Interviewer: Tanja Eckstein
Date of interview: July 2002
I met Rosa Rosenstein in the summer of 2002. I was very excited about interviewing her, as it doesn’t happen very often that I meet respondents of such an admirable age – after all, she was already 94 years old then, so almost a century old – and who, on top of that, came from Berlin, my hometown. Her Berlin dialect was unmistakable and after a short time we became close friends. Since she had trouble walking and had poor eyesight, I repeatedly went into the room adjoining the living-room to fetch her cigarettes and an ashtray. Sometimes, after she had opened the door for me, she wasn’t able to walk back into the living-room, and so we sat close together on a small bench in the long corridor, directly in front of the door to her apartment, and she would tell me stories of her life, funny ones and sad ones. I loved her stories and never grew tired of visiting her over and over again. Her incredibly lively way of story-telling, creating images out of sentences, will probably remain a unique experience in my activity as an interviewer.
Rosa Rosenstein passed away in February 2005.
I didn’t know my great-grandparents. My grandparents and my parents were born in Galicia 1.
My family on my father’s side was called Braw. The only Braws that exist, down to the present day, are part of my family. There is Brav with a ‘v’ and there is Braf with an ‘f,’ but we write our name with a ‘w.’ My brother has done some research and says that the name comes from the Hebrew expression ‘biraw,’ which means ‘son of the rabbi,’ ‘raw’ standing for rabbi.
I never met my paternal grandparents because my grandmother, Rivka Finder, nee Braw, died before I was born. I was named after her, Rosa in German and Rivka in Yiddish. I never met my grandfather, Zwi Finder, either. Allegedly, he married a young woman after the death of his first wife, who died of cancer at the age of 54, and moved away, so my father had no contact with his father at all. Before she died, my grandmother had my father promise to take care of his younger siblings.
My father, Jakob Braw, was born on 6th June 1881 in Gorlice, near Tarnow [both in Poland today]. He had six siblings: Gitl, Chana, Gusta, Zilli, Reisl and Nathan.
Gitl died before World War II.
Chana, whose married name was Federman, had three children. They were all killed during the Holocaust.
Gusta, whose married name was Eberstark, had six children. They were all killed, too.
Zilli went to Berlin where she met a certain Mr. Weinhaus, and in 1914 she moved to America with him. They got married on board the ship. In New York they owned a poultry store together with her sister Reisl and her husband. Zilli lived to the age of 104.
Reisl and her husband moved to Berlin from Galicia. He was a baker and his name was Wind. Their son, Josef, was born in Berlin. In 1915 they immigrated to New York via Mexico. She died in New York.
Nathan went to Berlin and was full of the joys of life. He caught a cold and died of pneumonia at the age of 26. He was buried in the cemetery in Weißensee [a district of Berlin].
My grandfather on my mother’s side, Angel Arthur Goldstein, was born in the vicinity of Cracow [today Poland]. He was the manager of an estate. Back then, Jews owned estates. The owner of this estate lived in Cracow and my grandfather managed his estate in the vicinity of Cracow. I remember that we had a picture of my grandfather at home, showing him with his long white beard and wearing a kippah.
My grandmother, Bacze Goldstein, nee Schiff, was born in 1850. She had two wigs, which I always had to take to Grenadierstrasse [in Berlin] for combing.
My mother, Golda Braw, nee Goldstein, was born in Tarnow on 1st August 1884. She was the only daughter and had seven brothers: Jonas, Heinrich, Adolf, Hermann, Ignatz, Janik and Nuchem. Her older brothers lived in Berlin.
Uncle Jonas, Joine in Yiddish, had a piano store in Berlin. His first wife died of the Spanish flu. He left Berlin with his second wife, Hella, and their children, Reuben and Dorit, after Hitler’s rise to power in the 1930s 2 and immigrated to Palestine. Dorit first lived in a kibbutz. Her brother Reuben left the kibbutz in the late 1950s and resumed his studies, which had been interrupted by their immigration to Palestine. He became a professor of modern philosophy at the University of Tel Aviv. He got married to Nelly; they didn’t have any children.
Dorit and her husband, Jakob Ross, who was also from Berlin, moved to the Moschaw Atarot kibbutz, north of Jerusalem, along with Uncle Joine and Aunt Hella. The kibbutz was vacated during the War of Independence [in 1948] and the members were resettled in the deserted Templar village Wilhelmina [ca. 20km east of Tel Aviv]. Dorit and Jakob have three sons, Ilan, Gad and Ehud, who have children, and partly grandchildren themselves. Joine died in the 1950s, Hella in the 1980s. Jakob passed away a few years ago, Dorit a couple of weeks ago.
Adolf owned a newspaper kiosk. Adolf, his brother Heinrich and their wives moved from Berlin to Canada. The former only had one daughter, the latter had two daughters.
Hermann was a very handsome man. He worked in Berlin in my father’s tailor’s shop and got married to Mizzi, who was a Catholic and converted to Judaism. In 1926 they immigrated to Canada, where he died young.
Ignatz was my father’s [business] partner at first and then became the manager of an estate in Poland. He was married to Barczszinska, whom they called Bronka. They didn’t have any children. Bronka survived the war by hiding in a monastery. Ignatz was killed during his escape to Budapest.
Jannik was taken prisoner during World War I and was sent to Siberia.
Nuchem was the youngest of the siblings. He was an ensign. He was a rank higher than a common soldier from the very beginning, but died during a gas attack instigated by the other side and spent a long time in hospital. He later got married in Galicia.
I only remember my maternal grandparents from the time I was approximately five or six years old. They lived in the western part of Galicia, which was part of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy then, and only became part of Poland in 1922. A large part of what is Poland today belonged to the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy.
In 1913 we went to visit our grandparents in Galicia with our mother from Berlin. We got these beautiful coats, shepherd’s check coats, and little white hats with cherries dangling from them.
Our grandparents never came to visit us in Berlin. My grandfather died of a heat stroke in 1913 – he was in the field to supervise the harvest. After that, my grandmother was on her own, so my mother took her to Berlin and she lived with us. My mother’s brothers came to Berlin when they wanted to see their mother. And in this way, we still got delicious food because one of them was stationed in Romania during World War I, where they still had everything. He brought us rucksacks full of flour and rice.
My father was a tailor and worked from home. In later years we had a men’s wear wholesale and retail store. My father wasn’t drafted into the army; he was given his medicals four times during World War I, but was deferred every single time because he had horrible varicose veins. And that made him fortunate. He was at home and could take care of us. He drove to the farmers and got food for us, so we wouldn’t starve. He also resoled our shoes. My mother was good at everything, too. We never went hungry. When food became more scarce we ate swedes. The whole house stank of it. The jam was also made from swedes and so was the bread.
My mother was engaged to my father for a very long time. It was an arranged marriage. They were distantly related. My parents got married in Galicia on 7th February 1907. I was born ten months later, on 25th December 1907, in Berlin. The name on my birth certificate is still Rosa Goldstein, after my mother. My parents first had a Jewish wedding. At some time, they had to get married again in a registry office, because otherwise the marriage wouldn’t have been acknowledged. Afterward, a note on my birth certificate said: ‘Jakob Braw acknowledges Rosa Goldstein as his daughter and she bears the name of the father.’ I still have this birth certificate.
My sister Betty came next; she was born in 1909. Erna, born in 1911, was the third, and Cilly, born in 1913, was the youngest sister. My brother Arthur, Anschel in Yiddish, was the youngest. He was born in 1915, during World War I. We still call him Anschi. He and his wife only recently came to visit me
All of us five siblings are very close. Every one of us has a different character, but we were never cross at one another. Sure, we all had different opinions, but we never really had a row with each other. And that only happens in few families.
My parents were foreigners in Germany. I was never German either. I’ve had three nationalities, but I was never German. First, I was Austrian. At the time I was born in Berlin, I was Austrian. I was born in 1907, but Poland was only founded in 1922. So then I was Polish, as a dependant of my parents, as I was still a minor. Then I married a Hungarian, so I became Hungarian, and after the war I married an Austrian, so I was Austrian again.
