Sabine Geiringer

"My children and grandchildren gave me such joy, and I would encourage future generations to stay close to their families. Since I was not able to have a formal education after the age of fifteen, I encourage everyone to take advantage of their educational opportunities."

Name at birth
Sabine Kleinfinger
Date of birth
Where were you born?
Where did you grow up?
Berlin, Germany
Name of father, occupation
Solomon Kleinfinger, Shoe maker
Maiden name of mother, occupation
Rachel Melinger, Seamstress
Immediate family (names, birth order)
My parents and me. I was an only child
How many in entire extended family?
Large extended family
Who survived the Holocaust?
Uncle Heini Oinkus and my cousin Hilda; Henny Flaumenhaft; Henry Haltrecht; Hannah, Sabine, Judith and Lotte Schiffman; Uncle Elias Melinger and Aunt Fanny Flaumenhaft and their son Gideon and me
(Told to her daughter, Rita Geiringer, in early 1990) 
I was born in Berlin, Germany on February 27, 1924, as Sabine Kleinfinger.  I was an only child.  My mother, Rachel Kleinfinger, was always called Rosa.  Her maiden name was Melinger, and she was born in Tarnow, Galicia, Poland on October 5, 1896 but moved to Berlin and worked as a seamstress.  My father, Solomon Kleinfinger, was born in Warsaw, Galicia, Poland on April 15, 1895.   
My father had a very large family, 10 siblings in all, and all of them were born in Warsaw, Poland.  He worked as a craftsman, manufacturing uppers for shoes.  I think his siblings sort of disowned him because he was just a shoemaker whereas they were professional people – teachers and lawyers. Every one of them looked down on him because of his trade, and they didn’t have anything to with him, including his father, who was mad at him for ‘marrying beneath’ him.  They never corresponded with each other, and he never heard from them.  So I never knew any of their names or what happened to them.  When I was two and my father was almost 30, he died of an unknown illness (unknown to me) at the end of March 1926.   
Solomon did have two cousins who used to visit us in Berlin and were quite friendly with my mother long after my father had died, but I don’t remember their names or much about them.  One Sunday when I was about 13, they went to my cousin’s house and asked to visit me only but not my mother.  My mother said absolutely no; they would have to see both of us.  They relented and visited for only an hour.  I remember we drove them back to the station so they could return to Poland.  That was the only time I had any relationship with those aunts and uncles.  I assume they all perished in the concentration camps.   
After my father died, my mother was alone and lived all the time with my grandparents.  My grandmother on my mother’s side, Channa, was born in Tarnow, Poland on October 15,1866.  I have good memories of her, although she was a lot like my mother – very overprotective.  Channa was married to Yisrael Melinger who was also born in Tarnow, Poland on August 15,1861.  He was very Orthodox, spending most of his time at services or davening in a corner at home and at shul as a Shames or caretaker but with no pay.  As far as religion went, the next generation still followed the traditions but not as much – they didn’t observe all the food laws.  And then the third generation – well, we didn’t believe in anything, although I did enjoy Pesach and Purim.  I didn’t have to go to Sunday School since I went to a Jewish School starting from when I was young, and I learned more in that school than in any Sunday School.  I didn’t believe in G-d.  I went to the synagogue occasionally, but it was never meaningful to me.  My mother didn’t observe very much.  Yet, when the holidays came, she’d get all dressed up and sometimes go to services.  And at my house, Friday night was so festive.  My grandmother would go to services and would set the table so beautifully with her white tablecloth and the good dishes, and we’d light the candles.  And we weren’t allowed to do anything like turn on the lights or even write until Sunday.  So, it just gave you a special feeling, which I liked a lot. 
My grandparents had twelve children – nine girls and three boys, but two girls and one boy died when they were very tiny.  So I had tons of cousins, but unfortunately most of them were killed in the concentration camps.  Both grandparents decided to move to Germany because of the anti-Semitism in Poland.  At the time, Germany was friendlier towards Jews and there were better opportunities there.  While there, my father met and married my mother.  They were never married in a civil ceremony – just a Jewish one, so my father was always considered ‘stateless’ by Germany.  When the Nazis took over they refused to let them go by the name Melinger, but instead they had to assume the Flaumenhaft name, which was my grandmother’s last name. 
I’m pretty sure we always lived with my grandparents because my father hardly worked, and it was during the depression.  My mother worked for the oldest uncle, Samuel. and that’s how we survived.  We always had food but overall were barely getting by.  That’s why we all had to live together in a two-bedroom apartment, consisting of my grandparents, my mom, Aunt Selma, Uncle Nathan, and their kids Harry and Ruth. 
