We lived in Germany. My father was arrested on Kristallnacht. I was at school when the Gestapo came for him. They were arresting mostly Jewish men. Someone told my father to flee, so he went to railroad station, but the Gestapo was there so he went to another railroad station. The Gestapo was there too, so he came back home. While he was working, collecting garbage, he was picked up. My mother watched out the window and saw this happen.
My mother went to the rabbi for help. She asked for his advice about going to the Gestapo to try to get my father released. He told her not to go, it was too dangerous, but she went anyway. She told the Nazi she wanted her husband back from Sachsenhausen. She told him she was Jewish and had two children, then she left my father’s WWI medals there on the table. He said he couldn’t tell her when, but that she could expect him home soon, but he would have to leave Germany.
He came home on January 6th or 7th, 1939. My mother put in a request for me to go the Isle of Mann in England. My sister and I were to go on the Kindertransport to England. Our mother was to be a maid. I was 9 years old, my sister Anna was 7 years old. I cried for days. I didn’t want to be separated from my parents.
My family found out that we could all go together to Shanghai, China. My father’s parents, an uncle and three brothers were in Sachsenhausen, as well as my mother’s brother. There was money in the house, so my grandmother’s sister, Hedwig Levine, bought tickets for us to go to Shanghai. The six of us were to leave on May 31, 1939, on the Counta Beyonka Mano ship. My mother had American family who sent money to help us. They sent $200.
The invasion of Poland trapped us in Germany. A curfew kept the Jews there like hostages. Father had to report everyday to the Gestapo at 6 pm. If he didn’t report, he would be picked up and sent to a concentration camp. There was slave labor, working building new streets, barracks and cutting the winter cut ice on the river. Germany and Russia started friendship, through Siberia throughout the trans-Siberian railroad.
That year in Germany there were no proper rations, there was limited food. If you were Jewish, you had to lie. You would say you lost your ration tickets when asked. We were able to get some fish without the ration cards for eight or nine months. It was left for us in the early morning in the yard by a trustworthy man, and then I was sent to pay him for it. No one was to know. Word was not to be spread about this in the market.
My father was a slave laborer. He used to receive sixteen marks in a paper bag, this was not enough to live on. The building we lived in was taken by the Nazis; we received help from a Jewish organization. They paid for the rent, and took care of the Jewish cemetery. My sister and I were only allowed to play in the Jewish cemetery. We wanted to know why Hitler hated us so much.
My mother had to travel to Berlin every couple of days in order to get the proper documents for us to travel to China. She was able to get the Russian visas, but the visa for the rest of the Soviet Union, Manchuria and Japan had to come from the consulates in Hamburg. Mother traveled a great deal to secure the proper documents to allow us to travel and enter China.
We were allowed to go on the regular German express train, we boarded at exactly midnight. That day was horrible. Our luggage was limited to 7 kilo (14 lbs) per person. Then we had to take food with us to eat until the Moscow station, because we were not allowed in the German dining car.
The train left from Germany to Lithuania. We were required to get off in Radvillishky, Lithuania by the Soviets. There were Jewish people there who wanted to help us. The Gestapo came on the train at the border. They demanded to know if we had anything to declare. They found money, and took it from us, 20 deutschmark. He said it would be part of our Jewish pension.
My parents, my sister Anna and I arrived in Shanghai on September 14, 1940. We lived in a bombed out part of Shanghai. This later became the Shanghai ghetto. My uncle set up resale business. We felt free. The Nazis were friendly for a time. They were nice in the beginning since we were European. Shanghai was controlled by the British.
In December, 1941, after Pearl Harbor, the war came to Shanghai. The British were shooting at Japanese ships in the harbor. It was terrible at night. The Japanese took over the whole city of Shanghai. We were surrounded on all sides.
Orders were given that all European Jews, Germans and Austrians, had to register at the Jewish congregation. We had to get papers, from the Japanese, so they would find out how many refugees were there. It was very hot in summer, typhoid, and cholera were prevalent. Many people died.
In 1942, each person received five Chinese dollars per month, and three meals a day. This was set up by a Jewish organization to help us. We picked up cooked meals. The money originally didn’t matter. As the war progressed, nothing was free anymore. We were lucky if we had dinner. People begged for food and money. They wore sack clothes and had boils on their bodies. We used pots for bathroom facilities. We suffered an awful lot. My uncle, in the resale business, was well off. Inflation came, and we lived for two years, on dry bread and tea. Our family was split, the richer ones didn’t help the poorer ones. I learned a trade, I worked in a bakery.
In China, we did not feel anti-Semitism like in Europe. Things were bad; we had to wear our passports so they would show. We were not walled in, but could not go across the street. We had to stay on this side of the street, in our area, if we were caught outside our area, we could be arrested.
I had a special pass; my school was outside of the ghetto. The Japanese never stopped us. The pass was good for anything, even to get food, I was never checked. There were 100,000 Chinese living in the ghetto, a few thousand Russians and other foreigners, and 20,000-25,000 Jews. The population did not decline while we were there.
In 1945, it was announced that the war was over. The Chinese were so happy, they walked out onto the streets, and lights were on everywhere. There were rumors that the Russians had arrived, and the Japanese had surrendered. That same day, American troops landed, both the navy and the air force were there. They came into the ghetto and brought us food. The food was so good in the k and c rations, like the big cans of ripe potatoes.
My immediate family wanted to go to the USA. Some extended family members went back to Germany. We had to register at the American consulate. There was a German and Austrian quota, so we were investigated before being given permission to go to the United States.
We arrived in San Francisco in May, 1948, the same day that Israel became independent. We were so excited to be in San Francisco that the significance of Israel’s independence didn’t register, I was so happy to be in America. It felt like I was in paradise, everything was so cheap, my, what you could buy for a dollar.
I had to do the talking to HIAS. My father wanted to go to New York, but the quota was full. We could not stay in San Francisco because we would lose all financial help. We wanted to be in a big city, many were unavailable. Detroit was the motor capital of the world, we were told we would like it here, and there were jobs available so we came here. There were three or four other families who also came here. I was 18 years old.
I worked for Hudson motor car company until I was drafted during the Korean War in 1951. During a big thunderstorm, I was so scared I had to see a psychiatrist. It reminded me of the bombs during the war. The memories were difficult to deal with.
After the army, I returned to work at the Hudson motor car company. I then secured a job at the Dodge main plant and worked there until my father died, and I was laid off. I was hoping to go back to work there, because I had to help take care of my mother. At that point I switched careers and became a candy maker at a Sanders Candy Shop.
I never married, mother wanted me to marry a German, Jewish girl. My mother sabotaged my relationships. I took care of her. I wanted to see my sister have children and grandchildren. Her grandchildren treat me like a grandfather.
In China, I just wanted to be an American. Deep down, I felt America was the right place for me. I have never been called “Jew” in America. No anti-Semitism, no comparison.