Here, in its entirety, is an essay was written by Claire Greenwald, mother of TBE's Art Greenwald and mother in law of Sue Greenwald, shortly after arriving in the US after fleeing Nazi Germany. Claire was one of the fortunate ones who escaped just before Kristallnacht and was granted asylum here, despite America's strict refugee quotas (the '30s were the most anti-Semitic decade in American history). She was a teenager at the time she wrote this. Her detailed description is both brilliantly written (in English, a language she had just learned) and chilling, in light of current events. See, for example, the parts about press freedom, humiliation of those who are different and the cult of the leader and you might as well be reading today's paper. The essay is somewhat lengthy, but I implore you to take a few moments to read it all. I am honored to be able to share it with you and thank Art and Sue - and Claire - for allowing me to do that. JH
My birthplace was "Am Schonen Rheine" in Germany. Much has already been said about this most beautiful land. The endless parks, museums, trees and water all combined to make a thing of beauty.
My three sisters and I were raised within all this; plus, the gaiety and geniality of the people. My people owned a prosperous business. We were comfortable and enjoyed the best of everything. We were all ever so happy.
I had many friends both Jewish and Gentile and we got along very well. I went to a public school with them. After school I would go to their homes and I was welcomed there, by them and their parents. My teachers were very nice to me, they would often help me with my studies.
Oh, what a pleasant life I was leading. Every beat of my heart told me this. It seemed the world was in and not a thought of the future worried me. Then one day, in the not so distant future, we all were to receive a rude awakening.
To me, it seemed as though a youthful tree, in full bloom, had been cut in its infancy. The year was 1933 and I shall never forget it. Beauty no more faced my eyes. In its place I could see nothing but hatred and discipline everywhere. My heart ached fort the past. My body trembled and shook with fright. I was young (10 years old) and could not imaging that life so sweet; life that was so full of joy, happiness, love and laughter would change. This life that bore nothing but security and safety came to an end.
The "Shone Rhine" was no more a place of beauty to me. The beautiful water flowed no more, the parks were ugly, the museums cold- oh, I wanted so much to get away from it. The questions were how and when.
Streets called after Jewish men were changed. Others were put in their places. Directions, if I had to give to anyone, were difficult. Every city in Germany had at least one street called "Adolf Hitler Strasse." Statues of Jewish men were broken up. Homes of Jewish writers and other statesmen were ruined. All writings of the Jews, paintings ad fine arts were burned. No Jewish songs were allowed to be sung anymore. Thus, no new ones were ever written. Mendelsohn's beautiful wedding march was no more. Other national Nazi songs were born. Entirely new ideas of art were developed.
Stores which were owned by Jewish people were marked as- "Do not buy from Jewish merchants. Naturally, some people would stop going to these stores. Others, who did not stop, had pictures taken of them as they came out. The pictures of these people were inserted in the papers, above their pictures it was stated that "These are the Jewish friends."
Some Jewish owners would leave their stores. They would take their family and go to other countries, where they were not known. It was the only thing they could do. Conditions for them became so unbearable, their business was worth nothing to them.
One Gentile storekeeper came up to our house and begged us not to trade with him anymore. He said the Nazis were watching and did not like the idea of our trading with him. For fear of harm to him and his family he hoped we would do as he asked. He was very sorry he had to tell us this because he had been an old friend of ours. This was one case, God knows how many went through the same experience.
My father also had to give us his place of business. The pressure of propaganda and business conditions in general forced this about. To make a living, my parents had to peddle from door to door. My father would travel by bicycle and my mother would walk. Some people would buy, others would keep my parents until policemen came. When a policeman arrived, he would fine my parents for peddling. Sometimes their stock would be taken from them. Older customers wished that my parents would to come to their houses. They said they would come, instead, to our home. This they wanted to do to protect us and them. My parents had many unpleasant experiences. It was very hard for them to make a living for us.
