My name is Irene Dansky.
The date is August 20, 1996.
We are in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, near Philadelphia.
We are interviewing Liesl Joseph Loeb,
and the language is English.
Can you tell us your name please?
Liesl Joseph Loeb.
Would you spell it for us?
L-I-E-S-L, Joseph J-O-S-E-P-H, Loeb L-O-E-B.
What was your name at birth?
Have you had any other names?
During World War II, I dropped the Liesl and became Elizabeth.
Any other nicknames or Hebrew or Yiddish names?
My Hebrew name is Esther, Esther bat Josef.
And your birthday?
My birthday is June 17, 1928.
- And your age now? - Sixty-eight.
I do have another nickname.
My husband called me that and my grandchildren call me that.
- Does it have any special meaning? - Yes, it means “little treasure.”
Because my husband used to call me that, the grandchildren are continuing it.
Can you tell us where you were born?
I was born in a small city in West Germany, in the Rhineland, called Rheydt.
It’s spelled R-H-E-Y-D-T.
During your childhood, who lived in your household?
My mother, my father and myself.
In my early childhood, also a nanny.
Can you tell us a little bit about your father?
Yes. My father married late in his life.
He was 45 when he married.
My mother was 26 when she married, or 27.
My father was my buddy.
He was my friend.
There was never any generation gap.
He was my hero.
He was a lawyer.
He had a firm in our city.
He represented industrial concerns
as well as the usual things lawyers do, such as divorce.
One of the cases that really brought him to the attention of the public
was an abortion case with two doctors.
I think, after that, his practice really began to flourish.
He had a partner.
He was very active with B’nai B’rith.
He was, politically, a Social Democrat,
which did not become very popular as time went on.
He was a wonderful, wonderful husband and father.
What was your father’s full name?
Josef Joseph. Josef with an “f” and Joseph with a “ph.”
Was he always an attorney?
Yes. Actually, right before World War I,
he sat as a justice in the courts,
I believe in Cologne.
That, actually, was the reason why,
after the Nuremberg Laws stopped Jews from practicing their professions,
he was eventually reinstated,
because he was already in that field before World War I.
When did he start practicing law?
I believe he was accepted to the bar in 1911.
And when did he have to stop?
Can you tell us the reason?
Because he was a Jew.
I found in our papers a letter where he requests
that he be permitted to represent at least Jews only until the end of 1938.
That was denied.
The order for him to–
to cease practicing came right after Crystal Night,
which was in November of ’38.
That was the end of that.
What was your mother like?
My mother was the youngest of three sisters.
I think she was the most beautiful of the three.
She was a trained coloratura soprano singer.
She used to entertain in Jewish circles sometimes,
singing and playing the guitar.
Her father did not permit her to study.
She wanted to study medicine, or she wanted to study art.
He just wanted her to stay home, look pretty and play the piano,
so that’s what she did.
She enjoyed traveling.
Basically, she had no particular career of any kind.
She got married at, I think–
They got married in 1927, so she was 26 years old.
She ran a big household.
She was a wonderful wife to my father
and a very caring mother.
She was, in times of crisis, a Goliath, and then, afterwards, she’d break down.
There were many times when her strength was called upon in her lifetime.
In your childhood, were there specific moments
you can think of that that happened?
Well, yes. For instance, when I was six,
I had a very difficult middle ear infection
and consequent operation, mastoid operation.
She stayed with me in the hospital for six weeks.
She stayed with me in the same room, took care of me.
I would say when things more seriously happened
when political situations changed–
For instance, during Crystal Night, my mother and myself,
a visitor and a young domestic were in our house.
She kept her head and took us
to the apartment of tenants that we had in the house
to save us.
My father was in jail at the time.
After the house was destroyed, the next day,
she had the presence of mind to have pictures taken of the house.
She boarded it up, and she took me to friends
who were Dutch nationals and where she felt I would be safe.
Then she went back to my hometown to try and get my father out of jail.
Eventually, she was able to accomplish that, too, by meeting with a policeman
who called her one night to meet her in some dark alley.
He had news of my father.
Even though she was scared, she went to meet him.
She gave the policeman money.
She gave him medicine and fresh clothes for my father.
Eventually, through this liaison, my father was released.
Again, in London, when we were in England, much further–
Let’s wait and do that when we get to London.
Okay. But she showed her strength numerous times.
Never, ever forgetting who she was.
That was one of the points that I admired her for so much.
She was really an inspiration to me.
Let’s go back to before the war.
What was life like in your town? What was the town like?
The first 10 years, first of all, of my childhood were really very happy.
Very secure. I was an only child.
I didn’t have any problems of sibling rivalry.
I knew I was loved.
I enjoyed being wherever children were.
Our town was, actually, also the birthplace of Joseph Goebbels,
who became the propaganda minister in the Hitler regime.
Our town, everybody knew everybody else.
Everybody knew my father, first of all, because he had a well-known law firm.
I would say, probably, one of the most successful.
Perhaps raising envy on the part of some colleagues,
especially non-Jewish colleagues.
Life was good. We lived in a big house.
I went to a Jewish day school, so that I did not suffer
some of the early anti-Semitic situations
that other children experienced who did not go to Jewish day schools,
and who were eventually thrown out of their schools.
My playmates, naturally, were also from school.
With the exception of neighborhood children
who started to call me all kinds of names when I was four or five years old,
I didn’t really have too many negative experiences as a child.
How big a town was Rheydt?
At that time, approximately 70,000.
We were very close to the next town,
which was Mönchengladbach.
Today, that’s all one municipality.
At that time, these were separate towns with separate Jewish congregations
and separate synagogues and so on.
For instance, there was a Jewish athletic club that I belonged to.
I would travel once a week to Mönchengladbach
to do athletic activities
and meet other Jewish children.
There was a Jewish community center there where that took place.
I think it was a close-knit community, Jewish community specifically,
but my father had also, in the beginning, many non-Jewish clients.
He was well-known.
Was he active politically in the town?
As I said, he was a known Social Democrat.
I’m not quite sure what these activities entailed.
But it was a known fact, and he was on a blacklist
once the Nazis came into power.
When Chamberlain came to Germany to–
before the Czechoslovakian takeover,
in case the conference would not have resulted
in supposed peace,
there was a blacklist of people who would have been hanged in the public square.
My father was on top of the list as a Social Democrat.
And a Jew.
This is what my mother told me.
I really think, perhaps, he wrote articles in periodicals,
Social Democratic periodicals,
but I really have no other knowledge of what his activities entailed.
Politically, that is.
Did he know Goebbels?
Yes, he did know Goebbels very well.
When Goebbels first graduated university,
he wanted to be a playwright.
He wrote a play which was declared a plagiarized plot.
So he was discouraged
and often didn’t have financial means for his next meal.
Very often, my father would have him at his table
and perhaps steer him into a direction
that would be feasible for himself.
Goebbels was a cripple, you know.
He had a clubfoot. He was of very small stature.
Even though he was quite brilliant and a brilliant speaker,
I think that gave him some kind of a complex.
Once the Nazis came to power, they took advantage of his mind
and he was able to further himself in the party.
That’s, I think, how that happened,
that he became what he was.
But in his student and post-student years,
it was a whole different story.
