Interviewer: Tanja Eckstein
Date of interviews: July 2002
I met Rosa Rosenstein in the summer of 2002. I was very excited to be able to interview her, since it doesn't happen that often that I encounter an interview partner of her age - she was 94 years old, so almost 100 - and also from Berlin, my home town. Her Berlin accent was unmistakable and a trust was built after a short amount of time. Since she could no longer walk or see very well, I would bring her cigarettes and the ashtray into the living room each time. Sometimes, after opening the door for me, she couldn't make it back into the living room. Then we would sit in the long hallway directly in front of the apartment door, crowded together on a small bench, and she would tell be stories from her life - both funny and sad. I loved her stories and never grew tired of visiting her. Her wonderful, lively way of telling stories, of turning sentences to images, is and remains a unique experience in my interview work.
Rosa Rosenstein passed away in February 2005.
I didn’t know my great-grandparents. My grandparents and my parents were born in Galicia [Poland].
My father’s family is called Braw. The only Braws still alive today are part of my family. Brav can be written with “v” or Braf with “f” – but we write it with “w.” My brother looked into it and said the name is of Hebrew origin – “Biraw” – meaning “son of the rabbi.” Raw stands for rabbi.
I never met my grandparents on my father’s side since my grandmother, Rivka Finder, née Braw, died before I was born. I was named after her: Rosa in German; Rivka is the Jewish name. I also never met my grandfather, Zwi Finder. After the death of his wife – she died of cancer at the age of 54 – he allegedly married a younger woman and moved away, so that my father didn’t even have any contact with him. Before she died, my grandmother made my father promise he would take care of his siblings.
My father, Jakob Braw, was born on 6 June 1881 in Gorlice [Poland], near Tarnow [Poland]. He had six siblings: Gitl, Chana, Gusta, Zilli, Reisl, and Nathan.
Gitl died before the Second World War.
Chana married Federman and had three children. All of them were murdered in the Holocaust.
Gusta married Eberstark and had six children. They were all murdered.
Zilli came to Berlin, met a Mr. Weinhaus, and in 1914 went with him to America. They got married on the ship. In New York they owned a poultry shop together with her sister Reisl and her husband. Zilli lived to be 104 years old.
Reisl came with her husband to Berlin from Galicia. He was a baker and his name was Wind. Her son Josef was born in Berlin. In 1915 they went through Mexico to New York. She passed away in New York.
Nathan came to Berlin and was very fun-loving. He caught a cold and died of a lung infection at the age of 26. He was buried in the cemetery in Weissensee [a neighborhood in Berlin].
My grandfather on my mother’s side, Angel Arthur Goldstein, was born near Krakow [Poland]. He was the caretaker of an estate. Jews had estates back then. The owner of the estate lived in Krakow. I remember that we had a picture at home of my grandfather with a long white beard and a kepi.
My grandmother, Bacze Goldstein, née Schiff, was born in 1850. She had two wigs that I always had to carry to Grenadier-Strasse [a street in Berlin] to be combed out.
My mother, Golda Braw, née Goldstein, was born 1 August 1884 in Tarnow. She was the only daughter. She had seven brothers: Jonas, Heinrich, Adolf, Hermann, Ignatz, Janik, and Nuchem. Her older brothers also lived in Berlin.
Uncle Jonas – Jewish, Joine – has a piano business in Berlin. His first wife died of the Spanish flu around 1918. After Hitler’s take-over of power in the 1930s, he fled with his second wife, Hella, and the children, Reuben and Dorit, and immigrated to Palestine. Dorit and Reuben lived on a kibbutz at first. Reuben left the kibbutz at the end of the 1950s and took up his studies again, which had been interrupted by the immigration to Palestine. He became a professor of modern philosophy at the University of Tel Aviv. He married Nelly but didn’t have any children.
Dorit and her husband, David Ross, who was also from Berlin, relocated to with Uncle Joine and Aunt Hella to the moshav Atarot, north of Jerusalem. The kibbutz was evicted during the War of Independence in 1948. The members were transferred to the abandoned Templer colony of Wilhelmina, around 20km east of Tel Aviv. Dorit and Jakob have three sons: Ilan, Gad, and Ehud, who now have children and even grandchildren of their own. Joine passed away in the 1950s. Hella died in the 1980s. Jakob passed away a few years ago; Dorit a few weeks ago.
Adolf owned a newsstand. He and his brother Heinrich went with their wives and daughters from Berlin to Canada. One had one daughter; the other had two.
Hermann was a very handsome man. He worked in my father’s tailor shop in Berlin and married Mizzi, who was Christian and converted to Judaism. They went to Canada in 1926 where he died young.
Ignatz was my father’s co-partner at first, and then he became the estate caretaker in Poland. He was married to Barczszinka, who they called Bronka. They didn’t have any children. Bronka survived the war in hiding in an abbey. Ignatz was murdered while fleeing to Budapest.
Jannik was imprisoned in the First World War and taken to Siberia.
Nuchem was the youngest. He was a cadet in the First World War – that’s what they called one-year volunteers. He was automatically one rank higher than a normal soldier, but was buried by a gas attack from the other side and spent a long time in the hospital. He later got married in Galicia.
I first really saw my grandparents on my mother’s side when I was around five or six years old. They lived in the western part of Galicia. It was part of Austria-Hungary back then; it was part of Poland starting in 1922. A large part of Poland belonged to the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy.
In 1913 we went with our mother to visit our grandparents in Galicia from Berlin. We got such beautiful coats – shepherd’s plaid coats and little white hats with hanging cherries.
Our grandparents never came to Berlin for a visit. My grandfather died of heatstroke in 1913. He was on a field overseeing the harvest. My grandmother was alone and my mother came to bring her to Berlin. Then grandmother lived with us. My mother’s brothers came to Berlin when they wanted to see their mother. That’s how we always got such wonderful groceries – they were stationed in Romania during the First World War where you could still get everything. They brought us backpacks filled with flour and rice.
My father was a tailor – a home tailor. Later we had a wholesale men’s ready-to-wear business and a retail shop. My father was never drafted. He was inspected four times during the First World War but was always sent back because he had bad varicose veins. That was his luck! He was at home and could take care of us. He drove out to the farmers and got groceries for us so that we wouldn’t starve. He also soled our shoes. My mother could also do everything. We were never hungry. At some point the food was a bit scarce and we ate turnips. The whole house smelled of it. The jam was even made of turnips – the bread, too.