My poor, poor parents. They were always so kind. Why must they have to go through so many hardships? I could not understand why. They harmed no one. They did not steal, they were not murderers, they were not criminals of any sort. The reasons, it seems, was simply because they (and others like them) were Jews in the wrong country. Tragedy- every word of it. Hard to believe, but it was all true.
I was afraid to walk in the streets. Everything was so unreal. Nazi flags flying in the breeze. Little boys were so unkind. They would call after us "Dirty Jew" and other insulting names. We could do nothing but walk on. Gentile friends, whom I knew very well, were forced to pass me by. They were not allowed to speak to me. We Jews were put on a very low level.
Once, while I was walking, a group of older boys tied me and a few other Jewish girls up.
Now, many young men wore brown shirts. An organization was formed for them. It was called "Hitlerjugend." Their ages were from eighteen to twenty. The young girls belonged to a group called "Bund Deutscher Madels." Their ages were the same as the young men. Theyu would wear black skirts, white shirts and brown jackets with brown shoes. The older people belonged to the S.A. and the S.S. The S.A. group wore brown suits and the S.S. group wore black suits. Only Ayrans were permitted membership into these organizations.
Their duties were to spread propaganda. The would mark up Jewish homes and temples. On the bells they would put signs saying, "Do not ring the Jewish bell." They would all have separate meetings. I did not know what took place at these meetings. They would go on trips, but naturally always with their Nazi flag. How proud they were when they first started to march with their new flag and sing their new songs! People had to stop and bow when they and their flags were marching by. Everyone had to wait until they passed.
Newspapers were censored. There was no place for free writing. All thoughts and ideas were formed for the people by the Nazi regime. The papers would write of the good the Nazi party was going to bring. It stated no one was going to starve. All were going to have jobs. Germany, in spite of the obstacles, was going to be great and supreme above all. Herr Hitler, the Fuehrer, was the "God" and he would do all this within four years. The papers wrote how the "Jew was the enemy." He must be driven out and until then, no one must rest. Every day, it was the same thing- all propaganda. Very little news from the outside world was permitted. The "Austrian Anshluss" was not known by the people of Germany until it was all over.
The radio was also censored. Party leaders would broadcast every few minutes about Hitler and the good he was doing. Hitler was always glorified. It was useless listening to the radio. The programs were so dull. Always- Hitler, Hitler and more Hitler. I thought it would drive us all mad.
The people in Germany, besides all this, had other problems. The food problem was one. Every family was allowed a certain amount of butter each week. No one was able to receive more than his set amount. There were no lemons and onions. Grafefruits, oranges, pineapples were very seldom seen. Bread was not very tasty. The flour that was put into the bread was not of the best quality. The bread had a darker color than it had before. The Nazi people said it was alright to eat, for no one was getting sick from it.
The clothing situation was another problem. Clothes were not as lasting. The real quality was not there.
All this time I was going to a private school. I had no other school to go to, otherwise I would not have gone there. To explain: The joy, happiness and friendship that I received from my fellow students and teachers were missing. I could no longer associate with them. I and other Jewish friends of mine were separated from the Gentiles. We had to study harder than ever to pass our subjects. Jewish children had to eat by themselves. Other children in the school often made fun of us. We could do nothing but accept their jokes and shouts at us. School life was becoming more and more unbearable. My school friends could no longer come to my house. Sometimes they would come when they knew no one saw them. Their parents would throw stones at our windows if they found out. Many times, our windows were broken because of this.
I was happy when my class day was over. I felt safe only in the presence of my parents in our home but even here we talked in a low voice. We feared some spy might be watching us. Peace was only gotten at sleep, that is, if I fell asleep. Often, I did not sleep. When morning came, school also came again. I faced the torments of my classmates. It was as though I were going to some jail. I was so frightened I did not know what each new day or night would bring. The anxiety was making me a shy and lonesome person out of me.
This went on until the Jewish people made a school only for Jewish children. Here we had Jewish teachers. It was a good school and I was taught by kind teachers once again. My friends and I ate together. We talked with one another and we all felt safe. We were safe till we went outside of school. Then we were afraid once more. Every day brought the same reaction.
