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Hannah Rosen Diary Interviews

Jan Karski || John W. Pehle || Gerhart Riegner

My Family

Erich Rothschild || Ilse Rothschild || Kurt Rothschild


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 formation of the War Refugee Board. You stated in the book, Rescuers, that you were skeptical. Can you explain why?

I had an audience, 28 July 1943 with President Roosevelt. Mr. Pehle, the first 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 never mentioned me or my meeting with Roosevelt. In 1981 at a conference, he said Karski’s mission to the United States and his conversation with Roosevelt changed policy from at best passivity to affirmative action. This statement was 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 an international conference of liberators organized by Elie Wiesel who won the Nobel Prize. Mr. Pehle made a report, and what he said was probably in an answer to a question.

2. In your opinion, what were the factors that caused Roosevelt’s administration 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 a Jewish, or Polish or French president, but an American president. Roosevelt was a great man. He changed history because Americans did not want to enter the war. But America entered the war. Hitler declared war on America. The president had many tasks and he had to be careful that Hitler did not defeat Russia. If Hitler had defeated Russia, the war would have continued for verymany years. Roosevelt had to defeat Hitler and Germany and he did. He saved Russia from defeat. American help to Russia is still underestimated. Large amounts of military equipment were sent. In the winter of 1941-42, America sent 30,000,000 military boots and the Russian soldiers didn’t (care) whether they wore two left or two right shoes. Russia did not collapse. The defeat of German was on his shoulders and another war with Japan. He defeated Japan. The United States lost less than half a million GIs. In Poland, one city, Warsaw had greater losses that all of America. After the war, America emerged twice as rich as before the war.

Why didn’t he extend more aid? How can I know? I couldn’t ask the president, “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 divided between socialists and Zionists. Thousands upon thousands of Jews were in the underground. In Poland, Hungary, Holland, France, Greece Jews were engaging in underground activities — not as Jews. My direct superior was a man of Jewish descent, but he didn’t tell me because it would jeopardize, it would be a double danger, one because he was part of the underground and two, because it meant execution.

The world did not know, it didn’t know, it didn’t know about my superior, he didn’t look Semitic. I sent various messages to the allies. I was not the only courier. The American Jewish Congress had their own agents, a man named Easterman who was a liaison with Dr. Riegner in Switzerland. I was not the only 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 discussing psychological warfare, I had several meetings and they spoke with me frankly. At one meeting, they engaged in animated discussion between themselves about bombing the railroad — “those Jews in Poland are crazy; don’t know what they are talking about, stupid — bomb a narrow railroad, the planes would haveto fly low, they would have many losses, the precision of the bombs is not good,for narrow railroads, would have to drop ten times as many bombs. And where will the bombs fall? They will fall on Polish peasants. And what will be the reaction of the Poles to the bombing without any reason?” To destroy from the air railroads would be very costly. And the Germans having slave labor to repair the railroads, they can do it in no time.

4. Richard Breitman recently wrote an article in which he said, “Even successful rescue and relief measures during 1943 would not have greatly curbed the killing of Jews, any more than the successful operations of the War Refugee Board and Jewish organizations did during 1944 and 1945. Given the fierce determination of the Nazis to carry on with the war and the Final Solution, most of the Jews in their control were beyond Allied assistance. It was far easier for Nazi Germany to kill Jews than it was for Britain 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 allies considered it impossible and too costly to rescue the Jews, because they didn’t do it. The Jews were abandoned by all governments, church hierarchies and societies, but thousands of Jews survived because thousands of individuals in Poland, France, Belgium, Denmark, Holland helped to save Jews. Now, every government and church says, “We tried to help the Jews,” because theyare ashamed, they want to keep their reputations. They didn’t help, because six million Jews perished, but those in the government, in the churches they survived. No one did enough.

Young people, like you, should never forget that not all humanity is bad or that 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, the Soviet 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 there are 6,000 names -many Polish names — at any moment they could have been found out and executed. Still there were such people. The Jews were abandoned by governments.

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5. Why do you think that major magazines and newspapers did not publish articles about the Holocaust until the fall of 1944 when they published yours?

