Reprinted with permission from Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive Company and The Washington Post
Beyond Hitler's Reach
By Susan Levine
Sunday, January 5, 2003
They were the fortunate few, Jewish children who threaded the needle of
Nazi regulations and American reluctance, finding refuge in the United
States. All they had to sacrifice was their childhoods
His mother rode with him on the train to Mannheim. The day was bitterly
cold, and she made certain he wore his dark, heavy overcoat and wool cap.
She sat close and held his hand. Surely they talked. But about what? How
brave he would be? When they would meet again? Years later he could not
recall the conversation, only the sense of momentousness that threatened to
overwhelm them both.
He was a sweet-faced boy of 12, small for his age and quiet. In appearance
as well as worldliness, he remained very much a child. Though the city was
less than 40 miles to the north, he had never seen it. The radius of his
life had covered little ground to that point.
At the station in Mannheim, his mother broke down. He told her not to cry.
She told him to try to smile. Then he boarded the train to Hamburg and
found a seat by the window. He waved to her as long as he could. Then he
As the German countryside swept by, all he knew was this: That in Hamburg,
someone would meet him and take him to a ship called the SS New York. That
he would journey across an ocean and on to a place called St. Louis, where
he would live with a foster family with the same name as his home town. He
could speak no English. They could speak no German.
But he would be out of Hitler's reach.
And so Werner Michel came to America.
Now, at 77, he has come to Chicago, to a hotel ballroom with a faux-elegant
chandelier, a long, draped dais and the milling of people he does not
recognize. They wear name tags and looks of tentative anticipation. A
poster on display around the room features a grainy photograph of boys and
girls -- young Werner among them -- who have just gotten off the boat in
New York City. Superimposed on the picture are a Star of David, the dates
1934-45 and the words "First National Reunion."
A lifetime ago, the men and women gathered here were children voyaging on
their own toward a future of vast uncertainty. They were brought together
only briefly for transport across the Atlantic, then scattered to foster
homes in cities across the United States. To Boston, to Baltimore. For how
long? No one could say. To Detroit, to Atlanta. And their families back
home? Many would perish. To El Paso and Los Angeles, to dozens of other
alien dots on the map. Like Michel, most of the refugees were taken in by
The exodus drew few headlines. On the German side, it proceeded quietly by
Nazi edict. On the U.S. side, the private groups leading the effort feared
inflaming anti-Semitism and nativist demagogues. They chanced none of the
heartstrings appeals that would be mounted so publicly for later causes.
The lasting legacy: silence and ignorance.
Even today, the arrival of more than 1,200 unaccompanied Jewish children on
these shores is a virtually unknown, undocumented chapter of the Holocaust.
Holocaust museums in the United States do not mention it; many Holocaust
scholars remain unaware. "You will not find this story in the history
books," the reunion's organizer, a Silver Spring woman named Iris Posner,
declares from the dais.
Until a year or two ago -- until Posner called -- most in the ballroom had
no idea of the dimensions of the rescue. They could recount their own
stories, of course: how parents, motivated first by foresight and later by
desperation, kept them safe by sending them away. And how scared or
bewildered or exhilarated they felt, as well as how fortunate.
Yet few realized they had been part of something much larger, that the
guilt or grief or gratitude they'd carried for years had been shared by so
In Chicago they will piece it together.
Michel has flown from his home in Alexandria. He sits with Trudy Turkel,
his cousin from Ellicott City, who was a kerchiefed 14-year-old when she
and seven other youngsters landed in November 1938. "We were a deep, dark
secret," she says.
A microphone circles the room for introductions.
A woman: "I came from Vienna on April 1, 1940."
A woman: "I arrived November 6, 1936."
A man: "I came on July 2, 1937 . . . If there is anybody else who was sent
to San Francisco, I would like to meet them."
At a boisterous table toward the back, half a dozen people who sailed from
Lisbon aboard the Serpa Pinto in 1943 have found one another. Two men named
Kurt, one from Houston, the other from Yonkers, are backslapping more than
six decades after sharing a cramped cabin on the SS Hamburg.
The microphone is passed to Arnold Weiss, a Washington lawyer, immaculately
dressed. He offers a nominal biography. He does not mention, not yet, his
years in a Jewish orphanage outside Nuremberg, or his departure, with a
paper suitcase, for America. For a time, he stayed in an orphanage here,
too. He was 13.
They are painful memories, and Weiss at first had no interest in reliving
them in Chicago. Slowly he changed his mind. He wondered whether his
experience was really that different. He wondered how others had moved on
from theirs. Maybe everyone else wondered, too, he thought. Maybe, despite
the decades spent forging an identity, they all still had blanks to fill
For those fleeing Hitler in the 1930s, the odds of making it to America
were poor to perilous. With the United States racked by economic
depression, officials had tightened already restrictive immigration quotas.
Jews merited no exceptions.
Iris Posner knew snatches of this history when she caught a
spur-of-the-moment matinee at Mazza Gallerie two years ago. "The day that
changed my life," she says.
Playing was "Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport."
The Academy Award-winning documentary film recounted the emigration of
10,000 unaccompanied Jewish children to Great Britain from 1938 to 1940.
The initial contingent left three weeks after Kristallnacht, the terrifying
night of "broken glass" when Jewish businesses were destroyed, houses
ransacked and synagogues burned throughout Germany and annexed Austria. The
British government officially signed off on the Kindertransport, hoping the
United States might follow its lead. At that point, the Nazis were still
trying to force Jews out of Germany, not slaughter them wholesale.
Posner felt unsettled as she left the theater. Why hadn't she ever heard
anything about Americans saving Jewish children? The question nagged at
her, and before the week's end she headed to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial
Museum. The permanent collection yielded no clues. The staff could provide
no answers. She made more visits, futilely scouring books and materials.
Finally, near closing one afternoon, an archivist discovered a single,
modest volume by an Israeli historian named Judith Tydor Baumel:
Unfulfilled Promise: Rescue and Resettlement of Jewish Refugee Children in
the United States, 1934-1945. Posner started reading, stunned.
She learned that of the 175,000 Jews admitted during those years, fewer
than 1 percent were minors traveling by themselves. The government rebuffed
entreaties to allow more, despite refugee groups' contention that children
would trigger less public opposition than adults. The young immigrants were
dispersed as quietly and quickly as possible, to families, all Jewish, who
had agreed to provide foster care.
Baumel estimated that 1,000 boys and girls had been part of the venture.
That was it? Posner asked herself. The best my country could manage? She
decided to track down their names. Names would be a historical record, a
collective witness that could not be overlooked. "It was the right thing to
do," she says.
Soon her dining room was overrun with boxes, filing cabinets, documents and
computer paraphernalia. She is by training a nurse, but her career has
ranged from health care administrator to social science researcher to
theater director. She also is Jewish, though her family lost no relatives
in the Holocaust. Posner herself was born the year the war ended.
The search consumed her, became her mission. She enlisted a longtime
friend, Lenore Moskowitz, and using Baumel's bibliography as a guide, the
two trekked again and again to New York for tedious, eye-blearying
encounters with the microfiched archives and dusty records of long-defunct
organizations. Most were dead ends. Then one day, in the collection of
German Jewish Children's Aid, they stumbled upon a report prepared after
the war's conclusion. By date of arrival and country of origin and ship of
transport, it catalogued some 600 names. Posner and Moskowitz practically
danced in the stacks.
Among the ships, the SS New York. And among its passengers, on December 4,
1936, 12-year-old Werner Michel.
Michel was deposited in St. Louis with a tag on him, like a piece of
baggage. Also deposited were his small box camera and the modest
square-cornered suitcase in which he'd packed his clothes, several
adventure books and a Jewish Bible from his mother. He'd brought along the
meager English he'd learned, but in this strange place the words got
jumbled up badly. "Goodbye" he confused for an all-purpose salutation,
suitable when coming or going. "Fine" and "how are you" were the only
vocabulary he understood with certainty.
His new home offered maids and a Cadillac, just none of the affection and
caring he craved.
His foster mother reveled in causes; Michel was her latest. His two foster
brothers tormented him from the get-go, and the neighborhood kids followed
suit. They'd choose sides for a wartime version of cowboys and Indians.
Michel was the Kraut whom everyone else chased down the street.
He was frightened and unhappy and terribly lonely. School officials gave
him an aptitude test -- in English -- and judged his lack of comprehension
harshly. They consigned him to kindergarten, where he sat in a tiny chair
parroting singsong rhymes and trying to slough his guttural tongue.
"You want to belong somewhere. I belonged nowhere."