A few years passed, I graduated from school and thought I might be able to get a job, perhaps in some store or office. I was wrong, no one was employing Jewish help. Oh, I looked everywhere. I had to have a job. My sisters and parents needed money to carry on. But I could not get it. What was I to do?
My inability to get work made me realize that I had no future in Germany- the country where I was born and had grown up. Since I was no longer able to continue with my education and the fact I received no work, I made up my mind I must leave Germany.
I wondered how to leave Germany.... I had it!
I had relatives in America. I learned the United States was a free country- a grand land! A place that had no brown shirts, no fences between races. Surely this was the place of my future.
Before I left Germany, I had an occasion to see Hitler. He was present at a Fair our city was giving. All anyone was able to see of him was a qui k glance. It was a huge parade. Nazi flags flying all about and people shouting, "Heil Hitler." The people seemed very happy to see him. As for me, I felt he was a great man. This thought flashed though my mind only a second. For in its place I had a passionate feeling of hate. This man was ruining my life. He was the one who was forcing me to leave my parents, my home and everything that I knew and loved. Could I have had a chance to kill him- I think I would have done so.
Today I know how futile that would be in attempting to solve the world's problem.
Time was passing. My relatives in America made out the necessary papers for my admission to the States. Every day brought me closer to the day I was to leave home. I visited all my relatives in Germany, for I knew not if I would even see them again. Needless to say, every departure was difficult and painful.
This was nothing compared to my departure from my house. A young and innocent girl, I hd to leave my parents when I needed them most. I had to go to a distant land to relatives I did not know, except by picture. I did not know how they would receive me. I did not know what was expected of me. When again, would I see my sweet sisters and poor parents? My parents tried to make the parting an easy one. My sisters were so kind and considerate that I felt very sad. A party was made form me and it was dreadful. I could not sleep that night because the next day was my sailing.
My father traveled with me to the harbor. He stayed with me for several hours. We talked about the hope, in a prayer, that someday soon we would meet. The whistle whined a parting for visitors. We talked a little more, but nothing important. I turned from my Father, I was speechless. He was gone.
Lights from Germany were getting dimmer and dimmer. I was by myself, no one to guide me. It was not true, I thought. Wasn't' this all a dream?
The following morning, I arose for breakfast and tried to eat, but to no avail. I again went out on the deck. I could not enjoy the entertainment which was given on the boat. The second day the sea became very rough. This made me seasick. Thus, the trip was unpleasant. The next days I became more accustomed to the sea and the people. One elderly woman sympathized with me. She acted so motherly. I was grateful that I met this woman because it was she who comforted me during the rest of the trip.
As the boat was nearing New York, it started to get foggy. The boat was forced to stay overnight in one place. By this time, I received a telegram from my dear relatives, who were waiting anxiously at the pier, to take me to their home. The boar left the next day, for the pier.
On the way toward the harbor, and out of the fog, the Statue of Liberty was sighted. It was beautiful. People on the boat told me that from now on I was safe. They told me that this statue meant freedom, happiness and fairness to all. I found out later that people were able to walk all through the statue, even to the finger tips. The finger on the Statue of Liberty pointed to heaven- I felt as though I was in heaven of a different form.
Coming into the dock, I saw people moving about. So many people, such hurry- everyone going in different places. Shouts made from the people coupled with the tug boar shrieks and other New York noises welcomed me to the United States. Tall buildings, towering higher than any I had ever seen before made up the background. In spite of all the people and marvelous sights, I began to be lonely. Perhaps it was because I saw people going some place and I was all alone.
Passengers were leaving the boat. Passengers were having their trunks examined. And still no one paid attention to me, at least I thought so. My thoughts were wrong for, suddenly it seemed my name was called. I went up to the next deck and there I was examined. After the examination my uncle was called.
I wondered if he would look like the pictures I had of him. I had anxious moments. Would he gather me in his arms, would I cry, or would I be shy? Little more was there to guess about, for here he was.
