The Holocaust Center for Humanity is collecting information about the heritage of King County residents who are the children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors.
The project preserves their special heritage by gathering stories, reflections, and memories of their parents lives and examines how the experiences as children of survivors has influenced their lives.
The Holocaust Center for Humanity has created a group comprised of children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors called Continuing Generations of the Shoah. We have asked members of Continuing Generations to share with us some of their thoughts and experiences as related to their family history. Below is a selection of these reflections.
My mother was born in Nazi Germany. My Oma and Opa, and my mother were among the last of the family to be sponsored out of Frankfurt. They were sponsored by wealthy relatives who lived in Boise, Idaho, along with help from Senator Borah. Of my Opa's 8 brothers and sisters, we lost only one, along with his spouse and child. In a rare East Coast family visit in 1980, a great aunt shared telegrams from him and his spouse asking what was the delay in their getting out. There was also a sad letter from after the war from a neighbor who told of their arrest and removal from their home.
[This family story and history] led to a minor in my degree in Jewish Studies, and a strong interest in my family tree long before Roots made such inquiry popular. My family history and how various members of the family responded to Hitler and the Holocaust remain a part of my social response to world events today... in every age we have new found freedoms, and in every age tyrants attempt to take advantage of the time / place / and history to abuse them...
I work hard to learn more about my past and present issues that humanity faces. I am involved in politics partially due to my wish to have some influence in local, regional and world events and/or policy.
The Holocaust was a time when much of the world lost their sense of right and wrong. We must remember and learn how this happened.
My father was taken to Sachsenhausen in 1938 leaving behind his young wife, my mother, and an infant son, my older brother. He was released after my mother was able to get a visa for the three of them to come to the U.S. My grandmother, Mina Stern was murdered in a camp.
I very much see myself as a child of survivors. It is part of the fabric of my self identity. I also believe I suffered a deep loss as a result of the murder of my grandmother (my grandfather died before the Nazis took power) particularly as I have witnessed and appreciated the relationship my children have been able to experience with their grandparents.
I have been an activist for social and economic and social justice since age 17 and it all ties back to my family's experience in Germany and my analysis of why it happened and the legacy it created for me.
My father left from Vienna on the Kindertransport at the age of 14 on his birthday, 12/11/38. He was able to escape because he had saved the life of a drowning girl in Vienna the year before and gained notoriety. It was the very first Kindertransport. He lived in England in an orphanage for 2 years. And then emigrated to the United States. Most of the family perished.
I have very strong identification as a Jew, as I realize my very existence is tied to the story of the Holocaust.
[Does your identity as a child (or grandchild) of survivors influence how you stand and act in the world?] It’s probably made me a little crazy, but an anxious good crazy, where I work to get the most out of life and provide the most to people around me.
*Kindertransport—Children’s Transport. As the situation for the Jewish people worsened in Eastern Europe, Great Britain agreed to allow 10,000 Jewish children from Germany, Austria, and Czechoslovakia to immigrate to England. Private citizens or organizations had to guarantee to pay for each child’s care, education, and eventual emigration from Britain. Parents or guardians could not accompany the children (USHMM).
Maternal Grandparents: Grandfather, Malcolm, born in Tarnow, Poland. He was the youngest of 4 children. His father was a designer and his mother a seamstress. In 1938, when the threat of Nazi invasion was imminent, his family begged him to stay but he fled to Switzerland where one of his older brothers lived. The rest of his family that stayed in Poland was all killed. When the war began in 1939, Malcolm was sent to a labor camp to dig ditches. Here, he volunteered to teach patternmaking to other refugees and then at a trade school. Malcolm’s brother had immigrated to the US so eventually Malcolm secured a visa and came to New York in 1945. Here, he met my grandmother and they married in 1946.
My maternal grandmother, Johanna, is from an area northeast of Frankfurt, Germany. Her family lived a comfortable middle class life and even when Hitler rose to power and some of her family and neighbors began leaving Germany, her father decided to stay in hopes that things would improve. However, on November 9, 1938, Kristallnacht, Nazis seized Johanna’s father’s business and he was taken to jail. It was then that her father recognized the need to flee and he was able to get to the US.
Johanna was part of the Kindertransport that transported Jewish children to the U.K. (10,000 in April 1939). She was hosted by the Jewish Committee in Middlesbrough, England. The Jewish Committee consisted of 130 Jewish families that cared for 25 girls. She thought she would only be there a short time as her father obtained a visa for her but it became too dangerous to cross the Atlantic. Finally, in April 1946, she arrived in New York.
Paternal Grandparents: Both were originally from Bedzin, Poland but did not know each other before the war. Both were also survivors of concentration camps. My grandmother, Esther was the oldest of 4 children. Her parents owned a small business and stressed religious values. In September 1939, Germans burned down the synagogue and neighboring buildings including Esther’s family’s apartment. From 1940 to 1942, Esther and her family moved to the ghetto and resided in one room. In 1942, she was first taken from her family by the Nazis and sent to an all female labor camp called Oberalstadt in the Czechoslovakia. She remained there until May 9, 1945 when the Russians liberated the camp. She returned to Bedzin only to find out the rest of her family had been taken to Auschwitz.