My mother was engaged to my father for a long time. That was a prearranged marriage. They were distant relatives. My parents were married in Galicia on 7 February 1907. I came ten months later. I was born on 25 December 1907 in Berlin. On my birth certificate my name is still Rosa Goldstein, after my mother. My parents first had a Jewish wedding. At some point my parents needed to marry again at the civil registry office, since the marriage wouldn’t have been recognized otherwise. Later “Jakob Braw recognizes Rosa Goldstein as his daughter. And she carries the name of the father” was added to my birth certificate. I still have it.
My sister Betty came second and was born in 1909. Erna was the third – she was born in 1911; and Cilly was the youngest sister, she was born in 1913. My brother Arthur – with the Jewish name Anschel – was the youngest. He was born in 1915 during the First World War. We still call him Anschi. He and his wife were just here for a visit.
All five of us siblings are very close. Each one of us has a distinct character, but we were never mean to each other. Sure, we each had our own opinion, but we never really quarreled. That doesn’t happen in many families.
My parents were foreigners in Germany. I was also never German. I’ve had three citizenships, but never German. I was an Austrian at first. At the time I was born in Berlin I was an Austrian. I was born in 1907 but Poland was established only in 1922. Starting in 1922 I was Polish, since I was classified according to my parents – I was still a minor. Then I married a Hungarian and became Hungarian myself. After the war I married an Austrian and became Austrian again.
My mother cooked kosher. In Berlin, on Grenadier-Strasse, they were only Jewish shops. There was the kosher butcher shop from Sussmann, there were poultry shops – all of it was kosher. That’s where you went shopping. Everything was kosher at home. Blue utensils were for the milk products, for which we had blue-checkered hand towels. The red-checkered ones were for meat products. The dishes were also separate and were washed separately. The tablecloths were separate – red for daily use, or otherwise white. It was very nice at home. The Passover dishes [Passover: Holiday to remember the flight of the Jews from Egypt] were in a giant suitcase in the dropped ceiling. Bringing it down was always very festive. My mother would buy geese and roast them in the Passover dishes so we’d have lard. The goose liver at Passover was wonderful.
My parents went to Jewish prayer houses. One was called “Ahavat Zedek,” and the other was “Ahavat Chaim.” The prayer rooms were in some large back courtyard.
In Berlin we lived on Templiner-Strasse. We had a large four-room apartment. The toilets were in the apartment and we had a bathroom. It was a very primitive bathroom, but there was a bathtub and a large wood-burning stove so that we could have hot water for our baths.
We four sisters were together in one room. It was narrow and had a window in the corner. There were two beds on each side and next to the door was a large dresser with a mirror. Each girl had her own drawer – where we kept our underwear – and another drawer with all sorts of odds and ends. Then we had a wardrobe where we hung our dresses.
We always got new things for the holidays – for Passover and Rosh Hashanah [Jewish New Year]. We always got winter things on Rosh Hashanah. Those were ready-made beige coats. Of course I immediately tore a triangle on the side, which was then sewn and patched. But it looked pretty shabby after a while. Then we were given new coats again – I was already wearing my sister’s old one since mine was no longer decent. My mother would rant and rave at me. I didn’t spend much time on clothing. She said to me, “Rosa, if you would just stand for five more minutes in front of the mirror.” My mother always said, “A boy was forfeited for you. How are you always ripping your things?” I got everything just like my sisters. Their things would hang in the wardrobe for half a year and every time they took something out they asked, “Do you like it?” Then they would hang it up again. By the time they started wearing their things mine were already long gone – already cleaning rags. I didn’t pay attention to what I wore or how my hair looked. My skirt just needed to be loose enough and my shoes couldn’t pinch so that I could run easily. After I got a bob I started going to the hairdressers – but only because I was working in my father’s shop. We had long braids at first, which were always plaited early in the morning when we went to school. My father always brought his breakfast with him to work. My mother was supposed to lie down. We would always go to our mother’s bed and she would braid our hair.
My brother slept on a divan in the small room. The room faced the street. There was also a desk in his room as well as a large wing back chair next to the tiled stove. Everyone had tiled stoves back then. We would heat the stoves ourselves in winter.
We only had a maid when we were young, because my mother was helping our father in the tailor shop. One maid was called Elsa and the other was Emma. They were both from Pomerania. The maids lived with us, but we just put out a bed for them. It was crude in those days. The girls all came from the countryside and were just happy they could survive. Emma was a Sabbatarian and only went to Jews. Her day of rest was on Shabbat and she worked Sundays. The Sabbatarians – that was a sect – didn’t eat pork either.
I went to a Jewish girls’ school. I had to learn French; English was an elective. Of course I was much too lazy for English, so I only learned French. There wasn’t any preschool back then. It began at grade nine and went to grade one. The ninth grade was like today’s first grade and first grade was the last grade. The called them Lyceum.
I had no contact with Christians whatsoever. My parents didn’t either – only professionally, not privately. But I had one Christian childhood friend who lived in the same building. I always came along when she went to confession.
Three times a week for three hours we read biblical stories and Hebrew with Dr. Selbiger. We didn’t learn cursive handwriting, but we learned the block letters. I could do all the prayers. I had to pray. My grandmother took care of that. Early in the morning we prayed “Modim anachnu lo,” and in the evenings recited the “El Male Rachamïm,” the evening prayer.
My sisters also went to that school. But then I had to leave the school. I had to go to a trade school because my father needed me in the shop. First I had to do a sort of internship at another company. We had a Jewish secretary. She got married and I had to take on her work. We also had a retail shop for men’s ready-to-wear clothes. I was in the sewing workshop and my sister Betty, who also attended the same trade school as me, worked in the retail shop.
At the trade school you had to learn everything in half a year: typing, stenography, bookkeeping – and everything at a quick place. I had classmates were 20 years old; I was 15 but I was better than the others. My mother never went to the school to ask about how I was doing. There were no complaints.
I earned 100 marks of pocket money for my work in my father’s shop. I never signed up for health insurance. If I had done that I would be receiving another pension from Germany. My sister Betty, on the other hand, worked for the state prosecutor and gets a superb pension from Germany.
We were always Zionistic. My brother, for example, was already in a Zionistic-Socialist association at the age of 14 and wore the blue shirts that they wore.
