Erika Kinel (née Reiss) was born in Zagreb, Yugoslavia, on July 1, 1926. She was an only child. She and her parents lived in a house with her grandparents; the rest of the extended family lived in Austria. The family owned a fabric store. They spoke German at home because Erika's father was from Vienna and never learned Yugoslavian. Erika attended Jewish day school for four years, then public school until 1940. She had planned on going to cooking school after high school. She was never actually banned from school, but she stopped attending because she was afraid of being taken by the Nazis.
Soon after, the family went into hiding. Although plans had been made for the family to move to Montevideo in 1939, they could not go because Erika's father was not allowed to leave Yugoslavia. The Germans took the family's house and turned it into a prison, forcing them to stay with other Jewish relatives in Zagreb. The group could not leave their apartment because of the constant "round-ups" that the Germans conducted looking for Jews. During the time that they were in hiding, Erika's father worked towards getting the appropriate papers to leave the country.
The family was in hiding in Zagreb for eight months before Erika's father got his papers in January 1942 to go to Slovenia. In August, the family traveled to Mombercelli, a small village in Northern Italy, where they stayed in an internment camp until 1943. They were given a house by the Italian authorities, where they raised farm animals and made wine. Erika recalls there being two or three other Jewish families that lived in the village at the same time as them. She remembers going to church every Sunday to avoid suspicion.
They left Mombercelli in 1943 and fled further south to another small Italian village, Empoli. They stayed there from December 1943 until September 1944, then proceeded to Rome. There, they stayed in a British-run displaced persons camp. Erika recalls the bad conditions of the camp- it was overcrowded, and people were constantly afraid of being turned away. The inmates slept in barracks. The family stayed in this camp while they waited for permission to come to the United States to join Erika’s father’s two brothers who had lived in Rochester since before the war. Erika worked for the British in the camp interpreting for new inmates.
Before the family could come to America, however, they had to wait for the American quotas for each of their respective nations to come in before they could emigrate. Each of them were allowed to come to the United States at different times because they had all been born in different countries. Erika's father was born Czech, and his quota came in first so he left in 1947, leaving Erika and her mother behind in the camp. Her mother left next, in 1948, and Erika followed in 1949. She left on March 29, 1949, and sailed from Naples to New York City. Her parents met her in New York, and the family stayed there sight-seeing for a few days before coming to Rochester. The entire family worked here in the tailoring business.Erika met her future husband at Shabbat dinner at a friend's house. He is a Polish Holocaust survivor. They have three children: Susan, Linda, and Norman.
Interviewed by: Barbara Appelbaum