Were you close with your family when you were a child?
Close? Yeah, I would think so. I spent a great deal of time on the weekends, not the full weekend, with my grandmother on my mothers side, my maternal grandmother. She was a widow then and we were very close. For some reason I liked to be with her I think because she spoiled me, that's why I went there. Normal relationships, not unusually different then most families.
Was your family very religious before the war?
We were not very religious but we didn't eat pork, we observed the Sabbath, we had the typical holidays. That's about, I would say a Conservative, not religious to the extent to some people you see who are very religious. But there was a deep respect for religion. We had to go to a school after hours in the late afternoon for an hour. I would say, like San Francisco, it was not called Reform but was Conservative.
What was the Jewish community like where you lived in Holland?
Holland by itself was a fairly religious community. The town I lived in Holland, in Borculo, there were 40 Jewish families and everyone without exception didn't work on Sabbath, had a kosher home, didn't smoke or drive on Sabbath. The old rituals, the old laws. We were considered in Holland as the most total religious community. There were schools going all day long—during the day for the children like us, at night for the grown-ups and the children, and on Saturdays and Sundays. It was a very well educated community and talked about in Holland. But the entire community was involved in the religion not just one or two or 80 or 90 percent. That was a wonderful life for us. There were literary evenings every Sunday night with speakers or...my father was very much involved in that, he liked to be master of ceremonies, M.C., and he did some musical instruments. There was a good life there and it was highly respected by everyone.
By the way it may be of interest to you in the town I'm talking about there was a parchment factory—the only one out of Germany and Western Europe—which made the parchment for the drums for the bands. But they also were the only one who made the parchment for the Torahs, the Bible. You have heard of that, the Hebrew Bible, the scrolls? The scroll has to be made from, I think, one week old or before of a sheep. I don't know exactly but young animals, either sheep or calves. I think calves maybe. This was the only factory in Western Europe who did this. There were maybe 30, 40 people working in the factory. They went back to the original Old Testament on how to do it. It was very primitive and they kept it going until the Germans came in. Then their family escaped and they went to Ireland and their factory was in Ireland for many years. Afterwards they came back to this town but it was not the same anymore, there was no demand. But that's where they made the Torah scrolls.
Did you have any Jewish friends?
No, I was the only boy at that age. My sister, who was two years younger as I said earlier, we had a cousin of my parents, they had had two girls that were my sister's age, one was a little younger, so she had someone to play with. There was no [Jewish] boy my age in that town [Ochtrup] because there were only about ten families. None of them had young kids like my parents had, or boys even.
When you were growing up were your parents involved in this idea of creating a Jewish land? Was it something that was talked about at home, especially when discrimination started?
My parents were not called–my parents and grandmother–what's called today Zionists. These were mostly younger people who felt very strong of wanting to create a home country. And I wish sometimes, I wish I had been a Zionists because I would have gone. And I wish my parents had been Zionists we would have gone to Israel or to Palestine then in the '30's. It would have saved their lives. They didn't do that for whatever reasons and where we lived in small communities you didn't have no one, there was no radio, there was no television because you had to have money and it wasn't there like we know today. So there was very little communications. The newspapers, yes, but even they were local.
I know that my grandmother, especially, used to put money in a little metal box for a hospital in Jerusalem. Somebody gave it to her and once a year she sent it. I remember that. But we were not active at all in that movement then. I feel different today, as you may have heard me say. But in those days, don't forget, we lived in very small communities there was no money. We lived well, we ate well, we dressed well. But there wasn't any excess money because it was used in the business our families were in. It wasn't that we had time to travel there, for instance, time or the money. It was a different world you were much more confined to your home.
When you went to public places like swimming pools, what did you do to entertain yourself?
I don't remember really, there was nothing. Movies no, you couldn't go to movies. There was no television, obviously. There was radio. And telephones were still there when I was very young. I remember my grandmothers telephone number was number 2, number 1 was the city hall, hers was number 2. My parents number was–I don't know why I remember those things–270 was my parents phone number. The world was opening up to different things. But entertaining? I don't know. I played with my sister, my parents probably kept me busy. But I read, I always liked to read. That I learned early.