through the slave labour facility in six years, and more than two-thirds of them died - in gas chambers, medical experiments or from malnutrition and disease.

According to the US Justice Department, which has spent the past 27 years tracking down suspected former Nazi collaborators, Ms Rinkel's duties included using dogs to march inmates to work. "She was an integral part of the machinery of destruction and persecution," the chief of the Office of Special Investigations, Eli Rosenbaum, told the San Francisco Chronicle.

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