My mother cooked kosher. There were only Jewish shops on Grenadierstrasse in Berlin. There was the kosher butcher Sussmann; there were poultry stores, where everything was kosher. This was where you went shopping. In our home everything was kosher. Blue, for example, was for dairy products, for those we had blue-checkered tea-towels. And the red-checkered ones were for meat products. We also had separate dishes for meat and dairy products and they were also washed separately. The table-cloths were extra, red for everyday use, on other occasions white ones were used. That was a very beautiful thing in our home.
The Pesach dishes were stored away in a huge suitcase stored in the attic that had a drop-down ceiling. It was a festive act when we brought them down. Also, my mother bought geese and fried the fat out in the Pesach dishes, so we could have goose dripping. The goose liver at Pesach was delicious!
My parents went to Jewish prayer houses; one was called ‘Ahavat Zedek,’ the other one ‘Ahavat Chaim.’ The prayer houses were located in some large backyard.
In Berlin, we lived in a large four-room apartment on Templiner Strasse. The toilet was inside the apartment and we also had a bathroom. It was a very primitive bathroom, but it had a bath-tub and a large stove, which was heated with wood, so we could have hot water for a bath.
We four sisters shared a room. It was small and there was a window in the corner. There were two beds on each side and a large chest of drawers with a mirror stood next to the door. Each girl had her own drawer for underwear, another drawer for all kinds of stuff, and on top of that we had a cupboard for our clothes.
We always got new clothes for the high holidays, at Pesach and Rosh Hashanah. At the latter, we always got winter things. Those were beige coats, ready-made. Of course, I immediately tore the side. It was then sowed and darned, but nonetheless it looked shabby after a while. Then we got new coats again, but at that time I already wore my sister’s old one, as mine wasn’t in good shape any more. I didn’t care about clothes at all. My mother scolded me. She told me, ‘Rosa, couldn’t you stand in front of the mirror for at least five more minutes?’ My mother always said, ‘You ought to have been a boy. How can one tear one’s clothes like this?’
I always got clothes at the same time as my sister. Her things hung in the cupboard for half a year and any time she took something out, she asked me, ‘Well, how do you like this?’, and then hung it back. When she started wearing her things, mine were already gone – cleaning rags. I didn’t pay attention to what my hair looked like or to what I wore. The main thing was that the skirt was wide enough and the shoes didn’t pinch, so I could run around comfortably.
I only started going to the hairdresser when I had my hair bobbed, and did that only because of the work in my father’s store. Before that, we had long plaits; our hair was plaited early in the morning before we went to school. My father prepared our breakfast, which we took along to school. Since my mother helped my father in the store, he wanted her to rest. So we went to her bedside and she plaited our hair.
My brother slept on a divan in the little room facing the street. There was also a desk in his room and a large armchair stood next to the tiled stove. Back then everyone had a tiled stove. We heated it ourselves in winter.
We only had a maid when we were little, as my mother helped our father in his tailor’s shop. One of the maids was called Elsa, the other one Emma. Both were from Pomerania. The maid lived with us, but we only put up a bed for her. Back then things were primitive. The girls came from the country and were happy to make a living. Emma was a Sabbatarian 3, she only went to Jews. Sabbath was her holiday, she worked on Sundays. Sabbatarians – that was a sect – didn’t eat pork either.
I went to a Jewish girls’ school, today they call it Higher Education Facility for Girls. French was compulsory, while English was an optional subject. Of course, I was too lazy to study English, so I only learned French. Back then there was no nursery school. You started in the ninth grade and it went up to the first grade. The ninth grade was what is today’s first grade, and the first grade was what is today’s last. It was called lyceum.
I had no contact whatsoever with Christians. My parents didn’t either, only business-wise, but privately, they didn’t. However, I did have a Christian girlfriend when I was young; she lived in the same building, and I went along when she went to confession.
For three hours, three times a week, we studied Bible history and learned to read Hebrew with Dr. Selbiger – that was the name of the teacher. We only learned to print; we didn’t learn cursive writing. I knew all the prayers, as I had to pray. My grandmother kept an eye on me in that respect. In the early morning we said the ‘Modim anachnu lo,’ and in the evening the ‘El Male Rachamim,’ that was the evening prayer.
My sisters went to the same school. I then had to leave school, I was told what to do. It was decided how long I was allowed to go to school and then I had to switch to business academy because my father needed me in the shop. At first I had to do some kind of practical training in another company. We had a Jewish secretary, and when she got married I took over her job. We also had a men’s wear retail store. I was in the company where they did the sewing, while my sister Betty, who finished the same business academy as me, worked in the retail store.
At this business academy you had to learn everything in half a year: typewriting, stenography, accounting, and all that at a great speed. I had class-mates who were 20 years old, while I was only 15, but I was much better than the others. My mother never went to school to enquire about my studies. There weren’t any complaints.
I got 100 marks in pocket-money for the work in my father’s store. I wasn’t even registered with the health insurance scheme. If I had been, today I would get another pension from Germany. My sister Betty, on the other hand, worked in the public prosecutor’s office and gets a great pension from Germany.
We always had Zionist leanings 4. My brother, for example, was a member of a Zionist-socialist organization from the age of 14 and wore those blue shirts that they had.
All my siblings were in Jewish organizations with Zionist tendencies. There were German Jews who said, ‘For God’s sake, this is no place for us, our home is Germany.’ But for us, it was different, after all we were Poles. I was in the Jewish sports club Bar Kochba. It was a Jewish association, half sports, half entertainment. In the summer we trained in Grunewald, doing track and field athletics, in the winter we were in the gymnasium. I was afraid of climbing the pole or balancing on the parallel bars, but I enjoyed other games such as dodge ball and medicine ball.
I made friends through these Jewish organizations, including boys. For example, we made a trip to the countryside at Whitsun. There was a train to Frankfurt on the Oder; this was third or fourth class, and you’d sit on the floor on top of your rucksack and had a blanket to lie on. We took the night train, which was exciting. We then slept by a lakeside, both girls and boys. Some nights we spent in some farmers’ haylofts. I had this good friend, Martha, who was always by my side.
As you know, Berlin has wonderful lakes. On Wednesday we always went out in paddleboats, and we also went canoeing. I couldn’t swim, but we went rowing. I started learning swimming three times, but gave up after the third time. When I tried for the first time, the swimming instructor held me on a fishing-rod and I had to do the movements. The second time, I got a board and I had to push that board ahead of me. In the end, the instructor said, ‘And now without the board.’ That I didn’t do. I was a coward. I was afraid, I do admit, but such is life.
During the summer my parents rented a summer apartment. When we were still small, we spent our first summer vacation in Fichtenau by a lakeside. We took beds and dishes with us. My father came to join us on weekends. He was working while we spent the time with our mother. Mother cooked, and we – just like at home – ate noodle soup.
We had everything, you know. We had delicious food, bought the very best; we used to roast geese. Sometimes I swapped sandwiches with the children at school, so I could have bread with lard instead of my buttered bread with cheese. We didn’t lack anything.
My father did everything for his daughters. My sister always says, ‘Whatever do you want? You were always Dad’s darling.’ My father was a good person. He was there solely for his wife and children. My father didn’t smoke, my father didn’t drink. The only thing he did was: In the early morning, before he went to the workshop, he had a sip of slivovitz. A little glass of slivovitz for breakfast. Sometimes, when my mother asked, ‘Tell me, Jakob, what do you want for lunch,’ he said, ‘You know what, I’ll just have some rice pudding with sugar and cinnamon. That’s the best.’ That was my father. While we, of course, had to have smoked briskets of beef, bought at Sussman’s on Grenadierstrasse! It was the same story with clothes. When my mother told him, ‘Jakob, you desperately need new shoes, you desperately need a new suit,’ his reply was ‘No.’ But whatever I asked for, I always got.
My father adored my mother. She was a bookworm just like me. She only went to school for a year in Galicia, while her seven brothers all studied. Grandfather always said it was enough for a girl to be able to write her name and know how to bake bread and make butter. They were from the countryside after all, so that was enough. My mother taught herself how to read and write. She told me that the first thing she bought when she came to Berlin – later, she also worked in Berlin – was Grillparzer. A whole series of books by Grillparzer. [Grillparzer, Franz (1791-1872): Austrian dramatist, best known for his works ‘The Golden Fleece,’ ‘King Ottocar’s Success and Downfall,’ ‘The Jewess of Toledo’ and ‘A Fraternal Struggle in the House of Habsburg.’]
