Manfred Carsch oral history 1998
Date of Recording04 June 1998
Duration1h 55m 2.0s
Synopsis[Synopsis created in support of the development of the VHEC's Broken Threads exhibition. See also interview transcription linked below.]
The Carsh family originally came from Spain. Like most of the Dutch Jews we are descended from those that were expelled from Spain. The biggest synagogue in Amsterdam is the Portuguese Synagogue. Our family came from Spain and settled in Holland, first near the border and then into Germany. Part of my family stayed in Holland and parts left for Western Germany in the middle of the 1800s or sometime between 1825 and 1840.
My grandfather started the business in Essen and then branched out into Frankfurt, Düsseldorf, Bochum, and other places. I forgot the German name, Konfektion or something. He started first as small business and then he began to manufacturing men's and boy's clothing and the business grew and grew. He manufactured and also bought a lot of stuff in other countries like Switzerland. I went many times with my father, Gustav on buying sprees. I loved it because we were wined and dined. When he died, the business had about five big stores, they were department stores at that point. I'll show you a picture of my grandfather, of the manufacturing here, this is all about the Carsch store in the city of Düsseldorf. The Carsch-Haus is under protection. It’s a historical building.
Before the First World War my grandfather got a contract for manufacturing all the uniforms for the German army so you can imagine, that was a huge contract. My father was, unfortunately, in the German army and he figured because he was in the German army the Nazis wouldn’t do him any harm, but it wasn’t so.
My grandfather, Paul Nathan, died the same year I was born, 1922. My father, Gustav, sort of took over with another of his brothers, Siegfreid. There were four brothers but only one other brother was interested. Another brother was in the German diplomatic corps, he was ambassador to Spain, so he was not interested in the business. My father told me my grandfather was not very happy about this, that they did not ALL join the business, because it was a huge business. At that point there were five stores and there was all this manufacturing. For very good suits for men my father went to Manchester, to Britain and bought them there. He bought the woolens in Switzerland, like pullovers and things like that. The building was huge. It had about fourteen big display windows, bigger than Eaton’s, with just men’s and boy’s wear, no women’s clothing. He specialized in this.
The big store in Dusseldorf was built in 1911. My grandfather looked around for a really good architect and the building has a lot of sculpture on it, all kinds of figures. It is very ornamental. It was the biggest in the chain. The Frankfurt store was smaller, the Essen was even a little smaller, then they had one in Bochum which had about eight windows I think, it was still a big store. He still wanted to have a family business. They had managers, of course, but they couldn’t—it was too big to look after all this later on.
The Düsseldorf store became the flagship store even though Frankfurt is a bigger city. First of all it was built in the main square in Düsseldorf, the square was called Heinrich-Heine Platz. When Hitler came into power they changed the name to Adolf Hitler’s Platz and the Carsch-Haus was smack in the middle! That must have really been a thorn in the side for the Nazis.
When the Nazis took over in 1933 there were first boycotts of Jewish businesses. Later on when Kristallnacht came, they smashed the windows and everything, and they threw the typewriters and all the office equipment our from the second floor. The police were standing there because we were informed about it before and my father was called to the business, but he couldn’t do anything. The police were just standing by doing nothing anyway because they had orders not to interfere.
Business went down in a way, yes it did, because people were afraid and sometimes the Nazis took pictures of people when they entered Jewish stores. All they had to do was to put a camera in front of the door and photograph. They threatened people not shop there anymore. The business still continued and maintained itself until later that year when he was forced to sell all the business for next to nothing. The Germans took over and then that was it.
My father was arrested on Kristallnacht but they let him go again. He got cut by the glass in 1938. A year later he died. He was taken, not to a concentration camp, but the Gestapo took him and he was away for four or five days and then he came back. They needed him there in order to sell the business and do all the paperwork.
I had a sister, but we were kids at the time and were not aware of all the transactions that were going on. I noticed a little already in 1936 because they took our car away and I had to leave the gymnasium [school], but because of it, I am alive today.
