X. Emigration of our parents and sister
Germany, Italy, Portugal 1939 to 1941
The experiences of the Reichskristallnacht and the harsher treatment of Jews in its wake, the collective fine imposed by the Nazis on the Jews as retribution for the murder of Ernst vom Rath by Herschel Grynszpan in Paris, whose parents had been deported under inhuman conditions, finally force father to attend more energetically to the problem of emigration for himself and his family. The particular brand of nationalism which he had developed certainly arose out of the past of his father and the great fulfillment which he worked for and found in Koenigsberg. Father was influenced by his father's complete embracement of his new country and the associated feeling of belonging which undoubtedly figures very strongly in Jewish emigrants anywhere.
Announcement of withdrawal of driving licences for Jews, Berlin, 6th December 1939
On 2nd February, 1939, father applies for U.S. quota-numbers for himself and all members of his family at the General Consulate in Berlin. The application for Australian visas must have taken place somewhat earlier. Personal data of all members are sent to New York to permit Grete Simon, mother's admirer of her Elbing days and close friend of all of us before she left Koenigsberg in 1935, to organize affidavits from U.S. citizen. A waiting time of 2 years or longer must be expected, and in the meantime all attention is concentrated on problems of the uncertain future such as what should be taken along, how to find funds for tickets, new clothing, getting into contact with friends, relatives and distant relatives overseas, etc. Father, who hitherto has devoted all his energy for the benefit of the company which he led for 23 years and his community, suddenly begins to act on his own behalf.
Letters and telegrams pass
between Koenigsberg, New York and Glasgow, where Uwe resides on a
temporary permit after being unable to obtain work in his field
of aircraft design in Germany. The primary objective at this
stage is to get father out of Germany. No one knows where the
current developments are leading to. No time schedule or scale are
available, but it is clear that father has been and is in danger.
However, all countries, except for Shanghai, demand guarantees
and papers which are difficult to obtain under conditions which
make many aspects completely unreal. Even temporary residence
invariably depends on a person's success or imminent success in
becoming a permanent resident in another country. The events of
the last months have increased astronomically the number of
persons seeking to get out of Europe, from Germany, Austria,
Czechoslovakia, Poland, etc. The hurdles designed
by administrators and politicians, who must not only alleviate
Nazi inhumanity, but also struggle with the continuing economic
depression and unemployment in their own countries, are complex
and condemn many people to the murderous designs eventually
developed by the Nazis.
Joseph Salomon Moore
The despair of the situation is well characterized by father's
search for distant relatives whose names have hardly if ever been
mentioned during my earlier life. Many Jewish families and
individuals went abroad from Kolodeje, Wirsitz, Koenigsberg, etc. during the
last century. He makes attempts to trace them and to ask for help
for himself and his family. For example, there is Joseph Salomon,
brother of father's grandfather on his mother's side, who left
Wirsitz in 1838, trained as a merchant in England with his uncle
P.B.Moore, married Moore's daughter and assumed his uncle's name,
sought his fortune unsuccessfully in the Southern States of North
America, joined the Goldrush in California as a trader and made a
fortune there, later on traded in India and China, set up a
business in Melbourne at 221 Collins Street in the 1850s, and
then a home in New York in 1866. He became there a wealthy and
respected member of the Jewish community. He resided at 1009
Madison Avenue. His influence on political developments was
acknowledged in the New York Times when he died in 1892:
For many years, and under Republican administrations, although a strong Democrat, he held an office in the Custom-House, in order that his special abilities in dealing with figures might be employed in public service. In all the tariff work of the last twenty years he played a very prominent part, and he was the intimate acquaintance and friend of many of the most distinguished men in public life. During the Cleveland Administration, he spent much time in Washington in close conference with the Ways and Means Committee.
Up to his death, Moore corresponds with his brother Salomon. His letters display a strong personality with deep Jewish tradition and with regret for the deterioration of religious and other standards. Attempts to trace this branch of the family fifty years later are handicapped by distance in time and space and do not assist with the first objective of an immediate exodus from Europe.
After weeks, Grete Simon obtains affidavits for father. Now start the efforts to get him out of Germany. Continuously, decisions are complicated by father's wish to execute his emigration in an orderly and economically efficient manner. Like so many others in similar positions, he is reluctant to write off a life's work and savings in exchange for survival. He is handicapped by his earlier success in life and its associated possessions. On l7th April, 1939, he receives the US waiting numbers 65,303-65,306 for himself, mother, Gundula and myself; two months later, Christoph is given the number 71,890. There is simply no machinery available to cope with such numbers in the face of formalities which daily become more complex. Father seeks meetings with representatives of the American Refugee Organizations to discuss his personal emigration. He proposes an exploratory visit to America, unaware of the fact that, if he were to do so, he would lose his place in the queue. His questions are complex and numerous. Shall he sell his furniture? Shall he wait with irreversible steps until his name is called? What clothes shall he take? Will he live in the North or in the South? What is the probability of living anywhere? The questions pour out and answers, if they are given, are not studied seriously, because other problems have arisen in the meantime. The original questions have been forgotten, at least temporarily.