We had a real library at home. There were four daughters, and there was this one worker, an elderly man, who always said: ‘Of the five women in the Braw family, the mother is the brightest and most beautiful. When we immigrated after Hitler’s rise to power, my heart bled, because we had to leave all our books behind.
I lived at home until my wedding day. My first husband was also a tailor, but above all he was a Hungarian. Oh, he certainly was a handsome young man! I was working at my father’s, in a factory building with large windows. My desk stood at the window. On the opposite side there was a men’s ready-made clothes factory, and there was this good-looking man sitting at the sewing-machine. We kept smiling at each other. I didn’t know who he was; he didn’t know who I was. One day a messenger came up – back then traders went from shop to shop – with a big box filled with candies and said, ‘This is from the young man across the way.’ That’s how it all started. I accepted the gift, of course, and said thank you.
I was not yet 18, but I was happy, and why not? But I always worked long hours. If you work in your father’s shop you can’t just finish work at 5pm. My mother always phoned my father, asking, ‘When are you going to send the girl home?’ In the workshop, I had to sew on buttons, help prepare things for dispatch, accompany the domestic servant to the train station when parcels were being sent by train. I had to do all that.
We made and sold men’s ready-made clothes ourselves. For a while, we had our own retail stores: one was on Hermannstrasse in Neukölln, the other one on the corner of Neue Friedrichstrasse and Klosterstrasse. Back then many people bought on tick, paying in installments since they were poor. A suit, for example, cost 35 marks. So a file card was made showing an amount of 10 marks and this sum was cashed. My sister did that. There were only few Jews among the clientele in the retail store, but there were many Jews in the wholesale store, who bought entire suits. Those were people from the provinces. Parcels were sent to Essen, Düsseldorf, Duisburg. We also had a traveling salesman who had swatches and samples of material.
One day I went home earlier. I had been in the shop on the corner of Neue Friedrichstrasse and Klosterstrasse and walked via Hackische Markt to a large bookstore on Rosenthalerstrasse. I was looking at the books. I bought books, I borrowed books and I read books in libraries – only books. So I’m standing there, looking at the books and all of a sudden I hear a voice behind me, slowly saying, ‘Isn’t that beautiful?’ I turned around, and there he stood. He had the same route home as me; he was living with his sister. He asked if he could walk me home since he was going the same way. So I said, ‘If you please.’ On the way, it turned out that he was the nephew of the owner of the place where he worked, while I was the daughter of the owner of the place across the way. He had thought that I was an employee, and I had thought he was a simple worker. His name was Maximilian Weisz, we called him Michi. He was born on 30th November 1904 in Nitra. That’s how it started.
After that he sometimes accompanied me on my way, and then he started inviting me. That was always on a Saturday evening; one didn’t have time during the week, of course. Our meeting place was at the underground station on the corner of Schönhauser Allee and Schwedterstrasse. I dressed, got ready, and I also went to the hairdresser’s – I always went to the hairdresser’s on Saturday after I started working in my father’s store. My parents knew that I had a rendezvous and my mother told me, ‘Come on, hurry now, you’re going to be far too late.’ And I replied, ‘If he’s really interested, he will wait.’ So I went down to the underground station, and there was no one there. I thought, ‘Well, I’m late.’ Then, after five minutes or so, I saw him come running, completely out of breath. What happened? Well, I apologized for being late. He, however, thought that I was waiting at the other station, so he had run to the next station and back.
Next to the zoo, there was a restaurant called ‘Schottenhamel,’ a very elegant restaurant. He said he hadn’t had dinner yet, so we took the underground to Willhelmstrasse stop, I think it was, somewhere up there at the Linden. We went into the restaurant and it was very elegant, but I was kosher. He ordered a meat platter, while I had coffee and cake, as I didn’t eat treyf food. I had told him that I was kosher, but I didn’t know any kosher restaurants, as my parents never went to restaurants. Afterwards they played music in that restaurant.
I got three really beautiful dresses during my engagement: a black satin dress with white satin insets, a white-blue crêpe de Chine dress and a dark-blue and Bordeaux dress. After all, I couldn’t possibly go out with him in the rags I had. These three dresses were made in an elegant dressmaker’s store.
My family accepted my fiancé as a son. He was hard-working and so was I. We only went out on the weekends. Some seven or eight months passed. My parents didn’t approve of it and said that they wouldn’t allow me to hang out like this, that I would get a bad reputation. This was at the time of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and my parents were in the temple and so was I. Of course, we didn’t work on the holidays.
Maximilian didn’t work either, because his uncle was Jewish and no one in the company was working. He came to the temple to see me: The youth always gathered there, we were standing around chatting with friends. There, my parents invited him for tea at Rosh Hashanah. Two of my mother’s brothers and their wives were also there. So we were sitting there and suddenly my father said, ‘Let’s go to the room next-door.’ Then my uncles and father asked Michi to join them. I thought, ‘What’s going on here?’ After a while, they came out laughing; Michi was beaming, and then I was told that they had asked him what his intentions were because they didn’t agree with dragging things on, as I would only get a bad reputation. Well, he told them that he intended to marry me. And that was the end of the story. And I was very upset that they’d done this.
I had enough admirers. For example, there was this relative from Poland who wanted to marry me. He was eight years older than me. When he was in Berlin for the last time I was 14. When he left, I was 15. Sometimes he took me to a circus show, sometimes to an afternoon performance of an operetta. His father had a butcher’s and was a horse trader in Oswieczim [Auschwitz, Poland], as was usual for Jews in the province. He had to return home because he was the only son. When he said goodbye, he told me, ‘Rosa, when you are 18, I will marry you.’ And I, always having had a big mouth, replied, ‘Sure you will.’
One day, I received a letter, which, however, was addressed to my father. He asked me if I remembered, now was the time, I was 18 years old. I was so proud of this letter. I wrote back to him, saying that I had received his proposal, but that three years had passed, we both had changed, looked different, etc. He replied, asking me to send him my picture and he also sent me his. I sent him a passport picture on which my hair is standing in all directions. And he replied that one couldn’t see much on that picture, so I wrote to him, ‘If you are interested, why don’t you come to Berlin?’ I wasn’t attracted to him at all, but it made me proud and I was realistic: He was a good match. I was very sober back then, I had no fantasy whatsoever.
Then the reply came: He wouldn’t be able to come, he didn’t have a passport; I should come instead. I was about to organize myself a passport, when my mother interfered, ‘Rosa,’ she said to me, ‘Think about this. You, a girl from Berlin, with your intelligence. Do you seriously want to marry a Pole?’ At that time it was Poland already. ‘You don’t know a single word of Polish. Do you really want to live in a small town and work in a butcher’s?’
I didn’t write to him any more. Besides, I was in love with Sammy, a friend from my youth. We lived in the same building. I met him when I was ten or eleven and he was four years older. Back then he was always strutting past me, while I was still playing with dolls. When I was almost 18, he was in love with me, too. Whenever he got a chance, he grabbed and kissed me. Once we were on summer vacation. I was there with my brother, who was still little at the time. Sammy wanted to sleep with me. His sister was my friend, a stunningly beautiful girl, my age, and I said to him, ‘Sammy, what would you think, if your sister, Nina, did that?’ And he replied, ‘She doesn’t do things like that.’ That was the end of the story. I never saw him again.
Sammy was an American citizen, born in the States, and so were his siblings. His parents lived in America and then returned to Germany. Two months later he was gone. He went to America. I don’t know if he’s still alive; if so, he must be 100 now. I wonder whether he ever knew why we broke up. You see, that’s how proud I was.
I didn’t like what my father and uncles did to Michi, but never mind. Michi beamed, while I was very embarrassed, but we went to the cinema afterward. That all happened in November, and his birthday was on 30th November. I remember that for my birthday, which is on 25th December, I got a marvelous crystal plate. That was the first plate I got as a present and I was wondering, ‘A plate as a birthday present?’ But the cutting was extremely beautiful. Michi was very generous; I often got presents from him.
Then we had a real Jewish engagement party – that was on 8th March 1928. His mother and sister came from Budapest to attend the celebration. There were 80 people altogether. Back then we had a four-room apartment, and three rooms were cleared for the party. My mother made the whole dinner herself. I had girlfriends and they were all there and I got a lot of presents. It was a really big celebration. The last room was used as a checkroom. We had an apprentice in the shop, who came and helped out as a checkroom attendant.
