Hannah Rosen Diary Interviews
Hannah Rosen Diary
Interview with Jan Karski
9 February 1995, at his home
1. John Pehle, who became head of the War Refugee Board, said your meetingwith President Roosevelt was a success because it directly led to the formationof the War Refugee Board. You stated in the book, Rescuers, that you wereskeptical. Can you explain why?
I had an audience, 28 July 1943 with President Roosevelt. Mr. Pehle, thefirst director of the War Refugee Board, between 1943 and 1981, knew about meand in the film Shoah, you have seen the film? In the film Shoah, Pehle nevermentioned me or my meeting with Roosevelt. In 1981 at a conference, he saidKarski’s mission to the United States and his conversation with Rooseveltchanged policy from at best passivity to affirmative action. This statementwas made 38 years later. The statement is sympathetic, but I am skeptical –it may be a kindness on the part of Mr. Pehle. In 1981, it was aninternational conference of liberators organized by Elie Wiesel who won theNobel Prize. Mr. Pehle made a report, and what he said was probably in ananswer to a question.
2. In your opinion, what were the factors that caused Roosevelt’sadministration not to act sooner and do more to save the European Jews?
Roosevelt was an American president. When Americans vote for president,the vote for him because they believe he will be a good president. He is not aJewish, or Polish or French president, but an American president. Rooseveltwas a great man. He changed history because Americans did not want to enterthe war. But America entered the war. Hitler declared war on America. Thepresident had many tasks and he had to be careful that Hitler did not defeatRussia. If Hitler had defeated Russia, the war would have continued for verymany years. Roosevelt had to defeat Hitler and Germany and he did. He savedRussia from defeat. American help to Russia is still underestimated. Largeamounts of military equipment were sent. In the winter of 1941-42, Americasent 30,000,000 military boots and the Russian soldiers didn’t (care) whether they woretwo left or two right shoes. Russia did not collapse. The defeat of Germanwas on his shoulders and another war with Japan. He defeated Japan. TheUnited States lost less than half a million GIs. In Poland, one city, Warsawhad greater losses that all of America. After the war, America emerged twiceas rich as before the war.
Why didn’t he extend more aid? How can I know? I couldn’t ask thepresident, “What do you think about the Jews, what are you going to do.” I couldn’t. I was just a messenger.
3. David S. Wyman in his book, Abandonment of the Jews, felt that the U. S. should have bombed Auschwitz. Why do you think they didn’t?
I knew that the Jews in Poland had their own underground that was dividedbetween socialists and Zionists. Thousands upon thousands of Jews were in theunderground. In Poland, Hungary, Holland, France, Greece Jews were engaging inunderground activities — not as Jews. My direct superior was a man of Jewishdescent, but he didn’t tell me because it would jeopardize, it would be a doubledanger, one because he was part of the underground and two, because it meantexecution.
The world did not know, it didn’t know, it didn’t know about my superior, hedidn’t look Semitic. I sent various messages to the allies. I was not theonly courier. The American Jewish Congress had their own agents, a man namedEasterman who was a liaison with Dr. Riegner in Switzerland. I was not theonly one. They were sending reports.
I didn’t carry any messages about the bombing of Auschwitz. But I was atone of the conferences with intelligence officers, secret agents discussingpsychological warfare, I had several meetings and they spoke with me frankly. At one meeting, they engaged in animated discussion between themselves aboutbombing the railroad — “those Jews in Poland are crazy; don’t know whatthey are talking about, stupid — bomb a narrow railroad, the planes would haveto fly low, they would have many losses, the precision of thebombs is not good,for narrow railroads, would have to drop ten times as many bombs. And wherewill the bombs fall? They will fall on Polish peasants. And what will be thereaction of the Poles to the bombing without any reason?” To destroy fromthe air railroads would be very costly. And the Germans having slave labor torepair the railroads, they can do it in no time.
4. Richard Breitman recently wrote an article in which he said, “Evensuccessful rescue and relief measures during 1943 would not have greatly curbedthe killing of Jews, any more than the successful operations of the War RefugeeBoard and Jewish organizations did during 1944 and 1945. Given the fiercedetermination of the Nazis to carry on with the war and the Final Solution, most of the Jews in their control were beyond Alliedassistance. It was far easier for Nazi Germany to kill Jews than it was forBritain or the U. S. to rescue them.” Do you agree? Why or why not?
