Interviewer: Constance B.
Producer/Director: John G.
May 15, 1990
Copyright 1990 Holocaust Oral History Project
San Francisco, California
I: Shall I begin?
F: Yes, please.
I: My name is Constance B. and I’m talking to Mr. Walter F. at the Holocaust Center of Northern California. The date is May 15, 1990. Alright? Mr. F. I’d like to begin by just asking you something about your background, your childhood. Tell me about your parents and the rest of your brothers and sisters.
F: Alright. I was born in 1920, May 1920 as a matter of fact, just about 70 years ago in Wiesbaden, which is now in West Germany. It’s near Frankfurt. My father was a physician -what was then called a Praktiker Arzt, today it would be internist or family physician -and two years after I was born…I was the first born. I had a little brother. I was told a stork brought me a brother. In those days a stork brought you.
Then I was told that and I asked, what did the stork bring me? Always thinking of number one. Anyway, I grew up in Wiesbaden. I went to school there, to a Volkschsule, a pre-school, a grammar school I would say, and then to a Gymnasium, because I wanted to follow in my father’s footsteps and become a physician.
I left the Gymnasium after six years and got a job and also went to another type of school that trained you for trade and commerce, lectures in accounting, economics, sales and so forth. So that was the equivalent of some of the business schools here. And I worked in a factory in Wiesbaden, a Jewish factory, that made medical equipment. I did that until November 10, 1938, when Kristallnacht occurred, and I along with 30,000 other Jews was arrested and sent to Buchenwald.
I: Okay, let’s stop there and go back. You’ve covered a lot of territory there. How old were you there then?
F: Well that was 1938 and I was born in 1920, makes me 18 and a half years old.
I: So tell me something more about your childhood. Did you have your relatives there?
F: Okay, let’s go to my relatives. I had, in Wiesbaden, my grandparents on my mother’s side. That is my mother’s father and mother.
I: Were they from Wiesbaden?
F: No, they were from Mannheim. In fact my mother is from Mannheim, was born there. My grandfather, her father, was a partner in a large department store in Mannheim, with branches in Mannheim, Ludwigshafen, Darmstadt, Michelstadt, and other cities in that neighborhood, called Rothschild. Rothschild’s department store, a very large department store, and he had retired. When I got to know him he was already retired, living in Wiesbaden and retirement with his wife. We visited there very often. Always a big thing to go visit grandpa and grandma.
I: Did they have a big house?
F: They had the upper flat of a three story building which is still there. I was in Wiesbaden just about a year ago and I saw it and it is still there. They lived there and very comfortably. I couldn’t tell you today how many bedrooms they had, but I know they had a beautiful living room, dining room, kitchen, could have been one or two bedrooms. I had in Wiesbaden my mother’s sister, who was married to a man who together with someone else owned a large, what would you call it, store, selling perambulators, bedding, linens, that sort of thing. The firm was called H. and W.,. This was W., Adolf W., and they had a son name of Max, Max W.. Max now lives in Middletown, New York. Adolf W. died the day after he came home from Buchenwald during Kristallnacht. He came home. He was very sick, very ill, went to the hospital, was taken care of by two German physicians and died the next morning. My aunt was deported on May 23, 1942. I discovered that last year when I went to Wiesbaden and found the Gestapo lists that listed her as one of the deportees on that day. That were the relatives in Wiesbaden as I recall.
There were other relatives outside of Wiesbaden. There was my grandparents on my father’s side who were living in Bebra, he was a native of Bebra, a small town in central Germany. It was a very small town, I would say a village, but it was called a town because it had a very large railroad station. Most trains going North-South, or East-West, in Germany had to go somewhere through Bebra. Particularly freight trains. So it was an important what they called “knotenunkt”, an important railway center, and that was where he was from. His parents were living there. They had a hotel, ran a hotel, a Jewish hotel strictly kosher. We used to go there in the summer, stay there two weeks, three weeks, (as) kids, my brother and I. My father’s one sister, two sisters (as a) matter of fact lived in Bebra, they got married there. Another sister lived in Eisenach, and they are all gone. They were killed in the Holocaust, we don’t know exactly where, Auschwitz probably. My grandparents died before things got bad, died before the Hitler period.
I: These are your father’s parents?
F: (Nods). My father and mother, my brother and I were able to get out of Germany after Kristallnacht and get to Shanghai. That’s a later story, we’re not quite there yet.
I: So you had grandparents in the country, your father’s parents?
F: They were in sort of a country setting, a small town where everybody knew everybody else. This is not just the Jewish population but the Christian population too. My grandfather Isidore was very well known in Bebra, for many years he was a member of the city council. He was a sort of unofficial consigliere, an arbitrator for disputes that you wouldn’t take before the courts because the courts would take too long. The farmers, if they had a problem, they would go to Isidore and he would fix it up.
I: This is just the Jews?
F: No, the Jews weren’t farmers in those days, they were tradesmen. He would be the sort of arbitrator between one farmer and another’s dispute about a piece of land, dispute about a cow, dispute about merchandise whatever, and he was well known in that area for that sort of thing, very well respected, a good reputation. I had a cousin who was born there, Ilse, who died in Oakland a couple of years ago, and she wrote up a bit of a history, what she remembered from those days. I remember seeing her, meeting her in Bebra where she was living until she got married and left for the United States sometime in the ’30s, ’39 or ’40 maybe, I’m not quite sure. Those were the family members. My father was well known in the community, not just the Jewish community but the community at large. He was very active in the Jewish community. I’m not sure whether he was on the board of the Juedische Gemeinde in Wiesbaden, but he was very active and he was always a man who got an “Aliyah” when he went to synagogue. He had a good, let’s say, social position as a physician, as one of the busier physicians in town.
I: How did he get to medical school? His father ran a hotel?
F: His father ran a hotel. It’s interesting that you ask that I’ve just been reading a book called “Buerger Auf Widerruf” published by the Leo Baeck Institute, a collection of autobiographical materials, diaries, etc. of German Jews from 1780-1945. It’s a collection coming out of a larger work, four volume work, that deals with that. They indicated there that people -in the 1700, 1800 area late part of the nineteenth century – the Jewish were business people. They might be farmers but very usually not. They would always try to get their children to go into the professions. There was my father going into the professions and he went. He borrowed the money from his father and went to Halle first, I think he studied in Berlin for a while, medical school, went to Wuerzburg and graduated from the University of Wuerzburg with a degree as a M.D. He told me, I remember, that he paid every penny that he borrowed back to his father, once he was in practice. He was in practice in Wiesbaden for a while. Then the war broke out and he was taken into the German army. He was an officer, wound up as a captain. First World War, regimental surgeon, Staff Arzt, staff officer, and he spent much of his time in France and in Russia. Those were the two fronts that he served at.
A number of years ago, this was 25 years or more now, I happened to talk to a physician at Kaiser Hospital in Oakland who was a dermatologist. I was seeing him for some minor skin problem I had. I detected a German brogue when he was talking and so I let on that I spoke German too and then we talked in German, and that my father was a physician. He said, Oh, what was his name? I said, Dr. F. which was our German name. F. is the Americanized version of it because F. was a little bit of a problem in this country. He said, Oh, I met your father. I said what do you mean. He says, I heard during the war when I was on the Russian Front as a physician with one of the German regiments. I heard that there was a very well respected and well educated physician, Jewish physician, who always traveled with a library. I wanted to meet him and made it my business to get a couple days pass and I went over and saw him. That was your father. We spent two days together and then I went back to my regiment and never saw him again.
I: How old was the doctor?
F: That physician must have been at that time in his early sixties, late fifties early sixties I’d say. He would have been old enough to have served in the German army. My father who was born in 1882. He was probably in this thirties, 32, when the war broke out and this man must have been 30 or 32, the same age group, so they would get together. It was a small world. A lot of these small coincidences I have run across, not just in that case but in other situations too.
So he was well respected, he had a good practice, and we grew up in a medical atmosphere. My mother helped him in his practice to the extent that she took care of the bookkeeping. She would also take care of the chemistry. In those days you didn’t send out to a lab if you wanted to check out somebody’s urine, you did it right in the doctor’s office. She would do that, check it for albumen, check it for sugar. You did a lot of tests that you don’t do today in that particular form. But she would do all that work. She would assist him when there was some big problem, say in setting someone’s leg, she would assist him with the bandaging and all the stuff that finally immobilized the break or fracture. I would help out too as I was getting older, with some of the bookkeeping.
My father was a very particular guy. In Germany when you went on a bus, you got a ticket. It was punched and it indicated the value, what you paid for it and so forth. He would collect those tickets whenever he went out visiting patients and didn’t use his car. And many times he didn’t use his car. He would collect those and put them on a string, so they were records for his income tax. Whenever there was an examination of his income tax, he had everything documented but everything. If it wasn’t documented he wouldn’t take a deduction. This is probably were I got my early tax training. But I remember when the income tax people came, the men from the “Finanz Amt”, that’s what it was called in Germany, he would haul out his strings of tickets and say take one and they would say, that’s okay. He was a very, very careful guy.
A little story that kind of illustrates it. In Germany when you went to the railroad station, you only got as far as the barrier. If you wanted to go past the barrier actually to the platform where the train arrived you had to pay a nominal sum, 5 cents or ten pfennig or something, unless you were under 5 years old and then no charge. Well my father, I was in Bebra during summer and my father was arriving by train to visit us or something. My grandparents or uncle or whoever it was took me to the railroad station to meet him. I was just past 5 years old, it was in June or July, (and) I was born in May, 5 years and 2 months. As they took me to the railroad station they told the guy at the ticket office that he’s under 5. He said, Okay, sure, no problem. So in the evening they were sitting at dinner and somebody said, Oh boy, we put something over on the railroad today. We took Walter to the railroad station and told them he’s under 5 years old. My father got up from the table, walked to the railroad station just two blocks away, apologized and paid 5 cents.