After other formalities, I was placed in my Uncle's car. My Uncle led me to his car where my Aunt and two of my cousins were. Here I was- a foreigner, or better still a German Refugee, being with people of whom I had only heard about. Questions were asked of me faster than I was able to answer. Questions about my parents, my sisters and Germany. I thought these questions would never end. I guess they had a right in asking me all those things. But, I was not able to think. So many things were not clear in my mind.
Everything was moving so fast. The car stopped. And now I was "home." A little gathering was made in my honor. Everyone was so nice to me. I had something to eat and then my Aunt slipped me into my room. Signs were here, greeting me to my "home"- so the signs stated, and they were true. I felt so much at home. I talked a short time with my Aunt and then she left me. I was glad she took me to my room, for I began to feel the effect of a busy day.
It was during vacation months that I had arrived. My Uncle entered me in the evening classes for a High School. I was afraid to go into any public buildings, at first. My Uncle assured me it was alright and so I went. This amazed me, a Jew going into buildings that were not Jewish, talking to the teachers who were not Jewish; this was certainly strange. I learned English here and other subjects which aided me in becoming better settled in this land.
The students and teachers were very kind to me. The students talked and walked with me. Teachers were patient and very helpful. I walked to and from school and no one harmed me. There were no people wearing brown shirts, no Nazi flags hanging in any windows, no signs posted anywhere mentioning Jews; it all seems too much to believe.
To the average American this may seem nothing. To people all over the world who have had tragedy befall them, as I, it means much. It means more than I could even write in words.
When I completed my course at the evening school, there remained two weeks of vacation left. I traveled much with my relatives in their car. I visited parks, more of New York and other places of interest. I went to the movies, saw a few games at athletic stadiums. To me, it seemed I had come out of jail into the open. What interested me most was the missing of Jewish signs posted and the high level any person, of any origin, is held. No one is a criminal, unless he really is guilty of some crime.
I shall never forget the feeling of strangeness I had when I first traveled among other peoples. My relatives thought me shy, when I was really afraid. I just count not get used to being free. I had been chained too many years to the Nazi regime. The made one terrible ruin out of my young life.
Then one day mail came from Poland. It was my mother's writing. Thank God. What she wrote was pitiful. It amounted to the following: Two a.m. on October 29, 1938 three policemen came to our home. They demanded that my people let them in. My parents were forced to do as they asked. Then they told my mother and father to "dress their children and come with us to the police station." My mother begged them. It did no good.
At the police station they found other Jewish people with their children. Every minute brought other Jews to the station. My mother believed there must have been at least three hundred Jews all together. They were all kept in a jail until six o'clock at night when they were searched for money and other valuable possessions.
After the examination, everyone was placed on a train. All they were given was a loaf of stale bread. The train brought them to the boundary line at Poland. From here they all walked four hours until they came to a town. Imagine the situation: Men and women and children walking in cold, hard weather; walking without other clothes that what they had on. All walked they knew not where, they just pushed on. Is it any wonder that many had gone insane? On the way one of my sisters became very sick. When they arrived in town, they had to place her in a hospital, where she remained for six weeks. A very kind woman, who felt sorry for them, allowed my parents and the two other sisters to sleep in her house. They ate in a camp with all the other people. However, when my sister was able to leave the hospital, all were forced to live t the camp. Conditions at the camp, you must understand, are bad. No one is permitted to leave the camp. All must remain in one place. No work to do- just sit and think. Many, among them, have become very sick.
At this writing, I am enrolled in a High School of this glorious country, I hope someday, in some way, I will be able to show my appreciation for everything that is being done for me. I want to be a real American citizen. I want to teach other Americans how wonderful a country we have here. I know, because I have seen tragedy and I now see "the land of the free.
This is God's land, may He always grace it with kindness, goodness and happiness. May there never be a censorship of any race or progress. America, from what I have seen, will live and prosper. Thank God for America, "the home of the brave and true."
I have written my tragedy that has happened to me. It has torn me from my family. Left them starving- no country to go to. All their belongings gone, all their life's work and happiness shattered. They are left with ruined lives to fulfill.