It was easy for the Nazis to kill Jews, because they did it. The alliesconsidered it impossible and too costly to rescue the Jews, because they didn’tdo it. The Jews were abandoned by all governments, church hierarchies and societies, but thousands of Jews survived because thousands of individuals inPoland, France, Belgium, Denmark, Holland helped to save Jews. Now, everygovernment and church says, “We tried to help the Jews,” because theyare ashamed, they want to keep their reputations. They didn’t help, becausesix million Jews perished, but those in the government, in the churches theysurvived. No one did enough.
Young people, like you, should never forget that not all humanity is bad orthat it is stupid to live or that you must be careful or they will kill me –remember that thousands helped — a half million emerged in Europe. The Nazishad no time to finish them. And when Jews escaped to the Soviet Union, theSoviet government did not discriminate. They were conscripted into the army. And many Jews were fighting in the underground, not as Jews, as nationals oftheir countries. Most were saved by local populations. In Yad Vashem thereare 6,000 names -many Polish names — at any moment they could have been foundout and executed. Still there were such people. The Jews were abandoned bygovernments.
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5. Why do you think that major magazines and newspapers did not publisharticles about the Holocaust until the fall of 1944 when they published yours?
Very good question. This is speculation. When I brought my report toLondon, and I was twice in the Warsaw Ghetto and in a concentration camp and sawwhat happened to Jews in World War I, such a thing never happened in the entirehistory of the world. There were pogroms, the Inquisition, expulsions, massmurders (Genghis Khan, in Turkey against the Armenians), but never such aphenomenon in a civilized country like Germany where there was conceived a planby the highest government authority to destroy an entire population. I hadthis feeling from Eden, and Lord Cranborne (Conservative Party) a dignified man,a very rich man and Lord Selbourne who was very anti-Nazi — what I was tellingthem I had the feeling that they were thinking that I had exaggerated, theythought that it was anti-Nazi propaganda, they couldn’t believe what wasactually happening.
When I came to the United States in 1943, I had a meeting with a Justice ofthe Supreme Court, Frankfurter, who was a Jew, and he told me at a meeting atthe Polish Embassy, “Do you know who I am? Yes. Do you know I am a Jew? Yes. Please tell me what is happening.” After 20 minutes I told him all Isaw. He was interested only in what happened to Jews. After 20-25 minutes, amoment of silence, I remember every word — “Mr. Karski, a man like metalking to a man like you, I want to be totally frank — I am unable to believeyou.” My ambassador said, “Felix, you don’t mean it. You cannotsay such a thing. You cannot call him a liar.” “I did not say heis lying. I am just unable to believe what he told me.” Then he reachedout to shake my hand, but I couldn’t.
So, it was difficult to believe for those who were far away. Why, when Inow hear, today, when people use the term Holocaust, in many cases I feeloffended — “abortion is a Holocaust” or the Armenians suffered aHolocaust — all this is blasphemy, there is no comparison.
Wiesel said it the best, “All nations had victims, but all Jews werevictims. ” The word Holocaust cannot be used by any nation. It means thedestruction of Jews.
6. What motivated you to risk your life to try and help the European Jews?
Religious people, for many of them, they did see what was happening. Theyfelt simply human. I am human. In my case, not so much, simply I was in theunderground. The authorities told me — two Jews learned about your trip andwant you to carry a message for them. I couldn’t say I didn’t want to do it. Now, at my old age, I can say that Jews did not have good luck. They did notchoose me, I had my own separate mission. For their mission, they neededsomeone bigger or stronger. I was unknown, a nobody. I couldn’t talk on anequal basis. My job was to report. Yes, it was very important. Theywouldn’t interrupt. And I couldn’t tell them to interrupt me. The Jews didnot have much luck. I was too little for the enormity of what I brought to theWest.
I go to the Department of State and wanted to get blank passports, visas,not from Nazi-dominated countries; and I wanted money, not German marks or evenBritish pounds, only dollars or gold pieces. So, I go to the State Departmentto Charles Bohlen (who later became Ambassador to the Soviet Union) — he madean excellent impression — dignified. And I told him about the visas, that theJews need as many as possible and he said to me, “Mr. Karski, perhaps youdon’t realize, but we are a government not of people, but of laws. We are theexecutive branch. We execute laws. Congress passes laws. The Congress hasestablished specific quotas. We cannot give visas to people whose names youcan’t give us, whose nationalities you can’t give us. Congress would have tochange the law, otherwise it would be a federal offense. “
What he said seemed at that time convincing. . . Often there aresituations with no solution. Could the OSS have done something. Allen Dulleswas in Switzerland. They could have gotten him to help get Jews out, but thisI don’t know.
