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Holocaust Survivor Memoirs


JFCS East Bay’s Holocaust Survivor Memoir Writing Group meets regularly to bring survivors together and help them remember and record their stories. We will be gathering some of their pieces here, so that we may never forget.

Childhood in Mannheim
by Ruth Spencer

As far as I can remember, my early childhood in Mannheim was fairly uneventful, neither particularly happy nor unhappy. I remember Oma, my grandmother, taking me with her on a vacation to a big hotel in the midst of pine forests in the Black Forest. It was she who taught me how to spell words and the basics of mathematics during long walks in the woods. I remember afternoons spent in one “Kaffeehaus” or another with my mother or my aunt and their friends. I remember Sundays when Maia* took me along to the garden she and her husband had somewhere in the suburbs. I went to school, had friends and still have the “Poesie Album” every child had at the time, with entries by friends, teachers and family.

Little by little, however, life became more difficult and restricted for Jews. I was hospitalized with scarlet fever and confined to a large ward with several other children. I was the only Jewish child there and got my first taste of anti-Semitism from these children. They tried to scare me with crickets by putting them near me, especially in the bathroom. But it was a year or so later, while playing in a courtyard, that a boy my age got angry with me, called me “dirty Jew”, threw a stone at me and hit me just above my right eye. I still have the mark today. In school too, it was not uncommon to be ridiculed or called “dirty Jew” by other students.

Beaches along the Rhine, parks and public benches were no longer accessible to Jews. Neither were cinemas and theaters. There were frequent talks of men, often friends of the family, who were arrested, taken to Dachau or some other camp, severely beaten and sometimes again released. By then my grandmother’s business at the city’s abattoir had been confiscated. My mother, Mutti, was often away from home, working at whatever jobs she could find. Uncle Sally, my mother’s brother, had emigrated to South America and Aunt Dadi, with her husband, had left for the United States. Some of my friends left Germany with their parents.

Meanwhile all Jewish children were banned from regular schools and forced to attend the only Jewish school in Mannheim. It was located in a small street somewhere behind the Market Place, near the main synagogue, quite a long way from home.

In November 1938, the day which became known as “Kristallnacht” began feverishly with many phone calls. Jewish families phoned around to inform each other that something terrible has happened or was about to happen although no one seemed to know exactly what. My grandmother asked me to take a very small suitcase filled with whatever valuables were still in her possession. I was to take them to Maia’s home, possibly also to get me out of harm’s way. By then Maia’s husband had joined the S.A., or so called “Brown Shirts”. When he came home in the afternoon with a group of friends, all in uniforms, Maia quickly hid me in the bedroom under the covers of her bed. I could hear the men in the adjacent living room drinking beer, laughing loudly and boasting about what they had done to Jews that day. I could not totally understand all their words, let alone comprehend them. But I got the impression that something terrible must have happened. After nightfall Maia tiptoed me through a back door and walked me home.

It was a long walk taking us past stores owned by Jews: the windows were broken, the stores were looted. As we passed Jewish homes and apartment houses, everywhere, on the sidewalks, were huge piles on fire with flames engulfing books, furniture, belongings. Groups of people and S.A. men attended to the flames rising above their heads. It was horrible. When we arrived in front of my building several piles of fires were burning on the sidewalk. We looked up and saw the lights were lit in our apartment. Maia sent me upstairs while she remained waiting across the street until I signaled her from a window that I got home alright.

What I found is difficult to describe but remains, like everything else that happened that day, deeply embedded in my memory. Both Mutti and Oma were in tears. Practically all the furniture was damaged, knocked over, broken, scratched; shattered glass was everywhere. Our leather covered sofa was slashed with a knife. So many things were thrown out the window and still burned on the sidewalk below. Mutti and Oma, while trying to pick up some of the glass and broken items from the floor, told me that ten very tall SA and SS men had entered the apartment and had locked them up in the bathroom while they ransacked the entire place. I too began to cry while helping to clean up the mess.

