2. Pre-War Nazi Persecution
After Adolf Hitler took power in January 1933, the Nazis implemented measures to give effect to their racial hatred of the Jews. On 1 April 1933, the regime organised a boycott of Jewish-owned shops and businesses. Jews in public sector positions and in certain professions were dismissed from their jobs. Some forms of Jewish life remained possible, though Jews were exposed to random brutality and cruel discrimination.
However, under the Nuremberg Laws of September 1935, Jews were officially degraded to the status of second-class citizens, and marriages between Jews and 'Aryans' were declared illegal. These laws provided the basis for the total exclusion of Jews from German society. In March 1938, the Nazis marched into Austria, unleashing an orgy of looting and violence against the Jews.
The Jews of Germany underwent a similar ordeal in November 1938, during the terrible state-inspired pogrom known as 'Crystal Night'. Jews now grasped in desperation at any means to escape abroad. Thousands tried to secure visas in a life-or-death bid to gain entry to any foreign country that would admit them.
The ship St Louis, for example, left Hamburg for Cuba with 907 Jewish refugees, but the Cuban authorities would not let them enter. Having repeatedly failed to land its passengers at various ports, the vessel on its nightmare voyage was heading back to Germany when the governments of Britain, France, Belgium and Holland eventually agreed to admit them.
You accept what goes on in your life, really, in a way without questioning. And once Hitler came to power when I was thirteen...Well then everything changed in any case, you know. Friends from school, whom you walked in the break with, arm in arm, wouldn’t do that anymore. And you just didn’t know what hit you in a way, you know?
I was in this boarding house where I was working. And I had a telephone call from Germany, from my mother. And that was in 1938. And… she told me that my father was dead. He was… I said, “How come?” She said, “He was murdered.” But she didn’t say how. And I didn’t know. I didn’t know who could have murdered him because… well, I didn’t know all these stories.
And next day was Saturday. And we were still sleeping. Somebody was knocking at the door. So… my mother opened the door and there was our neighbour. A very nice woman, and a Jewish woman. But she was protected because they didn’t have enough pharmacists in the city, only four. And they were all Jewish, but they needed so they were protected. And she said, it was seven o’clock, and she said, “You are still in bed?” She came in and she had seen that we children were in bed. I don’t know if my parents. And, “You are still in bed? You are on the list. You will be deported today! Go away somewhere!” So she didn’t have to say it twice. We jumped out of the beds.
And then, we were put into two queues. One for men and boys and one of women, children and girls. Sort of six abreast or so – I can’t remember - something like that. And I was slightly confused; I was a bit slow on the uptake but you know you’ve never seen anything like it before. You don’t know where you are, what’s happening, what you’re supposed to do. But there were orderlies, there were people in pyjamas who put you - into the queue and you just follow what they say. And - I didn’t look out for anybody but my mother did see me. She wasn’t that far; she came over, she broke rank. She came over, shook me by the hand, and went back. And I followed her. They disposed of… literally of the queue of women and children and girls. At first, you went up what they call a ramp, but it wasn’t a ramp at all. It was flat; it was just a narrow passageway they made. And you went one after the other. And at the end, the far end were some SS people, and they apparently would point their finger either one way or the other, but I didn’t notice that. I saw my mother go left. So when it was my turn, which was very soon, I simply didn’t take any notice of what the SS man – I certainly didn’t watch his fingers or anything. I simply went left. And I was hauled back, because apparently his fingers had pointed the other way and somebody had watched his finger to make quite sure – after all it was rather few out of the 1,500 of us. And I was hauled back, and told to go the other way.
I have one particular memory, that must have been I think in the spring of ’39, when we went to spend a weekend I think in a little town outside Prague called Dobris, where my family had many links, because my paternal grandfather’s first job as a rabbi was in that little town. And had maintained links with it. And we were there, and in the night, I was woken by sounds of violence and shouting and noises. And it was the Germans who had come to smash up the synagogue. And it was terrifying. And the next morning the synagogue was in ruins.
One day, on 30th June 1933, not all that long after the Nazis took power, my mother received a phone call from my head mistress to say will she should come to school and bring her husband. And my mother, knowing I had gym that day, thought, “Oh God, something has happened to her.” But, what had happened to me was the following. This was the last day of school, she called the whole school to the assembly, and, except me, I was in her office, not knowing what was happening, and she took me outside, to the podium, you know, standing there in front of all the assembled school and she said, “This girl is a criminal, she has called our soldiers, or whatever, Nazi Swines, she is herewith expelled.” And do you know my hair still stands on end when I talk about it.
My father was let out of Buchenwald, I believe after three weeks. I have never been told by my father what actually happened in Buchenwald. I know he left Germany on the last night of 1938 on a stretcher being taken by his brother to his great friend in Sweden. My mother, it seems, then wound up things in Germany, gave up the flat. I believe they put everything in packages or something, and something was stored in Germany. I equally know that my brother was put on a Kindertransport in Berlin. My mother must have brought him to Berlin. And he came to England, to Dovercourt. I was at the time living in Willesden and I went to see him. I must have had enough money to go to Harwich and I visited him in Dovercourt camp.
We used to go out weekends, my father had a car, and we had picnics, and it was a jolly happy life, until of course it got a bit more difficult, really when Hitler took over in 1933, it all went downhill. My father didn’t have a proper job, my grandfather’s factory, he had a flags factory, that was gone, and on the whole it was getting more and more difficult once Hitler came. I went to school, I was very good at sport, and I used to win things and, in the end, because I was Jewish, I couldn’t do it anymore and every year it was more and more difficult. And then, when I got to about 13, I think it was, I had to leave the school. I went to a Jewish school.
We could no longer really go on holiday in Germany, because everywhere they had those notices: ‘Jews not allowed’ and I actually remember, you know, we had somebody to look after us as children, and this girl was blonde, blue-eyed, and she was Jewish, and we went to a swimming pool which I think a week before had been alright to go to, and they put a notice up: ‘Jews not allowed’ and I said ‘I’m going home, and she said ‘come on, come on, I’m blonde I look Aryan’, and I remember being terrified. And nothing happened to us, but never again, I just didn’t chance it, you know.
Thirty-three… it’s interesting. My father, having sort of lived through the sort of brutality of Eastern European sort of …people. Particularly the Cossacks, and all, and various other organisations and where the Eastern European Jewish communities were from time to time seriously attacked, even massacred and so forth. They always felt - had a great feel of insecurity. And that of course when my father came to Germany, I mean primarily in order to keep the family going back home. But… having already from a very early age, left his, his birth- his country of birth, there’s always a sense of insecurity. And people have asked me many times, “Why is it that you left immediately in 1933?” The majority of people left much later.
they [ her parents] had contact with somebody who was a …a non-Jewish lady who was working for the Resistance. And she was the lady who was instrumental in finding a place for my brother [who was a baby] to be hidden. And also he was very blond, blue-eyed, so they thought that would be very much easier than with me, being very dark- haired and dark-eyed. So they didn’t even think about me being hidden. But he was then sent to people out of Amsterdam. And…. I was told that whoever was going to ask me what had happened to my brother- because the people who knew my parents, they wouldn’t have asked. They knew what has happened. But people who didn’t know them I had to say that we had lost him somewhere on the way. And it was mainly after, when we went to Westerbork, really.
And then one girl was called Hilde Zenk; she was my best friend. But she never, ever… did anything; whether she was a Nazi, I don’t know. Because she never, after Hitler came she never talked to me again. And that was because she was my real friend, I thought.Very.[upsetting] Ja. Because she was my first girlfriend and my only, more or less only girlfriend. Yes. And that was quite hard to swallow; you know, couldn’t quite understand. And she never sort of spoke to me again.
