In recognition of National Holocaust Remembrance Week (in the US), I am looking back at the stories told by some individuals I interviewed when I was in college. Lotte was one of the people who shared her story with me.
Born in Germany in 1920, Lotte was educated in a Jewish school, and her family kept kosher (though, primarily so that her father’s family could eat comfortably when they visited).
Lotte was part of a group of children who were able to escape from Nazi Germany to America. The United States had put a strict quota system into place, which pretty much slammed the door in the face of European refugees. But working through, and around, this red tape a variety of organizations found ways of bringing refugee children to the United States. Religious and private organizations, along with hundreds of volunteers, brought small groups of children — some as young as fourteen months and as old as sixteen — into foster families between the years of 1934 and 1945. For more about these efforts visit the One Thousand Children website. One Thousand Children was organized in 2000 to help connect some of the individuals that had come over as children and to tell their stories.
Lotte shared with me when she first discovered that she would be leaving her family to go to America. It was around the same time that she began to recognize that there were dangers edging into her world. In 1933 restrictions were being placed on the Jewish community, “I felt the undercurrent at home, that business was falling off and that people were not paying their bills to my father and things were being stretched.”
One day I came home from school and our maid, who had been with us since I was two years old, opened the front door and she was just in tears. And I asked her, “Has something happened to my father?”
And she said, “No, go see your mother.”
And Mother was telling me, “You have to go to Stuttgart,” the next day.
“To get a visa.” She had to explain to me what a visa was and,
“What do I need a visa for?”
“Beacuse you’re going to the United States, and won’t that be nice.’
Well, I didn’t think so, because I was in a group of Zionist youngsters, and we were planning to go to Palestine. And, at that time, it seemed like Hitler was going to be out of office in a year or so, like so many others had been. I left them with the understanding… with the expectation, that… and my parents I think also, that I’d be back in a year or so when all the Nazi stuff will have blown over.
Lotte also recalled, clearly, one thing from the day she left home:
My father… was leaning on his cane, not even looking up. And I remember him saying to me, as I got on this train — ‘If you aren’t back by the time you’re sixteen, we’ll never see each other again on this earth.’ At that time I didn’t take it seriously, still I always remember my father standing there like that.
Lotte shared her story with the Oregon Holocaust Resource Center, and their interview with her is available online.