Very good question. This is speculation. When I brought my report to London, and I was twice in the Warsaw Ghetto and in a concentration camp and saw what happened to Jews in World War I, such a thing never happened in the entire history of the world. There were pogroms, the Inquisition, expulsions, mass murders (Genghis Khan, in Turkey against the Armenians), but never such a phenomenon in a civilized country like Germany where there was conceived a plan by the highest government authority to destroy an entire population. I had this 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 telling them I had the feeling that they were thinking that I had exaggerated, they thought that it was anti-Nazi propaganda, they couldn’t believe what was actually happening.

When I came to the United States in 1943, I had a meeting with a Justice of the 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 I saw. He was interested only in what happened to Jews. After 20-25 minutes, a moment of silence, I remember every word — “Mr. Karski, a man like me talking to a man like you, I want to be totally frank — I am unable to believe you.” My ambassador said, “Felix, you don’t mean it. You cannot say such a thing. You cannot call him a liar.” “I did not say he is lying. I am just unable to believe what he told me.” Then he reached out to shake my hand, but I couldn’t.

So, it was difficult to believe for those who were far away. Why, when I now hear, today, when people use the term Holocaust, in many cases I feel offended — “abortion is a Holocaust” or the Armenians suffered a Holocaust — all this is blasphemy, there is no comparison.

Wiesel said it the best, “All nations had victims, but all Jews were victims. ” The word Holocaust cannot be used by any nation. It means the destruction 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. They felt simply human. I am human. In my case, not so much, simply I was in the underground. The authorities told me — two Jews learned about your trip and want 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 not choose me, I had my own separate mission. For their mission, they needed someone bigger or stronger. I was unknown, a nobody. I couldn’t talk on an equal basis. My job was to report. Yes, it was very important. They wouldn’t interrupt. And I couldn’t tell them to interrupt me. The Jews did not have much luck. I was too little for the enormity of what I brought to the West.

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 even British pounds, only dollars or gold pieces. So, I go to the State Department to Charles Bohlen (who later became Ambassador to the Soviet Union) — he made an excellent impression — dignified. And I told him about the visas, that the Jews need as many as possible and he said to me, “Mr. Karski, perhaps you don’t realize, but we are a government not of people, but of laws. We are the executive branch. We execute laws. Congress passes laws. The Congress has established specific quotas. We cannot give visas to people whose names you can’t give us, whose nationalities you can’t give us. Congress would have to change the law, otherwise it would be a federal offense. ”

What he said seemed at that time convincing. . . Often there are situations with no solution. Could the OSS have done something. Allen Dulles was in Switzerland. They could have gotten him to help get Jews out, but this I don’t know.

Keep this in mind — whatever governments and countries are saying 50 years later. How much they did during the war, don’t believe them — the answer is because I know 6 million Jews perished.

7. You said in the book, Rescuers, that “the help had to come from the powerful Allied leaders, and this help did not come.” Why do you think 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 to represent the interests of their own country.

The Jews were in a bad situation. Today, the Holocaust would not be possible. 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 not because humanity has changed. It hasn’t. The basic change — there is Israel. At that time the Jews were totally helpless — they did not have representatives, but had to rely on others. Today, Jews are no longer homeless or helpless.

American leaders explained that they could do nothing. They had to win the war. Could a Jew escape from Warsaw. Naturally, they could. It was not so difficult. Where would he go? There was no one he could trust. If he asked someone on the street to give him shelter, he would not know if the person would turn 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 was death. It was difficult in the streets of Warsaw. When a Nazi official saw a local child, he would not kill the child. The child will be my slave 20 years from now. But if he saw a Jewish child, he would kill him just because the child 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 was signed 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 was written 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 by David Wyman. The Treasury Department’s Foreign Funds Control unit of which I was the Director found out that the State Department had been interfering with reports on atrocities in Europe forwarded from our legation in Switzerland. The State Department had forwarded a copy of a cable that was deceptive. The original cable had referred to our consultation, but that part had been deleted. We found out about it and other incidents and concluded that the State Department 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 with the war effort. These people didn’t want the country to be distracted or deterred from the war effort.

4. Can you describe some of the main conflicts within the Roosevelt administration between those who wanted to help rescue Europe’s Jews and those who 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 arranged for a meeting with President Roosevelt on a Sunday afternoon. Randolph Paul and I were at that meeting as well. He asked that an agency be established outside of the State Department to handle the refugee problem.