[Going on holiday] very near Forte dei Marmi. And…and we went there. And we had been there one day, I have a photograph with my mother written the dates at the back, or, with my mother and my brother and I in the water, on the beach there. But that was basically only for one day, because on the evening of that day, a Carabiniere which are part of the police of course, came and said, he said, "You shouldn’t be here and you know it, because Jews are not allowed." He said, “I’m just telling you, because tomorrow morning I’ll come to send you away.” So of course we left the same night. So, as a child, there were these instances that… this change in your daily life that of course you notice and you feel something also in the air. The grownups talk about the problems.
The person, well she was a teacher, but she was more. She was in charge of the class that I was in. She was - had been an illegal, illegal Nazi. There were lots in Vienna. People who belonged... because you know the party was illegal... under Dollfuss. But a lot of, sort of, pro-Nazi people - especially amongst the teaching profession. They were, they came out suddenly. They had been. And I remember she said there was a...a little talk she gave and she said, “No Jew has ever fought in any wars for us.” And I remember saying, “My uncle and my father did. I have photographs to prove it.” And she said, “Rubbish.” She didn’t do anything to me, but she sort of shut me up.
So, it was a school holiday around that time. And a few days after Eichmann arrived, I went- I met a classmate, and I said to him, “I'm looking forward to going back to school.” And he said, well, he was going to go back to school but I'm not, because his father told him that I'm a dirty stinking Jew. So although I was ten, I started to cry. And I rushed back to my mother. And that was when she told me that we, in fact, come from a Jewish family. And, and a few days later there came out vast... posters, detailing the anti-Jewish legislation. You had to hand in your bank accounts, and your precious stones, and any gold, and hand over motor cars, and cameras, radios, carpets - anything of value. And of course we couldn't go to school.
when it came to Crystal Nacht, my father was rounded up, together with other Jewish men. And he was incarcerated for... a week or so. During which time I remember my mother ageing by about ten years. I mean she was a young-looking woman, but...but that was a terrible time. He got out eventually, because at that time, the Viennese or the Nazis, still respected the war record, right? And when he came out, he told us, perhaps a little bragging, that when a young Nazi tried to speak to him, right? He told him to stand “Hab Acht”, which means to “Stand to attention! You’re speaking to an officer!”, right? So I mean he, he- and I must admit that him having told us this, all during the war, when we in England really weren’t told anything of what was going on, right? All during the war, I felt quite confident that he would be alright some... that somehow or other, on the strength of his war-time record and his general ability to handle things. But of course I was wrong.
Yes. I had to open [the door to her father's dental surgery in Breslau]- I was given the job of opening the doors later on when there was- when the Germans didn’t allow Jewish... assistants. Actually he called me to help him at the- at the... place you know when, when, when he was working on a patient. And let them in and then take them- take over certain duties like cleaning the instruments and so on. And that was- I felt very grown-up by then.
Jews were not allowed to have... fork and knife and anything made of silver that fitted into a basket - huge basket that was. And we both carried that to the police station. It was very bad. We felt dreadful. But no we didn't have any nasty remarks on the way. So we were without the silver. So what? And one can do with- you know, one can eat... as long as one gets one's life.
Well Kristallnacht was in a way- yes, it’s- I went to school as normal on my bike. On the corner of our street was a- a- the toy shop. Which was there until fairly recently, strangely enough. It's been a toy shop all these years. Only recently has it been changed. When I came out, there was a- one of the glass windows- one of the windows had been smashed. Which- well it could have been an accident. I don’t know. I saw it. And there was- used to be a game called- English it’s called Ludo – “Mensch ärgere dich nicht”. And there was this thing flapping in the wind and it says: “Mensch ärgere dich nicht.” But I- I could still see it. When I get to school, go- commotion, smoke coming out of the building, teacher outside the school, “No school today.” Didn't know why. “Go home.” And- whatever. Well, you didn't have to tell a boy twice, “Go home. No school.” Wasn't such a pleasure for me, you know, that’s always- a day off is very good. So I thought, well, before I go home I’ll go and visit my uncle the butcher, you know, which is not very far from there. When I get there - completely destroyed. Windows smashed, inside there was a large shop with ma- all marble - smashed to small pieces. And then suddenly I said first the shop on the corner where we lived, then the school, now this. There’s something obviously wrong somewhere
My parents didn't know where I was for the first four weeks until my cousin, who worked at the same factory with me, told my mother that I was taken away by the Gestapo. But they didn't hear from me and they didn't know where I was until we were able to write a card that we are where we are, that we were being looked after very well and it was for our own protection. Clever thing!
The worst thing was knowing what happened in the concentration camp and being told not to talk to anybody. I didn't even tell my parents; I didn't tell my sister. I didn't tell anybody what is happening in the concentration camp because you had to sign a pledge that if you ever talked about it you would be back, and you wouldn't be released any more.
According to history books, only synagogues were burned down that night on the 9th or the 10th 1938. But history books I’m afraid, have got it slightly wrong, because that night of terror was far, far worse than anything that they describe in the history books. It wasn’t only synagogues that were burned down. They broke into all the Jewish homes, because they knew exactly where all the Jewish people lived. With their pickaxes … broke open the front doors, they hacked out the windows, the window frames. They slit open the feather beds, because in Germany you had feather beds at that time. Not a piece of furniture was left standing. Not a cup or a saucer was left whole. It was a night of terror which to this day I have not forgotten.
And, as you know of the 9th November 1938, well the day after 9th November 1938, all Jewish children were expelled from the German state schools. And I still remember, I was walking through the village and the school inspector said, ‘Why aren’t you at school?’ and I said, ‘I’m Jewish, and I’ve been expelled.’ And he did not reply a single word! I still remember that.
The fact that I could read, I could see the anti-Jewish slogans everywhere and the fact that you just mixed with your own kind, and you couldn’t mix with anyone else– I don’t know, it was always there– I suppose it started, obviously, in ’36, when I was twelve years old, but I was– we must have been aware of it before then.
When I was seventeen, one year to go to matriculation, the Germans occupied Hungary, so I never went to the last class before graduating from school. …All the anti-Jewish legislation they put into practise in Germany over years, and in less and less time as they occupied various countries, and by the time they got to Hungary, it worked like clockwork.
My mother… realised that the Germans were approaching and people were being rounded up and sent off. There was only one chance and that was to leave Brussels. I was a small baby, so she picked me up …and she set off on foot to try to get …to England. She walked for 6 weeks along the road, carrying a baby. Very, very brave and managed by walking from port to port to get on, I am told, what was the last boat that got back to England without being bombed or stopped. She was made a big fuss of and there were articles in the paper about this brave young woman who had managed to save her baby and get back to Britain.
Yes, I remember the- I had the visual memory of a newspaper the day after the Anschluss... which came out with a monster headline “Umschwung!” or something. It was not a Nazi sympathising newspaper, and I think they disappeared from view very rapidly. I remember people marching in the streets. I remember Jewish women being made to scrub pavements which was a- One could see from our window. I don’t honestly think... I was bright enough to be affected deeply by it all. I just sort of accepted this is what was happening and... eventually got on a train and got out of it
But we had to move schools; that was quite clear. The first week after the Anschluss, when I went back to school... I immediately assumed my role as prefect next to the teacher. Ignoring signs and whispers from Jewish children in the front row, “Come down. Come down.” I was that stupid. And I waited until the teacher actually said, “Well, I think you can’t be prefect any more. Why don’t you sit there...” or something. So in retrospect, I was astonishingly either innocent or stupid or both – about the whole... Nazi business.
When Hitler- started rising, don’t forget, we lived 10 kilometres on the Polish side from Germany. And since there was horrific unemployment in Germany, people used to come over and whoever could employ and help them, they did. But from nothing, you could feel some sort of something was growing. All of a sudden people used to come from the countryside, demanding things or grabbing things or cursing, openly cursing.
