Edy Lange watched the world change through her window. She was born Edith Sonnenschein, February 19, 1923 in Vienna, Austria. Edy’s mother passed away when she was only one year old; as a result, she and her older brother, Kurt, were raised by a nanny named Paula until Edy turned five. They grew up in a time of oppression and depression. Food was scarce and as the years progressed, so were basic human rights. The family lived on the mezzanine floor of a modern building in the center of Vienna overlooking the entire square. As children, Edy and Kurt would look out the window for hours, watching merchants sell their goods and people going about their daily lives. Edy was six years old when she first learned what antisemitism was. It was 1928 and she had just entered first grade. In an all-girls class, the Catholic students stood each day to recite morning prayers and would spit on the Jewish girls who remained seated. Girls she thought were her friends walked on the other side of the street from her and Edy soon understood that they didn’t want to be seen with a Jew. As her family began to feel the pressure of the Nazis’ rise to power in nearby Germany, they began to take precautions. Edy’s Papa withdrew her from government school and placed her in a private school for girls run by Dr. Schwarzald, who was also Jewish. From then on, at the age of ten, she was considered an adult and her professors called her Miss Sonnenschein. Edy was a bright young girl and did well in school. Her Papa wanted her to continue her education at a university, but the political climate was too strained due to the possibility of Hitler overtaking Austria, so she began an apprenticeship making corsets and brassieres.
On March 12, 1938 Edy remembers celebrating her brother’s birthday in her family home, when early in the evening she heard a commotion outside. The family ran to the window and were met by images of tanks rolling down the streets with thousands of Nazi soldiers marching alongside Hitler. This was day one of the Nazi invasion and the “unification” had begun. There was no more
Austria and Edy watched a country disappear from her window. The next morning her family attempted to go back to life as usual. Unfortunately, the rest of the city did not. Her Papa’s stationery store was looted and destroyed and had horrible writing all over the walls. Edy remembers her father was never really the same after that day. Overnight, the world had changed, and it was
no longer safe to be a Jew in Vienna. Jews began to be mistreated and tortured by the Nazis. One day Edy was delivering a corset and was caught in the crossfire when an older lady was shot to death in the street just yards away from her. Edy kept the family alive by running errands and buying food for everyone because no one thought she was Jewish based on her light hair and blue eyes. Her brother, Kurt, had become so disheartened that he escaped Vienna with only the clothes on his back and a razor in his pocket. He hiked to the Belgian border, climbed the barbed wire fence and survived by living in a basement.
Edy and her father were desperate to leave and began imagining ways in which to disappear. In despair, Edy and her father wrote letters to twenty mayors of cities in the United States asking for help. Months later they received one response, from the mayor of Minneapolis. The message contained five words: “Help is on its way.” Edy, her Papa and his second wife now had a sponsor and a legal way to leave. Sixteenyear- old Edy and her parents took a train to Zurich, another train from Zurich to Paris, a boat from Paris to New York and another train until they finally arrived in Minneapolis. They were safe and had escaped the Holocaust. From there Edy attempted to settle in to a daily routine and build a new life. She met a young naval officer named Sam Marsh in 1943 when her local rabbi took a youth group to visit the nearby naval station. They married and lived in Florida until Sam died during World War II flying over the Pacific Islands. Sometime later,
Edy met Ralph Lange and his two very young children through her temple at a “newcomers club” for immigrants. They married sometime after, and Edy immediately took to mothering his two children, Steve and Rosie. Soon after, she had three more kids: Frank, Linda and Ester. Edy had found her calling in being a mother and eventually a grandmother to seventeen. She and Ralph opened a successful furniture store in Minneapolis where all the children took turns working until Edy and Ralph moved to Florida to retire. Edy also worked for fifteen years as a mental health counselor for the Navy. When Ralph passed away, Edy moved to San Diego to be closer to two of her children. She learned how to ballroom dance and claimed, “it was the most wonderful thing I learned how to do in my life.” When she could no longer dance, Edy decided to teach herself how to play the piano. Now, at the age of 95, she teaches a mental health course occasionally in her retirement community, watches movies alongside friends and plays the piano. Despite immense challenges, Edy did build the good
life she so richly deserved.
– written by Sara Harelson