From Nazi Germany to America
In the spring of 1998 I was interviewed and videotaped by a representative of the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, and the resulting tapes are now preserved as part of that organization's library of Holocaust testimonies in Los Angeles.
The opening pages of this memoir were used as a basis for the interviewer's questioning and my responses. Steven Spielberg, chairman of the foundation, acknowledged my contribution in the following letter.
Albert Gompertz Palm Beach, Florida July, 1998
27 May 1998
35S9 South Ocean Ave. #905
Palm Beach, FL 33480
Dear Mr. Gompertz,
Thank you for contributing your testimony to Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation. In sharing your story, you have granted future generations the opportunity to experience a direct connection with history.
Your interview will be carefully preserved as an important part of the most comprehensive library of Holocaust testimonies ever assembled. Far into the future, people will be able to see a face, hear a voice, and observe a Life, so that they may listen and learn, and always remember.
Thank you for your invaluable contribution, your strength, and your generosity of spirit.
MAIN OFFICE POST OFFICE Box 3168 • Los ANGELES, CALIFORNIA 90078-3168 - PHONE 818.777-7802 FAX 818.733-0312
I am writing this autobiography and family history for my children and their children — and their children to follow — so they will have a record of their roots. They and I have much to be proud of — such as our heritage and the history of the Gompertz name.
The Gompertz name can be traced back prior to the 16th Century in Germany. There are many books which feature and trace the name, such as "Die Familie Gompertz" by Kaufman-Freudenthal, published in Frankfurt am Main by Kommissionsverlage von J. Kaufman. It traces the name to Emmerich und Cleve (in district Düsseldorf), and also details a Variation of the Gumpel and Gumperts names. (This book is in my possession as a gift of Gertrud Hertz, daughter of Julius Gompertz.)
Another book, which has a wealth of history of our branch of the family Gompertz, is called "Denkwürdigkeiten der Glückel von Hameln", translated from the Jewish-German with explanations. It was written by Dr. Alfred Feilchenfeld (with 25 pictures) and published by Jüdischer Verlag, Berlin in 1923. This is a 4th edition, first published in 1913. Copies of some pages from this book, with comments by Julius Gompertz, are also in my possession.
My Great Grandparents Gumpel Gompertz and Henriette Sternefeld/Gompertz
Further, I have a copy of a Gompertz family tree which goes back to Alexander Gompertz, who was born in 1765 in Issum and died in Geldern in 1828. He was the grandfather of my great grandfather, Gumpel Gompertz, who was born in Uerdingen (outside Krefeld) in 1820. He and his wife, Jetta Sternfeld/Gompertz, born in Goch in 1829, had 9 children (8 sons and one daughter) of which my Grandfather Albert was the oldest. Two of my grandfather's brothers and their wives, Max Gompertz and Ilse, and Gottfried Gompertz and Rosalie, were deported and killed by the Germans in 1942 in the extermination camp in Minsk. In addition to my father's two uncles and their wives, seven out of 24 of my father's first cousins were killed by the Germans.
Ernst and Edith Schaffrath (he was the son of Tante Malchen) were exterminated in Izbica in 1942 at the ages of 41 and 39. Alfred Lorant, son-in-law of Tante Malchen, was killed after being imprisoned in Dachau in 1938. Ernst Bernheim and wife Henriette, daughter of Max Gompertz, were exterminated in Auschwitz in 1942, and Walter Sternfeld wife Klara, also a daughter of Max Gompertz, were exterminated in Mauthausen in 1942. Also in my possession is an oil Menorah which has been handed down from generation to generation and has been in the Gompertz family for over 450 years.
Fish Wholesale Isidor Isacson, Gelsenkirchen
Here I want to take notice of my mother's history. Her father, Isidor Isaacksohn (in later years changed to Isacson) was born in Libau, Latvia (but Russian at the time) on September 15, 1875, and he married Flora Masur. She was born in Lissau-Posen, part of Russia at the time, on the 7th of December, 1876. They moved to Rotterdam, Holland, where my mother was born on December 20, 1900. A few years later they moved to Gelsenkirchen, Germany, where Grandfather Isacson started a substantial fish wholesale and distributing business. Isidor and Flora had five more children (altogether three sons and three daughters). Both of my mother's parents were deported from Holland (they moved back there in 1936) and died in the German extermination camp called Sobibor on May 28, 1943.
Anybody reading these memoirs at this time will realize that our family did, indeed, have a history to be proud of. But, understandably, I prefer to forget my German heritage and have good reason to hate anybody and everybody German, with very few exceptions.
MY LIFE STORY
With Special Emphasis on My Childhood in Nazi Germany: A Warning to Present and Future Generations
The police arrested me on November 10, 1938, the morning following Kristallnacht when most of the synagogues were burned and Jewish-owned Stores and businesses throughout Germany had been viciously smashed or destroyed. Along with other Jewish men in my neighborhood, I was taken to the police Station nearby and locked up. (I learned later that my father also had been arrested and jailed that day in Gelsenkirchen, our family home.)
When this incident took place, I was boarding with a family named Lewin and attending the vocational College for the textile industry in Cottbus, Germany, about 35 miles east of Berlin. Adolf Hitler had launched his anti-Semitic campaign after becoming chancellor in January, 1933, and by this time, in 1938, Jews in Germany had been excluded from most professions; they were required to carry identity cards, and were forced to include in their names "Israel" or "Sara" to indicate they were Jews. But despite these measures, the Nazi persecution campaign was paralyzed because certain German ministries were expressing doubts and demanding clarifications from the government. On the other hand, radicals were calling for more drastic action against the Jews.
Synagogue burns in Gelsenkirchen on Nov.9/10,1938
Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass) was triggered by a young Jew, Herschel Grynspan, who on November 7 had shot a member of the German embassy staff in Paris in retaliation for the deportation of his parents to Poland. When Hitler learned of the Paris assassination, he discussed it with his Propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels, and Goebbels then made an inflammatory speech warning that the German people would seek revenge for the murder. The Nazi party and the army were ordered by Hitler to express "spontaneously" the peoples outrage at this Jewish crime. On November 9, the army took to the streets in uniform and gleefully set to work, as did ordinary German gentiles and school children. (Even one of my own teachers led a group of students breaking Windows.) On the night of November 9-10, at least ninety-nine German Jews were murdered. The Gestapo Chief, Heinrich Himmler, ordered 20.000-30.000 wealthy Jews to be arrested and sent to concentration camps pending expulsion from Germany. I was lucky. By instinct, I guess it was, I pointed out to the Police Chief at the jail in Cottbus that I was only 16 (although I was just five days Short of being 17). Fortunately for me, he was not a hardliner and permitted me to be released because of my age. This was an exceptional break for me because most of the men with whom I was arrested, including one of my classmates, were sent to concentration camps.
After being freed, I returned to the Lewin house and spent the night there, then took a train back to Gelsenkirchen because, as a Jew, I would not be permitted to continue school. From the train window as we proceeded through the towns I was shocked and frightened as I saw the smashed store windows and the burned remains of synagogues.
When I arrived home, my father was still in jail and I was shocked even further when I saw that our family store had been smashed. I learned that the Inventory of furs had been thrown into the street and that my brother Fritz was humiliated by a jeering crowd when he swept up the broken Window glass from the sidewalk.
After spending a full week in jail, my father was released to face the harsh fact that the government would no longer permit him to operate the business which had been established by his father in 1889. He was obliged to turn over the business to his master furrier, a gentile. Father was permitted to liquidate his inventory for some small amount of cash - and this was the sad end of a 50-year old family enterprise.
Further, I have a copy of a Gompertz family tree which goes back to Alexander Gompertz, who was born in 1765 in Issum and died in Geldern in 1828. He was the grandfather of my great grandfather, Gumpel Gompertz, who was born in Uerdingen (outside Krefeld) in 1820. He and his wife, Jetta Sternfeld/Gompertz, born in Goch in 1829, had 9 children (8 sons and one daughter) of which my Grandfather Albert was the oldest. Two of my grandfather's brothers and their wives, Max Gompertz and Ilse, and Gottfried Gompertz and Rosalie, were deported and killed by the Germans in 1942 in the extermination camp in Minsk.
In addition to my father's two uncles and their wives, seven out of 24 of my father's first cousins were killed by the Germans. Ernst and Edith Schaffrath (he was the son of Tante Malchen) were exterminated in Izbica in 1942 at the ages of 41 and 39. Alfred Lorant, son-in-law of Tante Malchen, was killed after being imprisoned in Dachau in 1938. Ernst Bernheim and wife Henriette, daughter of Max Gompertz, were exterminated in Auschwitz in 1942, and Walter Sternfeld's wife Klara, also a daughter of Max Gompertz, were exterminated in Mauthausen in 1942.
Also in my possession is an old Menorah which has been handed down from generation to generation and has been in the Gompertz family for over 450 years. Here I want to take notice of my mother's history. Her father, Isidor Isaacksohn (in later years changed to Isacson) was born in Libau, Latvia (but Russiat at the time) on September 15, 1875, and he married Flora Masur. She was born in Lissau-Posen, part of Russia at the time, on the 7th of December, 1876. They moved to Rotterdam, Holland, where my mother was born on December 20, 1900. A few years later they moved to Gelsenkirchen, Germany, where Grandfather Isacson started a substantial fish wholesale and distributing business. Isidor and Flora had five more children (altogether three sons and three daughters). Both of my mother's parents were deported from Holland (they moved back there in 1936) and died in the German extermination camp called Sobibor on May 28, 1943. Anybody reading these memoirs at this time will realize that our family did, indeed, have a history to be proud of. But, understandably, I prefer to forget my German heritage and have good reason to hate anybody and everybody German, with very few exceptions.
HISTORY OF THE GOMPERTZ FAMILY
Advertisement in the Gelsenkirchener Allgemeine Zeitung (Daily Newspaper) on February 8, 1916. Click the Photo to learn more about the Gompertz' store and factory in Gelsenkirchen 1909. (PDF-Document)
My father was born January 15, 1887, in Krefeld, Germany, and was two years old when his father, Albert, founded Albert Gompertz Furs in 1889. My father became active in the business in 1909, following completion of his compulsory military Service. The business was started in a location on a minor business street, then moved once to a better location, and in 1909 my grandfather found the location at 22 Bahnhofstrasse at the corner of Klosterstrasse in the center of Gelsenkirchen's main business street. It was a four-story commercial and residential building. The retail store and showrooms were on the street level with 12 large show Windows. The factory was adjoining the showrooms and extended into a part of the building three stories high which in turn extended into the Klosterstrasse.
My grandparents graves in Gelsenkirchen 1934.
The second floor held the large living quarters of my grandparents. My grandfather died of influenza in 1920, and my Grandmother Sophie continued to live in that apartment until 1927. The third floor, which was to become my birthplace on November 15, 1921, was my parents' apartment. The fourth floor was rented out, and the attic contained the living quarters of my nursemaid and our other household help. Upon my birth, my father hired a full-time nursemaid who had previously been caring for the Prince of Hessen. Her name was Henny Rohrbach (a gentile) and she stayed with us until 1936 when Jews were no longer allowed to employ non-Jews. She remained loyal to us and only after 1936 did she marry Herr Finke. She cared for the graves of our grandparents and, at the invitation of my parents, even came to Visit us in New York after World War II.
Albert, Fritz and Rolf Gompertz on January 15, 1929
My parents had three boys: Albert (myself), the first-born, then Fritz born April 13, 1924, and on November 28, 1928, Rolf.
My grandfather, who had seven brothers and one sister, had moved from Krefeld to Gelsenkirchen upon his marriage to Sophie Rubens, a native of Gelsenkirchen, on April 7, 1886. The store and factory closed for lunch each day, as was the custom in Europe and partially still is, so the noon meal became a family gathering time and the main meal of the day except on Fridays, when at night we had a festive Shabbat dinner which included all the ceremonies and prayers. And, since the store stayed open late at night six days a week, after the noon meal there was time for a nap. An additional benefit to the central location of our home and business was that when my brothers and I reached school age, we were within walking distance of our school building. This would remain our family home until 1939.
MY MOTHER'S HISTORY: THE ISACSONS
Betty and Leo Gompertz wedding in January 1921
This becomes a good time for me to talk about my mother and her childhood and life prior to her marriage to my father. When they were married in Gelsenkirchen, January 23, 1921, father wrote literally dozens of topical verses and songs to be read and sung at the wedding celebration in Düsseldorf, all of which give us more knowledge of her background. Here is one of 41 verses (which rhymes in German but not in English):
As guests at the wedding here, joyful and full of pleasure are all of us;
Leo smiles shrewdly and sly, because now Betty is his wife.
Betty is only 20 years old, and Leo 34 years indeed,
But when faithful at heart and soul, this does not matter.
Father later composed a poem, and in doing so he provided us with a Short but Informative biography of mother. Following are a few portions of his special tribute (the phrases rhymed in German):
"It happened in the year 1900 on the 20th of December, that in Holland, specifically Rotterdam, the Harbor town, a girl with brown eyes was born. The parents had counted on a birth (boy), but everybody came to celebrate and feast: the grandparents, uncles and aunts, as was the custom in Holland. Everybody agreed the child would be bright, because of her eyes and kindliness. Father Isidore (Isaak)* was pleased, and mother Flora was happy, and they named the child Betty — and that they all celebrated about.
*Note: Mother's father, Isidore, was born in Libau (Russia at that time), one of six children. Her mother Flora's maiden name was Mazur and she was one of 12 children born in Lissau, Russia. They and many of their family settled in Rotterdam, where Betty was born. Both Isidore and Flora were killed May 28, 1943, at Sobibor, an extermination camp near Auschwitz.
Betty Isacson, 1920
"From Rotterdam, Holland, moving to Gelsenkirchen, Germany, Betty was anxious, uneasy and feit oppressed, even though she had friends and was very popular, studious and ambitious in school (even more so than average children were). Beloved by her teachers, she was at the top of her class, but she remained modest and was no friend of praise. In Düsseldorf, the city of flowers, she received her secondary education. To learn the social graces and the subjects' important to young women so that she would be acceptable in the best social circles, she was sent to a girls' boarding school, Martha Marcus House, in Baden-Baden. There she studied Cooking, Literature and Music, and everything else that a young woman should know. And from Mrs. Marcus she learned to be thrifty and save; something who followed all her life. In the boarding school Betty was taught what was considered Kosher.
"When she was 18, Betty returned to Gelsenkirchen, Kosher in mind and body to Leo's luck . . . Together we experienced and acquired many things, some that can be forgotten, but more that will remain with us forever. Short seems the time when we look back, but long seemed the way when we started to build our future and Life. Think of childhood, schools and boarding school, and think of all the beautiful things your parents gave you ..."