My grandmother owned a small shop.  As soon as the older children were able, they dropped out of school to help at the shop and to watch over the younger ones.  Consequently, none of the children received a decent school education.  Many of my uncles were in the tailoring business, and my mother, who worked as a seamstress, worked many hours and was hardly ever home, but I have fond memories of my grandmother taking care of me.  My grandmother, I believe, died of natural causes probably a year after I left Germany, although Yad Vashem records show my grandmother died in a camp.  My grandfather had hardening of the arteries, and was hospitalized and died shortly after, on February 18, 1938.  
I always went to a Jewish school and received an excellent education there.  We learned a lot about the Bible and the history of the Jewish people.  At home I always enjoyed the Jewish rituals, including the lighting of candles and the festivals, because it kept our family together and gave meaning to life.  I loved the holidays, especially Pesach and Purim.  All the relatives came to our home for the annual Seders, and I loved having everyone there.  I always looked forward to Friday nights because they were so festive.   We would light the candles and sing songs.  My grandmother would set the table so beautifully and then we would all go to services.  We would do nothing more until Sunday, not even turn on lights or write.  It gave me such a special feeling.   
My mother and grandmother and I were living together right up to the end.  When my father was still alive, the three of us lived in a small two-bedroom apartment along with my grandparents, two uncles, and an aunt. After my father and grandfather had already died, we moved in with another family, Aunt Selma, and Uncle Nathan Jakubowitz and their two children, Harry, and Ruth.  So, there were four of them plus my grandparents, my mother and me, and my Aunt Marie and Uncle Elle, both unmarried.  Ten people living together like that was both good and bad.  Living in such close quarters I think I was jealous – watching my uncle play all the time with his kids was hard, although he often tried to include me.  My mother spoiled me like crazy, I guess because she didn’t have anyone else.   
As far as religious observances, my grandfather was extremely orthodox; the next generation was still observant and went to services for the holidays, but their homes weren’t quite as kosher anymore.  And then our generation mostly got away from being religious.  We believed we were righteous and enlightened, and religion was not up to us. 
Once Hitler came into power in 1933, our lives changed drastically, and things got worse and worse.  If you were Jewish, you had to wear yellow stars on your clothing.  Non-Jews would chase and tease me endlessly.  I remember one boy stuck his foot out and tripped me just because I was Jewish, and my leg was badly injured.  Everything was forbidden for Jews.  We couldn’t even sit down on a park bench.  Before the Nazis came, all the public pools offered swimming lessons to everyone, but afterwards the signs went up, “JEWS NOT ALLOWED,” so I never learned how to swim. 
One evening when I was 13 or 14, the Nazis came in the middle of the night.  The windows of every store owned by Jews were broken and the stores ransacked.  It had been organized by Hitler and was called “Kristallnacht,” which translates to Crystal Night or Night of Broken Glass.  Overnight all the shop windows belonging to Jewish store owners were smashed and the stores ransacked.  The Nazis set synagogues on fire and murdered about 100 Jews.  Jewish men were arrested and ended up in concentration camps.  It was terrifying.  We were all sleeping, and they came pounding on our door.  The Gestapo came and rounded up all Jewish males of Polish descent to deport them back to Poland.  They picked up all my uncles and sent them to Poland.  I remember my grandmother sat up quickly in bed and fell backward unconscious, having suffered a small stroke.  I was so frightened, especially when my mother started talking back to the Gestapo and arguing with them.  I thought for sure they would take her, too!  She kept saying, “Why? Just because we’re Jewish?  We’ve done nothing!”  
I was terrified; Thank G-d they left her alone, but they ended up deporting all my uncles. And that’s how it was. One of my aunts hated being alone with her little boy after her husband had been taken, and asked if I would come live with her.  I stayed for a few nights, but I was just too terrified to sleep and had to leave a few days later.  And after that Jews couldn’t own stores anymore and everything was taken away from everyone.  I think it may have been 1938 when I was about fourteen. 
At that time, if you were Jewish and had returned to Poland you were considered a Polish citizen.  My mother hadn’t been back in many years, and the Germans didn’t consider Jewish Germans as ‘German,’ Instead, they were considered stateless or without citizenship, and thankfully the Gestapo only deported people of Polish citizenship. 
