When you were younger how did you deal with the anti-Semetic acts?
That's a good question, not only them, but I still have worry about it sometime. I don't understand, I mean this. As a child it was around us, not before Hitler so much, we never knew that. And when I came to Holland, I never, never saw this. The Dutch were wonderful which was a terrific thing for me to see because when I came from Germany, of course I had witnessed, like what I told you earlier, about the swimming pool and the school, etc. And I am very troubled about what's happening now, because I know what you are asking me, and it's being revitalized, if I can use the word, based almost on the teachings of Hitler and his cohorts. It's being revitalized by our current enemies, and it's the Muslim world, I apologize if there is anybody who is a Muslim here, I apologize, but that's what's being revitalized. I hope I can say this here. But that's where the anti-Semitism is coming from now. Not from the American people, not from the Christian world or the other religious institutions, it's being revitalized because you need a common enemy, and that's what's happening again. And the easiest is to do what Hitler did, because it's easy, you can look it up in books.
How to live under that? On a personal basis, meaning living in San Francisco, having a business here, it doesn't affect me, and it doesn't affect my friends so much, it's more global. The paper, of course, is telling us what's happening in France a little bit, and it's calmed down, in Holland, it's calmed down. But it's being re-energized by this element today because it sounds good, it's easy to do and it shows who the bad guys are, about some of the things they talk about, the books which are written which are total frauds. So we have to live with that, and it gives us a signal that nothing is permanent and nothing is safe, to that extent.
But we can't panic and we won't panic and as long as we respect each other and have our neighbors understand that, we have to live with it. It's not that simple, it's not that simple but that's the way the world is. It's a serious issue and we take it serious, I'm sure, my colleagues take it serious. But then we hope that people are smart enough and intelligent enough and decent enough, not to buy this junk. It's all I can tell you, I can talk for an hour about it and I'll say the same thing. We don't know, we don't know where it's coming from except we know now where it's coming from, but I hope for the best.
Doesn't sound encouraging maybe but I feel strong enough that the American community and the American people in general are learning more and more that human beings are human beings, they have to be respected. That's all we can do, and we have to work on it. I mean, I'm not talking about you and me, I mean everybody. On the other had people are human and they need a scapegoat sometime. We have to help. We as individuals can make a difference, all of us, to not let that happen, like restrictions on housing, employment, universities, you got to be normal.
If you are alive and you're entitled, as you all are, you should have an opportunity and nobody should stop that because of religion, of color, of ethnic background or birth...the Oriental community who came in and the Japanese, they are good citizens here, etcetera, we were all enemies once, but there shouldn't be discrimination. And I think that in the United States there is basically very, very little. Now you hear more about it than normal. People are growing up, especially you young people, you got to not let that happen because the opposite is worse and the future is not bright if we go through life and discriminate against people. That's unacceptable, there's no reason for that. We all have the same chance to be somebody. Any other questions, I hope I said that right, that's a difficult subject, let me tell you.
What do you think were the main social effects of losing such a crucial time of your teenage years?
For me today? You know me as well [others]. Am I different than other people? No, I hope not. I wanted very badly to be an American. I saw the soldiers there who liberated us and when I came to this country I was penniless, I had twenty-bucks in my pocket when I got of the train here. I wanted to be an American and I wanted to re-build a family. I felt very strong, very strong, and your grandfather and I used to talk about that a lot – her grandfather was my closest friend here, we called each other every day too. We miss him. I wanted to rebuild a Jewish world because we lost so many people. That's why I got involved, as you well know, in the Jewish Community Federation, and Israel institutions. I'm on two boards of two hospitals in Israel, one is a children's hospital, one is a general hospital. I got involved locally and nationally because I felt that [I was among] the few people who have the capacity to remember, which I was lucky that I was sane.
I wanted to help re-build a Jewish world. Let me tell you – but it's not known, it's just kept an unannounced secret – they found in Europe, in Germany in the DP camps, several thousand, about 3000-4000 people who were insane in the camps. They were taken by the Israeli government without any fanfare, it was never announced publicly, as the reason for it. I was partially involved in this in later years, about in the '70's. They took these people to Israel. We had, at one point four – but it went down to two – insane asylums in Israel of people who went totally insane when they came out of the camps. The Israeli's decided that this should not be a matter of public record. Some had family, most of them didn't have family. There is nothing you could do for these people, they had good medical care, and they were sitting in those insane asylums until they died. They are still now in existence. I got involved in two of them because there was a problem there, but that goes back about 10 years.
Not everybody came out sane. That's when I think about that and talk about it, I know how lucky I am. I was able to raise a family, get married and raise a family, I'm married now 46 years this coming August. I have two great kids, and two great grandchildren.
