Staatenlos


(Rosemarie Pena)


Ilse Moellgaard, a Danish child, survived the holocaust but never fully recovered from the experience.Neither have her four daughters. At six years old, she watched her father murdered in her home in Kiel, Schleswig - Holstein. She was separated from her mother, brother and sister and placed in a concentration camp. When war ended, she was released to an orphanage in the English Occupied Zone. Refusing to be restrained, desperate to find her family, she escaped from the orphanage, called herself Elsie Thompson, and became known as a displaced person.

She hid in bombed out houses and later did domestic work until she managed to meet George Larey, a US Soldier who married her and brought her to Texas in the late 1950's where together they had two daughters. She had given two daughters up for adoption before leaving Germany. One was the product of rape by one of her employers.

I discovered Ilse unwittingly in 1994 and had the privilege of hosting her in my home for two weeks. I got to know and love her in the next few years but it wasn't easy. When she died in 2002, we were not speaking. I didn't know until 2004 that she had died. Her daughter, whom I had never met called to tell me the news.

Ilse was my mother. She died estranged from all four of her daughters. In a video interview of Ilse on her deathbed, she acknowledges only the two daughters born in the US. She had been searching for her oldest daughter that had been given up for adoption before she died. She planned for many years to tell her story but her dreams were never realized. I will be her voice.

I have met one of my sisters, through whose efforts we have recently found another. Though I have become acquainted with my youngest sister via phone and video, we have never yet met in person. We are still looking for the eldest of Ilse's daughters..My sisters and I share a dream of finding our remaining lost sister and visiting Germany together to get to know our mother and uncover the lost details of her life, perhaps to meet extended family members.

My personal challenge is unique from my sisters and reuniting has not been a cakewalk. I am black, my sisters are white. Since I was the product of rape, it is doubtful that I will ever know the identity of my father.


While I felt different from my family since I can remember, my adoption was only confirmed when I was about 38 years old. It was then that I discovered that I was a part of a group of children who have been referred to as the Brown Babies, Kriegskinder, Mischlings; mixed race children abandoned after WWII, who were either raised in orphanages in Germany or adopted by African American families in the US. I belong to the latter group. Although I was born in Germany, Ilse was considered a displaced person, so I came to the US as Staatenlos, a person without a country .

After finding my mother, I discovered an organization called the Black German Cultural Society, Inc., which was established by other Black German children born after WWII. Our experiences vary as did those of our birth families. I have been the president of BGCS since 2005 and have lectured both on the Black German Experience and Blacks and the Holocaust. We have been working together with Professor Leroy Hopkins to create a collective autobiography for academic purposes that contains a portion of my personal story prior to my mother's death and finding my sisters. I have been interviewed in a video documentary cooperatively by professors of NYU and UMass.

The AfroGerman movement in Germany begun by May Ayim and others continues to be documented and the Brown Babies are presently discussed in academic circles by historians. As a group, we are beginning to take our place in history and continue to strive for recognition in the African Diaspora as Black Europeans. We would like our history recorded through our own collective voice.

My personal journey continues. When I met Ilse, I started on the road to self. I have only begun to discover my authentic identity as Rosemarie. I was born of rape in postwar Germany to a Danish holocaust survivor. I was raised as Wanda Lynn, an African American, in the US as an only child by adoring Christian parents who loved me so much, they never wanted me to know who I was or from whence or whom I came.

As noted time and time again, the holocaust echoes today and its tragic implications are far reaching.My mother, my sisters and I are both victims and survivors. Through my personal experience, I offer others the opportunity to view the holocaust through a different lens.
By telling my story, I hope to add insight into the complex issues surrounding the trauma of the primal wound and transnational adoption. I hope to encourage a new look at the concepts of individual identity, nationality, culture and race and war.

Further, it is my greatest desire to bring healing through self discovery for myself, my children, my sisters and others whose lives and experiences may possess elements of my own. I wish to validate Ilse's life and celebrate her strength. I wish to express my gratitude to God and my parents, without whom this story would not be one of survival but tragedy. I want my children and their children to inherit the legacy of a victory over rather than a victim of hatred and inhumanity.

More about Rosemarie Pena

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