Then, in 1939, we learned that someone from England had organized a train called the Kindertransport to take Jewish children far away from the Nazis to Israel.  We didn’t all go; I decided I wasn’t a Zionist anymore and that I didn’t want to go after all.  Eventually I was just very lucky because somehow I got out through a children’s transport to Scotland.  It was all handled through the Jewish community in England.  The Jews wanting to leave Germany had to have a sponsor from another country.  They found a sponsor for me, but not for my mother and grandmother, and they were forced to stay behind.  I remember both taking me to the train station.  I left when I was fifteen, just before the war broke out in 1939.  As I stood waiting to board the train, I remember my mother sobbing.  Then, shortly after, I started to cry and couldn’t stop.  I cried my heart out because somehow, I knew I would never see her again.  Leaving my mother behind was terribly traumatic.  She had lost her husband not long after they were married and now, I was everything she had.  My mother overdid things, like wanting to be with me all the time and being too afraid to let me learn how to ride a bike or roller skate.  To this day I blame her for being overprotective and not having me learn even how to bike ride.  But even so, that morning at the train station I remember how upset I was.  Once on the train I couldn’t stop crying, and it seemed like I was the only one doing so.  The other kids were all standing around talking to each other. 
The passengers on that train were all Jewish refugee children from Germany, Austria, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia.  The Kindertransport took us to Whittingham Farm School, a huge school in East Lothian, Scotland.  I was a pupil there from 1939 to 1941 until I was seventeen.  During that time, I attended classes in Hebrew and English as well as general school subjects.  I was a very good pupil and made excellent progress in my schoolwork.  I also took part in practical training in agriculture, as well as doing sewing, cooking, and laundry work.  We lived in a huge castle - a beautiful school in the country that had been donated by a nobleman, Lord Chiprane, who was the nephew of Lord Balfour.  He was known for his work in giving aid to the Jewish population.  During the war they couldn’t afford to keep up the big estates by hiring help, so Lord Chiprane donated this castle to the Jewish organization that brought the children over, with the understanding that they would be housed there.  The children had to keep the building up and work the land.  We did everything!   
Overall, we were treated very well.  This was a Jewish organization that had brought the children over, made up of all Jewish adults from all different countries.  We spent half the day in school and the other half of the day working.  Just before the war broke out, my cousin (name unknown) joined me and we lived on a farm where we were trained as if we lived on a Kibbutz in Israel.   
To my horror, my cousin was picked up one day and deported to Poland where she perished along with her family.  By that time, German Jews were dying in German concentration camps and Polish Jews were being shipped to camps in Poland.  I remember that later on that day, the Training Director approached me to advise me it was lunchtime and that I should go to the dining room to eat. I was so relieved because I knew then that I was getting out – that I was safe!   
So, I was in Scotland for two years; from age 15 to 17.  I missed my mother and my family very much; in fact, one time a girlfriend and I went to look at list after list of those that perished in the camps, but I never found my mother’s name.  Not even since that time – I have never received any paperwork telling me they died in the camps.  
But I was happy living in Scotland.  It was in the country and was just beautiful. Little by little you adjust, and I think it is easier the younger you are.  Then the camp was dissolved, and homes were found for all the children.  I guess they thought we were old enough to be on our own.  So, after two years in Scotland, I was seventeen with no training and the entire Jewish community in England was running a home for young, Jewish people.  They arranged transport for me to someplace in London where I became part of the cleaning staff.  They were running a home for young Jewish people there and, at 17, I ended up working in a Jewish home cleaning and washing dishes, and following that, I took various jobs.  Because of the war we were required to do something to help the war efforts.  I ended up working in a factory making uniforms.  It was very dull, routine work.  My meager salary went for monthly rent and buying books, due to my lifelong love of reading.  I lived in England from 1939 to 1947. 
One day my friends and I wandered off and met a Jewish family who took a special interest in me.  They felt so bad for my mother, since she was a widow and unable to leave Germany.  They decided to become her sponsor.  The only way this would work is if she came over as a maid, but she was more than glad to do so.  Proceedings were started and I was able to receive letters from her for several months through the Red Cross.  She wrote that she had filled out all the forms, passed the required test, and was close to escaping.  Then the war broke out in September of 1939 and the mail stopped, and it was too late.  I never heard from her again.    
After my uncles were deported, my grandmother Channa, who never learned to write, had me write her portion of any letters she sent out. Then when I left Germany, Channa dictated her letters for me to my mom, Rachel.  I remember that at one point I suddenly didn't hear from Channa anymore and my mother told me she had died of natural causes.  At that point I had no idea what had happened to any of my other relatives.  Later on in London, lists of the deceased were distributed.  Even then I didn’t find my mother’s name, but finally a relative had overheard that my mother was deported to Auschwitz and was killed on February 19, 1943, in the camps.  The one piece of good news I had was that she had remarried while in the concentration camp.  Many of my aunts, uncles, and cousins perished in the Holocaust.  The list of what happened to all my aunts and uncles is at the end of my story.   
The London government required everyone to do something to help the war effort.  In one of the jobs I had I worked as a nurse in a hospital that was nearly destroyed by a raid.  The hospital managed to remain open, and at one time I was assigned to the Tuberculosis Sanatorium, where no precautions to prevent the spread of the disease were taken by patients or staff.  The war ended in 1945, one week after Hitler committed suicide.  Polish and Russian allies were able to overtake Berlin. 