After their breakthrough in New York, Posner and Moskowitz spent the better
part of a year trying to add more names to their database, poring over old
manifests and e-mailing research centers around the world. By the summer of
2001, they'd amassed a listing of 1,243 children.
For Moskowitz, it was enough. They'd spent thousands of dollars. Stop, she
told her friend.
Posner could not. Rather than simply finding their names, she was
determined now to find the children. Some had been as young as toddlers
when they came over. Most would still be alive. Why not pull them together,
she thought, and allow them "to take their rightful place in the community
Why not plan a reunion?
One of the first people she located was a mere 45 minutes away in
Annapolis. She traced her through a letter to The Washington Post about a
review of "Into the Arms of Strangers."
The review "evoked memories that I have lived with since I was 11 years
old," Thea Lindauer wrote, explaining how a fleeting experiment had brought
her and about 100 other Jewish children to the United States in the
mid-1930s. She was flabbergasted when Posner contacted her. To think that
the experiment had lasted nearly a dozen years -- and that it had saved not
100, but 12 times that many!
Lindauer's transport was the third to leave. Her father, a prosperous
German businessman, insisted she be on it. He promised her it would lead to
a wonderful education, and lovely people with whom she would live. More
than that, it would lead to safety. When Thea's grandfather protested,
suggesting she stay instead with relatives in Luxembourg or Holland, Samuel
Kahn was firm.
"No," he replied, "I want an ocean between us."
His daughter sailed on the SS President Harding in 1934 and wound up on the
North Shore of Chicago with the very wealthy, and very loving, family of a
Pabst brewing executive. Her new life was everything her father had
promised and more. She had summer camps, horseback riding, music lessons.
Celebrities like Eddie Cantor were regular guests.
But the fairy tale had a nuanced subtext, which for the longest time was
tucked deeply away as Lindauer pursued an art career and married and had
children. She and her military husband settled in Annapolis, and she
immersed herself in its arts community. Not until 2001, at Posner's urging,
did she untie the thick bundle of faded letters she had received more than
a half-century earlier. They were in formal German script, mainly her
The first was dated November 1934. To "Theachen," his dark-haired,
apple-cheeked little Thea. She began reading.
"You looked so eager, excited and small waving your goodbyes," he wrote.
"What awaits you in the United States of America, we cannot say. We can
only hope that wherever you go, people await you eagerly and will be kind
to you. I have the fullest confidence you will not disappoint them . . . I
wonder if you know the great responsibility we all have laid on your
shoulders. I hope it's not too heavy a burden. Your loving Pappa."
Emotions flooded back, "all these things I had buried": Her anxiety about
leaving. Her guilt over leaving her younger sister, Ruthie, behind. The
pressure to do well. The debt she felt to others. The contrast between her
own abundant comforts and her family's worsening privations. The
nightmares. The headaches. The crying. The fear that her parents and sister
For despite the upbeat tone of Kahn's weekly correspondence, life had begun
closing in. By 1935, the Nazis had shuttered many Jewish businesses, seized
Jewish homes and banned Jewish children from schools and parks. Hitler
youth roamed the streets. Ten-year-old Ruthie fretted in a note that she
was growing "old and gray before my time." But every attempt to secure
visas fell through.
By 1937, her father's veiled worries turned to desperation. "I am hoping
you have not forgotten the urgency of these matters," he wrote that spring,
suddenly upbraiding his daughter for not seeking her foster parents'
assistance in helping them escape Germany. She ran in hysterics to the
couple, Aunt Anne and Uncle Harry. They agreed instantly to help push
through the exit papers.
It would be years before Lindauer grasped what her parents had suffered in
sending her off. She tried once to ask her mother, only to be hastily
dismissed. The message was clear: No good could come of remembering.
On November 11, 1937, a week before her family set sail for New York, her
father penned his final letter: "I hope you will not be disappointed in the
change in us. Your carefree parents do not exist anymore."
Lindauer brings translations of the letters to Chicago. Others bring photos
and old passports. One thing becomes apparent as stories and mementos are
shared and compared. For all the disparate elements, their experiences were
strikingly similar. Not just in how they started, but in how they ended.
First, the departures. Mostly they were rushed and confused. So much had to
be done, documents collected, forms approved -- in triplicate. The luckier
children had a month or two to prepare, enough time to master those English
phrases. Others were gone in a week.
Parents seldom revealed the depth of their anguish, in part because they
wanted to put up a brave front, in part because German authorities did not
condone displays of emotion on the railway platforms and gangplanks.
Children were ordered not to wave, lest someone mistake a raised Jewish
hand for a "heil Hitler." The reunion ballroom is hushed as a man from
Michigan retraces his farewell, pressed against the railing of the SS Hansa
as it began pulling out. His parents followed numbly along the dock.
"They kept walking along the quay, to the end of the quay . . . and the
ship kept going. And they got smaller and smaller. And then I [couldn't]
see them anymore."
He would never see them again.
Yet for many of the children, the lengthy passage across the Atlantic also
meant a freedom they had not felt in years. They were loosely chaperoned by
young women escorts, and some had ample opportunity to slip into
first-class quarters. There were dances to watch and Ping-Pong to play.
There were exotic desserts like ice cream sundaes and Jell-O.
A scrawny and starved 13-year-old like Arnie Weiss relished all of it.
Especially the food. "I wasn't going to miss a meal," he says. "They had
eggs, for God's sake."
He'd been 4 when his father deserted his family and 6 when his mother put
him in an orphanage in Furth. By 1938, it was a grim place. He has no clue
why or how he was picked to go to the United States. He simply was informed
one day that he would be going to Hamburg. From there, he didn't know.
He folded up the blue suit in which he'd been bar-mitzvahed six months
before, and found his grandmother for a parting embrace. Then he left,
dressed in leder-hosen, the leather short pants he was wearing still when
he sighted the Statue of Liberty in a frigidly unwelcoming February.
From New York, Weiss rode solo on a train to Chicago. He arrived
unexpectedly at 2 a.m. and waited for hours for someone to meet him, until
an announcement blared a track number to Milwaukee, a city where he'd heard
that people spoke German. He snuck aboard and locked himself in the
bathroom to evade the conductor.
His first weeks became months became a year. He was snagged by a police
officer while standing in a soup line for the unemployed and was delivered
to a local orphanage. He kept running away, back to the train station.
Potential foster homes showed scant interest in a problem teenager, and one
home that said yes didn't work out. Finally, he got lucky. A loud,
exuberant family in Janesville, Wis., settled for him even though they'd
wanted a girl. They accepted him completely. So did their community, a
county seat about 70 miles southwest of Milwaukee.
It became the pivot of a new life.
It was in Janesville that Hans Arnold Wangersheim recast himself as Arnold
Hans Weiss, the last name appropriated from a University of Wisconsin star
football player in the news at the time. It was there that he learned
English and graduated from high school, there that he and foster brothers
Bobby and Jay enlisted. "We were more, really, than brothers," he says.
Each would see action in Europe, but it was Weiss's infantry division that
stormed into Nuremberg, literally -- and for him, cathartically -- blasting
it apart. In the detritus of the Dachau concentration camp, he found his
father's identification card.
"I lived through a miserable experience in Germany, but it has enabled me
to live the American dream and I have lived it to the fullest," he tells
the hotel ballroom. "I cannot thank enough those people who had the courage
and guts to take us in."
But while they were saved by the kindness of strangers, not every stranger
was equally kind. Two years after Werner Michel was sent to the Midwest,
Trudy Turkel followed from Germany. As difficult as her cousin's foster
home was, hers was worse.
She was Trude Kirchhausen back then, and her 1938 passport indicates she
was issued Visa Quota No. 8134 by the American consulate in Stuttgart that
year. The passport shows the Nazis' requisite branding -- a two-inch-high J
-- but she wasn't worried. She affected a sanguine self-confidence, leaving
Heilbronn with a wooden tennis racket in hand so she would have a ready
answer if soldiers at the railway station questioned her travel.
"I'm going on vacation," she'd practiced, swinging her emergency prop. "I'm
going to play tennis."
Prepared as she was, she was just 14 and very alone and very far from the
world she had known. And when she got to St. Louis she was greeted with
terrifying news accounts of Kristallnacht. She mailed a frantic note to a
neighbor back home:
"Leben meine Eltern noch?" Are my parents still alive?
Each family who accepted a Jewish child through the rescue effort agreed to
provide for that child's care and education and to guarantee that he or she
would not become a public charge. Turkel's foster parents nominally kept
their part of the bargain. They were more concerned about the check they
received every month from her sponsoring organization to cover her room and
board -- that and the long list of housekeeping chores they assigned her.