Father also encounters difficulties in obtaining a passport. Earlier, he has had to add the name Israel to his other Christian names, to identify himself as a Jew. At that time, his request for permission to assume instead his father's name Elias is turned down. A new German law demands such action in cases where forenames do not identify a person as a Jew! A chicken and egg situation automatically develops as emigrants can only apply for passports after their emigration has been arranged. If he has no place where he can go, he cannot get ready to leave. Passport applications for Jews take a long time as they are linked to financial conditions and questions of property. For Aryans, it is done in a matter of days. Pinpricks and hurdles have been erected everywhere to torture the victims! How many individuals were involved at that time in these bureaucratically administered proceedings?
Hopes develop that father can go to England for a year, or Denmark? Father suffers deeply from all these considerations which he, who considers himself to be a German and East Prussian, must take into account, in order to become a foreigner like his immediate ancestors were at one time or another. Nevertheless, he resigns to this fact in a letter to an official advisor for emigration problems in Koenigsberg on l8th April, 1939, when he acknowledges formally the situation by confirming that he is making serious attempts to emigrate in order to meet the wishes of the German Government. There is no record of his real thoughts at the time. Does he still question the legality of his eviction? Has he resigned to the fact that he is to lose his beloved East Prussia and his birthplace at the hands of a German Government? Six years later his countrymen will lose it at the hands of a Government which this very Government tries to destroy in the intervening years. Bitter thoughts and infinite suffering for multitudes of innocents for whose welfare governments are set up in the first place. In this letter he applies for a passport to enable him to undertake an exploratory visit to the U.S.A. The American contact on a Refugee Committee advises strongly against an exploratory visit. Valuable months slip by until at the beginning of August 1939 he receives the permit to enter England and for the whole family to emigrate to Australia. However, the process of obtaining a passport can only be initiated now.
The Passport Office of the British General Consulate in Berlin requests father's passport on 9th August, 1939
On 9th August, father launches this application. The Australian permits are valid until l6th May, 1940. In the meantime, he will have to find the fares for the entire family as well as 1,000 pounds sterling landing money. Not so long ago, he would have been considered a rich man, but now such sums in foreign currency are beyond his reach and must be obtained from charity. He hesitates to give up the idea of going to the U.S.A., while the American Committee, aware of many other desperate cases, advises him to accept this opportunity and let the future look after itself. He must decide for one or the other country. Again he seeks Grete's advice, as if he, who for many years made many and often difficult decisions for other people, is now paralyzed. On 28th August,l939, he hears in a letter from New York that once he goes to Australia, the Committee cannot and should not continue to act on his behalf, as he will be alive and safe.
On 1st September l939, Poland is invaded and father is
arrested on the next day. He is one of the few senior Jews left
in Koenigsberg, but he is placed in a labour camp for Aryans near
Labiau, East of Koenigsberg. All attempts to get him out of
Germany before the door closes have failed. From now on the
impossible has to be achieved. Mother is alone in Koenigsberg in
the large house. Suddenly, she is faced with the need to
undertake formal steps and decisions which during 26 years of
marriage have been handled exclusively by father. She unpacks his
suitcase, readied for his trip to England. She communicates with
Dr. Karl Kiesel, a lawyer friend in Berlin. Evening after evening,
they talk on the telephone and she receives instructions and
encouragement. She begins the notes which have made possible my
description of this period.
Christoph is in West Germany in the air force. Gundula returns during October after staying with relatives until civilian rail transport through the Polish Corridor becomes again available. Until the start of the war, she was at a school in the Harz Mountains. She crosses the Vistula over a foot-bridge, as all railroad bridges have been destroyed. Both children are unaware of father's plight until he himself writes to them one of the scarce postcards which prisoners are allowed to send on Sundays. Mother blames herself for the present situation, because she feels that she should have sent father to Berlin, where he could have hidden from the Gestapo, as he did in 1938. She goes to Berlin and visits the headquarters of the Gestapo. She seeks the help of many of father's former business associates. At the best, she finds compassion; no one seems to be willing or able to help.
