From the testimony of Irene Danner-Storm, October 1994
I was born on 28 January 1923 in Luettich. My father was the German artist, Hans Danner, and my mother, Alice Lorch, was a member of the Jewish circus family Lorch.
The Lorch Circus had been based in Eschollbruecken near Darmstadt since the 19th Century, and this is where I grew up. The Brothers Lorch Circus was one of the leading European enterprises. In 1930 the circus went into bankruptcy, because the workers left and the audience stayed away due to the beginning of the incitement against the Jews….
I lived together with my sister Gerda, who is four years my junior, with our Jewish grandmother, Sessy, in the Lorch home in Eschollbruecken. We went to school while the circus went on tour. When I was thirteen and a half, I was forbidden to go to school. In 1939 I was also prohibited from working as an artist. I worked with an Italian circus family that trained horses.
Around 1938, my grandmother Sessy managed to get her son, Egon Lorch, released from Dachau concentration camp by paying money. At that time this was still possible. However Egon had to leave Germany. He died in Italy at the age of 54.
My grandfather Julius Lorch, whose business took him to Belgium, was not allowed to return to Germany. He never saw his family again and died in 1942 in exile in great poverty.
My great uncles Rudi and Arthur Lorch, who were also in Belgium were deported, after the German occupation of that country, to the quarries in the camp of Gurs in France. Both died there. One of them had been beaten to death.
In March 1943 my grandmother Sessy was taken by the Gestapo. I was a witness. She, as well as her brother in law Eugen Lorch, were taken to Auschwitz. Both didn’t survive Auschwitz. My grandmother died in August 1943.
Since 1941, despite the prohibition to work, I performed with the clown band of “the three Bentos” of the Althoff Circus. Mr. Althoff, the director, knew of my Jewish origin, but agreed nevertheless that I would perform in his circus. I fell in love with the clown Peter Bento, but we could only marry after the war. Two of our five children came to the world in the years of hiding.
After the deportation of our grandmother and the confiscation of our home, my mother and sister were also searching for a safe haven with Althoff. Also my father, Hans Danner, who had fought as a soldier in Africa and Russia, and who was supposed to get a divorce from his Jewish wife during a sick leave.
Adolf Althoff let us all work without papers. He knew well what the danger was by accepting a Jewish family, as well as feeding and protecting them. This could not very well be concealed from the wide circle of artists and workers of the circus. He also assumed the risk of denunciation. His wife Maria was privy to the secret. She took care of me, especially during my pregnancies, and kept giving me provisions….
Adolf Althoff who kept refusing to join the Nazi Party, enabled us to live in the circus basically undisturbed. At the same time he always got into dangerous situations, which he overcame with courage and great aptness. Once, for example, another artist denounced us, and he summarily fired him. At every new stop on our tours the circus was searched by the Nazi control agency. Since the Althoffs always made efforts to know of these visits in advance, they were able to warn us in time. We would then hide. We would pretend to be a normal family and go to the forest for a picnic or to one of the lakes to do some fishing. Or we would hide in one of the remote circus wagons.
Adolf Althoff would engage the Gestapo officials in conversation, show them his beautiful circus, invite them for some cognac. This enabled him to divert them.
It was only natural for the Althoffs to help us. They didn’t want our gratitude. I would be most pleased if Maria and Adolf Althoff, who are now both over eighty, would be honored for their courageous and selfless deed. Without their help my family would not have survived the Holocaust in safety.