About when was that, do you have any idea?
It must have been in the early ’20s.
Was there any contact with him later on?
No. No, there was not, but when my father, here in Philadelphia,
was translating editor for a German newspaper,
which appeared daily here in Philadelphia,
the Philadelphia Gazette Democrat,
he wrote an open letter to Joseph Goebbels at that time.
That was the only other indication of the relationship.
You said that you had a nanny in the household.
Yes. She was like my second mother.
- What was her name? - Her name was Otti Hagedorn.
Actually that was her married name.
Her maiden name was Otti Loiter.
Her parents were like my grandparents.
Her father used to take me to ride on the carousel when it came around.
Her mother used to spoil me
with all kinds of knitted things that she made for me.
I had a grandmother, but these two people were something like grandparents.
When I started school,
she no longer stayed my nanny.
She got married just before I started school.
She insisted that I carry her veil in her church wedding.
This was already during the Hitler time
and my mother felt that it might not be advisable,
both for her and for us.
She said she wouldn’t get married in church unless I would carry her veil,
so I carried her veil.
She used to come and see me afterwards.
She didn’t live in our town anymore.
She moved to Essen with her husband.
Whenever she came home to visit her parents, she’d come and visit me.
The party asked her not to do that anymore,
the Nazi party.
She told them she was going to do whatever she wants.
They said, “Well, could you visit them at night?”
She said, “No. I’m going to visit whenever I want.”
And so she did.
She probably lost track of us once we left Germany,
because not knowing what happened to the passengers of the St. Louis.
Finally, when the war was over,
I wrote to the same address where I knew she lived before,
and we resumed our relationship until she died.
She came to see me in this country, and it was like before.
I was her kid.
She used to call me “the kid” in German.
Did you have much contact with your own grandparents?
I only had a grandmother,
and, of course, my grandmother lived
with my mother’s oldest sister in her own house.
It was my grandmother’s house
and my mother’s oldest sister lived in the same house.
It was a big house, but it was in the next little town,
where my mother was actually born.
My grandmother came usually every Saturday afternoon.
My mother would invite some of her friends over for coffee.
Sometimes she’d stay overnight and sometimes she didn’t.
Later on, when my mother’s oldest sister left Germany,
my grandmother moved into our house.
She stayed with us.
Now there was another sister who lived in Berlin.
She was a doctor and my grandmother would visit there occasionally
for a period of maybe a couple of months and then come back to us again.
During Crystal Night, she happened to be in Berlin and that saved her life,
because the Nazis came in– the vandals came in through her room
and ripped open the mattress with a knife in her room.
- She was luckily, at the time, in Berlin. - What was your grandmother’s name?
Her name was Mathilda Salmon, and her maiden name was Hyman.
She came from Kaiserslautern.
- Want me to spell that? - Sure.
I think it’s in southern Germany.
She was one of 12 children.
What were your aunts’ names?
My mother’s sisters?
Johanna was the oldest,
and Elsa was the middle one, the doctor.
- Did they survive? - No, they did not.
Johanna and her husband, Ulrich– U-L-R-I-C-H,
last name Heidelberger H-E-I-D-E-L-B-E-R-G-E-R–
they emigrated to Holland.
My uncle ran my grandfather’s factory.
My grandfather had a clothing factory,
and my uncle took it over when my grandfather died.
He was warned that the Nazis were coming to confiscate the factory,
and the night before, my uncle walked across the border into Holland.
Later on, my aunt followed.
Unfortunately, they were caught by the invasion of the Nazis.
They were sent to Sobibor and did not survive.
They had one daughter, Ilsa.
She came to this country alone
in 1936 or ’37.
My mother’s other sister lived in Berlin.
Her husband was a musician.
She had one child, Gunther, a boy, very gifted.
They had very high quota numbers.
They never made it.
They were deported to the Lodz ghetto.
From there, I have documentation that they were deported further.
There is a word in the book that the Germans have published
regarding all the deportations from Germany, you know,
and in that book is a word that says verschollen
and verschollen means “disappeared.”
Unfortunately, we have no further knowledge
of how they perished, but they perished.
When did you leave Rheydt?
We left in May of 1939.
- Why? - What what?
- Why? - Why?
Well, it was past Crystal Night.
My father, I think, up until 1938,
I think he thought that,
like so many other Jewish intelligentsia,
that this folly could not last.
That it had to– It had to stop.
I think he was– I don’t know what convinced him–
at what point he was convinced.
I know it was before Crystal Night
because of the correspondence I’m finding regarding our emigration.
There was, for instance,
the dismissal or the deportation of all aliens, Jewish aliens,
out of Germany in approximately October of 1938
to no-man’s-land between Germany and Poland.
I don’t know if it happened before that,
but at some point, I think in 1938,
he was convinced it was time to go.
It was time to get out.
I found all kinds of correspondence to that effect.
Where did you go?
Well, first of all, there was Kristallnacht.
my mother took me to Bonn to friends
who were Dutch nationals and, therefore, the house was Dutch property.
She felt I would be safe there.
Through these friends, my parents met a Cuban family by the name of Stuetzel.
He was German but had become a Cuban citizen, and his wife was Cuban.
Through their efforts, my parents
got these immigration permits into Cuba.
They were visiting Cuba, and they heard about it,
that the immigration official in Havana
was issuing immigration permits.
They bought them for my parents and brought them back.
Then, the next step was to find a way of leaving Germany.
Meanwhile, our relatives in the United States,
who, up until Crystal Night, had felt my father was too old
to emigrate into the United States,
considering his occupation and his age,
had issued us affidavits, which is a guarantee
that they would support us in case it was necessary and so on.
All we needed now was somewhere to go and some way to get there.
The St. Louis was like a godsend.
When the Germans declared they were preparing a ship
that would leave for Cuba in May of 1939,
and that it would be specifically for Jewish refugees
who wanted to leave Germany.
So my father immediately got in touch with a travel agency
and booked passage.
That’s how we came to be on the St. Louis.
Tell us about the St. Louis.
How you heard about the St. Louis just through–
I don’t know how they heard about it.
Perhaps it was publicized in the paper
or perhaps it was through these Cuban friends.
I don’t know how they heard about it, but there it was.
The minute they heard–
Sometimes these things go by word of mouth,
when somebody hears about something like that,
because there were such few ships that took Jews altogether.
In my papers, for instance, I found out
that most ships which left Germany at that time in history
had only a limited amount of space that they reserved for Jews.
So that, even if you had all the necessary papers to leave,
finding a ship to take you, a means of getting out, was still a problem.
And here was a ship that was entirely for Jewish refugees.
So that was quite something.
Of course, there was an ulterior motive for the Germans.
This motive really is one that we didn’t find out
until the authors of the book Voyage of the Damned
found evidence that this was to be
a trip for an espionage situation.
The Germans figured, let the Jews pay for it.
That was something none of us knew at the time.
How did people ordinarily– How did Jews ordinarily go about
getting affidavits, documentation, permission to leave the country?
It was a very complicated matter to do this.
First of all, the American consulates had been instructed, as we now know,
not to make it too easy for people–
for Jews to enter the United States.
Since the German quota
for emigration into the States at that time
was 25,000 per year, 25,000 people per year.