All my siblings were in Jewish associations that had a Zionistic element. There were the German Jews who said, “For God’s sake, what do we want with that – Germany is our homeland.” But that wasn’t for us; we were Polish. I was in the Jewish gymnastics club “Bar Kochba.” That was a Jewish association – half sports, half discussion. In the summer we trained in Grunewald, did track and field. In winter we were in the gymnasium. I never had the courage to climb the poles or to balance on the bars. But I had fun playing other sports like dodge ball and medicine ball.
I made friends – even with boys – at the Jewish associations. On Pentecost, for example, we took a trip to the countryside. There was a railway to Frankfurt an der Oder. This was in the third or fourth grade. You could sit on your backpack on the ground or lie on a blanket. We went at night. That was exciting! We slept by a lake – boys and girls. For a few nights we slept in piles of hay on a farm. I had Martha – a good friend who was always next to me. Berlin has really beautiful lakes. We always rode paddleboats on Wednesday. I couldn’t swim but we rowed. I tried to learn to swim three times. By the third time I gave up. The first time I tried learning how to swim my swim instructor had me on a hook and I had to do the movements. And the second time they gave me a board that I had to push in front of me. At the end the instructor said to me, “now without the board!” I didn’t do it. I was a coward. I admit I was afraid. That’s life.
My parents rented a holiday apartment in summer. When we were young we spent the first summer holidays by a lake in Fichtenau. We brought beds and the dishes. My father came up on the weekends. He was working, so we were there with our mother. Mother cooked and we ate soup with noodles just like at home.
We had everything. We ate well; we only bought the best. We roasted goose. Sometimes I exchanged lunch with the children at school. I would trade my bread and cheese sandwich so I could get a lard sandwich. We had everything we needed.
My father worshiped my mother. He did everything for her and his daughters. My sister always said, “What do you want, you were Dad’s favorite.” My father was a good man. He was only there for his wife and children. My father didn’t smoke or drink. The only thing he did was drink a sip of Slivovitz before he went to the workshop in the morning – a little glass of Slivovitz with breakfast. Sometimes when my mother asked, “Tell me, Jakob, what should I make for lunch?” He would say, “You know what? I’ll have rice pudding with sugar and cinnamon. That’s that best.” That’s how he was! We had to have smoked beef brisket from Sussmanns on Grenadier-Strasse. He was like that with clothing as well. If my mother said to him, “Jakob, you need new shoes. It’s time you get another suit,” he wouldn’t want to. But if I asked for anything, I got it.
My mother was a bookworm like me. In Galicia she only attended school for a year. She had seven brothers who all studied. Grandfather always said that it’s enough for a girl to be able to write her name, bake bread, roast, and churn butter. She was from the countryside; that was enough. My mother told me that the first thing she ever bought in Berlin – later on she was working in Berlin – was Grillparzer [Austrian writer, 1791-1872], a whole series of books by Grillparzer. She taught herself to read and write. We had a proper library at home. We had a worker, he was an older gentleman – and there were four of us girls at home. And he always said, “Of all the five women in the Braw house, the mother is the cleverest and most beautiful.” When we all emigrated after Hitler came, my heart ached because we had to leave all the books behind.
I lived at home up until my wedding day. My first husband was also a tailor, a Hungarian. He was dashing young man. I was working for my father in a factory building with large windows. My desk was at the window. There was a menswear business across the way. A young, good-looking man sat at the sewing machine. We would often smile at each other. I didn’t know who he was and he didn’t know who I was. One day a man came by – earlier the merchants would go from shop to shop – and he brought me a box, a kilo of sweets: “This is sent from the young man over there.” That’s how it started. I took it, of course, and thanked him.
I wasn’t yet 18. I was glad, but I always working late. If you were in father’s shop you couldn’t finish by 5pm. My mother always called up my father, “When are you going to send the girl home?” I had to do everything – sew buttons in the workshop, help when things had to be packed for shipping, go with the valets to the station when the boxes needed to be shipped by train.
We made and sold menswear. We had our own retail shop for a while. That was in Neukoelln, on Hermann-Strasse. The other was on Neue Friedrich-Strasse at the corner of Kloster-Strasse. Back then you sold a lot on credit, payment in installments, because people were poor. A suit, for example, cost 35 marks. You drew up a card that showed 10 marks and the sum was collected. My sister did that. There were few Jewish customers in the retail shop, but the wholesale customers who bought all the suits were Jewish. Those were people from the countryside. The boxes were sent to Essen, Duesseldorf, Duisburg. We also had a sales representative who had fabric samples and fabrics.
Once I got to go home earlier. I was in the shop in Neue Friedrich-Strasse and went through Hackescher Markt to a large bookshop on Rosenthaler-Strasse. I browsed the books. I look at the books, I borrowed books, I read on loan – only books. So I stood there and looked, and then I suddenly heard a voice speaking slowly from behind me: “Isn’t that niiiiice?” I turned around and he was standing there. He had the same route as me. He lived with his sister. He asked if me might accompany me, he was heading the same way. I said, “please!” That’s how we found out that he was the nephew of the proprietor for whom he worked, and that I was the daughter of the proprietor from across the way. He thought I was an employee and I had thought that he was just a worker. His name was Maximillian Weisz; we called him Michi. He was born on 30 November 1904 in Nitra [today Slovakia]. And that’s how it all began!
Afterwards he would sometimes accompany me, and then he asked me out. That was a Saturday evening, since there was no time during the week. Our meeting place was on Schoenhauser Allee at the subway station at the corner of Schwedter-Strasse. I got dressed up, went to the hairdresser’s – since I had started working for my father I was always at the hairdresser’s on Saturday. My parents knew that I had a date and my mother said, “Come on, get going already or you’ll be too late!” And I said, “If he is interested, he’ll wait.” So I went down but there was no one there. Just great, I thought, I’m too late. Five minutes went by and all of a sudden he came running, out of breath. “What happened?” I apologized for being late. He thought I was waiting at another station, so he ran to the next station and back.
There was a restaurant called “Schottenhamel” by the Tiergarten [A large park in Berlin]. It was a very elegant establishment. He said he hadn’t had dinner yet. We took the subway to Wilhelm-Strasse. We went in and it was very elegant. But I was kosher. He ordered a meat dish and I ordered coffee and cake. I wasn’t eating anything treif [unclean, not kosher]. I said that was kosher. I didn’t know where any kosher restaurants were; my parents didn’t go to restaurants. Later there was music there.
When I was engaged I received three very pretty dresses. A black satin dress with a white satin inset, a white-blue crêpe de Chine dress, and the third was a dark-blue dress with Bordeaux. I couldn’t very well go out with him with the rags that I had. Those dresses were sewn at a very elegant tailor shop.