The manufacturing was done in the store on the upper floors. They had some manufacturing in Frankfurt, they had some in Essen, but they made different things. The biggest was in Düsseldorf and they had those enormous long tables, without end, and they had cloth piled this high and they put the sketching on top, and then they were cutting it and rolling it up, I was amazed always to look at it. It was very interesting. I think we employed 300 people there in Düsseldorf alone. When Kristallnacht happened my father had to pay part of the damage. There was that fine-levy, the Jews were supposed to pay for the insurance or whatever it cost. It was ridiculous. They took everything away from us because my father died. It came to a point where they had to amputate his leg because of the infection. He was in a German hospital and I have the feeling that they "helped" him die. They didn’t take very good care of him. I was 13 years old, I just had my Bar-Mitzvah in 1936.
I was with my mother, I was there watching Kristallnacht and them smashing the store and she took me there and we were standing on the side, she was holding me. You couldn’t do anything. The people were looting and smashing the windows and taking the suits out and this kind of stuff. I was very upset and I was very resentful that they did this, you know. I always had the feeling to fight back, which in the end I did, and in the end it came to a point that the Gestapo threw me of out of Germany, gave me an ultimatum. But that was in 1939.
Some friends phoned us to say that the store is being attacked. My father of course went. In 1920s and in ‘29 when, they had the crash here, he was still doing alright and he started soup kitchens for people, they came to the Carsch-Haus and they had meals at noon and this kind of thing, he thought they won't do anything against us. He even gave Christmas presents, for needy people mostly. He was very socially minded, and he helped whenever he could, especially in the Jewish community. We had a synagogue—there is nothing like this on this continent, or even in Israel, I’ve never seen one. I took my wife there—especially to Germany to tour that synagogue. They couldn’t blow it up because it was too heavy, it just settled and it’s a concert hall today because there are no Jews there.
My father was forced to sell the business for peanuts. It affected his life, he got a heart condition at the same time, because he couldn’t take it. He was only fifty years old when he died.
Selling the business was very fast because the Germans wanted the business, they wanted everything we had. They took everything—they took the house away, we had to move out of the house and we had to live with another family in a one and a half room apartment downtown.
When they already started rounding up the Jewish people, I remember, this one guy vanished, then another guy vanished. I have big book, "The Jews of Essen", which is quite thick and since the Germans were very thorough, they kept everything to detail, it exactly says where the people went and what concentration camps and when they died and everything...even my own family.
After Kristallnacht everything went fast downhill. I don’t remember exactly if it was before...because it’s all in a matter of months it happened, you know, and everything was compressed. I had to leave school. There were a lot of Jewish teachers there I think. I had fantastic teachers, the best teachers you can imagine. We continued until the day I got kicked out, I was surprised I wasn’t going into a concentration camp because I was fighting with the Hitler Youth, tooth and nail, in the streets. We were real street fighters. One day, we were eleven Jewish boys, and they were standing in front, just waiting for us to come out and they said, “Let’s beat up the Jews.” There were just the eleven of us. We had just finished the course in Judo in the Jewish sport (laughs) organization, Hacoah* or something. Anyway, we came out and we decided, “We’ll finish them off.” At the time Judo was something unknown and we had them piled up (laughs) and at night with the knives and everything. Then at night the Gestapo came. I told my mother what happened, and she took me to some Christian friends she knew and they hid me in a loft somewhere. Then she contacted me later through another person and they said they were giving me an ultimatum so I had to leave Germany within forty-eight hours.
Luckily I had a passport. My mother phoned Berlin to the Jewish Agency and she said, “What’s happening here?” They said that there were just a few visas for Palestine but they’d reserved them for special occasions. We had to go the German authorities and I got some money from the Germans. Ten marks, which was about two dollars and fifty cents, to leave the country, and that was it.
I wouldn’t go to a concentration camp, I would have taken the railroad car apart to get out by any means. Maybe because we were in a Zionist organization, we fought them tooth and nail. I think a lot of Jews probably would never have gone into the concentration camps if they would have fought back. I would say about 55% of my school friends went to the camps.
I went back to see the synagogue in Essen where we were members. There is now a Holocaust office in the synagogue, in the back building (it is humungous). The woman there gave me pictures from my class, they’re collecting all those things, and she showed me the postcard—I have the postcard here if you want to see it, and she didn’t know the names of most of the people. I gave her what names I could remember. She looked them up in the book of the congregation and then we found out that a lot of them had gone to concentration camps.