The government made no allowances,
borrowing from other quotas.
That was it.
We now also have found out that those quotas were never even filled.
Even though at that time, we didn’t know it.
There was such an onslaught for requests
that then the consulates issued numbers,
first come, first served numbers, like in a delicatessen store.
This was never an official announcement.
It spread over Germany by word of mouth.
I know my parents had friends– excuse me–
with whom they got together regularly,
who, by a very casual conversation, said,
“Well, there is now a quota system.
You have to get numbers before you can go to the consulate.”
Our consulate was in Stuttgard.
“You have to apply for a number.”
Immediately, my mother would call up her sister in Berlin
and say, “Listen, you’ve got to get a number.”
My parents had a fairly low number.
It was– I have the documentation.
It was in the 14,000’s. That was considered a low number.
By the time her sister was able to get to a consulate and get a number,
they were in the 70,000’s.
That was like a condemnation to death.
You could not–
You could not do anything without that number
in so far as coming into the United States.
Was that true for other countries too?
Yes. My parents had an affidavit
by the beginning of 1939.
They had a visa and all they needed was the passage,
the money to pay for it.
They were going to wait for their quota number in another country.
That’s what most of the passengers on the St. Louis were doing.
They did not intend to stay in Cuba, but simply wait, far away from Germany,
outside of Germany, until their quota numbers would come up.
...tape 2 of Liesl Loeb’s interview.
Liesl, if you don’t mind, I’d like to go back to your childhood in Rheydt
to bring up something.
What was your religious life there?
You said that you went to the Jewish school.
Yes, it was a one-room school,
because we only had about a hundred Jewish families living in Rheydt.
As I said, the other city nearby, Mönchengladbach,
had its own congregation, its own Jewish schools.
That was a much larger city.
We had a teacher who was not an ordained rabbi,
nor was he an official cantor.
I would compare his title to a reverend.
He conducted services, he conducted weddings and funerals,
and visited the sick and was the shepherd of his flock,
so to speak, of the congregation.
The persuasion was what we would call Liberal,
comparative to Conservatism here in the United States.
However, women did sit separate from the men.
The women sat upstairs.
Children, both male and female, sat downstairs with the men.
Boys on one side of the beamer, girls on the other side
and men in the rest of the synagogue.
Because it was a Jewish day school,
my father took me to services every Shabbat,
and, of course, all holidays.
My mother would come on all holidays.
Sometimes when I talked too much, he would lead me out.
That was very embarrassing to me, but I don’t think it stopped me from talking.
The reverend, his name was Max Hyman.
His wife used to teach embroidery as a part of our curriculum.
We already had embroidery in second grade.
That was customary in Germany.
I still have some of my productions, as a matter of fact.
He had two children, a son and a daughter, who were both older than myself.
They were very nice children.
The only time I got very annoyed was on Simchat Torah,
when we had flags to carry around.
These flags had been made by the women of the congregation.
Some of them were really beautiful.
Always those two kids got the best flags because they lived right there.
The school and the teacher’s home and the synagogue was in one complex.
So naturally, they were there first, and they always got the best flags.
But they were really very nice children.
Their names were Edith and Walter.
One other thing about them,
when I came to Rheydt, the last days of my stay in Germany,
to say good-bye to my friends, because I had been living in Bonn,
I went to visit them also.
We were playing cards.
Walter, the older of the two children–
Perhaps at that time, he might have been already 13 or 14 years old,
and I guess his sister was 12.
He showed me how to shuffle cards the way they do in a casino.
You know? You kind of flip them.
While he was doing that, he said, “You know, Hitler said,
by 1941, there wouldn’t be a Jew alive in Germany.”
I still flip the cards that way,
and every time I do it, I think of him and what he said.
When we were invited back to Germany in 1989 to Rheydt,
there was a display in the museum
of the history of the Jews of the area and their contribution to the area,
and there was a picture of the teacher, of Max Hyman.
The caption underneath read something like this:
He had a chance with his family to emigrate out of Germany,
and that he chose to stay with his congregation.
That he was deported to the–
I believe they were all deported to the ghetto of Riga.
From there, deported further, and he and his family perished.
I felt that that was a heroic thing.
On the last day of our visit in Rheydt in 1989,
I called attention to that fact.
I asked those present, both Jewish and otherwise,
for a moment of silence for the memory of this very brave man.
Do you have memories of other religious holiday celebrations
with your family and so on?
Well, Hanukkah and Purim were always times
that we put on plays in this little schoolroom.
Somebody built a stage, and we rehearsed plays.
You know, it was as much fun as you could have in a German school.
You didn’t– I had a lot more fun in American schools
than I did in European schools.
But as much fun as you could have over there, we had it.
As I said, we had plays,
and we had celebrations, and we had a sukkah.
There were some private people who had Sukkoth and so on.
I was particularly lucky because Hanukkah, of course, we celebrated in my house,
and then my father had some Christian clients that weren’t paying too well,
but they gave me lots of presents at Christmastime.
I had the best of both worlds.
When you moved to Bonn, what was life like there?
Well, the people, our friends in Bonn–
The friendship went back, first of all, to my father’s college days.
The family name was Steinfeld. S-T-E-I-N-F-E-L-D.
The Steinfeld family held lots of real estate in Bonn.
They also had a men’s clothing store.
The senior Mr. Steinfeld had an early death.
My father was not only his friend from college–
they were friends from college, from university days–
but he was also the legal representative of the business
and of their holdings, so to speak.
There was one daughter, Anita,
and my father became her guardian when her father died.
So it was a very close relationship, very close friendship.
The widow of this Mr. Steinfeld was our guest
at the time of Crystal Night.
She immediately said, “You bring Liesl to my house in Bonn. She’ll be safe there.”
That’s what my mother did.
So I came to Bonn.
This was a household of women.
Mrs. Steinfeld had a maiden sister who lived there in the apartment.
Her daughter, at the time, was living there.
The son-in-law had already emigrated to Holland.
He was a Dutch national. The daughter soon followed.
There were no kids there.
The people weren’t really used to a little girl anymore.
They were wonderful to me.
Also, the Jewish school in Bonn was still in session
after Crystal Night, which was unusual.
Probably the reason was
because you didn’t know it was a school when you went by there.
The school was in some kind of a building
that looked like an office building from the street.
The playground wasn’t visible.
There were venetian blinds on the windows.
So the vandals didn’t know.
It wasn’t on the same property, for instance, as the synagogue.
So the school was not destroyed, and it was still in session.
I enrolled in the school, in the Jewish school.
I became friendly with the daughter of the cantor in Bonn.
Cantor Winterberg. W-I-N-T-E-R-B-E-R-G.
He had one daughter.
He and his wife were so kind to me.
They used to invite me on weekends,
and they would treat me like their own child.
I was just a member of the family there.
I hung out there at least as much as I did with the people I was staying with,
because there was another child there.
To this day, we’re friends, by the way.
She only lives five minutes away from me, even though she went to Auschwitz.
We have a very long bonded friendship.
Her name is now Annalee Nussbaum.
She’s probably in your files as well.
The days in Bonn were quite tolerable.
We went to school. We went on hikes.