I remember that there was fish, and there was soup, and there was also farfl, tarhonya, with poultry and all kinds of things. A few years earlier, my mother had pickled sour cherries in spirits, for liqueur. Back then she still bought spirits to pickle sour cherries. And she said, at the first family celebration, that bottle would be opened and drunk. Well, that took a few years.
During my engagement period I was crocheting sofa pillows, in a special manner, and I was also knitting sofa pillows. And for my engagement I got pieces of needlework from my girlfriends.
Then Michi set up on his own. Before that, he had worked with his uncle. He bought and hired machines. Back then there was serious housing shortage. He worked with his brother-in-law and I said, ‘That’s okay as long as we’re not married, but afterward I will be your partner.’ And so it happened.
I was the first of the siblings to marry; after all, I was also the oldest. The civil wedding was a year later. Michi wasn’t even of age at the time. In Hungary one only attained legal age at 24. He still needed his parents’ approval. When we got married, he was already 24, but when he handed in the papers for the wedding, he was still a minor. He was a foreigner and so was I. In Germany they were very strict about that back then. I was Polish by descent. I needed a certificate of no impediment to marriage from Poland. We handed the matter over to lawyers, who took care of everything. The thing you needed was money; otherwise you ended up running from one authority to the next.
Well, then we got married. I insisted on the temple on Oranienburger Strasse. We went to Leipziger Strasse to buy lace for the wedding dress. On Leipziger Strasse there was also ‘Michels,’ a silk store – and what a wonderful store! There we bought the embroidered bridal veil. Then flowers had to be ordered, the bridal bouquet and myrtle, the restaurant and the food. The large department store ‘Tietz’ was on Alexanderplatz, and before that was the Kupfergraben, and there was a kosher restaurant there. Opposite it was Grenadierstrasse and the Jewish neighborhood, including the restaurant where we ordered the food.
The civil wedding, which was only an act, took place seven weeks before the Jewish wedding. However, I still signed with my maiden name. I didn’t realize that I was actually already married. The witnesses at the civil wedding were my father and Michi’s uncle. We went straight back to work afterwards. I went to the mikveh; my mother’s cousin dragged me there. The wedding was on Sunday and I went to the mikveh on Saturday evening. On Saturday afternoon and evening all my girlfriends came to our place. They had a good time, my fiancé was also there, and I had to go to the mikveh. The woman there checked my fingernails to make sure they weren’t dirty and I was doused.
Before the wedding we drove to a photographer whose studio was at the beginning of Schönhauser Allee. He was Russian by birth, his name was Pergamentschik and he was one of the best photographers in town. Then Hitler came to power and Pergamentschik immigrated to Palestine and opened a studio there.
The temple on Oranienburger Strasse was the most beautiful temple in Berlin, and, it was even said, the most beautiful one in all Europe. We invited people only for the ceremony and others for the meal in the restaurant afterwards. According to tradition, two married couples have to accompany the bride to the chuppah; they are called ‘unterfirer’ [Yiddish for bridesmaid and groomsmaid]. In our case they were my parents and Michi’s sister and his brother-in-law, who also lived in Berlin. [Editor’s note: According to tradition, the bride’s and the groom’s mothers accompany them to the chuppah.] Two little girls, the daughters of a friend, were scattering flowers. Everyone was very elegant. We followed the girls, then came two young boys carrying the bridal train, and the wedding party followed. My four girlfriends wore elegant dresses: light green, light blue, the third was mauve and the fourth pink.
Then the wedding ceremony followed. However, before one is wed, they ask for the certificate from the registry office. In Germany that was law because a Jewish wedding wasn’t acknowledged here – in Austria and Czechoslovakia it was, though. People there didn’t have to go to the registry office at the time. Therefore, many couples went to Czechoslovakia to get married because they didn’t have the necessary papers.
My wedding dress train was carried by two little boys in sailor suits who were quarrelling. They were five years old, one later became my nephew, the other one was the son of a girlfriend. One boy was pulling the train this way, the other one was pulling it the other way. I permanently had to hold on to it.
Afterward we went for the meal at the restaurant on Kupfergraben, directly on Alexanderstrasse. Next to it stood the large department store ‘Hermann Tietz.’ One of the wedding guests was a printer, a really lovely boy, who had printed the invitations and place cards for us as a wedding gift. As for the other wedding gifts, they were what people usually gave as gifts back then. Today they make lists. From one guest I got a sofa blanket, a chaise longue blanket, which I still have today. From others I got bedside rugs, eiderdown quilts and crystal.
The food was good; my mother had made the fish, real Polish carp, served cold with a jelly sauce and barkhes. It was cold outside and the waiters didn’t feel in the slightest like serving; we had to urge them to. There were only two or three waiters. The plan was to dance after the meal; after all there were a lot of young people there. But the music was horrible, too. My girlfriend’s brother was a wonderful pianist and could play anything by heart; he could play without music. So he sat down at the piano and started to play, and then we were able to dance properly.
Afterward we went to our apartment, which was already completely furnished. We had found an apartment on Alte Schönhauser Strasse, which formerly housed a police station. It became both our apartment and workshop. The apartment was big and there was a huge study with three windows facing the second courtyard. I also had a beautiful bedroom and, of course, the windows were also facing the courtyard. My father went shopping with me and so we could buy the most beautiful bedroom wholesale. The owner of the shop, a wholesaler, told me later that a musician had bought exactly the same bedroom. It was mahogany, very dark mahogany with inlaid work in silver. I also got a beautiful dining-room. The workshop was already set up, the cutting machines were already there; my husband had already worked in the apartment before the wedding. Some of the wedding presents had already been brought to the apartment, too.
Then the wedding night followed and in the morning I heard the key turn in the door. My husband jumped out of bed and into his trousers and ran outside. It was my father! He wanted to heat the room, so it would be warm by the time I woke up. He even heated the bedroom. You should have seen how upset my mother was!
Our daughter Bessy was born on 10th December 1929, exactly ten months after the wedding. I got married on 10th February and she was born on 10th December. My husband and I were both still very young, but fortunately I had my parents to help us. The first six weeks I stayed with my parents, while my husband stayed in our apartment. He came to see us and I went to see him. During the day I went there and worked a bit, while the child was with my parents. I knew I had to be back in three hours to feed the child, but I was only ten minutes away from my parent’s place.
My father was ‘dislodged’ and I slept in the room with my mother and the baby. We didn’t have a cot at my parents’, the baby slept between us in the bed. At home, Bessy had a beautiful white cot, of course, and also a white baby carriage, which my sister had given me as a present. My father didn’t allow me to go outside with the child, because it was terribly cold. He only allowed me to do so after six weeks, and then only when he came along. When my second daughter, Lilly, was born, my father said, ‘I have six daughters.’
When Bessy was two-and-a-half years old I took her to Hungary to visit the in-laws and my husband’s relatives. My husband stayed in Berlin, as we had the workshop and he couldn’t leave.
My father-in-law owned a bakery. The family lived in a suburb of Budapest, in Ujpest, which means New Pest. Ujpest is a twenty-minute tram-ride from Budapest, which is a beautiful city. On the one side, there is the Old Town; on the other side is the modern business city. There were wonderful coffee shops. You could sit on the quay at the Danube and you could go on a trip aboard a steamer – I felt at ease there. Then I returned to Berlin. They had packed a beautiful goose and goose liver and salami for me. In those days people still went by train, and from Berlin to Budapest the journey took 20 hours. I went back to Berlin onboard the Orient Express.
I arrived, everyone was very happy, and nine months later, on 6th May 1933, my second daughter, Lilly, came into the world. And I didn’t want that, I only wanted to have one child. Back then it was popular to only have one child. All my girlfriends and my sister-in-law, my husband’s sister, only had one child. My husband’s sister wanted to help me. She told me I should drink tea, sit in hot water and jump from the table, but nothing helped. Finally I told my mother that I was pregnant and she did not mince words: ‘What is that? Don’t do it! What’s another child? Why don’t you want to have it? The age difference is just right!’ But the worst thing was that she told my daughter about this once she had grown up. And from then on my daughter always told me, ‘You didn’t want to have me.’