The next day it was announced that nobody is allowed to sell anything to Jews. Nevertheless Oma sent me to the grocery store next door to buy some milk. Despite the “verboten to sell to Jews” sign already in the window, the grocer, who knew me, gave me what I asked for.

I do not remember how the following days went by. There was no school to go to anymore. But I remember that suddenly my mother was away for a few days. Only later did I find out that she had tried to go to France but was turned back at the border because she did not have the required papers. We had relatives in France, cousins of my mother, and another family more distantly related. Somehow the decision must have been made that they will accept me in their home. They lived in the Lorraine border town of Sarreguemines. One day, in February 1939, Mutti and I went by train to Saarbruecken. We stayed overnight at a relative’s place and the next morning she took me to the railroad station. She was not allowed near the train which was to cross into France. I said good-bye to her at the gate and, carrying my suitcase and filled with a sense of adventure, walked toward the train. I did not cry; I did not turn around to wave another good-bye. Little did I know that this would be the last time I saw my mother.

*Maia was a maid to my grandmother for many years and was literally part of the family. She committed suicide during the war.

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The Treasure
by Paula Torly

Celebrations of any kind were put on hold as Papa struggled to find a way out of Vienna for the family in 1937. Birthdays came and went without ceremony or observation. It seemed inappropriate to celebrate anything in those perilous times – time which needed to be spent on survival. All our important anniversaries were therefore disregarded without acknowledgment, leaving me wanting something I could not have. Part of me understood why we had all become “have-nots,” but the yearning child in me still had fantasies of being celebrated, or at least acknowledged. We ultimately arrived in America, but birthdays or anniversaries were still not observed.

When I was ten, my longing for a birthday celebration intensified. I decided to allocate my long-saved allowance, plus what I could collect from my father and my sister, to give a birthday party for my mother whose love and appreciation I always longed for. I purchased a cake and other refreshments, set the table with a tablecloth, and invited my mother’s friends, thinking that maybe this would be the day Mama would realize how much I loved her.

She responded typically with her, “You shouldn’t have done it” manner and showed little emotion. Feeling crushed, I decided never to celebrate another birthday, mine or the rest of the family’s.

It was not until I was well into adulthood that I learned and understood why my mother was unable to appreciate being given to. Her parents had treated her more like an inconvenience than the young woman with potential that she was. She never learned that one side of being given to was the other side of receiving with appreciation.

When I married at age seventeen, I soon discovered that my husband was very irregular in observing my birthdays and our wedding anniversaries. Such events had not been a priority in his rather chaotic family of origin. Formalities notwithstanding, he was a very generous man, giving freely to me and to his family. Our earnings, the efforts of our labors, our creativity, were always shared. He regularly gifted me with intimacy in which we shared long satisfying talks about life in general, about our values, and of how we viewed the world and our little slice of it.

Celebrating birthdays became important again with the birth of our only child, a daughter. Family birthdays were then observed with gifts and parties. I also took great pleasure in sewing garments for her. I was determined to show her the love I never received from my mother. As my daughter grew older, she enjoyed taking charge of family celebrations.

Mama was always generous and happy cooking for our family and friends. Woe be until those who did not express strong appreciation for her efforts. However, she had enormous difficulty in giving of herself, such as giving praise instead of criticism. Without awareness, I manifested that trait for a time, until I realized I was being similar to my mother in that withholding tendency. Feeling there might not be enough, I conserved. Happily my daughter grew up to become a generous, caring, and loving woman. She, in turn, raised a fine son.

Looking back, I was able to understand that I had longed to be given that which I could give to myself. The pleasure of giving to myself is empowering. No longer waiting for something that might never be given to me, a new feeling of confidence took place in me, and I became independent.

