I was born November 7, 1921, in Breslau, Germany, the eldest of two children. My early childhood years were filled with a rich cultural calendar. My mother, Lydia, was an entertainer who had a love for art and the piano. My father, Erich, a World War I veteran, owned a toy and hardware store in the city. He believed that because he served in the German army, he would be exempt from the Nazi tyranny. My experiences in an all-girl private Catholic school, however, proved that my father was wrong.
I vividly remember the time my teacher made the "guests," as she called me and the other Jewish girls, sit in the back of the room. I raised my hand and told my teacher that in my home the guests had the best seats. My innocent remark resulted in my expulsion from school. Although my father enrolled me in a Jewish school, the acts of anti-Semitism persisted. On my way to school, children would spit and throw stones. By now I was afraid and refused to fight back. My life changed dramatically in 1936 when the Nazis confiscated the family business. I was sent to a temporary home while my mother attempted in vain to book passage to America. My memories of this time are bittersweet. It was then that I met my future husband and began to identify with my Jewish heritage.
Alone and frightened, I left Germany in August 1937. During my six- day voyage, I recalled my mother's last words, that I would see her soon. I came to live with distant cousins in Rochester, New York. While working during the day and attending school at night, I continued to try to find refuge for my parents. Despite my efforts, the outbreak of World War II marked the end of all communication between Germany and America, and I never heard from my parents again. I married Gunther, the boy I met in Germany, and together we raised three children. Over the years, I worked as a horticulturist, an artist and a poet. I often felt as if I had a duel identity.
My most impressionable years were spent in Germany, so much so that the culture is deeply embedded within me, but I also immediately identified with my Jewish heritage. Although the two identities are not always compatible, I believe that these two parts of myself enriched me and enabled my fighting spirit to help me survive.
Biography from the
Holocaust, Genocide, and Human Rights Project, Monroe Community College
Photograph by Louis Ouzer