I am in contact with a few of them in the States. I want to have a meeting with one, he lives in Montevideo in Uruguay. We will try to meet in Essen next year. There were others, three boys and then about five girls, that are in Israel now, and we contacted those people.
I had nothing ready when I left Germany. I was only allowed to take what fit in those small attaché cases. I had only the shoes on my feet, a pullover, rain jacket, my toothbrush and that was it. When we went to the German office they sealed the bag so I couldn't take anything else.
Even as a German at the time, if you left Germany with some money they would arrest you right away. It was a long process to sell the business—my father got nothing for it—like a penny on the dollar or less. All Jewish businesses, it was not just his, there were other big Jewish businesses in Essen and Düsseldorf. My father was totally devastated, and on top of it this amputation—it was terrible. (He stepped into one of the windows that had been broken around 8 or 9 o’clock the night of Krtistallnacht. It took a while, before it got infected. First they took his nail off his big toe and then they amputated the toe and then when it didn’t heal because he was a diabetic they had to take the leg off).
Some Germans, of course, bought the business, I think it’s in the book here too, now. I was in the Zionist movement, and was involved in it. My father was not a Zionist. He said, “You shouldn’t go to Palestine,” But there was no other place to go and then I had the ultimatum from the Germans and I had no choice—that was it. My father was thoroughly German, we sometimes had big arguments over this. A lot Jewish people said, “Oh Hitler he is not going to last long, it’s a passing thing.” A lot of Jewish people thought it would blow over very quickly, but it didn’t.
We had a nanny and there came a point where Jews were not allowed to employ Aryans, she was devastated. When I came back after the war in 1945 about a week after the hostilities ended, I got special leave from the British, I was in the British Army, the Jewish Brigade and I got special leave to go to Germany so I looked her up and found her, Her name was Alette. She was not German, she was Norwegian living in Germany.
My mother was hidden by the nuns in a convent. She she had a lot of non-Jewish friends too, you know, they were Germans, they cared.
My brother-in-law and my sister were in a concentration camp and they met in there. He was not Jewish, he was Christian. He was even in the German Army but they put him in a concentration camp because he was very anti-Nazi. That’s why when I said, “Come to Israel, come and live with us,” because I did very well in Israel. She wouldn’t go because he was totally German. They took his business away too, because of what he did.
He wasn’t Jewish, and I got very close to him when I came back to Germany in 1955 for a visit—the first time after the war. In the army I had gone in 1945. I found my mother. She had survived all those years but not very well because she died of cancer in 1947. I think it was also because of what happened, it was terrible. The nuns hid four Jewish women in a convent in a small town in Westfalia. They put their lives on the line to hide Jews. I stayed about seven days and it was really a miracle—just by coincidence.
I went to Essen and I was in British uniform. There were a lot Germans that never saw a British uniform and I had the clasp with the Mogen David* on it and I was armed to the teeth. I had an automatic weapon and I had a sight gun, a big one, because people from the concentration camps and the Russian prisoners and other prisoners of war broke out, and there was looting and killing in the streets, and it was very dangerous.
Even as a thirteen, fourteen year old I was so full of vinegar. I was volunteering in the British army and they put the Jewish Brigade against the Waffen SS, they figured that one is going to cancel out the other one. So beside us was a company of Gurkhas, you know, the Indians? So we made a deal with those guys, they attack by day and we attack by night so we made the night raids. We didn’t take any prisoners and then we came back from one raid and there was a British colonel briefing us, and he was very upset and he said, “You guys never take any prisoners, how come ?” And I got very upset and I just didn’t address him, I couldn’t care less, so I lost my stripes because he made a complaint. I got them back after some weeks. I said, “Listen, if the Germans would have done to your family what they did to my family, you wouldn’t take any prisoners,” and that was the end of the conversation.
Yeshuv*, the Jewish Community in Palestine, had also to show that they were making a war effort. I was learning electrical engineering, and I was in my second year and then after my second year I had to go to the army. But the British army had a deal with the British Institute in London that you could continue your courses by correspondence and then every half year they flew you over to London if it was possible. They couldn't fly me to London because it was the war so I had to go to Jerusalem. I was happy, I always got special leave to go, you know, and everybody envied me (laughs).