I: Oh my goodness, what a man.
F: He wasn’t about to do anything that was remotely bad, against the law.
I: What a role model for you.
F: He was a role model alright. Both of my parents were role models, upright, upstanding, no fussing around. You do what’s right.
I: What about your mother then, how did she end up marrying your father?
F: Well, her sister was already married to Adolf W., that was the W. family, remember that, that’s the man who was a partner in this store, H. and W.. Adolf W. died after he came out of the concentration camp, his son lives in Middletown, New York. So her sister was already married and she was visiting in Wiesbaden or maybe living in Wiesbaden at the time and at some kind of party. She was introduced to this Dr. F. and she thought he was a great bore.
I: This was your mother’s sister?
F: No, that’s my mother. My mother’s sister was married and she introduced my future mother to my future father. My mother thought, this guy’s something of a bore, but I think she changed her opinion because some time later they got engaged. Then in September 1919 they were married. I still have their wedding pictures. They were married in Frankfurt in a huge wedding, a lot of people in the huge photograph with the happy couple in the middle. The family, the mishpacha on the wife’s side and the mishpacha on the husband’s side, and the thing that puzzled me when I saw this picture for the first time and studied it was where the heck was I? I mean wasn’t I at the wedding, a family event? And I figured it out, I doped it out myself. I was standing behind grandpa. I couldn’t see, my grandfather was a very tall man, and I figured out that I must have been standing behind him that’s why you can’t see me on that picture. I must have been 6 or 7 years old, before the age when you know more about these things, and for a number of years that was my firm belief and I would tell everybody that. You know, the picture was hanging in our living room. See that, I’m behind grandpa. I found out it was different later on, but for a long time that was my idea. I still have it. Because those pictures are great treasures and they are one of the few things, some of the few things that survived the trip from Germany to Shanghai, Shanghai to San Francisco.
I: How did your mother get to Wiesbaden?
F: I think her parents were already retired and her sister was living in Wiesbaden because her husband W. had a store in Wiesbaden and this is how she got to Wiesbaden. My mother, as a daughter of well to do Jewish business people, was sent to London for 11 months for finishing school. This was a big thing, the young Jewish ladies of means would be sent to Switzerland, or France, or England. She must have been 16 or 17 maybe, something like that, this was a very strict institution, not a school, where they were taught to behave like young ladies. They had these rules, no candy in the room, and that kind of stuff. Of course they smuggled it into the rooms.My mother told me one time there was a sudden inspection and she had all this candy with her. When they came in she was fast asleep, lying on the candy. It made sort of a mess though. The things that happened, I guess they happen today too in similar situations.
I: Had your mother planned to work at all?
F: I don’t think so, she was never trained for work in the sense that she went to any kind of school that prepared her for any specific career, other than a career as a housewife.
I: Did she finish school?
F: She finished school, right, she went to school in Mannheim. After finishing school I don’t know how far she went and whether she went to a gymnasium or some kind of high school, but she went to the finishing school in London for 11 months. I think she had to come back because war was threatening so she had to get back to Germany. She never did train for any kind of work and I think the idea was that she would eventually marry somebody, a professional man, and she did.
I: How old was she when she got married?
F: (It was) 1919, she must have been 25. My father was 37, he was late, she was late, they were twelve years apart, he was twelve years ahead of her. He was late because of his medical training. He was late because of the war which cost him another four years. Not just him but all the people who were in the war, both sides of the frontier, both sides of the “Schuetzengraben”. So by the time he got back out and got settled back in Wiesbaden it was 1919, he was 37 years old.
I: It was a big wedding.
F: Big wedding, and then they settled down in Wiesbaden. (The) house was bombed during the war; it doesn’t exist anymore. Up in the third floor, it’s a huge flat, with two bedrooms, a dining room, a living room, a kitchen, and then the office part; office, a treatment room, a waiting room, a very very large place. And that’s where I was born and later my brother was born.
A year ago I was in Wiesbaden with a group of old Wiesbaden residents who were invited back by the city, a program they had been having for a few years, invited back at their expense, all expenses paid. I had written to them before and I had wanted. They paid everything from the San Francisco airport back to San Francisco airport, with outings, 500 marks cash walking around money, they really treated us very nicely.
I: You were talking about last year, when you went to Wiesbaden.
F: Oh yes Wiesbaden, well I’m not going to tell you now the whole story about it but there was one very old lady there among this group of about 28 Wiesbadeners who went back there and when she heard my name she said, “I was in your house when you were born. I heard your mother scream.” I said, What were you doing in there? She said, “Well I was working in the store. It was on the ground floor. First floor, second floor, that’s the way they ran it in those days and I was working there, and I was an apprentice or a salesgirl or whatever it was, and I heard your mother and then I heard that you were born. That was in May 1920.” She was not Jewish; she later married a Jewish man in Wiesbaden in 1928 I believe. They had a son and she and her son were at this group in Wiesbaden last year; she and her son wound up in Theresienstadt late in 1944 or early ’45, late near the last day of the war and managed to survive. So they were there and there was a woman who said she was there in the house when I was born and it’s again, a small world.
I: Let’s go back to, after your parents were married and you were born and your brother was born, he was 2 years younger than you. Did the social life at that time, was it mostly with other Jewish families?
F: It was mostly with other Jewish families, right, we had a housekeeper who was Catholic, so we celebrated Catholic holidays along with her,. We celebrated Christmas, we didn’t have a Christmas tree or Chanukah bush as they would call it, but we had presents for her and she had presents for us. We had a special meal but we all celebrated Chanaukah of course, she celebrated that with us. Of course, as I grew up I knew quite a bit of what she was supposed to do. So the first Friday of the month I made quite sure she fasted, because it was I don’t know, Heart Jesus Friday or something. I made quite sure that she always read her Catholic newspaper. But the social life was pretty much with either the family or other Jewish families in town, colleagues of my father’s or friends of his who were his lawyers, this sort of thing. But it was a very good family life.
Of course Friday nights were always special, that’s when we had an evening meal which was major, usually during the week we would have our major meal at lunch time. Which was a German custom, much more healthy than eating at night, at night you’d eat a sandwich and have a glass of milk, a cup of tea, a cup of coffee, at lunch you had everything from soup to nuts to dessert. But Friday nights you had your main meal Friday night and you had it in the evening and it was always something special. I remember many of these Friday nights, particularly one when in the middle of dinner the doorbell rang and my father answered and there was a man who was bleeding profusely and he was drunk. So my father got him in to one of the rooms and put him down and said, relax, relax, rest a little bit. He was rummaging all around the house shouting obscenities. He was drunk. So I was a little scared. My father finally took him into this room and gave him a shot of some kind and calmed him down, bandaged him up and sent him on his way. I was small enough to be very disturbed about that and I still remember, it’s one of those dramatic things you remember, I’m not disturbed about it anymore but then it was a very scary thing. This guy hollering and all this noise.
I: Were you very religious, did you go to the synagogue?
F: Yes, there were two major synagogues in Wiesbaden. Two major communities you might say. One was a called a liberal/conservative community, which was a large group. Then there was a smaller group which was very Orthodox. That group included, of course, a lot of the Jews who had come into Wiesbaden from Poland, Polish Jews. Those were the two major synagogues. The larger one was on the Misshelsberg, a very large edifice. The smaller one was the Orthodox Schule on Friedrichstrasse. The rabbi there was a Doctor A.. Rabbis of course were all Ph.D’s in Germany, went to school and got their Ph.D. and became rabbis. The rabbi was always Dr. A. at the Orthodox Schule, and Dr. L. whom I remember very well because he was the one under whom I was bar mitzvahed. Dr. L. was the rabbi for the Liberal Schule.
Dr. A. had a son name of Joseph who emigrated to England. This is another interesting story. And then was deported from England to Australia. Became a rabbi, became a rabbi and a reform rabbi, and wound up his rabbinical days in San Francisco, Temple Emmaneul. He’s now retired, in fact he’s now quite ill, my old school friend, we went to school together, he’s in San Francisco. His son is a rabbi, I think the sixth or seventh generation rabbi, because this family of rabbis going back I don’t know how many years.
We were members in the Liberal Conservative. Today you’d call it conservative, we used a lot of Hebrew in the prayer books, some German of course, but a lot of Hebrew. Reform has mostly here in this country, mostly English and some Hebrew. There was a good dose of Hebrew, a good dose of Hebrew prayers used in the service, and we went there of course on Friday nights, Saturday mornings. I wouldn’t say we went every Friday every Saturday but very often, particularly the youth services which took place at least once a month. We went to religious instruction, of course in Germany you couldn’t avoid it, that was part of your regular school curriculum.
I: You went to a Jewish school.
F: No, no, in Germany in those days and still today there is no separation of church and state. Therefore in the curriculum of any school there is a section called Religious Training. If you are Catholic you go to the Catholic section, if you are Protestant, two major faiths in Germany, you go to the Protestant section, and if you’re Jewish you go to the Jewish section. The trouble was that with the few Jewish students in Wiesbaden, there was maybe 3000 Jews altogether in a population of then 160,000. All the Jewish kids were collected from all the schools and they had their classes in the afternoon. Which was something of a bother for us, because while the other kids played football we studied Hebrew. It was terrible to study Hebrew. Oh my God what a language, the grammar alone and the Bible. It was terribly boring. We had to read all this old stuff about people that we didn’t really believed existed. I’ve changed my mind about it in the meantime, I’m very active right now in the Torah Study Group in Berkeley. But in those days it was a bit of a problem to go to the school, but I went there and I got my usual good grades, no problems and I still remember some of the teachers, Dr. L. and Dr. K. and others. Most of whom perished in the Holocaust. Dr. L. the rabbi was able to take a disability retirement, he had diabetes and was a patient of my father, diabetes, was retired. And a rabbi of course was an employee of the state. Because he was retired under disability, he was not arrested during Kristallnacht. State employee on retirement you didn’t arrest him. The fact that he was Jewish was another matter. He was able to go to Israel, then Palestine, and they lived there for many years, I think he lived to see the State of Israel established and died in ’49 or ’50. But he was a rabbi in 1934 when I was bar mitzvahed.
