Can you explain the Hitler Youth? What they did?
The Hitler Youth. The boys were in the so-called Hitler Jugend, or Hitler Youth. The girls were in the Bund deutscher Mädchen, means the Association of German Girls, which was the counterpart of the Hitler Youth. They were a little bit like the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, but not much. They were indoctrinated with Nazi philosophy. They were very active physically, and they got paramilitary training. They wore brown uniforms to class. On their belts were daggers. Imagine ten, eleven year-old boys carrying daggers. Of course that made them feel really macho. On their daggers was engraved the words Blut und Ehre meaning "Blood and Honor." That's was what these little guys were privileged to wear- they considered that privilege. I didn't.
How did you feel when you were near the Hitler Youth? Were you scared, were you intimidated?
How did you feel about the Hitler Youth?
The Hitler Youth? That's what you have to watch out for. The boys didn't always wear their brown uniforms to school, but on particular occasions, they always did. You know, on certain Nazi holidays or if there was going to be a certain event or a certain ceremony, they always wore their uniforms. You just learned to stay out of their way, at least the aggressive ones, and you learned - don't confront them because you're not going to win, so stay out of their way.
Who joined? Was it all the German kids in your class?
What was the girl’s organization?
It was called Bund Deutscher Mädchen. It means Organization of German Girls. They too had sort of uniforms. They had brown blouses and skirts, if I remember correctly. They didn't carry daggers as the boys did.
Did you ever have any incidents where there was violence?
Not that I remember. It was mostly apprehension on my part. Because, you know, they were pretty macho. Particularly carrying a dagger in their belt. But I don't remember it ever going beyond just the appearance and the verbal activity.
Were you friends with any non-Jewish kids in your school?
Did you ever try to approach an authority or a teacher and ask them? Or were they OK with these acts?
Not that I can remember. Of course, the teachers too had to be - even if they were not sympathetic to the Nazis - they had to be careful what they said because people could end up in a concentration camp by just saying the wrong thing. I think in my last interview I mentioned this one teacher whom I visited many, many years later when I went back to my hometown - I always felt that he was a very kind and decent person. I don't have much memory of most of the other teachers. I try to forget them.
You mentioned that in school, you eventually became pretty isolated from the rest of your classmates. How did that make you feel? Did it happen all at once?
No, again, not too slowly, again, not suddenly. I remember one episode - I don't think I told that at my last interview. I was in high school and it was a class in geography. I considered myself pretty good at geography.
I thought that I would deserve the highest grade. At that time, the grades were one, two, three, four and of course here we have A, B, C and so on. I thought I deserved a one, but I got a two. I challenged the teacher on that - this was already during the Nazi time. I challenged the teacher on that. I said I did everything right, I passed all my tests well and I think I deserve a one. You know what he made me do? He made me come up in front of the class, stood me in front of a map, which showed only the outline of the German borders - nothing else. Didn't show mountains, didn't show rivers, didn't show cities - just the outline. He began to quiz me, "Where is Berlin?" I had to point to the spot on the map where Berlin was. Then he would say, "Where are such and such mountains?" I would have to identify where the mountains were. "Where is such and such river?" I had to identify the river and show how it flowed through Germany and so on. I answered every single question correctly. I did get a number one, eventually. I was pretty proud of myself.
Did you have any friends?
Why do you think that he remained friends with you?
When you met him again, how did you feel?
Oh, wonderful. He lived in another town and somehow we established contact and he took the train to my hometown, where we were visiting. We met him at the railroad station - recognized each other immediately, after fifty-six years - and we embraced and hugged and it was just a wonderful experience to meet him. The poor man has died since then.
How did it make you feel when all the other kids decided to desert you?
Pretty bad. But in any situation you do your best to adjust to it, to protect yourself, to guard against negative influences from the outside. You try to do what you have to do to live with it, because there was nothing else to do.
There were two other Jewish students in my high school. One left with his parents and went to Chile. The other was murdered in Auschwitz. The other one came from a family with a father who was very proud of his combat service in World War I, and he was very proud of the medals that he got. He never considered leaving Germany. He and his wife and both the daughters were murdered in Auschwitz.
How did that make you feel, to know that now when you look back on it, you were lucky enough to escape and some people that you went to school with weren't?
Well actually, they were not in my class. The boy who went to Chile later was a year and a half younger than I and the girl - the one who perished in Auschwitz - was about a year or so older than I was. We were not in the same class. I was in the middle. I think I was the first one to leave. I think I left before the other boy went to Chile with his family and of course the girl never left.
We were pretty isolated. The only time when we were together, actually - see, we were not close friends, being different in ages, having a difference in age - so the times when we met was either during Jewish events - synagogue - or during religious school. In those days, the children of different religions were given religious instruction in the school by ministers or teachers from their particular religion and they were paid by the state.
Our cantor was the one who instructed us and I guess for a while they still paid him - I don't know for how long - but he was the one who gave us religious instruction. In a book that I have, there's a copy - a facsimile - of a letter that our cantor addressed to the head of the school in which he gave us our grades for the religious instruction. We all got a one. Best grade, naturally.
Many years later, when I returned to Bühl on a visit, I visited one of my teachers, again, one of the few people that I - who was still "friends," so to speak. He told me that already in 1936 they received orders - not official orders yet - but sort of word of mouth and through the grape vine from the Nazi authorities - to kick out the Jewish students from the school. I was going to high school at that time. But he told me, many years later, that they kept me in the school anyway. Of course, the following year the orders were made official. But that year I left Germany.
How did you feel when you heard about that?
I didn't know it. See, I left Germany in 1937, and from what this teacher told me, word came down in 1936 that they should get rid of the Jewish students. But it was informal. It was not an official decree. The authorities just told the teachers, "If you know what's good for you, you'll get rid of the Jewish students." He told me that he and his colleagues decided they were going to keep me in the class. I never knew anything about this. Then, in June of 1937, after I left Germany, after school was out, that summer the official order came down to expel the Jewish students. But by that time, I was on my way out.
Do you think if you knew what their orders were, you would have rather left school, or continued under those circumstances?
If I had known, I probably would have taken steps to leave Germany earlier. Now my brother, who was nine years younger than I - he was born in 1931, and I left in 1937 so he was six years old at the time when I left, and usually kids go into first grade at the age of six over there. My parents were afraid for him, and they kept him out of school another year. Apparently, even after the order came to expel the Jewish students from high school, apparently they were still able to go to grade school. But I was gone; I don't know this for sure. But my parents kept my brother out of school for another year because they were afraid of what might happen to the child. Then they sent him to school, that was in 1938 they sent him to school, but he wasn't at school there very long because in March '39, my parents left Germany.
He was there probably just maybe a semester or so in school. Of course, it had had quite an effect on him because he should have been in school! That's the period of time when a child learns best and what the child learns will stick with him at that time. It really affected him. My parents went to Cuba in March – they arrived in April '39 – and they were there for thirteen months. They came to the United States in May 1940, and I lived in Kansas City at the time. My brother went to school that fall, in 1940. He was nine years old when he started school in Kansas City, and you know what grade they put him in? Second grade. Because he had lost all this school time, and obviously it affected his development and his knowledge. It really affected him emotionally too. Because here he was with second graders and he should have been in fourth grade, at least. He was with younger children. It's a pretty bad effect.