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Salman Stemmer

Arrived in Britain:
Place of Birth:
16 May 1939
Interview number:


Dr Rosalyn Livshin

Date of Interview:

Interview Summary:

Salman Stemmer was born in Nuremberg, Germany in 1916. His father was from Osviencin and was a Bobover Chossid. He was a watchmaker and was married 4 times. He had 3 children from the first marriage, 2 from the second, then married his deceased wife’s sister and had 8 children and then married the 3rd sister. His father was from a large family and many perished in the Holocaust. During the First World War the family moved to Holland to avoid army service and then came to Germany, to Worms after the war, where his father had a watch making shop. Worms was a religious community but the Bobover Rebbe wanted the family to stay there to be a port of call for frum people. His father hired a private melamed to live with them and teach the children and in return he learnt watch making. He also taught another student who brought kosher food with him each week for the family. His father lost a court case not to send his children to school on Shabbos and they use to have to go and sit in class but not write. Salman and his siblings got on very well with the non-Jewish children at school. They were good football players and were popular. When his mother died in 1929 the family moved to Frankfurt to be able to say Kaddish because there was no daily minyan in Worms. Salman attended the Moshe Shneider Yeshivah in Frankfurt and then the Breuer Yeshivah. They lived in Rechneigrabenstrasse. 

In 1933 a family friend had his beard cut off in the street. He brought the culprits to court and the case was dismissed because it was quite understandable for someone to want to cut off a filthy Jewish beard. Salmon’s father decided to leave and the family went to a married son in Strasbourg but they were not allowed to stay. After a few months they went to Paris, where Salman’s father worked for antique shops. Salman learnt to take trousers on sewing machines at home. They lived near the Pletzl and then in rue Vieux de Temple. He attended Hapoel Mizrachi and Hasomer Hazair and decided he wanted to emigrate to Israel. His father decided the whole family would go and through a guise of having a lot of money in the bank he was allowed to emigrate as a capitalist. His son Yisroel went to take part in the Maccabiada and stayed. Salman could not go with because he was then over 18. Then the Yugoslav King was killed in France in October 1934 and all non-French citizens were ordered to leave within 48 hours. Salman and his cousin, Schachne, became stateless. They dressed like scouts and hitchhiked to the Italian border. They crossed this at night climbing a mountain and they then walked towards Triest, via Brescia, where they picked peaches, and Venice where the Zionist organisation gave them a train ticket to Trieste. There he caught sunstroke and ended up in hospital. 

Salman passed a medical to join the crew of the ship Tel Aviv and was given the job of carrying coal to the servers of the furnace. He had to work for three months before getting a short pass onto shore in sochnut. There he jumped ship but was made by the Sochnut to return. Now he had to wash dishes on ship and he applied for a certificate to land legally. On a visit to Trieste he met his brother and was persuaded to go with him to Poland to Bochnia to help with the goose feather business. He hated it and returned to Trieste was not given his old job back on board ship. He sold materials door-to-door but was then picked up by the police and put in prison for 2 weeks. He was sent from there to Yugoslavia to Zagreb and he approached the Zionists and joined a Kibbutz Hachshara at Poderavska Slatina. His father told him to leave and go to Senta, where there was a frum community, whilst he got a permit for him to come to Palestine in return for being Chazan in a shul in Jerusalem. Salman stayed with a frum family there and then sailed from Varna in Burgaria to Palestine. 

In Jerusalem he joined his brother Shmuel as a whitewasher of walls when everyone changed flats each year during the Mucharem before Pesach. He and his brother then started a business selling to shopkeepers watches and diamonds bought from emigrants. He lived opposite Moshe Ludnir and they introduced him to Moshe’s wife’s sister, Ruchama. They married in 1940. They went to live in Tel Aviv for a short time and then returned to Jerusalem in 1941. Salman peddled lottery tickets and sold gas masks and then became a photographer. He would visit the 3 holiday places of Motza, Kiryat Anavim and Ma’alei Hachamisha and take photos and he would accompany Ze’ev Vilnayi the travel guide. Eventually he became a travel guide and still took photographs. They lived in poverty in Beit Yisroel and then moved to Rechov Zephania Hanavi. Salman joined the Hagannah and then the army in 1948. Ruchama and his 2 daughters born 1942 and 1946 left for Haifa. After serving in the army for 5 months he got 48 hours leave to visit his family but the journey there took longer than this and he was imprisoned as a deserter. His brother was in charge of the prison and he spent 2 weeks playing poker. He was 1 year in the army and Ruchama used to run the business when he did miluim. 


Full Interview


[Pre-war years] With the non-Jewish children? Fantastic. We had… First of all, my brothers and myself, we used to play football. Very good in football. And in the area where we used to live, we had a little group. We were the main players in the group. All my brothers. Very good. One of my brothers later became an international Israeli football player.

My father had a shop not far from the centre and people used to bring watches. Or, even later a little bit, my brother used to travel around the villages around Worms. There was a system that you can pay the town clerk going with a bell around the village: ‘There is a watchmaker- If you have watches to repair, bring them to this and this restaurant.’ He used to collect them, take them home to my father- he used to repair the watches. My brother used to go back, give them back and collect the money. So he was repairing watches not only for Worms. It was for the whole area.

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