"Betty, remain like you are today, young — never count yourself amongst the old. Let us celebrate you in this intimate circle . . . Happiness to you always! — Leo"
When Albert Gompertz married Sophie Rubens and moved there in 1889, Gelsenkirchen was already a substantial city flourishing on the mining of coal and iron. My father received his education in the state-operated Jewish Elementary School and the Gymnasium High School, both in Gelsenkirchen, and his Apprenticeship was served in Krefeld and Düsseldorf.
Betty and Leo Gompertz with Albert, Rolf and Fred in Gelsenkirchen 1930
LEO GOMPERTZ: A STRONG ACTIVIST
Father was a man of strong convictions and high ideals and was taught by his mother as well as his grandparents what it meant to be a Jew. He became a regular and active supporter of Jewish causes. Almost immediately after joining his father's business, while in his early twenties, he took over the chairmanship in Gelsenkirchen of the Jewish Youth Organization, which was part of the Neutral Jewish Youth Organization headquarter in Berlin.
In Gelsenkirchen, because there were many large businesses owned by Jews, there was a sizeable number of non-native Jewish employees of both sexes living there. A relationship between these "outside" employees and the native-born Jews of the city hardly existed and was not really looked for. My father's first goal as chairman was to establish a closer bond between these two groups.
The introduction of organized activities on Friday evenings (Shabbat) and a Passover Seder proved successful, even though the academic segment of our Jewish citizenry (doctors, lawyers, etc.) were at first reluctant to participate. The preconceived prejudice against the employees disappeared or at least diminished when my father's Gelsenkirchen JYO joined with the youth Organization in Essen, a neighboring larger city, to found the Rhineland/Westphalia and branch of the JYO. The new branch undertook travels and tours for members and successfully demonstrated that the youth of both sexes could work together. Lectures and discussion groups drew Jewish leaders to meetings of my father's Organization and the membership grew significantly both locally and regionally. However, the JYO, because of its politically neutral position, did not have a unified voice until it was recognized as a full member of the Jewish Congregation. It then was able to act positively and independently and further its cause and belief that youth must manage itself.
Photograph taken during the first world war, Leo Gompertz and his brother in law Josef Stamm in German Army Uniforms, in 1916. From left to right Josef Stamm, his daughter and my cousin, Ruth Stamm, my aunt Betty Stamm
( Leo's sister), Standing: Leo Gompertz next to him a sister of my grandmother named Rubens(first name not available) next to her my Grandmother Sophie Rubens Gompertz and my Grandfather Albert Gompertz
Father's group activities, of course, changed with the outbreak of World War I in 1914, when he and all of those subject to military duty were summoned to Service in the German Forces. Forty-three of my father's young Jewish friends from Gelsenkirchen gave up their lives as soldiers between 1914 and 1918 with the hope that their sacrifice would be recognized. However, already in 1917, the counting of Jews in the German Army was begun by Admiral Ludendorff, and the hatemongering against the Jewish soldiers was underway. The fact was that Jews served in a percentage larger than their percentage of the total German population. While he spoke very little about his time in the infantry, he was awarded the Iron Cross for his service in the front line trenches. He was discharged in 1918.
Membercard number one of the RJF for Leo Gompertz.
In 1919, he helped form the German Jewish Front Veterans Organization and served as President of the Rhein/Westfalen district. This Organization was established to defend the Jews against the accusations by forerunners of the Nazi party that Jews did not to their part in defending the "Fatherland."
The attacks against the Jews started during World War I with the order to count the Jews serving in the German Army. This order was given by the Commanding General Ludendorff and motivated Dr. Leo Löwenstein, the famous inventor, to found the "Reichsbund Jewish Front Soldiers" as a defense against the defamations and slander by the anti-Semites. Members of the RJF wore a lapel button bearing the initials "RJF" until the Nazi Youth Organization forbade this practice.) After that, members just wore a pain lapel button in the shape of a sheld. Under this sign meetings and discussions took place. The Organization saw the strengthening of the German Jewish youth through a sports club for athletic and gymnastic competition. They also founded farm Settlements to care for all needy veterans and victims of the Nazi persecution. The camp Haus Berta became a Mecca for Jewish youth during the Hitler period. One of the most important accomplishments of the RJF was the Publishing of a book listing the names of 12.000 Jewish German soldiers who lost their lives in World War I. This book was published shortly before Hitler took power in Germany on January 30, 1933, and carried a foreword and dedication by General Field Marshall von Hindenburg.
1925: Dedication of RJF (National Organization of Jewish Soldiers) In Cologne (Köln) in Memory of 12.000 Jewish Soldiers killed in the First World War while serving in the German Army
Jewish Cemetery in Cologne-Bocklemünd today
NEW CHALLENGES FOR JEWS
After the war, my father's work for the JYO earned him a Position on the board of the Jewish Congregation. New challenges arose for Jews in Germany, but unfortunately many Jews closed their eyes to the problem or did not want to face the true facts. This led to dissention among their own number, particularly when it came to speaking out and insisting on one's rights to his Jewish orientation. In the summer of 1920, an anti-Jewish group called the German people Organization published in their Düsseldorf newspaper, THE TRUTH, a call for a mass demonstration in Gelsenkirchen. They sent their members and urged others to attend. Ironically, their meeting took place in the Protestant Community Center where, many years prior, my father's Jewish Youth Organization had held their gatherings. The board of the Central Organizations for Jews, headquartered in Essen, selected a group of five representatives (of which my father was one) to attend the meeting.
Since, as a businessman from Gelsenkirchen, father was especially familiar with the people attending, it was his Job to observe and take notes particularly relative to the industrialists who came. To his unpleasant surprise, and later to the detriment of his business, he discovered that in addition to other industrialists, the Director of Commerce and many lawyers and doctors were in attendance.
When the leader of the meeting (with whom my father had had previous confrontations) noticed my father in attendance, he sent a young man to father's seat to demand that father leave the meeting hall. My father responded that with the purchase of his ticket of admission he had the right to remain until the meeting was declared a membership meeting and not open to the public. The leader then declared the meeting was for members only and father left the hall without Incident. After he left, however, many of father's non-Jewish friends did not agree with the presiding officer's decision and a general fight and brawl broke out.
Since my father was the best known among the Jews present at the meeting, the Organization filed charges against "Leo Gompertz and companions" for breach of the peace and "bodily harm." During the trial, father recognized many of his former schoolmates as witnesses for the anti-Jewish Organization. The charges were finally dismissed both by the judicial Office in Gelsenkirchen and the regional office in Essen.
JEWISH INDUSTRIALISTS AND DEPARTMENT STORE OWNERS IGNORE WARNING SIGNALS
My father later recalled that these first confrontations with the forerunners of Hitler's criminals were mostly ignored by his Jewish contemporaries. In a letter on this subject in 1965 father wrote, "The Jewish capitalists were of the opinion that these incidents should be minimized and ignored to avoid direct confrontations and not give new material to these thugs and opponents. They were satisfied to issue memorandums and leaflets which they distributed through the Democratic and Social Democratic parties, but these efforts had little effect. Even a meeting organlzed by my father and supported by many organizations and their offidals, held in the large hall of City Hall in Gelsenkirchen, did not find the necessary attention. However, more than 1,500 gentiles did participate and Hastened to important Speakers from Berlin and other parts of Germany, all of whom were opposed to the takeover of the government by Hitler and his hordes.
At this meeting, my father suggested that the Jews drive through the towns and villages on trucks to protest the government oppression, but the idea was considered a confrontation and was voted down.
This type of division among the Jews on what action could be taken was to continue until January 31, 1933, the day Hitler became Chancellor. On that day, many opponents of protest had their eyes opened when the first "boycott groups" (calling for the boycott of specific Jewish businesses) were posted in front of my father's store entrance. His business was one of those listed.
The next wakeup call came with the government announcement that on April 1, 1933, all businesses owned by Jews had to close for the day. Almost all provindal representatives of the Central Organization of Jews traveled to Berlin to a secret meeting which took place under tight security in the headquarters of the Central Verein. Several Organization members, including my father, from the provinces of Rheinland and Westfalen, attended. They took the night train to Berlin on March 28. During the main meeting, discussions centered on what action should or could be taken in response to the boycott.
A motion was made to approach the Reichsministerium and ask that all Jews be granted passports to leave the country. The motion was supported by my father and his group, and it seemed that the proposal would be approved. A recess was called to consult with the Chief Rabbi of Germany who was also head of all German Jewish organizations. Dr. Leo Baeck declared himself Willing to go to the Ministry of the Interior and bring the passport Suggestion to Minister Hermann Göring. (In 1933 such a move was still possible.)
Dr. Baeck deferred the final decision to the vote of the meeting, and after Dr. Baeck left, the discussion continued. However, the wealthiest and most successful in the Organization finally vetoed to idea and called those who had proposed it in the first place including my father), cringers, ass kissers and deserters. Max Blank, a member of my father's delegation, then made a motion to close their businesses not just for one day, but to keep the stores closed for at least one week. That idea was also voted down.
The chairman closed this "memorable" meeting with a personal Statement: "Once April 1st has fortunately passed us, I will go to the Synagogue and say my thanks in prayer."
Reprint from the Gelsenkirchener Zeitung of May 5, 1933. Translation of above: We Frontsoldiers, as owners of the following listed businesses, must strongly object to the accusation by the Combat Group of the Professional Middle Class, that we are "Enemies of the National Government" signed: Former Jewish Front Soldiers, Gelsenkirchen (RJF)
The delegates returned to their hometowns on the afternoon and evening of March 31 in order to be present on the morning of April 1st, and to report the results of the meeting and gather Information about the boycott event. When my father left the train in Gelsenkirchen, he observed some of the "brave" owners of the largest stores getting on an express train to travel west in order to absent themselves from the local area.
Throughout this difficult period of time, my father and his business friends continued their fight against government oppression. When all local officals of the government were forbidden to do business with, or buy from, Jewish-owned stores, father's group protested through an advertisement in the leading Gelsenkirchen newspapers. The advertisement was placed with good Intentions on behalf of all Jews — not Just business.
Since my father was President of the Reichsbund Jewish Frontsoldiers, he was the first to be retaliated against. The Essener General Newspaper called "Der Stürmer", official newspaper of the Nazi Party in the Gelsenkirchen area, published an article entitled, "The Shameful Behavior in the Frontlines of the Jew Leo Gompertz." The article, a pure fabrication from beginning to end, was under the name of First Lieutenant Fritz Hohnroth, who claimed to have been a colonel. At the time of the article he was a physical education teacher at the Realgymnasium in Gelsenkirchen (and two years later was to become my own teacher). His Ire against my father originated during World War I when father instead of Hohnroth was chosen to go to Gelsenkirchen to collect gift packages for their infantry battalion which had originated in Gelsenkirchen.
In the years following, my father's business was constantly boycotted and singled out for harassment by the Stormtroopers (SA). Considering these abuses, the question might be asked why at this point he did not take his family and leave Germany. The reason was that he agreed with the Position of the Central Jewish Organization which felt that to emigrate meant to desert other Jews — in effect abandon the entire Jewish Population. This same Position was preached in the German synagogues.
In 1919, he helped form the German Jewish Front Veterans Organization and served as President of the Rhein/Westfalen district. This Organization was established to defend the Jews against the accusations by forerunners of the Nazi party that Jews did not to their part in defending the "Fatherland."
Donation for Haus Berta. Click the Photo to learn more about, see Photographs and a Reprint from the German Newspaper Shalom after war (PDF-Document)
In 1935, because Jewish youth could no longer go to fresh air camps or youth hostels, my father founded a Jewish youth camp, Haus Berta, under the auspices of the RJF (National Organization of Jewish Front Soldiers). Haus Berta could accommodate more than 200 young people at one time.
During the summer of 1937, a major event occurred which confirmed my father's suspicions of intensifying anti-Semitism within the government. Industrialist Kierdorf, the first and most important financial supporter of Hitler, died, and on the day of his funeral Hitler and all the other prominent leaders of the Nazi movement, such as Göring and Himmler along with hordes of Stormtroopers, marched through Gelsenkirchen and threatened to destroy the center of town because it was dominated by Jewish-owned businesses.
On October 28, 1938, without warning, all Jews with Polish citizenship or who were born in Poland were suddenly arrested and deported — even while some of their children were still in school. Thereupon my father summoned his friends to the Office of the Jewish Congregation to accept into their homes the suddenly abandoned children. Since my father had us three sons at the time, he took one child into our home. The boy's name was Grünspan, but not related to the Grynszpan in Paris who triggered Kristallnacht by shooting Vom Rath at the German Embassy. (Grynszpan's parents had been deported to Poland on October 28, and on November 7, Grynspahn, who lived in Paris at the time, went to the German Embassy to shoot the German Ambassador. The ambassador was not in Paris at the time, therefore he shot the next in command, Vom Rath.)
A thank-you note to my father was the last sign of life from the abandoned boy's parents.
LAST WARNING BEFORE THE FINAL SOLUTION
Some years later, my father wrote the following account of his personal experiences on Kristallnacht:
I was prepared for Kristallnacht after the murder at the Paris embassy. Before I left my business on November 9, I organized my desk and made the necessary arrangements for my wife. Kristalnacht supposedly was caused by the "boiling soul of the German people," but in reality it was organized by Göbbels and Göring and carried out by the Stormtroopers in their long black rubber coats and boots. They carried long crowbars and systematically smashed the show Windows of all Jewish-owned businesses, including the nine large display Windows of my store. I remained in my apartment above the store waiting to be taken into "protective" custody.
I received a telephone call advising me that our synagogue was on fire. From my upstairs window I could see the flames and the fire trucks that came only to protect the neighboring buildings; they did nothing to stop the fire in the synagogue.
Then came the moment: a Stormtrooper officer came to the apartment with three of his men. They first searched for hidden weapons and took me away. My two boys were asleep and I said goodbye to my brave wife. (My oldest son Albert was away at school in Cottbus, east of Berlin, and I did not know his fate. I was taken to the prison at police headquarters. As I left my building I saw the broken Windows with the valuable merchandise in the street. I was placed in a cell along with thirteen other men, some who had been beaten bloody. We shared the space and made the best of our circumstances.
The police stood guard that night with rifles at their sides but they were not allowed to contain the Stormtroopers who kept on destroying and rioting. The commanding police commissioner greeted us with words to the effect: Today you, tomorrow us. What those words meant and held for the future neither we nor he could foresee.
Around midnight a representative of the duty appeared and requested Mr. Ewald Elsbach and me to sign a document authorizing the tearing down of the burned out synagogue and Community center. We refused to sign the document giving as our reason that only the President of the Congregation and our Rabbi Dr. Siegfried Galliner had the right to give this authorization. (Dr. Galliner at the time was in the house of the President of the Zionist Party in Gelsenkirchen. None of the Jewish residents in this house were arrested.)