She was not permitted in their two children's rooms except to clean, and
she could go to sleep only after her foster father, an insurance salesman,
cleared the dining table of his paperwork. For more than three years, she
slept in the dining room on a rollaway bed.
She and Michel would meet at the St. Louis municipal opera to console each
other. He would share his latest problem, and she would reciprocate. Every
night, though, she dutifully recited a prayer her own mother had written
her. It asked that she respect and obey her foster parents and strive to
"be worthy of their goodwill."
Be grateful, her mother had urged. Do what they ask, and do it right, her
father had stressed.
"I honored that," says Turkel, a short, stout woman with undiminished
conviction and zest. "I didn't want anyone to say I didn't last."
Besides, no misery compared to the dangers threatening back home. Her
father, a self-employed textile manufacturer who'd already lost his
business, was convinced the family's only hope was to flee piecemeal. He
got an older daughter to Palestine. His 6-year-old son he entrusted to a
Kindertransport to England. Then war erupted.
Julius and Else Kirchhausen hung on until 1941, when they somehow secured
tickets on a train to Spain. An overcrowded freighter carried them on a
harrowing seven-week journey through the Canary Islands to New York. Their
daughter would not learn they were safe until she got their postcard from
Brooklyn. She would not see them again until 1943.
Against enormous odds, Michel's mother also managed to reach the United
States. The two were reunited in St. Louis. Or, rather, they were pushed
together again. After almost three years, Michel left his foster family. He
dropped out of school to work as a shipping clerk. An older sister, who'd
arrived separately, passed up a scholarship to become a department store
salesgirl. His mother rented rooms to other refugees.
They were strangers in poverty.
In dealings with the regular world, their roles were now reversed. He was
his mother's voice, turning German into English back into German as she
stood by blankly and waited for the translation. By now he was nearly 15,
with enough Americanization to feel how foreign this immigrant woman looked
and sounded. He was embarrassed by her -- and ashamed for being
His father, once a distinguished-looking wine merchant, desperately kept
trying to escape Europe. His pleading letters found them in St. Louis; if
they could get to the White House, he wrote, that's where he'd heard you
could get a visa.
The Nazis caught him first, in hiding in occupied Belgium. He was moved
back to Germany, put on trial, sentenced to a labor camp and eventually
transferred to Auschwitz.
By war's end, he was dead.
In the hierarchy of the Holocaust, the trauma of these children doesn't
seem to measure up. They may have suffered fractured and dislocated lives.
They may have lost parents and siblings, faced isolation and ridicule. Some
struggled through later years, with scars that had healed rough and ugly.
Others raised families in silence, because, as they told Posner, declining
her invitation to the reunion, they simply could not bear to revisit the
Still, none was deported to barbed-wire death camps or secreted in dank
cellars. Individuals who were stress the distinction.
"You're not a survivor," a woman once berated Lindauer.
As the group's de facto historian, Iris Posner has been dismissed almost as
completely. Publishers have rejected her overtures, saying the Holocaust
market is saturated. Holocaust museums have begged off, saying there are
too many untold stories for too little space. U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum
Director Sara Bloomfield allows that "there might be a time when we are in
a position to do something." But she doesn't say when.
The answers do not satisfy Posner. What these men and women endured
deserves lasting acknowledgment, she insists, as does the sacrifice of
their rescuers and the collective generosity of the strangers who took them
"It has to be made part of American history . . . What did America do to
save the most vulnerable?"
She mulls the future over a cup of coffee, a rare break during these three
intense days of reunion. Early on she and Moskowitz dubbed their
undertaking "One Thousand Children." While that number proved too low,
those gathered have adopted the name as a group identity. A first step,
Posner believes, and just in time. They are slowed and grayed by age, some
with hearing aids, others with canes and tremors. This will probably be
their only reunion.
At least now they know how they turned out.
The result is not what Weiss expected. "I think we're peas in a pod," he
confesses. "I find no difference whether we came in '34 or '45."
And that's the remarkable thing, they decide. No matter what roads led them
to Chicago, everybody has covered the same emotional distance along the way
-- decades of trying to make good, trying to fit in, trying to repay what
the country had given them.
Michel, for one, served three decades in the U.S. Army -- in Europe, Korea
and Vietnam -- and almost two more as an inspector general in the Defense
Department. As a barely twentysomething soldier, he interrogated German
prisoners of war and apprehended top-ranking Nazis. He investigated war
crimes and worked in counterintelligence. With each tour, each assignment,
he was proving how good an American he could be.
Along the way, he married and had two children, who presented him two
grandchildren. He considers himself blessed. "I've had the best existence
of anyone," he says. "I've been so incredibly, unbelievably fortunate."
His cousin feels much the same. For more than 10 years, Turkel translated
letters and documents for the Holocaust and War Victims Tracing and
Information Center in Baltimore. She endowed a scholarship at the sorority
that put her through college, an opportunity that would have been out of
reach in Germany. ("They treated me like I was one of them, just the
opposite of what I had fled.") A lifetime has passed, and so she laughs
about her days at the University of Oklahoma, when she was designated an
"enemy alien" and prohibited from traveling more than 10 miles out of town
without the district attorney's permission.
"Hitler did me a favor," she says quietly, and it is the people around her
-- Michel, Weiss, Lindauer and the others -- who understand best what that
means. "I tell you, we really have had some life."
The ballroom is flickering now in soft candlelight. The reunion is nearly
over. But they stand, no longer strangers, to say Kaddish, the Hebrew
prayer for the dead.
Yitgadal v'yitkadash sh'mei rabah, they begin.
They pray it for their parents and grandparents, their brothers and
sisters, their aunts and uncles.
B'almah di v'rah chiruteh . . .
And for their rabbis and teachers and neighbors.
Oseh shalom bimromav . . .
But most of all, they pray it for the 1.5 million children not as lucky --
not as blessed -- as they.
. . . Aleinu v'al-kol-Yisrael, v'imru: Amen.
Susan Levine is a Metro reporter for The Post.
Copyright 2003, Wasingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive and The Washington Post. All Rights Reserved.
| WASHINGTON JEWISH WEEK
February 15, 2001
Telling the Story of an American Rescue
Group seeks information on Jewish children brought to the U.S., saved from Nazis
by Aaron Leibel
It all began last year when social science researcher Iris Posner of Silver Spring saw, Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport, the documentary about the 10,000 Jewish children from Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia who were taken into foster homes in Britain from 1938 to 1940 and saved from the Nazi death machine. Weren't there any Jewish kids who were brought to America under similar circumstances, Posner wondered?
There were, she discovered after some research at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. "To educate the public and scholarly community about those American children," Posner and fellow researcher Lenore Moskowitz have formed One Thousand Children (OTC), Inc., a nonprofit located in Silver Spring.
Posner, 56, a former researcher at the National Institute of Mental Health and the Social Security Administration, seems to be a good fit for the task. "Since I was a little girl," she says, "my pleasure has always been to go to the library to do research. I have always been aware of Jewish heritage," continues Posner. "I can write, research, make films [her resume includes a certificate in film production from New York University], interview. This has come to my door and I accept the challenge." "Most important, it is the right thing to do."
Moskowitz, also 56, has research qualifications as a trade analyst at the Federal Trade Commission. Using the documents of U.S. groups involved in the rescue effort, including the American Friends Service Committee, Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, German Jewish Children's Aid and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, OTC has identified 1,054 unaccompanied children who were brought to the United States in the 1934-45 period and placed in foster homes. She believes there were about 125 more children who have yet to be found.
It was primarily a private-sector effort, says Posner, with those charitable organizations raising money and providing logistic support - especially escorts who accompanied the children on ships to their new homes. (Posner says records show that some dedicated people spent long periods of time accompanying small groups of children from Europe to American and then getting on another ship to return to Europe to escort another group.) Before 1941, the children arrived in small groups. There was hostility to letting foreigners enter the country during the Depression, and therefore the sponsors wanted to avoid drawing attention to their charges, Posner explains. The children came in on quotas of their countries of origin.
After that, hostility lessened as word spread of the treatment of Jews spread, and the children came in larger groups. In 1941 and 42, some 250 Jewish children in southern France were brought to the United States in larger groups after their parents were deported.
To find American foster families for all the children, appeals were made to synagogue congregations and Jewish organizations. OTC's mission is to interview the survivors about this rescue effort, without being intrusive and maintaining survivor confidentiality for those who want it.