During that time, in 1942, I met dad, Rudoph Geiringer, who had been working as a waiter.  My friends and I had gone to the matinee and then for dinner to a club for Hungarian Jewish refugees.  A tall, very handsome man was sitting at another table with another man and kept staring at me, and eventually they followed us out the door.  Then Rudy and I began dating and saw each other all the time.  He had all kinds of odd jobs; an office job during the day and at night he worked in a coffee house.  I remember we had a lot in common and I was very happy with him.  Soon after, on September 23, 1942 when he was 23 and I was 20, we were married in London.  I was so young and hadn’t known him for six months.  
Once Rudy and I were married I found myself a job sewing furs at Ceresnie Furs until Eva was born in 1949.  Rita followed in 1951, and after that when we bought our house in Detroit on Archdale. Steve was born in 1953.  By 1958, I had developed terrible varicose veins and went to Ann Arbor, Michigan to have them removed.  There they found something suspicious on my lung.  Tests taken at Herman Kiefer Hospital were positive, and at 34 I was diagnosed with tuberculosis.  It was devastating for me.  Although Rudy and the children came every Sunday, Rudy was the only visitor allowed near me and I had to wave at my children from far away.  Steve hadn’t even started kindergarten.  Although the recovery time was normally one year, Rudy’s uncle in Israel was a doctor and wrote such an impressive letter that they released me after six months. When I had you kids, well, that was very exciting for me.  To me, you kids were the highlight of my life! 
This is what happened to my aunts and uncles: 
  • My younger uncle, Uncle Elias Melinger, never married until maybe a year before the war broke out.  He married Aunt Fanny Flaumenhaft late in life, just before leaving Germany for Israel.  They had a little boy Gideon, but then Fanny became very ill and they returned to Germany.  She was hospitalized for some time and Gideon moved in with me and my family.  He was two and I was about 10 or 11.  My aunt and uncle died of natural causes.  Their son Elle is doing extremely well in Israel and is in charge of the country’s whole travel system! 
  • Uncle Gustaf Schiffmann and Aunt Regina died in the camps, but their three children survived. 
  • Uncle Heini Pinkus and Aunt Hedwig had a daughter, Hilda, and son Alfred.  Both aunt and uncle and Hilda’s younger brothers perished in the camps.  Hilda got out in 1936, one year before I escaped.  She lives in Florida with her children Garth and Heddy.   
  • Aunt Marie (I don’t know her last name) never married and I’m not sure when she died. 
  • Uncle Max Ganger and Aunt Paula had four children, Joseph, Ruth, Sonia, and Leah.  She married very late in life.  All perished in the camps. 
  • Uncle Nathan Jakubowitz and Aunt Selma and their kids, Harry and Ruth, perished. 
  • Uncle Nathan Haltrecht and Aunt Lottie Melinger, along with their daughter Henny perished in the camps, but their son Henry survived and went to England.  Henry’s three kids are all here – Laurie, Monica, and Norman. 
  • Uncle Samuel Flaumenhaft, (born in 1890 and murdered in 1942), and Aunt Giselle and their sons Leo and Paul perished in the camps, but daughter Henny somehow survived the concentration camps.  She was quite sick with tuberculosis of the spine and was in a body cast.  But she met a man, Heine Adler, in the camp who was so sweet to her that he often saved rations of food for her.  They ended up marrying and she became Mrs. Adler, and lives in New York.  She has three children that I think live in the Boston area. 
Where did you go after being liberated?
After escaping Berlin in 1939 on the Kindertransport, I went to Whittingham, a school in Scotland for Jewish refugee children.
When did you come to the United States?
I came in 1941
Where did you settle?
My husband Rudolf Geiringer and I came to Michigan in 1947 and lived with his parents in a small apartment in Detroit.
How is it that you came to Michigan?
My husband’s parents had settled in Detroit, Michigan, and we ended up there as well.
Occupation after the war
I sewed furs at Ceresnie Furs
When and where were you married?
1944 in London, England
Rudolf Geiringer, Traveling salesman of men’s suits and ties
Eva, Rita, and Steven
Four: Michelle and Leah Kosakowski, David Geiringer, and Jeffrey Geiringer
What do you think helped you to survive?
I survived because I was able to escape on the Kindertransport.
What message would you like to leave for future generations?
My children and grandchildren gave me such joy, and I would encourage future generations to stay close to their families. Since I was not able to have a formal education after the age of fifteen, I encourage everyone to take advantage of their educational opportunities.
Charles Silow
Interview date:

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