At noon on the tenth of November, Herr Honroth, who several years earlier had been a teacher of my son Albert, lead a gang of high school students into my store and completely destroyed the interior and anything that had not been destroyed the previous night. My Jewish employees were made to clean up and remove the glass fragments with their bare hands. My second son Fritz (Fred), who was 14 years old at the time and had worked as an apprentice in my factory, was also commanded to help in the cleanup.
At this time I must add that the greatest praise belongs to our Jewish women who during this period, without shedding a tear, managed to instill respect into these thugs who had beaten their men bloody. With their spirits Intact our women did all they could to free their men as soon as possible.
Between the 15th and 18th of November, 1938, all Jews arrested in Gelsenkirchen were released without being sent to a concentration camp, but, in many cases elsewhere, Jewish men were sent to concentration camps for weeks or months. There they were beaten and starved and many died or came back crippled. I received an order to sell my house to an appointed "interested party' and never to reopen my business. Further, I was ordered to emigrate as soon as possible.
PREPARING TO EMIGRATE
When father was ordered to liquidate his business and abandon ownership of the house without any reimbursement, he was permitted to Charge some nominal amount of money for his Inventory, but not anywhere near its value — it was practically pennies. When this was done he began to pack our personal belongings in storage Containers which hopefully he would be able to move to America, but he did not yet have an exit Visa from Germany or an entrance visa to any other country. The boxes were placed in a large wagon for transport but it never made it out of Europe. (We learned later that It was destroyed or plundered in the Invasion of Belgium, so we never saw any of our personal things again.)
Prior to this, around 1936, father had applied for a visa to enter the United States where my mother's father, Isidore Isacson, had a second cousin, Anita Loew, a singing teacher, who lived in New York. (At one time she sang at the La Scala Opera in Milan, Italy.) She came twice to Germany to see if she could help us. We needed an affidavit of support before we could even apply to the American embassy for a visa. Unfortunately, she did not have that much money so she needed time to find others to assist her. Eventually, she was able to meet the financial requirements and it was through her that we were able to apply for the entry visa.
While he was liquidating his business, father managed to handle all the necessary paperwork with the police and get temporary visas for my brother Fritz and me to leave Germany and go to a refugee camp which the Dutch had set up in Holland. My youngest brother Rolf, who was ten years old at the time, had already been smuggled across the border by a non-Jewish Dutchman who entered Holland for a Visit and took Rolf along. So Rolf was out of the country and was Iiving with his grandparents. But even though my mother's parents lived in Holland, she didn't have an entrance visa to Holland because the Dutch, too, were very restrictive as they were afraid they would have more people Coming in than they could handle. Also at that time my father was still closing out his business, so neither of our parents could leave with us.
Click the Photo to learn more about, see some of the clearance Documents to apply my passport. (PDF-Document)
Nonetheless, on January 9, 1939, Fritz and I were allowed to take a train to Holland and stay at the camp while waiting to be joined by our parents and for the arrival of our visas for entry into the United States. Before I could leave Germany I was required to have (actually) a dozen or more clearance papers from each place I had lived in Germany: Gelsenkirchen, Aachen and Cottbus, from each city's Police Department and the Finance Department, plus the necessary passport. At that time, the name "Israel" was added to my first name so no one could overlook the fact that I was a Jew.
My Identification card as transient refugee in Holland.
When we finally cleared the German border, we were registered by the Dutch as transitional immigrants and sent to the refugee camp which was near Rotterdam. While the Dutch treated us well, we could not leave the camp even though our grandparents (with whom Rolf was staying) and aunts and uncles were Citizens living in Holland, and we were only 14 and 17 years of age. Naturally, we, along with everybody else, were required to perform various housekeeping chores. Some people were assigned cooking duties and other work. (It was much Iike being in the Army, which I found out a few years later.)
My pass to leave camp to visit my grandparents until my sailing for America on 9-3-1939.
When our parents finally could leave Germany somewhere around March of 1939, we were reunited in a different camp called Vluchtelingenkamp "Lloyd Hotel", located near the main railroad Station and near the freight yards at the harbor in Amsterdam. There we were quartered in a converted, abandoned factory building and were segregated in dormitories. Only a few married couples had private rooms. While the accommodations were far from luxurious, actually rather primitive, we were all happy to be out of Germany and together again. Everybody there was waiting impatiently for their entry visas to the various countries they had applied to: many to South America; Cuba; Shanghai, China, and the U.S.A. The local Jewish Community was supportive to the camp and, among other things, helped stage entertainment and make necessary contacts with the various consulates on behalf of refugees.
Occasionally, those like us who had relatives living in Holland, would receive day passes to Visit them. But it wasn't until August, 1939, when my mother and we three boys finally received our entry visas to the U. S. that we were allowed not only to Visit but to stay with our grandparents, which we did until the day of departure, September 3rd. We had received the visas because mother, being born in Holland, was under the Dutch quota and we boys were under age 18. My father, though, had not obtained his Visa since he came under the more restrictive German quota, so he was unable to leave with us. However, he was permitted to stay with us the last week, but then had to return to the camp. (He was fortunate to receive the Visa in January of 1940, just a few months before the German hordes invaded the Lowlands, including Holland.)
Photograph of the last time the Isacson's and Gompertz and all their children met in Velsen, Holland. Two days before Albert, Fritz Rolf and their mother Betty sailed for America. It was also the day the Germans invaded Poland. From the left to right: standing Fella Goldschmidt, next Rita and Ernst Heymanson, then Betty, Albert and Leo Gompertz, Sophie and Max (Marcel) Isacson, Hilde and Herbert Isacson, Bep Weynshenk with her fiancee (at that time) Lutz Isacson. Seated on left our grandmother Flora Isacson, Fritz Gompertz (in center) and seated on right grandfather Isidor Isacson, seated in front Ellen Heymanson and Rolf Gompertz.
The M.S. Statendam III in Rotterdam 1939. In the first days of May 1940 while laid up at Rotterdam, the Statendam III was bombed and destroyed by the German Luftwaffe.
SAILING TO AMERICA
Our family spent the last day together, September 2nd, at Uncle Herbert's house in Velsen. Ironically, this was the same day that England declared war on Germany. The next day my father brought the family to the dock in Rotterdam where we boarded the M. S. Statendam for our long-awaited journey to America. At some point during our farewell excitement and before returning to the refugee camp, father secretly gave two letters to the ship's Purser to be delivered to my mother at the breakfast table the following morning.
Here are portions of my father's thoughtful and caring letters which the Purser gave to my mother as requested.
My Beloved Betty,
Good morning ... I wish you a hearty appetite at the first breakfast on the high seas. In my spirit I sit with you at your table and notice how you, dear Betty, proudly look at your boys, and the few low passengers try to determine whether you are the nursemaid or sister. But I hope that very quickly they will notice your motherly concern and realize the true facts.
In the last months and weeks so much remained unspoken between us, but I truly feel and know that we nevertheless understood each other. I therefore hope that in my thoughts I will always be with you to offer my advice and Council whenever you feel the need for such — so that you will always be able to Visualize how I would feel about matters which you will have to decide on your own.
Yes, my dear Betty, after all I can no longer call you "dear child" — or maybe yes??? After almost 19 years of marriage, you begin this great voyage across the ocean with the boys, but without me because this terrible criminal In Germany forced us to this decision. What I feel this minute I know I do not have to put into words and do not have to put on paper. You know that I always wanted to take care of the needs of my family, since the wellbeing of my family was in the end more important than outward successes. To know you are all alone at this moment with the worMes about your future and that of our sons, even though I am alive, seems like a bad dream to me.
I believe it is for our best that we were forced into this Situation, because to think otherwise, at least for me, would make the Situation completely unbearable. But the thought that we will see each other again soon lets me recondle the Situation. Therefore I Just Visualize you on a very great trip with our sons to Visit a dear relative who will assist you with help and support and who will try to do what really is my duty...
We live for our children, the living proof of our love, and I hope, no, I know, that in all my love for you I have given my love to them and raised them in the best way possible that a man and father can do...
So, my beloved Betty, may the boys be your Gold Reserve; more valuable than money. May your great motherlove never be disappointed and the faith in our boys be positively confirmed and strengthened from day to day and make you happy. If that happens, then my love and all my labors for you will be a crowning glory.
Now, beloved Betty, continue to enjoy the breakfast. And if you with your good heart read these words with love, without
being sentimental and in the same spirit in which they were written by me, even if separated by the distance, through love we will remain two fortunate and closely connected people...
The guns roar and thunder. You flee from evil, and may you find good in your new chosen homeland. Once again give my kisses to the boys and give them the enclosed letter ... Good luck and happy crossing!
In unwavering love, Your faithful Leo
Following is part of his letter to his sons:
Dear Albert, Fritz and Rolf,
Now you are sitting, my dear boys, with our Mutti at the nicely set breakfast table, hopefully in the best condition partaking of the first breakfast on board the M. S. Statendam on your way across the ocean into your new homeland, the big United States of America. The ocean surrounds you, the sound of the waves fills your ears, and you will become aware of the tremendous size of our world. On other occasions I have put into poetic verses whatever I had to say, and how often, I believe 20 times, I expressed in verse my feelings and your thoughts about your dear mother. I hope, no, I know, that you recited the poems not only with your Ups but from the heart...
You dear Albert, the eldest, are co-responsible for the well-being of your brothers. To help them must always be your endeavor. No bad word, and no bad deeds can come between you. All three of you must work together and strive for your mother and therewith for your future. In every case, whatever you plan to do, ask yourself what does your mother think about it? Your health is your valuable asset, therefore treat it as such. Follow the wise counsel of your mother who, like me, wants only the best for you. I know that you, dear Fritz, are Industrious, and you, my little Rolf, are a good learner. Therefore I expect that all of you will use your talents to the fullest because in your new homeland you can prove what your Potentials are...
Show the world your love and devotion to your mother through your actions. Make her proud by your behavior and actions and by your successes. Never be ashamed of your origin by birth, because only those who respect themselves earn the respect and attention of others. Let your steps in your new land be steadfast and sure. Stay healthy — and my love also from the distance,
- Your father
These letters, obviously, are heartfelt expressions of the deep and abiding love my father had for his family, and particularly for his wife.
On the Holland America Line Pier in Rotterdam on September 3rd, 1939. Left Picture: Rolf, Fritz Betty and Leo. Right Picture: Albert, Betty, Fritz and Rolf.
This two Photographs showing Mutti and the three boys onboard the M.S. Statendam sailing to the USA.
While we were on this "great voyage across the ocean" as my father called it in his letter, I had time to reflect on my own life of 18 years...
GROWING UP IN GELSENKIRCHEN
Albert and Oma Isacson in May 1922
I was born on November 15, 1921, in Gelsenkirchen on the 3rd floor of my father's building at 22 Bahnhofstrasse, and I was named Albert after my paternal grandfather who died during the flu epidemic in 1920. (Under Jewish custom, a child is not given the name of a living relative.) Soon after my birth my parents hired a professional nursemaid who had previously cared for the Prince of Hessen (which might be how I acquired such princely manners!) Her name was Henny Rohrbach and she was priceless as a nurse, educator and person. She stayed with us and took care of my two brothers and me until 1936, at which time the Nazis issued an edict forbidding Jews to employ Aryans.
Albert and Nurse Henny Rohrbach in June 1922, 7 month old, in Bad Rothenfelde.
Rohrbach, being Aryan, then left us and married a Herr Pinke, a retired coal miner, but remained loyal to us until we left Germany for Belgium and the United States. (After our departure she cared for the graves of my paternal grandparents.) Following the war, upon my parents' invitation, she visited us in New York and I was more than pleased to see her again.
Albert dressed up as the gentleman he is in our garden at Zeppelinalle in 1926.
My early childhood was carefree despite the ever-increasing anti-Semitism all about us. I traveled a lot with my parents, and the many photographs I have of these trips are pleasant reminders of those exiting days. Since we lived in a business district on the main street of Gelsenkirchen, my parents bought a plot of land about six blocks away on the Zeppelinallee. This became our garden and it had a gazebo where we had many family gatherings. The lot served as a playground for my brothers and me, and it also contained our garage for my father's large American car (a Buick, I think). Although my father did not drive, he had a full-time Chauffeur.
My parents took Fred and me (and later Rolf) on many vacations while Rohrbach looked after Fred and, later, Rolf. Most of these times were spent at the beach in Ostende and Nordwyick in Belgium and Scheveningen, Holland. (As one photo shows me in the nude on a pier in August, 1924, just under age three, I must assume this influenced my becoming a nudist in the 1960's.) Also, playing in the sand and living at the beach obviously nurtured my love for the beach and ocean, and must be responsible for my spending so much time in Silverpoint, Atlantic Beach, 31 years on Fire Island a barrier beach, and now in retirement at the ocean in Palm Beach, Florida.
Click the Photo to learn more about the vacancy in Holland, Belgium, Switzerland and the Sauerland, see some Photos. (PDF-Document)
My most memorable vacation with my parents was in the winter of 1928. (Fred was sick and had to stay home with Rohrbach,) We went to Celerina and St. Moritz, Switzerland, during the Winter Olympics and I got to see Sonja Hennie who became the world ice skating Champion that year. I remember being on skis and skates along with my father, and all of us in a horse-drawn sleigh. I even remember another boy and I sliding down the beginning of the Olympic Bob Sied Run — I just don't remember who got us out!
Mutti and her three boys on a picnic in 1932.
Closer to home we went on picnics with my parents and my Aunt Fella, mother's sister (who is only five years older than I). My maternal grandparents operated a fish Wholesale business in Gelsenkirchen with outlets in many market places, so naturally they had a Chauffeur and car. But, in addition, as a part of their business, they also had horse-drawn carriages and wagons which took us on many outings in the surrounding neighborhood parks and forests. I remember a restaurant on the Krumme Weg (the Curved Road) which displayed a sign reading "Jews not wanted" and later "Jews not allowed."
While my upbringing was strict, I was raised with all the love and devotion my parents could heap on their first-born. Even in those pleasant days, though, I do not remember ever playing or associating with any gentile children because all my parents friends were Jewish.
In April of 1928, I started school at the Jewish Elementary School (Jüdische Volksschule) in Gelsenkirchen; there was no nursery school in those days. Even before Hitler, and I believe still today, a percentage of one's taxes were distributed to the religious Institution of your denomination. That was how schools and churches (synagogues, too, before 1938) were mostly financed. The elementary schools for all denominations had eight grades. After four grades, students had to decide if they wanted to go on to a higher education, which led to the University. There were three choices of schools at this level: for boys there were RealGymnasium, based on Latin, and Gymnasium, based on Greek. For the girls the school was called the Lyceum.
I finished my fourth grade in 1932. In addition to the basic three R's in those first four years, we were taught History and Geography, and also received Jewish education — not only in school but at the Rabbi's house, and we also attended Jewish Services at the Synagogue on Friday evening and Saturday mornings. The name of my teacher was Mr. Katz and the Rabbi was Dr. Galliner. Again, because of the segregated education System, we had no contact with Gentile children.