Our family accepted my fiancée like a son. We were both hard workers. We only went out on the weekend. Then about seven, eight months went by. My parents said it was meaningless. They wouldn’t allow me to just rove about; I would get a bad reputation. It was Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur [Jewish day of redemption; most important Jewish holiday] and my parents were in temple. I was also in temple. Of course we weren’t working.
Maximilian also wasn’t working because his uncle was Jewish and they didn’t work on the holiday. He came to visit me in temple: the young people always gathered there and stood around with their friends. My parents invited him for coffee on Rosh Hashanah. Two of my mother’s brothers also came with their wives. So we were sitting around and my father said, “Let’s go into the next room!” My uncles and father called Michi in. I asked myself what was going on. After a while they all came out laughing. Michi was beaming and they told me they had asked him what his intentions were, since they couldn’t accept seeing me be strung along like that, as I would get a bad reputation. He said his intention was to marry me. So it was settled. I was really annoyed that they had done that.
I had enough suitors. A relative from Poland wanted to marry me. He was eight years older. The last time he was in Berlin I was a girl of 14. When he left I was 15. Sometimes he took me to the circus, sometimes to a matinee of an operetta. His father had a butcher shop and a horse trade in Oswieczim [Poland, Auschwitz], as Jews did in the countryside. He had to go back home since he was the only son. When we parted he said to me, “Rosa, when you turn 18, I will marry you.” And I, with my big mouth, said to him, “Of course!”
At some point I received a letter, but it was addressed to my father. And he asked if I could still remember, as it was now about the time when I would turn 18. I was so proud of this letter! I wrote him back saying I would have received the offer, but that three years had passed and I had changed, looked very different, and so on. He wrote back with a picture of himself saying I should send a picture of myself. I sent him a passport picture with my hair standing on end. He wrote back saying you couldn’t see much in the picture and so I wrote back saying, “If you’re interested, come to Berlin.” I didn’t like him at all. He just made me feel proud and I could see the reality: he was a good match. I was very shy back then and had absolutely no imagination.
Then the reply came. He couldn’t come because he didn’t have a passport and that I should go to him. I was already in the process of getting a passport when my mother intervened and said to me, “Rosa, think! You, a girl from Berlin with your knowledge – you want to go to Poland to get married?” It was already Poland at that point. “You can’t speak a word of Polish. Do you want to live in a village and work in a butcher shop?”
I stopped answering. Besides which I was in love with my childhood friend Samy back then. We lived in the same building. When we met I was ten, eleven years old and he was four years older. He would always walk past me very proud; I was still playing with dolls. Then, when I was almost 18, he was also in love with me. Whenever he could he would take me and kiss me. We were once in a summer resort. I was with my brother who was still little. Samy wanted to sleep with me. His sister was my friend, a beautiful girl the same age as me, and I said to him, “Samy, what would you say if your sister, Nina, did something like that?” And he said, “She wouldn’t do such a thing.” From that moment it was over; I couldn’t look at him again. I was so proud! His parents were in America and came back to Germany. Two months later he was gone. I don’t know if he’s still alive – he must be 100 years old already – or if he ever knew why it ended.
I really didn’t like what my father and uncles did with Michi, but please! Michi was beaming and I was very embarrassed, but afterwards we went to the cinema. All of that happened in November and his birthday was on 30 November. My birthday was on 25 December and he gave me a wonderful crystal plate as a gift. That was the first plate I ever received and I thought, “a plate for a birthday present? A crystal plate?” But the cut was exceptionally beautiful. Michi was very generous and I often received gifts.
Then we had a real Jewish engagement party. That was 08 March 1928. His mother and sisters came from Budapest for the party. There were 80 people. We had a four-room apartment back then and three rooms were cleared out. My mother cooked the entire dinner herself. I had friends and the girls were all there. I received a lot of gifts. It was a really large party. The cloakroom was set up in the last room. We had an apprentice in the shop and he came to help with the cloakroom. I still remember that there was fish, then soup, and then farfel and tarhonya with poultry and all sorts of things. And years earlier my mother had preserved sour cherries in alcohol for liqueur. She bought spirits and preserved the cherries. She had said that we’d open and drink it at the first family celebration. That took a few years.
During the engagement I crocheted and knit sofa pillows and received handicrafts from friends for the engagement party.
Michi then started working for himself. He had been working for his uncle up until then. He purchased and borrowed machines. He was working with his brother-in-law and I said, “That only works as long as we’re not married. Afterwards I’ll be co-partner.” And that’s what happened.
I was the first to get married. I was, of course, the eldest. The wedding in the civil registry office was a year later. Michi wasn’t even of legal age then. In Hungary you become of legal age at 24. He needed approval from his parents. When we got married he was 24, but when he submitted the documents for the wedding he wasn’t 24 yet. We were both foreigners. In Germany everything was very exact. Since I was of Polish descent I needed to get my certificate of no impediment from Poland. We hired a lawyer to do it. You just needed money; otherwise you would have to run all over the place.
Then we got married. I insisted on the temple on Oranienburger Strasse. We went to Leipziger Strasee to get the lace for the wedding dress. “Michels” – the lace store – was also on Leipziger Strasse. A wonderful store! We bought the veil there; it was embroidered. Then we had to order the flowers, the bouquet and the myrtle, the restaurant and the food. The restaurant where we ordered the food was on Grenadier-Strasse, in the Jewish quarter.
The civil service – that was just a document – was seven weeks before the Jewish ceremony. But I still signed things with my maiden name. It didn’t even occur to me that I was already married. My father and Michi’s uncle were the witnesses at the civil service. Afterwards we went right back to work. And then came the actual ceremony. I went to the mikvah [ritual bath]. My mother’s cousin dragged me there. All my friends were at home with me Saturday afternoon and evening. It was funny, my fiancée was there and I had to go to the mikvah. There they inspected my fingernails for dirt and I had to submerge myself in the water.
The wedding was on Sunday. Before the ceremony we went first to the photographer. That was at the top of Schoenhauser Allee. The photographer was from Russia originally. His name was Pergamentchik and he was one of the best photographers. Then Hitler came and Pergamentchik went to Palestine and had a studio there.
