Friday, February 28, 2014


 (Berlin 1919 - Jerusalem 2010)


Our two-floor apartment in Berlin was modern which was rare for its time. Not only did it have a bathroom, but also central heating and hot water. This was something very new, and the best of luxury. My parents’ bedroom was fully furnished with beautiful black mahogany furniture: double bed, a huge cupboard, two nightstands and credenza with turntable, mirror and commode.

On the second floor of our apartment was a balcony, a window to our largest bedroom, a dining area and living room with armchairs around the table. On the left side was a concert piano that was so wide it touched the door. On its right was my father’s desk. A long sofa, dining table, chairs and two reclining chairs were at the left of the piano.

The ground floor apartment of our house was rented out to a young couple, von Roggenbach. Mr. Roggenbach, as it turns out, was to play an important role later in our lives. 

Unemployment at this time was high and ever increasing, especially in the manufacturing industry. My father therefore took any opportunity to find work in order to feed his family. He managed to earn a reasonable income by producing large decorative celluloid combs for women. Celluloid was invented at this time. It was, of course, the forerunner of plastic. The combs were used with wonderful, elaborate hair decorations. He made technical drawings for new patents that he registered through a patent lawyer, with whom he had a good relationship.

The general economic situation, however, was quickly deteriorating, and my father eventually lost his job. I looked for other solutions in the job market. One opportunity was to take over management of our building. The owner was Jewish and owned a glass factory in Poland. This way we would be able to save on the rent and could continue living in luxury. 

My parents took over the management of a small factory in Berlin that manufactured aprons. Since my mother owned a quality sewing machine, the manufacturing could be done without additional expenses. My father assisted with the cutting and sewing. The work was done mainly during my school hours. 

My parents understood the art of living. I do not recall ever hearing them complaint, even during these difficult times, for sure not while we children were present. But we did notice one thing: I had a regular customer, Mrs. Wohlgemuth. She lived on the fourth floor. Her legs were bad, and I had promised to help her with the daily grocery shopping. When she called on me, I was never far away, since I often played in the streets. The grocery shopping lasted for at least two years, depending on the size of shopping, either five or ten pfennig. From my income, I sometimes bought a couple of croissants for the money she gave me to give to her. She was diabetic and needed an insulin injection every morning. She had dietary restrictions. Croissant was her favorite food. She loved them, but they were too expensive. I was very proud. I still am. 

My parents, my sister Erica, and I traveled to Budapest to attend Rosh Hashanah celebration there. The year was 1923. The journey was long, but interesting. The idea was that my grandparents and my father’s siblings would become better acquainted with the extended family. I hardly recall this particular trip, but my sister had fond memories as the older child, she had several conversations with our grandfather, both regarding the family’s genealogy and existing family members. 

Despite economic difficulties, my parents managed to create a good life for us. Summers we would take one or two weeks of vacations. We visited the Ostersee in Heringsdorf several times. The last trip must have been in 1925, just prior to my sixth birthday. I had already started playing the harmonica. I remember quite clearly sitting down one afternoon in a small café where three musicians were entertaining. During the break, I walked up to them and asked if they would kindly play a melody called Miss Helen. The text was rather daring, so even adults blushed. Today, the text would be considered innocent. They agreed to play it, of course, on the condition that I would sing along. This turned out to be my first musical performance. 

Shortly after returning from our trip to Budapest, my father needed to look for new employment. My grandfather persuaded him to assist him in selling linens, such as sheets, pillow cases, duvet covers, and tablecloths, to be sold to private customers. This meant that my father would be away traveling two to three weeks at a time. All new orders needed to be requested via mail. 

We suddenly found ourselves in a new family business. My father disliked it, since he felt it was like being a door salesman, but he would not oppose his father-in-law. My sister and I were excited, however. It turned out to be a lucrative business. After some months of work, my father proved to be very capable in this area. He visited cities and suburbs in Northern Germany, not far from the border of Denmark, and built a loyal customer base. Our responsibility was to order material from factories. We sorted and packed. We borrowed a huge trolley with two big wheels and loaded it with wares. We went to the post office with sweat on our foreheads. My sister Erika and I felt essential as family and business members. During Hanukkah of 1928, our parents gave us a sleigh, so we were well compensated. 

At this time, I was attending third grade in primary school. My teacher was a nice man and the atmosphere was good. Under no circumstances would father have allowed me, as a Jew, to be treated differently than the other students. I therefore participated like everyone else in the Christian religious education. Every morning first class was religion. More than half of the students were Protestants. The rest were, with the exception of two Jews, Catholics. I was one of the two Jews in the class. My academic scores were average, but I excelled in athletics. This gave me a certain status among my classmates. 

After the obligatory four years at the primary school, we moved on to secondary school or gymnasium. My parents decided that I would attend the Gymnasium, since I wanted to become a physician. They chose the Helmholz Real Gymnasium in Schoeberg. The school was not particularly close to my home. My parents insisted however, that this was the best school in the region. Many students were of noble heritage. It was known to have a good reputation. So what am I doing here, a Jewish boy? 