5. Based on my research, I am confused on an issue. At a conference in 1981, you said that Jan Karski’s meeting with President Roosevelt led to the creation of the War Refugee Board, but David Wyman, author of the Abandonment of the Jews, said that Morgenthau’s staff, because of the efforts to block rescue by the State Department and the British Foreign Office, persuaded Morgenthau to form a special agency, which ended up being the War Refugee Board. Which is correct?

I didn’t know there was a conflict. I know the circumstances behind the War Refugee Board because Morgenthau went to the president. Karski told the president at an earlier date, but nothing happened until the Board was established.

6. Did you advocate the bombing of Auschwitz? Why or why not? Knowing what you do today, would you have done the same thing?

It was a controversial thing. At first, the various Jewish organizations were reluctant to recommend that Auschwitz be bombed, because a lot of Jews would be killed. It was argued that Hitler could then say that Americans are killing Jews. Finally, we decided to recommend to the War Department that they bomb.

Yes, I would have done it. Sure, I would ask the War Department, but they refused.

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 changed the policy of the United States. Instead of interfering with Jews being rescued, 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 was successful and that you were critical to that success. Could more have been done and what would have been required for that success?

More could have been done, if we had been able to start earlier, but because of the war and the interference of the State Department and no broad public support, it was very difficult. It would be different today.

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Interview with Gerhart 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 August 1942 telegram was not made public until November 24, after it was confirmed by the State Department when Undersecretary Sumner Welles had a meeting with Rabbi Wise and told him he could release it?

and

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 of the Allies.

The essential step was to inform the governments and the leaders of Jewish organizations. This was urgent.

Wise respected the instructions by Sumner Welles not to publish the telegram because he was probably afraid that the channel of communications through the State Department would be closed if he did not follow the advice. I do not think one can blame him for that.

The time was however not completely lost: Wise informed Justice Frankfurter and asked him to convey the message to President Roosevelt.

Our British colleagues, notably Mr. A. L. Easterman, the Political Secretary of the WJC in London, informed all the governments in exile as well as the Soviet ambassador in London.

My telegram was reported to two meetings of the American Jewish organizations in New York in September.

3. What kind of information did you provide to Rabbi Wise and others and what methods did you use to communicate this information (telegram, letter,telephone) and did you change how you sent information after you found out about the fact that U. S. State Department didn’t give Rabbi Wise the telegram?

Open telegrams on the Final Solution were excluded in Switzerland. The Swiss censorship would never have allowed it. Facilities for telephone conversations with foreign countries did not exist during the war. And even normal letters would go in most cases through German censorship.

The only sure way of corresponding was through the intermediary of foreign legations. The most important messages were, therefore, sent through the American legation in Bern to Washington and through the British legation in Bern and the Czechoslovakian diplomatic representative in Geneva to London.

I used open letters for sending all kinds of reports, extracts from official gazettes 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 American Council of Churches who was visiting Geneva to ask us again whether deportation meant certain death. When we confirmed this is the final days of September, he got 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 the WJC in New York. I did not write on all matters to the President. But he was fully informed.

In October Wise arranged with Undersecretary Sumner Welles that I and the representative 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 all kinds of testimonies. When this material arrived in Washington it convinced Sumner 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 Wise communicate with you and provide you with information?

and

6. Did you keep getting information and keep communicating with Rabbi Wise and 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. There were other members of the WJC Executive with whom I corresponded. My most important letters went to Dr. Nahum Goldmann whom I knew very well as he had been my chief in Geneva. Other recipients of letters, reports and other materials were Dr. Arjeb Tartakower, Rabbi Irving Miller, Dr. Leon Kubowitzki 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 any information about what other things you did. Could you briefly describe some of 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 Final Solution” which contains a summary of my most important activities.

You can also find detailed information about my activities in the “Oral History Department” of the Holocaust Museum in Washington. I have given them an account of my activities during many hours.

8. If I had actually been your cousin and living in New York and working for 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 what form?

My own family lived in the USA. I wrote to them very rarely as most letters went through German and Allied censorship and I did not like this. I could not have openly reported what I was doing. Thus I limited myself to telling them that I was in good health.

If you would have worked at the WJC I would have treated you like my other colleagues. I would have reported whenever there was something important to report. From September 1942 on, I sent also monthly condensed reports surveying the whole situation in Europe.

Enough for today. I have still other business to attend. I may reply to some 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 then about the U. S. government response?