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A Precious Friend in a Hiding Place in Amsterdam
by Edith Heine

I was a young child, from the ages of two to seven, when I was forced to endure the German Nazi Occupation and persecution of the Jews. When the Nazis came to power in 1933 in Germany, my parents fled immediately over the border to Amsterdam, Holland. I was born there five years later in 1938.

In Germany, my parents had tried to warn the population openly of the upcoming dangers. My father was especially prominent. His pictures appeared on the front pages of the newspapers.

Their and their associates’ efforts to bring consciousness about the Nazis’ intentions fell often on deaf ears. Too many people did not believe the dangers that threatened them and the world. Such individuals called out, “These are only threats,” and “Barking dogs don’t bite. If we treat them with respect and care, they will treat us well.”

My parents’ activities were considered serious crimes by the Nazis. Being Jewish was, of course, another “crime” both eventually punishable by death. They were considered double criminals and so, when the Nazis occupied Holland in 1940, those two “crimes” had put them and me (as their child) at the top of their death lists. They applied for a visa to the United States, but they never received it. My parents and I were stuck in Holland.

It was extremely difficult for my parents to develop a strategy to survive, during the German occupation. Dutch friends of theirs, who worked with them in the Underground, helped them a lot. They knew of hiding places where people could be trusted.

The day came when the Gestapo was alerted to our presence in the house on the “Kerkstraat,” Church street. This street was close to the street where Anne Frank and her family were in hiding. On the front of this house, where I was born, was written “Anno 1600,” in the year 1600. The Huguenots, who had fled France in search for freedom, entered Holland in the 16th and 17th century. They had built this and other similar houses.

We lived under the constant pressure of being discovered, which meant certain death. Frequent round-ups occurred, mostly at night. “Aufmachen” (open the door), they shouted. Sounds of doors being kicked in, windows smashed, barking yelling and piercing screams surrounded us. Over and over, the Nazis startled us awake in the middle of the night.

They kicked in the heavy door of our house. My parents and I, a Jewish couple Mr. and Mrs. Van der Belt were standing in the entrance hall. The Gestapo tortured and killed Mrs. Van der Belt in front of our eyes. Then they threw the lifeless woman into a waiting green car, and barked to us: “Be ready—we will be right back and pick you all up”.

My parents and I left right away. After a walk through the cold air, we ended up in a dark, damp, musty cellar. There were no windows and no furniture. We only had a thin blanket on the stone floor where we slept a bit, sometimes. It was ice cold, the floor was hard and tough. I felt that I was a great inconvenience for the woman who owned the cellar. She treated me with hostility, while she was very kind to my parents. I was afraid that the cellar woman who didn’t like me would set me on the street and the Gestapo would find me. I realized that I now was a burden to my parents too. No one talked with me anymore. I felt very alone, sad, and isolated.

However, I managed to develop a close and secret friendship. He was precious and adorable.

My companions were the ever-present wild rats. I met the rats in a lower level deep in the ground underneath the cellar where we hid. I went down to this space underneath every day, happy to have some beings to play with. My Mother didn’t know what I was doing there. Since I was very quiet – which was the most important thing for her – she didn’t investigate.

One rat became my special friend; he was very big, his name was Ursula. We played together, surrounded by his family, the other rats. He became so tame that I finally patted and kissed him. He was my friend and he was wonderful.

One day I decided to introduce him to my Mother. I told her, “I have a friend with beautiful eyes. Come down and meet him.” I took her hand and led her down the rusty metal stairs, which squeaked at each step. I picked him up and showed my Mother how we kissed each other. Then I held him up to her face so she could kiss him too.

Her macabre yell, which even though suppressed, seemed to shake the heavy walls of the cellar deep there in the ground.

Her yell pierced my body.

And her wild gestures and threats!

“He will bite your neck if you kiss him!”

She put her hand under my chin and shrieked, “Here! He will bite you right here! And he will kill you!”

She went on to lecture me. “Ignore them! Don’t befriend them! They are all killers!”

And, if this were not all enough, she hissed at Ursula, chasing him away.

