What were your early experiences with anti-Semitism?
I've mentioned my difficulties in school of course. It became particularly uncomfortable during physical education because that's the time when kids are active, right? I never knew when somebody - when we were jogging, let's say, or marching somewhere - I never knew when somebody wouldn't try to trip me up and make me fall down or injure me in some other way. When we had swimming lessons, I never knew when somebody would keep my head under water. That sort of thing happened.
Can you talk more about your gym class where they would push your head under water?
I was afraid of that. I don't think they ever actually did it. But the effect that it had was I never learned to swim. To this day, I don't know how to swim. I just tried to stay away from the water in order to avoid getting attacked in the swimming pool. It prevented me from learning to swim.
Did you ever have any incidents in the gymnasium when you were doing activities?
I was always apprehensive that something would happen - that one of these guys would try to trip me up or attack me, but I don't think it ever came to it, actually. There was a lot of talk, but I don't remember any actual incidents where the talk was translated into physical activity.
What are some examples of the talk?
Can you list out some other things that you recall seeing, hearing, doing, that showed this anti-Semitism while you were still there?
Of course you try to forget a lot of these things too. At the moment, I can't think of any particular incidents. One thing that always struck me strange - I was talking about park benches just now - was that the city park in my hometown was donated to the city by Jews. The name of the family was Netter. In the park, they had a memorial stone in which the city thanks the Netter family for this city park and so I was actually rather proud of the contribution that this Jewish family made to my hometown. I always had a positive feeling about being Jewish - about being a Jew.
I knew we were being discriminated against, but this did not affect my good feeling, my pride of being a Jew. I knew that my people had made tremendous contributions to civilization over many years, so I still felt good about it. A lot of people felt differently. They felt that "I'd rather not be a Jew because I don't want to be discriminated against." Actually, what they needed was a grounding in the positive aspects of the Jewish identity, and I felt I had that. As to any specific episodes, I can't think of any right now.
I remember a specific incident that happened, not in my school, but generally in the town. A little over two months after the Nazis came to power they instituted a Nationwide Boycott Day, on April 1st, 1933, where by orders of the Nazi government, all Jewish businesses were boycotted. That means they had the brown-shirted storm troopers standing outside all the Jewish businesses. They scrawled graffiti on the walls and on the show windows. My father had a retail shoe store and I still remember - I was eleven years old - I still remember the storm troopers standing in front of my father's store. The door was closed, the business was closed of course on that day, but I still remember the graffiti scrawled on the walls and on the windows. That was the first big indication, the first visible indication of the Nazi anti-Jewish policies, which I still remember.
What do you remember specifically about the day of the boycott?
Specifically, I remember that the door was closed. The shades - they had metal shades that rolled down, I forget what you would call them, they rolled down over the windows. Actually they protect the window - so they were down. The door was locked.
I remember seeing the Nazi graffiti scrawled on the walls and on those window covers and the doors, and the Nazi slogans were scrawled on them. Kauft nicht bei Juden - means "Don't buy from Jews." Also, Die Juden sind unser Unglück - "The Jews are our misfortune." Those were two of the most well known Nazi slogans. Of course they scrawled Stars of David on the walls and other kinds of graffiti. Storm Troopers in their brown uniforms stood outside to make sure that nobody would go into the store. Of course nobody could because the store was locked anyway, but they stood there anyway as a show of force. I remember seeing that. That month, I became eleven years old.
How did the boycott affect your family? What were their reactions to it?
Our reaction was that it really instilled fear in us, and of course that was the idea. That was their aim - to instill fear in us and to make us realize that we had no future in Germany. Because the idea at that time was to get rid of the Jews in Germany. "Get out." But, in getting out, you have to leave most of your possessions behind. When I left Germany, I could only take ten marks with me - that's the equivalent of four dollars in those days - but I was able to bring personal belongings, so we bought a Leica camera and a pair of binoculars. When I got to this country, I sold them. I was able to have a little bit of money with me.
Do you remember what your initial view on the Nazis was?
Oh, my initial view? Of course at that time, you don't think much about politics, but I knew that the Nazis regarded the Jews as enemies. That they were anti-Semitic, and I figured it probably would be a pretty hard time for us. But then nobody knew how hard and people kept hoping, people are optimistic, so people were hoping that perhaps it will pass. But it didn't. As I told you in my last interview - I very vividly remember the National Boycott Day on April 1st, 1933, which was only two months after they came to power.
Did you ever hear Hitler speak on the radio?
What do you remember?
Did you wonder why he was blaming the Jews?
At that time, I didn't think too deeply - I mean, being eleven years old - as to why. Eventually, I got to know that he was using the Jews as a scapegoat. He rode to power on his diatribes against the Jews. He blamed the Jews for every bad thing that ever happened in Germany. He blamed them for World War I, he blamed them for Germany losing World War I, he blamed them for Germany's terrible economic condition after World War I, in the early 20's, the hyperinflation and unemployment.
What do you remember about hearing those things when you were 11, 12, 13? How did you hear it?