I was supposed to be bar mitzvahed in 1933, in June shortly after you’re thirteen, but that was right after the seizure of power by the Nazis, and things were very unsettled. Everybody was nervous, what are we going to do, we going to bar mitzvah or not bar mitzvah, and a bar mitzvah normally was a big affair. Normally my bar mitzvah would have been an affair of 500 people, 1000 people I don’t know what. Family from all over, from Mannheim, from Darmstadt, from Bebra, from Kassel, from Eisenach, so what are we going to do, we’re not going to have a big bar mitzvah. Maybe we’re not going to have a bar mitzvah at all. Finally they, my parents, decided we were going to have my bar mitzvah in January 1934, which was about seven or eight months later. And that bar mitzvah was very small. There were maybe 30 people. Twenty nine Jews, one goy, one non-Jew. That man represented the Gestapo. He was in the temple. They wanted to make sure the rabbi didn’t say anything offensive.
I: Was he invited?
F: Of course not! Well, the Gestapo was at almost every service. You went to services and there was at least one Gestapo man in the audience to pay attention to what was being said and by God, if you said the wrong thing, off you went. Sachsenhausen, Buchenwald, Dachau.
I: Tell me about the thinking of that time; this is ’33, and can you tell me a little about what your parents were talking about at that time and what had happened specifically and what their response to it was?
F: I can’t say what my parents specifically said, because I was too young to worry about it and I was not included in these discussions. But the general idea of German Jews then was, “Well, after all we have lived in this country for hundreds of years, my family was traced back by some cousin of ours to the twelfth or thirteenth century, actually traced back paper by paper. This guy Hitler he’s from Austria, he’s not even German, nothing, he’s talking big he’s got to do that, he’s got to say all these things in order to attract attention, but he isn’t going to do all the bad things that he says he’s going to do because he needs the foreign support, and then of course German proverb: soup is not eaten as hot as it is cooked. So nothing is going to happen and the next election we’re going to vote him out of office again. It’s not going to be too bad, don’t worry about it. ”
And who could imagine in a country of Goethe, of Schiller, of Wagner even-great musician, who knew he was an anti-Semite-of Brahms, that they would kill people by the numbers, who imagined that? Incredible. And then gradually things started happening.
At one time the members of the B’nai Brith Lodge were arrested. All of them. Were kept in jail, in a police jail, for half a day, or a day, a couple of days and were released again.
I: When was that?
F: About ’36 or ’37.
I: And the reason they were arrested?
F: Because they were members of the B’nai Brith Lodge. They’re Jewish. You knew there’s no reason, no argument, you were Jewish. If you’re crossed against the light you were arrested and wound up in a concentration camp.
I: So back in ’33…
F: Let me spin out that thought. It’s all sort of haphazard. And it usually happened to somebody else. When it happened there was always the idea that well, maybe, maybe he really did commit a crime, maybe he did commit a fraudulent bankruptcy, maybe he shouldn’t have gotten that German girl in trouble. A non-Jewish girl you know. Maybe he really did sell merchandise that was not what he represented it to be, maybe he should be in jail, maybe he deserved what was his. Those were some of the things that people said, it really didn’t hit home until November 1938. All of a sudden the Holocaust started. This was the start of the Holocaust. When 30,000 Jews were arrested, when businesses were smashed, synagogues were burned, you can read about it, you’ve got all the books here. You know what happened. That’s when people started making massive attempts to get out. We were registered for immigration with the American consulate in Stuttgart, which was responsible for our part of Germany. In 1936 or ’37, that’s when our parents really made an attempt to get out -before Kristallnacht- I think some uncle of ours who was an American came to visit and he apparently discussed it with my parents and they decided, I don’t know, maybe they better get out of here. Well the quota for German nationals, not for German Jews but for anybody born in Germany, the quota for people born in Germany to immigrate into the United States was something like 12,000 a year, maybe 13,000, something in that neighborhood. Our number, number at the consulate in Stuttgart, was 37,000 something. It doesn’t take much of a mathematician to figure out how long we’d have to wait. And we couldn’t wait.
So when Kristallnacht arrived, my father was arrested, I was arrested, he was in the concentration camp, I was in the camp. He was fortunate to be released after two weeks but I was there for five months. They made an attempt to get out and they picked the only place in the whole world where you could still go without having to ask for a visa: Shanghai.
I: Yeah, I’ll get to that. I’m interested in how it started. Because already in ’33 your parents are saying, well maybe you shouldn’t have a bar mitzvah. I wondering what was the feeling at that time, was it of Jewishness or what?
F: The thinking still was, well, maybe it’s going to blow over.
I: But still, they didn’t want to have the bar mitzvah because it would be too obvious that they were Jewish or …
F: The Nazis took power in Germany in January ’33. And those first few months were very turbulent. There was the Reichstags fire. There was the crackdown on the Communist party. There was a crackdown on the Social Democrats. There were some arrests of Jews who were targeted because of a journalist had written against Hitler, or they were lawyers and had prosecuted Nazis. But these were all isolated. But there was a lot of turbulence, alot of Nazis marching through the streets, Fackelzug, I don’t know if you know what a Fackelzug is, that’s a torchlight parade. And that’s pretty frightening you know, and somebody said, well, let’s wait a little bit, maybe, it will simmer down, it will settle down, you know, it’s not going to be that bad, maybe as time goes on, the soup isn’t going to be eaten as hot as it is cooked. We’ll vote him out of office. We’ll have another election.
I: So you had a small bar mitzvah. How else during this time between ’33 and ’38 were you personally affected by what was going on and what was going on?
F: Well, personally affected, I don’t recall the details anymore. But more and more they cut down the extent to which my father could practice until he couldn’t practice at all.
I: How did they cut that down?
F: Well they passed laws, one law after another, I have at home a record that I brought back, a written record I brought back from Wiesbaden that lists all the laws and government regulations that were passed during that time that cut down the amount of activities that physicians, lawyers, engineers, and architects. But particularly for physicians and lawyers could do…
I: Jewish physicians?
F: Jewish physicians could do and until they finally were to where you can’t practice anymore at all. A Jewish physician couldn’t treat a German patient, a non-Jewish patient.. A Jewish patient could not be treated by a Jewish physician unless there was a great emergency and there was only one physician in town that was qualified to do that, qualified by law not qualified by training. This was all gradual, just a little bit at a time, you see if all this business of the Crystal Night event, if all that had happened in ’33 the Jews would have been out of there. All of them. But it was sort of gradual and you kind of get used to it. Well, alright, okay we can live with that. Alright we can live with that. In a lot of ways it’s things that happens in the family generally; someone gets sick, well it’s terrible but we can live with that. Or we get better. Or it doesn’t get better. Well, we can live with that. It gets a little worse. Well, you get used to it. It gets a little worse. The party that is sick becomes unable to walk. Well, alright we put him in a wheelchair. But you live with it. You always adjust, you always adapt.
I: But how could you fight to make a living after all that?
F: Well, it was making a living of sorts until living got smaller and smaller and smaller and smaller. It wasn’t until ’36 to ’37 that he finally decided that well, maybe we better get out of here. He had a chance to get out of Germany in 1923 when he had an American patient who said to him, “Doctor, Germany is bankrupt. They just lost the war. They’ve got all these reparations to pay. Germany is bankrupt, get out of it. I’ll fix you up, I’ll pay for a trip to America, I’ll set you up in business as a physician, I’ll guarantee you income for a year, I’ll introduce you to all my friends and after one year, you’ll make so much money you don’t need me anymore.” My father is thinking, why should I, an ex-German officer and member of a German family who happened to be Jewish, who had been in Germany for years, with a new family, two kids, brand new kids; one was two years old, one was brand new, just set up in a beautiful town. Wiesbaden is a beautiful town, gorgeous surroundings, gorgeous climate, why should I leave and go to America? Who went to America in those days? Somebody in the family who committed fraudulent bankruptcy or who got a girl into trouble. Who committed something, everybody chipped in and schmeared the district attorney but get him out of the country, don’t worry about him. They send him to America. Those were the people, of course later when, they send us the affidavits of support. Now I’m not saying that everybody who left Germany and went to America was that kind of person, but that’s what happened. America is a country where sure, you picked up gold in the street, but it was essentially a place where a lot of crime and gangsters, it was sort of Wild West, California my god you have to wear guns all the time and fight off Indians. This was the picture we had of the United States. Perception, not reality, perception.
I: Of course, I understand, it’s very understandable. When you were in school during this time, you were in a public school?
F: I was in a grammar school first, which there was no problem at all about being Jewish. This was from 1930, 1926 to 1930, when I was six years old. I went to grammar school, first grade, and I was there for four grades. I had to pass a very stiff examination in order to qualify to go to gymnasium. You didn’t go to the gymnasium by the fact that you were alive or paid for it, you had to qualify to get in there. Here it’s different, you go to high school because you live and breathe. So I went to the gymnasium which started at age 10 and was an 8 year school. There I was from 1930 to ’33 and, no problems, that was before Hitler. Now when Hitler started things got a little sticky. In the morning they started school with the teacher coming in and everyone jumping up and “Heil Hitler!” And that’s how you started the school day. Of course you didn’t want to be left out so everyone raised his hand, including myself. There were probably four kids, four Jewish children, four Jewish students. There was J., my friend, my brother, and one of my brother’s friends who now lives in Frankfurt, retired from some job over there. We were the only Jewish kids in this school and there were maybe 800 students in that school. Still, it still exists, I was there last year, honored guest this time. And so, uh, things got a little sticky.