I can tell you exactly [about the Anschluss]. I was at school, we were in class as usual, the middle of the morning, our schoolmaster said to us, ‘Will you please all get your coats and go home as quickly and as quietly as possible?’ And that was that. Now, at the back of the school there was a Jewish street and you could see the tanks and the soldiers already on that street. I remember going home very, very quickly and then all I remember is that we all became much more afraid.
Professor of Art History Wilhelm Pinder, … was Hitler’s advisor on art. He was a brilliant lecturer, he was a brilliant man, but he rewrote the history of German art. Everything was German. And that of course went on in Hamburg later- The libraries were cleared, every book which had Jewish authors, there were book-burnings. And that was in ’33. The university was a shambles because all the time you had to listen to speeches and you had to parade around. But of the art historians, there were really no Nazis. We visited Berlin and chairman of the students of Art History, appeared and he was wearing an SS uniform, and we thought he was going to a fancy-dress party.
My father knew about Kristallnacht. We knew a lot of what was going on, and people did. The fact that people said they didn’t know, if you wanted to know, you would know, and my father wanted to know. For my mother, it was hard for her. We got poorer and poorer. Probably my father’s finances were involved to some extent. The war came.
The family had opened up a business branch already in 1934 in London, and every year they used to go, and as usual they left in February. When the Anschluss occurred, they were actually in London. I remember, the day after the Anschluss, 12th of March, there was a phone call from my uncle, and I remember my auntie shouting through down the phone, “Don’t come back, don’t come back! Get us out of here.”
When he looked for somewhere in England where he could send his children when the Hitler threat came, he said, ‘We’re Jewish and we’re not ashamed of it. On the other hand, if families that are non-Jewish offer to look after the children, we will be just as pleased as long as they find love and friendship.’
1936 or thereabouts. …Getting ready for school one morning before my parents got up, the doorbell went, two men came in and said they wanted to speak to my parents. The maid saw what was going on and hurried me off to school. These men from the Gestapo arrested my parents to take them down to the B’nai B’rith Lodge headquarters, in the centre of Berlin. The members of the lodge were all lined up in a row, standing, and nothing happened. There was no food, no water and, when somebody wanted to go to the toilet, they had to raise their hand. And one of the men standing in this row was Rabbi Doctor Leo Beck, who was head of the Rabbinical Institute in Berlin, a very learned, very respected, very revered rabbi, who survived the war and later came to London. Anyway, they came home, and that was the impetus which made them decide to leave, it was time to leave, it was a red light.
I had a very good job and my lawyer was very happy with me, I worked hard, day and night. Until one day, in my seat there was a letter, he wouldn’t come and say it personally: “Sorry you are dismissed, by order of the Nazi Party”. So, he didn’t come out and shake hands with me or nothing, he was frightened of the secretary who was a born Nazi. You see, it is most impossible to understand what happened, unless you were amongst it.
I had to leave school - I was politically very precocious. In my school where half the pupils were either Jewish or not Nazi, we used to play a game when there were school meetings. You had to sing ‘Deutschland, Deutschland über alles’ and ‘Die Fahne hoch’ and we had a trick by shouting ‘Deutschland, Deutschland über alles’ in such a way that the Nazi anthem sounded rather feeble afterwards. I have been one of the people who organised that, and that was one of the reasons I was removed from school even earlier than I had to go. It was intimated to my father that he had best remove me, but eventually everybody went.
1933- And the following form teacher I had was a fanatical Nazi and he did everything he could to instil Nazism into his pupils. Although, I must say, he was not hostile towards the few Jewish pupils who were there. But he certainly was a fanatical Nazi. One thing I remember, there was a great big plaque with a huge swastika, colourless, but into it you knocked nails. I think you paid a small amount each time you knocked in a nail, and each was one of three colours - red, white and black - and it eventually made the swastika. And, as I say, he talked about Hitler and how wonderful he was.
My brother had to leave Germany. One of the first things they did, they expelled people from the Reichsschrifttumskammer, which he had to become a member of in order to write. You couldn’t become a member if you were Jewish. So he went to Prague because that was the only place where you could go and write in German. He already had a name, so he went over to the Prager Tagblatt.
In 1936, the Olympic Games were held in Berlin. Shortly after that we all went back to school and suddenly I noticed that none of my mates would have anything to do with me. I felt very odd and I spoke to one of them. And to give him his due, he was very honest. I said, ‘Fritz, what’s going on? We’re all good friends here but nobody speaks to me’. ‘Yes’, he said, ‘I’ll be very honest with you. My father said I mustn’t play with Jewish kids anymore’. And that was traumatic. Suddenly I was ostracised. Suddenly all my friends- I saw them, you know, as close as you are to me, for instance, but they wouldn’t speak to me.
We were manufacturing and selling them (cigars) while my brother was in Dachau in the concentration camp, in order for his wife to buy food for herself and the family. They released the people eventually. Some never came back because... were elderly and possibly died of heart attacks or even starved with cold. Very hard surrounding where Dachau is in winter, and by the end of November, it came into December it’s winter. I can assure you.
As to the anti-Nazi agitation or action, I got in touch with the League of Nations youth union and I addressed them in ’35 or so. And tried to put over what was happening in Germany. And I met a reaction which was total silence. They just didn’t understand what I was talking about. They thought I was coming from the moon.
At the Anschluss, things became more serious because a Jew in those days had no rights. Anybody could attack a Jew - in front of a policeman - and he would take no notice. So whoever wants to have a go at you and attack you did so. My brothers were chased a number of times which made them realise that you can’t live like this.
The [school] director got us all into the assembly hall. He had this pact with the janitor who fiddled with the radio and it crackled and crackled. And the janitor would say every time: “Sorry, but the radio’s broken”, and they all clapped and went back to the classroom, never listening to Hitler’s speech. So you had little anti-Nazi tricks. You had to have a director who was courageous enough to do it, and a janitor who worked with him. And girls who didn’t go home and denounce the director.
I’ve got an exercise book, which I had aged eight, in the spring of 1933. The teacher was obviously somebody who was completely enthusiastic about the Nazi takeover and straight away pushed out all this: how great the war was, how heroic Germany was and- subtext being, ‘We’ll have another go, and this time we’ll win’.
[About his father, Ludwig] Two Gestapo officials came and took him away. Then the thing after that was that my father had this big library. Partly it was because he was a collector of antiquarian books, but the bulk of it was his library. He also had an enormous number of review copies being the publisher, and so on. They came and took most of it. A removal van came with large cases, and people who knew what they were doing took the books and put them in there.
When things got bad and my father was not allowed to work anymore, a German doctor was put into our surgery in a bigger part. Our flat was divided. We had to live at the back and this other doctor had the surgery in the front. My father had to come up the back stairs which was such an indignity for him. He took it all in his stride and made no preparations to emigrate whatsoever.
We had a centre for Jewish youth right next to us which had huge glass windows. In ‘38 around the time of Kristallnacht that was all smashed up. My parents, they’d gone to try [to] send us children off, to get papers. They were away, but we were next door when this home was completely smashed up. We were sitting - all three of us - anxiously, while this was going on. And my middle sister who was the calm one said, ‘Let us knit or crochet or do things while this is going on.’ She thought to try to calm us down until our parents came back again.
[after Kristallnacht, Berlin] I came to the place of work, which was a scene of utter destruction. The glass was shattered; the books from the displays strewn on the pavement and inside didn’t look any better. The place had been looted and practically destroyed. So my last task was to clean up all the mess outside and inside and it was also the end of my job as a delivery boy.