You couldn’t even go to the store because everything was bombed where the railroad cars and the trams and everything was lying upside-down in the streets. There were signs, “Unexploded Bombs,” and you sometimes saw those huge bombs sitting there still and smoldering. It was just four days after the war ended! There were some French military police that drove me from me Düsseldorf to Essen in the Jeep and then they came to the outskirts and I had to walk. And I looked for the municipality and I looked for the mayor and they treated me very well, (laughs) he was afraid I was going to kill him or something because of the weapon I had! I wasn’t afraid, you know, I was very proud to have the Mogen David*, I was in the blue and white and the golden Mogen David on there and on top of it was Palestine, there was no Israel at the time.
The mayor knew my name. I didn’t know the man. Even today for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur I still always get a letter from the municipality of Essen.
I looked for my sister and she was in a concentration camp. The last year she had escaped with two other girls and some Czechs from Theresienstadt. They had hid in the mountains. She went to my mother, she knew where my mother was. One day my mother came home from shopping or something and my sister wasn’t there, they had taken her. Mother just vanished after that. I had family in Holland and they all went to the concentration camp. I have it in the book, The Jews of Essen, you know, and it even says when and where they died. My nephew was assistant professor at the University of Amsterdam, they took him right from there.
I have a big file on restitution going here, first of all the State of Israel at the time took most of the money, I got some restitution which is very, very little. I didn’t want it in the beginning—maybe I was stupid. I don’t know because I didn’t want the money. That cannot be paid back, you know. I was at the time, I was well off, I mean, I wouldn’t say I’m rich but I didn’t want to bother, and then later I bothered and I got a few thousand marks, peanuts, in 1955. Because of the business—it had been taken. Not because of the suffering actually, that I was forced out of the country and everything.
They’re still using our name today. If you buy a piece of chewing gum there it says, “The Carsch-Haus.” The name is in stone over the door (laughs). We came into Düsseldorf recently and everything was re-built and I didn’t know my way around, and we asked somebody, “Could you tell us where the Carsch is.” You can ask anybody today because it’s a big department store, they are selling everything, it’s exactly like Eaton’s, the basement has a big bookstore and you have food and this kind of stuff, and then you have on the first and second floors women’s clothing, and then for babies and this kind of stuff, and men’s clothing is on top.
I never bothered to go to Frankfurt to see it, because when I go sometimes we go for two, three weeks and then that’s it. When I came back in 1945 I could still see where the Germans advertised on the side of a house. They sort of smoothed it up and they used it for advertising, and there was—and it’s in the book here—the same name, you know, “Carsch,” ”die gute Herren-Kleidunk,” or something, in big letters and I took a picture of one, there was only a half a house standing(laughs) but the advertisement was still there. I felt very angry, very angry, of course.
I don’t know, it came to a point that it didn’t hurt me anymore because you have to live and continue your life. If you make your own life miserable, well it’s ridiculous.
I went to the State of Israel and I had letters back and forth and they took the money, a lot of money. I know of other people in the same situation as I am. There was a big business in Essen and they had a high-rise like in downtown Vancouver. There were two boys and they didn’t get a nickel, because Israel took millions of dollars for that...or marks. It happened all the time that the State of Israel took the money.
The Germans gave billions of dollars, they tried to streamline by giving Israel the money. About six, seven years ago I had the numbers and Ernst and Young found out, they shredded most of the evidence here and then I got the list of the accounts, so they sent me accounts from the Swiss Ombudsman—I got very upset about it, that the accounts from one dollar to a hundred dollars. Then they sent me from a hundred dollars to nine hundred ninety-nine dollars, I said I don’t want both of those things.
My father had moneys all over the place for buying, you know, buying and selling—he had to—he had an account in England I know, he had one in France and in Holland. In Holland, the Germans took the money and opened up the depository box and all kinds of things, but then they compensated with the money and the bonds—there were bonds in there—all kinds of things and compensated bombed out Germans with it but, again, we found out exactly when we got all the bonds back and everything. Including the interests! Because we found this out, 1955 to '57.