We had the Kreisleiter, the district leader of the Nazi party, he was sitting right next to me. We were good friends, we played football together, no problems at all. And then another time a real big Nazi and this particularly great fella named M. sitting next to me, and we were doing a test, a math test. Somewhere during the course of the test I was working away there and the teacher, Dr. K., said, “M., don’t copy Jewish work.” You know, something like that. So M., of course, doesn’t look at my paper he looks at his paper. After that was over the teacher called me over and said, “You know I didn’t want to offend you. I wanted to show up this Nazi. Big deal, he’s a big Nazi and he has to copy Jewish thinking. I didn’t want to offend you.” He apologized to me. This wasn’t a Jewish teacher, it was a German teacher.
So I had relatively little problems in school. We had one, one teacher who was teaching biology, chemistry, and physics I believe, Dr. B. . He was an old Nazi, by that you understood someone who joined the Nazi party back in the early 1920’s. As a result he wore not just a swastika but a swastika in gold. This was a big deal for those guys. And he was a bit of a problem because he was teaching the Mendelian laws, dominant and recessive genes and all that good stuff. Of course he discussed the Jews who all the recessive genes were in the Jews, and the Jews were bad, and he demonstrated biological facts. I was sitting in the first row, writing it all down in shorthand. Which I had to really study again and he was really upset about that. I was supposed to take notes, then I was writing down all this stuff and he was always giving me a bad grade. That’s the only time I ever got a 3-, you know 1 was for best , 5 was for the worst grade, 3- was pretty bad from my point of view. I was always at least a 2+ sort of student. He was the only one I was even having, in a remote sort of way, troubles with. My fellow students, even the big Nazis, we were always friends. What happened later on I don’t know. I don’t even know what happened to those kids. But I don’t remember any specific problems. And I left high school because either that or they would tell me to get out. Because they were trying to get rid of Jewish students.
I: So when did you leave?
F: I was sixteen when I left high school and got a job as a commercial apprentice and then went to a commercial training school, sort of the equivalent of one of our business schools here.
I: So you were forced to leave school when you were sixteen?
F: Let’s put it this way. I left voluntarily but if I hadn’t left I might have been forced a little later to get out. It was time to get out.
I: How did you feel about that?
F: Didn’t feel too good about it but I didn’t have much choice.
I: And your parents, that was about the time they started seriously thinking about leaving.
F: It was the time they started thinking, maybe we’re not going to be here too long, maybe we’d better get out, maybe we’d better switch, maybe he’s not going to become a physician. Because we knew already then that I would not be able to go to a college, to a university, because I wouldn’t be accepted. They had in Germany then something called Numerus Clausus, they did alot of things in Latin, which was fine for me because I was studying Latin and Greek. So Numerus Clausus means they cut, its a quota system. Here we would call it a quota system. They would say, alright, the numbers are closed for Jews. So many Jews can go to college. That number became smaller and smaller as the years went by until no one got to college. And so I left school but I switched to another school which was equally tough and equally hard except in another direction.
I: And they let you in. There were no quotas?
F: No, they had to let me in since I was a commercial apprentice and in those days, and this may still be true today in Germany, if you were an apprentice you were protected by the Chamber of Commerce, which was a state organization. You had a contract which was signed, cosigned by the Chamber of Commerce, which your employer could not break unless you committed a terrible crime, stealing money or some such thing, or setting fire to the factory. Your employer had not just the job but the duty and the obligation to train you. Correspondingly you got very little pay; I think you got 15 marks a month the first year, 25 marks a month the second year. When a regular employee would get 75-100 marks a month.
I: So you were in that for two years?
F: I was in there for a three year period but before the three years was out Kristallnacht occurred and that was the end of that.
I: What about your younger brother, what happened to him?
F: My younger brother went also to same high school, went through the same thing, three years behind. He went along another year or so but he left school also and he didn’t do anything until we emigrated.
I: So tell me about that night. How did that happen: Kristallnacht.
F: Well how it happened, of course I can just repeat the story of Herschel Grynszpan.
I: From your point of view; where were you that night and what was your personal experience.
F: That night I was in bed, asleep. I was working in that factory and I got up the next morning and not knowing what was going on, I got dressed I got up, I think I had a bicycle and bicycled out to the factory and met there a very old, at least in those days he seemed to be very old, Jewish fellow who worked in the factory who said that the synagogues in Mainz and in Wiesbaden were burning and there were a lot of riots. Some businesses were smashed and what not and things were in bad shape and I decided, well, I’ve got a job to do here. I better finish up in case something happens. And then I got a phone call from my mother who said my father was arrested. They asked about me and where I was. They had come to the house, the Gestapo.
So then I decided to finish what I was doing, I was getting some kind of shipment ready, I didn’t like to leave things half done. I wanted to tie up loose ends, get all the documents ready. Not that it mattered, kind of silly thinking back on it but this was the way I, to this day I would do the same thing, I don’t want to leave work behind that’s undone, I want it done. So I did that and I went home about I guess 1 o’clock. Oh another thing, I would usually go to a little restaurant in the neighborhood to have lunch, a little sandwich or cup of coffee. They called me and suggested I better not come that day. They knew I was Jewish.
I: How were you feeling by the way?
F: Well, I was feeling a little bit apprehensive. And I went home and I said, what went on? My mother said, well they came and just said, government orders; they arrested my father. About two o’clock the doorbell rings and there’s the Gestapo and said I was under arrest. I said what is going on. He said, Government orders; I don’t know anything about it, I just have orders to arrest you. He says you better pack a few things you might be away for a day or two. So I packed a suitcase, a little satchel, few changes of underwear and a shirt and I took my heavy winter coat along and I followed this fellow. We walked _ I mean I wasn’t handcuffed or beaten or anything else_ we just walked like two friends through the streets to the main police headquarters.
There he took me upstairs, first floor second floor I don’t know where it was. Opens the doors and gave me a shove and I went through the door and I was in the police jail. There was it turned out it was police officers, this was the general police. So one of those guys says what’s your name? I say F.. He says, Oh, we’ve got your father here. An old patient of my father’s. My father had a lot of police and firemen amongst his patients so he knew them, many of them. So he says, we’ll put you in with your father. So they took me down to a small cell and there was my father, so they put me in the same cell, that was very nice of those guys. So we were there overnight, this was on the 10th I believe. On the 11th in the morning we were called out and we were questioned by Gestapo officer who had a big list and he asked me, are you healthy? I said yes. Are you really healthy?, he said. I didn’t know, if I say no I got mumps and bad feet. I said yeah and he shrugged his shoulders put a checkmark after my name. Maybe if I said I’m not healthy, maybe he would have said okay. That afternoon they took us, called all us out, put us aboard the buses, these are the buses normally used to take people around Wiesbaden to show them a good time. Put us on the buses, an SS officer with a big gun in the front, and they drove us to Frankfurt. About an hour or so away, today it’s twenty minutes by the Autobahn. There we arrived sometime in the later afternoon _ this was in November so it was already getting dark _ at the main railroad station, and there was a mob of thousands of people screaming there, “Kill the Jews, tear them apart.” And the SS made a path for us to get us into the railroad station.
I: How many of you were there?
F: A bus full of people, maybe 30 or 40 people, but there were many buses. I don’t know how many altogether, I don’t remember that any more, I just remember the one I was on. From Wiesbaden. Their objective was not to protect us from the mob, but they had orders to deliver us to the trains. Of course they didn’t want to lose anybody. This is why they protected us. See this is again the German mind at work; work was assigned. They got 33 prisoners and 33 prisoners got be delivered. Somebody gets killed or beaten or bloodied, whatever it is, they can’t deliver 33, so they had to make a way for us. But we had to pass through that yelling crowd and it was pretty frightening. And we were taken out to the platform without paying the 5 cents. There we were lined up and there was a train waiting. On the train it said Weimar and that’s when we knew; Weimar was the city where Buchenwald was located. Weimar is the city of Goethe; Weimar is a nice city, a beautiful city in central Germany, a little bit outside of Weimar is a forest called Buchenwald. And in that forest they had built the concentration camp. So we knew that’s where we were going.
I: You knew about the concentration camp?
F: Oh yeah, concentration camps were not a secret in Germany. In fact I remember in 1935 or 1936 reading in the papers a story about that, a German paper mind you, that those are camps in which people are trained for work and educated about the German government and the aims of the National Socialist movement and made it nice, nice, nice, nice, nice. But we still knew what was going on because we met some people who had been there and come back. Jews. So we were taken onto the train, put on board the train, regular passenger cars, third class passenger cars. Third class is hard seats, second class is soft seats, which is what we traveled on usually anyway. This was no particular hardship.
Then we were told that anybody who opened the window would get shot, anybody who sticks his head out the window – shot. Anybody who tries to escape – shot. Every third word was shot. We were given the rules. And the train started to move and arrived in Weimar a number of hours later. We were told to get out the car, schnell, schnell, schnell. And there was a gang of SS officers, SS men, with steel rods and whips and they yelled at us, schnell schnell, mach schnell, run here, run there, against the wall, don’t move don’t move don’t anybody move you’ll get beaten. Then we were put on trucks and again we were given the rules; anybody will get shot shot. Anything that you do that violates the rules. Erschiessen, erschiessen, erschiessen.