My father’s surgery had to move out in 1938. He was a dental surgeon. He took over what had been my room and made it into a surgery… until the 10th of November, when he was arrested and taken to Sachsenhausen concentration camp, where he stayed for 4 weeks. They’d taken him down the front stairs. I don’t now remember what my mother told me, but it was a pretty horrendous time.
As years went by, I was firmly convinced that my place was in Germany and that the Nazi hordes were there on ‘auf Abruf’ [on call]. That any day Mr. Chamberlain would march in at the head of his troop with his umbrella and chase the Nazis away. That was what I thought, and it was very foolish, but there it was. And that made me stay as long as possible.
[about Kristallnacht] I was up in the night and I went to the Babelsberger Strasse [Synagogue], and I saw what happened. And that strengthened my belief: this cannot be forever. The people who produced Dürer, Goethe, Kleist, a cultured people like the Germans would wake up any day. It was total delusion. The only thing I can say to make it explicable is that my love for everything German was greater than my common sense.
After the Kristallnacht, there was a time when my father and I slept in a different place every night because he didn’t want to be caught, as it were. And the interesting thing is, it was exciting. My father went to live in a hotel. I lived with my grandparents. And in due course on something like the 25th of August, 1939 we went to Amsterdam - because there was at least a theoretical thought that Holland might stay neutral.
And it was the only school [Schottengymnasium] in Austria, and perhaps greater Germany, which when the Nazis came, did not discriminate. I mean in all other schools in Vienna, Jewish and non-Aryan boys were grouped together in separate groups and eventually concentrated in separate Jewish schools. When the Nazi authorities asked all schools, including the Schotten, what Jewish boys they had, the Schotten with a perfectly straight face, replied, “[You see] the question didn’t arise, because they’d only got Catholic boys.” ...My- everybody knew that those of us that were affected, were well-known in the sch- I mean with... the- the spirit of the locality was that nobody, even Nazis in the school, didn’t give the show away. In the year above me, was the son of a Nazi Gauleiter of Austria, young Seyss-Inquart, whose father was hanged as a war criminal after Nuremberg. He must have known perfectly well who we were, but he too, in the spirit of the school, he kept his mouth shut. And so we were never given away. And we had a ...great deal of reason to be grateful for the school. Because after the Nazis closed the school down...In July ’38. It closed down all Catholic schools... on the grounds expressly that it was the business of the state to educate the young. That was actually given as the reason for closing the school down, and- and others like it.
Now the odd thing is, which is relevant to this project, is that the Viennese - the population of Vienna - did not really behave terribly well after the Nazi takeover. I know Churchill said, “We can never forget in these islands that Austria was the first victim of Nazi aggression.” That is actually true, though most English Jews deny that. It is true. Austria was the- after all we’d been under siege for five years. ...The persecution of Austria by, by its big neighbour next door throughout the 30s cannot be denied. But it is equally true that in 1938 there must have been some kind of- something snapped in the psychology of the locals. Because in early ’38, we could still hope that the- the independent Austria would win the plebiscite ...against Germany. And then on the 13th of March some-something snapped. I can remember the suddenness of it. Because... it’s on the evening, but not the 13th, on the Friday that the German Army marched in. There’d still been street- anti-Nazi street demonstrations that afternoon. And the same late afternoon or early evening, we saw a group of Nazis walking past a group of policemen, and shouting, “Heil Deutsche Wache” to which the policemen replied in chorus, “Heil”. Well... At which one of the Nazis turned to the other and said, “You see what whores they are. Two hours ago they beat us with rubber truncheons. And now they shout Heil.” You can see how some- something must have snapped psychologically. Because the population of Vienna appeared to have turned nasty on one five minutes. Of course it wasn’t the whole population of Vienna, far from it. ...And the seeds of resistance were in fact, which is generally forgotten, that very day. But that’s another story.
When I really became aware, because my father talked a lot- The radio was on all the time, and then Hindenburg was finished and Hitler took over. I knew what was going on. But I think when you’re young it doesn’t make that impact. The impact came with the three things happening - my father having to leave the school, I had to leave my school, and we had to be thrown out of our apartment. That really- that physically- that affected me very much, obviously. It was a completely new life.
Now father decided not to leave. He was asked by the industrial people not to leave because it would create panic. That was not a very clever thing to do; I think we should have left. It came to a stage when we were afraid of putting lights on. And whenever I went out I was kicked, and told some awful things, so I started being afraid of going out. So anti-Semitism had taken root very strongly. Father stayed to run the factory. We had a lot of non-Jewish friends who assured him whatever happened he wouldn’t be touched. Being a great optimist, which helped him later in life, he listened. But those few months were terrible. We’re talking now about January, February 1939.
I still, on my way to school, saw the burning of the Reichstag. That I witnessed. One grew up very quickly, when you saw these ghastly thugs, arresting people right and left and street fights and battles with the communists and so on. It wasn’t pleasant. And so then my mother took my younger brother and myself on a steamer from Hamburg to Grimsby Harbour.
I was always a blue-eyed blonde and the teacher wanted me to be secretary for the Hitler Youth. I declined, but then when it came out that I was Jewish he told all the other children that I was no different from anybody else, they had to still treat me in the same way. So that was very brave of him.
One day my parents turned around to me, and said ‘Look, we have to deliver all these parcels. You’ll have to stay away from synagogue and help us with the business.” I must have been eleven or twelve, and instead of going to synagogue, I went on my bike and cycled all over Berlin to help my parents. I’m sure that wasn’t easy for them.
My father was arrested on Kristallnacht, went to Dachau. When he came out, he had scarlet fever. We had several weeks staying with my grandparents… came back home when my father was better. I got the shock of my life because most of the furniture had disappeared. So I hardly noticed my poor father who was looking rather thin, lost his hair and so on.
[we lived] In the Third District in a main road Radetzkystraße. It was a main road and because of that, really, I was quite aware of what was going on. Because through the streets you had the Nazis marching up and down before Hitler came, and after of course, so you knew what was going on and really quite terrifying at times.
The other thing they did on one occasion, they came along and took all the women and children from our district. And they drove us- put us on lorries and drove us to a factory. Told us to clean the factory. And then said- they promised that once we cleaned that they let us go home. But when- I always explain when I do the tour, that cleaning in those days, as you probably imagine, was a lot different to- so. But apart from that all we had there was some cold water, some rags and some newspaper. And... difficult to clean a filthy place, but my mother- my mother was brought up very strict. I mean- as I said, all these girls and they were made to work. And so she knew how to do it. One of the things she did - clean the windows with newspaper. It works. You know, it does work actually.
I was coming home and I found that my mother was in tears. Dad had been arrested... and all the boys and men in our district that same day had been taken away. We didn't know where until- I think it was about three or four weeks later when we had communication to say they were in Dachau concentration camp. And that was more or less the day I stopped going to college. And my mother was told to carry on with the business and that was under the auspices of a young SS officer. So what actually happened was- I mean, when the Nazis came in the very first thing they did is confiscate all the bank accounts. So there was no money.
They came on Kristallnacht. They took my father and my grandfather away. And they- my mother hid my brother in the attic, because he was fifteen. And... They came and searched the house, but they didn't find him. And we were- my younger brother and I were too young to- to be taken away. But they would have taken my brother had they found him- I think. ...So he came to England with me.
But I still remember the banging on the door: “Juden raus!” I still- I can still hear it. You know they banged on the door and screamed, “Juden raus! Juden raus! And then they took my father and my grandfather away. And I- don’t forget, I was eleven! No ten – ten when that happened; I was eleven the following year. So yes, I do remember. But I never have talked about it to my children - ever. And I didn't talk about it to my husband, but I think he had an idea of what went on. But I just couldn't! This is the first time I've talked about it.