We got the money we had in England too because in order to buy in England you couldn’t buy in German marks because even at the time they didn’t want to take the German marks. And we had an account in Switzerland and I knew the account in Switzerland, they changed the bank name and all kinds of things in order not to pay. Because I remember when I was eleven or twelve years old I went with my father, he took me on the trip, I loved to into the dining car because I liked the elegance of it, it was first class. And then it’s Switzerland and in Switzerland there was good food and maybe we went to the banks and the managers wined and dined us! Especially, I remember, I got big bowls of ice-cream and this kind of stuff, and today they deny everything. They deny that they have the money and everything. For the business itself, I got nothing.
When we went to the Carsch-Haus in Düsseldorf last year, they wined and dined us, they gave us champagne, they were in awe sort of! “We thought there is nobody living anymore! Where is British Columbia?” This kind of attitude. Well...they’re selling those books in their book store...to the public. They gave us all kinds of presents and they give us cards to go to the champagne bar again when we come back and I said all I want is I asked if I couldn't take some coat hangers with the name Carsch and some bills and some—if you want to see it I can show it to you. And I’m not so much interested, I live my own life and that’s it.
I even don’t want to know, you know? It just aggravates me, that’s all. I've been back to Germany many times, I have a nephew there, my sister’s son, and he’s very nice, he came here and he wants to leave Germany, he wants to come to Canada. He goes back to the Carsch-Haus every so often and he goes in there, he didn’t know much about it until I told him.
I don’t know but my grandfather, for instance, he donated a lot of money to build the Synagogue in Essen, because it’s absolutely, incredibly big. At the time they had 5,000 members and, you know, and then you know it was housing* down where the men are because it was a conservative synagogue. I had a Jewish education—all my teachers in elementary school were all Jewish, Hebrew and.... everything. My father had fashion sense, I remember, my parents when they went out, they had season tickets for the opera all the time and they had to go somewhere and I was the boy that was always sitting in the opera, I was 11 or 10, they knew me already. The usher, and they put me to the seat and they saw operas—that’s why I liked music too because I was nine, ten years old, I saw all those heavy things...
They have fashion shows in the store and invite maybe some of the better customers. He was such a busy man, you know, but he liked also to entertain. My parents entertained a lot. If you own a store like that that’s sort of a major part of the city, he had a lot of contacts. People were afraid to help, you know. They tried to save their own skin. If they would have helped it might have been different or if people would have fought back, then Hitler couldn’t do what he did. This store was a centerpiece of the city. My mother also worked with the business and was very capable in paper work and those kind of things. Before she got married she was head of a department, the crystal department or something, she was the buyer so she knew. I loved to go to the store as a child “Carsch Junior,” they called me. The best thing was at noon when we went for lunch or something and all this kind of thing, I loved it, we usually went with my mother when she was there.
I’m trying but, you know, there’s too much legal work in there and Israel....and they wouldn’t give me a nickel. I came and it was already gone, they said, “It has already given to the State of Israel and you don’t have any business, and that’s it.” 1955, ‘57, ya. You have to have top lawyers and I don’t want to spend 500,000 dollars which I haven’t got, and then still not know whether I get something and by the time I get it I probably won’t be here anymore. At the time I was too busy to make a living in Israel and then the war started in Israel. I just came out of the British army, at about a year and a half, and I was in uniform again, in another army. Three years, because I was in the British army and I knew the business, they caught me right away.
This is the synagogue in Essen, before, before...look at this. See how big this is, 5,000 members. And the funny thing is when I came to Essen after the war, everything was flat around but the synagogue was standing. You know it sort of really gave me a good kick—the windows were all glass stained and it’s all gone. There’s nobody there. There’s only the annex where the rabbi lived before, and then over where the Torah scrolls were there’s still in Hebrew, you know, big, huge letters, that’s still there, but otherwise nothing.