At one point, I had to have my tonsils clipped
because of the requirements of the American consulate
for my emigration into the United States.
My parents came to visit me.
Once my father was out of jail again,
my parents would come to visit me perhaps once a month or so.
So I was able to see them.
Everybody was very kind to me and all that.
Still, it was my first time away from my home and from my parents.
The Winterberg family really understood that and my needs, somehow or other.
I could never forget that, how understanding they were,
in treating me like their kid and being part of the family
and having another child to play with and so on.
Tell us a little bit about your father’s visits to jail.
Well, the day before–
Crystal Night occurred in our town on November 10.
I imagine the reason for Crystal Night is not necessary here to pursue.
Let it be said that ours was one of only two houses in the city
that were vandalized.
There were Jewish businesses that were vandalized,
but private homes, only two, both were on our street.
Who the vandals were, my mother never found out.
However, we know that they were not locals.
They were people from out of town.
We had a large house, about a 20-room house.
We had tenants on the third floor, non-Jewish tenants.
They took my mother, our visitor,
our domestic help, which was also a Jewish girl, and me in,
and they hid us.
The man went downstairs and told the vandals
that they must stay on the first floor because he occupies the rest of the house.
They didn’t know from anything else.
There was enough for them to do down there.
I was very frightened.
My mother told me that, at one point,
I wanted to run downstairs and beg them to stop
because the noise was so frightening.
My mother had a time to hold me back.
I don’t remember that, but she told me that.
Of course, if my father had been in the house
or they would have found him, they would have killed him.
They were ready to kill him.
The Christian gentleman who lived in our house
told them that my father was not in the house, that he was not in town.
The house looked, in the morning when they left–
They had pulled, literally pulled, the gas range out of the wall,
so that gas was leaking throughout the house.
However, they also smashed all the windows, luckily.
Nobody lit a cigarette.
We were lucky in that respect.
Somebody stood guard in front of the house all night long.
When they finally left in the morning, and we came downstairs–
I’ve seen houses bombed out in London, and it didn’t look any different.
There was, strewn about,
the legs of tables and chairs
and the shards of glass and china and books that had been torn apart.
A piano that had been turned upside down and hacked to bits with an ax.
Eggs had been thrown into this melee and food and–
You cannot imagine what it looked like.
You cannot imagine.
My mother had the house boarded up.
She went to the police and reported the vandalism.
The police said, “Well, why didn’t you call us?”
Yes, of course.
After she had that all done, we left and went to Bonn.
Your father was not there. Where was he?
On November 9, was my father’s birthday.
On November 9, the attaché at the German Embassy in Paris
was shot and killed by this young Jewish boy
and that precipitated the pogrom.
It was just an excuse. They would have found another excuse.
They came the day after, the morning of the tenth, the Blackshirts came.
They knocked on the door of our house.
They came to arrest my father.
They had rounded up all the Jewish men that morning.
They riffled through all kinds of papers, and they said the B’nai B’rith
was a subversive organization as far as they were concerned and so on.
They dragged him off to jail.
I think all the men in town were first brought to the local jail.
From there, most of them were shipped to concentration camps.
Either Dachau– I think for most of our area, it was Dachau,
which was near Munich, not close by at all.
However, my father was known at the jail
because, as an attorney, he often had clients in jail whom he visited.
So they kept him and they treated him kindly.
Thank God. They kept him in jail.
There were a handful of others as well,
but most of the men and boys, from age 14 on,
were shipped to concentration camps.
Eventually, a policeman, as I had said before, called my mother.
I’m not quite sure how long he was in jail.
It might have been as much as six weeks.
He finally came out.
My mother had begged him not to go to the house,
but to come directly to the house where she was staying.
She was staying with friends,
about a couple of blocks away from where we lived,
but he did go to the house first.
I think he was just absolutely devastated with what he saw.
Then he came to my mother.
From then on, the only thing was to get ready to get out of Germany.
When did your parents come to Bonn to stay?
They didn’t stay. They’d come for a visit.
Come Saturdays, leave Sundays, to visit with me.
When did you leave for the St. Louis?
The St. Louis was to sail on May 13, 1939.
My parents had me come back to Rheydt about a week, a week and a half earlier,
so I could say good-bye to my friends who were still there.
Meanwhile, quite a few had left already.
And so that we would then be together.
The plan was to go to Berlin
to say good-bye to my mother’s sister and her family
and my grandmother, who was then living in Berlin.
She had stayed in Berlin permanently after our house had been vandalized.
That’s what we did.
We took the train to Berlin, and we stayed in the house.
I never saw the city.
We were there for about three days.
I have an autograph book in which everybody wrote.
Whenever I want to cry, I look at that.
From there, we took the train to Hamburg.
We arrived in Hamburg, probably the day before embarkation, on the twelfth.
My mother’s sister came with us.
The other sister had already emigrated to Holland.
She was no longer in Germany.
By the way, the Nazis were agreeable
that all those Orthodox Jews were allowed
to embark already on Fridays,
because of the religious law of not being allowed to ride on Shabbat.
If they were ensconced on the ship before Shabbat,
that was okay, and they were allowed.
We embarked on Saturday.
We stayed in a hotel, in a nice hotel,
but we weren’t allowed to eat in the dining room there.
There was a sign, “Jews are not–” nicht erwünscht–
which means “Jews are not–” I wouldn’t even say “permitted.”
We do not wish Jews to come here.
So we ate somewhere else.
I remember we spent– My father had a few marks left.
We were allowed to take, per person, 10 marks with us.
Ten marks translated into dollars, I think about $4.50.
Plus our clothes on our back, the steamer trunk,
and we had sent furniture to the United States as well as to Cuba.
That was it.
I think they got some scrip so they could spend some money on board ship.
And that was it.
I remember having a 50-pfennig piece in my pocket.
I gave it to the–
the guy who was letting us through, the customs man,
who kind of was supposed to examine us that we don’t smuggle anything,
but he really was very kind.
I said, “Well, I have this 50-cent piece here.”
He says, “Well, go buy yourself something.”
Other people complained that they were mistreated by the customs people.
We didn’t have such an experience.
We had a cabin right across from the purser.
There were two classes, first and second class.
We traveled first class,
and we had a cabin, just the three of us, to ourselves.
The St. Louis was a luxury liner.
This was quite a revelation to a 10-year-old.
That was an adventure for me.
We embarked and the ship left on Saturday, the 13th of May.
The band played a song that they usually played when the cruise left.
This is a cruise ship between New York and Havana.
Since it was a German ship, they always played this little song, a little folk song,
“Must I Leave My Little Town?”
Wasn’t the right thing to do.
Wasn’t the right thing to do.
So we left.
My aunt stood on the platform.
I was only a kid, but I had a feeling I wouldn’t see her again.
It was a luxury liner, and you said you had a cabin.
Was it a luxurious life while you were at sea?
Yes, it was.
First of all, in Germany, we already had ersatz coffee
and ersatz white bread and ersatz this and ersatz that.
“Ersatz” means “substitute.”
For whatever reason– Hitler was arming for war
and there were things that weren’t available.
But, on the ship, they were available.
The meals were sumptuous. I have a menu.
There was afternoon tea with dance.
There were the usual games that were played on board,
such as shuffleboard and the horse races.