My husband, who hadn’t been kosher at all when he lived with his parents in Budapest, conformed to my rules completely. It wasn’t difficult to live kosher anyways, you could get everything. In Grenadierstrasse, Dragonerstrasse and Mulackstrasse there were only kosher shops and devout people. There was this one devout Jew, who they said did penance, as he had been a lout in his youth, hanging around with girls, with Christians – so he was this impossible guy. Then he got married and did penance, only wore the long coat and white socks and grew a beard – and he was a redhead. He had six children and lived on Grenadierstrasse.
This street was the center of the Eastern Jewry in Berlin. They spoke Polish and Yiddish there. You could find second-hand dealers, butchers, fish stores, vegetable stores, bakeries and Jewish restaurants. My husband and I often went out for dinner; we loved kishke with farfl, which was really good there. Farfl is a kind of pasta, tarhonya is grated barley dough [egg barley]. Kishke is a dish made of stuffed beef casings. You make the dough from flour, fat, a little bit of semolina, salt, pepper, a bit of garlic and use that to stuff the beef casings. And that is cooked or fried along with the tarhonya. You make a hard dough and grate it on a grater and get smaller and bigger pieces, and those you fry in fat. That’s delicious, oh dear, I often cooked that myself, too.
There was a Jewish kindergarten on Gipsstrasse and a Jewish elementary school on Auguststrasse. The director of the Jewish elementary school had been one of my class teachers at the Jewish high school. When I took my daughter Bessy to her, she said, ‘What, you’re already bring me your daughter?’ You see, we four girls were in that same school. That’s something you don’t forget so easily.
My sister Betty, who is only one year younger than me, is the exact opposite of me. She doesn’t talk as much as I do, and she clung on to me wherever I was. My husband and I went away for three months after our wedding, since we hadn’t had a honeymoon. So we went on vacation for five days over Whitsun. The day after we left, my sister arrived. She slept in the same room as we did.
My brother’s name was Anschel like Rothschild, in German Arthur. We called him Anschi. My brother was and still is a wonderful person. He was a Zionist from the moment he was born. In Berlin he joined Hashomer Hatzair 5. My father told him to study, but Anschi said that they didn’t need any doctors and university graduates in Palestine, that what they needed for the building of Palestine were farmers. After two years of grammar school he moved out of home and in with his organization, I think it was Habonim 6, and then they left for Palestine. I went to the station to say goodbye.
They went to the Hule area up at Galil [Upper Galilee in northern Israel]. There was only marshland with mosquitoes and wasps there, and that had to be cleared. They worked there and slept in tents. He got malaria and typhoid. He went through a lot. My brother lives in Haifa today. He and his wife Rosel were in the Bund 7 together, so she’s a friend from his youth. He became a locksmith and worked hard from morning to evening. Arthur has two daughters: Ruth, whose married name is Dickstein and Jael, whose married name is Rappoport. He made it possible for both his daughters to get a very good education.
My sister Betty was dismissed in 1933 on racist grounds, and that’s when my mother pricked up her ears. In December 1933 Betty moved to Palestine. In Berlin, she had worked at the court and was given civil service status. My mother, who was very circumspect and wise, said, ‘Betty, it’s pointless, we all have to leave and you will be the first to go to Palestine.’ Back then the British asked for a certificate, which you got if you had a certain profession, for example in agriculture, and if you had enough money you could buy such a certificate.
Betty did hachshara 8 and the Palestine Office 9 sent her to Poland, where she lived in a commune. She had to wash the bloody skins of the animals they skinned there. She said she found it really disgusting, that it was horrible. She left behind the clothes she wore there; she didn’t bring them home. She was so sensitive. When I asked her, ‘Betty, do you have a pair of stockings I can borrow?’ she replied, ‘Not borrow, you can keep them.’ God forbid, she even made a fuss when someone put on her dressing-gown.
We weren’t allowed to send over any money by then. However, through all our passports we could send 10 marks a month. My father collected a few hundred dollars through these transfers in Palestine.
Betty first attended the WIZO 10 school in order to learn how to cook. WIZO was this women’s organization. That lasted for half a year. She worked in the house of Chaim Weizmann’s 11 mother, where she met her future husband, Perez Chaim. He was an electrical engineer and worked at Rutenberg, which was a large power company in Israel. His father was a theologian. They don’t have children.
The next one to immigrate to Palestine was Erna. She was four years younger than me. Erna spent a lot of time at home, as she had poor eyesight. She was operated on one eye, and couldn’t see very well with the other, either. She was born like this and my mother always felt sorry for her. Erna has to spare her eyes: she will stay at home, she will cook, run the household. We could do needlework, knit and all kinds of other things, but Erna wasn’t allowed to – she had to spare her eyes.
In Berlin there was a Jewish club called Nordau [named after Max Nordau] 12. Erna met her future husband, Heinz-Werner Goldstein, in this club. He was so proud of his ‘Germanness.’ We would permanently hear: ‘Back at home…’ Even when he lived in Israel, he still compared everything. ‘Back at home it was like this…’ We even started to jokingly call him ‘Back at home.’ He wanted to attend the High School for Politics, but then Hitler came to power and he couldn’t. So he went to France in order to get a certificate. He worked in the vineyards there.
My sister’s love of her youth was Max Selinger. He was a very good violinist; my sister was good at the piano, and they always played together in our apartment – we had a piano at home. We all really liked him. Well, his mother had other plans for him.
So Erna went to Palestine with Heinz-Werner, but he couldn’t get a job and ended up delivering newspapers. My sister worked as a cleaning lady, and later she ran a kindergarten in their apartment. He did any work he could get. They had two children, Aliza and Dan. After Heinz-Werner’s death my sister sold her apartment in Haifa. Her daughter and son-in-law contributed some money and bought her an apartment in Raanana, so they could be together every day. She only had to go across the street to see them. And they furnished her apartment in Raanana exactly like her old one in Haifa, so she wouldn’t miss anything.
Cilly moved to Palestine along with our parents in 1939. In Berlin, Cilly had worked for the Palestine Office. She traveled all over Germany to visit rich Jews and collect money for the Youth Aliyah 13. She was already married at the time and wanted to immigrate to Palestine with her husband, Rudi Abraham, but at the Palestine Office they said; ‘We need your help, we need your collecting skills.’ She had a very special appearance: she was an elegant woman and beautiful on top of that. She was always told, ‘If you want to go to Palestine, you won’t have to wait.’ She was traveling around, collecting money. She knows everything. She can write books, translate in four languages, and she was a press spokeswoman of Ben Gurion 14. In America, she was consul under Eisenhower 15 and lived in New York for one-and-a-half years.
She’s the youngest of us four girls and has the best education. We all had to do what our father said, while Cilly could do whatever she wanted, I don’t know why. And that, although I was his favorite daughter. She went to grammar school and did her finals just before the Nazis came to power in 1933. She then spent one-and-a-half years in Latvia, on hachshara in Riga, where she met her first husband, Rudi Abraham. He was from Berlin and had studied to become a lawyer. He was still an apprentice, and underwent in-service training back then. She married him and moved to Palestine with him. He had to start his studies from scratch, as Turkish law was in force in Palestine at the time. First, however, he had to learn the language. Cilly was in America at the time; he was in Palestine on his own and they grew apart. She was away for two-and-a-half years. The marriage fell apart.
While in America she met her second husband, Joshua Brandstetter. He was 23 years older than her. He was the bohemian type, and made films. He brought Israel’s Habima troupe 16 to America and got the actors engagements. He also painted. The two of them remained together until he died of kidney failure.
My father was arrested in 1938, immediately after Crystal Night 17, and deported to Poland 18. He was allowed to take 10 marks and a small briefcase along with him. I remember that we gave him his gold watch on a chain to take along. We still had relatives in Poland, and I always acted as intermediary. Since I was married to a Hungarian, I wasn’t afraid yet. I organized myself a visa for Poland. I wanted to see my father and bring him money. When I returned from the passport office, my mother was coming up to meet me and said, ‘You don’t have to travel to Poland, Papa has received permission to come back and pick me up and we will move to Palestine together.’