——

10. Richard Breitman recently wrote an article in which he said, “Even successful rescue and relief measures during 1943 would not have greatly curbed the killing of Jews, anymore than the successful operations of the War Refugee Board and Jewish organizations did during 1944 and 1945.

Given the fierce determination of the Nazis to carry on with the war and final solution, most of the Jews in their control were beyond allied assistance. It was far easier for Nazi Germany to kill Jews than it was for Britain and the U. S. to rescue them.” Do you agree? Why or why not?

I agree that even successful rescue activities in 1943 would not have stopped the process of annihilation. But one could have saved several hundred thousand Jews. And you know the saying: Who saves one human being, saves the world. . .

The major mistakes were made before the war. Hitler could have been stopped in 1933, 1935 and 1936 (at the occupation of the Rhineland), maybe even in 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 opening the frontiers of the Allies, and of the neutral countries, and of Palestine, by more energetic political action vis-a-vis Nazi Germany, by more imagination (like “port frane” zones in USA) important numbers may have been saved.

11. In your opinion, what were the factors that caused the Roosevelt administration 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 beyond normal 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 win the 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 to push the Americans into the war. The great majority of Americans wanted to remain neutral and did not want to wage a “Jewish war. ”

f. Nobody was prepared for a fight against the systematic extermination of a whole people, with an index card in hand and by using modern technological means without precedent. This shows the uniqueness of the Shoah.

12. 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 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 ovens from 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 not publish 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 more people 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 was nice 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 the farmers and sold it to the mills and he bought the flour from the mills to sell to 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 was bothering us. And one day when we were walking to the synagogue, he came by and I threw him off the bike. I just moved my arm, you know, and he fell off the bike naturally.

That was it.

4. How did you meet Grandma?

The Jews couldn’t belong to sport clubs. Before, I belonged to a soccer club, right, but later on we couldn’t do that anymore and I gave gymnastic lessons for the girls. She came to the gymnastic lessons in the synagogue in Bad Nauheim.

5. Then again in Switzerland?

Then, when she moved to Frankfurt, I met her in Frankfurt, because I was studying in Frankfurt. But, later on I couldn’t study any more at the university, because they threw me out. I had to go to Switzerland. She came to Switzerland too, but then she left and went to Belgium.

6. So, you had mentioned that none of your friends were Jewish, is that what you said?

I had Jewish friends, but not what you call close friends. My best friends were non-Jewish. There were Jewish boys in the school with me, but they were not close friends.

7. Were a lot of the Jewish people that you knew trying to leave the country?

Yes, they were trying to leave, to Palestine for example.

I know one of my student friends went to Palestine as a police officer. He was 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 bread and jam for a week.

9. Wasn’t there something about how you were a soccer player that helped you 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 for vacation, the Gestapo came and told me to get out of Germany, probably on account 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. It could 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 all over and beautiful walks and the baths, mud baths and all that. There were about 80 Jewish families. We had a synagogue.

My family had a droggerei, that was a sort of a drug store. It was much different, though. My father was very smart; he knew all the teas and different things that he made. We had two stores. And my mother worked in the store. And we had a housekeeper, a sleep-in. We were three girls and one boy. And we went to school. For the first four years I went to a Jewish school and Sunday school too. Then I went to the Lyceum. There were very few Jewish girls in there, because there were only 80 families, you know. Some Jewish girls came from different towns nearby, an hour a way, let’s say, or they came by train, only a half an hour away. Before Hitler everything was great. There was always anti-Semitism. . . anti-Semitism is never going to die anyway. . . all-in-all it was fine. So, my sisters and I played tennis and biked 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 the holidays. 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 things started. . . 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 to Frankfurt in about 1936. We moved into a Jewish house, because the Christians were 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 United States. It’s different now. You could go illegally to France, or Belgium or Italy, 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 deported and went to South America. The other died at Auschwitz, but her two children were able to get to Palestine. A lot of people at that time were also trying to go to Palestine.

3. What kept you there? Why didn’t you try to leave, or did you try to leave?

I left. You couldn’t just leave. You needed money. You needed a passport. In some countries, you needed a visa. A lot of people went to Israel –it was called Palestine.

4. You said that you had a lot of Christian friends and you didn’t want them 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 their parents all worked, and you know, if you go with Jews, maybe you could lose your job, maybe. Then we moved to Frankfurt. And a lot of Jews tried already, if they 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 all that.