Keep this in mind — whatever governments and countries are saying 50 yearslater. How much they did during the war, don’t believe them — the answer isbecause I know 6 million Jews perished.
7. You said in the book, Rescuers, that “the help had to come fromthe powerful Allied leaders, and this help did not come.” Why do youthink this was so?
I don’t know. As an old man, an educator teaching international relations,you must understand that the international community consists of governments,180 governments, each representing their own country. They have a duty torepresent the interests of their own country.
The Jews were in a bad situation. Today, the Holocaust would not bepossible. In the last 10 years, more and more people have told me, Prof. Karski, another Holocaust is possible. Don’t be stupid, I say. It is notbecause humanity has changed. It hasn’t. The basic change — there isIsrael. At that time the Jews were totally helpless — they did not haverepresentatives, but had to rely on others. Today, Jews are no longer homelessor helpless.
American leaders explained that they could do nothing. They had to win thewar. Could a Jew escape from Warsaw. Naturally, they could. It was not sodifficult. Where would he go? There was no one he could trust. If he askedsomeone on the street to give him shelter, he would not know if the person wouldturn him over to the Nazis. All Warsaw was a ghetto; all Poland was a ghetto;all Nazi-dominated Europe was a ghetto. If you were a Jew, your destiny wasdeath. It was difficult in the streets of Warsaw. When a Nazi official saw alocal child, he would not kill the child. The child will be my slave 20 yearsfrom now. But if he saw a Jewish child, he would kill him just because thechild was a Jewish child.
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Interview with John W. Pehle
16 February 1995, by telephone
1. I have read that you co-authored the “Report to the Secretary ofthe Acquiescence of the Government in the Murder of the Jews,” which wassigned by Randolph Paul. Is this true? Why didn’t you sign it as well?
It was signed by the General Counsel, someone who was over me. It waswritten by me and Josiah DuBois.
2. What were the circumstances that led to the writing of this document?
It’s a long story, in a way. But, I thought it had been written about byDavid Wyman. The Treasury Department’s Foreign Funds Control unit of which Iwas the Director found out that the State Department had been interfering withreports on atrocities in Europe forwarded from our legation in Switzerland. The State Department had forwarded a copy of a cable that was deceptive. Theoriginal cable had referred to our consultation, but that part had been deleted. We found out about it and other incidents and concluded that the StateDepartment was interfering with news of the Holocaust.
3. In your opinion, why did Breckinridge Long and other State Departmentofficials try to prevent rescue efforts, such as the Riegner Plan?
Well, it was a combination of things. In some cases, it was anti-Semitism. And others felt that these efforts came at the expense of and interfered withthe war effort. These people didn’t want the country to be distracted ordeterred from the war effort.
4. Can you describe some of the main conflicts within the Rooseveltadministration between those who wanted to help rescue Europe’s Jews and thosewho didn’t? What were the basic reasons for that conflict?
Treasury was not involved in rescue. It only became involved by accident. When we found out what was happening and told Secretary Morgenthau, he arrangedfor a meeting with President Roosevelt on a Sunday afternoon. Randolph Pauland I were at that meeting as well. He asked that an agency be establishedoutside of the State Department to handle the refugee problem.
5. Based on my research, I am confused on an issue. At a conference in1981, you said that Jan Karski’s meeting with President Roosevelt led to thecreation of the War Refugee Board, but David Wyman, author of the Abandonment ofthe Jews, said that Morgenthau’s staff, because of the efforts to block rescueby the State Department and the British Foreign Office, persuaded Morgenthau toform a special agency, which ended up being the War Refugee Board. Which iscorrect?
I didn’t know there was a conflict. I know the circumstances behind theWar Refugee Board because Morgenthau went to the president. Karski told thepresident at an earlier date, but nothing happened until the Board wasestablished.
6. Did you advocate the bombing of Auschwitz? Why or why not? Knowingwhat you do today, would you have done the same thing?
It was a controversial thing. At first, the various Jewish organizationswere reluctant to recommend that Auschwitz be bombed, because a lot of Jewswould be killed. It was argued that Hitler could then say that Americans arekilling Jews. Finally, we decided to recommend to the War Department that theybomb.
