As a survivor and also someone who really pays heed to the idea of honoring other people in your family, are there certain beliefs or ideas that you felt were important to teach your children because of your experiences?
Look, my kids are like all you guys, and you know my children. I think the most important thing that I could teach them, if this is what your question is, I didn't tell them much about the camps at all, very little, because I didn't want them to be growing up thinking about it. I wanted them to be like a normal child, you should have a normal childhood. My wife is a local person and she was educated it San Francisco, so that was very helpful. But when they were about 14 years old thereabout, 13, 14, 15, I took them separately one day, we went somewhere driving, and I said, "I think the time has come when I should tell you a little about my life." And both of them unilaterally, they weren't together, on separate times, they said, "No Dad, we know all about it, we studied it, we went behind your back and read up on it, we went to the libraries and we wanted to know, because you never want to talk about it." They didn't even ask me. So I felt vindicated that I'd done proper, because they didn't want me to think about it. Now it's different, they're mature, they're in their forties, and I can live with it differently. I can tell you, the first thirty-some odd years I could not talk about this. So, it worked out well.
Now, let me say this, you got to have some luck. Nothing is self-made, and I don't believe that I am that smart. I was lucky that the circumstances lend itself in periods of times in my life to act the way I acted. And I give a lot of credit to my family, my parents and my grandparents, who must have done at least some job at teaching me, number one to be honest, which I tell my children, number two to be loyal, And I think if you have some of these attributes, to be loyal to your friends and your family, to be honest and straight about it in life, that that will help you, in my opinion, that helps a hell of lot to have a normal and decent life. It isn't difficult, I think it's more difficult if you have to lie, because you lie, you got to remember what you said, if you tell the truth you don't have to remember it, I always feel. You know what I'm saying?
I was just wondering, what your attitude toward Germany or the Germans is today?
Thank you for asking. First of all, I don't hate. I made up my mind early enough that if you hate–and I've seen it more and more, especially as I get older–it's within you so badly that it hurts you more than the person you think you hate. So, I don't hate anybody, it works better that way. I don't buy German goods. I don't want to go back to Germany. I went back once to see that my grandfather's grave was taken care of about 15 years ago and that was it, they were taking care of it, the city was. So, I don't hate. I still speak German sometimes, when the occasion arises with people who want to speak it.
It doesn't do me any good, that's how I feel, that I hate. If I hate, it's just within you, you carry it with you, and I think it's counterproductive. I think hate by itself it counterproductive. You can vent your feelings and get mad, and scream maybe, whatever, but hate by itself is totally self-destructive, and that's why I don't want to hate. I don't have to talk to them, I don't have to go there, I don't have to buy their products, but to hate them? First of all, they're new generations. Hate is not working, it just doesn't work. I may get mad and upset with somebody, but then I forget it. So I don't want to hate. I'm not trying to be "Mr. Nice Guy," it just doesn't work, I've seen that happen. I mean, I like somebody, but hate, it isn't working for anybody.
What was it like coming to the United States?
It was terrific. First of all I finally decided I had to get out of Europe. I made a poor living, it was after the war, and I didn't know where I was going. So, I remembered that my mother's brother moved to San Francisco, and I knew him as a child, and he had moved to San Francisco. And every Friday, or almost every Friday, my mother used to give me a nickel and a envelope and said, "Go to the post office, put a stamp on it and send it to Uncle Lamo." He lived in San Francisco, he had moved here because his wife's family—my aunt—had relatives here who had moved here before the turn of the century, I mean, they moved here in the 1800's during the Gold Rush days. And I remembered the address, it was 405 21st Avenue in San Francisco. Now how do I remember it? Because every Friday I had to go to the post office and saw that address on the envelop and I always remembered that, I still remember it now. So I wrote letter to my Uncle, and he still lived in 405 21st Avenue in 1949. Then he immediately, of course, sent me food and a letter, of course, first. I said, " I want to come to the United States."
