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Escaping The Nazis For A Life In Portland


From left, Amelie Holmstrom, her mother and two sisters.

From left, Amelie Holmstrom, her mother and two sisters.

Courtesy of Amelie Holmstrom

Amelie Diamant Holmstrom was 13 years old when her family fled their comfortable life in Vienna to escape Nazi rule. She and her two sisters are triplets, and their family is half Jewish.

“Old Vienna was gracious, filled with music, with kindness, with song,” Holmstrom said. “One of my great sadnesses is that I was with the Vienna Opera ballet and lost the opportunity to become a prima ballerina … I thought it was going to be my life and my profession.”

But Holmstrom, who is now 89, says she still dances every night in her living room and that life has taught her the lesson there are always more opportunities if you leave yourself open to them.

“If you do the right thing at the right time for the right reason,” Holmstrom said, “you’re most likely going to have success in your life.”

Amelie Diamant Holmstrum and her partner Tom.

Amelie Diamant Holmstrum and her partner Tom.

Sage Van Wing/OPB

The triplets were smuggled out of Europe by American missionaries Waitsill and Martha Sharp. When they boarded the boat, they didn’t know if they would ever see their parents again.

“It’s the most heartbreaking thing to be divided from your parents,” Holmstrom said. “But we both made an effort … they smiled and waved and we smiled and waved while we were crying our eyes out. So that we tried to give each other room enough to survive the pain.”

The sisters arrived first in New York, under the shadow of the Statue of Liberty. “Freedom … hope. I mean that statue is really a great statue,” Holmstrom said. The three girls stayed for months with the Sharps and 25 other children.

“Being triplets, when things got painful, we’d hug each other and speak either French or German with each other and dance together … and then I said to Marianne and Evelyn, let’s divide the group into three circles, so that the other children can have a family. So we all kind of helped each other through the terrible loneliness of being without our families.” — Holmstrom

The sisters were eventually reunited with their parents in Portland. Holmstrom’s father lost 11 brothers and sisters in the Holocaust.

“You never forget. You want to tell the world the Holocaust did exist and it was the most terrible thing that could happen,” she said. “But then you need to stop it and go on to change the world positively for the next generation.”

Holmstrom said she’s scared of what may happen in the upcoming election:

“I think we don’t have enough respect for each other. I think we don’t have to agree with people, we can disagree, but we need to do it respectfully. We should have respect for everyone, except for people who really hurt people. That’s where I draw the line.”

Amelie Diamant Holmstrom spoke with Think Out Loud’s Dave Miller. You can listen to the entire interview in the audio player above.

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