A group from Bedzin, including Norman, her future husband, traveled to Germany together and stayed at the Landsberg Displaced Persons Camp from 1945 to 1949. In June 1949, Esther moved to Omaha, Nebraska. My grandfather Norman was also 1 of 4 children. One brother survived and the rest perished at Buna, Gleiwitz and Auschwitz. After having been in concentration camps, Norman returned to Bedzin and received a post card from relatives in the US for him to contact.
My name is a constant reminder of my family’s past and what they endured. Sabina was my great aunt who perished in the Holocaust. My parents have always emphasized the importance of being active and observant Jews to keep alive the traditions for which our family died. I am lucky that both of my grandmothers are still living and thus getting the opportunity to have relationships with them throughout adulthood. They are amazing role models of strong, determined and independent women who care deeply about family and Judaism.
My parents and I (at age 3) emigrated from Germany to the USA in November of 1938. My father died the day of our arrival in NYC at the age of 33, suffering a heart attack which probably was attributed at least partially to the stress and anxiety of the displacement.
My paternal grandparents were in France with my uncle and his family where they all survived the war, some in hiding, some with false papers; the family remains there to this day.
My maternal grandparents were murdered in Auschwitz along with other members of our extended family, primarily of their generation.
I am convinced that my experience as a member of several family lines who were severely affected by the Holocaust, has had a major impact on my sense of self. I have always felt not quite American but rather a transplant from Europe who landed here as a refugee which is immensely different from being a voluntary immigrant. My sympathies and energies have been involved with refugee groups throughout my life.
My extended family is dispersed all over the US, in Israel and in France. The Diaspora is not a theoretical idea but I feel that I have always lived a mini-Diaspora which has enabled me to feel a part of the world, not just of this country.
My status as a refugee from Nazi Germany definitely influenced my view of the world as well as the activities with which I have been involved throughout my life. I think of those of us who left in due time as “refugees” rather than “survivors” but that happens to be my own take on the word, “survivor”. My mother and her 7 siblings all managed to leave Germany though the last did not do so until early in 1941.
Despite their having difficulties and unspeakable sorrow at their inability to facilitate their parents departure, they did not survive in conditions which those who were in the camps experienced.
The German Jewish refugees were not embraced heartily by the predominantly Eastern European Jews who populated Philadelphia where I grew up. The oldest Reform Congregation which dated back to the German Jewish immigration of the mid-1800s undertook to be supportive but I have always felt their attitude was one of charitable works, not the warmest welcome. I hope this does not sound unfair; it is simply put my perception. The groups who arrived from Hitler's Europe congregated amongst themselves as refugees and immigrants usually do. Folks seek their Landsleut' whether they are from Rumania, Michoacan or the hills of Laos. My parents joined a congregation formed by German Jews all of whom arrived when we did and for many years the prayer book was in Hebrew and German.
My father was born in Kerpen, a small town near Cologne, Germany. He grew up as Hitler rose to power. He related the story that, as a young person in school, a Nazi teacher told him to come in front of the class, and the teacher used my father to demonstrate what a Jew looked like.
After the war, my father was riding a bus in town, and that same teacher got on the bus. My father told him to get off at the next stop, or he wouldn’t be responsible for what he did to the teacher. The teacher got off at the next stop.
My father’s family tried to get out of Germany in the late 30s, but it was too late. My father tells how he hid during Kristallnacht.** He brought to America a picture that had been smashed that night by the Nazis.
His entire family was murdered at Auschwitz. Through incredible physical and mental strength, a great deal of intelligence, and luck, my father survived. He never knew the specific details about what had happened to his family but, later in life, when visiting Yad Va’shem in Jerusalem, he entered his brother’s name in the database, and it came up. The Nazis had recorded that they had shot him just a few months before the end of the war.
After the war, when my father returned to Kerpen, out of approximately 5,000 Jews who had lived in the town, he was the only one who had survived.
In the several years after the war, as he waited to be allowed to immigrate to America, he worked with the CIA hunting down Nazis in Europe.
He had an aunt and uncle in Seattle who had gotten out before the war. He came here to live with them, where he met my mother and started a family. After he retired, he spoke at many Seattle-area schools about his experience. His main message was to not hate other people.
My father’s story has shaped my sense of who I am. I have felt somewhat like a survivor myself. I always felt very badly about what happened to him and the unspeakable suffering he experienced. It left me feeling that the normalcy of life here in America could disappear quickly, like it did in Germany. But it has left me feeling proud to be an American—as this country liberated my father, and allowed him to build a new life.