Starting in 1928 (and probably prior to that) and then escalating every year, the anti-Jewish sentiment in Germany grew. It was spurred by the National Socialist party (Nazi's) but was supported by a large segment of the German population. By 1932, most children from age six up were urged (and forced) to join the Hitler Youth Movement, which gave members pre-military training and also required them to report any comments made in their homes that were unfavorable to the Nazi's.
While I couldn't associate with my Gentile classmates, I had many Jewish friends. After school we rode bikes, played chess, ping pong and other games. And by this time, 1932, the Jewish War Veterans (my father was the local Commander) had formed a Jewish Youth Group called the Schild (the Shield) and we met at least once a week for gymnastic exercises. On weekends we met at a makeshift outdoor field for soccer and other field exercises such as sprinting, high jump, long jump and the like.
Gymnastic Group of RJF Schild Gelsenkirchen in 1934. Third row from top, fifth from right: Albert Gompertz. In center Ruth Stamm and Leo Gompertz
Naturally, the progressively growing anti-Jewish sentiment influenced and depressed me and the other Jewish children, particularly because we had to be constantly on the alert to avoid contact with any of the Hitler Youth and other hoods who might beat us up.
In the spring of 1932 I was admitted to the Citywide Realgymnasium on Adolf Hitler Strasse in Gelsenkirchen. I started in the grade called Sexta, and Latin was our basic language next to German, The following years I entered Quinta, and then Quarta, at which time French was added to our curriculum. After Quarta came Untertertia, and in the spring of 1936 I entered Obertertia with English as a third foreign language. However, in September of that year, I was dismissed along with all other Jewish students (there were not too many any more) because of new edicts issued by the governing Nazi party. I did receive passing grades in all subjects except in Religion (which we received at our Rabbi's house), and in mathematics I was graded "good," which meant above average.
Albert and his bicycle: on left "showing off", center and right: packed and leaving Haus Berta
Ca. 1935: Two Jewish pupils are humiliated before their classmates. The inscription on the blackboard reads "The Jew is our greatest enemy! Beware of the Jew!" An Example of what it was like to attend the Real Gymnasium (High School) from 1932 to 1936
The four and one-half years I spent in the Realgymnasium were very depressing, to say the least, and in retrospect I do not know how I got through them. My gymnastic teacher, Herr Hohenroth, usually appeared in a Stormtrooper uniform and started and ended our lessons with the greeting "Heil Hitler." (He was the same fellow who served in the first world war with my father and wrote defamatory articles against him in the regional Nazi party newspaper. He also is the one who led a horde of schoolchildren on November 10, 1938, after Kristallnacht, into my father's store to destroy any remaining merchandise.) Our music teacher, who wore a Swastika button in his lapel to indicate his membership in the Nazi party, led our class in the presence of Jewish students, me included, in the singing of Nazi songs, one of which had the refrain, "When the Jewish blood runs from our knives." Naturally, none of our non-Jewish few low students objected. (More on this subject can be found in the book by Daniel Goldhagen, "Hitler's Willing Executioners," and also in Ursula Hegi's book "Stones from the River."
Ruth Stamm leading us in singing and handcraft as leader of "The schwarze Fähnlein" (Jewish Right Wing).
A breakdown in the German economy following World War I had cleared the way for the rise of the National Socialist Party and anti-Semitism. After the Versailles Treaty in 1920, the Germans were bitter in defeat and blamed everybody except themselves for their plight — especially the Jews — and there was devastating Inflation of the German mark in 1923. In my early youth (until 1936), the Rhineland was occupied by a French military force, and Westphalia by British and other forces. However, this occupation did not prevent the forward march of Nazism and was very ineffective in preventing the secret rebuilding of the German military forces (sponsored by the National Socialist party).
Two brothers Cohn, two brothers Alexander and Albert Gompertz in 1934
I remember when I was in high school from 1932 to 1936, our physical education classes (track and field) included, instead of "shotput," the practice of throwing simulated hand grenades! I also remember a trip in 1932 or 1933 with Rohrbach to her hometown of Ihringshausen outside Kassel when I could observe General Udet (later Commander of the German Air Force) training young German men to build and fly glider planes so they would be trained in military tactics of use later in the Air Force. Such training, of course, was not allowed under the Versailles Treaty. I also observed the presence of military as well as Nazi uniforms in such places as on boats on the Rhine River and in the city of Kassel.
Playing chess in our living room with Heinz Löwenthal
In 1936, the German Army crossed the Rhine River and retook the Rhineland without any Opposition from members of the Versailles Treaty or the United States, this was the last Chance the AI lies had to stop Hitler from preparing for the occupation of former German territory and the lead-up to World War II. It was in 1934 that my Bar Mitzwah took place — despite the Problems brought on by Hitler and my uncertain future. The Service was held in November on my 13th birthday according to the Jewish calendar.
My best friend Erwin Mosbach in 1936
At the time, I was a Student at the Realgymnasium in the Quinta. My preparation for the Bar Mitzvah began with my Jewish education and intensified two years prior to the event with special classes with our Cantor Schul and our Rabbi Dr. Galliner, along with attendance at the regular Friday evening and Shabbat Services at our Synagogue (and also at all Jewish holiday Services).
The Bar Mitzvah service was attended by a large number of family members and also my Jewish friends and schoolmates. Normally it would have been followed by festive celebrations at a ballroom or hotel, but in 1934 that was no longer possible. As a matter of fact, to avoid attacks by German gentiles (Nazi sympathizers, etc.), Jews did not even congregate outside the Synagogue before or after Services in order to avoid attacks by German gentiles (Nazi sympathizers, etc.) Therefore my parents had a special (almost secretive) get together of family and friends at our apartment; first a reception, and in the evening a dinner for close family and three or four of my best friends. I received many presents but, as I can recall from one of the thank you notes I sent afterwards, the gifts were mostly books on Jewish history and religion. In a card I sent to the Wieler family, friends of my parents, I commented that while I had received 35 books, I especially liked the book they had given me. (What else could I say?)
Final report card upon dismissal from Real Gymnasium in September 1936
After 4 1/2 years at the Realgymnasium, having completed Sexta, Quinta, Quarta, Untertertia and the first semester of Obertertia, the latest Nazi edict took effect: Jewish students were no longer allowed to continue their studies at the School of Higher Education. I had studied Latin, English and French, as well as all the other basic courses. My final report card is dated September 15, 1936, and is an exhibit in my collection of personal letters and documents. At that time, following the edict, my father realized we would eventually have to leave Germany and therefore decided it would be best for me to learn a practical trade. He tried unsuccessfully to have me registered in a textile College in Manchester, England, as well as several textile Colleges in Germany, but finally decided the best way to go was to sign me on as an apprentice in the textile industry.
Letter from Herz&Haymann in Aachen. Reference after having served 2 years as apprentice.
He found a Jewish-owned firm, Herz & Hayman, manufacturers of the finest worsted woolen fabrics, in Aachen, Germany, about 90 miles from Gelsenkirchen. And, at the age of 14, with my father's agreement, I signed a contract with them for three years as an Apprentice Weaver (with related duties) at the salary of 5 DM weekly for the first year and rising to 10 DM in the third year. The contract was signed on October 5, 1936, and my work hours would be the same as all regular workers, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturdays until 1 p.m.. My father found a Jewish widow with a daughter, and she took me in as a boarder with meals. I had my own small room and shared a bathroom with them.
Report card from Textile College in Aachen, which i attended during my apprenticeship.
To add to my education and further my goal at that time of becoming a Textile Engineer, I registered in the Textile College in Aachen where I attended classes five evenings a week. At work I learned and performed all duties, being sent to various departments at regular intervals. I started in the receiving department where I learned to unload and Stack heavy cases of yarn that arrived from spinning mills and then distribute it to the proper departments as needed. From there I progressed to the warp department, then to weaving, where I learned to operate power Looms, and then to the dyeing plant which was located outside of town.
(From the Windows of the dye plant, I had a direct view of the construction work being done on the Siegfried defense installation called the Siegfried Line which was being built by Hitler in violation of the Versailles Treaty restrictions while the rest of the world, including the United States, was asleep. The Siegfried project helped create jobs and was supported by the German industrialists. Beyond the German fortifications we could also see the French Maginot Line, which the French believed was invincible.)
I also worked in the office and learned everything there was to know about creating the finest worsted fabrics. In the evenings at the textile College, in addition to all the other subjects I took, I also learned how to design, and actually did handweaving on Jacquard looms. While I was treated nicely by most of my co-workers (after all I was the 14-year old kid on the block) I had no social contacts outside the factory. But then I must add, I had no social contact with the Jewish owners or any other Jewish Citizens of Aachen with some rare exceptions. Once one of my bosses had me for dinner at his house. But, naturally, I could not expect much attention because I was only an apprentice in a textile mill.
However, I did have as friends two Jewish boys who were also apprentices at two other mills in Aachen. Once in a while we went together to the movies or we played board games in my room. I remember one occasion (in 1937) when we stayed up all night in my room listening to the radio waiting for the world championship boxing match between the German Max Schmeling and the American Joe Louis. Needless to say, we cheered when the American beat Schmeling.
My father made me keep a detailed accounting book showing my income and every penny I spent (like a cup of coffee for 5 Pfennig, roughly 5 cents!), and I had to present it to him on my Visits to Gelsenkirchen when I went there by train or bicycle. Occasionally I also went by bicycle to Krefeld where I had all my great aunts and uncles and many second cousins. I remember once bicycling to Arnheem in Holland to meet one of my mother's cousins. Aachen is located at the southwest corner of Germany where Germany meets Holland and Belgium.
I spent two years in Aachen, until September 20, 1938, and I received a very fine letter of recommendation from Herz & Hayman and also a very good report card from the evening school of the Textile College. I left the apprenticeship at that time because I had been accepted for a regular course in textile engineering at the Cottbus Textile College located 30 miles east of Berlin. The acceptance from this College was dated September 14, 1938 for a course in textile design with the semester beginning October 13, 1938. Little did we know at that time what would happen less than one month later on November 9th.
Letter of acceptance at the Cottbus Textile College for the semester starting in September 1938.
Towards the end of September (by now I was 16 years old), I left home again and traveled with my suitcase to Cottbus, where again my father had arranged for me to board with a Jewish family, Lewin, whose daughter was away at school in Berlin. On the way I stayed over in Berlin and visited with one of the two Jewish apprentices I had befriended in Aachen. His name was Kurt Lesser and he showed me around the town and we even visited a night club, the "Cabaret der Komiker," which later was fictionalized in Liza Minelli's movie, "Cabaret." Tragically, as an American soldier, Kurt was later killed in France during World War II.
Shortly after my arrival in Cottbus I witnessed the deportation of all Jews in that area not born in Germany. We were helpless to do anything and the world had waited too long to take action against the Nazi's, who by now dominated all Germany and Germans (most of them willingly). On October 13th I started my classes at the Cottbus Textile College but that was only a little more than three weeks away from Kristallnacht on November 9th and my imprisonment on November 10th. Those events, obviously, were the final harsh Steps that would lead us on our journey from Germany, to Holland, and to the United States.
ARRIVING IN AMERICA
Our crossing from Holland to Hoboken, New Jersey, aboard the Statendam, was an exciting one for all of us. We sailed on September 3, 1939, the day after England declared war on Germany, and after one day out of port our ship picked up survivors of a British naval ship which had been sunk by a German U-Boat. Nonetheless, we were absorbed with looking to the future and so glad to be underway that the war didn't sink into our minds. Much of the time I was seasick but I remember enjoying lying in a deck chair taking the fresh air.
We debarked in Hoboken on the second day of Rosh Hashanah, which I believe was the 12th of September, 1939. We were met at the Holland America Line dock in Hoboken by Anita Loew, my mother's cousin, who with the help of some of her family and friends had made our trip possible. She provided us with the necessary affidavit of support, which was necessary to receive an entry visa and the green card to live in the United Sates. It never occurred to us or any of the other immigrants of that time to ask for immediate public or private assistance, which is taken for granted by more recent immigrants — both legal and illegal. But the U. S. immigration laws were strictly enforced in those days. Naturally, all of us were so happy to have arrived in this wonderful country where we Immediately felt what it meant to be a free person. In that era, if any of the immigrants would have needed support, the Providers of the affidavits would have been held responsible for their well-being.
Cousin Anita, who lived across from Carnegie Hall, took us to the room she had rented for us in Manhattan at 2345 Broadway (southwest corner of 86th Street). The room was small for the four of us, but it was adequate. It had a cooking area and a bathroom and there were couches which converted into beds at night. Anita had paid the first week's rent. When we finally left Germany we were only allowed to take the equivalent of $25.00 each. I do not remember if my mother received any cash from her parents before leaving Holland, but in any case it would not have been a large sum, so we had to find work immediately to support ourselves. On our first evening in New York, cousin Anita took us to dinner at a good family restaurant, Ellman's, at 89th Street and Broadway.
My mother managed to find work right away sewing evening bags at home (although she really never had done such work) and was paid by the piece. So as not to waste time, on the day after our arrival I went out to look for work and was told to go to the Hias Jewish Agency for help. Fortunately, even before I could talk with an interviewer there, I was hired by a man who owned a small delicatessen on Columbus Avenue at 78th Street.
My knowledge of English was still very limited but I learned the language rapidly. At the delicatessen I was an all-around delivery boy, stock boy and cleaning clerk. My work day was 12 hours long and I worked six days a week, for which I received $6,00 plus some tips. Everything I earned went towards our support and I was happy to be of help. (Both of my brothers were too young to work and were registered in public schools.) With my schedule, I really had nothing in common with all the other carefree American teenagers, but I was happy to be in the USA!
After about three weeks at the delicatessen, I went back to the Hias Agency, this time for a real interview, and found a job at a millinery supply house as a stock boy for $12.00 per week with regulär working hours. Aside from people I met at work I still had very little social contact; I played some ping pong at a parlor on Broadway at 78th Street, but basically we were busy supporting ourselves.
Naturally, we followed events in Europe with trepidation, and even more so as my father still could not get his visa to join us. Finally, in January of 1940, he managed to leave Holland on another ship of the Holland America Line. This was only two or three months before the Germans over-ran the Lowlands (Holland and Belgium) and invaded France. The reunion of our family, of course, was joyful except for the fact that my mother's family as well as my father's sister and her daughter were trapped in Holland.
Tine Wynshenk, she married my uncle Lutz Isacson, shown presenting a medal to Prince Bernard of the Netherlands in wartime England.