In those trucks they took us up to the camps which was about 10-15 minutes outside of town. Little bit before the main gate which has the famous inscription, “Arbeit Macht Frei” _ Work Liberates _ I think you have a photograph out there of one of the camps that has that gate, all the concentration camps had that. Little bit before that camp the trucks stopped, we were told to get off the trucks and run again through a gauntlet of SS who were beating up on us into the camp and there we went into a scene from I guess Dante’s Inferno. There were thousands of people milling around, being told to go here to there, to lie down on the ground to get up, nobody knew why, to register. This was about 2 in the morning, middle of the night, searchlights all over the place, machine guns, machine guns, barbed wire. And there we were and we probably spent the whole night there, being registered, being recorded, being recorded again, being told to go here told to go there, not friendly like, yelled at, screamed at. I was almost immediately separated from my father.
I: I was wondering, up to what point where you with your father?
F: I was with my father up to that point. I lost him. I mean there was, I found out later that in this camp there were 10,000 non-Jews, and 2000 Jewish prisoners, who had been there before this November 10 thing occurred, before Kristallnacht, who were there for reasons not connected with Kristallnacht. Germans who were Communists, Germans who had known Jewish Germans, Germans who had committed crimes of some kind, served their time in jail and then were arrested by the Gestapo when they were released after serving their regular time, people who had refused to do public works, for example an insurance agent who was called up by the Gestapo, no by the National Socialist Workers’ Party, to work on a bridge project and he would say well, gee, I can’t do that I’m an insurance agent. Oh is that right and bingo, there he is in a concentration camp. Social Democrats, Catholics, some Gypsies, Jews who had committed political crimes, Jews who had committed what was called Rassenschande, sexual intercourse with a non-Jewish woman, homosexuals it was against the law in Germany still is. Homosexuals were just arrested period. That was it. Didn’t need any political excuse. So there were approximately 10,000 non-Jewish German prisoners and 2000 Jews who had been there before Kristallnacht and now we were brought in. And within the first week or so, approximately 10,000, just under 10,000 Jews were brought into Buchenwald, imprisoned there, from I’d say ages 14 to around 80.
In Berlin they picked up a whole school with all the students and everything, put them in the camps. The confusion was indescribable. There was a regular camp with regular buildings, permanent buildings, made out of wood, some made out of brick, and then they separated a portion of the camp with barbed wire and in that separate portion they put up five barracks, 1A through 5A, those were the numbers, and those were the barracks we had to live in. The barracks had shelves and we were living on those shelves. And I can spend a couple of days telling you what went on in those camps but it wasn’t very pretty.
But almost immediately after the people got in, they started releasing people. Who were the first to be released? People who had immigration papers and were ready to go. They had people who had American visa and American shipping tickets in their pockets who could go two days later, three days later, they were sent out. And some people were sent out maybe we’re not sure yet because they were released, because they were German officers or German soldiers during the First World War. That may have been the reason why my father was released after two weeks. And so releases continued. My cousin was there, my uncle was there, Max W. and Adolf W., my cousin Max. Adolf W. was released in early December, was sick already, went home, died the next morning. Max W. went home and was able to emigrate in January 1939.
I also met a cousin of my fathers whom I met before, never met again, Julius F., who had a son name of Emil. There is someone who knows Emil F.. Emil F. is one of the most famous rabbis and sages in Jewish religion. Used to teach at Toronto, now is in the University of Jerusalem, very famous, written book after book after book. A philosopher. Well Julius F.’s father was a lawyer from Halle and I met him in the camp. Very briefly, by chance, you meet people by chance because there’s no way to make an appointment, there’s no way to say we’ll meet at 12 o’clock under the clock. There’s no clock first of all, you don’t have a watch. You mill around, you work up to here in mud, sometimes you get something to eat sometimes you don’t. Happened into this guy, isn’t your name, yeah, I’m Julius F’. He was released sometime in the middle of December.
About a week later my name was called on the PA system. Report to Department 1. If you had an order to report to Department 1 that meant you go to the Administrative section which is okay. If they asked you to report to Department 2 that was trouble, that was the Gestapo. It’s almost like the military in all the world, S2 or G2 is intelligence, S1 is administration, S3 is personnel, S4 is supply and services, same way in the German army and the German SS. This was Department 1. I reported to Department 1 and an SS officer took me into a room, had me sit down in a chair, very comfortable, and asked me do I know a Julius F’. I said yeah. He said, do I know where he is? I said, he was here but he was released about a week ago. Ooo, where did he go? I said, well I assume he went back to his home town of Halle. I said why do you want to know? Well we found a savings account passbook, we have to return to him by registered mail. We want to be sure it gets to him. Now this is the same fellow who would have had no hesitation to beat Julius F’ to death or shoot him for some infraction of the rules. But now F. was out of the camp, was back among the civilian population and they found his property and his property had to be returned to him in good order. Ordnung muss sein. That’s the German mind at work. It’s crazy you know. So he thanked me and he told me to go back to the other camp and I went back to the other camp and that was it.
Well things went along, people were released, people were released, finally there were about 200 or so left out of the 10,000, 200. At that point they decided to liquidate that separate camp, barracks 1A through 5A. I might say that up to then I had lived in that suit I had worn when I was arrested. I had not once, not once, taken that suit off me, or washed, or showered. Not once. I was living in that underwear, in the shirt and suit I wore when I was arrested, for three months. So they moved us into the regular camp. For the first time we were given showers, and those were regular showers this was not fake. We were not concerned, we wouldn’t have been concerned. We wouldn’t have known anyway when they told us to go into a shower. We were given showers and they cut off all our hair, all our body hair, we had lice. Miserable. And we were given uniforms, regular concentration camp uniforms, stripes and the star, yellow and red in our case which meant Jewish political prisoner, and numbers. And for a while we were left alone, when all the rest of the camp would assemble in the morning and march outside the camp and work there at various jobs, we were left alone. We’d walk up and down you know, taking our time, tell stories, play games, I remember one time an SS officer came down and he played with us. But then somebody had an idea, well those Jews should be doing some work, so they started to take us out and put us to work.
I: You had not been working before, even when you were in the other barracks.
F: No, no never. Didn’t work. No we would line up in the morning for roll call, we’d line up in the evening for roll call, we’d line up for other occasions, for example one evening we were having our “dinner”, which was a salt herring and a piece of bread, no tea, when we were told to line up for roll call. So we lined up and there was a big gallows in the middle of the parade ground and they hung a fellow in full view of everybody. He and a buddy of his had escaped the camp in July of that year. His buddy was discovered after a big search a day later and killed right then and there. This fellow escaped to Czechoslovakia and after the Anschluss, you know in September ’38, he was discovered in Czechoslovakia and brought back, was tried for murder and was hung in front of all of us. You get very cold. All you worry about is that it didn’t happen to me. So we were working, we were working digging stones out of the ground, digging with our bare hands, digging tree stumps out of the ground, sometimes with tools sometimes without, carrying bricks from one place to another. They were building barracks there, military barracks, and we were kind of helping along with some of the raw materials.
I: This is after they decided they should put you to work.
F: That’s right. Then in late February 1939 the camp was put under quarantine. I found out later that two days before the camp was put under quarantine and was completely locked up, no one was allowed in or out of the camp, SS police nobody, the camp was sealed off. Two days before that the Gestapo had sent a release order to the camp to get me out. Because my parents were able to not just get a ticket to go to Shanghai for me because the Gestapo wanted to see a visa, they wanted to see a visa, again the German mind. Got to be a piece of paper. My parents got me a visa to go to England. Went to the Gestapo February 13 or something like that, 1939, the Gestapo says, oh great your son will be released. But a few days earlier the camp was put under quarantine. And we were told that typhoid fever had broken out and we were inoculated once a week for three weeks. Shots, subcutaneously in the chest, and worked and worked. And in April 12, 1939, the quarantine was lifted. I was in the last 212 November Jews, that’s what we were called the November Jews, I was among 144 to be released and sent home.
As far as typhoid fever was concerned, it wasn’t typhoid fever. In the ’50s I read in Time magazine, documents were discovered. They were conducting germ warfare experiments on the prisoners. And one of the experiments had jumped the controls, threatening to wipe out the camp. That’s why the camp was put under quarantine. We knew there were two blocks, two buildings in the camp, which were surrounded by barbed wire and we knew that people would only be taken into that but not come out. Rumors were going around but we didn’t know, later I found out in the ’50s. Germ warfare experiments on prisoners. So on April 12 I remember very well our block Fuehrer, an SS officer name of Martin Gerhard Sommer, made a speech. He says, now you’re going to go home, you’ll remember nothing happened in the camp, you weren’t injured, you weren’t sick, and don’t tell anybody about what you saw in the camp or what happened in the camp because if you do no matter where you are we’re going to get you, we’re going to kill you. That was his farewell speech to us.
Again in 1957 or ’58 and I have that at home, Time magazine published a story under the heading, “The Monster”. Story of an SS officer in a concentration camp, such a brutal guy such a cruel guy, that even his own colleagues couldn’t stand him anymore. He would do things like take a prisoner, rubbing his back raw with steel brushes and then pouring acid over it. Then put the body under his bed. That’s the kind of guy he was. So he was finally sent to the Russian front, got injured there became paraplegic. Went underground then surfaced after the war to claim a pension and get married. Was arrested by the German police, was tried and charged with a thousand murders, was convicted of 38 murders and was sent to life imprisonment. Gerhard Martin Sommer…that guy. And I heard last year from Buchenwald which is now a museum, that he died about two years ago but I don’t know where he died. Whether he died in prison or not. That was the guy, they had his picture in Time magazine, he looked just as bad sitting in a wheelchair in civilian clothes as he looked in uniform. Just a bad guy. Pathological.