On 27th September, her domestic servant leaves and she is completely alone. A postcard from father on Tuesday and letters from Christoph and Gundula are the only signs from the
outside world. There have not been any news from the other three boys in England. When Christoph mentions in a letter to father that a friend in Berlin is making attempts to get him out, an investigation starts in the camp and in Koenigsberg, and Karl's assistance and his nightly telephone calls cease.
The winter of the first war year starts early. Long evenings with rain and cold precede unusually early snow falls and low temperatures which are to last far into 1940. Even the task of shovelling snow to get from the house to the street becomes a problem. Koenigsberg is under black-out and only a single room in the house can be used at night. The few times mother goes to town, like the night when she seeks unsuccessfully assistance from her eldest brother Paul Vageler, who has returned to Germany from South America to a high position in the Nazi hierarchy, she waits for a long time at the end of the street for the tram. Snow is piled high everywhere and not a single soul is about.
On 27th September, she hears via Latvia that her three sons.in England are well and attempting to emigrate to the U.S.A. A few weeks later, a letter in German from the Refugee Committee in London tells of their arrest. As the letter does not mention internment, but only arrest, she wonders for weeks about the significance of the different terms. Has one to be arrested to be interned? At last the Gestapo informs her that father can get released, if he emigrates. Once more the ride on the carousel starts.
Mother visits father in the camp on three successive Sundays in November, once accompanied by Christoph, who has managed to take leave. Every time it is a long and tiring trip by train. She is happy to discover that he is occupied indoors with washing clothes, cleaning floors, stoking fires, etc. It is very cold outside and he has never been too strong physically. Mother takes tobacco and various small items for the other prisoners which father has requested during her first visit.
Fritz Radok's GESTAPO certificate for a ration card, 23rd December, 1939
In the meantime, the struggle for father's release continues
on the entire front without any sign of promise. Yet, on 23rd
December, at 10 a.m., father telephones from Koenigsberg's
central railway station. He is coming home. Christmas becomes as
good as it can be under such circumstances. Mother had given up
all hope that she would see him again. It is not clear to me how
and why it has come about. Did mother succeed in obtaining
assistance through her school friend Kaethe whose husband was
General-Field-Marshal Erhard Milch. A rumour had it that he was a
Half-Jew and the reason for Hermann Goering's saying that he
determined in Germany who was a Jew.
Father finds it difficult to adjust to the change after four months under conditions which nevertheless were relatively bearable. The mental shock of finding himself in such a state without any possibility of selfdefence has undermined his confidence. After a couple of weeks, he restarts his efforts to get out of Germany and Europe. Again letters are sent in all directions. Christoph returns home unexpectedly for New Years's Eve. The four of them are together, and the mutual presence brings back some confidence.
Early in December , the Americans had made a proposal for emigration via San Domingo where the head tax has just been reduced from $500 to $250, maybe, in order to ease the exodus of the few who might still be able to leave and eventually enter the U.S.A. However, emigrants must go there via the U.S.A.and transit visa are difficult to obtain. San Domingo demands deposition of funds in a special bank account. Emigrants from Germany can take only very little money for which they must pay exorbitant rates of exchange. At this stage, the cheapest fare on an Italian boat under deck to Panama is $195. From there one has to fly to San Domingo at a cost of $160. For beggars, these are all fantastic sums.
On 24th January, 1940, mother's sister Helen, who is also married to a Jew and lives since several months in Venezuela, cables that she has made arrangements for visas for mother as well as for father and for fares there via Italy. However, Gundula is to stay behind as there is not enough money to pay her fare. An alternative of migration via Mexico turns up at the same time. It demands $600 per person and $125 as departure bond which can be bought from a Mexican Insurance Company for $6 per year. However, the Venezuelan plan is more attractive. Feelers are sent out to find $150 per month to sustain the parents in Caracas. Via America, this request for funds also goes to the three sons interned in England. A proposal to go to Chile is not pursued further when it turns out that visas cannot be obtained.
Exclusion of Non-Aryans from army service , Berlin, 11th March, 1940
Mother is worried about the aspect of leaving Gundula and
Christoph behind. He is supposed to get out of the air force
within a few weeks, having availed himself of an option given to
Half-Jews after the outbreak of war.While the Venezuelan plans
take shape, pressure develops to
leave promptly. Father's brother Reinhold has been arrested on 6th December 1939 for making disloyal remarks, whatever that means. He has been visiting various authorities in a search for permission to join the army in his capacity of veteran of World War I with several decorations. He has been living for years in a small village of Wuerttemberg.