The temple on Oranienburger Strasse was one of the most beautiful temples in all of Berlin, some even say in all of Europe. People were invited just for the ceremony and others for the meal in the restaurant afterwards. Two married couples had to lead the bride under the chuppah [The bridal canopy at Jewish weddings – it means “roof over one’s head” and implies that a house will be built]. Those were, from my side, my parents, and from Michi’s side, his sister and brother-in-law who were also living in Berlin. Two little girls, a friend’s daughters, scattered flowers. It was all very elegant. Then we came, with two little boys carrying the train. Then came the wedding party. My four friends wore elegant dresses in light green, light blue, the third was the color of malvas, and the fourth was in pink.
Then we were married. But before that they called for the civil service certificate. That was a law in Germany, as Jewish weddings weren’t recognized, although they were recognized in Austria and Czechoslovakia. You wouldn’t have to go to the civil registry office at that time. That’s why many couples went to Czechoslovakia to get married, since they didn’t have whatever papers.
Two little boys in sailor suits carried the train of my wedding dress. They were five years old. One was my eventual nephew and the other was a friend’s son. They fought; they were both tugging on the train. The whole time I tried to hold on to it.
After the ceremony we went to the restaurant. The restaurant was on Kupfergraben, right on Alexander-Strasse. Next to it was the large Hermann Tietz department store. One of the wedding guests was a printer, a very beautiful boy who printed the invitations and place cards as a wedding present. The other wedding gifts were all the regular things you’d give back then. You make lists today. I got a couch cover from one person – a chaise lounge cover – I still have it. From other people I received bedside rugs, down blankets, and crystal.
The food was good. My mother made the fish – real Polish carp, cold with a jelly and challah [Jewish holiday bread in the form of a braid]. It was cold outside and the waiters had no desire to serve; we had to push them to do it. There were only two or three waiters. After eating, people were supposed to dance – there were enough young people there. But the music was awful. The brother of a friend was a wonderful pianist. He could play anything – just from his head, without notes. He then sat himself at the piano and played. Then we could really dance.
Afterwards we went to our apartment. It was already fully set up. There was a housing crisis back then and we had found an apartment on Alte Schoenhauser-Strasse that had earlier housed a police station. It was an apartment and workshop together. The apartment was large – there was a giant room with three windows facing the second courtyard, then I had a lovely bedroom with windows that also faced the courtyard. My father went shopping with me so we could pick out the nicest bedroom furnishings, wholesale. The shop owner, a wholesaler, told me that a musician had the same bedroom. It was mahogany, a very dark mahogany with silver inlay. I also got a beautiful dining room. The workshop had also been set up already; the tailoring machines were all there. My husband was already working in the apartment. The wedding gifts had also been also partly arranged in the apartment.
Then came the wedding night. Early in the morning I heard the apartment door shut. My husband jumped out of bed, pulled on his pants, and ran out. It was my father! He wanted to heat the room so that it would be warm when I woke up. He even turned the heater on in the bedroom! Well, my mother was probably furious!
On 10 December 1929 our daughter Bessy was born. She came ten months after the wedding. I got married on 10 February and she was born 10 December. We were both still so young, but I had my parents. For the first six weeks I stayed at my parents’. My husband stayed in our apartment. He came to us and I went to him. I would go over there during the day and work a little. I knew that I would have to return in three hours to feed the baby. The whole way took less than ten minutes to walk.
My father was evicted and I slept in the room with my mother and the baby. We didn’t have a crib at my parents so the baby slept between us. Of course Bessy had a beautiful, white crib at home and a white baby carriage that my sister had given me. My father didn’t let me go outside with the child since it was extremely cold. He permitted it after six weeks, and only if he came along. When my second daughter, Lilly, was born, my father would always say, “I have six daughters!”
When Bessy was two-and-a-half years old I went with her to Hungary to visit my in-laws and my husband’s relatives. My husband stayed in Berlin. We had the workshop and he couldn’t get away.
My father-in-law owned a bakery. The family lived in a suburb of Budapest, in Ujpest, which means New Pest. Ujpest is twenty minutes away by tram from Budapest. Budapest is a magnificent city! The old town is on one side and the modern city is on the other. There were wonderful coffee houses. You could sit on the quay by the Danube. There were steamboat rides. I felt very good there. And then I came back to Berlin – back then people still traveled by train and it took twenty hours to get from Berlin to Budapest. I rode back to Berlin on the Orient Express. They gave me a lovely goose, goose liver and salami to take along.
I arrived, a great pleasure of course, and nine months later, on 06 May 1933, my second daughter Lilly was there. That’s not really what I wanted. I only wanted one child since it was very modern back then to only have one. All my friends and my sisters-in-law only had one kid. My husband’s sister wanted to help me. She said I should drink tea, sit in hot water, and jump off the table - but it didn’t help. That’s until I told my mother I was pregnant and she didn’t mince words, “What is this? Do you want to make yourself unhappy? What is a second child? Why don’t you want it? The age difference is perfect!” But the worst thing is that she told my daughter when she was older. And then she would always say to me, “You didn’t even want me.”
My husband, who was not at all kosher at home in Budapest, adapted himself completely. It wasn’t difficult to live kosher. You could get everything. There were only Jewish shops and religious people on Grenadier-Strasse, on Dragoner-Strasse, and on Mulack-Strasse. There was a pious Jew there who was doing penance because, they say, he was a cad in his youth who ran around with girls, with Christians – terrible! And then he got married, did penance, wore a long coat and white socks, and grew out his beard. He was also a redhead. He had six children. He lived on Grenadier-Strasse. This street was the center of Eastern European Jewry in Berlin. People spoke Yiddish and Polish there. There were merchants there with junk goods, butcher shops, fish shops, bakeries and Jewish restaurants. My husband and I frequently went out to dinner there. We really liked eating kishka with farfel and it was so good there. Farfel is a pasta and tarhonya is an egg barley. Kishka is stuffed intestine, clean cow intestine, which is filled. Then you make a mass out of flower, grease, a little semolina, salt, pepper, a little garlic – which you use to fill the intestine. Then you roast it or cook it with the tarhonya. It forms a dough, a hard dough, that you grate with a grater. Various shaped pieces come out that are sizzled in grease. It tastes wonderful. I used to make that a lot.
There was a Jewish preschool on Gips-Strasse. And the Jewish primary school was August-Strasse. The director of the Jewish primary school was one of my classroom teachers at the Jewish middle school. I brought my daughter Bessy to her and she said to me, “You’re already bringing your daughter to me?” Well, we were four girls in one school. That’s not something you forget so quickly.