Yes, I would have done it. Sure, I would ask the War Department, but theyrefused.
7. Do you think the War Refugee Board was a success? Please explain why.
It was established very late. The war was almost over. But it changedthe policy of the United States. Instead of interfering with Jews beingrescued, we had a chance of seeing that all Jews who could be rescued were. With limited time and resources, it still did some good.
8. Many historians, like David Wyman, think that the War Refugee Board wassuccessful and that you were critical to that success. Could more have beendone and what would have been required for that success?
More could have been done, if we had been able to start earlier, but becauseof the war and the interference of the State Department and no broad publicsupport, it was very difficult. It would be different today.
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Interview withGerhart M. Riegner
16 and 21 February 1995, by facsimile machine
1. How did you feel and what did you think about the fact that your August1942 telegram was not made public until November 24, after it was confirmed bythe State Department when Undersecretary Sumner Welles had a meeting with RabbiWise and told him he could release it?
2. Do you think Rabbi Wise should have publicized the telegram earlier? Please explain.
I was not concerned with the publication of the telegram.
I had myself asked that the news should be checked by the secret services ofthe Allies.
The essential step was to inform the governments and the leaders of Jewishorganizations. This was urgent.
Wise respected the instructions by Sumner Welles not to publish the telegrambecause he was probably afraid that the channel of communications through theState Department would be closed if he did not follow the advice. I do notthink one can blame him for that.
The time was however not completely lost: Wise informed Justice Frankfurterand asked him to convey the message to President Roosevelt.
Our British colleagues, notably Mr. A. L. Easterman, the PoliticalSecretary of the WJC in London, informed all the governments in exile as well asthe Soviet ambassador in London.
My telegram was reported to two meetings of the American Jewishorganizations in New York in September.
3. What kind of information did you provide to Rabbi Wise and others andwhat methods did you use to communicate this information (telegram, letter,telephone) and did you change how you sent information after you found out aboutthe fact that U. S. State Department didn’t give Rabbi Wise the telegram?
Open telegrams on the Final Solution were excluded in Switzerland. TheSwiss censorship would never have allowed it. Facilities for telephoneconversations with foreign countries did not exist during the war. And evennormal letters would go in most cases through German censorship.
The only sure way of corresponding was through the intermediary of foreignlegations. The most important messages were, therefore, sent through theAmerican legation in Bern to Washington and through the British legation in Bernand the Czechoslovakian diplomatic representative in Geneva to London.
I used open letters for sending all kinds of reports, extracts from officialgazettes in all occupied countries, newspaper clippings, etc.
4. Between the time Rabbi Wise received your telegram and made it public,did you have any other communications with him? If so, please describe.
I sent one letter to Wise. He had asked the Chairman of the North AmericanCouncil of Churches who was visiting Geneva to ask us again whether deportationmeant certain death. When we confirmed this is the final days of September, hegot a telegram to this end and I sent a letter confirming our position.
I sent a number of other reports to various members of the Executive of theWJC in New York. I did not write on all matters to the President. But he wasfully informed.
In October Wise arranged with Undersecretary Sumner Welles that I and therepresentative of the Jewish Agency, Richard Lichtheim, should see the U. S. Minister in Bern, Mr. Leland Harrison, and submit to him our whole material. We did this on 22 October in a memorandum of about 30 pages which included allkinds of testimonies. When this material arrived in Washington it convincedSumner Welles and he gave the material to Wise and allowed him the publication.
5. How often did you communicate with Rabbi Wise and did Rabbi Wisecommunicate with you and provide you with information?
6. Did you keep getting information and keep communicating with Rabbi Wiseand Sydney Silverman? Did they continue to let you know what was going on?
As I said before, I did not all the time write or cable to Wise. Therewere other members of the WJC Executive with whom I corresponded. My mostimportant letters went to Dr. Nahum Goldmann whom I knew very well as he hadbeen my chief in Geneva. Other recipients of letters, reports and othermaterials were Dr. Arjeb Tartakower, Rabbi Irving Miller, Dr. LeonKubowitzki and Dr. Jacob Robinson (the Director of the Institute of JewishAffairs). All this is available in the archives of the Hebrew Union College -Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati. The same materials went to London,mostly to the Political Secretary of the WJC Mr. A. L. Easterman.
7. In the many books and articles I have read, I have not found anyinformation about what other things you did. Could you briefly describe someof the other things you did during the period August 1942 – June 1945.