To that end, Posner says, OTC is working with the USHMM, the Shoah Visual History Foundation and the Wiesenthal Center. Those organizations are asked to compare their databases with that of OTC and to contact people common to both databases, telling them that OTC wishes to talk to them. That system permits complete privacy for those not wishing to take part. OTC also will protect the privacy of those survivors who do take part, says Posner. "Only bona fide researchers will be given access to OTC data," she says. "They must be doing relevant research and sign an agreement not to disclose individual information. No identifying information on any individual will be made public without that person's agreement."
In addition to interviewing the survivors, encouraging research (Posner has found only one "comprehensive study" of those children, Unfulfilled Promise by Dr. Judith Baumel) and setting up its Web site (www.onethousandchildren.org), OTC has other ambitious plans, including:
* Producing a documentary. Posner says she has been in touch with a New York film company, which is interested in making the film. However, the issue is money. She needs to contact foundations that provide money to make documentaries. (Posner needs to raise money in general, but says she is "just in the beginning of identifying funding sources." Since OTC's incorporation in December, she and Moskowitz have been personally funding the nonprofit.)
* Help OTC children find and communicate with each other.
* Organize a first reunion of OTC survivors. OTC is negotiating with organizations to finance a reunion, which Posner hopes will take place next year.
* Publish memoirs and related educational materials.
* Maintain an archive of OTC-related materials and organize traveling exhibitions. So far, OTC has been in contact with 50 survivors. Posner hopes to have communicated with the estimated 500 remaining survivors during the next six months.
For information, call: 732-572-0036;
e-mail : firstname.lastname@example.org.;
Write: OTC, Henry Frankel, President 10 Ryan Road Edison, NJ 08817
(Note: This article may be reprinted with credit to the author Mr. Aaron Liebel and the Washington Jewish Week.
THE JEWISH WEEK
APRIL 20, 2001
THE UNKNOWN KINDERTRANSPORT
By Elicia Brown - Staff Writer
During the Nazi years, 1,000 children came to America alone. Here are three of their stories.
Every evening after lights out, the children watched the spectacle. Born in Vienna, displaced to a summer camp in rural Pennsylvania, they had been warned of the American predilection for violence. But who could have dreamed up such perverse rituals? The children stared out the window at the lighted rec room across the field, amazed at the male counselors tossing young women into the air, yanking them to the side, spinning them forcefully around.
From their perch, the children couldn't hear the music. It was the summer of 1939. "It was the jitterbug," says Henny Wenkart. Some 62 years later, every syllable of her accent is East Coast American. She smiles at the memory.
For Felix Mappen Roth, the first taste of the New Country was Rice Crispies and peanut butter. That was the first breakfast served to Roth and 55 other European young refugees after their trans-Atlantic crossing on a September morning in 1941. "You know, not one child would touch that peanut butter," recalls the 74-year-old Roth, a consultant to the air conditioning industry. He seems light years removed from that day as he sits on the edge of his couch in the immaculate living room of his Fifth Avenue apartment.
Richard Weilheimer, now a soft-spoken, white-bearded man of 69, docked in the United States in July 1942. It was an end to the travels of a boy who had already undergone four months of starvation in a Gurs transit camp and 16 months in a French orphanage. Soon enough, at a public school in Washington Heights, he endured another painful existence: classmates, aware of his German heritage, not understanding his victim status, beat him up whenever the opportunity presented itself.
These three refugees of war-torn Europe, now discovering the joys of grandparenthood and retirement, were among the 1,154 children who made their way across the Atlantic without parents on group transports, according to Iris Posner, a Maryland-based researcher, who has spent recent months making the public and survivors aware of the extent of the rescue efforts.
The trips, which started in 1934 and continued, though fitfully in the later years, until 1945, were arranged by an assortment of social service agencies, many of them Jewish groups, but also including the American Friends Service (the Quakers) and the Non-Sectarian Committee. Many of the transports were conducted quietly so as not to attract the attention of anti-Semites, but all were implemented in accordance with the strict immigration policy of the time, according to Posner.
It is a little-known episode of Holocaust history, but one filled with the poignant stories of children without parents in a new land, and also one that offers a flicker of faith in humanity at an isolationist time in American history that was otherwise not kind to the Jews of Europe.
"I'm relieved to learn that some people, some organizations responded to the Holocaust," says Posner, who after discovering the efforts last fall, founded the first non-profit organization dedicated to this unique group of child refugees. On the other hand, she adds, "I'm extremely saddened to find out that this is the best this country can do. A million and a half children were
By contrast, the British kindertransport, supported by its government, managed to rescue 10,000 children. Although the U.S. efforts were described extensively in the 1990 book, "Unfulfilled Promise" (Denali Press) by Judith Baumel, the endeavor is largely unknown to scholars of the Holocaust. Now a Bar-Ilan University professor, Baumel is also the associate editor of "The
Holocaust Encyclopedia," published this year by Yale University Press. In an e-mail, she writes that "Unfulfilled Promise" was an "underground book' because no one responded to its publication, few historians and almost no people in the field."
Michael Berenbaum, former research director of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, says, "What startles us again is how much there is to learn. I'm somewhat skeptical in the field that I think I know reasonably well, but open and ready to be converted by the facts." Off the top of his head, Berenbaum knew of two men who came to these shores alone as children during the war. There must be others, he said.
Among the rich or famous, the grassroots effort saved the life of Richard Shifter, who grew up to be the Undersecretary for Human Rights under the older Bush and an adviser to Bill Clinton. It also rescued Bill Graham, the rock n' roll impresario. Of course, there were many children who became teachers, doctors and lawyers, architects and engineers, painters and physicians.
And there was also a creative little girl, born to an upper-middle-class family that liked to spend Sundays in the solitude of the Vienna Woods. Henny grew up to be a philosopher and poet.
Munching on a breakfast of bananas and yogurt in her Midtown apartment, Henny Wenkart laughs merrily at the memories of her first summer alone in America. At the camp of the Brith Shalom, the boys learned baseball, the girls sat sewing, but what else was new? That was the 1930s. On Sundays, adults would come by and peer in their window, exploring the idea of acquiring a European foster child. "We were kind of rude to them," says Wenkart. "The boys started throwing balls at them to chase them away."
As for Wenkart, in September of that year, she reunited with her parents, who had managed to secure entrance visas, and moved to Brooklyn. Later, she would obtain a philosophy doctorate from Harvard, and teach at Stern College. And yet, there remained one event that deeply affected her, that continues in its way to plague her life. It was the choice, a decision too overwhelming for a child of 11. At the interview for her seat on the liner President Harding, she was told taking the trip would be her decision. If she wanted, she would set sail for America without her parents, without her baby sister. She understood implicitly that this was no choice, that the lives of her family might be at stake, that Uncle Leo had died in Buchenwald, that her family's affidavit included American financial sponsorship that might not provide enough support for four people, but would definitely cover a family of three.
All week she lay in bed. "I had begun to feel the city like a trap closing in on me, was conscious of the trains leaving in every direction without me," writes Wenkart, a poet and editor, in the 1998 issue of the Jewish Women's Literary Annual. After the decision, Wenkart experienced a strange absence. She felt she didn't exist. Since then, small decisions often take on the magnitude of life-or-death. And that detached condition in which she left the room in 1939? "I have been in that condition ever since," writes Wenkart.
Felix Mappen Roth:
Man With Two Mothers
Freudian therapist might expect a field day with Felix Mappen Roth, who grew up with not just one Jewish mother, but two. The first, his European "mutti," raised him until adolescence, in a comfortable home in Vienna until he was 12, and in less ideal conditions for two years in southern France, while his father worked in a labor camp. In 1941, an influential French uncle managed to secure seats for Roth and his sister Edith on a children's convoy bound for New York, where Jewish organizations arranged for foster care.
Soon after, Roth met Mother No. 2, Molly Mappen, who bore a striking resemblance to the young Lucille Ball, and kept a suburban home near Boston. Initially, she had volunteered to house just one refugee, a girl. But when the taxi pulled up with two bewildered siblings, she immediately changed her mind. After two desperate years, for Roth the new home seemed like winning the lottery. There were two cars. His new "dad" Phil bought season tickets for the Boston Red Sox games, where Ted Williams autographed a baseball. The Mappens outfitted Roth in the nicest suit in the class for his start at Penn State University, where he finally learned to appreciate peanut butter.
Roth would never see his European father again, as he had died of a heart attack, after living out the war in Switzerland. But one winter day in 1949, Roth managed to bring his first mother, the one who gave birth to him, to New York. "I see her as if it were yesterday," says Roth, recalling the snowy day of the reunion, as he walks across his sunny, red-carpeted living room and clutches a photo of his mother. The charming Viennese lady, whom he hadn't seen in eight years, slowly came down the gangplank. He was an adult, an engineer working in Iowa, and the owner of a Chrysler jalopy. "My sister was totally Americanized as if she were a young girl who grew up in Scarsdale."
