She was born with given name Johanna Maria Magdalena and a last name of either Behrend or Ritschel, my sources disagree. Her parents were unmarried, did she receive the last name of her father, Oskar Ritschel, or her mother, Auguste Behrend? In either case it was November 11, 1901. She was one of the most fascinating personalities of her time.
Her mother worked as a servant in Berlin and her father was an engineer who worked in various places around Europe. Soon after her birth, they married, but only for 3 years. Until she was 5, she stayed with her mother. Then she went to Belgium to visit her father who, after a delay of two years and insistent requests from the mother, finally told her that he had sent their child to be educated by the nuns at a convent (Catholic) boarding school in Brussels.
Her mother met and married a Jewish businessman, Richard Friedländer. When, the couple saw the conditions at the convent her mother decided to transfer her daughter to another convent, one that was less strict, in Vilvoorde, Belgium. Her parents moved to Schaerbeek, near Brussels (Belgium), and now she was able to come home to visit. With the marriage, she became Johanna Maria Magdalena Friedländer, and from the age of 7 she was raised in a household that observed both Catholic and Jewish customs.
In 1914, the world descended into the horror of the first world war. As German aliens living in Belgium, overnight the Friedländers became refugees. Eventually they made it to the German border, probably feeling fortunate that there was space available on a cattle car for them. As the modern world is one of passenger jets, the railroad was the transportation mode of the first half of the 20th century. Transport by livestock car is not a pleasant thing. Later, in the second world war, many thousands would be transported this way to the concentration camp at Buchenwald, where Richard Friedländer died. But let us return to her story.
Survivors at Buchenwald, April 16, 1945