There were people who played bridge, and there were movies.
Most of all, my mother didn’t sit on me.
I roamed the ship. I couldn’t get lost, right?
We had close to 300 children out of the 937 passengers,
close to 300 children on board.
They had all kinds of entertainment for the children.
There was always something to do.
There was a gym and I would go
and play around with the apparatus in the gym.
I got friendly with the elevator man.
I used to run the elevator and let him have a cigarette.
I got friendly with the steward who rang the gong for mealtimes,
and he let me do that.
I had a great time on board.
Meanwhile, they also were teaching Spanish.
I think, after a few days, as the weather improved
and we got into more tropical weather, everybody relaxed a whole lot.
But the captain heard news that made him worry.
He heard that the ship that was ahead of us
had difficulties about unloading the passengers.
The Cuban government was making noises
about not allowing the people to get off the ship,
so he decided that perhaps it would be–
As a German officer in a German uniform,
he might intimidate his passengers.
So he decided
to call a few of the men among the passengers together
to form a committee as a liaison, in case there’s going to be a problem.
This was a very Renaissance man.
The captain was really a Renaissance man.
We learned much more about him when we had our 50th anniversary in Miami.
His nephew came over to tell us about him.
He was an artist, he was a poet, he was a writer,
and he was a very smart man.
He was small of stature, but he ran that ship with an iron hand.
He had told his crew that the people whom they were going to serve on this trip
were supposed to be treated like any other passengers
that usually go on this– are passengers on that liner.
They were Jews, but they were to be treated with respect
just like any other passengers.
How long did the trip take?
I believe it took us 10 days,
10 days to reach Havana.
We left– Perhaps a little longer, perhaps close to two weeks.
I have the exact figures.
Somewhere short of two weeks to reach Havana.
What happened at that point?
I remember it was early in the morning
as we saw land and came close to the port.
We saw the palm–
My father woke me, and we went up on deck.
We saw the palm trees– I had never seen palm trees–
and the pastel-colored houses along the shore, and the capitol of Havana,
which looked a lot like our capitol in Washington, DC.
The harbor patrol came on board.
Passengers had been ordered to get their luggage ready the day before.
They were handed all kinds of forms to fill out.
I have some of them in my collection.
Everything was prepared to disembark in Havana,
but then the order came that the ship was not to enter the port,
but to throw anchor about a mile or two out of the harbor.
Everybody got very excited.
They kept asking the harbor patrol that was on board, “When can we get off?”
They would say, “Maņana.”
That went on for a whole week.
A whole week, we were in the harbor.
After a while– You know, there were lots of families
who already had somebody over here.
Families where the father had already left for the United States
and came down to Havana to greet his family.
Or relatives who were in Havana waiting.
After a while, these people started to rent these little boats.
They came out and surrounded the ship
and were yelling and shouting and calling for their relatives.
This went on all day long. It was like a circus out there.
I had cousins on board, whose father was here in this country already.
He was in Havana to receive them.
I felt so badly for them,
because they couldn’t touch their father’s hand or hug him.
They just could kind of shout at each other.
He was down there in this little boat
and they would be either on deck or in their porthole,
trying to holler back at him.
So was everybody else doing that.
Then all kinds of entrepreneurs came out.
Kids that would dive for pennies,
or they would sell oranges or pineapples for pennies
and throw them up on deck with a little bag attached to the fruit.
Then you’d put your little bit of money in there and throw it back down.
It was a circus all day long.
Eventually– There were negotiations going on.
The committee, which had been formed by the captain,
of course, was in session 24 hours a day by this time.
My father was chosen as chairman of this committee.
The initial committee were five gentlemen, and eventually two others joined.
Most of them were doctors and lawyers,
and I think there were two businessmen on the committee.
They were sitting with the captain,
sending out telegrams to New York, to the Jewish agencies,
because the Cuban government decided
they would ask for an additional $500 per head,
and then they would consider perhaps letting us off,
and perhaps putting us in some kind of a camp
somewhere in Cuba.
Somebody came from New York
and had the money with him,
but argued about the amount with the president of Cuba,
and this argument did not turn out in a favorable way.
...about the American coming and trying to bargain
for a lower price with the president of Cuba.
Right. The president of Cuba– his name was President Brú–
had set a deadline for the presentation
of the demanded funds.
This gentleman from New York had the funds with him,
but he thought he could perhaps argue him down a bit per capita.
The president wasn’t having any.
Several days passed, and he declared that the time limit had elapsed,
and there was no further conversation about this matter,
and the ship was to leave.
Meanwhile, there was correspondence.
Somebody suggested that the St. Louis come and bring us
to an island off the coast of New York.
There were all kinds of negotiations going on with New York,
with other countries in the hemisphere, specifically the Dominican Republic.
Meanwhile, the captain needed at least 24 hours to load provisions
because, obviously, we had been under way for close to two weeks.
We were in the harbor for a week, and now we were supposed to leave.
He did go to get the permission from the Cubans.
He went on land himself to load provisions for another 24 hours.
What we haven’t touched upon is–
Why did the St. Louis sail in the first place?
Certainly, the Germans were not interested
in transporting out a thousand or so Jews.
The Germans needed to send a spy to Havana
to pick up information from their agents
who had been deported out of the United States
after having secured secrets about submarines here in this country.
The Secret Service got after them,
and they were expelled through the efforts of, I think, Mr. Hoover,
at least through the Secret Service, and they escaped to Havana.
Havana was the breeding ground for all kinds
of distasteful political activities.
This agent was dispatched by way of the ship.
The Germans had in mind, first of all, the Jews will pay for the trip.
Secondly, this was kind of a test run to see
what the world’s reaction would be
to whatever outcome this particular trip would have.
My personal opinion, my very personal opinion,
is everything was already prearranged with the Cubans way ahead of time.
That, no matter what, the Cubans would not allow us to land
and send us back to no-man’s-land or wherever,
and to see whether the world
would open up its countries and take these few people in,
who were all skilled people,
either in the professions or in the trades,
and see what kind of world reaction there would be.
Were any people at all allowed into Cuba?
There were a handful, perhaps six or eight passengers
who had absolutely legal immigration permits
who were allowed to disembark,
including two children whose father was in Cuba,
whose Aryan mother didn’t want her Jewish children anymore
and shipped them out of Germany to their father in Cuba.
I don’t know who the other people were.
Some of them may have been Cuban citizens.
Whoever they were, they must have had very legal papers,
and they were able to get off the ship.
But I don’t think there were 10.
I think it was less than 10 people who got off.
We had connections in Cuba through these Cuban friends
that my parents had made in Bonn, who could have gotten us off.
My father, as the chairman of the committee, said he cannot do that.
He cannot leave the committee.
He cannot leave everybody in the lurch, and he will not do it.
So we stayed on the ship.
He also felt he would endanger our lives if we would try to get off the ship.
That was just a moot point.
The next day, after loading provisions, the ship left.
Meanwhile, getting back
to the espionage agent once more,
when we arrived in Cuba, he demanded to be allowed to go on land.
The captain thought that he would pressure him and say,
“If our passengers can’t get off, you can’t get off.”
We had Gestapo on board too.
Wherever there was German, there was Gestapo.