I am sending you an article: “From the Night of the Pogrom to the FinalSolution” which contains a summary of my most important activities.
You can also find detailed information about my activities in the “OralHistory Department” of the Holocaust Museum in Washington. I have giventhem an account of my activities during many hours.
8. If I had actually been your cousin and living in New York and workingfor the WJC, how often and how honestly would you have communicated with me? How long would it have taken and how much would you have told me and in whatform?
My own family lived in the USA. I wrote to them very rarely as mostletters went through German and Allied censorship and I did not like this. Icould not have openly reported what I was doing. Thus I limited myself totelling them that I was in good health.
If you would have worked at the WJC I would have treated you like my othercolleagues. I would have reported whenever there was something important toreport. From September 1942 on, I sent also monthly condensed reportssurveying the whole situation in Europe.
Enough for today. I have still other business to attend. I may reply tosome other questions next week.
9. If, in my diary, we met in person for the first time since the war,what information could you tell me now that you could not have told me thenabout the U. S. government response?
10. Richard Breitman recently wrote an article in which he said, “Evensuccessful rescue and relief measures during 1943 would not have greatly curbedthe killing of Jews, anymore than the successful operations of the War RefugeeBoard and Jewish organizations did during 1944 and 1945. Given the fiercedetermination of the Nazis to carry on with the war and final solution, most ofthe Jews in their control were beyond allied assistance. It was far easier forNazi Germany to kill Jews than it was for Britain and the U. S. to rescuethem.” Do you agree? Why or why not?
I agree that even successful rescue activities in 1943 would not havestopped the process of annihilation. But one could have saved several hundredthousand Jews. And you know the saying: Who saves one human being, saves theworld. . .
The major mistakes were made before the war. Hitler could have beenstopped in 1933, 1935 and 1936 (at the occupation of the Rhineland), maybe evenin 1938 during the Czech crisis.
When the war begun, it was too late.
During the war we could never have saved the six million. But by openingthe frontiers of the Allies, and of the neutral countries, and of Palestine, bymore energetic political action vis-a-vis Nazi Germany, by more imagination(like “port frane” zones in USA) important numbers may have beensaved.
11. In your opinion, what were the factors that caused the Rooseveltadministration not to act sooner and do more to save the European Jews?
There are probably a number of reasons:
a. Partly disbelief in the veracity of the reports on the Holocaust to agreat extent. What the Nazis did to Jews was so horrible that it was beyondnormal human understanding.
b. Partly insensitivity of the US bureaucracy, both civilian and military, to the fate of Hitler’s victims. The only objective: we have to winthe war.
c. Partly anti-Semitic sabotage in the State Department.
d. Partly the knowledge that the Jews were powerless at the time. Theyhad no choice, they had to follow the Allies.
e. Partly the efficiency of the Nazi propaganda which accused the Jews topush the Americans into the war. The great majority of Americans wanted toremain neutral and did not want to wage a “Jewish war. “
f. Nobody was prepared for a fight against the systematic exterminationof a whole people, with an index card in hand and by using modern technologicalmeans without precedent. This shows the uniqueness of the Shoah.
12. David S. Wyman in his book, Abandonment of the Jews, felt that theU. S. should have bombed Auschwitz. Why do you think they didn’t?
I think they should have bombed Auschwitz and worked hard for it. Reasons:see 11. a. and b. Maybe also the technical difficulty to hit the gas ovensfrom a great height. But this could have been overcome by dropping a commando,by parachute, and by exploding the ovens from the ground.
13. Why do you think that major U. S. magazines and newspapers did notpublish articles about the Holocaust until the Fall of 1944?
I do not know. I was not in the USA at the time. But I believe many morepeople knew about the catastrophe in the USA than is today admitted.
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Interview with Erich Rothschild
4 February 1995, by telephone (tape recorded)
1. Can you give me some background on the town you lived in?
Friedberg was small town. It had about a hundred Jewish families. It wasnice living there.
2. What did your father do? What was his job?
He was a salesman. He had a big business. He bought the corn from thefarmers and sold it to the mills and he bought the flour from the mills to sellto the bakeries.
3. Could you tell me again about the Hitler Youth who was bothering you?
Yes, there was always one guy who belonged to the Hitler Youth who wasbothering us. And one day when we were walking to the synagogue, he came byand I threw him off the bike. I just moved my arm, you know, and he fell offthe bike naturally.
That was it.
