When I tell people that I left Berlin in July 1941, they find it hard to believe. So late? How did you get out? Did you have to flee? And I explain that I left Germany legally and that I went to America on probably the second to last ship that crossed the Atlantic Ocean.
I tell my story often. I show a holocaust power point presentation to adults and to children, often in Catholic schools. My story goes like this: I was born in Lichterfelde in 1930. My parents and I moved to Brückenallee 13 in 1935. My father, who was a dentist, had the foresight to start trying to get out of Germany about 1937. It took 4 years to get the proper papers, both for permission to leave and for permission to enter the United States. When I tell this I usually mention how strange it was that the Nazis wanted so badly to rid the earth of all the Jews, yet still made it so difficult for them to get out.
Many Jews had left Germany by 1937, and many of those who were still there were killed in concentration camps. So it’s up to me to describe what life was like, at least until July 1941. I tell how my school, “Private Volksschule der Jüdischen Gemeinde, in der Klopstockstraße”, was closed when the synagogue it was attached to was burned during Kristallnacht. After that I had to go to school at Siegmundshof 11. I talk about the problems we had when signs went up all over forbidding Jews to enter. I tell them how my girlfriend and I sneaked in to watch a Shirley Temple movie, even though it said “Keine Juden erlaubt” on the theater. And how our parents warned us that we had done a very dangerous thing.
At one point I talk about how all Jews had to take middle names, all men Israel, all women Sara, and how I watched an SS man poke my grandmother with a stick and called her a Schweinehund, dirty swine, a filthy Jew, because she forgot to sign Sara on some official paper. That was something that, witnessing it as a 9-year-old, I’ll never forget. I tell people how my mother was allowed to shop for groceries only during a few afternoon hours, when most of the food was gone. But I also mention how the shop owner saved food for us. And how the beauty shop owner told my mother to come in the back door, when the sign forbidding Jews to come in was put up. And how the local policeman went into the ice cream store to get me an ice cream cone.
I usually show my father’s sign that said “Nur für Jüdische Patienten”. I tell them that when I walked from the Brückenallee where I lived to the Flensburger Straße, where my grandmother lived, older kids would throw stones at me and call me dirty Jew, and tell me to stay off their street. I show pictures of my grandmother, my aunts and uncles, and my best friends, Hanni Rosenthal and Lilo Springmann. All of whom were murdered, some only 4 months after I left, in Auschwitz, Majdanek, Riga and Minsk. But my parents and I made it. We escaped. Now, at age 85, I feel it is my duty to tell my story, since there are not that many survivors left. And soon there won’t be any.
And I still think often about the schoolfriends I left behind: Marianne Loebel, Ruth Ginsberg, Dagmar Blumenthal, Eva Gusinow, Ursel Zander, Geron Puterflam, Helga Goldberg, Vera Goldberg, Kurt Bogner, Ruth Gerstel, Eva Wachsmann, Rahel Schlesinger, Judith Gescheit, Doris Kaplan, Ellen Behrendt, Hella Mercuse, Rita Blank.
And the teachers, Willi Gottfeld, Hildegard Perli, Dr. Sonnerstädter, Frl. Elizabeth Nehab, Dr. Rosenberg, Herr Konigsberger, Erich Bandmann, and my father’s dental helper, Inge Walter.
They were still there the day I left. Did any of them survive? Probably not.