My father went into Buchenwald after Kristallnacht. They came on the Saturday to pick him up. And it was- we were lucky - it was a policeman and- and he was not a Nazi, but he had to do his job. And I was told to say that, “Papa is not zu Hause.” [Papa is not at home] But of course they said, “Wo ist Mutti?” And my- they said- he said to my mother, “If I go away without him, they’ll send the Gestapo or- or the SS and they’ll trash your flat. So you’d better just let me do my job.” He was very sad. He was a lovely man. He gave my father good advice. He said, “Take off your Sabbath suit,” - cause it was a Saturday – “put on warm underwear. Don’t take a big case.” Some of the Germans- Jews, you know, didn’t know- they took big cases. “You’ll be subjected to lots of unpleasantness. Take a little attaché case - essentials. And give your wife power of attorney so she has access to your money.” He was a wonderful man. And the last thing he said was, “I won’t embarrass you in front of the neighbours. I won’t walk with you as though you’re under arrest. I’ll walk behind you.
And many other secondary inferences that the Nazis were in charge, were part of my childhood. My grandfather had a- a shield on the fence, and they defaced it with an arrow and ‘Jude’ on the pavement. The nearest shop around the corner, an ice cream shop was similarly defaced. I couldn't in the park sit on benches. I had to sit on yellow benches, which were especially- for Jews only. So without understanding what was going on, I was after all, a real youngster, I was conscious that all was not well in our community.
I started with quite a lot of friends at the primary school. Thoroughly enjoyed it. But in 1933 the temperature changed quite rapidly. The thing is, some- and at that point the Hitler Youth wasn’t compulsory but some of the boys did join, and it was a bit- but became rather scary that they started turning up at school, in uniform. Of course in 1936 it became compulsory. And one of my abiding memories is getting, soon after January 1933, a lot of dictation, not from the form master but from the headmaster. We filled exercise book after exercise book with dictation. No idea what it was about at the time, but later on realised these were extracts from Mein Kampf. So there was an enormous amount of indoctrination going on. And of course every time there was a speech by Hitler or sometimes Goebbels or Goering we had to sit and listen to the loudspeakers. That was frightening.
But my father didn't like the idea of emigrating. And he- he had the view that he- his family had lived in Germany for several hundred years. He was a good German who happened to be Jewish. He couldn’t see why he needed to leave. In any case, Hitler was a madman; he couldn't possibly - last. So it would all blow over. There were never any arguments in my hearing, except with my sister, who took an opp- opposite view, because she was much older and she had a view of her own. And in the end she said, “Well, I'm leaving.” So she went to South Africa in 1936. But- and by that time Dad probably had got to the idea that it would be better to leave, but it was too late.
And then, on November the 9th I was in bed, and I was awakened with Mum, and Dad and the cousins rushing around, very agitated. When I asked what was up I was told, “Oh, just go back to sleep Hannele.” Hannele was my nickname. “Oh, go back to sleep Hannele.” Well, of course I couldn't. Well in the morning, Mum told me we wouldn't be sleeping with the cousins that night. Across the courtyard, into the street, and what did I see? Glass absolutely everywhere. Windows shattered. Nazi- “Jews” jeering, smearing graffiti on the pavements, on the shards of windows left. Jewish men, including Mum's cousin, on their knees sweeping up the glass, boarding up the windows. And do you know, the police were just standing around doing nothing? Well, during the day, we moved around constantly, walking, on the buses, on the underground. When I asked my Dad why we were on the move the whole time, he told me that on the night many men had been arrested, and synagogues had been burned, and shops and homes were also vandalised and burned. And of course, as Jews have a synagogue in each district, as we walked from district to district, I saw very many of the synagogues burning. And you know, that's a nightmare with me even to this day: the burning synagogues.
Well, the date came for my departure, which was the 19th of April 1939. We went to the station, by underground, my parents looking at me as if they couldn’t take their eyes off me. Normally one of them would have sat next to me for a good cuddle. When we got to the station, there were hordes of parents and children, all crying. But we three, we kept up a pretence: “Oh! What an adventure you're going on Hannele. You're the pioneer. We will be joining you as soon as our papers are in order.” And then a whistle went for the final goodbye. And as Mum and Dad hugged and kissed me, they said I should look out of the train window at the next station but one. Well, I did this. And do you know, there were my parents on the platform, waving to me, as if their arms would drop off. But that was the very last time I ever saw my parents.
You know, one of the things that made one both sad and happy, as you walked around, you saw ‘lifts’, called- they were called ‘lifts’. The big storage moving vans, and they were called ‘lifts’. And you knew that some other lucky person had manage to get out. So you know, we were a bit envious, when you passed a ‘lift’. Good- good for them, but it- how we wish it was us.
And when the Nazis came of course things changed. And the thing is, they had a big assembly and then there was Hitler speak, and the non-Jewish girls thought he was funny and they were all funny. And I dare not laugh because-, you know how hard it is when you are eleven years old and they all think it’s funny and they are all laughing and you mustn’t laugh? It was very, very hard to keep a straight face, because... I don’t know, to me he wasn’t funny because we know he was horrible and everything is changed.
He [a boy at school] came to me, and he said: ‘Have you got the invitation for the yearly Abiturientenball?’ And it hadn’t come. And he got quite pale, and he said: ‘These swines; they haven’t sent you the invitation because you are Jewish’. I was absolutely dissolved in tears, and I had an uncle there from Königsberg and he was a cousin, and he said: ‘I shouldn’t break my heart; there are worse things in life’. But that was the first time I felt like ostracised. I mean it was so many years ago; that must be over 70 years ago, and I still remember how I burst into tears and I thought this was terrible. I was one of (what would I say?) like the elite of the town, and they didn’t invite me because I was Jewish.
I remember in 1933 I personally saw the Reichstag burning. One of my friends I met, Irmgard Böβ, who loved me as a daughter, phoned me up and said, come quickly the Reichstag is on fire. We Ware all going to see it. We all had free passes on the underground, well not free we paid, and we went, and we saw the Nazi hordes singing in the street: ‘The Reichstag is burning. We don’t need a Reichstag; we can govern this ourselves’. And I saw and heard that with my own ears and eyes, and that was in January ’33, and when the Reichstag burned that started the fire in Europe. That was the end of our life in Germany. After that we had only one wish: how can we escape and how can we build a new life?
And she said to one of her customers, ‘it’s so terrible our young boss is interned in Dachau and there’s a young woman with a newborn baby and she’s beside herself, she doesn’t know what to do, how can they get out’? And this woman said: ‘Look, I am a Quaker and I have some connection to the Quakers in Edinburgh, the Friends. Get your boss’s wife to write a letter to Edinburgh Friends House and they’ll probably help her. So I sat down and I wrote a letter to whom it may concern, ‘I’ve got this from another Quaker friend and I’m in Munich and I’m that old and I have a little girl of a few months old, my husband’s interned and we’re really at the end of our tether can you help us get out’? And I put in a little photo. In those days you photographed the children naked on a bear skin. I don’t know whether you’ve seen it? They get to lay on their tummy on the bear and the two parents standing beside, and I sent that photo to Edinburgh to the Friends House.
Well, Maruška was my best friend. And we used to go cycling. I had an uncle who had a farm outside Trnava and we used to go visiting him. And one day we went cycling to my uncle and then we stopped. And then Maruška said to me that this is the last time she can see me because her father told her that if she’s going to be friends with a Jewish girl he will not benefit at all from being in the fascist Hlinka Guard and he will not get any - perks from being- being sort of fascist. And that she is not allowed to see me. And that was terribly painful for me, because I thought that she was a real, true friend and that she will stand up to that and continue to be my friend. But she- I never saw her after that. And she just didn’t want to have anything to do with me. And I don’t even know to this day what happened to her.