Anyhow, I was released April 12, came home April 13th, took all day to process us and get us on the trains. Very interesting story there, something that again shows the difference between the bad Germans and the good Germans. We were taken from Buchenwald to Weimar railroad station on buses. We were taken through the rear entrance to the railroad station because we looked disreputable; our clothes had been deloused, not pressed, we had our hair cut off. We looked terrible, some of us were starved, some were not, we just looked bad. So they didn’t want to show us to the general public. And we had instructions. You do not use a D train, which in Germany is a very fancy sort of train, almost like an express train. You do not go into dining rooms, you do not go into dining cars, you only go to regular what they call Personenzug, which is a third class kind of a train. Then you come home, you report to the Gestapo immediately, before going home, before going to your house, you go to the Gestapo headquarters and report. Okay okay.
So they dumped us in the back of the railroad station, in the back entrance, and we stood around there and we didn’t know what to do and then the railroad police officer shows up. Uniform, gun on his side, and immediately in a Pavlovian reaction we took our hats off and snapped to attention. Because that’s what we learned in the camp, when an SS officer comes you take your hat off and stand at attention. Fellow took one look at us and say, Gentlemen, he says, you’re not up there anymore. Relax, put your hats on, I’ve just called the Jewish community, they’re going to be here in fifteen minutes, a half hour, with coffee and cake, in the meantime, anything we can do for you, just let me know. Also, he says, you were told you could not use an express train, you can’t do this you couldn’t do this, from now on the railroad police are in full charge, have the responsibility of getting you home. If I tell you to go on the D train, or you go into a dining room, that’s where you go. We thought the earth would open up and swallow this guy. It didn’t. That was a decent chap.
Sure enough in a few minutes later the guys came in with rolls and drinks and coffee, and cake and I don’t know what to eat.. And I went home in a D train. There were three of us in that compartment. There were a bunch of soldiers, German soldiers, sitting in that compartment, same compartment, and they wanted to know where we were coming from. Because we looked funny, didn’t look like a regular civilian. And we were kind of noncommittal about that because we didn’t want to say we come from Buchenwald you know and he says, you probably come from the labor service. There was sort of a National Socialist labor service type of thing where German youth, not Jews, youth were sent out to do public works, get a little training and go back to their families. Oh, you’re probably from the labor service; yeah, yeah labor service.
We arrived in Frankfurt. In Frankfurt I changed trains, went to Wiesbaden. Got off the train in Wiesbaden and said to myself, well I got to report to the Gestapo first thing. But how do I do that? This is Wiesbaden, in Wiesbaden at 11 o’clock at night you roll up the sidewalks. Are they going to be there? Are they going to be awake? I said, well let me ask a policeman. Well next thing I didn’t know where to find a policeman. So I walked from the railroad station to the main police headquarters and rang the bell and nobody answered the door. So I said, I’ll go home see what happens. I went home all on foot, dragging my little suitcase. My mother and my father were there, they were already moved out of our apartment, they were ready to go, packed, everything ready to go, I was supposed to leave on the 18th, this was the 13th. My mother said, yes the Gestapo has told us to report to them immediately, they are worried about you already, why hadn’t you come? Worried about you, mind you. So she threw a coat over her nightgown and called a taxi and she and I drove down to Paulenenstrasse, which was where the Gestapo was located. While she waited in the taxi I went up to the door and I rang the bell and I rang the bell and finally the guy opens up. I said, my name is so and so and I’m supposed to report in. I’ve come back from Buchenwald and I’ve orders to report to you immediately. It’s stated on my papers from Buchenwald. Oh you’re the guy we’ve been waiting for. I said yes. He said, well you could have waited till tomorrow morning, you’re two months late anyway. I said well I had orders to report immediately, I didn’t want any trouble. He said, I guess you’re right. Come back tomorrow, I’m tired.
I: How do you explain this?
F: I don’t know, I don’t know. People are people, they’re not machines, they’re not always as bad or as good.
I: How do you explain this attitude? They keep you in a concentration camp for five months. This can drive you crazy.
F: Kafka. Kafka. That’s what it is.
I: And the policeman at the railroad station, how do you explain him. He knows what’s going on, just up the road in the camp.
F: Of course he does.
I: And then he’s so nice to you guys? How do you make sense of this?
F: The more and more you get stories out of Germany, out of Austria, out of Poland, of nice Germans and nice Austrians, not many but there were enough, there were plenty of them, they just didn’t speak up.
I: But you called this guy nice.
F: This guy was nice, as far as I’m concerned, there was a fellow who could have made our life miserable in the railroad station because he had the authority,. He was a police officer, if somebody didn’t take his hat off fast enough he could have picked up the phone and have them rearrested. And he called us gentlemen.
I: But he tolerated what was going on right down the way. And you still call him nice.
F: Exactly. He was scared.
I: He was nice to you. I don’t know, that’s the question isn’t it.
F: It happens here too you know. It happens here too. Except it’s people that don’t say anything if a black is beaten up in Bensonhurst. People will say, well it’s Bensonhurst, it’s not the West Side of the park, what do you expect it’s Brooklyn, it’s the Bronx, what do you expect? Me in Westchester County, why should I worry about it. It’s the same thing, same attitude. I’ve gotten very philosophical about it. You can get mad, but you get mad, don’t get mad get even. That’s probably the better attitude
I: Tell me about that, about how you develop that?
F: Well, over the years, in those days, let me give you an example. After the war somebody asked me, do you want to go back to Germany? Would you ever consider going back to Germany? This was in 1945, 46. After I found out what went on, that’s when we learned in Shanghai what was going on in Germany, 6 million Jews killed, my relatives killed. I said, the only way I would go back to Germany was with a machine gun. And I believed that. But I have gone back to Germany, twice, without a machine gun, and I’ve met Germans who were very nice. I’ve met Germans who were not so nice. I went to the opera last year. We got opera tickets, free, no charge; we saw the Bolshoi from Moscow, putting on a Moussorski play, a Moussorski opera, gorgeous. That was the only time I was uncomfortable in Germany. Why? All those German opera goers our age and older, in smoking jackets and tuxedoes, what not. Very formal. Was that the guy who take my aunt to the railroad station? Was he one of the guys? Was he in the Gestapo? The people who are now 45 to 50 years old, what the heck.
I was mothered, fathered, while I was there by two Germans, two teachers, one teaches in a Gymnasium, teaches Latin and Greek and Ethics in the gymnasium where I used to be. The other one teaches French there. Both of them Germans. She told me she’s I guess early forties, he maybe a little older, that time they were living together, the meantime they got married. Studienrat, both of them, Ph.D’s, higher level teachers. She told me that she found out to her horror that her father was in the SS. And she was horrified by that. She was absolutely devastated. She was born in Peru or Chile I think. Her father was a German abroad but he was in the SS. Where he was in that foreign country, he was probably not physically involved in the killing of Jews because he was always outside the country. But even the SS, the idea horrified her. This is the type of Germans you meet today. You meet others, you meet people who are members of the party called the Republikaners, the Republicans. Which in Germany is a right wing Neo Nazi group, anti-Semites. Of course they don’t play much on anti-semitism today, they are anti-Turks and anti-Arabs and anti-foreign workers, they always got to be anti-something, always have to look down on somebody, there always got to be a level.
Like in the concentration camps there were levels, gradations, there were classes. The lowest class of course was the Jew; then there were the Gypsies and there were the homosexuals and all different levels. And the highest level in the camp was the criminal, the guy who committed some crime, thief, murder, whatever, and was put in the concentration camp. They were the guys who were the trustees because they were the guys to be considered politically, at least , correct if nothing else. They were the Kapos, they were the guys who were running the Jewish section. Until some time in December 1938. One evening the camp commandant made a speech over the PA system. Said they had discovered that a coffee and alcohol smuggling ring had been operating in the camp, had smuggled coffee and alcohol into the camp and those things were strictly prohibited. There were SS men who were doing it. They said that they had been arrested and they were now prisoners in the camp. And as the result he trusted the Jews more than the Germans. This was an SS officer. And from that point on every Jewish block had its own Jewish supervisors instead of German supervisors. Because they didn’t trust the Germans anymore. Again, Kafka. You know, how do you explain it, you don’t explain it, all you can do is report it. This is what happened.
I: Let me ask you about what happened to you during that time. You left in November a young worker, a young man who was working, trying to develop a career. Five months you’re just taken out of that world and you’re put into transported into a nightmare and you come out of that five months later. What happened to you during that five months.
I: Physically and psychologically?
F: I don’t know that much happened to me psychologically . When you’re that young, I was 18, 18 and a half, you’re very resilient, usually . I’m not saying this as a generalization, I’m not saying that everyone is resilient, some people break down. I didn’t. I was glad to get out. I was happy to get out. Within days I was on the high seas leaving Germany, going to China, to a new life, whatever that meant, hoping to get to Shanghai for just a few days and then I would go to America. Turned out to be 8 years, not just a few days, but looking forward and while I was scared at times, while I was in the camp…this was a place where you never knew in the morning whether you’d see the evening sun go down. And you knew that. But you get even used to that. You lived with that. And it’s never bothered me, I’ve never felt as so many people do, guilty that I survived and others didn’t. I’ve never felt hesitant talking about it, I’ve talked to students at the University of California about it, I’ve done this sort of thing before, not in this formal a setting, not in a televised setting. But I’ve talked about it and I’ve written about it and I’ve never hesitated telling people if they ask me, while other people can’t verbalize it. They can’t bring it out.
