I was born in my grandmother’s apartment in France. The apartment was large enough to accommodate my mother, Meta Wormser, and my father, Arthur Wormser, as they were relatively newlyweds (July 14, 1934).
My father was a sales representative for a tools and die company located in Germany known as Comet. Shortly after my birth my dad was drafted into the French military and served in a near town called Khel on the Rhine River. While on guard at the Rhine his battalion was captured by the Germans and he was sent to a labor camp in the town of Dessau.
After a period of time when is became evident that Germany was going to occupy France, my mother, my grandmother, Caroline Wormser, and two of my aunts (Alice and Adeline) moved to the center of France (Massif Central; Auvergne) in a fairly large town called Clermont-Ferrand.
We had a lovely apartment in a high rise (on the sixth floor and had a view or gardens on one side and of the city and its cathedral on the other side (also a wonderful view of the mountain known as the Puy-de-Dome). I attended kindergarten and elementary school in the town of Clermont-Ferrand – I do not recall the name of the kindergarten school, but I recall the elementary school (Ecole Place des Salins) as I sensed some degree of anti-Semitism – being kicked around and penalized unjustly by teachers.
One night I was sitting at the kitchen table in our apartment doing my homework and there was a knock at the door. As it was rather late, my mother shut all of the lights and told everyone to be perfectly still and quiet. An envelope containing official Gestapo documents was slipped under the door and as I recall it was a notice to report to the German/Gestapo headquarters the following morning with all of our identity paper (which of course identified as Juif (Jews).
My uncle Arthur Levy who was married to my aunt Adeline packed all of us into his car and we drove out of town into the mountains and countryside – where we settled in a small village called Sayat. He had made contact with people who were willing to hide us in a storage shed without a floor and without running water.
However, right outside the little house/shed there was a large fountain where farmer brought their horses to drink. The people who owned that storage house had a laundering facility and a large farm close by. I do not remember going to school in Sayat, but I recall having to attend catechism on Sundays and participating in catholic parades through the small street of the village.
One day we were warned that German troops were about to drive through the village and our protectors led us to their farm and asked us to pick cherries in the back of the farm until the German troops had left the village. Although there were a lot of German sympathizers and collaborators in France, the people in small villages and towns despised the Germans, they referred to them as the Boches.
I forgot to mention that Clermont-Ferrand was located only a short distance from Vichy which was the seas of the Petain government which of course was sympathetic to Hitler’s plan. Clermont-Ferrand was also the home of the Michelin plant that manufactured tires for the Wermacht. In 1944 that plant was bombed by the British and we could see the flames burning for days.
After the liberation, we returned to our apartment and waited for the return of my father from the labor camp in Dessau. We found out that many of our close friends had followed the order of the Gestapo and were never to be seen after their initial appointment. I credit my mother and my uncle for their foresight and their disregard for the German orders.
My aunt Alice registered me in the Lycee Blaise Pascal in Clermont-Ferrand where I was able to continue my schooling. My father was liberated from the Dessau work camp by the American soldiers and fortunately was able to rejoin us after the war. As his company had been destroyed by bombs, he looked at alternative work. He and a friend joined in a partnership to sell trade clothing to bakers and butchers in small locations throughout Auvergne where shopping was either impossible or inconvenient. This new venture proved to be quite successful, but ended suddenly when his partner, Mr. Hayum, died.
At this point a decision was made to emigrate to America as my mother’s family lived there, they had left Germany before the United States decided to stop accepting refugees from European countries. We crossed the Atlantic Ocean on the Queen Elizabeth ship and landed in New York City in June of 1953.
My uncle Joe Schwartz, my mother’s brother, picked us up and drove us to his home, a chicken farm, in Vineland New Jersey. I recall eating my first hamburger in a Howard Johnson on the New Jersey turnpike. We resided a few weeks at my uncle and aunt, Gerda Schwartz, and then moved into an apartment in a house owned by a very nice and accommodating gentleman known as Harry D’Ippolito.
We all got jobs to support ourselves – my dad worked several months in a kosher hotel in Atlantic City owned by the Teplitzy family and because he was a “greenhorn” and was not fluent in English was given all of the menial jobs such as washing dishes, collecting and taking out the trash, etc.
He subsequently got in job in Vineland, New Jersey in a cannery specializing in Italian food (Venice Made). My mother worked as a seamstress in a clothing factory located within walking distance from our 6th St. apartment. I worked in several chicken farms helping to feed, water and collect the eggs of the chickens and in September after Labor Day, I attended Vineland High School as a junior and graduated from that school in 1955.
Just about at that time my father and mother purchased a chicken farm in Vineland and were now in their own home for the first time in their lives (the area in question has now very few farms and consists of residential homes).
In the fall of 1955 I registered as a university student at Temple University School of Pharmacy in Philadelphia, PA and after four years of study became a registered pharmacist in 1959-1960. After graduation I decided to pursue a master’s degree in Medicinal Chemistry and completed that program in 1961.
While a graduate student at Temple University I met the woman who became my wife (Sandy Meyer). We married while I pursued a PhD program at the University of Wisconsin in the area of natural product identification and synthesis, graduating in 1965. In 1964 we were blessed with a son and in 1967 a daughter. Since 1965 we have resided in Michigan.