Edward Adler was born on October 2, 1910, in Hamburg, Germany, The family thought of itself as German, not ethnically different from its non-Jewish acquaintances with whom they had good relationships. The Adler family was able to trace its ancestry back 400 years to the 16th century. Edward’s earliest memories included the revolution in 1918 which overthrew Kaiser Wilhelm II, and the major inflation which followed in the 1920's.
As economic conditions worsened and the political situation became less stable, Mr. Adler, who considered himself "non- political,” became involved with the local Communist organization. Coming from a working class family in a working class neighborhood, he gravitated toward the political left. Mr. Adler witnessed a well organized and well-armed Nazi march through his neighborhood with many shootings and injuries.”It was like a war.”
In 1932, just before the Nazis were voted into power, Mr. Adler joined the German army, but was dismissed when they discovered he was Jewish. In 1935 Mr. Adler was arrested for the crime of “racial pollution,” for dating a non-Jewish woman, and was sentenced to six months in solitary confinement. In 1936 he married Erna Auerbach; in November 1937 their son George was born.
In June 1938, in a general round-up of what they called “habitual criminals,” Mr. Adler was again arrested. His earlier conviction on a charge of racial pollution, and perhaps his Communist activity, securely placed him in that group of people arrested that night. Placed on a truck along with the other Jewish "criminals," he was transported to the train station, and shipped in cattle cars to Berlin. From there, the prisoners were put on trucks and brought to Oranienburg, a labor camp located outside the city. Once in the barracks, the prisoners had their heads shaved and were given striped pajama type uniforms with numbers on them. They slept on wooden slats covered with straw.
There was frequent abuse by the guards, including general beatings with rubber hoses. The prisoners worked at clearing rocks from neighboring fields and in the construction of what became the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp. In November 1938, Mr. Adler was accused of insubordination and was sentenced to be hung by his wrists from a pole for an entire day. Fortunately his wife had finally been successful in obtaining a visa and booking passage for him to America. With those papers in order, she was able to secure his release the following day and the sentence was never carried out.
Upon release, Mr. Adler returned to Hamburg, awaiting the time when he and his family could leave the country. He was, however, required to report to the Gestapo headquarters every day. November 9th, as he went to report, he noticed a large crowd outside the building. Mr. Adler was warned not to go into the Gestapo headquarters. It was the day after the Kristallnacht pogrom and Jewish men were being arrested again. He went home, packed and prepared to leave Germany. Four weeks later, on December 12, 1938, Mr. Adler, his wife and two children, left for America on the ship Stattendamm. Mr. Adler’s mother and sister remained in Germany and were killed in 1942.
Mr. Adler’s experiences had a significant impact on his life in America. He felt an obligation to work hard and to provide for his family in a strange but welcoming environment. His liberal political and social views were strengthened as was his commitment to Israel. He believed that “only Jews will help Jews" and maintained a suspicion of non-Jews.
Biography edited by Barbara Appelbaum from an interview with son, George Adler