4. How did you meet Grandma?
The Jews couldn’t belong to sport clubs. Before, I belonged to a soccerclub, right, but later on we couldn’t do that anymore and I gave gymnasticlessons for the girls. She came to the gymnastic lessons in the synagogue inBad Nauheim.
5. Then again in Switzerland?
Then, when she moved to Frankfurt, I met her in Frankfurt, because I wasstudying in Frankfurt. But, later on I couldn’t study any more at theuniversity, because they threw me out. I had to go to Switzerland. She cameto Switzerland too, but then she left and went to Belgium.
6. So, you had mentioned that none of your friends were Jewish, is thatwhat you said?
I had Jewish friends, but not what you call close friends. My best friendswere non-Jewish. There were Jewish boys in the school with me, but they werenot close friends.
7. Were a lot of the Jewish people that you knew trying to leave thecountry?
Yes, they were trying to leave, to Palestine for example.
I know one of my student friends went to Palestine as a police officer. Hewas killed by the English later.
8. Tell me the story of how you got out.
Because they threw me out of the university, I went to Switzerland to study. At that time my parents could still send me money to study, right? But,later on, no more. . . no more money. At that time I lived only on breadand jam for a week.
9. Wasn’t there something about how you were a soccer player that helpedyou get out of Germany? ‘
Yes, I was soccer player in Germany.
10. So, it was easier for you to get out?
No, it wasn’t easier, because they threw me out. But when I came back forvacation, the Gestapo came and told me to get out of Germany, probably onaccount of the fact that I was a well-known soccer player. I don’t know. . . it’s interesting, because they didn’t throw anyone else out, only me. Itcould have been on account of the soccer.
11. How old were you when you left to go to America?
I came to America in 1949 and I was born in 1913, so I was 36.
12. How old were you when you left for Switzerland?
In 1936, I was 23.
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Interview with Ilse Rothschild
4 February 1995, by telephone (tape recorded)
1. Tell me about town where you were born and lived.
Hersfeld was a small town. It was a spa. It had a wonderful park. There was water to drink for the different diseases, so people came from allover and beautiful walks and the baths, mud baths and all that. There wereabout 80 Jewish families. We had a synagogue.
My family had a droggerei, that was a sort of a drug store. It was muchdifferent, though. My father was very smart; he knew all the teas anddifferent things that he made. We had two stores. And my mother worked inthe store. And we had a housekeeper, a sleep-in. We were three girls and oneboy. And we went to school. For the first four years I went to a Jewishschool and Sunday school too. Then I went to the Lyceum. There were very fewJewish girls in there, because there were only 80 families, you know. SomeJewish girls came from different towns nearby, an hour a way, let’s say, or theycame by train, only a half an hour away. Before Hitler everything was great. There was always anti-Semitism. . . anti-Semitism is never going to dieanyway. . . all-in-all it was fine. So, my sisters and I played tennis andbiked and we walked. There was no television unfortunately, or fortunately. So, we lived in peace. And then we had a synagogue, and we walked there on theholidays. It was wonderful, on Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Passover.
And then Hitler came. My father died in 1934. He had a heart attack. He probably would have lived longer if Hitler hadn’t come. And then thingsstarted. . . they beat up Jews.
There was a lot of anti-Semitism. We couldn’t go to movies anymore. Then, Christians couldn’t go to Jewish stores. We had to have a sign on. They picked up some Jews. They forced us to go vote. And then we moved toFrankfurt in about 1936. We moved into a Jewish house, because the Christianswere not supposed to take us anymore and they couldn’t come into our store.
2. Were lots of your friends leaving, trying to go to America?
Most of the people started, but you had to get a number to get to the UnitedStates. It’s different now. You could go illegally to France, or Belgium orItaly, but not to America. But, that’s what people tried to do. We moved, soI don’t know what a lot of my friends did. I had two aunts. One was deportedand went to South America. The other died at Auschwitz, but her two childrenwere able to get to Palestine. A lot of people at that time were also tryingto go to Palestine.
3. What kept you there? Why didn’t you try to leave, or did you try toleave?
I left. You couldn’t just leave. You needed money. You needed apassport. In some countries, you needed a visa. A lot of people went toIsrael –it was called Palestine.
4. You said that you had a lot of Christian friends and you didn’t wantthem talking to you anymore, because you didn’t want to get them into trouble.
