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1-Introductions & Pre-War Anti-Semitism
My name is Matthew, my name is Julianne, and my name is Leah, and this is Lucille Eichengreen. This interview is on May 30th, 2002 in Kennsington, California.
What is your full name?
Mrs. Lucille C. Eichengreen. It used to be Cecelia Landau. 2-1-1925. I am of Polish nationality but I was born in Hamburg, Germany.
What was your earliest memory?
When I was about three or four years old.
And what was it?
Where we lived. What the rooms looked like. What the parks looked like. My parents.
What was your relationship between you and your sister?
She was five years younger. She had her friends, I had my friends. But it was a good relationship.
Would you call yourselves friends?
No, I don't think so. We were more related than friends because of the five year difference.
What was your first day at school like?
I wanted to go to school. It was a school with roughly five-hundred students. It was frightening. It was intimidating. And the thing I noticed on the first day was that the faculty was rather old—fifty and above.
What was your first experience with anti-Semitism?
It started in summer of 1933, and the word anti-Semitism was dropped which I did not understand.
What were your friends and family's reaction to Hitler becoming Chancellor?
They believed that it was a passing phase. That it would blow over. That things would normalize. And rather naively, they thought it would not be as bad as it turned out to be.
Was your father's business directly affected by the boycott?
No. We were foreign nationals. We were not affected.
What do you remember on the day that the Nazis became a state party?
I think it was January 30th, 1933. I remember a great upheaval. A lot of people marching in uniforms. The neighborhood - where my father had his offices and the wine cellars - was normally on a holiday. The flags were red with a hammer and sickle. After Hitler took power they were torn down. And I couldn't quite understand why. I really don't remember anything. It did not have much significance for an eight-year old. That came later.
Was your family friends with any other families—the gentile families—that eventually joined?
No, we had no Gentile friends. Just neighbors.
How did the Nuremberg laws personally affect your lifestyle?
In the beginning they did not affect us at all because we didn't hold German nationality. In later years they began to affect us. But we were excluded from the Nuremberg Laws.
What do you remember of Kristallnacht?
I remember walking to school. I was fourteen years old. I saw the Great Synagogue burning inside and out. I saw Germans in uniform laughing and burning books. We turned around. We walked home and the phone began to ring. We were informed that men between the ages of sixteen and sixty-five are being arrested.
What else do you remember about that day?
I remember broken store windows, merchandise on the street. I remember being very frightened. And I really had no idea what this meant.
Start of War & Anti-Jewish Actions
How did your family feel when you heard that Germany had invaded Poland?
We knew that before it became news on the radio because my father was picked up at five or six in the morning as an enemy alien and arrested. We knew that Germany had invaded Poland before it was on the radio. I can't say it came as a surprise after Austria and Czechoslovakia. And yet it was shocking. We assumed that my father would be treated in accordance with the Geneva Convention as a foreign national. But Poland lost the war in seven to ten days and that was the end of being a foreign national. He was sent to Oranienburg. He was sent to another concentration camp and a few weeks later to Dachau.
Did you have family in Poland when it was invaded?
That you were in contact with?
Did they write you about the invasion?
The postal service pretty much ceased with the invasion. We got a couple of letters that said that the weather was very bad which we interpreted as the political situation. And ultimately mail stopped completely.
So they used code words like the weather was bad because the Nazis were checking?
Can you describe the morning of your father's arrest?
The Gestapo came between five and six in the morning. They asked him to dress. They were very rough. They didn't talk. They didn't let us touch him. All they said was that he was arrested because he was an enemy alien and Germany was at war with Poland. The whole thing took less than five minutes.
Were you ever treated like this by a Gestapo before?
No. Not before but after.
How did you feel when you stopped going to school?
I didn't stop going to school. I continued going to school until 1941. We were beaten up by kids - Nazi kids - on the way to school. They threw stones at us. They spit at us. We had to stand in the back of the street car. I think the teachers requested that we remain invisible, and kids don't know how to do that. It was frightening. We saw other kids leave for South America or Shanghai. And whenever I asked the question, "Why don't we leave?" I was told, "We don't have the papers but we are waiting." And still we were told, "It will change." What the big "It" was, we never found out.
Did Jewish kids ever fight back against the Nazi kids?
We were outnumbered and we didn't dare. We really were intimidated.
Can you give some other examples of kids or adults intimidating you as a child?
Well we were called names at the park or when we went skating at an ice-rink which ultimately was forbidden. It was just harassment. In a very nasty and very subtle way. Mainly by children. Less by adults at this point. When we played in the school yard - and it was a private school - the neighbors on the left who looked down on the schoolyard would pour dirty water down and call us obscene names. And we really didn't know how to cope with it and neither did the adults.
Do you remember the first time that you experienced a sense of anti-Semitism?
In 1933, in summer. We were at a resort on vacation and the owner of the resort talked to my father. And he made a remark that economically conditions were improving and last - but not least - Hitler would care of the Jews. And I remember my father took my hand and my sister's hand and we got up and we left. And I could not understand what had transpired. My father said something about anti-Semitism, he tried to explain it. But it took me many years to comprehend.
How did you react when your father's ashes were brought to your house?
I had never heard about cremation. In Jewish custom you don't cremate. We had the chief Rabbi of that area order a coffin, an Orthodox coffin - no nails, no varnish, nothing. And there was an Orthodox burial. I just could not comprehend how a human being could remain, or could become a cup full of ashes. That was just not understandable.
How were the ashes given to you?
In a cigar box tied with a rubber band.
Mailed to you?
No. Two Gestapo came to the house and threw them on the kitchen table.
What did they say at that time?
They only said, "Ashes, Benjamin Landau!" And walked out. They didn't talk.
Did your mother have a reaction to this?
My mother screamed.
What were the conditions like after your father's ashes were given to you and you were brought to the ghetto?
That happened in February, 1941. Jews had to move into special houses. They received a furnished room. All bank accounts were confiscated. Food had to be bought in a special store. It was a very different life than I had known before. And in September, 1941, all Jews had to abide by a curfew and wear a yellow star. And the notification came forty-eight hours ahead of time that the first transport leaving Hamburg - and there were probably ten transports after us - would be relocated in the east. That's all we knew until we got to the ghetto.
What were your feelings and experiences when you had to wear the yellow star?
You were very identifiable. You were very conspicuous. There was an occasion, or maybe two, that took the star off. But basically it was illegal. The neighbors knew you had to wear a star. The police district knew that you had to wear the star. It was a very uncomfortable existence.