It may be, it may be, I’m my own psychiatrist probably have a fool for a client, it may be that I had built a capsule around me. And I’m not looking too deep into me. And that may be why I was able to survive, why I was able to make it and think about it and not shy away from the thought. More specifically why I survived there was I had a girlfriend, and she had gone to Argentina. Just a few days earlier, in fact the day that she left, she was Polish, Polish parents. The day that they left for France and then for a ship to Argentina, that day the Gestapo came to arrest them and take them back to Poland. This was an attempt by the German government to arrest all the Polish Jews in Germany and they did. Anybody who was Polish was shipped to the Polish frontier and pushed across the frontier. And none of these people didn’t quite survive that. Because it was bad weather and the Poles wouldn’t take them and the Germans wouldn’t have them. They were sitting there in this no man’s land.
We were very much in love and we had this, today I don’t how they put it, but in those days we were going to get married that’s it and live forever happily and all that and grow old together. And I just had this one idea, I have to see this girl again. I’ve never seen her again. I mean I’m in correspondence with her. She’s married, she’s a grandmother, I’m a grandfather. Well, for a while I wrote her, of course love letters and others and she wrote back and I got my Dear John letter in China. She met somebody else which I suppose is okay, a very nice chap from Berlin, and they got married. Then I stopped correspondence, not much point to it. Then we had a brief exchange of letters after the war when I was in the United States, through my cousin Max in Middletown who was in touch with her, and that stopped. A couple of years ago I had a call from a chap named N. in Reno, long distance call, who said that he had a letter from an old friend of his in Argentina. (He) used to live in Argentina for many years, and she wanted to take up some contacts with our friends and what not from Wiesbaden. So he wanted to know could he give her my address. I said what’s her name? Well Esther D.G.S., do I know her, I said yeah I think I do. I gave him my address and we started correspondence and we’ve been in touch off and on ever since. But that’s one of the things that kept me going. I had to get out to see that girl again, not that girl but my girl. These things, you have to hook onto something that gives you hope. Because if you give up hope in that situation that’s it, you might as well walk up to the electrified fence. You’re probably not going to get there because they’ll shoot you before you hit it. But that’s what a lot of people did, alot of people committed suicide.
I: By running to the fence?
F: Well, all kinds of ways. Cut your wrists, go to the fence or try to go to the fence. You go through the control zone and the guys from up there yell at you, Halt! Bup bup bup bup bup, one more body. So quite a few people passed on that way. Now where were we.
I: Physically how did you change?
F: I don’t know that I changed physically in fact.
I: You must have lost weight.
F: No, I was just going to get to that. I went into the camp and I weighed 118 pounds, this is German pounds, you add about 10 percent gives you the American weight, because the German pound is 500 grams and the American pound is 453, so I went in the camp weighed 118 pounds and came out weighed 130.
I: How do you explain that?
F: Very simple. The food we got was mostly water and I was just water logged. You know, it was mostly liquids, soup soup soup soup, a huge bottle of water and they threw in some whatever it is pork, or bad meat, some second or third grade stuff which had not been passed by the Health Department and they sent it to the camps and they cook a meal out of it. If you’re hungry you eat it. So all that you had there was mostly liquid and that builds up.
I: Did you lose it right away?
F: I lost it fairly quickly. This was one of those funny things, I weighed more when I came out then when I went in. In those days, while we were not well fed, they did not really starve us either. We were not on starvation rations as happened much later, we just didn’t get good food or plenty of it. But it was, you could exist on it. And the chefs, if you call them that in the camps, were ex-Viennese chefs and from good restaurants and they knew how to cook. About the only bad meal I remember was the first hot meal I got two days after I got to the camp, that all of us got; that was whale stew, very fatty stuff, and we were starved and we scarfed it down. I managed to get another helping, called a Naschlag, and another helping. It was great. Next day the whole camp came down with diarrhea. The whole camp. All of us. And there were no latrines. These were the clothes we lived in for three months.
Very interesting, I got a book the other day, “Burger Auf Widerruf” from the Leo Baeck Institute. It is biographical or autobiographical stories or stories told by children of people, German Jews from 1780 to 1945. There’s one piece in it by a fellow named Hans B. from Wiesbaden who was in Buchenwald. He describes his experiences in Buchenwald. Hans B., by the way, happened to be my boss in the factory where I worked. I knew him very well. He disappeared in France, he and his whole family disappeared during the war. He was in the camp for three months. And he reports a mass of people milling around and so forth and he came across a man lying on the ground, semi-conscious, and six other Wiesbaden people standing around him and there was Dr. F., that was my father. I didn’t know that story. He had in his pocket, B. had in his pocket, a little bottle of mouthwash. And so he was able to get my father’s lips wet and let him smell the mint and got him revived and they were able to get him up again. And they were holding him up because this was roll call time and they were standing there four hours. And all around them people were collapsing yelling doctor doctor doctor, and my father as weak as he was would go around drag himself around with a bottle of mouthwash he got from B. and try to help people until the SS came and told him to knock it off or they would beat him up.
I didn’t know this story because I was separated from him. I just happened to get that thing and how did I happen to get it? A historian at Buchenwald sent me the story. He typed it out, copied it out of the book, gave me the name of the book and I wrote to the Leo Baeck Institute and for twenty dollars he sent me the book that was published in Germany by the Leo Baeck Institute. Small world. How you find out these things. B. went to Belgium and France later on during the war and disappeared somewhere during the war, I don’t know where. His brother Fritz I saw twenty, twenty-five years ago down in Southern California. He ran a dog obedience training school. I don’t know if he’s still alive. I just saw him once when I was down there in some professional activity.
So I went through the experience and I wouldn’t say I wasn’t touched by it. But I also picked up a philosophy that you can’t get too excited about anything because I’m living on borrowed time. By rights I should have died, cashed in my chips, age 19 or 18 and a half. What’s more, this was not the only time the Germans tried to kill me. We haven’t started talking about Shanghai yet.
I: I didn’t realize you were hunted in Shanghai.
F: I wasn’t hunted. Let me tell you this story. In the summer of 1942, at that time Shanghai was already completely under Japanese control. Shanghai up to the outbreak of the war in the Pacific was a town in which a part was occupied by the Japanese Naval landing party, another part was in the International Settlement which was run by the International Consulates. One part was called the French Concession, which was run by the government of France under French control. About 18-20,000 Central European Jews had managed to get to Shanghai and were living there, or existing there. Not all of us were living, many of us were just existing, hand to mouth, day by day, some people had a business some, people had nothing. We had newspapers we had theatre groups, we had synagogues, plenty of them. We had homes, we had hospitals. I was working in one of the committees that helped refugees get established, helped them interface with authorities. We had loan funds, interest free loan funds, like we have the interest free loan society here in San Francisco to help people establish a business.
War broke out, all of that collapsed, all of a sudden the Japanese took over the whole town. Nothing much happened to the Jews for a while. In the summer of ’42, and we didn’t know that until after the war, in the summer of ’42 Josef Meisinger was sent from Tokyo to Shanghai. Josef Meisinger had the rank of colonel in the SS. Before he was assigned to the job of chief of police at the Tokyo German embassy, he was the Gestapo chief in Warsaw, responsible for the deaths of about a hundred thousand Jews and he had earned himself a nickname: The Butcher of Warsaw. He was sent to Shanghai, with a couple of people, one fellow name of Neumann, one fellow I forget his name, I’m sure you have the book in your library that has the story. And he was meeting with that section of the Japanese naval police or navy that was in charge of Jewish affairs. Because there were about 26,000 Jews, 6,000 Russian Jews, 18-20,000 European Jews, about 800 Iraqis, and there was a Jewish affairs section. He met with this section. He said, look, those Jews you can’t trust them. They give you nothing but trouble. Look what happened in Germany. I tell you what you do. You get a couple of ships in the harbor, why don’t you come in Rosh Hashanah in the fall and surround the synagogues. Arrest them when they come out, take them to the ships, take away their clothes, tow the ships out to sea, cut the rudder cables and let them drift there. In a couple of weeks later sent out a gunboat or two and sink the whole mess. Isn’t that simple, clean, no worries. If you don’t like that, take them up to the salt mines up the Yangtze River. Mr. Neumann from Bergen Belsen can tell you how to feed them so that they are good for maybe two or three months of good hard work for the Japanese empire and that will take care of them also, the natural way. If you don’t like that idea, I have another idea. We’ll establish a concentration camp for you down the Whangpoo River. And you take them over there and you let them volunteer for medical experiments. Like the nervous system, resistance to pain, stuff like that. Mr. Neumann from Bergen Belsen is an expert on that , he can tell you how to do these things.
The meeting broke up without any decisions. One of the men at the meeting was a Japanese vice consul name of Mitsugi Shibata. And he went to a little park that was nearby the meeting place, I’ve been there many times. He sat on the bench and he said to himself, have we the proud Japanese people sunk this low to listen to this sort of stuff let alone to entertain the idea, is this what we’re fighting the war for? We? Terrible. Then he sought out some Jewish friends that he had, this was Friday afternoon. He said, look we have to have a meeting right away, something terrible is going to happen to you, we have to have a meeting and discuss it. And the man he talked to said, well that’s all good and well but it’s Shabbas and we can’t have a meeting now. He said it’s terrible though. He says I’m sorry it’s Shabbas we got to wait. No we can’t wait. He says I’m sorry.