The year was 1930. It was around Passover time. The anti-Semitic propaganda had already started in Germany and was very visible in high society. The other Jewish student in my class was the son of a magazine owner in Berlin Mr. Grunfeld. My father was of a lower ranking. As it turned out, the teachers tried to make my life as unpleasant as possible after pressure from certain parents of my classmates. My desire to study decreased. 

During one class break, Kurt, a Jew, attending a class a more advanced class, approached me, invited me to become a member of the Boy Scouts group of which he was the leader. He explained that this was the Jewish Boy Scouts, organized by the Zionist movement Blue White. They planned excursions, among other activities. This sounded very exciting. Who wouldn’t have liked to attend, especially when teaching was no longer capturing my attention? My father objected to this immediately, primarily because Blue White was a Zionist organization. I had, of course, no understanding of what a Zionist movement was. 

We had several discussions about this topic in our family. Wisely, my mother abstained from voting on the matter. Father came up with a compromise: Kurt would be willing to help me with my homework; I would get permission to attend. Kurt volunteered. My mother, therefore, had to make me a Boy Scout outfit. And I became a Zionist Boy Scout – in other words, the black sheep of the family. As promised, Kurt came twice a week to help me, but I failed my exams. I was convinced that it was not only my fault and I blamed Kurt! 

Kurt was a fine man, and he was clear on the fact that we Jews existed with a single goal: participate in the building of the Jewish homeland, and to eventually settle there. For this reason, he maintained no student exam would be needed, but strong muscles in arms and body were required. I concurred. My desire to study decreased, but I completed studies. My relationship with teachers at the primary school did not improve.

I did not understand the political issues in Germany at the time, only that there were several ideological movements and political - –isms of which I only knew one: Zionism. There were many other parties like the Communist party, German nationalism, Nazism, Socialist party, Democrats and other small parties, which in 1932 all denounced and under attack from one other every week. The high unemployment and the fights between different parties made the situation for me as a Jew worsened for the same reason. There were no confrontations yet, only a chill. 

My childhood ended on January 13, 1933. Adolf Hitler relieved all short-term governments with the motto: Out With The Jews! Next morning three to five SA men stood in front of every Jewish store with their signs and shouted: “Don’t buy any products from these Jews!” SA men with cameras photographed people who continued shopping in the stores. This was the beginning of many new restrictions, which daily, weekly, or monthly became laws that affected the Jews strongly. 

The school year started and concluded at Easter time. The new law on education stipulated that Jews were not allowed to continue with higher education: April 25, 1933 – “Admission of “Non-Aryans” to schools and Universities is restrict. Jews my not participate in sports contests or be members of sports clubs anymore.” This new law was published just in time. I had to leave the Gymansium. Since I was still under 14 years of age, I had to return to the primary school. 

Unfortunately, my old teacher was no longer teaching at the school, but had been replaced by a new, young teacher, SS Obersturmführer Trapp. He gave us orders to call him Herr Ober Sturmbannfuhrer. He was a pure Aryan hero who unfortunately also was forced to teach a Jew. At this time a new educational discipline was also introduced: Study of race. Every German child had to learn about and understand the subject of the “terrible beings”, the Jews - what “terrible abilities” they had, and how one could immediately identify a Jewish person. 

Twice a week, the subject of religion was taught. It was clear that I would be the first to be called to answer the teacher’s questions. I got up from the chair. It was the norm rise, but I did not answer any questions. Sometime later the teacher wrote something on my report card. He enjoyed it and it became a tradition. 

During that summer one misfortune happened: Herr Obersturmbannführer Trapp entered the classroom. The students got up from their chairs. Their right arm was raised and they greeted him: 

Heil Hitler, Herr Obersturmbannführer 

Heil Hitler, sit down!

He went back to his chair and sat down, but quickly got up again as if stung by a scorpion and pulled two to three tags from his behind. With an irate face he asked repeatedly who had done this. No one answered. He ordered the whole class to remain after school for two hours as punishment. The last session was about to start. Since we had to stay another two hours, he was forced to stay as well. He asked us one last time who had done it. Again, no one answered. “It is now clear to me what is going on here: German boys who has been unwise, would for sure be honest enough to admit and apologize. But since nobody admits even after repeated questioning, it has to be the Jew in the class! Come up, Sinnreich. Bend down!” I got 25 slaps on my back. That hurt badly. As mentioned, he was very fond of traditions. I would now receive between five to ten slaps every morning after the greeting, depending on his mood.

I do not recall anything else of importance about my last year in school. For my father it would be very risky to complain to Herr Obersturmbannführer. If he had, he may have been picked up by the Gestapo. The school year ended. 

Easter of 1934 came, and I was graduating. The big question was: What was I going to study and what profession should I choose? More importantly: How could we leave Germany as soon as possible, and survive? This was problematic and required much time and consideration. We applied at all the embassies for permission to migrate, but were denied. Even so, we had to leave.

End of chapter 1