They posed as firemen among the crew, but they were Gestapo.
The Gestapo said to the captain,
“If you don’t let him off, we have your family in Germany.”
They threatened him, and he had to let the spy go on land.
He did his business there with the agents,
and that was that, mission accomplished.
Meanwhile, we were the pawns.
How did you find out about the spy?
In the book that was written.
But not while it was going on.
No, we had no idea about that.
I guess the captain felt it best not to say anything to the committee about that either.
Only when the facts came out when the book was written, did we find that out.
After loading provisions, the day after, the ship left Havana.
While we were still in the harbor, one afternoon after lunch,
a gentleman, who had been very despondent, jumped overboard.
A sailor jumped after him and he cut his– the man cut his wrists.
The sailor did save him.
The man was taken to a hospital in Havana,
but his wife and daughter were not allowed to join him.
They went back with the ship.
Eventually, when his physical wounds were healed,
the Cubans sent him back to England to join his family.
It was in full view of the passengers.
I think my mother kind of whisked me away.
I was on deck at the time also, but she took me away.
People were crowding around the rails, and she took me away.
The passengers collected from their meager coinage
and gave the sailor a reward for saving this man.
The Gestapo took note of the fact
that a German sailor bothered to jump into the water to save a Jew.
We left Havana with the accompaniment of the harbor patrol
and a whole procession of cars
that drove along the beach street, the ocean drive.
I guess it was one of the saddest days in people’s lives when we left Havana.
From there on in, there were always notices
posted on the bulletin boards near the elevators
which gave encouraging information.
Even if there was nothing to encourage,
there was encouraging information.
“We’re in touch with this one and that one
and with this committee and that committee
and we will keep you informed.” And so on.
All these documents were in my possession because of my father
and are in the archives in Washington, DC, at the Holocaust Museum.
I have copies of almost everything that I gave them,
but they have the originals.
The committee not only was meeting with the captain,
but they also organized patrols so there wouldn’t be another suicide attempt,
because people were very desperate.
Most of the men on board
had been incarcerated as a result of the November pogrom.
Upon their release, they had to sign
that they would leave Germany within a very short period of time
and that they would never divulge
what they experienced in their incarceration,
nor would they return to the Third Reich
upon punishment of death.
So you can imagine that there was panic on board.
There were a group of teenage boys who were planning–
What do you call it when somebody takes over a ship?
- Mutiny. - A mutiny.
It came to the ears of the committee, and they went to talk to these boys.
They were maybe 18-, 19-, 20-year-olds.
“What will you do with the ship if you do this?
You don’t know anything about handling a ship or sailing a ship or anything else.”
They were able to discourage them from pursuing this idea.
There were patrols organized, 24 hours a day,
from among the young men
to make sure that everybody was safe and so on and so forth.
The telegrams kept coming and going.
As we neared Germany, there’s a telegram
in my father’s handwriting to the Hamburg-America Line,
which is the company to which the ship belonged, the Hapag,
asking them to substitute another ship for us,
to transfer us onto another ship, but not to let us come back to Germany.
In other words, if the St. Louis has to go back to its cruising schedule,
get us on another ship.
Meanwhile, the captain had confided in my father
that, if nothing else, he would take the St. Louis
off the coast of Sussex
and set it on fire.
He felt the way he was planning to do it, nobody would be endangered,
and the British would be forced to take us in.
He writes this in a little book
that he, himself, wrote about the trip of the St. Louis,
that that was his intention because he felt it was his duty.
It was his job to deliver passengers to where they wanted to go.
The captain was very much in sympathy to us.
He was very cooperative.
Again, he was on the bad list of the Gestapo.
Where did you go from Cuba?
Where was the next port they tried to disembark?
On June 13, a telegram came through,
saying that the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee,
headquarters in Paris,
under the direction of a Mr. Morris Troper,
had managed to get four countries to agree to take us in.
I mean, this was like five minutes of midnight.
England, Holland, Belgium and France
would each take in one-quarter of the passengers.
England made certain special requests
that only people with papers to continue on to the United States,
they wanted to have, and, if possible, professional people.
No other country made any such demands.
The ship steered toward Antwerp, Belgium.
We arrived in Belgium. We embarked on May 13,
and we arrived in Antwerp, Belgium, on June 17.
How do I remember that? That’s my birthday.
My eleventh birthday.
Mr. Troper and his entourage came on board in Antwerp
to meet the committee with whom he had been in close communication
and to see for himself the passengers
and to talk to them and encourage them and so on.
Because it was my birthday,
and because of the work of my father,
I was selected to greet Mr. Troper
in the name of the children on board.
All the children stood around in a semicircle.
My father wrote me a little speech.
Among other things in that speech,
it said that we would have liked to greet Mr. Troper with flowers,
but after 40 days at sea,
the flower shop was depleted of its merchandise.
The next day, I got two dozen red roses from Mr. Troper.
That’s what that little photograph in the book is all about.
When they came on board, the next activity
was to divide up the passengers into the various countries.
That again was like playing God, in a way.
They didn’t know it at the time, but it was.
Some passengers– Everyone was asked where they would like to go.
Most people wanted to go to England.
It puts a little distance between Germany and them
with a little bit of water in between.
Of course, that wasn’t possible.
Whenever possible, they complied to the requests.
Some people had families in Holland or Belgium or France.
Or maybe they had some money there or whatever.
But mostly, it was up to Mr. Troper’s people and the committee
to decide where people are going to go.
The committee itself was allowed to choose.
Even so, several members did not choose England.
Unfortunately, one of the members of the committee
chose to go to France and he perished.
He didn’t survive the war.
He was among the youngest of the gentlemen actually.
That’s a very unfortunate thing.
When we arrived in Antwep, everybody came off the ship.
The people in Belgium were sent–
from Antwerp, were sent to Brussels, probably by train.
People to Holland and France, also, were sent by train to their destinations.
The people to Holland were first assembled in Westerbork,
which was a camp.
Because, all of a sudden, here come several hundred people.
What are we going to do with them?
I think, after a while, people were probably able
to find some means of finding a home or even finding a job.
In the case of the people who went to England,
we first ended up in a hotel.
For my family, my mother had a very close girlfriend
who lived in York, England.
As soon as she heard that we were coming to England,
my mother got in touch with her
via the telegraph communication system on board,
and she requested us to come to York.
She was friendly with the Rowntree family–
Rowntree Chocolates, which is equal to Hershey Chocolates,
and we were guests of the Rowntree family in York for several months.
Let’s back up for a minute. How did you get to England?
We had to embark on a small German merchant ship, the SS Rakotis.
This was not a luxury ship.
Most of the people, about 250 people, were in mass quarters.
Only the committee people had cabins.
We had a steady stream of visitors,
using our bath and our shower and shaving in our bathroom and so on.
All the other committee people as well.
My father and I were taking a walk on deck,
and I noticed rolled up rolls,
lying along the deck against the wall.
It looked like rolled up carpets.
I said to my dad, “Are they going to put new carpets on this ship?”
He said, “No.” He says, “Those are cannon.”
You see, Hitler was ready. Hitler was ready.
We crossed the Channel. I don’t know how long it took,
but we arrived in Southampton, from there by train to London.