That’s right. I didn’t stand with them on the street, because theirparents all worked, and you know, if you go with Jews, maybe you could lose yourjob, maybe. Then we moved to Frankfurt. And a lot of Jews tried already, ifthey had relatives, a lot just tried to get out. It wasn’t that easy.
To go to America, you had to have a number, because of the quota onimmigration. In Frankfurt, Jews were prevented from going to various places. . . you couldn’t go swimming. . . you couldn’t go to the opera. . . andthey had signs all over saying “Jews not allowed. ” So, I wanted togo to a school there, but they threw us out. Then I learned sewing and allthat.
5. Then, Grandpa told me how he met you at a gymnastics class he gave.
You see, I went to Bad Nauheim, also a spa, which is another town where Iwas employed. They had fashion businesses and I did alterations and things. So, I worked there and then I went for gymnastics, and your grandfather wasthere and so we got acquainted. Later, we met in Frankfurt again.
My oldest sister had gone to America. She was in New York. My othersister was in Belgium, in Antwerp, because her husband worked in the diamondtrade. There was a big trading center there in Antwerp. Her son, Eddie, wassent to a children’s camp, but she was able to get him out with the help of somefriends. Then I went via Switzerland to Belgium. And I stayed there until,in 1940 when the troops came, and I went underground. From there, mybrother and brother-in-law were deported to France. From there, they went toAuschwitz. And, I had two aunts and my grandfather in Hersfeld who weredeported.
6. Can you tell me some things to give me an idea about what was going onand how you felt about it?
It was terrible. You couldn’t go swimming when you wanted to. Jews couldonly go on certain days. And Jews were beaten up. It was just awful. Butwhen I graduated, that was in 1933, I had a Jewish teacher. They took him andI don’t remember if they beat him up. I didn’t have a youth, not the teenyears, I didn’t have that. My father died in 1933. His grave is in Hersfeld. My mother was deported to Auschwitz, and my brother and brother-in-law and alot of aunts and small cousins. We all used to go to my grandmother’s houseevery Friday night and sit around the table and talk. Then the war broke outand your grandfather stayed in Switzerland, until I came to Switzerland afterthe war. Then, in 1949, we went with your father who was born in 1947 to NewYork.
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Interview with Kurt Rothschild
31 January 1995, by telephone (tape recorded)
1. I was wondering if you could tell me how you were able to get toAmerica and where you were at the time?
I was in a town called Friedberg, which is outside of Frankfurt. This iswhere your great grandfather and all his family came from. My mother and daddidn’t want to leave at that time to come to America, because they felt thatHitler wasn’t going to be there so long. They thought that things were goingto change, but I felt I wanted to get out and not be caught in all that mess.
2. And that was when?
1937. Actually, I started in 1936. I had cousins of mine in Fostoria,Ohio, actually they were cousins of my mother’s, who sent papers–you needed anaffidavit of support in those days. And, they gave me the affidavit which Itook to the American Consulate in Stuttgart, Germany and I got my visa to cometo America.
3. How old were you then?
I left Germany when I was 20 years old. When I left high school I was 17. I got kicked out, one year before finishing high school. In fact, yourgrandfather and I were back at the high school a year ago and we went back thereand talked to the students who are there now and it was very interesting becausenobody in the high school now knew what was going on in those years. They hadno idea of what happened during the Nazi time.
4. What kind of town did you live in? Was it big? Small? Jewish? Non-Jewish?
It was a small town of 12,000 people. I think we had two hundred Jewishfamilies. Our family had lived there since the early 1600s, so we were there acouple of years. You great grand parents and great, great grandparents werevery successful in business, very much admired by the population there and yougreat grandmother was very active in the Quakers in those days, social actionand things like that. . . helping the poor. And it was a great little town.
There was no anti-Semitism in the town. Only during Hitler’s days, theybrought in young people from the villages around that made trouble for the Jews,but the people themselves within the town were never that bad. Actually, yourgrandfather and I were never beaten up or anything like that. Your greatgrandfather was beaten up by young thugs that came in during Kristallnacht, butthey came from out of town, they were not the local people.
5. When you were getting out, were there lots of other people getting outalso? It’s pretty amazing for a high school boy to able think about breakingup with his family.
Well, in those days, a lot of families left, the whole family unit left.
6. Were your friends talking about it?
Oh, yes, lots of my friends left in those days; their families left in thosedays. A lot of people went to Palestine starting in 1933 already.
7. Were girls as well as boys getting out?
Oh, yes. As many people tried to get out as they could.