My sister Betty, who is only one year younger than me, is the total opposite of me. She doesn’t talk as much as I do and always clung to my coattail wherever I was. I went away with my husband – that was three months after our wedding, since we didn’t have a honeymoon – so we took a five-day trip over Pentecost. The next day my sister was there and she slept in the same room with us.
My brother is called Anschel like Rotschild – Arthur in German. He was called Anschi. My brother was wonderful; he’s still wonderful. Arthur was a Zionist from birth. In Berlin he was in the Hashomer Hatzair association. My father said he should study but Annschi said they didn’t need doctors in Palestine, Palestine needed to built up and they needed farmers there. After two years of high school he moved away with his association – I think it was Habonim – and they went to Palestine. I said goodbye to him at the train station. They went to the Hula Valley, which was up north in the Galilee. There were only swamps with mosquitos and wasps that needed to be cleared. They worked there and slept in tents. He got malaria and typhus. He did a lot. Today my brother lives in Haifa. His wife, Rosel, was in the Bund with him. She is also a childhood friend. He became a metal worker, and worked hard from morning to night. Arthur has two daughters, Ruth, married Dickestein, and Yael, married Rappoport. Both daughters got a good education.
In 1933 my sister Betty was fired on racial grounds, which is when my mother took notice. In December 1933 Betty went to Palestine. Betty had worked at the court in Berlin and was given civil servant status. My mother, who was very cautious and clever, said, “There’s no point, Betty. We all need to be getting on our way and you’ll be the first to go to Palestine!” Back then the English asked for a certificate, which you got if you could practice a certain profession, like an agricultural one, for example, or if you had a lot of money and could buy the certificate.
Betty went on hachshara [preparation for life in Palestine/Israel]. The Palestine Office sent her to Poland. There she lived in a commune. She had to wash the bloody skins they pulled off the animals. She said she was really disgusted, that it was horrible. She didn’t bring home what she had worn there; she left everything there. She was so sensitive: If I said, “Betty, do you have a pair of socks you can lend me?” She would say, “Not lend, you can keep them.” God forbid if someone put on her robe – she would have screamed.
In those days you were no longer allowed to send money to Palestine. But with the passports we had, you were able to send ten marks per month per passport. My father gathered a few hundred dollars with these transfers to Palestine.
First Betty attended the WIZO school in Palestine in order to learn how to cook. WIZO was that women’s organization. That lasted a half a year. She met her future husband, Perez Chaim, in the house where she working, with the mother of Chaim Weizmann, to be exact. He was an electric engineer at Rutenberg. That was a large energy company in Israel. His father was a theologian. Betty and her husband don’t have any children.
Erna was the next one to go to Palestine. She was four years younger than me. Erna was at home a lot; she had bad eyes. She had one eye operated on and could see poorly out of the other eye. She was born like that and my mother always had sympathy for her. Go easy on the eyes: Erna is staying at home. She’ll cook; she’ll do the household chores. We were able to do the sewing and knitting, all sorts of things. But not Erna – she needed to rest her eyes. Erna had a childhood sweetheart, Max Selinger. He could play the fiddle very well. My sister played the piano well and they always played together in our apartment – we had a piano. We really liked him. Only his mother had different plans for him. There was the Jewish club Nordau in Berlin [named after Max Nordau]. Erna met her future husband, Heinz-Werner Goldstein, in that club. He was so proud of his “germanness,” always saying “we.” Even in Israel he was always comparing things: “In Germany we did it like that, we did it like this…” He wanted to attend the Academy for Politics. Well, then Hitler came and he couldn’t. He went to France to get a certificate and worked in the vineyards there.
Erna went to Palestine with Heinz-Werner, but he couldn’t get any assignments and so delivered newspapers. My sister worked as a cleaner and later opened a nursery school in her apartment. He did whatever he could get. They had two children, Aliza and David. When Heinz-Werner died, my sister sold her apartment in Haifa. Her daughter and son-in-law put some money into it and bought her an apartment in Ra’anana so that they could be with her everyday. She only needed to cross the street. They set up the apartment in Ra’anana exactly how it was in Haifa so that she had it good.
In 1939 Cilly went with my parents to Palestine. Cilly worked for the Palestine Office in Berlin. She travelled to rich Jews all over Germany in order to collect money for the youth aliyah [Jewish immigration to Israel/Palestine]. She wanted to go to Palestine with her husband, Rudi Abraham – they were already married by then – but the Palestine Office said, “We need your energy, your collection work!” She had a special presence: she was an elegant woman, beautiful too. People always said to her, “If you want to go to Palestine you won’t have to wait.” She went around collecting money. She can do everything. She can write books, translate into four languages, and she was Ben Gurion’s press speaker. In America, she was a consul under Eisenhower. She was in New York for one and a half years.
She is the youngest of us four girls and had the best education. We all had to do what our father told us to and Cilly could do what she wanted. I don’t know why. Despite the fact that I was the favorite daughter! She went to High School and was doing her final exams when the Nazis came in 1933. Then she went to Latvia for a year and half – to hachshara in Riga. That’s where she met her first husband, Rudi Abraham. He was from Berlin and about to become a lawyer. He was still a law clerk. She married him and went with him to Palestine. He had to start his studies over, since at that time Palestine was under the Turkish legal system. First he had to learn the language. Cilly was in America and he was alone in Palestine. They lived apart. She was gone for a year and a half, two years. Their marriage fell apart. In America she met her second husband, Joseph Brandstetter. He was 23 years older than her. He was a bohemian type. He made films and brought the Habimah Troop [Israeli National Theater] to America, and he painted. They lived together. He died of kidney failure.
In 1938, just after the November Pogrom, my father was arrested and deported to Poland. He was allowed to take ten marks and a small briefcase. I remember we gave him his golden watch with the chain. We still had relatives in Poland and I was always the go-between. I was married to a Hungarian and wasn’t afraid yet. I got a visa for Poland. I wanted to go to my father and bring him money. Just as I was leaving the passport office my mother came up to me and said, “You don’t have to go to Poland. Your father got the approval to come back and pick me up. We’re going to Palestine together.”
When my father got back from Poland, everything as packed. At that point my youngest daughter was about to start school; she was six years old. My sisters didn’t give up and got entry permits from the English. My father left with such a heavy heart, since I was staying behind with my family. My father said, “I’m sinning against myself!” He couldn’t separate himself. “I’m sinning against myself, I am leaving my child here and going!” And he said, “I won’t rest until I bring you over.”