From the train station in London, per horse and buggy to the hotel.
England was a quaint, quaint country when we got there in 1939.
I guess, after a day or two at the hotel,
we took the train to York.
We lived on the Rowntree estate for three months.
In the meantime, the people who came to England were guests.
They were– Very special arrangements had been made for them.
They were to be supported by a Jewish agency
with headquarters in the Bloomsbury House in London.
Each family got a small amount of money for its sustenance.
They weren’t allowed to work because, at the time,
I guess there wasn’t enough work for British people.
Besides, we weren’t supposed to be staying there for any length of time.
This was June 1939, okay?
After three months in York, my father felt that nothing’s happening in York.
We wanted to get out of England.
Our papers, meanwhile, were on their way via Switzerland.
He felt that we’ve got to be closer to where things are happening in London.
We thanked the Rowntree family very kindly.
They were wonderful people. They were Quakers.
They were so generous to us.
We left for London.
In London, we got a room with a family in Stamford Hill,
a Jewish quarter of London.
A lot of Orthodox Jews lived in that neighborhood.
I think we arrived in London, perhaps, the end of August.
It was the end of August.
September 1, the Germans invaded Poland.
All the schoolchildren in London
were ordered to their schools, to their schoolyards.
They wanted to evacuate all the children with their schools out of London.
We had just gotten there.
The neighborhood school was the Jewish Secondary School of London,
a very fine school, a very Orthodox school.
We were supposed to pack up clothes for several days.
Nice ladies along the way gave us food packages and snacks.
The older kids– I was then 11–
the older teenagers kept us entertained in the schoolyard.
This went on for three days.
On September 3, England declared war on Germany.
All the schools moved out of London.
We ended up in Bedfordshire.
Now England isn’t a very big country to begin with,
and on the map, it doesn’t look very far away from London.
There we were billeted with the village folk
who had volunteered to take in evacuees.
I think the government subsidized each evacuee.
I ended up, together with a little boy
whose family also lived in the same house where my parents were living at that time,
with the village shoemaker, Mr. and Mrs. Whittington.
They had never seen a Jew. They had never seen a German Jew.
My English was still not the most fluent, but I got along with it, except that–
There were a lot of German and Austrian kids in this school
because it seemed to be a neighborhood, Stamford Hill,
where refugees found places to live.
Amongst ourselves, we would talk German,
and we were told, “You may not talk German on the streets.”
We were going to be punished.
I know I got a smack in the face from a teacher one day
because he overheard me talking German in the street.
I changed my name from Liesl to Elizabeth
because Liesl was too German a name.
We had classes in the local church.
We had a kosher canteen where we ate the main meal.
It was kind of like a Camp Ramah situation in a way, except it wasn’t.
But the ruah was there. The spirit was there.
All of a sudden, I was living an Orthodox Jewish life.
I was only allowed to eat breakfast
and high tea with my foster family.
Our main meal was a kosher meal in our canteen.
We all had KP. We all had to share serving.
There was such a spirit about all this.
Everybody was in the same boat.
I became very friendly with a lovely girl who was about a year older than myself.
I had other friends, too, but she was my confidante
because, again, I was separated from my parents.
I had been in Bonn separated, now, under other circumstances,
in a strange country with a strange language,
I was again separated from my parents.
Do you know the girl’s name?
Yes. The girl’s name at the time was Rita Hauser.
She came from Essen.
We were best friends.
We lost touch with each other
around the time that I got married here in 1947.
After the reunion in Miami in 1989,
one day I got a letter from England.
I opened it and out flutters this little piece of xeroxed paper.
It was a copy of something I had written into her autograph book
when we all went to school together.
Through friends who also went to Miami for the reunion,
she found me again, and now we’re back in touch.
She was here and we’re communicating.
Just a little side vignette.
Rita was my best friend.
I remember, the first months of the war, there wasn’t really any evidence of war.
Everybody carried this little gas mask box around with them.
They had air raid rehearsals.
I know one night, even in this little village, the sirens went.
The little boy and I, who were living with our foster family,
we were sleeping in a double bed together.
I said to him– his name was Eddie–
I said, “Eddie, put on your gas mask.”
We put on our gas masks and went back to sleep.
In the morning, when the landlady came to wake us up, she screeched
because there are these two little monsters in the bed with their gas masks on.
But we really didn’t notice
there was much of a war going on that first year.
I went to London twice to visit my parents,
once at Hanukkah time and once at Pesach time.
In May, I think, things turned around completely.
There was the Battle of Dunkirk,
when the British officers were all at the Ascot races,
and Hitler could have taken England at that time without batting an eyelash.
I think only because his astrologers advised him against it,
this didn’t happen, but all of a sudden–
First of all, all the German and Austrian males
were rounded up and interned.
They were interned mostly on the Isle of Man, in camps.
The British claimed that there were German spies
posing as Jewish refugees amongst them,
and they just put the whole lot– interned them, isolated them.
They didn’t mistreat them, but they were not free.
At that time, it was almost the end of the school year,
and I went back to London to join my mother.
She was all by herself.
I had earned myself some extra money by helping the farmers.
All of us did that.
We were asked to help the farmers when it got to be spring.
We would be on the fields by 5:00,
picking peas and picking berries and whatever.
They paid us a few pence per bushel or whatever.
My landlord, also, let me– He was a shoemaker,
and he had me carrying out shoes that he fixed for people,
and he paid me a few pennies for each pair of shoes.
So I was able to give my mother money, so she could use it for carfare
to go to various offices downtown
to get my father ready for our immigration
because, meanwhile, our number had come up.
Our papers were in England.
We could leave if we would know how to get out of there.
There was also a question of paying the fare.
You see, we didn’t have any money.
We wanted to get out of England.
There’s correspondence that I found in my mother’s papers
about the monies that people paid
for the immigration certificates issued by the Cuban government,
which were declared not legal.
I didn’t touch upon that before.
The Cuban immigration officer,
his name was Gonzalez,
had simply printed these immigration permits on official-looking stationery,
and he sold them for whatever–
He sold them through another party.
Many of them were refugees living in Cuba.
He probably sold them to these people for a set sum of money,
and then these people were selling them to us
for whatever they could get.
What happened, after we got to England,
was that a lot of people wrote to my father and said,
couldn’t he in some way try to get that money back
because we never used the permits.
Some people wrote, and I have those letters.
I have some of those letters. They came from all over.
Some people paid 150– it was all dollars–
$150 per permit, some paid 200.
Various sums of money were paid.
People figured that, maybe with that money,
they would be able to pay their passage to get out of England.
Your father was asked to try to get the money from the Cuban visas.
The Cuban immigration permits actually.
I have some of these letters.
I found them only recently,
maybe a couple of years ago, among my mother’s papers.
My mother only passed away about two and a half years ago.
I didn’t know all the material that she still had,
besides what I already had.
These people– Everybody seemed to have paid
a different price for these papers.
I have correspondence that I went over last night
where my father addressed Cuban authorities,
and there was absolutely no way
that anybody was willing to give any kind of money back.
First of all, Mr. Gonzales, he didn’t sell them to the people, right?
He sold them to somebody else.
All these other people might have disappeared,
or the Cuban government pocketed the money, if nothing else.
