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Section below transcribed Logan L (2008), edited by Joseph Werhan (intern). Please report errors to: email@example.com.
What was the purpose of the parade?
To get people excited. People watch a parade. If you get a parade with a bunch of people here then people will stand on the street corners and watch them. What's better than a nice parade and a bunch of people singing, drumming, bugle corps and swinging flags and pretty girls twirling batons? They didn't twirl batons in Germany. The only person that twirled a baton in Germany was the leader of the band—in front of it—and they had batons that were this big [gestures: arms open wide] and heavy and they threw them. God forbid they ever hit anybody with them he'd be dead.
It was to get people riled up politically to support the Nazis?
Oh Yes. You want to get people—you don't have to feed them, just give them a good show. At the time—during the thirties—there were food shortages in Germany. There were shortages of most everything because everything was focused on building up the army and building up power structure. You put on a good show—good parade—and I'll go hungry for a few days.
You talked about how they would have speeches every week. Could you describe a speech you remember and what they talked about in the speeches?
No, it didn't matter what they talked about as long as they yelled out enough.
Yes. Did you ever see the Great Dictator with Charlie Chaplin?
Yes, with the gestures and the yelling?
Yes, with the gestures and the yelling. You didn't have to listen to what Hitler said. I remember watching newsreels and stuff. I never saw him personally. He never went out our way, but the staging of the massive marches into the arena with flags and very orderly rows of people marching, and then he shows up on this platform. It was like being up in Valhalla—the gods of the Nibelungen—and he ranted on, but it didn't make any difference. It was this incredible image—this show—and you can get things like that in most societies that tend to be toward the dictatorial. Quite frankly, as an aside—this is a personal aside—if I see things like that in this country that remind me of that I'm not very happy.
Did you have any direct experiences of discrimination during the rise of Hitler and the Hitler Youth?
Very shortly after the beginning of 1933 we were no longer in the German sports clubs or anything of the sort so we set up our own. It didn't take very long for us to not be specifically exposed to discrimination. We pretty quickly learned that there are some things you just don't do. You don't make noise in the streets. You don't call attention to yourself. You stay out of trouble because if you're in trouble it's worse for you than for anybody else. You learn self control—which is not the usual thirteen, fourteen, fifteen year old way of behaving—but you learn damn quickly. You get beat up a few times, or you see you buddies beat up. You learn.
Could you tell us one of those experiences of which you heard, or that happened to you?
I can't think of any particularly. I think in that sense I was personally fairly fortunate. Partially because my father taught us fairly quickly what the limits were—what the framework was in which we were living. He was a fabulous guy in that sense. Probably because I think—maybe I'm just dreaming—he spent so much time in his country. He learned to see the flaws in the system there much more clearly and much more quickly than many of our friends did. There were an awful lot of people in our circle—very relatively well off bourgeois German-Jewish families—who again had been in German society in all different ways—as professionals, as businesspeople, as teachers—you name it.
In the military?
In the military. My dad was in the military in World War I. All his friends were. They were good German citizens and we learned many of them simply would not believe that in their Germany, this could happen. That they would no longer be part of it, and it was a tragic experience for many of them to lose their foundation, their being. That's who they were. History is quite clear—many of them committed suicide—couldn't deal with it. Their Germany left them—expelled them—internally and externally.
Your family was lucky. Your father had got out and obviously early on he had a very different take on that. Can you recall any discussions with either family or friends who refused to see the writing on the wall? Could you describe any?
I remember sitting in dinner discussions with my parents and some friends who said, "This will go away. This can't last. I mean this is a passing something. Our Germany can't do this—can't be this crazy. This is inconcievable."
Did your father try to talk sense into them?
Yes, but you talk to a wall.
What about your parents siblings—the ones that were eventually put into camps—what were they doing at the time?