Mother's parents and many of their brothers and sisters were later deported by the Nazi's and killed in the extermination camps, My mother's sister and husband were hidden by a Dutch family, and another Dutch family took their two-year old son and hid him among their own children. They all survived. Another brother, Herbert, and his wife were taken to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp where he survived but she was killed. One uncle, Lutz, and his fiance and family managed to escape to England, and Uncle Max (Marcel) lived in Paris and he joined the French Foreign Legion in order to survive. (His wife was not Jewish and continued to live in Paris during the war.) Another sister of my mother, Rita, and her husband and daughter, Ellen, lived in Sweden and they survived there. My father's sister, Betty Stamm, and her daughter, Ruth, were hidden by a Dutchman and survived. Obviously, we learned of these details only after the defeat of the Germans. However, we had found out earlier about the Lutz family's escape to England.
We were lucky and grateful to have made it safely to America and to have found work so quickly.
Our first Family Portrait in America, my mothers 41st birthday December 20, 1941
My father arrived in America in January of 1940, and soon learned that all the household belongings and valuable property he and my mother had carefully packed and shipped, never made it out of Belgium. Their only remaining possessions from their life in Germany was what they wore and what they carried with them. Father went to work selling sausages (salami, liverwurst, etc.) as a house-to-house representative of a manufacturer in Newark. He soon developed a good following from the many addresses he had acquired and from immigrants who had arrived in the U.S. in earlier years with some money and possessions. We all helped him distribute orders.
As soon as we had accumulated a little money, my father rented a nice two-bedroom apartment on Cabrini Boulevard near Fort Tryon Park, The area was called the "Fourth Reich" (Hitler's was the Third Reich) because so many Jews from Germany had settled in that neighborhood. Since we had no furniture or household goods, we had to settle for this inexpensive apartment, but it was nicely located overlooking the Hudson River and the George Washington bridge. The earlier immigrants who had arrived with some belongings and money settled in midtown Manhattan on the eastside or Central Park West. Nonetheless, we were happy to have our own modestly furnished apartment. To get there we took the famous "A" train on the subway.
Albert and co-workers at housery knitting machines in Long Island City 1941
Through the Mandelbaum family, brother-in-law and sister of my paternal grandmother (born: Rubens), in Düsseldorf I met a second cousin, a Mr. M. B. Daniels. He, with his sons, owned a successful business importing China, dishes, figurines, and the like, and, in October of 1939, I was hired by him as a stock clerk at $15 per week. The business was located at West 27th Street and after work I started taking evening courses at the Washington Irving High School, at 16th Street and Irving Place. I took courses in English, bookkeeping and other business courses. Somehow I did not mind the long hours and days since I was used to it from my apprenticeship in Aachen.
Albert with co-workers on Fire Escape during Lunch Break at Hosiery Knitting Mill in Long Island City (notice cigarette between Albert's fingers, he stopped smoking in 1952)
After working at the sausage business for a while, my father took a Job with a fur manufacturer matching Persian lamb skins, which is a physically straining occupation. He was not ready to start a business of his own, even though many of the skin dealers whom he knew from Germany would have extended him the necessary credit to get under way.
ADJUSTING TO AMERICAN LIFE
1. Outside view of St. George Textile Mill, 2. Inside Weaving hall, 3. View of Warp room
My brothers Fred and Ralph went to school in Washington Heights, where we lived. Now that I had a "steady Job" and we were settled in our apartment and I was starting to speak and understand English sufficiently (many of my friends and I refused to speak German and even were embarrassed when the older generations conversed in German in public), it was time for me to Start some kind of a social life. But, as I mentioned earlier, I had nothing in common with the carefree teenagers and young people of my generation.
One of the first young people I met was Erwin Mosbach, a friend from my childhood. We were close in Gelsenkirchen, especially from the ages of 12 until 14, at which time he went to school in England and I went to Aachen as an apprentice. He was on his way to becoming a doctor of chemistry (he was two years older than I) and his parents had opened an 5 & 10 cents store in Fort Lee, N. J. Erwin and I started to hang out with some other immigrants in a small park on Fort Washington Avenue. We discussed our future, politics, and the like. Henry Kissinger was also there; his parents lived very close to us.
In the spring of 1940, Erwin introduced me to a group of young people who had formed what they called the "Young Friends Group," which met at a YMHA at 110th Street near Central Park West (north of Central Park), and we socialized there on Sunday mornings and early afternoon. The group was a mixture of male and female immigrants and some "Americans," mostly females. A few years later several marriages took place within this group. (I remember distinctly that on December 7, 1941, that fateful Sunday morning, while we were having our regular get-together we heard the news of Pearl Harbor.)
Reference from Felix Pfeffer, St. George Textile Corporation
During the summer months we would meet on Sunday mornings in the subway Station of the IRT on 96th Street and go to the end of the line and then take a bus to spend the day at the beach in Rys Park, Brooklyn. After awhile I started to date, but due to my lack of experience and money the dates did not lead to anything serious or permanent. I stayed at my job at M. B. Daniels until the spring of 1941, but I still wanted to get back into the textile Industry. The best I could do was to find a job in a men's hosiery knitting mill in Long Island City, where I operated a battery of knitting machines. The only problem there was that the plant operated 24 hours a day and my shift was from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. While I got used to that schedule, my father did not like my hours so he looked around and found another acquaintance of a relative who worked for a textile Converter in New York City. The owner, a Mr. Pfeffer, was not only a Converter but he had started two weaving mills in Pennsylvania. I interviewed with him and was hired in February, 1942, which brought me back into the profession for which I had originally apprenticed.
My regular 'hangout' for Dinner in Northampton "Georgian Restaurant"
I was the liaison between the New York office and the two mills. I helped supervise production, analyze fabrics, and report once a week to the New York office. One mill was located in Northampton, just outside of Allentown, PA, and the other in Stroudsburg, PA. The Job required me to take a furnished room in Northampton at 727 Dewey Avenue (seems I knew that as a Citizen I would cast my first vote for Thomas Dewey for President in 1948). I was given an opportunity to learn to drive and the use of a car to travel the 40 mile dstance between the two mills. (To New York I took the train.) I was very happy to be back in my field which I had worked and studied for, and by October, 1942, I became the first assistant to the mill Superintendent. I ate all of my meals in a local restaurant and I met some Jewish families and dated some girls — I remember even bringing one to the Passover Seder in 1942 to New York.
From right to left: Nettie, my friend in Allentown 1942, Nettie in August 1944 sent me the following New Years greeting, while stationed in France: "Our hopes are for victory in 1945, that's the goal for witch we strive. Now may I wish you a Happy New Year and add a prayer for your safety Dear! Nettie". My New York Friend in 1942: "To Al, in remembrance of nice times spent together, yours, Claire".
BECOMING AN AMERICAN SOLDIER
After Pearl Harbor I wanted to register for service in the U. S. Forces, but had to wait until I was 21 in November of 1942 to be eligible. Since I was born in Germany, I was classified as an "enemy alien" and the FBI actually interviewed my employer, landlady, and others to make certain that I was not a fifth columnist. I was anxious to serve and help do away with Hitler, who by then, together with Japan, threatened the entire world. On February 16, 1942, I registered for military duty as required by law and on December 7, 1942, I received my notice of "alien's acceptability" by local Draft Board #2 of Northampton County. (I had turned 21 on November 16, 1942). On December 21 I was sworn in and inducted into the U. S. Army in Allentown, and I reported for active duty on December 28th. Along with 45 other men, I was sent to the reception center in New Cumberland, PA. From there we were sent to the Quartermaster Replacement Training Center in Camp Lee, VA, for our eight weeks of basic training.
Since I was in good physical shape and certainly had not been spoiled in my childhood or during my life up to this point, the basic training I received during those eight weeks at Camp Lee succeeded in making a good soldier out of me. I acclimatized to the tough life and the demands made by my sergeants and officers, and for the first time, because I was in close contact and living with American-born men from all walks of life, I felt like a real American. After four weeks I received my first day pass and was able to Visit the Jewish Community Center in Richmond, VA.
The eight weeks passed quickly due to the strenuous demands made upon on all of us recruits. As soon as my basic training as a private was completed, I was promoted to a T/5 (Technician Fifth Grade) and classified an Interpreter because of my knowledge of the German language. On February 25, 1942, eight other trainees and I were given travel Orders to report for duty with the 441st Prisoner of War Processing Company in Camp Swift, Texas. I was even placed in Charge of our group of nine men and we traveled by train to Texas by way of New Orleans.
The interesting part of this trip was for me to see for the first time other states and parts of the United States. (For example I did not realize how unusual it was to spend a day in New Orleans where it actually snowed.) Also I became more American by meeting and associating with other Americans from all over the country, while many of my fellow immigrants (some to this day) thought that New York was the center and most important part of the U.S.A.
After basic training in 1943. Albert in center, 9 of us on our way to join the 441st Prisoner of War Processing Co. in Fort Custer, MI.
I also learned quickly that the United States and its government could only win this war through its tremendous resources and manpower. The first example of this was the fact that the army sent us to Texas to join a unit which had been formed on paper in Texas, but actually was to be activated in Fort Custer, Michigan. Therefore the nine soldiers who had arrived safely at Camp Swift, Texas, from Fort Lee, Virginia, were given new orders on March 10th to take a train (myself still in Charge) to Fort Custer, Michigan, and report for duty to the commanding officer of the 441st Prisoner of War Processing Company at the Provost Marshal General's Training Center.
In Fort Custer (near Battie Creek, Michigan) we were trained and organized to process and Interrogate future German prisoners of war. This time the army had planned well, since the first German prisoners were taken in Africa late in 1943 and transferred to prisoner of war camps in Texas, Louisiana and New Mexico.
MY NATURALISATION AS AN AMERICAN CITIZEN
Since we were destined to go overseas eventually, it was a rule (or law) that all U. S. soldiers who were not Citizens would be naturalized (normally you had to reside in the U.S. for five years in order to be eligible for citizenship). Therefore, on May 24, 1943, I was sworn in and received my Certificate of Naturalization from the Circuit Court of Calhoun County in Battie Creek, Michigan. On June 5, I received a copy of a letter from the Naturalization Officer of Fort Custer to the Commanding Officer of the 441st POW Company, informing me that I was a U.S. Citizen but would receive the document only upon my honorable discharge.
1943 in Camp Hood Texas, Albert leading a convoy
In June of 1943, our entire unit, which included two other POW processing companies, was properly outfitted with trucks, weapons and all the other regulation equipment. (Each soldier was issued a carbine rifle, not the M1 which the infantry carried.) The unit was then transferred to Camp Hood, TX, not far from Waco. Once in Camp Hood, we received advanced training for overseas duty and more Instruction in our specialty of interrogating and classifying German prisoners of war.
It was a very hot summer in Texas and we had to be careful not to become dehydrated or suffer sunstroke. After awhile we received weekend passes or three-day passes and I used mine to go to Dallas either by bus or hitchhiking. The fastest way was to get a lift from a pilot from a nearby Air Force base because they drove like they were flying. But on my first trip on a Friday afternoon I received a lift from a traveling salesman who turned out to be Jewish and who took me home for a Shabbat dinner. It so happened that he had a daughter (she was six years older than I) whose husband had just left for military duty. So it seemed only natural that on future Visits the father lent us his car and she showed me the sights around Dallas. (I considered this a continuation of basic training!) This young lady worked at Neiman Marcus, the original store in Dallas, so our association caused me to acquire a taste for all sorts of "fashions." Many years later I was reminded of these trips through and around Dallas because they took us past the spot where our future President was assassinated.
Albert with Shirlee at Night Club in Dallas, Texas Continuation of "basic training"
At this point, German prisoners were being received in various POW camps in this country and our Company began to practice the interrogation duties we were trained to perform. Naturally, I did not enjoy the fact that these soldiers (Nazi's to me) were treated with kid gloves by the U. S. Army, but being a Citizen now I had to learn to accept this fact.
In September of '43, in anticipation of our going overseas in the near future, I received a furlough to Visit my family. I spent the High Holidays in New York and was proud to wear my uniform to the Town Hall to attend Services of the Congregation Habonim, which had been formed by German Jewish immigrants. During this furlough I also visited the factory and showroom of L. F. Gompertz, which my father had started with my brother Fred after Fred graduated from the High School of Needle Trades. I remember my father's pride (especially because I was in uniform) taking me to lunch at the Trader's Restaurant, the hangout of the Fur Trade. At the end of my leave it was a difficult goodbye for my parents and me because they knew I would soon be in Europe with the American forces fighting for the defeat of the Nazi's.
After I got back to Camp Hood, our unit was sent to more and more POW camps in Texas, New Mexico (that's how I got to see the Carlsbad Caverns), and Louisiana. Finally, in March of 1944, the 441st was sent to New Jersey for embarkation to England.
SAILING FOR OVERSEAS DUTY
We sailed on April 13, and arrived in England without Incident on April 26. The unit was first sent to Brighton, on the east coast of England, where the locals did not believe that we were Americans because, before we arrived, a unit of black soldiers (the troops were not integrated at that time) had been stationed there and they had convinced the residents, especially the female Population, that they were the original Americans. We did not stay there long — just long enough to play a soccer game against English officers, but I think we played too rough for them.
From Brighton our unit was sent to Manchester, where a factory was converted into a POW camp. We went about our task, but I especially did not appreciate the fact that we had to stuff sleeping bags with straw for the German officers before their arrival, and that we were to salute the German officers since we were only enlisted men. However, I managed to survive this Insult without a court martial!
I received one pass to go to London, where my Uncle Lutz's fiancee lived. She was alone there because after he escaped from Holland on a flotilla of small boats, he was sent to Australia as an enemy alien. Eventually he was allowed to return to England and join the Free Dutch Forces. Upon my arrival in Piccadilly Circle during the blackout (this was still the time when the V2 rockets were Coming into London in from Germany). I just hung on to the soldier in front of me until we somehow found the U.S.O. The next day I met my future aunt (my uncle was engaged to her sister at the time) and then it was time to travel back to duty in Manchester.
In reality, our stay in Manchester, while it seemed like a long time, was fairly brief because in just a short while there we were sent to Stonehenge, our embarkation point, to wait for D-Day. We were actually camped across the road from Stonehenge. (Some guys from our unit — not me — might have been responsible for another stone toppling at Stonehenge?)
CROSSING THE CHANNEL TO FRANCE
September 1944 near Alencon, France. Our Prisoner of War Processing Co. in action on left German Prisoners - on right awaiting the next batch of Prisoners searched. The interrogation is being done inside the tent - Albert's job.
On D-Day Plus 5 it was our turn to board the LT landing craft and make the trip across the channel to France. Luckily for us our troops and our allies had established a solid beachhead by then, so we were able to debark without drawing enemy fire. However, because of the bad weather and possible attacks by the Luftwaffe, our crossing on the LT and landing at the French beach was just as perilous for us as it was for those crossing ahead of us. When we landed at St. Lo, the duty had not been completely liberated but our troops made great advances every day. For the next few days we dug our foxholes near and next to the hedges, and after that we were able to set up our POW camp and get started on our job of Interrogation.
After a days of work, seven of us visiting our favorite restaurant in town for a little "drinking party". Albert on left next to owner.