I had my sister there, since I haven’t got my sister anymore, she died, so only I have my nephew there, her husband died too so I’m not so interested anymore, I just went last time we went and I wanted to Calaise* my wife and she is Canadian, born Canadian, and she wanted to see the places I was talking about all the time. So I took her and we went to the Carsch-Haus, and she was flabbergasted. She thought I was exaggerating all the time. She said, and now I see I can’t believe it. They retained the exterior pretty much as it was. The interior was altered because it’s modern times now, it’s been 50 years or more, so it’s different,
This is my nephew and his wife and my wife here, in front of the Carsch-Haus. This an interesting photo, those are Christians in Germany and they’re running a Jewish book store, only Holocaust and Jewish books there, and we went in there and my wife started talking to them and they have a variety of books and I bought mezuzahs there and all kinds of things, it’s unbelievable. And it’s in a small town. And tshe said, the woman said, “We want the people to let them know what they did.” And they’re Christians, they’re not Jewish.
And if you read German this the plaque on the outside. This is a choir in the synagogue before. that was when I was 12 years old. Jewish teachers, all Jewish people, they’re all Jewish, all of them. Can you believe that about 50, 55% are not alive anymore, I can tell you here, can you find me ? I don’t think you will. You probably have a hard time, I’m standing right there on the board. I was in touch with the teacher, he died 2 years ago. He is in England, he is in England, she went to concentration camp, she went to concentration camp, she died of cancer about 3 years ago, she lives, one of the few that lives in Germany in Düsseldorf. He died, the 2 or 3, I don’t know where they are, that’s myself, she went to the concentration camp, he is in, this is the fellow in Montevideo*, he’s in New York... He is in Israel, he died during the war in the British--in the Brigade, you know, this guy’s in Israel, he died, he died, this guy died, he’s in the States, he’s in Israel. He’s--this fellow’s in France. And this is the teacher, he was such--ach, he was terrific. He gave me a good base. Elementary school was Jewish and it was about, I think it was about 800 boys and girls. It was a thriving community. I have more, I have from the--when they saw the album from Israel they said if I would I like to donate it or would like to lend it to them because a lot of pictures get already yellow... This is like the reference and here is the letterhead of the company, This, ya and I noticed too in there, there was like “Konfirmation,” confirmation clothing and so on..., for Bar-mitzvah, Here is the music pavilion in front of it. I don’t remember when it was built. In 1904 they made a sketch, and then they built it later on. They put an orchestra in there and the people sat around the square on benches and listened to the music.
My father wanted to become a conductor, and since my grandfather didn’t like it because it wasn’t a Jewish trade so he tried to be a doctor, and my grandfather was very upset about it he told me, because he wanted him to run the business. So he went to the first operation and my father fainted and the professor said, “Mr. Carsch, you’ll never make a doctor.” So he went back into the business. so that was the end of that. He loved music, and so do I.
I don’t know but, in Germany it’s funny, most of the clothing business were in Jewish hands, most of the lawyers were Jewish, most of the doctors were Jewish, and most of the scientists were Jewish. And there’s a book out now in Germany, it says, “Germany Without Jews,” and they don’t like it... because the brains are gone.
I left Israel, not Palestine in 1957, right after I was in the Sinai. The British and the French and Israel the two pushed the Russians out because the Russians were supplying the Egyptians with all kinds of things. I got sick, with melanoma. The doctor in Israel said you better go to a colder climate, so I said I’ll go to Canada. But I have children in Israel and we’re going back and forth all the time so otherwise I would have never left—I had everything in Israel. I sold everything and we just came here—in the beginning I didn’t like it, I always wanted to go back but then I only visit in wintertime.
I started traveling with my father when I was 9 years, 10 years. Holland, Amsterdam, I had an uncle there, and we went to England, and I liked the different languages, he spoke fluently French and English and you know, it was very good. Fabric and...also finished goods sometimes, you know, if it’s something unusual. Sweaters and special jacket and different cuts...? Ya, for making the outfits. He went in Switzerland, he looked at those things, and he made sketches and then brought it home. Or sent somebody to get more details and....shirts, like shirts and stuff, of course, underwear and everything.
He thought, a lot of people thought and he thought also because he gave a lot for Germany, and that was it. He was a socialist and not a Nazi or something, and if you were a socialist you not even you didn’t have to be a communist or anything, you were already on the black list automatically for being a socialist. And on top to be Jewish. They started all this garbage with the “Aryan,” now you look at Germany now, there’s such a mix up, it’s unbelievable.