When my father returned from Poland we started to pack everything. My younger daughter was supposed to start school at the time, as she was six years old. My sisters didn’t give up and managed to get the entry permit from the British. My father left heavy-heartedly because I remained behind with my family. He said, ‘It’s a crying shame.’ He had a hard time to part. ‘It’s a crying shame. I go and leave my child behind.’ And he added, ‘I won’t rest until I manage to get you over there.’
My father had saved some 300 dollars: in three 100 dollar bills. Now he had to pack. The boxes were already gone. Our silver cutlery was in there, too. We packed them in the apartment. I had ordered a crate of beer. The customs officers were drinking, while the Jewish forwarding agent was packing, even my silver candlesticks – it was legal to take them. And we thought that the boxes would be shipped straight ahead, if the customs officers packed directly in the apartment. But as luck would have it, they were opened again at the customs post. They took out all the silver things. But the Jewish packers, as I told you we used a Jewish forwarding agent, repacked them; they succeeded in doing that. So in the end everything was shipped off just fine.
But where do you hide 300 dollars? I had my underwear, the silk one, for instance, which slipped easily, fixed to these clothes-boards you could buy ready-made. It was tied up with pink ribbons, so it would lie properly. My mother had the idea to make such a board – she organized a piece of carton and some colorful fabric embroidered with little roses – and slipped in the 300 dollars. It was not quite as beautiful as the original ones and it was also a bit smaller. Only my parents and I knew where the money was.
My parents, my youngest sister Cilly and I went to Alexanderplatz to check in the luggage. My sister was standing on one side; I was standing on the other. The customs officer took out every single piece and put it next to the suitcase, including the clothes-boards. And all of a sudden he said, ‘So, tell me, where are you hiding your dollars?’ My father was restless, he repeatedly went outside. And my sister said quite unashamedly to his face, ‘You know, if I wanted to smuggle dollars, I’d find a much better way of doing so.’ Upon that he put everything back into the suitcase. My father said, ‘Resi, one 100 dollar bill is yours.’ And he kept that 100 dollar bill until I went to Israel for the first time. However, I never saw my father again. He did learn about the birth of my son, who was born in 1945, but he passed away two years later, in 1947.
My husband said, ‘Nothing can happen to us in Hungary.’ Three weeks after the outbreak of war you had to black out your apartment, and food ration cards were introduced. Of course, Jews got less. Apart from that, we could only go shopping at certain hours and not during the whole day. So then we packed our suitcases and went to Budapest, because my husband claimed in Budapest nothing would ever happen. However, to be on the safe side, I had organized entry permits to Palestine for my children.
We found a small apartment, two rooms and a kitchen, in Ujpest. The boxes with my things from Berlin had already arrived. We had sold the furniture. Those were emergency sales. For my bedroom, which had cost 4,000 marks, I got 400. But I sent things ahead of our departure from Berlin: bed sheets, curtains, silver candlesticks and silver cutlery. For my wedding I had received stuffed quilts, made in Poland. My mother ordered the goose feathers, real ones, there. I wanted a certain size. The average size for a feather bed was 1.40 meters, but I wanted them to be 1.50 meters. So those were made in Poland. In Budapest they had white linings and mine were red. I had also sent some of my things to Israel [then Palestine] with my mother, in case we immigrated to Palestine.
‘Stay in Hungary,’ my parents wrote. Back then you could only enter Palestine if you had a certificate stating that your profession was needed in the country. It was said that we could only enter with capitalist certificates. And this certificate included a capital of so many thousand British pounds. My parents wrote to us, saying that the capital would be deposited for us in Holland so that we could enter as capitalists. Much to our misfortune, though, the Germans invaded Holland.
My sister-in-law gave me her kitchen; she was a rich woman. Then she gave me a table and chairs. And my husband was even able to work. In Berlin, he was self-employed. But he went to Budapest; it was only a 20-minute ride on the tram. Opposite our apartment was a Jewish girls’ school. The Jews in Hungary still lived a good life. My girls had already gone to school in Berlin. The older one had finished four grades of elementary school and the younger one was in first grade back then.
At that time many Jews lived in Budapest, I think around 200,000.
My mother-in-law didn’t approve of me because I wasn’t Hungarian. Her son had married a German and she didn’t like that. But my father-in-law was very nice to me. At the beginning I didn’t know a single word of Hungarian; later I learned the language. In any case, most Hungarians spoke German. My mother-in-law even wrote me letters in German. My husband had a brother, who worked in his father’s bakery; he was also a baker. That brother was my mother-in-law’s favorite. He was the only one who survived the Holocaust; all the others were deported to concentration camps and killed. He inherited an awful lot after the war. A year later he had lost everything because he couldn’t handle money. He maygarized his name. They were called Weisz; I was called Weisz, too. My children, and especially Bessy, said after the war, ‘Let’s bury the hatchet. Family is family.’ They were poor people; this was under communism. My daughters bought children’s clothes for his grandchild. I often visited Budapest, but I didn’t live with them, as they were very poor.
I had a rich friend and his wife there. He had been in the camp with us, that’s where the friendship started. He was wonderful. His name was Ferry and he was a shoemaker. He had his own workshop and made elegant shoes. He died of liver cancer.
My husband went to work, my children went to school, that wasn’t a problem. But I didn’t have any friends, just family. There was the rich daughter, my husband’s sister, who owned two houses and a beautiful store. She often invited us to lunch on the holidays. In 1938 she got baptized, along with a friend of hers, also a rich woman. My sister-in-law only had one son, Stefan – Pista was the short Hungarian version of his name. Her friend had one daughter. My father-in-law was terribly angry that his daughter had got baptized. He had this wry sense of humor, and once he asked the two women, ‘Why did you do this?’ And my sister-in-law’s friend said, in order for her daughter to make a better match. Upon which my father-in-law murmured, ‘Oh, so she can marry a boozy goy [non-Jew]?’
At Christmas, my sister-in-law had a big Christmas tree. She had a cook, she had a shop-assistant in the store; she was elegant; she had fur coats. We all went there for food; we were invited, my Jewish children and I. And all of a sudden this friend of hers lies down under the Christmas tree and says, ‘Oh, what a great feeling to lie underneath a Christmas tree.’ I thought I’d explode! Her daughter, my sister-in-law’s son and the maid had been to church in the morning. And the children came home and showed us the pictures of saints they had got at church. They were ten years old, just like my Bessy. And the little one said how wonderful it was to be a Christian and showed the pictures to my Lilly. Lilly was six or seven at the time. And she spoke very little. The older one was a chatterbox like me, but as for the younger one, what she said hit home. She was standing there, looking at the pictures of the saints. My older daughter was arguing about what was better: to be a Jew or to be a Christian. And the little one just listened and then all of a sudden blurted out: ‘Well, but deep inside there, your blood is Jewish.’
In the evening, my husband and father-in-law sat in the coffee shop and watched the other people play cards. I was at home with the children. It was already dark, when my father-in-law came up to me and said, ‘Resi, I need Michi’s papers. There were detectives in the coffee shop and Michi only had his passport.’ The passport was issued in Berlin. It was a Hungarian passport and still valid for another two years. He proved his identity with this passport and they said that it could’ve been forged and arrested him.
I didn’t have my husband’s certificate of family origin; it had remained in Berlin when he got the passport. The next day everything was quiet. It was Purim. On the second day – my daughter Lilly was in bed, as she didn’t want to go to the Purim celebration at school, and Bessy was at school – I was in the kitchen and was ironing. There was a knock at the door and two men came in. They asked me who I was, introduced themselves, saying they were from the immigration department, and would I be so kind to come with them. They wanted to take me and the children. Lilly was at home, and my neighbor went to fetch Bessy from school. I had a Jewish neighbor and told her to inform my in-laws at the bakery about what had happened, that we had been arrested.
So we went there, but I didn’t give them my passport. After all, they had taken my husband’s passport away. So I didn’t show them my passport. That was out of the question! Then they took my children and me to an internment camp by tram. There my husband saw us. When he saw us he had a crying fit. I tried to comfort him and said, ‘Michi, the main thing is that we are together.’
We lived in barracks built on to the temple. I was allowed to go to our apartment, accompanied by a detective, to fetch bedclothes; I was even allowed to take an eiderdown quilt for the children, so they’d be able to sleep better. There were bunk beds in the barracks. The girls were up top and I slept on the bottom. There were separate barracks for men and women. At daytime we were guarded by detectives, at night by policemen. There were approximately 40 to 50 people there. After some three or fours weeks, they sent us to the province, where they had closed camps at the Czech border. Those were former customs houses. People from the Jewish community came to see us and took care of us. The watchmen were Hungarians.