My father had saved 300 dollars – in 100-dollar notes. He had to pack his things. The boxes were already gone. Even the silver cutlery was in the boxes. I ordered a crate of beer. The customs officers got drunk and the Jewish moving company packed, even my silver candlesticks, which you were allowed to take. And we thought that the boxes, if the customs officers were packing in the apartment, would just be sent off. But to our misfortune the boxes were opened again at the customs office. They saw the silver things and took them out. But the Jewish packers – it was a good Jewish moving company – managed to pack them in again.
But where do you hide 300 dollars? I had, for example, my silk clothing that slipped onto these folding boards. You could buy them ready-made and attach them with these pink ribbons so that they were nicely laid. My mother had the idea – she got her hands on a piece of cardboard and also had some colorful fabric embroidered with little roses – of replicating a board and tucking the 300 dollars inside. It was not as nice as the real ones; it was a bit smaller. Only my parents and I knew about the money. My youngest sister Cilly and I went to Alexanderplatz to check the suitcases. My sister stood on one side and I stood on the other. The customs officer took out every piece and laid them out, even the folding boards. There were even more folding boards inside. All of a sudden he said, “So, where have you hidden your dollars then?” My father couldn’t relax; he kept leaving and strolling around. And my sister said cheekily, “You know what, if I had wanted to smuggle dollars I would have found a better option.” He put everything back. My father said, “Resi, one hundred is yours!” And he held on to that one hundred dollars until I went to Israel for the first time. But I never saw my father again. He did learn that I had a son. He died in 1947. My son was born in 1945.
My husband said, “Nothing can happen to us in Hungary.” 1939, after three weeks of war, you had to darken the apartment and there were ration cards. The Jews received less, of course. And besides that there were only specific times during the day for shopping. We couldn’t do our shopping throughout the whole day. We packed our suitcases and went to Budapest, because my husband maintained that that wouldn’t happen there. To be safe, I brought along my children’s travel documents for Palestine.
We found a small apartment – two rooms and a kitchen – in Ujpest. I already had the boxes with my things from Berlin. We had already sold the furniture. Those were emergency sales. For my bedroom set, which had cost 4,000 marks, I got 400 marks. But I had sent other things: linens, curtains, the silver candlesticks, silver cutlery. For my wedding I had been given down bedding that was made in Poland. My mother ordered the goose down, the real kind. I wanted a specific size back then. The mean size was only 1.40 meters for a duvet and I wanted 1.50 meters. They were finished in Poland. In Budapest they had white ticking and mine was with red ticking. I also sent a portion of my things along with my mother to Israel in case we went to Palestine.
“Wait in Hungary,” my parents wrote. Back then you could only travel to Palestine if you had a certificate saying your job was necessary for the country. That meant we could only travel on a Capitalist Certificate. Along with this certificate was an asset of one thousand English pounds that you had to pay to the English. My parents wrote that capital would be deposited for us in Holland so that we could travel as capitalists. But, to our misfortune, the Germans marched into Holland.
My sister-in-law gave me her kitchen; she was a rich woman. She gave me a table and chairs. And my husband could even work. He had been self-employed in Berlin. But there he was traveling to Budapest; you had to travel with the tram for 20 minutes. Across from out apartment was a Jewish girls’ school. Things were still wonderful for the Jews in Hungary then. There were a lot of Jews living in Budapest at that time; 200,000, I think.
My mother-in-law was not content with me because I wasn’t Hungarian. Her son had married a German and she didn’t like that. But my father-in-law was very nice to me. At first I couldn’t speak a word of Hungarian. I learned it later. But almost all the Hungarians could speak German. My mother-in-law even wrote me German letters. My husband had a brother who was working for their father in the bakery. He was my mother-in-law’s favorite. He was the only one to survive. The rest were sent to concentration camps and murdered. He inherited a tremendous amount after the war. After one year there was nothing left because he couldn’t handle money. He Magyarized his name. They were called Weisz; My name was also Weisz. After the war my children, especially Bessy, said “Let’s draw the curtain over whatever there was. Family is family!” The family in Budapest was poor. That was during communism. My daughters bought kid things for his grandson. I was often in Budapest to visit. But I didn’t stay with them, since they were very poor. I had a rich friend there. He was in the camp with us – that’s how we became friends. He was wonderful. His name was Ferry and he was a shoemaker. He had a workshop and made elegant shoes. I loved Hungary. Ferry died of liver cancer.
My husband went to work, the children went to school; that wasn’t a problem. But I didn’t have friends, only the family. There was the rich daughter of my husband’s sister who had two houses and a magnificent shop. She often invited us over for lunch or for the holidays. She got baptized in 1938 – she and her friend who was also a very rich woman. My sister-in-law only had one son, Stefan – Pista is the Hungarian abbreviation. Her friend had a daughter. My father-in-law was incredibly upset that his daughter got baptized. He had such a dry sense-of-humor and once asked both women, “Why did you do that?” And my sister-in-law’s friend said that her daughter would make a better match. My father-in-law then said to her: “She can marry a drunken goy [non-Jew]?”
It was Christmas and my sister-in-law had a large Christmas tree. She had a cook, she had a salesman in the shop, she was elegant, she had a fur coat. We all went out to eat and she invited us: Me with my Jewish children. All of a sudden her friend lay down on the ground under the Christmas tree and said, “What a terrific feeling, to lie under the Christmas tree!” I thought I would burst! In the morning her daughters and my sister-in-law’s son had gone to church with the maid. And the children came home and showed off the images of the saints that they were given in church. The children were ten years old, like my Bessy. And the little one said how nice it was to be a Christian and showed the images of the saints to my Lilly. Lilly was six or seven years old. She didn’t speak very much. The older one would blather, like me, but whatever the little one said, stuck. And she stood there and looked at the images of the saints. My older one argued about which was better, Jews or Christians. And the little one listened and then all at once burst out with: “Yes, but inside your blood is Jewish.”
In the evening my husband was sitting with my father-in-law in the coffee house, watching the other people there playing cards. I was at home with my children. It was already dark and my father-in-law came to me and said, “Resi, I need Michi’s papers. There were detectives in the café and Michi only had his passport on him.” The passport had been issued in Berlin. It was a Hungarian passport and was valid for two more years. He had identified himself with the passport and they said that it could have been forged and arrested him.