When the Reichstag was on fire, that was also a very strange day, the 27th of February. I do remember the date, because it was my auntie’s birthday, who lived at the other side of town, of Berlin, not very far from the Reichstag actually. We were there, well, this was sort of the custom of the Germans - big afternoon tea, coffee and cake. And we were going to my auntie, I think it was a weekday, it was the 27th of February 1934, I think. Was it ’34 or ’33? Anyway, we were there, sitting with my aunties, and she had one or two friends there, having coffee and talking and putting in the presents and whatever, when we heard, all of a sudden, an awful lot of fire-engines. So, my father said, ‘That is something big, that is something big going on’. Then he put the radio on. And they said, ‘The Reichstag is on fire.’ So my father said right away, ‘We go home.’ We stopped, we went home immediately. We went on a tram, there were no buses, on the tram. We went home immediately. And then, of course, they blamed this Jewish fellow for doing it and then things really started. That really was the beginning of the end then.
Crystal Night, I mean, that was absolute the end. Where we lived then, at the Jewish old age home, we could hear what was going on. I saw the synagogue burn and we were in a state of a shock. How could this happen? How could this happen? We should have known better. We should have expected this to happen, what’s been going on beforehand, but we didn’t quite. It was a disbelief. How could this happen? To Germans? We were German citizens, born in Germany, for generations.
They were in a car, two Nazis. I knew already what that means, and I said,” Alright, I am Jewish”, because there was no point to deny it. And they said,” Get into the car”, and they took me to their Nazi headquarters, the Gestapo headquarters, where they were cleaning the building, they were decorating it or whatever, and they were just throwing water and mud all over the floor. They were all men, Jewish men, and I was the only girl, to clean it up. You couldn’t clean it up because every time we mopped it up they were pouring more mud on the floor, just to annoy us. And that went on and on. And there was one very nice Gestapo chap, a young fellow. When I saw the men, having the trousers all – I mean they were dressed, they were all probably picked up in the street like I was - I started laughing hysterically the whole time, like some people cried, like men were crying and god knows what and I was laughing, I couldn’t help laughing. So this Gestapo man came over to me, a young, very handsome chap, I remember, and he said,” Well, I will help you, if you come to my office I will talk with you”. And I thought,“ Oh god, what will he do”? Well, he wasn’t bad. He only kissed me and cuddled me. That’s all. And he said,“ I will promise you that when I get off duty, which will be about ten or eleven o’clock at night, I will give you a pass that you will be free”. And he did. And after spending this day there, I never saw any of the men again. Not one. They were perhaps 20 men at least there, and I was the only girl, and I got free.
The Gestapo came one day to our flat, before Crystal night. We had a big bookcase, they searched the flat. They couldn’t find anything. Because my mother, in the kitchen, she put the vegetable bag at the window of the kitchen, on the nail, she put a bag with vegetables, and the money and the jewellery was in that bag. So that’s how we have managed to have some money and jewellery at that time. But they threw all the books out of the window, every book. They said they’re communist books. They threw every book out of the window, to the backyard. Every one! And whatever they could find, I can’t remember. We couldn’t care less anymore; we were already by that time very low. And as long as they didn’t take us at that time, and just took their articles we were already satisfied, we didn’t say anything.
I went past a toy and sports shop, near Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche in Berlin, which had been owned by Jews. And as I was going past I heard a little girl say - it was all smashed up, the glass hadn’t been cleared away yet - and a little girl saying in English, ‘Mummy, what’s happened? So I sidled up because I heard the mummy answer, ‘Some rather nasty and horrible people have done this.’ I sidled up and whispered to her, ‘Tell them when you get back home.’ And I just poodled away.
After Hitler came to power you still had to go to school. To school is, is, is almost like running a gauntlet, because you had loads of Stormtroopers [SA] – that’s the Brown-shirts. And, and the Hitler Youth in their little black shorts and white shirts. And they were sort of roaming the roads and when they met Jews, they were beaten up or so. And when you walk you try to be as inconspicuous as much as you possibly can. You hear screams behind you and you, you know that people are in anguish and pain, and you don’t even dare to... walk fast or slow, or don’t dare to look around because then you’ll be there and so on...Once or twice I was beaten up. But then of course I was also once told to - to scrub the streets. And... Ja. And it was a young man. He- he obviously was Hitler Youth. But he wasn’t in uniform. He only had the- the armband, the Hitler Youth armband, you know, red, white, red, and a white...square in the centre [for the inaudible] Hakenkreuz. And he wouldn’t let us do it kneeling down; we had to do it crouching down. That was his very special fun, you know? And... An old chap next to me fell over, and he sort of started kicking him and abusing him and shouting at him. And when I [inaudible???sort of] quickly looked up, I – I saw [inaudible???] smiling going through the crowd, watching. And there was one lady right at the back. And that sticks in my mind. She held her little girl up, so that she could see better how that old chap was kicked. And [inaudible???he ] smiled. And that, as I say, sticks in your throat a bit.
[In] 1938, Goebbels had banned swing, in fact I have a book here about the Hamburg swing youth, who in 1941 because they still listened to Ben Swing - records smuggled into Germany from Denmark, and I had some - were sent to concentration camps. Swing, according to Goebbels, was Jewish Black jazz, whatever that is, and I became extremely fond of the tune which was called ‘Boo hoo, boo hoo you’ve got me crying for you’; and I went wild for that tune, and it was banned and I got the record smuggled in from Denmark which was not very far away, and I always played it on this canoe, on my little wind-up; and I bought some chrome letters, that high, BOO-HOO, with a hyphen, and I put it on both sides of the canoe. And the boat man was in the SA and he realised what I was doing, where I kept the boat, you see, kept begging me to take it off. What he was worried about was not the SA beating me up, he was worried about them beating him up and dragging him off to the Gestapo. I refused to take it off and they were still there in 1939 when I had to sell it.
I remember after we had been chucked out of our flat [after the November Pogrom / Kristallnacht] my parents realised they'd forgotten an important document. They tried to get back into their own flat, their own flat if you please, but there was a tiny paper seal with a swastika over the lock on our door. To open the door, of course, they would have to pierce that paper seal with the key, & no way would they do that. I mean, no way, they were law-abiding citizens & that would have been against the law. So whatever it was they were after they had to leave behind.
[Kristallnacht] I was up in the night and I went to the Babelsberger Strasse; it was after midnight, and I saw it, what happened. And that strengthened my belief: this cannot be forever. The people who produced Dürer, Goethe, Kleist, a cultured people like the Germans would wake up any day. It was total delusion. The only thing I can say to make it explicable is that my love for everything German was greater than my common sense.
I think it might have been Kristallnacht, but I know my mother told me that there was one night when it was known that they were arresting Jews, prominent Jews. And he [her father] had a colleague, who had a car, and they spent the entire night driving round and round so that when the Gestapo called, my father wouldn't be at home.
Another thing was in a sense, it sort of was the epitome of this awareness - the visit of 1937, a year before the Anschluss, of the Graf Zeppelin, that huge airship which was moored over the Donaukanal, which was 150 yards up the street from our hotel. So I went there and suddenly there was this huge thing, this cigar floating in the air. And, well it had the swastika on the tailpiece. And I was suddenly perfectly well aware. It’s as if you know in retrospect. I wouldn’t have thought that thought then – the idea of the domination of the swastika over Austria. But that’s the effect they wanted.