Where did they bring their mutti? To the Mappens', of course. "Now we had two mothers. But it was not complicated for us. We knew the place in our heart for each of them."
Poppy & The Past
There are pictures to prove a young Richard Weilheimer went on outings to local parks with his family, photos of him smiling angelically in a sailor suit on a bicycle next to his identically clad little brother. But his most vivid memory of his hometown of Ludwigshafen, Germany, is Kristallnacht. That was the day he saw elderly neighbors and children beaten and bloody in the streets, the day he saw his synagogue go up in flames, the day all of his furniture was smashed, and the first time his father was dragged away. Weilheimer was 7.
From there, the memories don't get much brighter, though he does recall the friendliness of guards at the Gurs Camp, who would sometimes offer a bit of bread in exchange for making fires for them.
When Weilheimer and his little brother Ernest left for New York, his father somehow managed to negotiate a day out of the French concentration camp, and for many hours he stood on the dock watching the sea, even long after the ship departed. In a letter written to the Quakers, who arranged the transport, Max Weilheimer writes, "My poor children have lost so much of the sun that they should have had, but also we the parents, have been denied the joy of raising children."
In the quiet upstairs office of his Port Washington house, Weilheimer speaks in muted tones. He casts his eyes downward. The memories are painful. He is not sure that he would be interested in taking part in a reunion with other child transport survivors arranged by Iris Posner's
The non-profit organization, called One Thousand Children, began to take shape after Posner watched "Into The Arms Of Strangers," a film focused on the British kindertransport, and this year's winner of the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. Wondering whether the United States had arranged similar rescues, she combed through the archives of the Holocaust museum in Washington, the American Joint Distribution Committee and the Center for Jewish History here in New York, and turned up records of various social service agencies, as well as some visas and affidavits.
Among her aims: to make her own documentary, to arrange a reunion, to create a listserv so the survivors can communicate among themselves.
Henkart and Roth expressed approval of such activities, but Weilheimer, whose parents both died in the camps, and was brought up here by aunts, would rather move on with his life. He does however lecture locally about his experiences, and two years ago, he took part in a reunion to honor Alice Resch Synnestvedt, the "Quaker Lady," who had arranged his passage to America. He hugged his lifesaver. " I only did my job,' she kept repeating," Weilheimer writes in an article in a local newspaper. Today, she is 92, nearly blind, lives in Denmark, and apparently shuns journalists.
Intent on pursuing the leisure of the childhood he lost, Weilheimer retired young from his job in the fashion accessory business. Finely wrought oil paintings, a testament to this decade of decadence, hang throughout his house.
And let's not forget the new granddaughter, the smiling 6-month-old whose photos dominate other walls and ledge space. Has being a poppy changed his life? Weilheimer's face relaxes into a huge grin. "Oh absolutely. People used to tell me that having a grandchild really changes you, and I do the same thing now. There's nothing in the world like it." As a young father, he had trouble being silly, getting down to the level of his sons. Perhaps he feared separation from those he loved most. Perhaps also, as he says, he didn't have the experience of being playful.
On a nearby file cabinet rests a framed photo of a white-bearded man and his granddaughter. She lies on her stomach, poised to suck her thumb, ensconced in a world of bright fabric toys. Beside her on the floor, Weilheimer forms a giant bridge, his eyes full of baby Arden.
To reach One Thousand Children, write to Henry Frankel, President 10 Ryan Rd Edison NJ 08817 or e-mail
(Note: This article may be reprinted with credit to the author Elicia Brown and the New York Jewish Week)
THE JEWISH PRESS
April 13, 2001
Searching For One Thousand Children..
By Hadar Avraham
Iris Posner is looking for some children, 1154 children, to be exact. That figure, according to Posner, a social science researcher, and Lenore Moskowitz, also a researcher, accurately reflects how many Jewish children were parted from their parents and brought to the United States during World War II to escape Nazi persecution. The overwhelming majority of these children, aged 1-16, never saw their parents again. Records show that 1,500,000 children did not survive the Holocaust.
Posner's interest in this little-researched subject was piqued last year after seeing the Academy Award winning documentary, "Into the Arms of Strangers" (director Mark Jonathan Harris) which delved into the histories of 10,000 Jewish children who, through the Kindertransport, found sanctuary in Britain. "As an American Jew, I was interested to know America's response," says Posner from her home in Maryland.
Her initial forays took her to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum where she soon realized just how little information was available. As a result, One Thousand Children (www. onethousandchildren.org) was created by Posner and Moskowitz with the distinct aim of collecting the names of all the children. Their research led them to New York to the YIVO Institute, the Joint Distribution Committee and the Leo Baeck Institute and slowly, the pieces of the puzzle began to fit together. "We found lists of children that were prepared by different organizations according to name, date of birth, city of arrival and ship they arrived on," says Posner. She adds that there are also medical records extant, drawn up when the children arrived.
As for comprehensive research, there has been only one study, "Unfulfilled Promise" (Denali Press), by Judith Baumel, whose sister and brother were among the arrivals. As an aside, Posner mentions that the publisher in Alaska who agreed to back Baumel's book was Alan Schorr, Posner's childhood friend from the Bronx.
OTC's (One Thousand Children's) mission is twofold, says Posner: "To identify something as important as this in our American history records which is missing, and to honor the lives of individuals and the organizations which received them."
Presently, OTC, in cooperation with the Red Cross and Shoah, has located 200 children and is in contact with 100. The facts emerging are spellbinding. As early as 1933, the German Children's Aid met with Jewish organizations such as HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society), JDC, AJC (American Jewish Congress) and National Council of Jewish Women to prepare the groundwork for rescuing the children.
A shroud of secrecy was the necessary response to America's unwillingness to accept foreigners into the U.S. based upon economic, political, social and religious factors."The first group arrived in November 1934 and landed in New York," says Posner. "They came in very small groups, from just one up to a dozen, at the rate of about 100 a year over 10 years. To avoid publicity, they disembarked the ships without any press coverage and were taken to foster families."
She explains that the foster families had to commit to care for the children until they reached 21 years of age and not to let them become wards of state."Each child was assigned a social worker from the Jewish social service agency until age 21. Some social workers acted as a surrogate parent." Posner relates how one child endured eight families before finding one where she felt at home. The girl would sneak out at night with her suitcase and wait at the steps of the social worker's building.
Posner is full of admiration for the escorts on the transatlantic crossings. "These women were amazing. Some went back and forth under dangerous circumstances while spending extensive time away from their families."
The process of locating and contacting the children is being undertaken "with some urgency," says Posner, since most are in their 70s or 80s. After locating an individual, the organization strives to include the person in the growing OTC family. "We're like a go-between, to help them communicate with each other. They want so much to be able to do this." While working against the clock, OTC still accords the children an inordinate level of confidentiality. "We don't give names out. We request permission to provide information and then we contact others, giving the option to make the connection." In most instances, people request to be reunited with others from the same ship.
The experience of working with these people is the greatest reward for Posner, even as she says that OTC "has taken over my life, my dining room and my bank account." "They are wonderful people and such a joy to talk to. We don't find any bitterness, just an anxiousness to share their experiences." She was amazed to learn that many of the children were not even aware they were
part of the "underground railway." "Many came when they were very young so they have no personal memories. They also lost contact with their shipmates and there may have been no communication with their relatives in Europe. They just don't know how they arrived here and this is a reason why we're doing our work."
Among the harrowing memories Posner was privileged to share was that of a young girl whose brother was destined to sail. "He was sobbing and refused to go, so the next morning the mother managed to send the daughter in his place. She told the nine-year-old child that she was going to camp." Both the mother and son later perished in the concentration camp.
Posner speaks plainly of the deep psychological effects of tearing children away from their parents at such a tender age."I asked one man, who came when he was seven and now has three children of his own, how he'd been affected and he replied, `I just could never play with my own children.'"
Besides tracking down the children and filling in the gaps in their personal memoirs, OTC sees its task as enhancing public awareness. For this purpose, there are plans to produce a documentary and to publish literature about the period. Not surprisingly, financing is a major obstacle. "We now have tax exempt status so we can take donations," says Posner, but she adds that costly access to some organizations makes the going tough. "It can be quite expensive to reproduce documents and this may make a documentary prohibitive. How can a repository where people have donated documents for public knowledge become a barrier to getting the word out?" she wonders, a tinge of disapproval in her voice.
