GREENFIELD — Laura James-Reim has been a World War II history fanatic since marrying her husband, Heinz Reim, 27 years ago.
He immigrated in the 1980s to the United States from Germany and met James-Reim on a blind date. The Greenfield residents were engaged within two weeks and married six months later.
Since then, she said, her love for him and history, specifically World War II, has grown immensely.
Her interest in that time period recently led the couple to Poland to participate in a commeration of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau.
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“I very much became a student of World War II after marrying him,” James-Reim said. “I’ve always loved history, but I became really interested in that period. … It’s a fascinating period.”
Her interest in World War II is apparent in her book collection, Heinz, 66, said.
“When you see our house and our alcove, we’ve got big book cabinets, … only World War II,” he said. “Amazing. I mean, I’ve never seen so many books.”
One aspect of World War II history James-Reim is particularly interested in is the Holocaust. It was an event she learned little about in school. And her family didn’t talk much about it when she was a child.
“My parents’ generation was the World War II generation, and they just didn’t talk about any of that,” she said. “I feel a loss, sort of.”
Through her research, James-Reim, 61, found the CANDLES Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Terre Haute.
Eva Kor founded the museum in 1995. A Holocaust survivor, she and her twin sister, Miriam, were used in medical experiments by Nazi doctor Josef Mengele at Auschwitz.
The museum is the only one in the world dedicated to the twin victims and survivors of Mengele’s experiments.
Each year, Kor leads a tour of Auschwitz to give participants a firsthand account of what happened there and to teach people about forgiveness.
“I have forgiven everybody who has ever hurt me; not because they deserve it, but because I and all victims deserve to live free of the pain imposed on us,” Kor said.
The couple have supported the museum for several years and often talked about taking the trip.
They decided the 70th anniversary of the camp’s liberation was the right time to go.
“It’s a chapter that never needs to (stop being) told. We always need to be reminded of what human beings are capable of doing,” James-Reim said. “We just decided if we were going to do this, we’re going to do it now.”
But taking the trip took much consideration and planning. James-Reim worried about how people might react to her husband because of his German heritage. And the trip wouldn’t be much of a vacation.
People wondered why they were going because they’re not Jewish, she said.
Still, the experience was emotional and life-changing.
“I called it a journey because it’s not like you’re going to Florida for the beach,” James-Reim said. “For us, I think it was a journey of knowledge and trying to understand things and getting answers.”
For Reim, the trip provided insight into what happened during the Holocaust. Growing up in Berlin, he learned about the concentration camps, but he’d never visited one.
“For me, it’s interesting,” he said. “I lived about 400 kilometers from there, and I never thought in my whole life I’d go.”
The couple traveled with about 80 other people from across the world. Over the course of the trip, they walked many miles, which wasn’t easy, they said.
And on the day of the ceremony, they stood outside in the cold for eight hours.
But the entire time, they thought of the victims of the camps who were forced to bear those same temperatures with no heat and little clothing to shield them from the cold.
James-Reim said she knew a lot about the Holocaust going into the trip, but she learned much more going to the camp.
The pair also found a bond with other visitors. The group is staying connected through Facebook and making plans to visit the CANDLES museum and each other.
“I think, out of this trip, we probably made friends for life,” James-Reim said. “Life is just a funny old thing when you think about it.”
Though the experience made a lasting impression, they say they likely won’t go back.
Reim compared it to visiting Las Vegas or Disney World. Once you’ve done it, there’s no reason to do it again, he said.
For James-Reim, the trip was an opportunity to learn even more about the time period her husband inspired her to explore. She doesn’t need to go again, but it’s an experience for which she’ll always be thankful.
“I don’t have words for half of what we experienced and felt,” James-Reim said. “It was beyond my dreams.”