We lived on a main thoroughfare in Vienna. After Hitler entered Vienna, we were shocked to find out that my father’s non-Jewish friends were holding Nazi flags and shouting out heil Hitler when he entered Vienna. These were our neighbors, my father played cards with these people.
There were ongoing fanatical attacks on Jews that accompanied the Anschluss, the joining of Austria and Germany.
On Kristallnacht (or “Night of Broken Glass”) November 9, 1938, we heard the breaking glass; the store windows of the Jewish merchants were broken. The next day all the businesses were all boarded up from the broken glass. After two or three days, they took my father and others away. They said it was for police protection. We saw the Jewish men being rounded up. My father was taken out of bed.
Police protection meant that he was taken to Dachau concentration camp. He had a gold chain, watch, wedding band, and money. He received a document stamped with a swastika that stated that these things were taken away from him.
He was at first taken to a school house with other Jewish men. We would go, my mother and I, to see him. My sister remained at home indoors; she had a hard time coping with it. I was 15, she was 17.
Men came to the window at the school but not my father though. After five or six days, we found out that he’s in Dachau.
My mother learned that they had a law that said if men could prove that they served in the First World War, they could be released from Dachau, but they would have to leave Vienna in 24 hours. My mother went to Gestapo headquarters and signed a document that would let them leave; she assumed that it included the children. She later learned it did not include the children, just the parents.
We occupied the whole third floor of the apartment building, Jagerstrasse 19. When the time arrived, there was a truck waiting below. They threw our suitcases down the stairs. The Gestapo held my sister and me from coming down the stairs, my mother was screaming, “Come!” The Gestapo was holding us back from coming down to our parents. The truck downstairs took them away.
We assumed my parents would go straight to Belgium. We all had legal visas to take us there. My mother was held back for a couple of weeks in the woods. My father arrived in Belgium before she did. They lived in Brussels and we would receive letters from my parents.
In the meanwhile, my cousin encouraged me to join a kibbutz (a collective agricultural community) in Austria. A group of Jewish kids would go to the country; we were part of a kibbutz that would hopefully be able to immigrate to Israel. My sister however had no coping skills and wouldn’t leave the apartment.
For the first two, three, four days, we were totally alone. After a few days, our Tante (Aunt) Bashka came to stay with us in the apartment.
Then another couple came, my Tante exchanged something with them, possibly gold. We had gold, diamonds, money hidden around the apartment. My father’s friend came and said that we girls need protecting. He was given money for two or three months. People were being paid saying we would be protected.
I had to quit school. We had to pay a high tuition for the business school I attended. Interestingly, after the war, $380 was awaiting me. The business school sent me money back for my tuition and streetcar fees.
I had a male friend, Mickey Altman, who said to me, “There’s a movie playing, let’s go, they don’t allow Jews, but it’ll be all right.”
I can’t believe I had the guts to go. In the middle of the movie, two Gestapo came in. They got on stage and said “there’s a terrible stink in the theatre, there must be Jews here.” My friend looked Italian and I didn’t look Jewish. But I started to get up; Mickey held me back telling me that it was a trick. Some people left; they were then taken away, maybe later shot.
Then I became afraid. The Gestapo later came back on stage again and said that it was still stinking in the theatre.
I lived in the 20th district; there were gangs of nine, ten year old boys beating up Jews. Mickey was beaten pretty badly with branches.
After that I mostly just went to the park or would stay home during the day. Sometimes I would go to the fields with my kibbutz of the Hashomar Hatzair movement.
Then a Jewish organization came and gave us meals. We went to a building, like a soup kitchen. Because of my own experience, I nowadays volunteer at a soup kitchen. We were allowed to go to the grocery store, between the hours of four and five, but everything had already been picked over, and they raised the prices while we were there.
I had a fairly normal life with my aunt but three people we had to be cut in for “protection.” The only time my sister ventured out was to get a visa. She was shaking, scared, and crying. She spent the rest of the time at home.
We left Vienna, in November or December, 1939 to come to New York. My parents arranged for the tickets. Tragically, my Tante Bashka later perished. She had remained a Polish citizen and was unable to get a visa out of Austria. I was very close to her.
We took the train to Italy. Right before we came to Rome, I had papers that showed I was Jewish; it had a red “J” that stood for Jew or Israelite. On the train to Italy, the Gestapo came on. They ripped my earrings off of my ears; I was bleeding from that. I thought to myself after we arrive in Italy, this will never happen to me again.
The Hebrew Immigration Aid Society (HIAS) picked us up in Italy. They gave my sister and me $3 to pay for the hotel. I didn’t know the language. We were in Italy for two or three weeks. In Rome, we used to join tourists and go on excursions with them saying we were their children. This way we got to see Rome.
We took the boat to America. Somehow, I remember we were seated at the captain’s table. I remember opening the dance, dancing with the captain and how wonderful that was.
We used to receive letters from parents while we were in Vienna, we would write back to them. Unfortunately, my father never made it to America. My parents both lived in Brussels. My father was later imprisoned in a slave labor camp near the border of France and Spain called Perpignan. My mother was hidden in an attic by Christians until the war was over. My father was never heard from again.
I wrote a letter to President Roosevelt to protect the Jews who were leaving Europe. I received a letter back from his office saying not to worry, that they would be safe.
We arrived in America in December, 1939. I was 16 years old. A great-uncle from Michigan, Berel Kraft, met us in New York and later put us on a bus through Canada to come to Detroit. At Buffalo, however, the police came aboard. We had two German passports; they considered us to be Aliens. They took us off the bus; they contacted a Jewish family who took us to Buffalo.
We eventually came to Detroit where we had an aunt who lived in Palmer Park. They owned a big laundry in Highland Park. She said I must go to school during the day and work at night in the laundry. I worked there for three, four weeks. I wanted to do better than that and I didn’t like living with my aunt. I became a nanny, for about two months. I would go to dances at the Jewish Community Center. There were mostly German Jewish refugees there. I met a boy, Arthur Klein who used to play cards with my father in Vienna. I was nice to him in Vienna and we started dating. He said, “I want you to have better. You’ll marry me.” I didn’t marry him though.
In 1946, the Red Cross informed us that our mother was alive but that our father was murdered in Auschwitz. We were reunited with our mother. She discovered that both of her daughters were now wives and mothers.