I was shocked — he hadn’t done anything wrong!

He wouldn’t harm anybody. She had completely misunderstood him.

Ursula must also have felt bad about my Mother’s acting out at him, because, from that day on, I never saw him again.

“Perhaps he doesn’t want me anymore, because of my Mother,” I assumed.

Sad and left alone with my feelings, I kept wishing that I hadn’t told her.

From that day on, I imagined rats jumping up and biting my neck. I became terrified of them. Where before they had been my playmates, now they threatened me.

Also, from that day, I would be terrified of my Mother. I couldn’t trust her anymore. She had destroyed a precious relationship, my only friend.

The loss broke my heart.

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The Day My Rights Changed
by Ruth Spencer

On that morning in October 1981, I entered the subway on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, not yet fully aware of the changes the day would bring to my life.

The previous day I had notified the head of the Photo Collection at Time that I needed to take the morning off because I was to become an American Citizen. It was something I had decided to do like so many other things I had decided for myself throughout my life. Gil, my youngest son, was born in New York and I was now divorced from his father; I knew that I could never again live in Europe. The United States had become my country and English my primary language. It was time to do the right thing.

As I climbed the steps of the Federal Court House in Lower Manhattan I thought of some of the many events that took place in my life since my birth in Czechoslovakia fifty-two years ago. My parents had separated while I was still a baby. My mother returned home to Germany where I grew up until 1939, the year I was sent to relatives in France to escape from the Nazis. She, however, never made it to safety and was murdered in Auschwitz. Of my father I had no memory whatsoever and knew nothing about him, except his name and the name of the town where he was born.

It was in 1959, after my trip to Czechoslovakia, that I found out that he was alive and lived in New York. I was delirious with joy and apprehension then, and vividly remember our reunion in New York the following year. It was my father who suggested that I should come to live in the United States; he was certain that I would have a better future here than in France. After some hesitations, and the sudden death of a dear friend, I decided to follow his advice. In 1961 I moved to New York.

When I entered the Court House I was directed to a waiting area already filled with people, all there for the same reason: To become an American. One by one we were ushered into a big courtroom. There was total silence when the gavel fell and a judge read to us the rights that were to become the rights for a hundred new citizens of the United States of America. I felt my emotions rise, my throat tighten and tears run down my face while I took the Oath of Allegiance. Then it was all over. As we filed out of the courtroom, the judge shook every single person’s hand and said some kind and welcoming words.

As I stepped outside the building, the sun was shining from a clear blue sky. I could not have wished for a more beautiful day to become an American citizen. I wanted to shout for the world to hear “I am American.” I was so proud of myself and above all so proud of my new nationality and very much needed to share my feelings. I found a pay phone and called Gil in California but there was no answer. I called my father in Florida but there was no answer. I called my aunt in New York and again there was no answer. Resigned and disappointed, I walked down the steps of the Court House, had a bite to eat somewhere, and made my way to my office on the 28th floor in the Time Life building in Rockefeller Center.

While getting busy at my desk I noticed that some unusual activities were happening around me. The top of a low cabinet was covered with a red and white-checkered tablecloth. Red white and blue napkins and paper plates appeared. Several pies sprouting American flags showed up. I was still wondering what the reason for all this was when I was handed a glass of Champagne and asked to join everyone in the Collection as they all raised their glasses to congratulate me. They informed me that from now on I was “as American as apple pie.” I was presented with a huge enlargement of a photograph of Francois Mitterrand, the then President of France. Tears had been painted on his cheeks and, handwritten across the portrait, “Ruth is his loss and our gain.” I could not believe what was happening. All this hush hush activity was for me? Was I really that important? Perhaps. But then this, after all, is the generous American way of making one feel appreciated and welcome. As I began to express my thanks to everyone for this totally unexpected and wonderful surprise my emotions once again got hold of me and I just stood there, surrounded by some twenty supportive colleagues, and cried. A few minutes later

I was able to control my tears and happily shared in the celebration, answered questions, and ate apple pie.