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 other sister was in Belgium, in Antwerp, because her husband worked in the diamond trade. There was a big trading center there in Antwerp. Her son, Eddie, was sent to a children’s camp, but she was able to get him out with the help of some friends. 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 to Auschwitz. And, I had two aunts and my grandfather in Hersfeld who were deported.

6. Can you tell me some things to give me an idea about what was going on and how you felt about it?

It was terrible. You couldn’t go swimming when you wanted to. Jews could only go on certain days. And Jews were beaten up. It was just awful. But when 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 teen years, 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 house every Friday night and sit around the table and talk. Then the war broke outand your grandfather stayed in Switzerland, until I came to Switzerland after the war. Then, in 1949, we went with your father who was born in 1947 to New York.

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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 to America and where you were at the time?

I was in a town called Friedberg, which is outside of Frankfurt. This is where your great grandfather and all his family came from. My mother and dad didn’t want to leave at that time to come to America, because they felt that Hitler wasn’t going to be there so long. They thought that things were going to 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 an affidavit of support in those days. And, they gave me the affidavit which I took to the American Consulate in Stuttgart, Germany and I got my visa to come to 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, your grandfather and I were back at the high school a year ago and we went back there and talked to the students who are there now and it was very interesting because nobody in the high school now knew what was going on in those years. They had no 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 Jewish families. Our family had lived there since the early 1600s, so we were there a couple of years. You great grand parents and great, great grandparents were very successful in business, very much admired by the population there and your great grandmother was very active in the Quakers in those days, social action and 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, they brought 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, your grandfather and I were never beaten up or anything like that. Your great grandfather was beaten up by young thugs that came in during Kristallnacht, but they came from out of town, they were not the local people.

5. When you were getting out, were there lots of other people getting out also? It’s pretty amazing for a high school boy to able think about breaking up 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 those days. 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 we left.

8. And how come other people couldn’t get into America? Why were you able 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 other people’s. So, I went and got my visa and in 1937 I left Germany and came to America. I finally got your grandfather out of Switzerland and brought him to America 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 and brought them over, because they were in Switzerland. In order to get to America, you had to have a visa and in order to get a visa, you had to have someone speak up for you. I had to say that I could support them, that they wouldn’t become public charges of the United States government, that they wouldn’t be dependent upon the government.

11. Can you give me an idea of the things that were happening between 1933 and 1937 in Germany and then in America?

Well, there were all kinds of laws in Germany where the Jews could not go tos chool 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 were stores in this country called I. Magnin and Company. They were specialty stores. I had met Mr. Magnin in Germany at the company I worked for in the handbag business. He told me that when I got to New York, I should come see him and he would help me find a job, which he did. He got me a job with a company 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 they could have left with everything they had even at that time. They could have brought all their furniture and everything else. But they felt that this wouldn’t last long, and my father especially, because he was an officer in the German Army in World War I, your great grandfather. He felt that things would change again. But, things didn’t change and he ended up in a concentration camp. And your great grandmother was lucky enough to get him out.

Because one day she was walking in the streets of Frankfurt, I don’t know if your Dad ever 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, “Is there anything I can do for you? ” and she said, “Yes, we have tickets to come to America and my husband is in Buchenwald in the concentration camp. ” 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 so they cane over and arrived here on my birthday, June 13, 1941, they arrived here, 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 and arrived 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 United States Army in the Ski Troops, 10th Mountain Division. Then I brought your grandfather and grandmother over from Switzerland and I brought over your Aunt Ingrid over from England after my parents were here.

18. Once you were in America, you were aware of all the efforts of people trying 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 and he didn’t do a thing for the Jews. There was a ship called the St. Louis, I don’t know if you ever heard about it, that had left with refugees from Germany to get them out. They tried to land in Puerto Rico or somewhere [Cuba] and they wouldn’t take them. So, they tried to land here and America wouldn’t take them. So, they had to go back to Holland, and most of the people ended up in concentration camps or were killed. And our government didn’t do a thing about it.

19. Did you know anyone when you were in America who tried to get the government 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 Mountain Division, the Ski Troops, I wrote to the government in 1941 to try to interest the 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 would have ended up in a concentration camp, most likely and maybe would not be around today.

 

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