I listened to it when his friends came to entertain and many times I had to go to bed and I listened at the door for hours what they were talking about and they were smoking, oh gosh they were smoking, those big heavy cigars and the stink, it was unbearable (laughing). I remember my mother had a little porcelain elephant and you put some... liquid in it and it sort of sucked the...freshened the air or sucked the smok out, I don’t know. The house was always full of people.
I became a Zionist because we saw what was happening. We saw the Nazis marching and cursing us when we came out of school, it was a big Jewish school there, and when we said...we were a different generation, we didn’t want to take it. And we had get-togethers and we had our own organization about going to Palestine. It was very difficult. The British wouldn’t let you in because they would give you what they called certificates, only 1,500 a month and that was even after the war, and we called it, there was a British Prime Minister Bevin, do you remember him?
We called it “Bevingrad” and there were demonstrations in Palestine at the time, and in between, between my release from the army, from the British army, I joined the underground in Israel, the Bund. And we were fighting the British tooth and nail also, because they were not much better than the Germans in my opinion. I was three times arrested by the British. Because we were teaching weapons in the Kibbutz. The third time I was arrested there was a British army officer and we were teaching weapons and he talked to me and we found out we were in the same places in the British army, we became good friends. “Ok,” he said, “I tell you one thing,” he said, “if I would be in your shoes, I would do the same thing.”
I said why can the Hitler Youth put their uniform on and tell us what to do? I felt differently, we had a different Mentalität, mentality, you know, if they attack you, fight back. I believed at the time very, very strongly, an eye for an eye (laughing).a lot, especially the young ones felt the same.
Women are more passive, you know,they’re not so uptight against—fight back! Let’s fight back! You know? Even today somebody makes a comment at the expense of the Jewish people, you know, and I just let ‘em have it, not physically, but I talk to them, you know? Like I worked for a big company here in Surrey, an electronics firm, for 21 years, and we were at a Christmas party and we’re standing there and everybody has a glass and we’re talking and there’s one German fellow and he sees I have this...this Mogen David here, and he says, “That’s a funny thing, what is it?” I said, it’s the emblem of the Israeli army. And he says, “What does it stand for?” I said, it’s the star of David and it has the sword in the middle and then there is an olive branch twisted around, I said, you have a choice, you know, or you come in peace you get the olive branch and if you don’t come in peace there is the sword, you know! “Oh,” he says, “Oh,” he says, “you are one of those Jews that didn’t go to the oven!” Oh, gee! And I had my Israeli training, and had they go to [against] the SS and everything, I have a Swiss Army pocket knife, you know, I always carry it, I even have it in my pocket right now. And I took it out, I think it’s the same knife here, I took it out and I opened the blade, and nobody thinks anything, you know, just a little thing, you know, and I take his tie and cut it off!
And there’s only this much left, the rest is in my hand, you know? And I said, “Now Werner, I tell you one thing, you open your mouth again, I couldn’t care less, but the next time I cut, I cut 3 inches higher, and it’s not the tie. He apologized afterwards.
They killed my father when he was only 50 years old when he died. He didn’t have where to go. I told him, I told him, I told him, “Oh no, no, no, the Germans wouldn’t do anything—they wouldn’t do anything to me! It’s only a political thing, it’ll go over! He’ll go,” But who thought about concentration camps, you’re telling me? Nobody did! You read the book, Hitler’s Willing Henchmen, or something? A lot of Communists and Socialists died in Dachau, you know, for re-education, they called it, they killed them, you know. I just read an article that in Vienna now they closed a lot of galleries because they found out they are stolen pictures from Jewish people.
My mother wouldn’t let me leave, but I had no choice, she was running around for those two days like, I would say like a chicken without a head. To get everything—to get me out. Because she brought me to the railroad station, you know, and last year we came back and I was standing on the same platform and we came all out of the train in Germany. It gave me a very, very eerie feeling, sort of, you know ? No, house is not standing. They say no, they rebuilt the whole area because it was an older house and it had a lot of...not acreage, but it was a bigger property and they have now those condos sort of thing.
