By Carl Wetzstein
In the past, I’ve written about my experiences in the Holocaust and also spoke about Righteous Gentiles, people who helped save Jews during the Holocaust. The accounts of the Righteous Gentiles were second-hand, based on books and articles that I read. This History Corner is based on first-hand accounts by our Temple Emanu-El members.
Erich Arndt z’l and Ellen Arndt z’l, long time members of Temple Emanu-El, survived the war living in Berlin under the noses of the Nazis. Their story is one of daring and defiance.
In 1942, Erich was working as a slave laborer in the Siemens munitions factory in Berlin when he heard there would be deportations to “work” camps; he decided that this was not for him and that he and his family would go into hiding. Erich’s father, a medical doctor, was against hiding as he thought the family would be OK where they were, but Erich finally persuaded him to hide. The Nazis did not allow anyone to see Jewish doctors anymore, but two of Dr. Arndt’s former patients, Max Gehre z’l and Anni Gehre z’l, agreed to hide him. Anni also found a place for Erich’s mother, Lina Arndt z’l, with a former nanny.
Erich went to work as a journeyman in the factory of Hans Köhler, where the other workers did not know he was Jewish. At the end of each day, Erich pretended to go home, but instead hid in a loft in the factory. Anni tried to find hiding places for Erich’s sister, Ruth Arndt z’l; Erich’s girlfriend, Ellen Lewinski; and Ellen’s mother, Charlotte Lewinski z’l; but they were harder to find, because people were afraid of snoopy neighbors and the Germans relocated German families in houses that might have potential hiding places. In desperation, Anni persuaded a very gullible Nazi woman to take in two of Hitler’s “secret agents,” Ellen and Ruth, saying that they needed a place to stay. This worked until the woman’s son, a German soldier, came to visit. In the end, Ellen, Ruth, Charlotte, Bruno Gimpel z’l (a friend of Erich’s), and two others moved into the factory and hid in the loft, where where they could not make any noise lest they be discovered by the workers below. Hans Köhler had only told his wife about Erich, and never told her about the additional people.
The group was quite daring – they did not have ration coupons for food, so Ellen and Bruno would go out and steal them. Dr. Arndt would come to the factory late at night to treat those who were ill or injured. There is much more to this story – you can read it in Survival in the Shadows – Seven Hidden Jews in Hitler’s Berlin by Barbara Lovenheim, which is available in our Temple Emanu-El Library. After the war, Erich and Ellen married, as did Bruno and Ruth, and the four of them came the US. As a final act of independence, Erich refused to move to Alabama, as the local agency helping him requested, so he was on his own. One final note – Erich told me that living and surviving through the war was the time in his life when he felt most alive.
Renate Livingston writes about her experience:
In 1938, my family lived in Germany. My father, Bennie Pagener z’l, passed away and my mother, Ella Pagener z’l, was a single mom with two children. She had to work so she sent my sister, Margot z’l, to a boarding school and me to live with my grandparents. In the meantime, my mother found out about KinderTransport and made arrangements for Margot and me to go to England to stay with foster parents. My sister and I traveled separately. My mother knew the name of the foster parents, since this was all arranged by the Bloomsbury House in England. So, in February, 1939, when I was almost five years old, I traveled alone to the Hook of Holland. My uncle met me as I got off the train and he made sure that I got on the ship. I was fortunate that I had a nice Jewish family in England to take care of me. Margot also had Jewish foster parents, but she was in a different town than I was. When the war broke out in England, all men were called into the military, and Margot and I were sent to a boarding school outside of London run by the Bloomsbury House. My mother was able to get out of Germany a few months after I left, but she had to work as a housekeeper and the family she worked for didn’t want little children around. We lived in England for seven years.
Denise Lippa writes about her family:
Aunt Edith (left) slides her knife against the length of the inside of her banana peel, pressing every nutrient, eating the morsel gathered. Tearing her napkin in half, she explains how grateful she is for these wonderful napkins.
My mother’s parents fled Austria with one of my grandmother’s sisters, Rosa, who was prone toward depression, married to an artistic husband who was far from a powerhouse in negotiation. Their one child, Edith, was nine years old, while my mom and her brother were one and three years old. My grandfather secured visas to slip out of the country, eventually arriving at a port that would accept them. For eight years, they built a life in Montevideo, Uruguay. In 1946, this family unit made it to the U.S., in Richmond, Virginia, reuniting with surviving aunts and uncles. In Vienna, my grandmother’s family had the opera Ring Cafe. In Richmond, they established the New York Delicatessen, a destination to this day.
Mom’s Jewish sorority hosted the Jewish soldiers from nearby Fort Lee, where Dad was serving. A Chicago boy, the two fell in love and he brought her home, where they proceeded to have six children in ten years. Mom was always saying she hoped to bring comfort to her mother, regenerating family after so many had perished.
So, we all hold on tightly to napkins, dare not waste a bite of nutrition, and marvel at the incredible families we grow.
Jule Rayburn writes:
My parents, Sidney Rayburn z’l and Anneliese Rayburn z’l, both lost the majority of their relatives during the Shoah. My father was the middle child of middle-class parents who ran three haberdasher stores in Halle on the Salle in Germany. His father was a veteran of WWl and therefore believed that no harm would come to them. His parents, Jacob z’l and Kaete z’l Rautenberg were murdered in Sobibor on June 2, 1942. My father escaped to England in June, 1939 and served in the British Army from 1940-1946 in Burma and Rangoon.
My mother was the oldest of three children in Minden on the Weser River. Her father was a well-respected department store owner who was also a veteran of WWl. Her parents, Alfred z’l and Frieda z’l Pfingst, would spend 1942-1944 in Theresienstadt in Czechoslovakia. They were then transported to Auschwitz to be murdered on October 31, 1944. Following Kristallnacht in 1938, her parents sent their children to England having them sponsored by a church group in the UK. She would work as a housekeeper and nanny until she joined the RAF in 1940 and served as a weather decipher until wars end.
My parents met in England following the war and married there in 1948, coming to Rochester in early 1949.
We mention the names of our lost loved ones often, so they are remembered. (There is a plaque remembering my grandparents on the memorial wall at the JCC.)
Bernice Rayburn writes:
Both of my parents were Holocaust survivors.
My mother, Hella Luft z’l, was born in 1922 in Flatow, a small town in Germany (now part of Poland). Her father was a cattle dealer and they had a happy life in the early years. After Kristallnacht, my mother, her brother, and their parents, Jacob and Herta were, with much difficulty, able to get passage to Shanghai, China. Known as the “Port of Last Resort,” Shanghai housed about 20,000 Jews in a ghetto during and after WWII in less-than-ideal circumstances. They were able to finally arrange to leave for America in 1948.
My father, Walter Manuel z’l, was born in Vienna, Austria in 1914. As an only child, he began working with his father in their jewelry/watch repair store. He and his parents, Artur and Olga, were arrested after the Anschluss in March of 1938. Walter was transported to Dachau and later transferred to Buchenwald where he was unexpectedly reunited with his father. Upon release from prison, Olga worked tirelessly to obtain the necessary paperwork for their passage to Shanghai. She was finally successful.
Walter and Hella met in Shanghai and were married (with a Chinese wedding certificate) in 1945 during their 10-year exile. They were finally able to sail to America in 1948.