What was your childhood like when anti-Semitism grew in Germany?
I went to elementary school in 1932–I think '32 about, I don't remember all the details. It was a Catholic school that's almost all Catholic, it was a Catholic school, boys' school. And on the other side of town was a girls' school. I was the only Jewish kid in the boys' school of eight hundred boys. And in the first year or two, the first year more or less, it was okay, there was nothing, it was like normal. But then the word was out that I had to sit in back of the class–now remember I was six years or seven years old by then–sit in the back of the class. And I was refused a report card, at the end of the year you get a report card but I never–I got it for the first year–but then I never saw a report card.
I also remember that as a child at that age I don't remember how I felt. But as I get older, in very recent years, I feel very strong and it's on my mind often, how horrible it had to be for my parents. My sister was two years younger than I am so she came even later, and the same thing happened to her. Until in 1930..., the end of '35 about–I don't know exactly–we left, and we left overnight because it was impossible. As an example, in the summer the city or the town had a community swimming pool, an outdoor pool, and I remember in the first year of my school I was allowed to be in the pool. The second year, in second grade, I was told to sit on the bench, I couldn't be in the pool. "Why?" You know, because I was a Jew. That had to be hard on me, even though I don't remember my feeling, I remember where I was sitting. That had to be horrible for my parents and my family. That much I remember.
On the block we lived in there were four boys all in the same grade, we were all neighbors in a small town, it's one block, houses across the street from each other. And then about 1934 maybe '33, '34, the other boys were told not to talk to me anymore and not to play with me anymore. So I had no one to play with and only for one reason, my religion.
It was even harder on my father and my grandfather because they were soldiers during the First World War for the German army, they fought in France. My mother's brother fought in France, my mother's father was a soldier, my father's brother was a soldier and was killed in the the First World War. And they all were soldiers in the German army because they were German citizens. And then, all of a sudden, because of their religion they were not acceptable any longer. So you asked me about feelings, that's what we felt in those days I'm sure.
And that happened to jobs, there was no such thing as jobs outside if you were self employed. And I know by 1935, '34, '35, you couldn't have cars any longer, you couldn't have a motorcycle any longer, you had to turn in your bicycles which we all had in those days. Then our telephones were cut off because it was also not acceptable any longer to the German government then. So it was a frightening thing, I'm sure, especially for my family rather than the children. We were sheltered, of course.
What were some of the specific measures against Jews that prompted your family to move to Holland in 1936?
It started with travel restrictions, I don't know exactly the sequence. In school I was told when I was in second grade that I had to sit in the back of the class. I may have mentioned earlier that I went to a school with about 800 boys, it was a Catholic School. The girls went to a separate school. I was the only Jewish person in the school. I was asked to sit in the back of the class. I got a report card the first year and then I didn't get one anymore when everyone else did. That was it as far as I am concerned. The same thing for my sister who was two years younger. She went to the girls' school. But as far as my parents are concerned they—I don't know the year it really started, it had to be about 1934-'35—there were travel restrictions. We had a telephone, of course, which in those days was not in every house like it is today. The phones were taken away. We didn't—I don't think we had to wear a star yet, the Star of David you know, you've seen that in pictures. But it was very noticeable.
The neighbor kids – the kids I grew up with – couldn't play with me any longer. I lived on a block where there were four boys and we were all the same age within a month or two. They were told they couldn't play with me any longer. Just the general atmosphere was very difficult. There were newspapers – like what we see today in the Arab countries we saw the same thing in Germany in those days – about the terrible anti-Semitism. It was just a very difficult life. My father had tough time from there on in too maintaining his business, so were others too. There were signs very early where it says. "Do not buy from Jews." And the Jews had to put in their stores a sign in the window which says, "This a Jewish store" so people wouldn't go in there. There was a whole orchestrated system which came out of Berlin, out of the headquarters of the German government to do this. They were were very well organized and, from a PR point of view very, well orchestrated.
How were you notified rules that they passed?
Do you have other specific memories of that time?
I was beaten up quite a few times. We couldn't go to school anymore at one point so we went to a religious school in another town, we had to go by train to the next town, it was about forty five minutes by train. Of course then we had to wear the Star of David, you've seen that with the "J" on it, and that came in Holland too later on. That's basically how I remember it.
I've tried for many years not to think about any of that because I have a good life here and I don't want my children to be affected, and some of you know my children. It was very hard for me not to talk about it and I never talked about it until they were about fourteen-fifteen years old because I've seen that some of my friends talked too much about it to their children and they messed up their kids. I was very lucky that I had the will power and whatever else it took not to discuss it with my children. I wanted them to be as normal as all American kids are and they are. Any other questions?