I still had the exit permits for my children. I always wrote Red Cross letters – via my cousin in Argentina, who forwarded them – and thus we were still in touch with my family in Palestine. My brother-in-law wrote from Palestine: ‘Send the children, please send the children. We will raise them as if they were our own.’ And they were right, in Palestine the children would be safe.
The Jewish community in Budapest organized it all. My sister-in-law had made sure that the children got onto a list and received the entry permit for Palestine. The children got passports that didn’t state a nationality. Lilly didn’t want to leave; she was eight, and Bessy was eleven when they left. In the end, they agreed, but the younger one told me that her sister had beaten her until she said ‘yes.’ This way, she saved her life. I was allowed to accompany the children to Budapest. My husband, who was in the men’s camp, was only allowed to take them to the bus stop. That’s where he said goodbye to them. And that was the last time, the very last time, they saw their father.
We first had to go to the station and take the train to Budapest. A detective fetched and accompanied us. Lilly was standing at the window with tears running down her face. They went to Bulgaria by train, then crossed over into Turkey by ship and from there, went by bus via Syria to Palestine. My parents welcomed them in Palestine. They already had a beautiful apartment there, and took in the children.
On my husband’s death notification it said: cardiac arrest. I was told later that he’d died of spotted fever. He was sent to Russia, to Kiev [today Ukraine], for labor service. They had to dig and search for mines. I was allowed to leave the internment camp and still had the small apartment. I worked for a lawyer, but had to register with the police every eighth day. I was the widow of a laborer. I received a widow’s certificate.
My parents-in-law already lived in my sister-in-law’s house – after all, she had two houses. She took in her parents as well as one sister with her child and another still unmarried sister. Then came the year 1944. Eichmann 19 arrived in Budapest to establish ‘order.’ Because of my green widow’s certificate I was free, and had to register. My husband was dead, so I had advantages. I wanted to see how my husband’s family was; I didn’t want to dissociate myself from them. I went to their place by tram. It was the day Eichmann arrived in Budapest, 21st or 22nd March, I remember that date to this day. When I got off the tram I was arrested.
I was taken to a house, which was filled with some 400 people, all Jews. We were locked up there and no one knew what would happen. We were then crammed into a transport vehicle and we drove and drove and drove. There were no windows, so we didn’t know where we were going. All of a sudden we were unloaded and found ourselves in a huge courtyard. I looked around and saw many captured men on the other side. And there were about 400 of us women. In the middle of the courtyard was a water pump, which we drank from with cupped hands. We were standing there and standing there and it gradually got dark. We were suddenly called into the building, the women separately. An officer sat there, writing down our names. That was arranged alphabetically, by group, starting with the letter ‘A.’ Well, I was one of the last, since my name, Weisz, starts with a ‘W.’ I was among those still standing and waiting outside; we didn’t know what was going to happen, but no one came back out.
In the end it was our turn. We, i.e. those whose name started with a ‘W,’ went inside and there sat this tall, handsome man. Whether he was a policeman, I don’t know, but he wore a light-green uniform. When it was my turn, I put my husband’s death notification on the table and said, ‘I don’t speak Hungarian.’ He looked at me, then looked at the death notification, then looked at me again and said in German, ‘You are an Israelite?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ What else could I say? And he looked at me again. Then he asked me where I was headed. And I said, ‘I wanted to go visit my parents-in-law and that’s when I was brought here.’ I never showed him my passport.
Then we were taken into a huge room and there we were some 400 women again. It was the remand prison of Budapest, close to the Keleti station. It was nighttime. We were locked up, and by that night Budapest had already been bombed: at daytime by the Americans and British, at nighttime by the Russians. We were sitting there and permanently saw the flares the Russians fired before they dropped bombs. The women prayed for the next bomb to hit us. For, you know, we expected the worst, the very worst. We were in there for four days: we had arrived on Tuesday and were released on Friday. They didn’t know where to take us. The men were deported, that we knew. But they didn’t know where to take the 400 women. They didn’t have trains. That was our great fortune.
When they released us we had to give them our addresses, and I was afraid to return to my room. But we had a Viennese friend in Budapest, a widow, who had been married to a Hungarian. The husband had been a Christian and they had a daughter, Susi, who was 15 back then. When she opened the door for me, she couldn’t believe her eyes: ‘Resi, you are alive?’ And what can I say, I opened the door to the room and there sat my future husband, Alfred Rosenstein, with a friend. I knew him from the internment camp. He saw me, and back then we didn’t have a relationship yet, nothing at all, and he came running towards me, hugged me and said, ‘Resi, no one will part us again!’
My [second] husband, Alfred Rosenstein, was born in Vienna on 17th April 1898, the fifth child of Süsie Rosenstein – born in Rohatyn, Galicia ‑ and Beile Rosenstein, nee Bienstock. Süsie, a descendant of ‘HaShalo hakadosh’ [famous rabbi and forerunner of Hasidism], was a tailor or textile dealer and died in 1929. Beile died in London in 1945.
Alfred’s siblings were: Moritz, Franziska, Samuel, Josef, Cilly and Hedi.
Moritz Rosenstein, whom they called Mur, was a chemist and partner of an oil refinery in Vienna. He was on a business trip in London at the time of the Anschluss 20 and remained there. He never returned to Vienna, and died in the 1950s. His daughter, Hanni, lives in Tel Aviv and has two grown-up daughters; his son fell in World War II.
Franziska Wessely, nee Rosenstein, fled from Vienna to Yugoslavia. She lived with false papers in Slovenia and committed suicide when the Ustasha 21 knocked on her door. They, however, only wanted to ask the way to some place they were headed.
Samuel Rosenstein fled to Holland with his wife and two children. He and his family were killed by the Nazis.
Josef Rosenstein was an insurance salesman. He also fled to Yugoslavia, where he was killed by the Ustasha.
Cilly managed to immigrate to Australia via England. She died in 1962. Her daughter, Fairlie Nassau, who was born in 1945, lives in Melbourne and has two grown-up children.
Hedi Pahmer [nee Rosenstein] married a Hungarian and moved to Budapest with him. She was deported to Bergen-Belsen 22 concentration camp, where she survived the war. Afterward she also immigrated to Australia.
Rosa’s son, Zwi Bar-David, nee Georg Rosenstein, shares some memories of his father:
My father’s family lived in Vienna’s third district, on Untere Weißgerberlände. He went to elementary and secondary modern school. In 1916 he was drafted into the k.u.k. army 23 and served as an artilleryman at the Italian front 24. After World War I, he worked with his brother Moritz, played football at Hakoah 25 and spent a lot of time with friends in coffee shops. Until his escape to Hungary he lived with his mother; allegedly he was her ‘spoiled darling.’ During immigration he was in an internment camp, and, following the German invasion, in hiding. He met my mother and her first husband at the camp. Following her husband’s death, they got closer and that’s how I came into the world.
In 1948 Alfred and my mother – they got married in 1947 – and I returned to Vienna. We first got a room in an apartment in the Russian-occupied part of the city. We gradually took over the whole apartment. My father tried to get by as a salesman as best he could. The economical situation, however, only improved somewhat with the beginning of the German reparation payments. Alfred died of stomach cancer in 1961.
I knew my future husband from the camp. He was so charming; the women were crazy about him. My husband first moved in with me. Not only him, a friend of his moved in, too, and then my niece from Hungary came to live with us as well. She had got a Christian birth certificate through a friend, and then fled. Jola was her name, and she was a stunningly beautiful girl. A Christian friend of my parents’-in-law knew my address in Budapest, and so she came to stay with me. My husband shared a bed with his friend and I shared one with her. Later she immigrated to America. She met a widower, whose wife didn’t survive [the Holocaust], and his little son. He fell in love with her and they went to Italy together. She sent me a postcard from Rome, saying that she had married and would go to America with him. She later had four children, two girls and two boys.