It was a moot point. There was nothing to be had unfortunately.
He couldn’t do anything for the people.
Somehow or other, people were able to scrape together,
perhaps through Jewish organizations, perhaps through private contributions,
the monies to pay for the passage to the United States.
I’m not quite sure where our passage money came from.
However, we left London the end of August.
Our ship was leaving from Glasgow, Scotland.
While my father was interned, the Blitz of London had begun.
I had returned to London to be with my mother.
We had raids every day and, specifically, every night.
For the next three months, June, July, August,
my mother and I ended up in an air raid shelter every single night.
We lived, at that time, in a rooming house in Willesden Green,
which is in the NW2 area of London, a nice neighborhood.
The house belonged to a couple of teachers who made it a rooming house.
They didn’t live there.
Each room held a family of refugees.
There were two St. Louis families in this house.
There was a Polish opera singer.
There were Belgian refugees.
It was quite a mixture.
For everything, you had to put money in a slot.
If you wanted a bath, you put some pennies in.
If you wanted heat, if you wanted to cook.
Everything had to be–
were little automats to put money in.
I know my parents told me to hang out a lot in the library
because it was warm in the winter and cool in the summer.
They got together with a lot of St. Louis people socially.
That was their only entertainment.
They surely didn’t have money to go to a movie.
They bought yesterday bread and yesterday cake for a few pennies.
Everybody brought their own cups and saucers
because everything was counted out where they lived.
They got together, and, in spite of everything, they had a good time–
until my father was interned.
The men were interned, and things got very serious.
So every night we had raids. The city was bombed.
Each house had what was called an Anderson shelter.
An Anderson shelter consisted of a hole in the ground
with a corrugated metal arc cover over it,
which was then covered with a lot of dirt.
From the air, you couldn’t see there was anything there.
There were a few wooden slats along the walls of this–
this dugout area, on some bricks.
That’s where we sat.
We were dressed for winter
because the nights were cool even in August and in July.
We had about 12 hours’ worth of food with us.
Every night, this was going on.
We went to bed, after a while, the sirens rang.
Some people went into the subways
because London’s Underground was very low below the ground,
but we just went into the shelter.
Mostly the men stayed outside,
unless it got serious, and the bombing got close.
Then they would all jump into the shelter also.
So we never slept in a bed for three months for a whole night, my mother and I.
Do you remember the names of any of the people in the house with you?
Yeah, I remember a family Hyman from Cologne, across the hall from us.
They had a daughter, Susan.
Of course, the other family from the St. Louis
was actually one of the committee gentlemen with his family,
a lawyer by the name of Housdorfer, with his wife and daughter.
They lived downstairs.
Then there was a Hungarian lady. Her first name was Birgitte.
I don’t remember the Polish opera singer’s name or the Irish ladies upstairs.
Those are the names I do remember.
Also, one of the more humorous aspects
was that the opera singer never paid his rent on time.
So regularly, the landlady came
and threw his belongings in a suitcase down the steps.
He would call the police,
and they wouldn’t come because they were tired of it.
It was a comic situation among some very serious business.
Meanwhile, my mother ran down the doors of the various offices of the government
to try and get my father processed, so we could leave.
She managed it, and he was brought to London,
under guard of Scotland Yard, like a criminal.
They saw each other from across the street.
I think he managed to slip her a note.
And then we–
I don’t remember the exact date when we entrained for Glasgow,
but it was an overnight ride.
We were stopped by air raids several times during the night.
The train stopped.
The rumor was that the men from the internment camps
who were scheduled to board with us
were in a sealed car at the end of the train,
again under Scotland Yard guard.
We got to Glasgow, and they brought us to the ship.
The SS Cameronia was the name of the ship.
Who wasn’t there was my father and the other men who were expected.
We waited and we waited.
I think we were supposed to sail toward evening.
Finally, maybe an hour before sailing time, the men came on board.
What had happened was that they put them
on another ship to go to Australia.
You see, the British had shipped
many young single men of military age,
who were among those internees,
had shipped them off to Australia and New Zealand.
Somebody thought that this batch of men were also supposed to be destined,
and I think they mutinied.
So finally they appeared on the ship.
That was quite a reunion.
The ship left.
We had on board with us the entire–
There was only two classes, second class and third class in this case.
Second class was entirely British children
who were being sent to this hemisphere for the duration,
to the States and to Canada.
We had a convoy that crossed with us.
Luckily, we made it.
We were pursued by German submarines.
The ships before and after us were torpedoed.
We got through, luckily.
So we arrived in New York on September 10, 1940.
We hadn’t seen a city in lights for years
because even when we still lived in Germany,
there were demi-blackouts.
There were air raid practices long before Germany was in the war.
Everybody had to have an air raid shelter in their house.
We hadn’t seen a city lit up–
Well, when we first arrived in London, I suppose, but in this whole year.
Here was New York City.
Our relatives who had provided the affidavit for us,
Mr. and Mrs. Kurt Blum of Philadelphia,
picked us up at the ship.
Mr. Blum’s father-in-law, his name was Moses Lieberman,
and at the time a vice-president of Snellenburg’s Department Store here,
was an additional sponsor, since Mr. Blum’s sponsorship
was not enough financially to sustain us.
The relationship officially was
that my parents were Mr. Blum’s aunt and uncle.
Basically, not quite.
My mother’s sister had married into the family of Mr. Blum’s mother.
They were really just in-laws indirectly, mekhutonim, as we would say.
However, when Mr. Blum was still young,
and his father passed away in Germany in the ’20s,
my mother spent a whole year in his house
to help his mother get ready to emigrate to the States.
At that time already, she had several brothers here
who wanted her to come over, since she was widowed.
This was the Heidelberger family,
who for a long period of time had a chocolate factory here in Philadelphia.
Brothers Heidelberger Chocolates.
It was perhaps a favor repaid,
and perhaps it was simply because they wanted to help,
but I will never stop being grateful to the Blums
for helping us to come to this country.
If it weren’t for them, we wouldn’t be here.
I wouldn’t be here, and my children wouldn’t be here.
Where did you settle?
When we first came here, we came to Philadelphia right away.
I lived with the Blums for a whole year
because my parents, at the time,
had no means of keeping me.
My mother was a domestic in a household.
My father, as a lawyer, certainly couldn’t pursue his profession here.
At the time we arrived here, my father was 58 years old.
He was not in good health.
He started out by peddling European-made candy from door-to-door.
He developed all kinds of contacts that way.
Eventually, he got a job as a translating editor
with a German newspaper here in Philadelphia.
That was a very good job for those days.
The newspaper was called the Philadelphia Gazette Democrat.
It actually had published here, already, through World War I
and through World War II, until the ’50s.
I think it then became a weekly, and eventually it merged
with a New York German newspaper called the New York Staats-Zeitung.
I don’t know if that’s still in existence,
but, at any rate, my father worked there
until he became too ill to work.
My father had a problem that nobody seemed to know what it was.
He was treated for gall bladder.
He was treated for all kinds of theories.
He saw big doctors in Europe.
He saw big doctors right here in the United States.
Nobody could figure out what was wrong.
After he died, we had an autopsy taken,
simply because we felt he would have wanted that.
It turns out that he