What a day! A day to remember.

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A Young Child in Vienna, 1938
by Eva Maiden

Until just before my third birthday, my world was safe. I still remember the playroom I shared with my brother Helmut, five years older than me. He liked his tin soldiers best, and rolling a rubber toy between two sticks, a game called Diabolo. My favorites were my doll Emily, and our shared teddy bear called Pu der Bär, the German version of Winnie the Pooh. My mother, Mutti, would pop in now and then to see me briefly during the day, and at night she bathed me and tucked me into bed with a lullaby. Mostly, we were tended by our nanny and Aunt Valli, my mother’s sister who lived with us.

Tante Valli was so close to me that my earliest memory is of asking her: “Are you a parent?” I was trying to figure out if I had three parents, when in stories that I listened to there were only two. Valli was always available while my mother and father were busy in their medical offices. She was nervously cheerful as she bustled between supervising the household help and admitting patients at the door: children came to see my mother, adults to see my father.

On weekdays I went to Tante Pia’s nursery school, a very happy place for me. My coat had a little snail embroidered inside, and my locker had a painting of that snail, so I always knew where to hang my coat after my nanny dropped me off. Tante Pia, a tiny woman with a deformed back, exuded a warm and sensible authority. I loved her. I enjoyed standing on line with the other bundled up children on our rooftop playground, getting ready to sing in a circle and play games.

It was very confusing for me, the day Hitler came to Vienna.  First, my nanny dressed me up in my best clothes. Her plump cheeks flushed with excitement, she told me that today was a grand occasion. Somebody important had arrived, and everyone was supposed to watch the parade and greet him. But when I was brought into the living room, my mother’s face was very pale and tense. In an angry voice she ordered the nanny to go home. She told me and Helmut that we would not be going outside today, and under no circumstances were we to step out on the balcony of our second story apartment. Then she pulled the red velvet drapes shut, something she usually did only at nightfall. My stomach felt as if it was squeezing itself. Mutti’s words, the fear in her voice – Papi so quiet and sad, looking into the distance – what was going on?

My brother Helmut was usually a highly active and mischievous boy, but now he seemed to play in a more subdued way. His classmate and our neighbor, Lito, had fashioned a wooden freight train of flat cars for me. Each one was painted a different color, with my nickname, Nuni, on it. We three played listlessly all day, running it around the family section of the apartment.

After that many things seemed to change. My brother was afraid of school and cried a lot, even though he was already eight. My parents worked less and less. Acquaintances and neighbors of my parents stood in the hallway and spoke in whispers using words like  “affidavit”, “S.S.”, and “arrested”. After my nursery school shut down, nothing was the way it used to be any more. (Copyright © 2013 by Eva W. Maiden)

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Return to Vienna, August, 1955
by Eva Maiden

The streetcar lurched, and I almost lost my footing. I was making my way to the home my family had lived in, before we had to escape to save our lives. Although I had been a small child then, the buildings and trees I saw from the tram window seemed slightly familiar. So many memories pushed into my mind as we moved along the tracks. I remembered the smell of Nivea Cream in our nursery – and how I used to like watching my older brother Helmut play with his friends, laughing. In those days he didn’t have the angry, frightened expression that repelled people now. Thinking about him, I remembered the uniforms and boots of German soldiers, but not their faces. My heart began to beat stronger and faster.

As I hung onto the streetcar pole, the tune of “Vienna, City of My Dreams” repeated itself in my mind with hollow chords. I watched passing street signs, looking for Taborstrasse where we had lived. It was only when I saw the leather shop at the front of our apartment building that I realized it was time to get off. Yes, there above the shop was the balcony my mother was so proud of. It looked smaller than it should have been – back in New York she still spoke of it as being quite grand. Walking slowly toward the window of the leather shop, I thought this must have been where my mother bought her beautiful gloves, and my father his briefcase. I wondered crazily how a store could continue to exist when those who tended it had vanished.