Even though the German prisoners lived in barracks, we still lived most of that fall and winter in pup tents, bathing in our helmets and living on K-rations which were supplemented only by some bread from a few existing French bakeries, and drinking Calvados. (Some of my fellow soldiers overdid the latter — much to their regret.)
Since our forces advanced continuously, we did not encounter any military action but we moved to various POW camps and did our job, which also included de-lousing and other disagreeable Chores. Eventually, the advance of the American and Allied troops was so swift that our unit was left behind.
On my first pass to libarated Paris on November 25, 1944. Albert and Pvt. Veight near Eiffel Tower.
On November 25, 1944, I received a pass to visit Paris, which had been liberated by then. The sister of Mr. Pfeffer, my last boss before being drafted, had safely returned to her apartment in Paris, and with her help we located the address of my Uncle Marcel (Max) and his wife, Sophie. It happened to be the same address where he had lived before the German invasion and before he escaped the Germans by joining the French Foreign Legion. (His wife Sophie was not Jewish and had stayed in Paris throughout the occupation.) You can imagine their shock when an American soldier walked into their little loft, and then their joy when we recognized each other. I helped them out with some rations and they took me via Metro to La Coupole, which Margot and I visited years later, and which still is a popular hangout on the Left Bank.
Shortly after my visit to Paris, the Germans, in their last desperate effort, broke out of the pocket in Belgium — and so began the Battle of the Bulge. An S.O.S. went out to all U. S. Commanders to release all the able-bodied men they could spare and send them to be thrown into the breach. I had complained a lot about not being useful in my inactive unit, and complained about our Commander, Lt. Hart, especially since in September, 1944, when he (an Irish police officer from New York???) had refused to let the Jewish soldiers in his Company attend Yom Kippur Services in a nearby town. So, naturally, I was among the first soldiers to be released by him to join the battle.
As I mentioned earlier, we were equipped only with carbines which were not sufficient for infantry duties. Therefore I, along with other soldiers from all over France, were sent to a seven day intensified infantry training course which included handling the M-1 rifle and hand grenades. (My army records show that I was a rifleman for two months.)
At the end of this specialized training we were sent to join our troops fighting the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium (and a large percentage of this group of replacements was killed). I did not realize my good fortune at the time, but the day we were to leave for the front lines, an orderly came out of the headquarters with a list of about six names of soldiers who were needed as Interpreters rather than rifleman. I was on that short list, so instead of being sent to the Battle of the Bulge, I was sent to Versailles outside Paris to await assignment to the Military Government detachment, A-1, which was presently stationed in Paris and eventually scheduled to go into Berlin. (I obviously didn't know how lucky I was because it certainly did not change my lifelong habit of bitching, complaining and criticizing)
At this point in time, instead of having to prove myself in the infantry as a soldier in the Battle of the Bulge, the last stand of the Germans, I was now assigned to the Military Government waiting eventually to go on to Berlin. During this waiting period we were training outside of Paris, which gave me the opportunity to visit Uncle Marcel and Sophie in Paris and take them some additional army rations and cigarettes. They were well and extremely happy to be liberated.
After finding Uncle Marcel and Aunt Sophie they showed me around Paris. At right I am posing outside Cafe De La Paix on the left bank.
The Allies were making continued good progress: Krefeld had been occupied and Gelsenkirchen would not be far behind. While in Paris I also visited Helmut Hertz, brother of Richard and brother-in-law of my second cousin Gertrud. Helmut also worked for the Military Government in Paris and I gathered that he, too, would probably wind up in Berlin.
By April, 1945, we were traveling through Belgium getting closer to our goal. My father, during World War I, must have been in some of the places we passed. And not too far from our route were spots where my parents and my brothers and I spent time at the beach on some of our vacations.
RE-ENTERING GERMANY AS AN AMERICAN SOLDIER
When the Germans capitulated on May 9, 1945, I crossed into Germany. While I was enroute I traveled through Holland, from which I had left to go to the USA in 1939, and it gave me great satisfaction to be at the wheel of an American Army Jeep when I crossed the German border and the Rhine River. It also gave me a satisfied feeling to see some of the once-beautiful towns and villages destroyed and many of the Germans, who all now claimed to have been Social Democrats and innocent of all the injustices they participated in, suffering and miserable.
It was a strange coincidence that the road we took to Germany passed Haus Berta, the Jewish Youth Camp my father had helped found. Since I was driving in a convoy I could not stop, but the restaurant on the corner of the road was still there, Neighboring towns like Haltern, Wesel and Münster did not exist anymore — they were just rubble heaps. Before we left Belgium I was pleased to participate in the joyful celebrations of the residents in the city of Namur, and even to dance in the Red Gross Casion Club overlooking the river Meusse.
The first place our unit took over as the military government was in Detmold, six miles from the Herrmans-Denkmal (Monument). I still remember the trips our family took to Detmold and I also think I went there by bicycle as a young boy. The hotel we occupied was called Hotel Johannaberg and was where Hitler and his hoods housed Aryan girls who were impregnated by the proper Aryan men. The girls would then give birth to their babies who most likely were sent to Brazil to be raised in the Nazi tradition. (The hotel previously was owned by soap manufacturer Hoffman Stärke and then by the Deutsche Bank.) Officially it was called a Recovery Place for Mothers and was run by Nazi organizations. It was fun for our group to be waited on and have all housework done for us by German women and some men. (The German women, even under the age of 40, did not object to serving Jews, as was forbidden under the Nazi Nurenberg laws.) Fraternization by our troops and the German females was strictly forbidden but was impossible to enforce.
On left my "personal requisioned" car with proper military Government markings. Center: 'Fraternization was not allowed', but who is in charge? My very personal assistant Gisela, who was on duty 24 hours a day. Right: Gisela posing in front of another car of mine ready to leave on "official" business with me.
One of my Jobs was to find and provide proper lodging for our officers and troops. This necessitated making Germans vacate homes and Offices, especially those in good condition. We would give the owners very few hours to clear out, which sounds cruel and not a pleasant task for an American, but then I remember what these people have done to the world and to our family in particular and I felt that they deserved even worse treatment than that.
Russian soldiers in front of the destroyed "Reichstag" building.
All this time we were waiting for the Russians to live up to their agreement to divide Berlin, to give up to the USA and other Allies some of the territory they had occupied, and to receive some of the occupied territory from us. Personally, I would have liked the Russians to take over all of Germany for maybe a year and do what they felt they should. However, this was not a possibility. We had lost our President just recently and as far as I am concerned, he was too Sick to deal with a lot of the Problems and especially with the Russians at Yalta (just like Truman would give away the rest of our interests at the Potsdam Conference a few months later). Early in June, 1945, our unit took over the military government for the district of Eisleben, which is in the southeastern section of Germany. The Allies had agreed to let the Russians administer this area eventually but, in the meantime, our detachment took Charge until the Russians let the Allies take over part of Berlin as agreed.
Early in June 1945 on our travel from Detmold to Eisleben we stopped in Weimar and took a side trip to Concentration Camp Buchenwald. It had been libarated on April 11 by American troops.
So, early in June, we left Detmold and traveled to Eisleben. Enroute we drove through Kassel, another town that I remembered well from my days in Germany as it was the hometown of Rohrbach, our nursemaid. It had been completely destroyed in two air raids. From there we proceeded to Eisenach, and then continued via the Reichsautobahn to Erfurt and Weimar.
From there we visited the remains of the Buchenwald concentration camp, which was more than an erie sight. It was easy to visualize what had happened there, but no German will ever admit to having heard of or known about it.
From Buchenwald we drove to Leipzig, which among other things used to be the center of the fur trade in Germany and my father spent time there every year at the Fur Fair where he received awards for his products. I walked down the Bruehl (formerly the center of the fur trade) of which nothing was left. However, only sections of Leipzig had been destroyed; other parts, especially the outskirts, were still intact.
On July 1st we left Eisleben on our way to Berlin We made a stop in Halle and the photographs shows Albert on his bunk reading in our temporary quartiers.
From Leipzig we traveled to Halle and then, 18 miles from there, we arrived in Eisleben. One of our Jobs in Eisleben, aside from being the military government, was to supervise and actually help search the nearby silver and precious metal mines which the Nazis had used to hide, for example, the entire Philately collection of the Berlin Reichspostmuseum as well as loot and treasures taken from museums and Jewish homes (not only those in Germany but from all over Europe). On July 4th, the AI lies armies finally came to an agreement with the reluctant Russians and our military government detachment occupied the American sector of Berlin with very strong Support from the 2nd Armored Division, the 1st Allied Airborne Division, Berlin District SHAEF, U.S Group CC, MG, MP and QM.
Our group of six officers and six enlisted men was assigned to administer the Zehlendorf District, which included Wannsee and other districts, none of which had been damaged in the Allied air raids. (The story goes that the Air Force knew which areas would be occupied by the Americans.) With Information I had gathered from our German staff in Eisleben, I concentrated on the best buildings to serve as our headquarters. First, we took over the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute, but we were thrown out very quickly by the Headquarters of Military Government for the American Sector. After that I moved our outfit to the former vi IIa of German Commander General von Brauchitsch, and I took over a desk of World War I German Chief of Staff General Moltke for myself. The Russians had plundered most of the furniture and I set a large crew of Germans to work to bring everything in the vi IIa into good shape. But a higher ranking American General decided that he belonged in this lavish building, so once again we were out!
American Military Government for the District Berlin-Zehlendorf-Wannsee September 1945 at our Headquarters the former German Philatelic Museum. From left to right: sitting Lt. Sponholz, Lt. ware, Lt.Col. Horney, Capt. Kasprzyck, Lt. Sweeny, standing Pfc. Mallon, Cpl. Gompertz, Sgt. Mychaluk, Cpl. Reed, Pfc. Pitt
By now I had learned my lesson, so I found a nice quiet side street with two houses back to back. We used the larger one in front for our officers and the adjoining one in back was taken over by the enlisted men. Incidentally, this smaller house, which I made my "home," had belonged to Admiral Canaris, chief of the German U-boat fleet until he was executed by Hitler shortly before the end of the war. Our Office headquarters was the former Reichspostmuseum (Philately Museum of Germany), a very luxurious building. (In photographs which we took of our staff, the women we hired and employed, for some reason, were much better looking than the fraternization rules suggested, but we did not have to wait for Bill Clinton to show us how to pick our help!)
The German Civilians we hired to work for the American Military Government Zehlendorf. Since I was the official Interpreter it was my job to find "eligible" persons. Seated second from right became my secretary (Today you would call them Interns.)
In the meantime, I served not only as Interpreter but also as prosecutor for our small Claims court. I also had the pleasant task of finding proper housing for any officer or branch that needed such. I usually gave the occupants four hours to get out of their homes. The best-known person I evicted was Heinz Rühmann, a popular pre-war German movie star.
Identification and passes to travel in all sectors of Berlin. Issued in English, French, Russian and German.
We were still restricted to the American zone, but I managed to get a Russian permit to travel in their zone. There was a certain amount of risk involved because not every Russian officer or enlisted man would recognize official documents. Nonetheless, I used this pass to get in touch with former owners of Jewish businesses, with various Jewish persons, and others my father had asked me to contact. He had sent me packages to be delivered to them. Because my father had spread the word that his son could help these people, the matter soon got out of hand, but I did the best I could.
In late September, I managed to get a pass which was good for two weeks (sort of a furlough) for myself and a buddy of mine and a German Jew who had returned to his country. He had a small truck at his disposal and I had my small car. (Don't ask what the truck was good for but it might come in handy just in case we found Nylon stockings or other supplies that could be used by our employees with whom we could not fraternize!)
We drove first to Gelsenkirchen, my hometown, so I could take pictures and see first hand what had happened to the town since I left it, and also to visit the graves of my father's parents and others whom I knew. (I was glad to see the destruction that had taken place and to observe how miserable the people were who had mistreated me.) This Photos taken by Albert Gompertz while visiting Gelsenkirchen as U.S. Soldier in October 1945.
Gompertz' house Bahnhofstrasse/Klosterstrasse bombed out during war
Isacsons house and business bombed out. Right: View of Main Railroad Station from Bahnhofstrasse
Das alte Rathaus (City Hall) at Machensplatz. Right: Formerly the Gompertz Garden on Zeppelinallee, now occupied by a house built by a Dr. Schmitt?
From Gelsenkirchen we drove by way of Frankfurt and Munich to the city of Freiburg, in the Black Forest, which was near a camp set up for people liberated from Nazi concentration camps. I had received Information that I could find my Uncle Herbert Isacson there. He had been liberated from Bergen-Belsen (where my Aunt Hilde had been killed). Well, it was a wonderful experience to find him well and waiting to be able to return to Holland.
Albert finds Uncle Herbert Isacson and future wife Vera. Traveling in my army car on a furlough from Berlin in October 1945. Liberated from Bergen-Belsen on April 15, 1945 by British Army, they are awaiting clearance to return to Holland in a Replacement Camp located in the Black Forrest near Freiburg, Germany. Photo, left: Vera and Uncle Herbert, others with Albert.
This document tells the story of my return to the United States.
From there we returned to Berlin, where I served with the Military Government in Zehlendorf until I qualified for return to the U.S. and a discharge from the army. After having served 36 months as an American soldier in the army, I sailed for home on a freighter from Bremerhaven, Germany, on December 25th, 1945, attached to the 29th Infantry Division. It was a most awful crossing because of a continuos storm and being quartered in the lowest, forward part of the freighter, however we did reach New York on January 4th, 1946. We were transferred to Fort Dix, N.J. and I received my honorable discharge on January 13, 1946. In addition to having the satisfaction of doing my part in defeating Hitler and his Willing executioners, I could show three battle stars on my ribbon for the following campaigns: Central Europe, Northern France, Rhineland, EAME Service Medal, Good Conduct Medal and World War II Victory Medal.
Army of the United States - Honorable Discharge
A few months before my discharge my father compiled a press release covering my military career . Here are some excerpts from his writing which give additional details of my activities:
"Barely escaping with his wife in 1939, Albert Gompertz and family fled from West Germany during the Nazi rise to power. He now assists as Corporal Albert Gompertz in governing the same country that once practiced such racial and political hatred that the entire world took up arms against it. With U.S. Army Civil Affairs and Military Government detachments he followed the victorious Allied Army sweep through his own former country and is now with the Zehlendorf Military Government in Berlin. He is the Interpreter during court sessions where violators of Allied Control Rules are tried and sentenced.
"Investigating complaints of willful disregard of military government rules, Corporal Gompertz questions the offenders and complainants and prepares preuminary papers for the prosecution of the offenders in summary court by the legal department. At times during the absence of the regular prosecutor, Corporal Gompertz has taken his cases to court himself. In addition, Corporal Gompertz acts as general interpreter, stting in on Conferences and generally assisting the Military Government officers of the Zehlendorf area in coping with Problems that arise daily in reforming a nation's capitol ....