His experience also left me with a realization of the terrible evil that humans are capable of. What happened to my father has made me see how unfair life can be. And it has resulted in my very much appreciating the opportunities I have had that he didn’t. He was incredibly smart, but was deprived of a formal education because of the Nazis.
His experience does influence me. I try to be a good person. I try to make the world a better place, in the small ways that I can. I try to be an ethical person. I sometimes fall short, but I keep trying.
My father was a great man. He never complained or felt sorry for himself. He was my hero. He died in 2010. Despite everything, he never lost his faith in God.
My father and his family were Viennese Jews. His father, my grandfather, was a self-made man who owned a prosperous lumber business. However, my father always sensed antisemitic sentiments in Vienna and as a law student at the University of Vienna, he closely followed news from Germany. He remembers that friends and neighbors became strangers overnight as the momentum of the Nazi party increased.
My father applied for affidavits for his parents to emigrate to the United States and after a long journey via the Trans-Siberian railroad and trans-Pacific travel, they made it to Portland, Oregon.
My father, on the other hand, received his law diploma and fled to Palestine, or Israel, as we know it today. He served in the British Army as an intelligence officer interrogating captured German officers, spending years in North Africa and Italy. Later on, he proudly served in the Haganah and helped Herzl’s dream come true – he witnessed Haaretz (the land) become Eretz Yisrael.
My mother’s story was quite different. The vicious force that rocked Europe would define my mother’s life inextricably. She was born in Northern Czechoslovakia in a town called Novy Bohumin. She ran and skipped in the park, and enjoyed youthful innocence. But her fate was not to remain so carefree.
When she was 15, my mother and her parents were sent to a labor camp. From there, her parents and brother were separated and abruptly led to Auschwitz, only 25 miles away, where they would perish. My mother spent the next four years in labor camps, winding up in Bergen Belsen where she developed typhoid.
Interestingly, her story mirrors that of Ann Frank as they both were in Bergen Belsen as teens. By the grace of the Almighty, and the arrival of British soldiers, my mother was saved at the age of 19. A soldier offered her a handkerchief to wipe away her tears on April 15, 1945. And so began a new and brighter chapter.
She immigrated to Palestine, eventually meeting my father on the heavenly beach of Tel Aviv. They came to Portland [Oregon] in 1950 to be with my grandparents, where they were married and were blessed with two children. Sadly, my mother was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis shortly after I was born, and she passed away when I was in my teens.
I never saw her walk, let alone take a natural step. Her doctors believed that her camp experience contributed to her susceptibility for neurological decline.
I have always been struck by my mother’s resilience. Early on, I knew the truth about my parents' lives. They worked hard to not let their story negatively impact my life or leave me down-trodden. I could take one of two roads; I chose the high road. I have chosen to give thanks by giving back to the community. I have chosen life.
I give thanks through my connection to the local community as well as to our global community. I know that my effort benefits a broad spectrum of Jewish schools, social service agencies and many other organizations. I know that I am helping sustain and enrich Jewish existence in Europe, the former Soviet Union and Israel. My grandparents were welcomed to the Northwest by the United Jewish Appeal, and helped to resettle and become part of their community.
My mom was born in Poland and my dad in Germany. My dad was picked up on Crystal Night [Kristallnacht**] in November 1938. Due to the efforts of my mom, my dad was released in January 1939 and went to Shanghai, China where they lived until April 1947.
My dad’s parents stayed in Germany and my mom’s father was sent back to Poland in 1938. My parents’ siblings went to England, Palestine and one died in the camps. I was born in Shanghai, China in 1942 in the French part of the city. I also have a cousin who was to participate in the 1936 Olympics who escaped to America. I never met my grandparents, but I did have a great uncle in America.
My family history has shaped who I am and it has been a continuing journey to learn more about what happened to my parents since that generation never talked. I only learned about their experiences in China from movies and books on the subject.
The events shaped my life since given a twist of fate I may never have been born or I could have been born in Israel. I am still interested in learning what happened to my family, all but one is deceased and she’s unwilling to talk.
My identity is influenced by what happened from going to Shabbos [Sabbath] services to being a strong supporter of Israel. I’m also interested in Jewish affairs in America. As the child of a survivor I have had a problem buying items made in Germany. In addition, I have had real problems on visits to Germany, like a visit to Hamburg in 1964 to see my grandmother's grave site that had not been taken care of. My mom lost it and I could totally relate to hearing the goose stepping sounds on the streets of Hamburg. I personally have lost it on European cruises that included trips to Germany, one being an East German tour guide asking for our compassion for what she went through and secondly the sight of freight cars that could have carried my family to their death!
This sounds like a most interesting and important project given that we need to capture and learn from what happened.
**Kristallnacht (or "Crystal Night" in English] - In November 1938, the Germans initiated a violent pogrom during which they burned all the synagogues, looted thousands of stores owned by Jewish merchants and arrested 30,000 Jewish men. The pogrom got it's name from all of the broken glass on the streets.