So he found another fellow who wasn’t quite as careful of Shabbas and they had a meeting and he gave the word to the Jewish leadership in Shanghai, to some of them anyway, and they got busy. It took six or eight weeks, at great danger to all the participants, until they finally got word of the plan to a Foreign Minister in Tokyo. I believe his name was Togo. And that man sent a wire to Shanghai said, keep an eye on the Jews, keep them under control, but don’t touch them. One Japanese vice consul saved the lives of 26,000 people. And if he hadn’t been there I wouldn’t be here today. The story is told in two books; one is Japanese, Nazis, and Jews by Dr. David Kranzler. The other books is called The Fugu Plan, by Rabbi Martin Tokayer and a woman name of Swartz, she was apparently the journalist who helped him write it. Tokayer was a rabbi in Tokyo and he reads, writes, speaks Japanese fluently and he found those documents in the foreign ministry archives after the war. I don’t know where Kranzler got his story. If you don’t have those books they should be in your library I imagine they are. The Kranzler book I don’t know whether it is still in print, the Tokayer book was issued in second edition, he was in San Francisco two or three years ago and he spoke at Temple Emmanuel. I heard him there and I talked to him and I saw him again in New York at a meeting of Shanghai Jews.
I: So you’ve read a lot about the roles at that time of the Germans and Japanese.
F: You see one of the things that’s been happening as the Holocaust period is recorded is that very little has been written about the Shanghai experience.
I: Yes . Tell me, after you got back from Buchenwald, your family left five days later to go to Shanghai. Your mother must have been in ecstasy…
F: Well, we were all uprooted, just like anyone else….
I: But to see you alright I mean….
F: Yeah, I remember ringing the doorbell, this was about 1:30-2 in the morning, after having been on the train all afternoon all evening. Ring the doorbell and mother yelled out, “Walter is that you?” My father fell out of bed, he got so excited. And then they came to the door and of course the usual reception. The first thing I said, I have instructions to report to the Gestapo. Right away – this is again my nature of doing things I’ve been told to do and do them right now, not later -and she said, “yes, that’s right, they told us they’re worried about you”, her words, “and they told us to get you over there right away. I’ll call a taxi.” So we went over there which was the story that I told you.
I: That’s strange, but it’s not so strange of course. Did you learn to be so obedient to authority in the camp too?
F: It’s not so much obedient to authority as, if I have a job to do I’ll do it. It’s more inner directed. It’s not because someone told me to, I know this has to be done I might as well get it done. Of course in Germany if you’re told to do something you better do it. This is even true today. I mean even in a nice sort of way, when my cousin and I were over there together in Wiesbaden last year. He’s a bachelor, never married, he’s always in correspondence with people, so he has been in correspondence with the chief of the German, call it not the CID, the German FBI, Bundeskriminalamt, which is headquartered in Wiesbaden. Sometime early in ’89 or late in ’88, a German police officer was killed when one of those radio bombs blew up, the kind used to blow up that airliner, that Pan American airliner. They found one of those radios and somebody messed around with it and a police officer got killed. So my cousin wrote a letter of condolence to the head of the German FBI there. So he was invited to that fellow when he was in Wiesbaden. He had invitations to come visit him and the guy received him and said, “Mr. W., nice to see you, let’s take a look at your dossier, we know all about you” and pulled out his file. And they knew all about him. That’s German police, they know all about him, they had him down in a list. Frankly, it was funny but efficient.
I: What happened to your brother during this time, was he taken to the camp>?
F: No, my brother was 16 at the time and he wasn’t taken to the camp. This was all very individual, it varied from city to city what happened. In the city of Aachen, which is on the Rhine, it’s North of Cologne as I recall, not too good in geography anymore as I used to be. In the city of Aachen, every Jew that was arrested by the Gestapo was put through a rigorous physical examination by a physician. One man was told that he had diabetes and he said he didn’t know about that, they said oh yeah we checked your urine you have diabetes. Better go home to see your doctor and do something about it. Before they sent off people to the concentration camp. Of course he wasn’t sent off because he was sick. It varied. In other cities they would walk in with guns and shoot people. In a little town further up one the Rhine, they walked in, a husband and wife in bed, Gestapo came in, lined them up and shot them. Didn’t even arrest them just shot them. Out of hand. It varied.
My brother was not arrested, he was somewhat traumatized, he hid under the bed all day long, until he finally relaxed a little bit.
I: All day long, when.
F: When I was arrested. That’s what I was told later on, I wasn’t there. And we all went to Shanghai together.
I: Tell me about that trip, how long did it take to get to Shanghai.
F: The trip took a month, we left Germany on the 18th of April, Bremerhaven, and arrived in Shanghai on the 19th of May, so it’s a month and a day. We went from Bremerhaven to Rotterdam where we got off the boat. We went to Birmingham, England, excuse me Southampton, England, where we were not allowed off the boat, British were very….We went to Genoa, Italy, where we were allowed to walk around. Then we went to Port Said, through the Suez Canal, to Eden, to Bombay, Singapore, Manila. In Singapore we were allowed off the boat, in the Philippines we were allowed off, Hong Kong we were allowed off, and Shanghai we were kicked off. That was it. And there we were, with two dollars and fifty cents in our pockets. Ten marks. That’s all we were allowed to take out. The money that we had on board the ship, which we could spend on champagne, cigars, everything else, was locked up on the ship and sent back to Germany. On board the ship we were rich.
I: Why would they allow you to take your money?
F: You were not allowed to take out anything except ten marks in cash and if they felt like it, they would send whatever you had left over after that to whatever your foreign address was. So we were fortunate in getting some of our money out afterwards. About six to eight months later we got a transmittal through one of the British banks of what was left of our very, very small fortune. We didn’t have much to begin with. But then there was the big fine that was levied on all the German Jews because of the murder in Paris by Herschel Grynzspan which caused the Kristallnacht events. And then whatever we took out in Germany in the way of clothes we had to pay 100% duty on that. My father took out his equipment, he had to pay 100% of that. So your money shrank in alot of what you might call quote “legal” unquote ways. Then what was left, including the money that was sent back, from the unused money, spending money on board the ship, were sent into blocked accounts. Those blocked accounts were transferred to us finally at the rate 6 cents to the dollar, six pfennig to the mark, my parents got I don’t know, one hundred, two hundred pounds, English pounds and that was it?
I: So what happened to you when you got off the boats in Shanghai with two dollars and fifty cents?
F: We were received by the committees that were established there. We were put on trucks and taken to camps, refugees camps, and boarded there overnight. Immediately my father got busy and found a room that he rented for my mother, he didn’t want her to be in a camp, a camp type atmosphere. This was not a concentration camp but it was strictly a refugee camp, pretty bad. So we put her into a room in the neighborhood of the camp. We were in that camp for a couple of weeks and my father was able to rent an apartment in the same building that the camp was in, the Embankment building on the Soochow Creek, building’s still there, I was there a few years ago. Got the apartment and we were able to get some furniture out of Germany. Also very fortunate and set up housekeeping there.
I: Did that furniture come on that ship with you?
F: It came on a separate ship.
I: Where did your father get the money to rent the apartment?
F: I don’t know, it didn’t cost much. The whole project was owned by a Jew, a British subject, Sir Victor S., who died in California many years later. Sir Victor S., a very wealthy man, owned alot of industry, owned breweries, owned cotton companies. Later on I worked for him. So we were able to get the apartment. I don’t know what the financial affairs were. My father set up a small practice. See all he had to do was go to the City Council and say, I’m a physician here are my qualifications from Germany. Here’s my MD certificate from Wuerzburg. Okay, you’re in business. No tests, no nothing, doesn’t mean he was making a lot of money, because there was a lot of competition. Almost every other refugee from Germany was either a physician or a lawyer. Not quite so much, but this is what happened.
Then I got a job in a laundry, which is where I started my accounting career. A Chinese laundry. Cathay laundry. I was the accounts receivable clerk. Learned to run an adding machine, ten-key adding machine, learned Chinese. I had a deal with the truck drivers, the coolies they called them, who delivered laundry and dry cleaning and collected the money or brought back the signed bill so that we would record them in accounts receivable. I would check their money and account it and make sure it tied up and everything dovetailed, and if it didn’t I would have to discuss it with them in Chinese of course. And use the proper adjectives and conversational gambits. For example, if the guy didn’t bring back the right change we would discuss with him the question of whether his parents were ever married. This is a circumlocution there for calling him a bad name and he would call me something and this was all in good fun. So this is how I learned Chinese.
I: So you didn’t take lessons.
F: No, you learned it. And the other language which I didn’t know which I needed very badly there was English. I learned French, I learned Latin, I learned Greek, when my girlfriend was ready to go to Argentina I learned Spanish with her. But English I never learned. So I come to a country where English is the main language outside of Chinese of course and outside of French in the French Concession of Shanghai. So I had to learn English.
I: How did you learn English?
F: I borrowed detective stories. I listened to the radio and detective stories of course you want to know how it came out so you’ve got to read and that’s how you learn it. I happened to be very fairly fast. Listen to the radio whenever I could and I got the language entered and speak it of course. At my job I had to speak English, nobody understood German there. The people that I worked with were either Portugese, or Russian, or English, or Chinese. So if I didn’t speak any of those languages, German wouldn’t help me a great deal. So I learned some Russian, I learned some Portugese, I learned some English, I learned some Chinese, and then I’ve learned a lot of English. About six months after that job, I became very ill, dysentery which is a big problem that you pick up there. I was in the hospital for six weeks and lost my job. Went back to the fellow who got me that job in the first place, a local businessman name of Paul K., ran the committee that helped people get settled. He said why don’t you work for me? That’s what I did. I worked for him, first as sort of a gopher. Very quickly someone discovered that I spoke better English than anybody else in the shop. Because all the people working there were from either Berlin, Vienna, Germany someplace, Austria. So I was promoted upstairs to K.’s private office as his personal secretary, number two personal secretary he had another personal secretary, and I was writing for the newspapers and helping people go to the police, going to the consulate, acting as an interpreter, and I worked as an accountant. We had a thrift shop, helping refugees sell their goods for a reasonable price.
End Walter Frank Interview
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