My father could have left very easily. Because he had all these contacts abroad. With the contacts and then even after 1933 we still had the passport and he had a passport and we traveled to England, to all kinds of places. I thought sometimes, why don’t we stay here or—but he wouldn’t, you know, if you would have had the foresight maybe, you know, take the key, turn the key and say, “Good-bye, Charlie,” you know, leave everything behind, he would have probably lived another...maybe another 20, 30 years, who knows? He had connections, he had the money, he had everything I was traveling the last time I think it was in 1936, after my bar-mitzvah we went to Holland, you know, and they wouldn’t let him out again. That went down too because Germany kept a very tight fist on foreign currencies. There were a lot of Germans in concentration camps like my brother-in-law, he was in stationed with the German army in Italy and he didn’t keep his mouth shut about Hitler, so they gave him transfer to Russia, in the hope he’s not coming back from there, didn’t keep his mouth shut in Russia either. And he had a thriving business too, he had a big butcher shop, near Bonn where Adenauer lived, you know? The German Chancellor? It was the second house, right beside him. So...he didn’t shut up and they put him in a concentration camp: forced labour. That’s where he met my sister. Of course, but he got his back, because his father was still there, you know?
Not only that, he was near Adenauer, Adenauer was at the time, he was the mayor of Cologne, he knew him personally, it was the second house, and my nephew was the only one who was allowed to play in his yard because there were always the guards, the police were guarding his house, Adenauer’s house, and he bought all his meat and everything from him, you know, I saw—when I came in ‘55 I saw him many times, he left in the morning—every morning he had his black Mercedes, there was a police car in front, a police car in back, and then the siren goes and every morning the same spiel, you know? (laughing) So he had influence and he got everything back, you know. Adenauer was also detained by the Nazis, he was a very big anti-Nazi.
Now when the Gestapo came for you they give you an ultimatum, that’s all, “Or else.”
Oh, I know quite a few people, young people, you know, we said, we’re not going to take this. We even sometimes tried—we saw Hitler Youth in uniform, going along, maybe let’s take them on, you know, get ‘em, this kind of thing. Here was the shoe on the other foot.
That was a very disturbing when they said no more school because at the time, learning, you know, was a very important. My parents always said; ”Get good remarks,” and my father bribed me, he gave me one mark for an “A” and 50 pfennig for a “B” and don’t come home with a “C” or something worse. But we had tremendous teachers, totally different concept, and I had always homework, I couldn’t go out of the house before I did my homework, play or anything. The law came out that Jews could be only farmers, you couldn’t have any profession. You could only have a business if you dealt with Jewish people, yes, but if you dealt with Christians it was very difficult.
My father did some of the designing. I think his experience or something, you know, sometimes he wanted the button here and, you know, they had those suits with the under waists or something ? And little bit open here and bigger cuffs and this kind of thing. He helped on the pattern too, he was very knowledgeable, you know, he was constantly in the manufacturing shop, I saw him there all the time, I had to look for him he was in the office or in the manufacturing—sometimes he went into the store too, check the salespeople. My grandfather must have been very good at it, he was a very tall man, and my grandmother was very small, she was a very petite figure and she had four sons and they were all—the smallest on was 6’2”, I’m smaller than my father. He had a very good education.
The Jewish community was very involved because we had a lot of--I remember even names, you know that were also on a smaller scale, were in the fashion industry and... we had friends they made... knittings, you know. Sweaters and stuff.
The company I don’t remember, I remember their name but it was on a different, I think Rosenthal or something. Then we had other people they made the...women’s clothing, you know? And we had, and there were 3 or 4 in furs, furs was always a Jewish trade anyway, and there was one big one, one big place on the same Main Street my father always had his shop in Essen, and they had shoes.
And in Düsseldorf were there other Jewish stores as well. Of course we had competition. I don’t remember the names of the competition. There was a big store too, and they’re still around. And there was one big store and the owner was a real Nazi and he always tried to put my father's business down.
They had cheap and middle and expensive stuff. They had some clothing that was what they call clothing that comes off the hanger and then there is the clothing that is made by hand, somebody comes in with a belly like this or something, or even bigger, I mean you cannot wear anything that’s hanging on the rack. They made to measure, ya. He had his tailors and, you know, he could measure too, he knew exactly what it was all about.
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Funding NoteCataloguing and digitization of this oral history was supported by funding from the Government of Canada.