Letter to Reinhold's housekeeper, threatening withdrawal of her First World War widows pension, if she does not cease working for a Jew.
After the death of his wife Jula a few months earlier, he has
lost his moral support and personal protection. He cannot come to
terms with the situation. At the same time, there come also calls
for help for the adult sons of the relatives in Kolodeje.
On l2th March, 1940, the arrival of the money for the trip to Venezuela is acknowledged from Genoa. However, the Venezuelan Consulate in Hamburg has not yet heard about the visas. At that stage, there arrives a proposal for father to go to Denmark and await there an opportunity to enter the U.S.A. Whatever they are going to do, father cannot apply for his passport until these questions are resolved. Both parents hesitate when it comes to getting the packing restarted. They simply wait.
Outside the snow persists while the Sun slowly becomes warmer. The first snowdrops push their way through the snow, birds return and seek food outside the house, where mother has been feeding resident birds and squirrels all through the Winter. It seems to her as if never before the squirrels have been tamer. This Winter animals and humans have suffered.
A new aspect of mother's leaving with father arises when the
Gestapo indicates the possibility that Reinhold might be
released, if he were to come to Koenigsberg and live.under the
supervision of a relative. New quandaries and insoluble problems
continue to arrive. March and April pass in inactivity. At last,
on lst May, a cable from New York reports that the entire family
has been adopted by a religious community in Louisville,
Kentucky, who want to rejoin them. They will not only support the
parents, but also their daughter in their effort to leave
Germany. In the middle of May, Christoph is discharged from the
Air Force. He turns up in Koenigsberg just at the moment when
packing. has started in earnest. Tropics, North America,
Australia? The next days lead to an indescribable confusion as
father continues his efforts to make allowance for all
possibilities. In the end, the many rooms of the house are
littered with items left out at the last minute. They will be
cleaned up after their departure by mother's eldest sister Grete
Hasforth who has come to help them from Frauenburg, where her
husband is a parson. Twenty large trunks as well as many pieces
of hand luggage are taken to the station in the evening. Mother
obtains a berth on the sleeper, while father is refused as a Jew.
Once on the train, he manages to sneak a berth. Now they are well
on the way to becoming foreigners. The ships are burnt behind
them. Koenigsberg's luscious. trees and flowering shrubs of late
May wave them farewell.
Passports of the Radoks
They pass through Berlin and continue their journey to
Hamburg, where they must present themselves for the Venezuelan
visas. When they return to Berlin, they are told that nine days
earlier the Brenner Pass into Italy has been closed for Jews.
When father with his J-passport asks for seats
on the train from Munich, he is refused one for himself. Mother
goes to the Italian Embassy. After a number of fruitless
discussions with officials she encounters a secretary who on her
own initiative cables Rome, in order to request a special visum.
It is Friday. No answer can be expected before Monday. Outside
the Embassy, mother is met by her family who in the meantime have
been trying to work out the implications of this developement.
All of them are only too aware of the fact that they have nowhere
to go and that the Gestapo is breathing down father's neck.
They visit over the weekend father's sister Grete, whose husband Max Hartung died long ago. She will be arrested in 1943 and die shortly after the end of the war in a prison hospital in Berlin. They visit father's sister Lisbeth whose husband Erwin Kroll, eternally under suspicion, leads a precarious existence. He is arrested towards the end of the war, but survives to play a leading role in post war Berlin's radio station RIAS and write his book on Koenigsberg's music life.
On Monday morning, when mother reports back to the Italian Embassy, she is given father's visum after hours of waiting. In the evening, they depart for Stuttgart to visit Reinhold in prison. They are admitted into the visitor's room where no open talk is possible and the visit becomes a sentimental journey in the truest sense. Reinhold dies in Theresienstadt on 11.1.1943 at an age of almost 64. It is not known whether he meets there his Czechoslovakian uncles and other relatives. .
On the way from Stuttgart to Munich, they view Germany's nature in its Spring splendour. Fruit trees are in flower along many country roads, villages and their churches are set among fresh green pastures and there is no sign of the approaching human disaster. It is hard to believe in man-made justice after these months and under these conditions. When they reach Munich, the difficulties about father's visum for the Brenner Pass are revived. Father is not allowed to travel on the train, unless . . .. mother telephones the Italian Embassy in Berlin and is fortunate in contacting again the same lady who helped her a few days earlier. When they arrive in Genoa, they learn that their ship will not sail for several days. They are accommodated in a relatively high class hotel at the expense of the shipping line. Their tickets are said to be in order, after payment of $200 per person.