In direct contrast, she raves about the volunteers who have offered their services to OTC, including translating German documents and providing legal counsel. "Even the second generation is becoming involved," she says. "One child will become our East Coast coordinator."
OTC hopes to hold an official reunion of OTC survivors, possibly as early as next year but in the interim, an evening will be held on April 18 at the Moses Montefiore Congregation in Baltimore. Rabbi Elan Adler will host the program to mark the first public recognition of the children and five OTC children will give testimony of their experiences. For details call (410) 653-7485.
(Note: This article may be reprinted with credit to the author Hadar Avraham and the Jewish Press).
| PITAL - ANNAPOLIS MARYLAND
APRIL 22, 2001
Eastport Woman's Letters Tell Poignant Story of Holocaust
By Theresa Winslow, Staff Writer
Memories surround Thea Lindauer in her Severn House home. The walls are covered with brightly-colored still lifes and portraits she painted. Keepsakes fill every table, chair and corner. But she stored away for 50 years some of the most poignant reminders of her past two small stacks of folded, yellowed letters. Neatly written in German on single sheets of paper are the almost weekly messages sent from her father, Samuel Kahn, who was in the small city of Eisenberg, to Mrs. Lindauer, then a teen-ager living in Chicago with a foster family. A Jew, he sent his daughter to America in November 1934 to avoid Nazi persecution and continue her education. It all seemed like a grand adventure at the time.
The 78-year-old Eastport resident and former president of the Annapolis Opera recently started rereading the letters after learning more about the 1,000 other children who made the long journey on a modern-day "underground railroad." "They represent to us what was America's response at the time to the threatened existence of the Jews, especially children," said Iris Posner, president of the Silver Spring-based One Thousand Children, Inc., a nonprofit organization that documents the experiences of people like Mrs. Lindauer. "We've have a lot to learn from them."
Mrs. Lindauer took part in a special Baltimore Yom Ha'shoah, or Holocaust Memorial Day ceremony last week that featured five of the surviving children. She's the only one living in Anne Arundel County. Yom Ha'shoah services were also held last week at Congregation Kol Ami and Congregation Kneseth Israel in Annapolis and Temple Beth Shalom in Arnold. "People should not think it is too horrible for it to happen again," said Rabbi Pinchas Klein of Kneseth Israel, whose parents are Holocaust survivors.
The Holocaust services aren't confined to just synagogues; the observance at Temple Beth Shalom included members of Broadneck-area churches and their clergy. "The idea is that this just a Jewish concern," said Rabbi Robert G. Klensin. "It's something for all of us." Another service will be held this afternoon at St. Andrew the Fisherman Episcopal Church in Mayo, and the Naval Academy is planning a special program Tuesday night. "The Christian church is interested in the reconciliation of all people," said the Rev. Richard Laribee of St. Andrew. "Everybody in the world ought to attend this kind of thing, (regardless) of their faith."
The Naval Academy program, which is open only to the Brigade of Midshipmen, features the film "Weapons of the Spirit" and one of its subjects. The film chronicles the tiny Protestant village of LeChambon, whose 5,000 residents sheltered and saved 5,000 Jews, including guest Rudy Appel, from the Nazis. Lt. Cmdr. Irving Eslon, academy rabbi, said it's especially important for the brigade to learn about the Holocaust because it teaches leadership. "We train tomorrow's leaders, and (Nazi Germany) is a great example of leadership gone bad," he said.
Safety a world away
It's hard to know for sure how many Holocaust survivors live in the county. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., keeps a registry of survivors, but officials there couldn't provide an Anne Arundel total. In Annapolis, about 10 people are listed. Statewide, there are 2,643, and worldwide there are 170,000. But officials stressed the counts include only those who've registered with the museum and could include people now deceased. Neither Mrs. Lindauer, nor her husband, Harry, a retired Army colonel, is listed, although both qualify as survivors, according to museum officials.
Mrs. Lindauer's parents and younger sister, Ruth, made it out of Germany in 1939, also coming to Chicago. But they didn't immediately reunite. Mrs. Lindauer was told to remain with her foster family, the second of two she lived with, to finish her high school education. They shared a roof again when Mrs. Lindauer attended the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts after high school.
Mr. Kahn, now deceased, ran a small department store and was friends with a newspaper publisher who kept him informed about the goings-on in Nazi Germany. "In 1934, no one wanted to send children out," Mrs. Lindauer said. "They all thought my father was crazy. He said, 'This is one way you'll get your education."'
The trip to America took 10 days. Mrs. Lindauer was one of the first 100 children sent to foster families and she got seasick and caught pneumonia on the journey. Her school friends dressed in Hitler Youth uniforms came to say good-bye when she left; she later learned they were punished for seeing a Jew off.
When she arrived, the only English she knew consisted of "Yes," "No," "How do you do," and "Ladies and gentlemen, let us begin." She was supposed to be in the fifth or sixth grade, but she was placed in third because spoke German.
Her father would offer her advice and answer her ques tions in letters that began, "Dear Little Thea." Some excerpts from the first: "Be careful not to break any thing... knowing how you like to rush around... People think maybe I am not so crazy after all, putting an ocean between you and Germany and now are wondering about sending their own children... You must always remember people are basically kind and trustworthy. The proof is where you are now and all that is being done for you." Mrs. Lindauer missed her family, but everything in America was new and exciting.
For a long time, Mrs. Lindauer said she felt guilty speaking about her experiences because nothing horrible happened to her or her immediate family. But she slowly came to came to realize that it was important to tell her tale.
She and her husband, who came to America in 1936, lived all over the world, but settled in Annapolis in 1967, when Col. Lindauer was sent to the Far East. Mrs. Lindauer wanted a home in a community where the military was looked favorably upon.
A mother of three and a grandmother, Mrs. Lindauer for four years as president of the opera company, retiring in 1998. She succeeded her husband to the post, and together they served at the helm for 10 years. Mrs. Lindauer helped design Mitscher Hall Chapel at the Naval Academy and the couple played a big part in getting a rabbi on staff there. Both have also spent time helping relatives of concentration camp victims find out what happened to the families. The couple have spoken to students here and in Germany about the Holocaust and she's currently translating her father's letters in the hope of turning them into a book.
Mrs. Lindauer considers her exodus to America a gift that's she justified by doing the most she can with her life. "I remember it always," she said. "You just live with it. It just sort of guides everything I do. I don't take anything for granted."
Published 04/22/01, Copyright 2001 The Capital, Annapolis, Md.
(Note: This article may be reprinted with credit to the author Theresa Winslow and The Capital - Annapolis Maryland)
THE JEWISH EXPONENT
APRIL 26, 2001
Group to Document 1,000 Lives
By Marilyn Silverstein - Jewish Exponent Staff
Glimmers of memory remain with Suzanne Sobe of Philadelphia the faces of her parents, her feelings of distress, the German passport in her pocket stamped with a swastika and the date: 1939. "Bits and pieces I remember. I was very young then," says the 72-year-old Sobe, a native of Vienna. "My parents put me on the train. I couldn't understand it, why I had to leave them."
Sobe later learned that her parents had perished in Auschwitz. "This is one thing I do remember: I missed them," she says. "I still do, even at my age. I still remember them."
Kurt Herman of Philadelphia remembers, too waving farewell to his mother at the train station in Vienna in 1939, when he was 9. "My mother took me to the train and said goodbye," recalls the 71-year-old Herman, who was one of 50 children who left Nazi-occupied Vienna that day under the auspices of Brith Sholom. "Believe it or not, the Nazis wanted to make propaganda and didn't want any crying or carrying on at the train station," he says. "So we just waved and did the best we could. After the train pulled out, I did my little bit of crying and then went on." Later, Herman was reunited with his parents in Allentown. But he never forgets that day at the train station. "Do I think about it? All the time," he says. "The main thought I had was how lucky I was how lucky to get on the train to come to this country and make a life."
Sobe, a retired clerical worker, and Herman, who served as director of finance for the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia from 1974 to 1983, are two of the child survivors who, in the words of social scientist Iris Posner, "were part of one of the most triumphant and tragic stories of the 20th century the rescue and placement in foster homes and other facilities across America of approximately 1,000 unaccompanied Jewish children while a generation of 1.5 million children perished in the Holocaust."