Our cousins all left. Your grandfather and I had six or eight cousins intown and most of them left for Israel in 1932, 1933, and 1934, long before weleft.
8. And how come other people couldn’t get into America? Why were youable to get in?
Well, in those days, there were only so many visas available.
9. So, you were just lucky?
Yes, I was just lucky that my number came up sooner than a lot of otherpeople’s. So, I went and got my visa and in 1937 I left Germany and came toAmerica. I finally got your grandfather out of Switzerland and brought him toAmerica after I had been here for a few years already.
10. How did you do that?
I made out an affidavit of support for him and for your grandmother andbrought them over, because they were in Switzerland. In order to get toAmerica, you had to have a visa and in order to get a visa, you had to havesomeone speak up for you. I had to say that I could support them, that theywouldn’t become public charges of the United States government, that theywouldn’t be dependent upon the government.
11. Can you give me an idea of the things that were happening between 1933and 1937 in Germany and then in America?
Well, there were all kinds of laws in Germany where the Jews could not go toschool anymore, and I was kicked out of high school.
12. That was in 1935, right?
1935, right. I went to a town called Offenbach where I learned a trade. I learned how to make handbags. I learned a trade, so, if I came to America,at least I had something I could fall back on and could do.
13. And, so what did you do in America?
When I first came here, I went to a man named Mr. Magnin. There werestores in this country called I. Magnin and Company. They were specialtystores. I had met Mr. Magnin in Germany at the company I worked for in thehandbag business. He told me that when I got to New York, I should come seehim and he would help me find a job, which he did. He got me a job with acompany that I worked for the first three years I was here.
14. How did you feel about leaving Germany?
I felt I had to leave, because otherwise I wouldn’t be able to do anything. . . I would end up in a concentration camp.
15. Were you upset that your parents wouldn’t come?
Yes, I was upset about it because I thought they were short-sighted. Ithought they should have been smart enough to leave at that time, because theycould have left with everything they had even at that time. They could havebrought all their furniture and everything else. But they felt that thiswouldn’t last long, and my father especially, because he was an officer in theGerman Army in World War I, your great grandfather. He felt that things wouldchange again. But, things didn’t change and he ended up in a concentrationcamp. And your great grandmother was lucky enough to get him out. Becauseone day she was walking in the streets of Frankfurt, I don’t know if your Dadever told you this story, and the head of the secret police of Germany met her. He had gone to school with her when they were children and he said, “Isthere anything I can do for you? ” and she said, “Yes, we havetickets to come to America and my husband is in Buchenwald in the concentrationcamp. ” He said, “Well, I’ll make sure that he gets home tomorrow. “And the next day, my Dad was home. So that was very, very fortunate. And sothey cane over and arrived here on my birthday, June 13, 1941, they arrivedhere, on the last boat that was able to get out of Europe.
16. What was the name of the boat?
The boat was the Nyassa; it was Portuguese. They left on June 6, 1941 andarrived here June 13, 1941.
17. What did you do after your parents came over?
I went into the United States Army in 1941 I was a soldier in the UnitedStates Army in the Ski Troops, 10th Mountain Division. Then I brought yourgrandfather and grandmother over from Switzerland and I brought over your AuntIngrid over from England after my parents were here.
18. Once you were in America, you were aware of all the efforts of peopletrying to get the U. S. government to take action, right?
Right, but the United States government didn’t do anything. Even Mr. Roosevelt, who was president in those days must have known what was going on andhe didn’t do a thing for the Jews. There was a ship called the St. Louis, Idon’t know if you ever heard about it, that had left with refugees from Germanyto get them out. They tried to land in Puerto Rico or somewhere [Cuba] andthey wouldn’t take them. So, they tried to land here and America wouldn’t takethem. So, they had to go back to Holland, and most of the people ended up inconcentration camps or were killed. And our government didn’t do a thing aboutit.
19. Did you know anyone when you were in America who tried to get thegovernment to change its policy?
Yes, in fact there were a lot of letters written by a lot of people in mycircle of friends to the government telling them what was going on, but nothingwas done.
20. Do you know anyone who’s around now?
No, most of them are gone now. In fact when I was in the 10th MountainDivision, the Ski Troops, I wrote to the government in 1941 to try to interestthe government to do something, but I never even got an answer.
21. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I was very lucky to get out when I did get out, because otherwise I wouldhave ended up in a concentration camp, most likely and maybe would not be aroundtoday.
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