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German 1918 Pandemic Survivor Sees Frightening Parallels With Politics In Era Of COVID-19

FREMONT (KPIX) -- The last time a deadly pandemic ravaged the world was one hundred years ago and a woman in Fremont has survived both of them. It is the social aftermath of the calamity that has her most worried.

Ursula Haeussler is 105-years-old. Born in Germany in 1915, Haeussler said her earliest memory came at age 3 when a young maid walked into the room.

"I remember she came in and fell unconscious on the floor," she said. "And, of course, I thought she was dead. She died on the same day in the hospital."

The 1918 Spanish Flu had arrived. It killed 50 million people worldwide, including Haeussler's uncle and godparents.

So, one hundred years later, when the next pandemic hit, she had one thought: "I thought, oh my god, I hope they get a vaccine soon and I'm really impressed that they got it when they got it."

Last week, Haeussler received her vaccination and some hope that maybe this time it won't be so bad. But there are other parallels from her childhood that are equally frightening. With its economy in ruins from WWI and the pandemic raging, German citizens began searching for a savior to deliver them from their troubles and they settled on an ambitious Austrian known for his fiery rhetoric.

Does Ursula think the pandemic played a part in the rise of Adolph Hitler?

"Maybe a little bit," she said. "It was the beginning of all the unhappy things that happened to Germany that made the people finally believe, 'maybe this guy can help us?'"

Hitler spent years feeding his followers a stream of lies and blaming the country's problems on foreigners and ethnic minorities. His power was finally solidified in 1933 when an angry mob of his supporters burned down the Reichstag, Germany's legislative building.

To Ursula, it had the same feeling when protestors stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6, in support of Donald Trump.

"I get sick when I see him," she said. "I know people who really believe in him. That was the same thing when Hitler was doing his bad things."

Haeussler said she can't help it because it all feels too familiar. For her, it's not some political stance. It's something she lived.

Even though the pandemic is far from over, Haeussler has faith that advances in medicine and economic policy will prevent the total collapse that led to Germany's sense of desperation. And while she now has hope that a vaccine can end a deadly virus, there is no antidote to protect against the poison of fear and anger.

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