Posner, who is based in Silver Spring, Md., began uncovering that story last year, after seeing the Oscar-winning documentary film "Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport" about the transport of some 10,000 Jewish children to Britain. The film moved her to ask a question: Had any such children found such a haven in the United States? The answer, she discovered, was yes: Between 1934 and 1945, in an effort funded by private individuals and Jewish and other organizations, some 1,154 European Jewish children, ages 1 to 16, were rescued and brought to this country. Hoping to document the experiences of those children, Posner founded One Thousand Children Inc. with another researcher, Lenore Moskowitz. To date, the women have made contact with about 250 of the survivors, most of them in their 70s and 80s, about a dozen of them in the Greater Philadelphia area, according to Posner. "Our ultimate goal is to redress this hole in the American historical record," says Posner. "Every one of these children is proof that Hitler didn't succeed." Learn more at: www.onethousandchildren.org. You may contact Marilyn Silverstein via Email: email@example.com
(Note: This article may be reprinted with credit to the author Marilyn Silverstein and The Jewish Exponent)
The Aufbau June 5, 2003
The Future Was Important --
Surviving "One Thousand Children (OTC)" Gather in New York
By Kristina Maroldt [Translated by Gregory F. Mehrten]
[This article is used with permission of the author and publisher]
On his 15th birthday, Felix Roth from Vienna, together with his sister Edith, his friend Norbert Rosenblum and 54 other children, stood on the railing of a great ocean liner and let the wind tousle his hair. He was happy. He had just seen the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor for the first time. Soon they would dock at the feet of the great skyscrapers. It was September 23, 1941, and for Felix Roth it was the first day of a totally new life. Whatever had happened before was now completely unimportant. The future lay there, over on the other shore called America.
Even today, almost 62 years later, Felix Roth smiles when he recounts that very special birthday and the beginning of his life as "an American boy." He is sitting with two reporters from Aufbau at a table in the conference room at Temple Emanu-el on Fifth Avenue. Felix Roth, along with Aufbau, has a very special story. One which he is happy to tell. But on this day, Roth has no patience for such a thing – so great is the excitement around the first official gathering of New York’s "One Thousand Children (OTC)" on May 18, 2003.
Voices fly through the wood-paneled room on the fifth floor of the synagogue, and with them the histories of roughly 30 people. Each one so full of adventure, tragic and dramatic that a single story could provide material for several books, films and plays. Each one unique, though in one respect all alike: They are the stories of approximately 1,200 Jews who, as children from Germany, came to America between 1934 and 1945 with the help of Jewish and Quaker organizations. Without parents, without relatives. With only the unshakable hope that the new life in the strange new world would be good.
For a long time, no one wanted to hear these stories. American museums and history books did not document them at all. And even of the people involved, hardly any longed to tell their stories. Daily life, daily problems were more important.
Many had also repressed their memories. Perhaps because their stories could not match the success of the new life of Felix Roth, who found "a second home" with his American host family in Boston and who was even able to reunite with his mother in 1949. His friend Norbert and Norbert’s sister Friedel were not so lucky. Their mother perished in Auschwitz – shortly after saying goodbye to her children in France with the promise that they would see each other again very soon. In their new home, the Rosenblum children had to battle anti-Semitic and anti-German feelings: "When I took a German book out of the library," explains Friedel Rosenblum to her companions in fate, "I always thought twice about it. I didn’t want to get picked on."
But telling your story also helps. Above all when you realize that your story is not unique. Three years ago, Deborah Oppenheimer’s "Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport" opened in movie theaters. Many former OTC children saw their lives reflected in the fate of the 10,000 Jewish children who arrived in Great Britain without their parents between 1939 and 1940, and began to reconstruct their own pasts.
Iris Posner, a social scientist, also saw the film when it was released. She herself was not a former refugee, but an American Jew interested in history. As she left the movie theater in the spring of 2000, one question pounded in her brain: What did America actually do during that time to help Jewish children? Was there by chance anything similar to the British "Kindertransport"?
Iris Posner began to do research. For a long time without success. But then, in the archives of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, she came across a dissertation (published in 1990) by the Israeli historian Judith Tydor Baumel: "Unfulfilled Promise: Rescue and Resettlement of Jewish Refugee Children in the United States, 1934-1945." In it she found that, in fact, approximately 1,000 unaccompanied Jewish refugee children came to the United States during the Nazi period. Not, however, through a government program like the British Kindertransport, but rather solely through the intervention of private organizations like the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society or the National Council of Jewish Women. At the time, the U.S. economy was not good. Accordingly, there were strict limits on immigration and there was no sentiment in favor of relaxing them for Jewish refugees. To avoid anti-Semitic sentiment, immediately after their arrival, the children were very quietly placed in host families or orphanages. And after that, nothing much more was said about it.
Iris Posner decided: This must change. And so, over the last three years the now 58-year-old has gathered almost 1,200 names and addresses of former refugee children and made contact with many of them. Together with her colleague Lenore Moskowitz, she founded a not-for-profit organization, "One Thousand Children – OTC," which compiles the experiences of the people involved to save them for posterity, and holds talks with museums to encourage them to include OTC histories in their exhibitions. In addition, one year ago she organized the first national meeting of the OTC in Chicago.
Lunchtime at Temple Emanu-el. Turkey sandwiches are passed around; there is also tea. Stories are repeated. For example, Rudy and Lotte’s story. As part of the second Kindertransport in the fall of 1934, the two arrived in New York as 14-year-olds on the "MS New York" from Bremen. Rudolph Pins from Höxter went to a family in Cleveland, Lotte Goldschmidt Magnus from Frankfurt landed near Philadelphia. Today is the first time they have seen each other in almost 70 years. They sit somewhat shyly across from each other, trying to recapture their own pasts in the face of the other.
"Do you remember, Rudy?" asks Lotte Magnus. Her own past is precisely documented in a photo album: The stormy voyage in the fall of 1934; her years with the U.S. [Armed] Forces, when once she was even allowed to smoke a cigarette with Eisenhower; the reunion with her mother almost 12 years after saying goodbye. She points to a group photo of simply dressed children: "Here, this one was during a party for the children on board. I am the tall girl in the last row and Rudy is the one here in front with the glasses. Do you remember?"
The Rudy in the photo is laughing. The Rudy on the other side of the table laughs as well. But then he shakes his head wearily: "Actually, I can hardly remember anything anymore. Besides, I was seasick. For almost the whole trip!"
Not everyone researches their past with as much passion as Lotte Magnus. For Rudolph Pins, the present is more important. "I live in 2003." All the same, his story is one of the most exciting of today’s meeting: In August 1946, when he returned to bombed-out Germany for the first time since his escape, everything had changed. His older brother Jacob had emigrated to Jerusalem. The Nazis had deported his parents to Riga, where they were shot – without him ever being able to see them again. And Rudolph Pins himself was now an interrogation officer with the U.S. Army. He was there to help uncover Nazi crimes during the Nuremberg trials. The victim would examine the perpetrators.
"It was strange. I sat opposite these people that we had always been so afraid of: Göring, von Ribbentrop, Veesemayer, several state secretaries [high officials in Nazi government ministries] and employees of Eichmann. And the strange thing was that most were very learned people. You always had thought of them as such beasts. With some, like Hans Frank (Editor’s note: Governor General of the occupied Polish territories), I even thought: But he’s so nice, he can’t have been a Nazi! Others were pretty bad characters: Wilhelm Stuckart, for example (Editor’s note: a state secretary in the Ministry of the Interior). He denied everything, even though he was one of the ones who came up with the Nuremberg Jewish laws." But at the time, the young man couldn’t allow himself to express a lot of emotion. He had to remain neutral and objective. "We just wanted to gather evidence."
Rudolph Pins remained in Nuremberg until early 1948. Some whom he had interrogated were executed. Others took their own lives. In his spare time, he would visit his hometown, Höxter, and talk with old teachers and friends. "The people in Höxter were never unfriendly to us. Not even during Nazi times. Just somewhat cooler."
Perhaps that is why today he feels no hatred toward Germany or German people. He speaks German fluently and can even see himself living in Berlin or in Höxter instead of in his New York apartment overlooking the Hudson.
That would be out of the question for Felix Roth. "I can’t forgive the German people [for] what they have done," he says several days later, after the OTC reunion, when he came by the Aufbau offices to continue recounting his story. The 77-year-old former engineer today lives with his wife on Fifth Avenue, has two children and two grandchildren. His family survived the Nazi era, although before most of the family could begin a new life in the United States in the 1950s, they were scattered to the four winds starting in 1938: to the United States, Australia, Canada, and because of the relatively uncomplicated entry there, temporarily even to Shanghai. For a long time, they didn’t even know if the others were still alive.