"Graduating from Army Adminstration School at Camp Lee, Virginia, he was assigned to Fort Custer, Michigan, with a prisoner of war processing Company. He later was at various prisoner of war stockades in Texas where he questioned German prisoners from Egypt and Africa. He remained in Texas until April, 1944, when he was transferred to the European Theater of Operations. From that time until June, 1944, he worked in P.O.W, stockades in England.
"Assigned in France to stockades, he was later transferred to the U.S. Army Infantry during the immediate need for front line infantrymen. Upon completion of training, however, he was assigned to the European Civil Affairs Division. From March, 1945 until the present time (July, 1945) he has been with various military government detachments in Germany as an Interpreter and presenter in military courts.
"While with the military government of a small town in the Saxony area, Corporal Gompertz helped retrieve some sixty million dollars in art treasures and mercury stored in abandoned copper mines in the area. The military government team reconstructed the narrow gage railway leading into a mine and recovered the German Philately Stamp Collection as well as art treasures looted from throughout Europe. Also, mercury valued at approximately three million dollars was recovered from the mine. These treasures were removed during the night and later transferred to warehouses under U. S. control.
"Corporal Gompertz entered Berlin with initial elements of the American occupation force. He was present during all the initial Conferences with the Russian troops then occupying the duty. 'The marvelous aspect of these Conferences,' says Corporal Gompertz, "was the close Cooperation between the two countries, regardless of the barriers set forth by the language difficulties.'"
RETURN TO CIVILIAN LIFE
After my honorable discharge from the U. S. Army, I returned to my parents' apartment on Cabrini Blvd. in New York (Washington Heights near Fort Tryon Park), shed my uniform and bought some civilian clothing — not much of a selection at the end of the war — and my first visit was to my father's and brother Fred's fur showroom and factory at 224 West 30th Street on January 15th, 1946, which happened to be my father's 59th birthday. As was the custom then and still is today, at lunchtime a "catered" lunch was served on white paper laid on top of a board normally used for blocking out fur garments and I received a great welcome.
At that time I met Margot Nathan who worked as a fur finisher for my father and brother. I certainly did not realize then that she and I would get married exactly eight months later, especially considering that the day after my arrival in New York I was greeted by my Texas girlfriend, Shirlee. During my army Service overseas she had gotten a divorce and had come to New York to get reacquainted and continue my "basic training" that had started during my stay in Texas. I had rented a room on the Eastside and for five days we lived it up, not only in the room, but going to Broadway shows, restaurants, and taking in other entertainment. I also spent most of the money I had sent home (which was not very much). However, at the end of the five days, Shirlee realized that I was not exactly ready to settle down with her and our relationship ended abruptly.
My father was very concerned about me (more so than I was) and had his secretary try to locate me during my five-day absence. Anyway, I did return home in time for my parents' 25th wedding anniversary on January 23, which started with an open house at the apartment and continued with my driving my parents to Washington, D. C. It was my first trip to our capitol and we enjoyed a lot of Sightseeing.
After our return to New York, I reported back to St. George Textile Corp. to resume my old job. I rented a furnished room with a nice family outside Northampton, Pa., where one of the textile mills was located, and another room in Stroudsburg, Pa., where the other mill was and where I spent one day a week. And just like my duties prior to being drafted into the army, I was assistant to the Superintendent and additionally reported once a week, usually on Mondays, to the home Office on West 40th Street in New York.
From February through March I dated and socialized in Northampton and Allentown. However, my father had other plans for me and for Passover of that year, in April 1946, he invited Margot Nathan, whom I had met briefly at his birthday luncheon when I was discharged, and the rest as they say is history. Walking Margot home after the Seder, I asked her for a date the following weekend, which was Easter Sunday.
We started our date (Margot wearing a bright red suit, a color I did not particularly care for at the time) with a walk in Central Park, following which we met with my childhood friend Erwin Mosbach and his wife, Marianne, for coffee and cake at Eclairs on West 72nd Street. Eclairs was the "hangout" for German Jews and operated until 1996. Afterwards, Margot and I went to the Hotel Edison on West 44th Street for a light snack (I did not make much money) and danced to a well-known band whose lead song was "Cement Mixer."
For a few weeks after this, Margot and I dated every weekend, but since I did not want to commit myself at the time, I alternated our dates; Saturday one week and Sunday the next week with another young woman I knew. However, by Memorial Day I asked Margot to "go steady," and then decided to get engaged on July 4th. The engagement took place in Lake Mahopac at a luncheon attended by my bothers and parents and Margot's parents and brothers, and in the evening we had an engagement party at the Glass Hat at the Belmont Plaza on Lexington Avenue.
At this point it is appropriate to talk about my fiancee's background and her immediate family. Margot Nathan was born on January 10, 1925, in Cologne, Germany. Her father was Theodore Nathan, a native of Koblenz, Germany, and son of Jacob and Sarah Nathan. He was one of six children. After her father served as a volunteer in the German Army in the first World War (he was discharged after having been wounded in battle), he became a com (grain) merchant. He was born October 15, 1887, and met his wife-to-be, Herta Wolff, in Cologne. Herta was the daughter of Hermonimus (Herman) and Marta Wolff, who owned five shoe Stores in Cologne. After their marriage April 16, 1923, Herta's father, Herman, gave the newlyweds one of the shoe stores as a wedding gift. However, Theodore Nathan did not care much for the retail business so he associated himself with Ada-Ada, one of the largest shoe manufacturers in Germany, and became their representative for West Germany. When Margot was four years old, her family moved to Essen, where Margot's brother, Herbert, was born in 1929. In 1938 the Nathan's with their two children immigrated to the United States by way of Belgium.
Our Wedding invitation.
From then on until our wedding on September 15, 1946, I drove from Stroudsburg to New York every Thursday to see Margot and then we dated again on Saturdays and Sundays when I came to New York for my day in the home office on Mondays.
For our children and grandchildren and future generations it must seem unusual that our romance/relationship developed so quickly. Speaking for myself, you have to consider the history of my life until 1946. Having had a very difficult childhood due to the conditions under which I grew up, then Coming to America as a refugee, and after serving three years in the U. S. Army during wartime, and having no substantial financial means of Support at the age of 25, I felt that I finally had to start a meaningful life of my own. In the 1940's it was not a common practice to decide to live with a mate without first getting married.
As you might have gathered from earlier chapters of my life story, my father usually wanted things to go his way. So when Margot and I decided to get married on Labor Day, that was not a convenient time because he had made plans with my mother to attend the Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City. (Bess Myerson became Miss America in 1946.) Therefore, Margot and I agreed to compromise and change the date to September 15. However, since that was also the beginning of the fur season and Margot was hard to replace at that time of the year, we had to agree that Margot would work for L. F. Gompertz until Christmas and we would have a furnished room in New York and see each other only from Saturday until Monday, since I had to be in Pennsylvania the rest of the week. In retrospect it seems difficult to understand why we gave in to these demands because both Margot and I were, and still are, rather headstrong in our daily life. However, that experience taught us never to make such or similar demands on our children.
WEDDING BELLS - 1946
Our wedding took place on Sunday, September 15, 1946, at the True Sisters Building on West 85th Street where, at that time, Congregation Habonim held its Services and meetings. Rabbi Hugo Hahn and Cantor Erwin Hirsch performed the ceremony, with Martha Hirsch playing the organ and our cousin Anita Loew (who had given us the affidavit of support to come to the U.S.) sang Ave Maria (but then she was not very Jewish-oriented).
The Wedding Ceremony completed, Margot and Albert leaving the Chuppa.
It was a 1:00 p.m. wedding attended by several hundred family and friends with the ceremony being followed by a reception. (My father had all of his Jewish War Veterans there, one of whom complained that Margot's handshake was not firm enough!) After the reception Margot and I checked into the Essex House on Central Park West because the wedding dinner for the extended family was not scheduled until 6:00 p.m. at the C & L Restaurant at Broadway and 74th Street. (Would you, our children, believe that several family members gossiped because we checked into the hotel before the dinner ceremony. I suppose that motivated your mother to board Ron at a friend's house on Fire Island when he came to visit us the week before his wedding to our daughter Carole.)
Picture of the Shelburn Hotel in Atlantic City, where we spent our honeymoon.
All in all it was a great wedding, and all the wedding songs and Speeches are in our "archives" along with the photographs taken by Kurt Rosenthal, who with his wife, Doris, is our friend to this day. On Monday after our stay at the Essex House, we traveled by train to Atlantic City and spent our honeymoon of five days at the Shelburne Hotel.
Weeks before our wedding we had rented a room (in those post-war days you needed connections to find a place to live) with private bath and kitchen Privileges on Riverside Drive and 157th Street. That is where we spent our weekends together and the rest of the week I spent in Northampton and Stroudsburg and Margot went home to her parents and kept her promise to work at L. F. Gompertz.
In December I found a place for us to live in Allentown, Pa. It was with a nice Pennsylvania Dutch family who had a house at 10 Jefferson Street, and we rented the attic "apartment." It had a small living room and a smaller bedroom, and one flight down we had a bathroom and kitchen.
On Christmas day, 1946, my brother Ralph drove Margot to Allentown in the middle of an ice storm. The weather not withstanding, we all made it to our new home by late afternoon that day. We had bought furniture through a cousin of Margot's and it had been shipped directly to Allentown. I had given up my furnished room and we began to settle down as a happily-married couple.
CHANGING CAREERS: BECOMING A FURRIER
In Allentown we joined the Jewish Center, where we spent our first New Year's Eve. We made some friends and Margot even played pinochle with Mrs. Schneck, our landlady, at her church. Margot attempted to find work as a fur finisher (her profession) at a local furrier, but the salary offered was only a fraction of what she had earned as a union worker in New York, so she did not work. Once a week she traveled by train to New York for the day. As time went on I realized that if I wanted to further my career as a textile engineer, we would have to settle in the South (Carolinas, or thereabouts), but this idea did not Sit well with Margot. Therefore, in May of 1947, when my father made me an offer to join his business, Margot persuaded me to move back to New York and become a furrier.
In June I quit my job at St. George Textile and we relocated to New York. We found a sublet on Pinehurst Avenue with a view of the George Washington Bridge and I started to learn the fur business at 224 West 30th Street. Margot worked there too, but no longer as a fur finisher. Instead, she helped in the showroom and Office.
Now that my father had two sons in the business, he used that opportunity to travel with my mother to Europe, and especially to Germany to file Claims for restitution and also a settlement for the building that was taken away from him. Both of my parents eventually received a monthly check as pension and German Social.
Security which, of course, made their "life in the U.S. easier but in no way compensated for what they had lost in fleeing Germany.
After joining the business in 1947, I also became a partner with my father retaining 50% of the stock and my brother, Fred, and I each holding 25%. Since I was a fast learner I became a good salesman, manager, and fur designer quickly. In 1948 I took courses at the American-Mitchell Sol Vogel Design School, paid for by the government under the G.I. Bill of Rights, and graduated the Designing, Fitting, Grading Course in March of 1949.
Actually, we lived on Pinehurst Avenue only a few months. Apartments were almost impossible to find unless you could give
the rights to a new automobile (there was a long waiting list for that also), or you found a dishonest lawyer or landlord who would demand cash "under the table" to rent you an apartment. It so happened that we found such a person and Margot went with $2,000 in one dollar bills to obtain the promise of a lease in a one-bedroom apartment on the ground floor of an old building in Flushing at Sanford Avenue on 159th Street. We could also have rented an apartment on 60th Street and First Avenue, but I wanted to have trees outside my window.
The other choice we had was to use the G.I. Bill to get a mortgage and buy a two-family house in the suburbs, but Margot did not want to be a landlady and I wanted a house with a circular driveway. As you can see, we were not yet mature enough to make the wisest decisions. However, we lived within Walking distance of the Broadway Station of the Long Island Railroad in Flushing. This gave us an easy commute to Pennsylvania Station which was only a few blocks from our business. Naturally, to visit our parents in Washington Heights we had to take three subways. A car we could not afford at that time (and our parents did not offer to buy one for us as is often the case even today).
Passover 1948 at the Gompertz, left to right: Betty G., Herbert N., the Goldshmith (Cousins of Lorants) standing: Ralph, the Loranzs and son, Leo G., Betty Stamm, Herta and Theo Nathan, Albert&Margot, Marcel and Sophie Isacson.
Nevertheless, we developed a nice social life; we made new friends and entertained our "old friends". We gave a big New Year's Even party 1947/48, which Albert's cousin Ellen Heymanson from Sweden was able to attend. She was in New York for a few months as a mother's helper.
My father and mother helped a lot of our family come to America. The first ones were Marcel, my mother's brother, and his wife, Sophie (whom I had the pleasure of finding and visiting as an American soldier shortly after the liberation of Paris). Then came Fella and Walter Goldsmith and their two sons (one son, Otto, had been hidden by a gentile Dutch family). They had lived in hiding in an attic in Amsterdam. After that came my father's sister Betty Stamm and her daughter, Ruth, and granddaughter, Ingrid, who had been hidden and protected by a Dutch gentile, Leo Uitzinger. (He looked after them so well that Ruth had the child Ingrid with him.) The Goldsmiths and the Stamms also moved to Flushing. Walter G. opened a bicycle store (he had owned a large one in Amsterdam), and Betty Stamm worked as a baby nurse.
Left: Silver Wedding Herta Theo Nathan on April 16, 1948 festivities at the Nathan apartment. Margot, Albert, Theo Herta Herbert. Right: The Gompertz Family at Nathan's Silver Wedding, Margot, Albert, Leo, Betty, Ralph and Fred.
Bungalow of my parents rented in Seagate for the summer of 1948. Margot and Albert visited there, until we moved into our own place in August. (That's how it happened that Carol was born in February 1949).
In the summer of 1948 we sublet an apartment for the month of August in Seagate (Brooklyn), a private Community overlooking New York Harbor. Once we had committed to rent for August, my parents liked the idea and took over a little bungalow there for the entire season beginning in May, and my brother Fred got a room there with a friend. We visited our parents on Memorial Day in their bungalow - and the sea air must have been inspiring because not only the tomato plants started growing, but our daughter Carole was conceived also.
STARTING THE FIRST GOMPERTZ GENERATION IN AMERICA
After enjoying our summer stay in Seagate, we returned to our apartment in Flushing, and even though Margot was pregnant she continued to work in our business until December. On February 27 our daughter Carole (the "e" was added much later at her request) Ann was born. Since we had to be thrifty, Margot stayed on with her family doctor in Washington Heights and he placed her in the not so wonderful Wadsworth Hospital there. Fortunately, everything ended well and Margot was in labor for only 14 hours!! We took a taxi from Flushing at 7:00 a.m. and Carol was born at 8:45 p.m. Naturally, Margot and I and the entire Mispoke were elated, it was a Sunday, and on Monday we had a lot of snow.
