A Knock at the Door

The Fellowship  |  April 29, 2020

Albert and Loni Harder, Holocaust heroes at Palmnicken Massacre, January 1945
(Photo: Yad Vashem)

As 1945 arrived, the Nazis knew they had lost World War II. But the Germans also knew that as Allied armies approached on all sides, they would have to cover up the atrocities they had spent the war carrying out.

The Palmnicken Massacre

One of the sites of atrocities was Stutthof concentration camp. As the Red Army approached from the east, the Nazis knew they needed to get rid of the evidence of their genocide – namely the 13,000 Jewish women still held as prisoners there. So the thousands of women were marched hundreds of miles, only 3,000 of them surviving the death march to the Baltic Sea town of Palmnicken. Yes, 10,000 women had fallen along the way, either killed by the Nazis or by exhaustion and starvation.

Once the Nazis had herded the women to Palmnicken, they first planned to bury them alive in a nearby mine. When this proved too difficult, the Germans lined the women up in the freezing January waters of the Baltic Sea and turned their machine guns on the helpless, starving prisoners. Only 15 of these women would survive. Three of them – Zelina, Miriam, and Genia – slipped away from the massacre, wounded but alive.

Three Escape

That night, there came a knocking at the door of an elderly Christian couple, Loni and Albert Harder. Unlike their Nazi-sympathizing neighbors, the Harders felt only compassion when they found the starved and injured young Jewish women on their doorstep. They took in Zelina, Miriam, and Genia. The couple cared for the girls’ wounds, and then kept them hidden and cared for them until the end of the war.

Albert would die shortly after the war, while Loni would live a short while longer, alone and in a displaced persons camp. But the women whose lives they saved would not forget the kindly couple, and Loni and Albert Harder were among the first to be named Righteous Gentiles by Yad Vashem in 1966.