Those German kids suddenly found out that there was a Jews’ school, as they called it, up on the hill. And so they paid us the compliment of coming to visit us the moment school was finished, about three thirty, four o’clock, sometime in the afternoon. And they were all in the Hitler Youth, of course, and they were well-trained. And so, as we came out of the school, they fell upon us, only the boys. There were only boys involved in this. Girls had their free access. But, you know, there was a type of chivalry in these atrocities as well, I should imagine. But they set upon us. And there were usually three or four of them against one of us. And we used to get beaten up. And we had our satchels interfered with, our shirts torn, our trousers torn. We were bruised, kicked, scratched. We bled and so on and so forth. And this became a daily routine. And there was nothing that one could do about it. We had to sort of put up with it. There were occasions when you couldn’t go back to school the next day, for a day or two, because you were, you know, so badly bruised, or whatever it was. As far as I know, certainly I had never had any limbs broken or anything of that sort, but, it was tough. But it also toughened us up. We naturally tried to defend ourselves, though this was strictly prohibited by law. You’re not allowed to touch a German in a Nazi uniform. You’re not allowed to hit him, you’re not allowed to slap him, you’re not allowed to spit at him, or whatever you want to do. But naturally your natural instinct, when somebody pulls you to the ground and starts kneeling on you and, you know, pummelling you into submission, you obviously try and defend yourself. Naturally, we weren’t all that very successful in that respect.
Every Shabbat & holiday amongst the congregation were 8 Gestapo men in their magnificent uniforms - black uniform, swastika, all that sort of thing - very smart looking. They sat very quietly at the back. The Rabbi was an extremely outspoken man. He was basically there only every 2nd Shabbat because when he was missing he was in prison. They were intelligent enough not to bung him into a concentration camp because he had a considerable influence over the congregation. So whenever he said something that wasn’t liked by the Nazis, they marched very quietly in military style & did this sort of thing to the Rabbi [demonstrates a beckoning motion with his finger] & he followed without any trouble. It didn’t disturb the service in any way, other than of course there was a cut to the sermon. The assistant Rabbi continued with the sermon.
[In prewar Vienna] My mother had a young woman coming to help her around the house, clean, shop, etc. And my pupils bought me for my birthday a beautiful gold bracelet. And I couldn’t find it. I’ve forgotten the name of the girl, I don’t know, and I asked her: ‘Have you seen my bracelet?’ She says: ‘Yes, I have it. And if you go to the police I will tell them your father slept with me’… That was the atmosphere. So I don’t know what my mother said, but she must have talked to her, that it was common sense, that she better leave, and she left, but I never got my bracelet back.
[Asked about Reichspogromnacht/ Pogrom night] Because, I had no idea the actual night. But in the morning I woke up, ready to go to walk to the Theodor- Herzl- Schule. And at the bottom of our…our flats were shops in Kantstraße. One particular shop was a dairy shop. The elderly couple were very, very friendly. And even in the darkest days of the beginning of the war, they supplied my grandparents always with milk and butter and cheese and so on. I had joyfully when going back - through the British Army going back - to the same couple after the war and it was wonderful. How they- How they were good. On the other hand, the next shop was a furrier. An elderly Jewish couple selling furs. Furs of course as you know were very fashionable in Berlin and in the world then. Well I came out of my flat and saw all this glass smashed. All the furs, the…furs had been robbed by the Germans, the Nazis, taken out of their shop! And later on in the day, when I got home from school I was told that elderly couple committed suicide. We knew them quite well. And so as a- as a thirteen year old boy, that was quite a shock. Went to the school… Now the Theodor-Herzl-Schule was built in the annexe or after the German Rundfunkgebäude, the German Radio. So the Nazis could not burn it down because it was property of the- of the radio station. But- So it wasn’t completely burned down, but everything inside was taken out and burned. So when we came to school we were told, “Go home! The school is closed.” And that’s the last I saw of Theodor- Herzl- Schule.
My mother was in tears, and …I couldn’t understand why she was crying. Why it was so emotional for her, to see her only son, you know, Bar Mitzvah. Well we couldn’t celebrate Bar Mitzvah outside the flat; we just invited a few friends for – for tea, I think. Or German Kaffeeklatsch. I got sixty-four Marks as present, for my Bar Mitzvah, which had to be given up soon afterwards because the German [ he means Jewish] population, as you probably heard from others as well, had to pay two million Marks compensation for all the damage done to synagogues and shops. And I heard just afterwards my father was sent to Sachsenhausen camp. He returned a few weeks later and because of his torture there, he must have aged twenty years. He was early in his fifties. And when I saw him again afterwards, you know…
And when he [George`s Loble’s older brother Willy] went out of the door he saw smoke rising from the synagogue - which you could just see the top of over the trees - and he came back in. And said, “There's something wrong with the synagogue. It’s on fire.” So we looked out of the window and of course we saw the police and the Gestapo marching some of our neighbours and the Jewish people - men - we knew down- down the street. Of course we had no idea what was going on at all. So… our- we asked our maid to go outside and, and - and see what's going on. And she came back and said. “They're arresting all the Jewish- Jewish men in town and taking them to prison.
There was a prison in Bamberg in the [Obere] Sandstraße. And so… in due course, they came and took my father away as well. And of course we were absolutely frightened to death, because …there didn't seem to be any rhyme or reason for it. You know, Father and Uncle and all the other Jews were benefactors to the town, employers - nobody had done any wrong. Their crime was that they were Jews. So …we kept a low profile. Of course my brother didn't go to- to work. And my- our middle brother Ronnie didn't go - and I - didn't go to school. And then we were very afraid of course every noise, because they used to climb on the windows and paint swastikas on or ‘Jew’. And… two o'clock in the morning the doorbell rang, and my father came back from prison. And we, we- of course we were highly delighted. But… he… We said, “Well, how is it that you’re here?” He said, “Well I went to school with the chief of police, and he came to prison and said, “Fritz you can go home now, but I can't protect you if you get beaten up in the street. So take all the back lanes and get home as quickly as possible.” And …he managed to do that. …And then of course we, we- nobody went out for a few days and then it…it, it calmed down. And after about three or four days… father went to work again, but we couldn't go to school of course. We were excluded from school ‘for our own protection’.
He [stepfather Alfred Meyer] had quite strong left wing political views, a lot of girlfriends. He was a wonderful dentist with a high reputation & a good practice. Now the local Gauleiter was also a dentist in the same place, with a poor practice. They were gunning for him. He was kidnapped from the house of another Jewish dentist in Düsseldorf, my mother was there, bundled into a car & would never have been seen again except that they'd attached a book press to his body. He was shot in the car, they attached a book press to his body & they dumped him in a huge water reservoir, the book press became detached & he floated to the surface & that is how he was found. Now, look: the Judiciary were already Nazified [in 1933]. Nobody was punished. My mother knew who it was, at least who the instigator was, but he was never punished. As a result of this my mother decided to leave Germany, although she was in so-called protective police custody. She was claustrophobic anyway, it was terrible for her.
A letter arrived [for father], which I recognised immediately. It was yellow, a strong yellow letter from Potsdam. I opened it. The letter very briefly said: ‘You are herewith instructed not to enter your office again.’ I cannot remember the details. I discussed this letter with my aunt Else Ury on the phone. She said that well of course we did expect it, which is true. At least I expected it. 2 or 3 days later my parents arrived back from their holiday. My aunt & I waited for their return on the platform. I was very worried to break the news to my father & mother. I still see my parents with their suitcases approaching Tante Else & me. My father immediately said… I had a strong idea that he knew what had happened because he would have read the papers. He took one look at my face & said: ‘What’s happened?’ I told him. He must have known. He must have expected it. He didn’t enter his office again.
I’m one of the lucky ones who got out early. We lived near the Tiergarten, surrounded by buildings like the War Ministry & other government buildings. When Hitler came we had Nazis in uniform around from the very earliest time. So I was very much aware. In school I was in the same class as some of the daughters of military leaders, Keitel & Nehring. One of the earliest things I remember is I was no longer invited to the birthday parties of that particular group. Although in school we were still on reasonably good terms. I was lucky because the class teacher & headmaster were… clearly anti-Nazi. I don’t like to think what happened to them. The headmaster refused to implement some of the early rules like Jewish children sitting in the back row. How long he could carry on like that I don’t know.