They were living their lives just normally. My Aunt Gertrude lived with my uncle Martin in Berlin. Neither of them were married. He eventually ended up in Argentina. She ended up in a concentration camp. Aunt Greta had married the director of the gas and waterworks of the city of Altona—which is one of the big suburbs of Hamburg—and I remember visiting them in the gas and waterworks, which is this palatial place where they were processing water and filtration plants and so on. He died in the mid '30s, and his wife Greta—one of the two sisters of my father—ended up in Loitz. Their oldest son—also named Walter—ended up with them in Loitz and disappeared. The younger son had been sent to England for study and when the war started was interned by the British and then deported to Australia, where he joined the Australian Army and as far as I know still lives in Australia. We've lost track of him. I know somewhere along the line in the 1950's he came through America on a trip and visited my mother in Chicago. That was my father's family. In my mother's family there were four girls and one son. The two oldest sisters—one lived and was married in Breslau in Silesia and the other one in Ratibor, which is also in Silesia—the southern end of the Silesian finger that stretches out between Poland and Czechoslovakia—both ended up in Mauthausen concentration camp. I remember shortly after the war going there because my mother had heard that they had been there and talking to some other inmates who had remained alive who had known them. In a sense, it was probably fortunate that both of them died because both of them had gone crazy.
Do you have any sense of the extended family that stayed in Europe? What percentage of those that stayed in Europe survived?
None of them. As I said, one uncle ended up in Argentina, one aunt and family ended up in Chile. We ended up in the U.S. My mothers sister ended up in Chicago. Her brother ended up in Baltimore. All the ones that did not get out didn't survive.
What was their viewpoint, and why were they not eager to leave Germany the same way you were?
By the time they were ready to leave there was no place they could go. The British wouldn't let them go to Palestine. America made it fairly difficult to come to America—fairly difficult, almost impossible. One of my uncles—a couple of them ended up in South America which was certainly not where they had planned to go—but you got on a boat and wherever it went you went. Brenda's dad—my wife's dad—ended up on a boat that went around South Africa past India and ended up in Shanghai and he ended up spending the War in Shanghai of all places, which was appalling. Being bombed by the Japanese and being bombed by the Chinese—a great place.
While you were growing up in Germany you said that you had very—as the Hitler Youth instructor put it—Aryan features like blonde hair and blue eyes. Do you feel like that ever got you out of discrimination? Were there times where you felt that people assumed you weren't Jewish because of your physical appearance and didn't discriminate against you?
I think so, Yes.
Do you have any specific events?
There was the thing where the Hitler Youth leader comes into the class and picks me out as the perfect example of an Aryan, Teutonic boy. It obviously made it easier for me to sort of disappear in a crowd. I have to point out being born in Stettin—which is north near the Baltic Sea—it was one of the early places where the Nazis were very, very active. In early 1936, we moved to the Rhineland. When we moved to the Rhineland it seemed almost as if we'd moved outside of the country because at that time in the Rhineland you hardly saw any Nazi flags. You hardly saw any Nazi uniforms. Within Germany there was a major difference of party affiliation, party activities and so on. By the time we left in 1938, the Rhineland too had become brown, if you will. We moved just a little ahead of the really bad stuff. Again, my father's wisdom. Whether it was luck or whether it was his wisdom or whatever I don't know, but it certainly helped us.
Do you think if you had stayed up North it would have been more difficult?
It would have been more difficult I'm sure.
Can you think of any specifc effects of the Nuremburg Laws on you. I believe you were still there, right?
Yes, '36 I believe they were.
Did you ever have to wear a star or anything like that?
If I remember correctly that happened shortly after we came to America in fact. So it was after we left.
But can you recall any specific restrictions that impacted your family between 1936 and 1938?
In 1936, my father lost his job and moved to another job waiting for the emmigration situation. Not concretely. There was always this sense—this aura—of “watch it,” “be careful,” “don't call attention to yourself.”
Leaving Germany for Chicago
I imagine you were pretty happy to get out of Germany and go to Chicago. Could you describe how that change was for you?
Like day and night, more than day and night. But before I get let me quickly add—as we were leaving the pressure on my parents had been such that just before we left my father had a heart attack. When we took a train from the Rhineland to Amsterdam—where we had relatives—and the ship was leaving from Rotterdam. My sister and I with an aunt were brought to Amsterdam by train. My father and my mother drove there because he was too sick to be on the train. We came to this country by way of New Amsterdam on a brand new Dutch ship which was fabulous. I know my mother and my sister were seasick all the way across and my dad and I ate our way across, and I still remember coming into New York harbor with the Statue of Liberty. It was an amazing experience. A friend of my father's picked us up from the pier and they'd arranged for a little basement appartment in New York. We spent the summer in the East. We spent the summer in a summer camp in Pennsylvania and some friends of the owners of the camp came through. They'd been on a trip to Canada and New England. Somehow my parents got to talk to them.