Two days later, their departure is delayed for another three
weeks. Only American ships sail, and, of course, they have no
money to attempt an escape on one of these ships. Their luggage
of 35 items becomes a liability. Father blames the fact that he
did not receive the right advice and refuses to admit that he
could have worked this problem out without it. However, whenever
catastrophe has overtaken people, they have tried to hold on to
as many of their possessions as possible, pushing prams and other
carts along crowded country roads until they collapse in the
ditches beside the roads or leave the luggage behind. The worry
about the future and its poverty is eased by possessions, even if
they are useless!
After extended negotiations, they move to a cheaper hotel and receive 35 lira per person per day. The few dollars which they took with them for casual expenses have dwindled rapidly. To confuse the situation, one of the senior officials of the shipping line suddenly declares that they would not anyhow have taken father along as he has only a tourist visum. Since when do tourists travel third class? Certainly, they do not want to have to bring him back! Hours are spent in useless discussions with the shipping line and the Venezuelan Consulate. It appears that nothing can be done until a reply is received from Christobal.
By now they have run out of money. The ship is certain not to sail, as Italy has entered the war on 10th June 1940. Father is interned two days later as a Jew. He is sent to a rudimentary camp near Salerno where he soon falls ill from typhoid fever. Mother resumes the battle for their escape from a by now even more desperate situation. She and Gundula have moved to Nervi, a resort near Genoa. She travels into town daily to visit officials and pursue attempts to escape from Europe. Still back in Munich, they sent a total of $637.40, father's total life savings of 40,000 marks converted into foreign currency, to a bank in Caracas. How can they find and retrieve this money? A letter is sent to Christoph who holds 10 000 marks in reserve in case that the three boys in England require help. Perhaps, this money can be converted into dollars? After weeks, they receive $160. Meanwhile they attempt to get help from the German Protestant parson at Genoa without success. Soon, mother and daughter may be sent back to Germany, leaving father behind in the Italian concentration camp.
No boats sail from Genoa directly to Christobal. Negotiations
begin for the refund of the fares to Caracas and bookings on
American ships via New York. The ticket Genoa-New York costs
$200; from there, it will take $60 to go to Guayara, so that the
total cost with incidentals for the family will amount to $780.
Throughout, the luggage creates additional problems. Where can
they find such a sum? At this stage, the husband of mother's
sister in Caracas loses his job, as anti-German sentiments are
mounting. Money becomes a worry also for him; their two children
have been adopted in the U.S.A.
On 6th August, they learn from New York that the three brothers were on the "Arandora Star" which was torpedoed in the North Atlantic, and that they survived (cf. Chapter XI). After learning from newspapers about the torpedoing of an English prisoner transport, both, mother and father, had felt all along that their sons were on the boat. Their feeling of relief is great.
Every day, the cost of getting out of Europe increases. At
last the $637.60, transferred from Munich to Caracas, find their
way to New York; the sponsors in Louisville come once again to
the aid of the family. Grete subsidizes this money with her own
savings intended to get in the near future her own sister Lotte
out of Koenigsberq via Siberia. On 8th August, the first cash
arrives in Genoa just on time. On the day when the three interned
brothers reach Melbourne, parents, daughter and luggage reach by
train Lisbon via Barcelona, where they have travelled by boat. On its next journey, the boat is lost with all aboard. The Portuguese
border is closed to refugees 9 days after their arrival.
At this stage, the U.S.A. offer the only realistic opportunity for an escape from Europe. The parents have $350 and tourist visas for Venezuela. Months of negotiations in New York ensue. Their Berlin quota numbers are high, but by now only a trickle of` emigrants can leave Nazi-occupied territories and avail themselves of this opportunity.
On 25th October, father has his papers and all his money stolen when collecting mail in the post office. The family is broke and obtains assistance from a local American church organization for a cable to Grete. Gundula manages to earn a little bit of money by giving lessons, baby-sitting, etc. Father gradually recovers his health, but requires good food and plenty of attention. A couple of weeks later they receive $72.24, all the money which Grete can raise at this stage. On l6th November, affidavits are issued for temporary visas to the U.S.A. Gradually, the South American shipping line is refunding payments made in Caracas and the U.S.A. On 13th December, the American Consul in Lisbon refuses transit visas unless the family holds tickets from New York to Guyara. Such tickets are booked on 18th December at a cost of $273.50. The struggle to obtain permission to stay in the U.S.A. continues.
On 13th February 1941 , 273 days after leaving their home in
Koenigsberg, their boat berths at Ellis Island. It is the same
boat with a different name on which they travelled 1913 to
Africa. They are met by Grete and Norah who by now also lives in