In those days they kept a patient in the hospital longer than they do now. It was exactly a week later that I brought Margot and Carol home to Flushing where we had converted the dinette in the back of the kitchen into a beautiful nursery with a window facing some lovely old trees. We had engaged a nursemaid, Mrs. Osterman, for two weeks, after which time Margot took care of our daughter. We were, naturally, very happy. That summer of 1949 the entire Gompertz family rented a house on the north shore of Long Island, in Bayville on Long Island Sound. To the best of our knowledge Carol was very happy there and certainly had lots of family to play with. That fall and winter we had lots of family visiting us. February 27 became a big holiday with family and friends enjoying Margot's marble cake. In 1950 we managed to acquire a used car and we drove to Jones Beach for outings. While I worked six days a week and usually came home late, I made it a custom to come home earlier on Fridays so we could have a Sabbath dinner with all the ceremonies. Naturally, once we had a car, we were expected to Visit our parents in Washington Heights regularly and appear at all holidays and birthdays.
Mother Betty's Suprise 50th Birthday party on December 20, 1950. Margot planned and arranged this party in our small one bedroom apartment. Carole, while not in the photo, was in her small room in back of the kitchen fast asleep. This party took place 3 weeks before Ralph's and Ruth's wedding on January 7th, 1951. Sitting left to right: Betty Stamm, Fred, Selma Lichtenstein (Ruth's mother) the birthday child Betty G., Opa Leo, Herta Nathan, Herman van Ments, Grete Gross. Standing left to right: Walter Goldsmith, Ruth Stamm, Ruth Lichtenstein (soon Gompertz) Ralph, Margot&Albert, Ilse Boraks, Theo Nathan, Ludwig Boraks, Lilly Lorant, Sophie Isacson and Fella Goldsmith.
RALPH AND RUTH'S WEDDING
On January 7, 1951, my youngest brother, Ralph, got married to Ruth Lichtenstein at the Tabernacle Synagogue in Washington Heights, and the wedding celebration was at Restaurant Schreiber. After Ralph had graduated from George Washington High School in 1946, he found a job on his own at CBS Radio. He started in the mail room but within a Short time CBS sent him to Columbia University for some courses in Communications. After that he was transferred to CBS Television which had just come into existence. He made rapid progress there and was soon a valuable member of this new media. Once he met Ruth Lichtenstein it did not take too long for them to decide to get married.
Ruth had a very difficult childhood. Her parents and two brothers were transported from Oberwesel, Germany, to Theresienstadt extermination camp where her father died. However, her mother and brothers survived and later came to the United States.
Soon after their wedding, Ralph was drafted into the U.S. Army (during the Korean War) and mandatory military Service was still in effect. Ruth was pregnant by then and shortly after gave birth to Sheryll. Ralph was sent to Germany to join an anti-aircraft outfit and when Sheryll was two months old, Ruth placed her in a baby basket and Margot drove her to the airport to fly to Germany to join her husband. They lived in army quarters in Southwest Germany where our former baby nurse, Rohrbach, actually joined them to care for the baby until their return to the U.S.
OUR LIFE IN FLUSHING
The first stop on our first vacation in 1952 in Washington D.C. in front of the Lincoln Memorial Kurt Rosenthal, Margot and Albert, Doris Rosenthal is the Photographer this time. From Washington we continued by way of the Shenandah Drive to Virginia Beach, VA.
As to Margot and myself and our daughter, Carole Ann, we spent another summer, fall and winter in our apartment in Flushing. But in the summer of 1952 both sets of our parents shared taking care of Carole while Margot and I took our first vacation. We traveled by car with our friends Doris and Kurt Rosenthal (he had been the photographer at our wedding) and we had become good friends since they had bought a two-family home in Flushing, very close to our apartment. We drove first to Washington, D.C. (Margot had never been there) and then continued to Virginia Beach, Virginia, by way of the Shenandoah Drive after a stop in Williamsburg. It was a very nice trip for us but we were happy to get back to New York to pick up our daughter from her grandparents.
Fred and Rita's wedding. February 1st, 1953. Albert & Margot, Mother Betty, Fred & Rita, Father Leo, Ruth & Ralph.
After working hard all fall, winter and spring, and Margot keeping busy taking care of Carole, we managed to buy a much better used car and in August of 1953 we took our first vacation with our daughter. We traveled to the Balsams, a luxury hotel in the northern part of New Hampshire at Dixville Notch.
At the Balsams at Dixville Notch, N.H. in 1953. Margot & Albert all dressed up for the formal Dinner.
At the Balsams they had special counselors for the children (we were the only couple with a child and no nursemaid), and Carole and all the children had their own dining room. The only complaint Carole's counselor had was that she only wanted to eat beef tongue and frankfurters. The children had a wonderful time, being taken by horse and buggy around the premises. Every morning the children and counselors (who were, by the way, principals and teachers the rest of the year) raised the flag and pledged allegiance and lowered it in the evening.
For us, too, it was a wonderful place — so much so that our son Mark was conceived during our stay there. Back in Flushing we had become very good friends with our neighbors in our apartment building. We baby sat for each other and enjoyed communicating by using the dumbwaiter (a small hand-pulled elevator to transport food, or in our case garbage) as our private intercom. During that winter they moved to Woodmere and we took over their larger apartment.
Left: Albert taking his daughter for a walk, right: Carole and her parents at the lake of the Balsams.
Baby Mark Alan born May 9, 1954 One week old in Flushing with his baby nurse, our aunt Betty Stamm.
Margot had learned from her first pregnancy and this time went to a gynecologist and obstetrician. On May 9th, 1954, our son Mark Alan was born at the Flower-Fifth Avenue Hospital. The Birth was a week later in our apartment in Flushing. Understandably, Margot, myself and Carole, and the entire Mispoke was ecstatic that we now had two healthy and wonderful children. My father still had to show his iron will and persuaded us to hire our aunt Betty Stamm as nursemaid. Margot survived those two weeks and afterwards managed even better. Carole, who was five years old by then, was a very loving sister and a great help to her mother.
Carol Ann and Mark Alan in the Fall of 1954.
FRED AND RITA'S WEDDING
Now I have to back up to February 1, 1953, the wedding day of my brother, Fred, to Rita Thormaehlen. Rita and her sister, Maren, were born in Kiel, Germany. Their mother, Friedel, was married to a German gentile. While Friedel was Jewish by birth, she managed to survive the Hitler war years in Kiel while her husband (and Rita's father) served in the German Army and eventually was a prisoner of war of the Russians. After the war, Friedel and her two daughters managed to emigrate to the U.S. On the boat coming over, Friedel met a Jewish man and upon her arrival in the U.S. she married him and became Friedel Klug. The wedding took place in the hotel Olcott on West 72nd Street in New York City.
To satisfy my father, Rita converted formally to Judaism after Instructions by Rabbi Hahn and Cantor Hirsch of Congregation Habonim. This was the congregation where we all were members and where Margot and I were married. The ceremony, reception and dinner took place in the Hotel Olcott. On November 2, 1953, a son, whom they named Ronald, was born to Fred and Rita. And on February 22, 1957, they had a second son, Jeffrey Lee.
OUR HOVE TO FOREST HILLS
In April of 1955, we decided to leave Flushing, and Margot found an apartment in Forest Hills. We agreed on that particular location because Carole had started to go to school (nursery school and kindergarten) and we realized that the building was in the very best school district. (Since Carol still teaches in the same district 43 years later, we obviously made the right decision!) We rented a large two-bedroom, two-bath apartment on the ground floor because that was all we could afford at the time. Eight years later we moved to the fourth floor of the building in the same size apartment and we lived there until we retired to Florida in 1996.
In the spring of 1956 we rented a cabana in the Silverpoint Beach Club in Atlantic Beach and, in the years that followed, spent ten seasons there, sharing the cabana with Leo and Lore Baer (we are still friends) who had no children. In addition, however, we managed to travel for two weeks each summer without our children since we were fortunate enough to have two sets of grandparents who loved to take care of Carole and Mark.
Carole returning from her first full time camping experience. Arriving at the 40th Street Bus terminal in 1956 after spending two weeks in a girl scout camp.
The first summer we traveled to Lake Placid and the Adirondacks, and then for four successive Summers we went to the Balsams in Dixville Notch, New Hampshire, where we had taken Carole on her first vacation. Obviously we loved this vacation spot. (Many years later, Carole and Ron spent a vacation there, too.) Once Carole reached age seven we sent her to summer camp. The first year it was a girl scout camp where I think she had "latrine duty" for two weeks, but she was a good trooper (scout) and never complained. The second year we sent her to a YWCA camp, which again was very integrated. After that we were able to send her to Sargent Camp in New Hampshire (run by Boston University). It was a beautiful and well run camp, and she went there year after year until she was 17 years old. Naturally, the last two years she worked as a counselor.
A TIME OF TRAGEDY
Ralph, Ruth, Sheryll, Kenneth in March 1956.
Now I have to backtrack to a very tragic period in our family which started in 1956. Ralph and Ruth had returned from Germany after Ralph had completed his tour of duty. They moved into an apartment in Flushing not far from where we lived at that time. They had a second child, a son named Kenny (Kenneth) born on January 7, 1956. After the birth of Kenny, Ralph and Ruth bought a house in New Milford, New Jersey. Ralph for some time had complained about not feeling right, and to our horror in 1956 he was diagnosed as having Leukemi a. Never he had passed his physical examination when drafted into the army, there was always a suspicion in my mind that he was exposed to radiation when serving with the anti-aircraft outfit in Germany. But, naturally, that could not be proven and the tragedy that was unfolding could not be helped. Ralph was on strong medication which controlled the leukemia at the time, but this was only the beginning of an unbelievable nightmare that befell our family.
In 1957 Ruth had a small swelling at her wrist and when the trouble spot was removed it was discovered that she had Sacoma, the worst kind of bone cancer. It is impossible to describe what Ralph and Ruth endured. Ralph's leukemia actually went into remission, but Ruth's cancer spread rapidly and after great suffering she passed away October 16, 1958, leaving Ralph with Sheryll and Kenny (barely two years old).
When Ruth was terminally ill, her mother, Selma Lichtenstein (who had survived the concentration camp), had moved into the house to take care of the family. Ruth received blood transfusions and radiation twice weekly, and Ralph drove her to the doctor on the east side of Manhattan in the mornings and Margot picked her up there and drove her back to New Jersey. For the longest time my parents and I thought that Ralph was not aware that he had leukemia, so we kept it from the rest of the family. But then we found out that he knew all along, having learned from the description enclosed with his medication and from research that he had done. Because Ruth had passed away and Ralph knew the seriousness of his illness, he asked Margot and me to become guardians of Sheryll and Kenny if something should happen to him.
Arlene & Ralph at Leo G.' 75th Birthday on January 15, 1962.
Sheryll, Kenneth and Steven in April 1962
Later, when going to open school meetings and the like, Ralph met Sherylle's teacher, Arlene Soresi, and Sheryll asked her father if he would invite the teacher home for dinner. Well, Ralph did and a relationship developed between them. The relationship turned into love and Arlene was Willing to marry Ralph, knowing about his sickness and despite the objection of her parents: they were Catholics and also knew about Ralph's ill health. Arlene agreed to adopt both Sheryll and Kenny, and the wedding took place on December 23, 1959. Then, on September 24, 1961, Arlene gave birth to a boy, which they named Steven. The tragedy, however, continued and Ralph's leukemia became active again and nothing could save him. He died August 22, 1962.
SOME FINAL THOUGHTS
Now, so I haven't created the wrong Impression, I have to emphasize that beginning in 1947, when I became a furrier and partner in my father's business, and for all the years after, I worked very hard and long hours. Except for the vacations we took, which were never for more than two weeks, first during the summer months and then in February or March, I spent six days a week at work — and sometimes seven days.
Uncle Herbert Isacson with his wife Vera on his only visit to the USA in New York in 1967 at Uncle Marcel's and his wife Claire's apartment in Forest Hills. On far left (side view: Margot with long hair) in center Aunt Fella.
We celebrated all Jewish holidays, family anniversaries and birthdays with the rest of the family. Certain holidays like Passover became a tradition, but also American holidays like Thanksgiving were always family events. We are pleased that we were fortunate enough to pass along this spirit of family unity to our children and grandchildren.
Chanukah candle lightning at Opa & Omi's house in 1963. Kenneth, Jeffrey, Ron,Mark, in back row: Opa, Sheryll, Carole, Steven & Omi.
Once Mark was eight years old, naturally, he was attending the same public school as his sister in Forest Hills, and we also were able to send him to Sargent Camp with his sister.
When Carole was 11 years old in 1960, my parents took her on a trip to Switzerland and Holland, where she met some of her second cousins and my uncles and aunts. And in 1963, when Mark was 9 years old, his grandparents (Herta and Theodore, Margot's parents) took him along on a trip to Florida. Therefore there was always a close tie with parents and grandparents.
Opa Leo's 75th Birtday Party at the Barbizon Plaza Hotel ( Photograph by Monte Zucker).
On September 27, 1964, Margot's father, Theodore Nathan, suddenly passed away while on a trip to California.
When Carole was 16 in 1965 she was confirmed at Congregation Habonim, which did not have Bar Mitzvah's at the time. On April 1st, 1967, Mark had his Bar Mitzvah together with cousin Ronald at Congregation Habonim. My father Leo died on February 28, 1968.
Photo credit: Withestone Photo. Carole's confirmation at Congregation Habonim in 1965. Rabbi Hugo Hahn at right and Asst. Rabbi Bernhard Cohn on left.
Mark's Barmitzvah on April, 1st, 1967 at Congregation Habonim. On Bima with his father, reading from Hagadah.
In 1968, after having discovered Fire Island two years earlier, we bought a house there in Ocean Bay Park, where we lived from April through September each year until we sold it in 1996 prior to moving to Palm Beach, Florida. We loved it and had many happy times there.
Margot's and Albert's House in Ocean Bay Park Fire Island From 1968 until 1996 from April trough September this was our home.
At this point I will end my written recollections of Margot's and my life stories because our children, and even grandchildren, can now take over and prepare to tell their own stories. They certainly are older than I was when I began recalling my childhood.
Margot and Albert in retirement in Palm Beach, FL. Dancing at the Formal Dinner Dance of the Town of South Palm Beach at the Four Season's Hotel in March of 1998
The purpose of this memoir is to place emphasis on the terrible times I — and all Jews — had to endure growing up in Germany. I hope it will serve as a reminder and warning to future generations. And last, but not least, it should encourage my children and grandchildren to appreciate being able to grow up and live in a free society in a free country, our U.S.A., and always fight to preserve our freedom and rights.
Albert Gompertz memoir posted with permission from Mark Gompertz and Carole Ries.
All rights reserved. → Email to Carole Ries
Andreas Jordan, April 2010