It was important to calm myself now for my meeting with Chnava, the Hausbesorger (building manager). My father had explained to me that Chnava was a Czech who was anti-Nazi, and had done what he could for the Jewish families who once inhabited the entire building.

My brother had sailed to Europe on a student ship some years earlier while on a college break, and had spoken with Chnava. Helmut was given two carefully saved letters addressed to my mother in 1941 and 1942. Each one was from the German government, informing my mother that a sister of hers had perished. The letters didn’t mention how the sisters had been murdered. When my brother brought the letters back to New York, they reminded me of a wartime movie in which an American family received a Western Union telegram during the war: “We regret to inform you that your son…” Except, the German letters didn’t contain the regret part.

Walking into the building, I had no trouble finding Chnava’s door on the first floor. We embraced happily as the old man gushed in Viennese dialect with a Czech accent – what a cute little girl I had been, and here I was now, a grown young lady, a college student! He had already seen someone from almost every family, he said, as the survivors came to visit from many lands. In fact, my brother had come, did I know that? What a difficult child he had been! Many a time, Chnava remembered, our nanny had to struggle with him at the staircase when he had a tantrum. Would I like to walk through the building so that he could tell me about the families that used to live here? His voice was warm and sympathetic. We both understood that such a tour would mean visiting ghosts.

We first stopped at the door opposite mine. “N’ja, the Weinbergs, they escaped to Shanghai,” Chnava began. “And here’s your apartment, the biggest one in the building. What a busy place it was, with your father’s and mother’s patients coming in and out all day! By the time your parents left with you kids, and that bitch of a woman, that Nazi doctor took it over, there wasn’t too much going on anymore!”

We climbed another flight, and stopped in front of each door. “Ja, the Gerstingers – the S.S. came before dawn one day – they sent the father to Dachau, but the teenage boy, he wasn’t home that night. He came alone to visit after the war. And the Lindemanns, this is their door – they were from South America, they managed to get back there before it was too late. Do you remember, Emmanuelito used to play with Helmut? You kids called him Lito. And here were the Schwartz’s – the father got taken somewhere by the S.S. right away back in 1938 – they were a big family but their mother got all the kids out with her to France…after that I don’t know what happened. Evalein, is Pittsburgh very far from New York? Here, you see, this is where Herr and Frau Gottesmann used to live – they visited five years ago from Pittsburgh.”

Another flight of steps. “Well, the Lederers – it was no good at all – they ended up in Auschwitz, the whole bunch. And the Klein family – she never left Vienna. After they sent her man to Germany and worked him to death she just moved to a different district with identity papers as a Catholic for herself and the little girl. I think her sister was married to a Catholic.”

My tears stayed on the inside, as we returned down the stairs. I already knew that I had lost a home and a safe childhood. But now I felt a new loss. All of the families around us had been a part of me once.

I told Chnava a few stories of my family’s life in America, and we parted with another hug. When I stepped outside, the glare of the sun hurt my eyes after our dark tour. There was still one bombed out building on the block, and I was somehow very glad to see it. It was like a sculpture, expressing my feelings. And seeing it, I thought maybe my neighbors wouldn’t be forgotten so easily.

In reconstructing the conversation above, I have fictionalized the names and some of the destinations of my former neighbors. Their fates tell the story of the murderous era of Nazi domination in Austria.

(Copyright © 2013 by Eva W. Maiden)

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Memories of Verrieres
by Ruth Spencer

Verrieres, a village between Poitiers and Limoges, came up recently during a conversation. Just mentioning the name brought back some memories and I decided to look it up on the Google map on my computer. Using the satellite view, I set out to find the house in which I lived from 1943 to 1945. It was still there, hardly changed.