We had a mutual acquaintance, a Jew from Yugoslavia, who had been in the camp with us. He had bought false papers a few months earlier. But he looked like ten Jews. Well, he bribed the janitor of a villa and we, nine of us, were then hiding from the mass deportations in one room of that villa. The janitor took money to hide us, he was easy to bribe. In the end, when it was all over, when we were already dancing in the streets, 60 Jews suddenly appeared from the villa next door - the janitor had been hiding them in return for money and jewelry, in coal cellars and what not. This is why I said, in Budapest you could get anything, if you had money.
I knew I was pregnant and I said to myself: either the child will perish with me, or I do something. And my husband said, ‘You won’t do anything. If we survive, we will have a child.’ He didn’t allow me to do anything. But I went to see the doctor in the ghetto anyways. He told me, ‘I won’t do anything! Do you want to die of sepsis?’ You see, he didn’t have instruments, nothing at all. My husband immediately said, ‘There’s no way you are going to do this. We will get married.’ Our son, Georg, was born in Budapest on 27th June 1945. It took a bit longer until we married. At that time, our son was already one-and-a-half years old.
We were lying in the room wearing our coats – there were no windows any more – and all of a sudden I heard a voice speaking into a megaphone: ‘This is the Russian Army. People of Budapest, wait! We will liberate you.’ Budapest is surrounded by a hill. It took days for them to get across. ‘Hold on, we will liberate you.’ That’s what they said in German, Hungarian and Russian. And so we waited. One fine day, it was a Sunday, I was standing at the window, there was a deathly silence and I saw a Russian with a fur hat and machine-gun coming through the garden towards the house. I turned round and said, ‘There’s a Russian here.’ And one guy ran down into the garden and hugged the Russian. When he – his name was Steiner – returned, his watch was missing. But he said, ‘Never mind.’
My girlfriend was hiding somewhere else. She was Czech and was hidden in a coal cellar. She always said, ‘The first Russian horse I see – I will kiss its behind.’
After the liberation, I walked through the city of Budapest, and I was standing at the fence of the temple, watching the Russians bury the dead from the ghetto there. Survivors were allowed to take their dead relatives and bury them privately. Tony Curtis 26, the film actor, who is Hungarian, a Jew from Budapest, had a tree planted there, a beautiful willow that shines like gold. One can have the names of the murdered written on its leaves.
I stayed in Hungary. I said, ‘I won’t go to Vienna until we have our own apartment there.’ And my husband always said that they didn’t have anything to eat there yet, no meat or, well, just pork. I felt fine in Hungary and said, ‘I’ll only leave once we have our own apartment and once there is enough food.’ And so he traveled back and forth, and always came back with the news: not yet, not yet.
Before the war, my husband’s sisters had a restaurant called ‘Grill am Peter,’ which, however, was Aranyzed. Then my husband wanted to put in a claim for reparation payment in order to get back the fortune. The restaurant actually belonged to his eldest sister, who was killed in the Holocaust. She had furnished it for the siblings. My husband’s siblings were in Australia and had handed the restaurant over to the Nazis back then. Upon that, they received a certificate stating that they had received 5,000 marks and could thus immigrate to England legally. One of the sisters married a man and went to Australia with him. The other sister was deported to Bergen-Belsen and survived with severe injuries. She had to learn to walk again and, after that, she also moved to Australia.
My husband filed a lawsuit – back then there were restitution courts. And there were always only two judges. The Aryan who took over the restaurant had died. Her son took it over. At the first hearing my husband was offered 35,000 schillings as reparation. Our lawyer was Dr. Pik, who would later become president of the Jewish community. He had gone to school with my husband. At the second hearing they offered him 65,000 schillings. Then, the lawyer said to my husband, ‘If they are already willing to pay 65,000, there will be more.’ At the third hearing three judges were present. Two said the restaurant had to be returned. You see, my husband didn’t want the money; he wanted the restaurant so that we would be able to build a life for ourselves. The third judge said it wasn’t fair to take away the young man’s livelihood since he didn’t have anything to do with the Aranysation. That was already the attitude back then. The young man got the restaurant because the three judges agreed. My husband didn’t get a cent for the restaurant.
My husband had a certificate stating that he had been persecuted on racist grounds and was in a camp. Back then the districts of Vienna were shared out among the victorious powers. The major of our district was a communist, and my husband was allocated an apartment thanks to this certificate.
Initially, I didn’t want to go to Austria; I wanted to move to my children and parents in Israel. But my husband said that he didn’t have a proper profession to go to Israel. He was a businessman and worked for his brother, who owned a large oil company. He worked as a salesman. That wasn’t the right profession for Israel. There, you had to have money, money to set up on your own. So what was he to do at his age? After all, he was ten years older than me, so not young any more. He wanted to go to Austria to put in a claim for reparation payment and get the money so we could immigrate to Israel.
I stayed in Vienna because I didn’t want my children or relatives to maintain me. I went to Israel for the first time in 1949 with my son. Back then you still went by ship. When my husband got his first reparation payment, which was 16,000 schillings, he said, ‘You go, to see your children.’ The money wasn’t enough for both of us to go.
The journey by ship took five days. It was beautiful. My mother was still alive then. She had a nice two-and-a-half room apartment in Tel Aviv. My sister had a beautiful apartment, directly by the sea, on Hayarkon [a street by the sea in Tel Aviv]. Later, they built hotels there and you couldn’t see the ocean from her apartment any more.
My daughter Bessy was already married to a certain Mr. Aharoni and had a five-month-old baby. She married at the age of 18 while she was in the army, the Israeli army. Later she worked for the city council, taking care of elderly people.
Lilly, who was called Drill after her wedding, came to live with me in Vienna for a year. She was exactly 18 then, that was in 1951. She had gone to school in Israel, but, of course, she could speak German. My mother never learned Hebrew. I never saw my father again, that was terrible. Lilly wanted to become a teacher for handicapped children from the very beginning and went to study for it at a school in Vienna.
My son moved to Israel after his final exams. That was shortly after my husband’s death [in 1961]. He lived in a kibbutz there and studied psychology. He changed his name to Zwi Bar-David. He married Ilana, whose family on the mother’s side is also from Berlin, from Scheunenviertel, and they had two daughters and a son. Because of his son’s muscle illness, he, his wife, my then three-year-old grandson Ofir and their younger daughter, Noemi, moved to Vienna. His older daughter, Noga, lives in Israel and works as a nurse. My grandson did his final exams with very good results this year and currently studies at the Technical University of Vienna.
I didn’t like the Austrians. I always regarded them as Nazis. Once, at the beginning of the 1950s, I spent two months in Israel. When I came back to Vienna and went to my local baker to buy bread, the baker’s wife asked me, ‘Mrs. Rosenstein, where have you been for so long?’ I said, ‘I was in Israel.’ And she looked at me and said, ‘You’re Jewish? You don’t look Jewish!’ Upon which I said, ‘Why, Mrs. Schubert? Because I don’t have horns on my head?’ And she said, ‘For Goodness sake, no, I didn’t mean it like that. We had a supplier, a Jew who supplied flour, and he was a decent person, too.’ That was at the beginning of the 1950s. Nothing much has changed over the years. Haider 27 and Stadler [Ewald, politician from the Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ)], too, give us enough opportunity to think about it. Even if you want to forget, you can’t. We’re confronted with it again and again.
In Germany I didn’t feel any anti-Semitism. I was laughing and joking around with Christian laborers in my father’s workshop. Many of them also knew when our holidays were. I would have loved to go back to Berlin after the war. I think my husband would have liked to go, too. But it wasn’t possible. Then there was his unfortunate sickness: he had cancer and died in 1961 at the age of 63.
I didn’t want to remarry. I was advised to, and there was even this one man, a friend of my husband’s, who proposed to me. My husband had been dead for only two years, it was Christmas, my family lived here and my children were still young. I wasn’t interested. I only had two men in my life, and I know that both loved me. Neither was an arranged marriage; they both got to know me the way I was. My first husband ran after me for a whole year.
I went to Berlin with my sister; back then it was still divided into East and West Berlin. We had an acquaintance from our youth, a neighbor, Sali, who was already in the West, and we wanted to go to East Berlin, our home. You had to change 25 marks into East German marks. And he said, ‘For God’s sake, don’t go, who knows what’s going to happen to you there, you may get into trouble.’ And he talked us out of it. Later I was in East Berlin with my granddaughter. And I didn’t go to the house where we used to live; I simply couldn’t.