My father wanted to go out west. He lived in Denver before and he wanted to go as far as possible because he loved the West and he wanted to come out west. These people from Chicago said, "Why don't we take one of your kids and get them started here where we are, and then you don't have to traipse around the country looking for a place where you want to be, with your kids in tow. Wonderful. I remember we drove from Pennsylvania to Niagara, took a boat across the Erie and then got to Detroit, and drove down to the bottom of Lake Michigan. I remember going through the place where the House of David is. There is this religious cult that had some place in Michigan and these were all bearded folks. They had a baseball team—the House of David—who knows, odd memories. I remember driving around the bottom of Lake Michigan, coming up through Chicago ending up in Highland Park, Illinois. Two or three days later they signed me up at high school, and that was weird because in the meantime I had learned a few words of English. I'd studied English in gymnasium. It didn't help me a hell-of-a-lot when I got to be here because I knew all about the British royal family and all the castles in England. It didn't help me find a lunch room some place. I remember the first night in Highland Park—it was a Saturday—and the Hass's invited some friends of theirs who had a boy my age, of Wegberg. We ended up listening to the Hit Parade. Jazz was something totally unknown to me. Popular music? Totally unknown. The number one song of my first Hit Parade was A-Tisket A-Tasket—my brown and yellow basket—with Ella Fitzgerald singing with Chick Webb's orchestra. These crazy things you remember.
How does it go?
[Singing] A-Tisket A-Tasket, a brown and yellow basket. I put my letter in a duh dum dum dum dum da-dah! Aw, the-hell with it. I've got a record of it, my kids gave me a record of it years and years and years later. I used to have a very high, very nice soprano voice. Shortly after my Bar Mitzvah it broke, but that was still a good time.
What was the American mindset on Jews—specifically displaced Jews—during that time?
I remember we were driving back from the East to Highland Park where I was going to be for school. One of the suburbs as you come up the North Shore is Kennelworth—a very ritzy suburb north of Chicago—and there was wooden sign on the entrance to Kennelworth which said, "You're Now Entering Kennelworth." Up on top was a very tiny inscription carved into this wooden sign—"Restricted." I asked, "What does it mean?" and he told me, "No Jews and no dogs." That was an interesting introduction to American life.
Were there a lot of experiences where you would come across restricted places?
There were at that time. One of the great things during World War II was that that disappeared fairly quickly. I remember being signed up at Highland Park High School and all my school records my certificates and so on were somewhere on the sea being shipped, so I had no papers whatsoever. I ended up in school and they talked about where do I fit in. American high school is different from German gymnasium, but they figured that having come from a good German school—which are much better than American schools, people thought at the time—I must be very smart and have a very brilliant education. They stuck me into senior year—which was probably a stupid thing to do—but there it was. I didn't know what to argue. There were a certain number of required courses which you had to take in order to graduate in Illinois at the time. I had to take an English class, and an American history class and one other class that was required. Then I had to make up all these other grades on credits that I didn't have any papers for. I had taken the classes—Latin and math and you name it—so I took tests, a whole year of tests trying to get credits. I didn't do very well because I didn't speak English very well so sometimes I knew what the Latin was but I didn't know what the English was. I remember standing in line for graduation exercise—while we were rehearsing, going through the mishmash—and my homeroom teacher comes up to me and says, "Monasch, I'm afraid you won't be able to graduate tomorrow because you only have thirty-one-and-a-half credits and you need thirty-two. I said, "What test haven't a taken yet?" and they cooked up a test in Medieval European history and I got a D and I graduated. What kind of stupidity, but there it is. Things like that have turned me off bureaucracy—and if you'll pardon my French, this kind of chicken shit—all my life. Because what are the rules? Who makes up these rules? But what test haven't I taken yet? Can I take one?