After the German invasion in 1940, Verrieres was in the “Unoccupied Zone” of France. I moved there with the Bachmanns, Tante Paula and Uncle Sigi, with whom I had lived on-and-off after my mother, in February 1939, put me on a train from Saarbruecken, Germany, to Sarreguemines, France. Later I continued to live with these distant relatives in Blois, Poitiers and Cazeres. It was on account of Uncle Sigi, who could not bear the hot southern climate of Cazeres, that the decision to move further North was made. Also the Salomon family, long time friends of the Bachmanns, already lived in Verrieres. They were instrumental in finding a place for us to live.

It was a small house built above a garage that led, in the back, to a large vegetable garden. At the bottom of the garden was a brook next to a big shed – all still there today – used for storage as well as for washing laundry in a big vat set on a stove. At the front of the house a short flight of outdoor steps gave access to two rooms, one behind the other. The front room, with a stove, a large sink and a big table was the kitchen living room. The back room, with two beds, was Tante Paula and Uncle Sigi’s bedroom. From the kitchen living room a narrow staircase led to the attic furnished with a bed and a chair. This became my domaine. There was no bathroom nor running water in the house. A small toilet was in the garage below. Water had to be fetched from the public water pump at the corner of the square across the street and fetching water with buckets was my job.

Sometime after we had moved to Verrieres Meta and Alfred Horwitz, friends of the Bachmanns, came to live with us. They shared the other half of the attic with me. They were a wonderful loving couple. I could have real conversations and felt understood which was never the case with the Bachmanns. I believe they had family in the United States and one day, several months later, they moved out. I do not know why they left nor where they went and have never heard from them again. I never forgot them and sometimes wonder whether they have survived.

My mind kept wandering back to some other events that took place in and around Verrieres. I was 14 years old then and had outgrown the local school. The books for a correspondence course could not be obtained. Catholic nuns from the local convent came to see us offering some teaching and the possibility to convert me. I and everybody else in the household declined.

Although Verrieres was in the unoccupied zone, the Petain Regime in Vichy had long been overruled by the German Authorities and German army convoys showed up every now and then in towns and villages. Invariably they would announce, through loudspeakers mounted on trucks, for all local Jewish men to gather in the main square with an overnight bag. Later on whole families were required to show up, never to be seen again. Verrieres, with maquis fighters holed up in nearby forests, was no exception and we needed a hiding place to keep safe and escape from possible deportation. The shed at the other end of the garden was the answer. We organized it for several days of survival in case it may be needed. And indeed the time came when German troops set up camp in the village square. All five of us barricaded ourselves in the shed for three days. We slept on mattresses on the floor, ate cold food, rationed the water we had, whispered and avoided making noise of any kind. The second night it rained heavily and, unfortunately, the roof was leaking in various places. We placed buckets around and opened a few umbrellas we had brought along and slept under them. It was hilarious, comical and we couldn’t help laughing silently to ourselves.

Of course I also thought of the day Uncle Sigi attempted to kiss me. It was sometime after my 15th birthday; the Horwitzes no longer lived with us and Tante Paula was not home. I had just come in from outside when Uncle Sigi, a rather heavy set man walking with a cane, stepped in front of me and tried to grab me. I was able to push him back with both my hands and all my strength, sending him against the kitchen table. I promised him in no uncertain terms that, should he ever try this again, I would tell Tante Paula. He never tried again. Today I wonder how many children had been exposed to similar or worse situations yet never dared to mention it.

While living in Verrieres I did enjoy bicycling through the countryside, along narrow country lanes cutting through fields of wheat. The black market was flourishing everywhere and farmers were making money as they never had before. We befriended one family in particular and every now and then I drove out to their farm. They always welcomed me warmly and I came home loaded with bags filled with butter, milk, chicken and eggs. One day they told me proudly that they had decided to build a “WC” in the garden “but it will only be used on Sundays.…”

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Further information

For information about JFCS East Bay’s Holocaust Memoir Writing Group, please contact:

Rita Clancy
(510) 558-7800, ext. 257

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