I was unusually lucky. I believe in God. Do I talk to God and say "What the Hell are you doing?" Yes. And, "Why did you do that?" I argue sometimes with Him, I argue with myself. But I still believe in God because I couldn't live without believing in it. I can tell you, He was on vacation in the '30's and '40's. I've said it, I'm not making a big issue of this. But you know, you think about it sometime, "Where the Hell was God?" I can tell you about people like my friend Elie Wiesel, whom we all have heard of and read about, and others, we talk about that. Where was God? There's no one who can answer that. You can say, "To Hell with it, I don't want having a thing with religion." I can't live this way. I pray every night, only a couple of lines. But I pray to God every night because I want to maintain that relationship because I know my parents would want me to, not to give that up.
Were you proud to be Jewish during the time you were experiencing.
Not particularly. I don't know, we didn't think about those things. I had a religion, I was born that way, my parents and grandparents were born that way. They were respectable people. I wouldn't change. There was maybe a moment in my life after the war. It certainly isn't easy to be a Jew in those days. I said, even if I wanted to change my religion, which people do, I couldn't do it out of respect for my parents who were killed because of their religion. And my grandparents, etc. I never had the feeling. You're born, your born, you make the best of it.
Are you proud of being Jewish today?
I have a lot of respect. Yes! I am proud to be an American today and proud to be a Jew. I don't know what's first, it's equal. That's the way I am today. I feel very strong about my religion as you well know. I would never change it. I hope that my children and grandchildren stay the same religion.
Let me tell you a story. I know of three men I met in the camps whose parents or grandparents, who I don't know, converted to Christianity. The Germans found out that their genes were one quarter – and I know this for a fact was real , he told me that they came out, one of them I remember vividly, one quarter came from Austria – there was one quarter that he didn't event know, but they found out in the archives. He was in the SS, you know what that is? The worst of the worst. When I met him he was in the same camp I was in, they found out he had a quarter Jewish blood in him and he was treated just like I was treated and just like the rest of the Jews were treated. So what's the good? That taught me a lesson right then and there. I am going back when I met this guy, and know when it was too, in 1944 or about. You can't get away from your way of life and your history and your background. You got to respect that too. I would never change my religion. But I have respect for other religions too. I hope they respect me, and I am sure they do.
Especially in this country. Let me tell you, here we don't realize. I hope I can leave a message with you. I spent the last two days with Dennis Prager. Does anyone know that name? Dennis Prager has a daily talk show in Los Angeles. He is the most fantastic guy. He talks about a lot of things, about the questions you asked, about the right and the left – he happens to be a conservative even though he was a Democrat when he was younger. He lectured for two days – three days now – at Stanford. I was with him at Stanford on Monday – Tuesday rather – and on Wednesday he was here in San Francisco. He talks about these things, how lucky we are that we are living in a Judeo-Christian environment in this country. There is no area in the world where that is done because Europe has their own system of wanting to be what they are. That's why they don't agree with us right now.
There are only three elements in the world, that's the American, the European, and the Muslim. The Muslim world feels very strong that they have only one answer to peace or whatever, that everybody has to be a Muslim. The Christian world doesn't think this way. The United States certainly doesn't think this way. They say, "You are what you are, be a good citizen and then behave like an honest and responsible person." That's why the turmoil is today in the world because there's no respect each other's livelihood, so called.
I am very proud that I can say that to you as an American. My religion is my business. My citizenship is another one that I share with, obviously, a lot of other people. We have to realize that the way this country is functioning – hopefully it will continue and not get pulled to one side the way some people want to do it – this country has a tolerance. Yes, there is some prejudice, there is no question about it, but it's getting better all the time. We have to behave like everybody has to behave and maybe we'll make a better world. I feel very strong that the American people are very, very good, very good and that they care about other people. As much as we have a history which is not as good as it should have been but it's past history. Things are changing and have changed. But it's up to us, each and every one of us, to make sure that we go up hill not down hill. It's not that difficult.
Do you have rituals or traditions that you do today to reflect upon your experiences?
No. Traditions? Not that I can think of. Thoughts? As I get older, there is no question, as I get older I think about it much, much more than I used to. In the early years after the war I didn't think about it. I was somewhere, taken out of my mind for awhile. Not totally, but I didn't think of the details. I didn't think much about my parents even after I came back because I had this will that I wanted to rebuild a life real fast. But now, as I get older, I think about it much, much more – my parents, my sister. I think about why? Why was the world silent? Why was the world silent?
That's why I admire this country so much now because they stopped being silent and went into Iraq. I don't mean to politicize this discussion but they stopped being silent because they had seen with Hitler when everybody was silent. Now we stopped this terror there.
Did you pray when you were in the camps?
little bit. I had about three lines I kept on saying often.
Then I said the first sentence of one of those prayers. It's just that my mother used to tell me that once. I do it because – everybody says something different maybe – but it gets me enough feeling that I talk to God and thank Him, I thank Him a lot because I believe that without a God – if you don't believe in God there's something missing in your life because you have to have something to believe in. It's nice to believe in good health and a good bottle of wine, but that's not important. But you got to believe that there is a God. In any religion, I'm not talking about Jewish religion, I'm talking about any religion. It's important. I tell it in the classes when I talk to a big class of kids. It can't hurt, let's put it that way.