The four boys that lived on your street that you mentioned earlier, were you friends with them beforehand?
Very much so. We grew up together on the same street, we were all born on the same street. Until we were about seven years old–maybe eight–they couldn't talk to me anymore because if they did their parents could be arrested. One of them was arrested, as a matter of fact, one father was arrested because he was a friend of my parents and he talked to my parents. People were finking on each other. The police and The Party came and the Brown Shirts they came. It was very difficult.
But the details – I haven't seen any of these people ever again, except for one person who found me, the sister of one of the boys who was my sisters age, she's still alive we correspond. She is a very religious person and she feels very bad, I know, because she keeps on writing me we call each other sometimes. And we are very fond of her and I know she feels the same about us, she has visited us once here. But that's unusual. I cannot go back to Germany, it's just too hard, the memories. They burned the temple, we had a temple where we prayed every day, every weekend, and that was burnt down in about the middle '30's. Cemeteries were desecrated.
Did you feel a sense of inferiority when you were younger when the neighborhood boys wouldn't play with you?
Well, that's a good question, I never thought about it that way. I may have had that at that time as a child, but if I did I don't have it any longer, for whatever reason. But sure, obviously, I was standing in front of the house and no one would play with me. Being seven years old that obviously made it possibly very difficult. I'm sure I cried a lot but my parents did the best they could. But they had their own problems. They had to keep it together. And to make a living, the livelihood for us people was totally diminished almost. I know my father had built a house when they got married in 1925 and we just left that house, we just left it. I never tried to get it back because I didn't want to be involved with this, I'm sure there was some value but I just didn't want it inflicting on my mind. So the house was there, so the house was there, big deal. It would have been too traumatic to fight that. It happened again the second time in Holland. I didn't do it either because I'm very happy here and I want to put that beside me, behind me rather.
How was Holland different from Germany?
We left Germany in the middle 30's –'36 about, '35-36. In Holland I felt very strong that – first of all – I was all of a sudden welcomed by my peers, my age group. This was all new to me. There was no anti-Semitism in Holland. We never noticed it, it was very a free country, liberal, and also there was a deep respect for one another in Holland. The population was great. We felt enormously accepted. My father opened a store again. First he found a house that we rented for us. Then he bought a store in the heart of town. It was a very small town we lived in about maybe 6-7000, 8000 people in those days.
We felt very accepted and we had a very good life there for four years, a very good life. Not economically – I am not talking about – because it was hard for my parents because they had lost everything. We left Germany overnight. My parents had built a house the year they got married and we left the house and everything. We just went over the border during the night to get out because otherwise it would have been even worse. And so we had to start from scratch. We had some relatives in Holland, my Grandmother's two sisters were living there with families who got married there. The distance was only about 30 miles approximately from the town I was born in to the town we moved to. It's much closer, it's hard for Californians to understand. this is large state. In Europe it is much closer and smaller countries especially on the west coast. And after about four days the Germans bombed Rotterdam. clip missing last sentence
What changed in Holland after the German invasion?
Good question. The Germans came to Holland on May the 10th, 1940, two days from today, from now. The first six to eight months was OK until they got their bearings in Holland. The war lasted about five days and after about four days the Germans bombed Rotterdam, the second largest city in Holland. They killed approximately, I am told, about 40,000 people. With the ultimatum to surrender to the Germans because they were held back at the river that was going from north to south about thirty miles past of us, west of us. The Dutch government – the queen and the family – left for England. And parts of the Government went to England. The Dutch government surrendered to the Germans because they said, since they bombed Rotterdam they would do the next thing which would be Amsterdam, which is almost as large as Rotterdam, and it would have been as devastating as Rotterdam was.
So the Dutch people in charge of Government they decided to accept and stop the army, etc. They surrendered, that was the only thing they could do. They couldn't have won a war against Germany in those days. Holland is a very small country, only 8 million people living in the country, in the entire country. There were about 140,000 Jews in Holland all over the country. They had lived there for centuries. I remember I had some research done about ten years ago in the town I was born in, in Germany. They found gravestones of my family namesake, they go back to 1460 to 1530, in those days there were there were Lowenbergs living there. In Holland the town we lived in the majority of business was dairy, agriculture and textile – weaving factories for the main factories which were about twenty five, thirty miles away. In every small town there was almost a textile factory of making the cloth. There are none any more today, they all moved offshore. They same thing is happening here.