And I was helped by an agency who took care of people who didn't have any money to pay. I went on a boat. it took eight days. First it went to England the ship from Holland and left Rotterdam on December, the 5th of December. We went to South Hampton, and then stopped in Bermuda for a couple hours. And then I saw the Statue of Liberty in New York. And I stayed there for two weeks and I came to San Francisco. That's when my life really started again. I couldn't ask for anything better, because of loyalty of friends and help from people when I needed a job, and especially the friendships developed over the years.
Then, of course, when the Korean War started I felt really strong, that since the American army had liberated me I felt very guilty that I hadn't done anything. How could I pay back the American army? So I volunteered. And I went to the Presidio, which was then the headquarters of the Sixth Army, and I volunteered to go in the reserve unit and I signed up for two years. With my luck the whole unit was drafted after six months. So I ended up first to Fort Ord, near Monterey, for basic training. And I went to Fort Lewis on my way to Korea. For some reason, with my luck the unit that I was in, they kept me in Fort Lewis. I spent the rest of my army career in Fort Lewis, Washington. I came out as a Sergeant which I thought was big stuff. But I felt I had paid off my duty to the American army who had given me life, and I wanted to do that, and I'm glad I did. I still have some good friends from those days in other parts of the country. But the army was no fun but it worked out okay for me. That's why I feel we have to be very strong now to support our soldiers because it's a tough life for them for the moment.
How were you treated by people after the War after you knew that you had survived the Holocaust?
After the War? In Holland? Very nicely but let me tell you, there was no institution we could go to, there was no one yet, you were on your own. Some neighbors were nice and people were nice but everybody had troubles. They had been on food rations in Holland. You couldn't buy clothes in Holland after the war, at the end of the war and after the war for the first year. There was nothing made. Everybody was in trouble. As far as survivors were concerned, the few, we didn't talk to each other. I knew what he was going to say and he knew what I was going to say, or he or she. But the country, everyone had troubles. Businesses were gone, there was no food to speak of. It was hard for the Dutch and I'm sure it was the same thing in Belgium, in Holland, Denmark and Norway – similar. But Holland was totally plundered. Holland lost its entire – Holland is know for it's dairy cattle, you know the black and white. We call them here "Holsteins." They all came from Holland. Famous. The Germans had plundered all of Holland. They emptied the bank accounts and the safe deposit boxes. They took all their farming. They took all their cows. They plundered Holland. The people – everyone – had problems. I had mine, they had theirs.
It wasn't like I came back and was embraced with open arms. They would have liked to but they couldn't. It was hard to comprehend. And survivors – I'll give you an example. One would have thought that there would be organizations which had been in business before the war who would take care of survivors. But there was no one there. There was no one there. We didn't get any money, or any help or any counseling. I had nothing, zero, when I came back. The mayor of the town gave me a job in city hall, I was pushing a pencil around, I had no schooling. There was no such thing as a bank account. The neighbors fed me. That's all I needed. I had no bicycle. Forget a car, I never had a car anywhere in Europe. Everyone had problems, poverty, hunger, illnesses.
The survivors, they all went different. The majority left Europe I would say. They went to different places. The United States, some to Israel, some South America. Some South Africa. We had no place to go. We had no cemetery to go to see our parents graves. There was nothing there. We didn't talk to each other either. There was no organized community. That all came later, much later.
How long were you in the States before you got your citizenship?
I got citizenship in the Army, when you're in the Army, for some reason the law was then that you can get it in five years usually, that's the law, but in the army you can get it after three years. So, I became a citizen in almost four years, in 1954, I became a citizen in Tacoma, Washington.
When did you start working with organizations that dealt with Holocaust remembrance?
I started first with the Jewish Community Federation here, and that's a fundraising thing, it helps the hospitals and the old people in Israel. Then the Holocaust thing didn't come until many years later, many years later, because I didn't get involved, there was nothing here at that point on that issue until about the early '70's, maybe late 60's, something like that when we started to build the Holocaust memorial. Which by the way, their grandmother was the leader of, Mrs. Goldman, she was the leader of building that memorial near the Legion of Honor. Mrs. Goldman was very important.