And this is where the story of Felix Roth picks up: In 1941, as he was leaning on the railing with his tousled hair, a photographer standing below on the pier took his picture. The photo appeared on the front page of the October 3, 1941 edition of Aufbau, which is where the uncles and aunts who had emigrated to Shanghai discovered it. "In that moment they knew that I and my sister were still alive," Felix Roth says and smiles again. The new life could begin.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 1, 2001
FIRST EVER PUBLIC RECOGNITION AND HONORING OF 1,000 PEOPLE SENT TO U.S. AS CHILDREN TO ESCAPE NAZIS ON APRIL 18, 2001
Rabbi Elan Adler and the Moses Montefiore Hebrew Congregation of Baltimore, Maryland, in cooperation with the non-profit organization One Thousand Children, Inc. (OTC) will be holding the first ever Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Program, to honor the approximately 1,000 people who were sent to U.S. foster families and other facilities as children fleeing the Nazis in World War II. The Program will include testimony from OTC children as well as a musical presentation and candle lighting ceremony. This Program is open to the public. It will begin at 7:30 PM at 7000 Rockland Hills Drive, Baltimore MD. See driving directions at end of this press release. The phone number of the Moses Montefiore Hebrew Congregation is 410-653-7485.
OTC is a nonprofit tax exempt research and education organization documenting the experiences of children, aged 1 to 16, who came to the U.S. between 1934 and 1945 to escape Nazi persecution. Working with a number of Holocaust-related and other organizations, OTC is:
Locating and ommunicating with as many of the surviving one thousand as possible
Organizing a first reunion
Publishing memoirs and related educational information
BACKGROUND: A handful of children were part of one of the most triumphant and tragic stories of the twentieth century - the rescue and placement in foster homes and in other facilities across America of approximately 1,000 unaccompanied Jewish children while a generation of 1,500,000 children perished in the Holocaust. An operation, quietly carried out because of fear that a backlash from isolationist and anti-Semitic forces could cause its demise, the "underground railroad" spanned three continents and twooceans, was fueled by donations of ordinary people and the work of hundreds of volunteers and ran for almost eleven years. Yet, mention of it will not be found in American history books. Museums and memorials do not celebrate the lives of these children and the individuals and organizations who rescued them. There are no movies about it. Its heroes are not heralded and its villains not reproved. Few Americans know of it and only one scholar has studied and written about the subject. Most of the 1,000 children themselves are unaware they were part of an organized effort of private citizens between 1934 and 1945 to bring to America as many Jewish children as possible nor that this was accomplished in the face of powerful economic, social, political, religious and governmental constraints that had such a devastating outcome for the sixteen million people who perished in the Holocaust. America's response to the calamity of the Holocaust, especially as it relates to children, as well as the experiences of these one thousand children and the people and organizations who made their escape from persecution possible, remains to be told. It is an unknown story of courage, sacrifice and triumph.
(This Press Release may be reprinted)
JULY 23, 2001
IT'S ALL RELATIVE: One Thousand Children
By Schelly Talalay Dardashti
From 1934-45, 1,000 children traveled an underground railway spanning two continents and an ocean. This is their story.
FOR 11 years, a handful of children, ages 1-16, were part of one of the most triumphant and tragic stories of the 20th century: the rescue and placement in foster homes and other facilities across America.
While a generation of 1.5 million children perished in the Holocaust, about 1,000 unaccompanied Jewish children were brought to America in a very low-profile operation. In fear of a backlash from isolationist and anti-Semitic forces that could shut it down, the secret mission was funded by donations of ordinary people and the work of hundreds of volunteers.
American history books do not mention it, nor do Holocaust museums and memorials celebrate the lives of these rescued children and those people and organizations who rescued them. There are no movies about it, and its heroes remain unheralded. Few Americans know about this project; only one sole scholar has studied and written about the subject.
Even worse, most of the children themselves (most now in their 70s-80s) are unaware they were part of an organized effort to bring to America as many Jewish children as possible. And they don't know that this was accomplished in the face of powerful economic, social, political, religious and government constraints that had such a devastating outcome for the millions who did perish. This is the previously unknown story of courage, sacrifice and triumph.
One Thousand Children (OTC) was founded by social science researcher Iris Posner, 56, and researcher Lenore Moskowitz, also 56. Its staff is solely of unpaid volunteers, and 100% of donations goes to programs and projects.
When Iris saw the Academy Award-winning documentary last year, Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport, concerning 10,000 Jewish children saved from Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia who were taken into British foster homes, 1938-40, she questioned whether there had been any similar US efforts.
She discovered some information that efforts had taken place, and the US Holocaust Memorial Museum (Washington DC) provided some sources.
Only one book, published in 1990, Unfilled Promise by Dr. Judith Baumel, a professor at Bar Ilan University, has been written about the experience. Baumel's brother and sister were OTC children. Baumel is also associate editor of The Holocaust Encyclopedia, published by Yale University Press in 2001.
Following the efforts of Iris and Lenore, the story was pieced together beginning with the 1933 meeting of such groups as HIAS, American Joint Distribution Committee, National Council of Jewish Women, German Childrens'' Aid, American Friends Service Committee and others, which laid the groundwork for the mission.
The first group of children arrived in New York, in November 1934. There was no press coverage and no publicity. Small groups were taken directly to foster homes, which had been arranged through appeals to synagogue congregations and organization memberships. The groups, in addition to raising needed funds, also arranged for escorts who brought the children
from Europe to America.
The escorts were women who traveled back and forth to Europe in dangerous times, spending a lot of time away from their own families.
The children they escorted had been told various stories by their parents. The younger ones heard they were going to camp or on a vacation. Perhaps the older ones knew the real reasons.
Prior to 1941, small groups were brought, because there was hostility to allowing foreigners to enter the US during the Depression. Sponsors wanted to avoid drawing undue attention to the children, who came in on quotas of their countries of origin.
In the later period of 1941-2, when news of Nazi terrors were circulated, larger groups arrived, while 250 French children arrived in larger groups after their parents were deported. Foster families in the US agreed to care for the children until age 21. Each child was assigned a social worker from a Jewish social service agency until they attained that milestone.
OTC has identified 1,054 unaccompanied children brought to the US. Iris believes there may be about 125 more.
The group also checked records of the USHMM, Yivo Institute, Leo Baeck Institute, Shoah Visual History Foundation and the Wiesenthal Center, which were asked to compare their databases with that of OTC and to contact those whose names are on both lists, saying that OTC wishes to talk to them. Iris says lists were prepared by various organizations, with names, date of
birth, city of arrival and ship the child arrived on. Medical records also exist as they were prepared when the children arrived.
Privacy is assured, says Iris, and only "bona fide researchers will be given data access, and must sign agreements not to divulge information. No identifying information on any person will be made public without that person's agreement."
Among its ambitious plans, OTC wants to produce a documentary. Iris, with a background in film, has contacted a New York film company, but money is an issue. She needs to contact those foundations and groups which provide documentary assistance. Iris and Lenore have funded the nonprofit OTC themselves since its inception.
They want to help OTC children to find and communicate with each other, and to organize a first reunion of survivors. OTC also wants to publish memoirs and educational materials related to this activity.
The maintenance of an archive of related materials is important, and they also wish to organize traveling exhibitions.
Iris and Lenore have so far been in contact with about 200 survivors, and in communication with 100 more. Iris hopes they can communicate with the remaining survivors during 2001.
In April, the first ever Yom HaShoah remembrance program honoring the approximately 1,000 people brought to the US as children was held in cooperation with Rabbi Elan Adler of the Moses Montefiore Hebrew Congregation of Baltimore, Maryland. OTC children spoke at the ceremony.
Most of Iris' efforts are now directed to finding and communicating with the surviving OTC children, and to organizing a reunion. Such a meeting could bring together scholars to make presentations resulting in a monograph of the proceedings.
Unfortunately, says Iris, Yad Vashem does not have the resources to help using their own staff and, additionally, as a public institution it could not protect the confidentiality of the names they would receive.
She hopes that through this column, the organization could locate volunteers who could assist by working with Yad Vashem or organize such an event. Because of the advanced age of many survivors, Iris and Lenore have an acute sense of urgency to move ahead on these projects.
The website, onethousandchildren.org provides much information. OTC survivors can contact the organization, volunteers can help, press articles are reprinted, and there is a public bulletin board.
For more information, contact OTC Inc., Henry Frankel, President 10 Ryan Road Edison NJ 08817 email, firstname.lastname@example.org; website, www.onethousandchildren.org.
It's All Relative welcomes readers' questions, although personal research cannot be done. Write to It's All Relative, City Lights/Jerusalem Post, P.O. Box 28398, Tel Aviv 61283; fax, 03-639-0277; or email, .
Copyright 2001 Jerusalem Post