I looked out from the balcony. In Berlin it went round very quickly. The gossip. The talk. The streets started to fill with people opposite our shop. They waited. The Nazis are always very timely. If they say 7, it's not 1 minute past or 1 minute before: it’s 7. I could hear them marching & singing. They marched to the shop… whistling. Threw the first stones & bricks at the window. The stones & bricks bounced back. Nothing broke.
So they went two doors away to the butcher's shop & said, 'Can we borrow your heavy weights to break the Yids windows?' He says 'Get out!' So instead they smashed his glass counter & knocked him down, unconscious. Took the heavy weights & smashed our window. I knew my parents were in there. They picked up glass & threw it through the window at–I presumed–my parents. I screamed... & screamed & screamed. It left me with a hoarse voice that's been with me ever since. I call it ‘My present from Adolf’. A papilloma on the vocal cords.
My father took me actually to a professor. He admitted that he had helped Hitler with the same problem. Cause he was screaming as well I suppose, Hitler was, with those speeches. And he then said, “Are you getting out, Herr Izbicki?” My father said, “Yes.”
She [Fred's half sister] was murdered along with many other mental patients [during the November Pogrom (Kristallnacht)]. My father was called to Gestapo headquarters. It was very perfunctory. ‘Sign here.’ ‘What am I signing for?’ ‘A box.’ ‘What does the box contain?’ ‘The ashes of your daughter; she died during the night. Take them away.’ That’s all. He went in. He went out. And there we are.
We’d been expelled from school like all the Jewish children, on the 9th November 1938: After the Jewish teachers were released from the concentration camps, my cousin and myself, we went to the Jewish school in Heilbronn. But after a few weeks, suddenly, the schoolroom was three quarters empty because three quarters of the children, with their parents, had been deported to the Polish frontier. That was early 1939. That is perhaps my most vivid memory: seeing the schoolroom two-thirds empty. All we heard that they’d all been deported with their families to the Polish border. We don’t know what happened to them. They probably were all exterminated.
The very first thing they did [after the Anschluss] was they made the poor elderly Jews scrub the pavements, you know, laugh at them, kick them. There was a lot of sadism in Vienna, in spite of the golden Viennese hearts. The Viennese are known for their Gemütlichkeit but when it came to it, a fair proportion were very vicious, very vicious. It gave them a chance to steal of course. There were 200,000 Jews & nearly 180,000 or something like that in Vienna, which was a 10th of the population. A lot of them had shops, not all of course. This was a golden opportunity for people to steal their shops & steal their flats & everything. So for many people Hitler was a good thing, gave them a chance to rob & steal."
We kept indoors while 100s of 1000s were screaming: ‘Sieg Heil! Sieg Heil! Ein volk, ein Reich, ein Führer!’ etc…outside, especially in the centre of the town. When Hitler came he was on the Heldenplatz, in front of the Imperial Palace with god knows how many hundreds of thousands. They all went crazy, you know. A couple of years back, a lot of Austrian school children released balloons in honour of the victims from the Heldenplatz which is good. A certain amount of justice in that.
Immediately after that the kids were already beginning to be in Hitler Youth uniforms. I continued going to my normal school until we were slung out a few months later. In class there was one guy who was immediately—he was older & probably an enthusiastic young Nazi—you know. The majority of kids didn’t take too much notice. They all had to join the…they didn’t have to—they all joined the Hitler Youth.
I remember the glass on the road, the splinters & shops looted, or people being... hounded. If you hear noises behind you, you didn’t turn around again. We went to a park and I had a ball, and the ball was taken away by somebody else. You had no recourse. You couldn’t say, “So- and-so took my ball!” It was theirs in the end. And you remember a game called Diavolo? Yes? It’s two sticks with a string in the middle and you throw it up in the air and you caught it again. That was taken away. Just by children in the park. You couldn’t complain. We just walked away from it. I assume. We walked away. And I don’t know whether one blocks it out or half blocks it out.
I- I also remember that my, on- on that Kristallnacht, I think the day after, my mother was dragged through Ettlingen on a cart, on the back of a cart, drawn through the village with, with the- there- with other Jewish- Jewish people. There weren't many, but maybe three or four in this cart, just being dragged through the cart. And when they reached me, some neighbours who were friendly just said “What a,”- in German, they must have said, “What a terrible shame.” I do remember- that’s all- that- I think that's the limit of my memories.
When Hitler came I was once put in front of the class to show this is what a typical German girl looks like, because I had blue eyes & blonde hair. But not long after that I was chucked out of the school because I was Jewish, although I didn't really know it until my birthday. A polite letter, sorry, etc, etc, etc.
I think it was my 14th birthday when nearly all the girls who had been invited had some sort of excuse for not coming. Then I was told that I was Jewish. I didn't even know what it meant because we didn't keep anything. Oh, we did keep Christmas, we had a Christmas tree, but in a non-religious way, just presents. I can’t really remember exactly, but it was quite a shock. I was like everybody else: enjoying the same things, doing the same things, eating the same things, because we ate what everybody else ate, pork, sausages, the lot, whatever. Then suddenly they got slightly different from us. I don't think I really took it in very much.
I was then sent to an American school to learn some English for a few months. After that my parents, who didn't really discuss things with us very much—we didn't realise quite what the dangers were but we realised that our life wouldn't continue the way it did then. They thought they should prepare me for life abroad but they didn't quite know where it would be. They were thinking about Yugoslavia, they were thinking of Argentina. In the end I actually finished up in England.
Kristallnacht was on the 9th of November. Before that on 28thOctober ... about 11 days, 12 days before, it was what they called the Polenaktion, Polenaktion, was when Germany decided that after Poland issued a decree that anybody who has not lived in Poland for five years or so will use their Polish nationality, and wouldn’t get a passport. Then there was a scramble for Polish passport by all these stateless Jews, who came from Poland, and I remember queuing outside the Polish consulate waiting for passports and in the end we were given passports so we had Polish passports. So when they made this decree about not allowing Jews to come back to Poland, because it was very antiSemitic, the regime in Poland. They made this decree because they were afraid they would get flooded with Jews. So once the decree came about, Nazi Germany decided to get rid of all the Polish Jews before Poland closed the borders, so on 28th October there was the Polenaktion, and they rounded up all Polish citizens, and don’t forget that Germany was so orderly, everything was recorded in the police station, exactly who was living there and with the name and date and date of birth and married and children and everything. They made lists, and those lists were prepared, it must have been a week or a few days before, maybe over a week before, and anybody over the age of 15 was on that list, but only men, in Berlin they only took men, in Poland they took whole families, and also the age difference, they didn’t like in Berlin, so in Berlin they only took the men over 15, so in the night or early morning, it was still dark, of 28th October, the police knocked at the door and asked for my father to come to the police station, and from there they went to an assembly place and then they went in lorries and were taken to the Polish border and at night they were pushed over the Polish border by foot into Polish territory and there the Poles stopped them and interned them, well not interned them but assembled them all into one place called Zbonszyn and in German called Neu Bentschen and this is where they stayed for about six months. And so there was just my mother, my sister and myself left, and when I woke up my mother told me “Father has been taken away.” .....so the minute we heard that I went into, not hiding, I went into, to stay with my father’s cousins across the road because we lived on Brunnenstrasse already but they were still in Fehrbellinerstrasse, around the corner, because they had Turkish nationality. They did arrest people in the street as well, asking for papers. My luck was that I was 15 on 27thOctober, and the list was older than that, so I wasn’t on the list so they didn’t take me. It was all beshert.