I didn’t have my husbands Heimatschein [certificate of family origin], it stayed behind in Berlin when he took his passport. Nothing moved the next day. It was Purim [commemorates the saving of the Jewish people from danger in the Persian diaspora]. On the second day – my daughter Lilly was lying in bed, she had do desire to go to the Purim celebrations at school, and Bessy was at school – I was ironing in the kitchen. There was a knock and two men came in. The asked me who I was and introduced themselves; they were from the foreign division, and if I could please come with them. They wanted to take the children and me. Lilly was at home and my neighbor picked Bessy up from school. I had a Jewish neighbor and asked her to tell my in-laws in the bakery what had happed – that we had been arrested.
I didn’t let go of my passport. They took away my husband’s passport. I didn’t show mine. They didn’t ask. They took my children and me on the tram to the internment camp. That’s where my husband saw us. When he saw us, the children and me, he had a crying fit. I comforted him and said, “Michi, the main thing is that we’re together!”
We lived in barracks built onto the temple. I was able to go to my apartment with a detective to get clothes and to get the down blankets for the children so that they could sleep better. There were bunk beds in the barracks. I was on the bottom and the two girls were on top. Men and women were separated. During the day we were guarded by a detective and at night by a police officer. There were maybe 40 or 50 of us there. We were there for three, four weeks, then we were sent to the countryside where there were closed camps on the Czech border. Those were former customs houses. People from the Jewish Community came and looked after us. The guards were Hungarian.
I still had the travel papers for my children. And I always wrote Red Cross letters – through my cousin in Argentina who forwarded them – that’s how we connected to my family in Palestine. My brother-in-law wrote from Palestine, “Send the children, please send the children. We will raise them as if they were our own!” They were right, since the children would be safe in Palestine.
The Jewish Community in Budapest organized it. My sister-in-law made sure that my children got on the list and received entry permits for Palestine. The children were given stateless passports. Our Lilly didn’t want to. She was eight years old when she left. Bessy was eleven. Then they both agreed, but the little one said to me that her sister hit her to make her say yes. But she saved her life by doing that. I was given permission to accompany the children to Budapest. My husband, who was in the men’s camp, was only allowed to bring the children from the bus to the station. There he said goodbye to the children. That’s the last time the children ever saw their father. The last time!
We took the train to Budapest. A detective picked us up and accompanied us to the station. Lilly stood at the window of the train, tears running down her face. They then took the train to Bulgaria and then a ship over to Turkey where they went by bus from Syria to Palestine. My parents collected them in Palestine. They already had a nice apartment and took in the children.
On my husband’s death certificate it read “cardiac arrest.” Later I was told he died of spotted fever. He was sent to Russia, to Kiev, for labor service. He needed to dig and search for mines.
I was granted leave from the internment camp and still had the small apartment. I worked for a lawyer but needed to report to the police every eight days. I was the widow of a labor serviceman. I had a widow’s certificate.
At that time my in-laws were living at my sister-in-law’s – she did have two houses. She took in her parents, and even a sister with a child as well as another single sister. Then it was 1944. Eichmann came to Budapest to create “order.” I was free with my green widow’s certificate and had to report myself. My husband was dead, so I had advantages. I wanted to see how my husband’s family was doing. I didn’t want to get disconnected from them. I took the tram out to visit them. That was the same day Eichmann came to Budapest, on 21 or 22 March – I still know the date. I exited the tram and was arrested.
I was led to a house where there were about 400 people, all Jews. We were imprisoned there and no one knew what was going to happen. We were squeezed into a freight car and rode and rode and rode. There were no windows, so we didn’t know where we were headed. Suddenly we were unloaded and found ourselves in a large courtyard. I looked around and saw a lot of imprisoned men standing on the other side; we were about 400 women. There was a water pump in the center; you could drink a little bit of water from your hands. We stood and stood. All of a sudden the women were called into a building. An officer was sitting there, writing out the names. It went alphabetically, beginning with A. I was one of the last with “W,” Weisz. We were still standing outside and didn’t know what was going on, but no one came back.
Finally it was our turn with “W.” We went inside. A gentleman was sitting there - large, stylish. I don’t know if he was a policeman. He was wearing a light-green uniform. So I was up and laid my husband’s death certificate on the table and said, “I can’t speak Hungarian.” He looked at me and looked at the certificate, and then looked at me again and said in German, “Are you an Israelite?” I said, “Yes!” I couldn’t say anything else and he looked at me again. Then he asked me where I waned to go. I said, “I wanted to go to visit my parents-in-law and I was taken here.” I still didn’t show my passport. Then we were led to a giant room, again with around 400 women. It was the Budapest detention center, near the Keleti train station. It was nighttime and we were locked in. That night Budapest was being bombed: by the Americans and English during the day, by the Russians at night. We sat and saw bullets, the blazing bullets the Russians the Russians shot before they started bombing. The women prayed that the next bomb would fall on us. We feared the worse. We were inside for four days. We arrived on Tuesday and were released on Friday. They didn’t know where to put us. We knew the men were deported. But they didn’t know what to do with 400 women. They didn’t have any trains. That was our fortune.
I was afraid to go to my room, since you had to give your address when they released us. We had a Viennese friend, a widow, who had been married to a Hungarian in Budapest. He was Christian. They had a 15-year-old daughter back then, Susi. I walked to her place. When she opened the door for me she was so surprised, “Resi, you’re alive?” And what can I say; I opened the door and there sat my future husband, Alfred Rosenstein, with a friend. I knew him from the internment camp. He looked at me. We didn’t have a relationship yet, nothing at all, and he rushed up to me, hugged me, and said, “Resi, no one will ever separate us again!”
My husband Alfred Rosenstein was born in Vienna on 17 April 1898 as the fifth child of Suesie Rosenstein – born in Rohatyn, Galicia – and Beile Rosenstein, née Bienstock. Suesie, a descendant of Shelah ha-Kadosh [A famous Rabbi, progenitor of Chassidism.], was a tailor or textile merchant and died in 1926. Beile passed away in London in 1945. My husband had six siblings: Moritz, Franziska, Samuel, Josef, Cilly and Hedi.
Moritz Rosenstein, who they called Mur, was a chemist, an associate at an oil refinery in Vienna. He was taken by surprise by the Anschluss while on a business trip in London, where he stayed. He died in the 1950s and never came back to Vienna. His daughter Hanni lives in Tel Aviv. His son died in the Second World War. Hanni has two adult daughters.
Franziska Wessely, née Rosenstein, fled from Vienna to Yugoslavia. She lived with forged papers in Slovenia and committed suicide when the Ustasha militiamen knocked on the door. The Ustasha militiaman actually only wanted to ask for directions to somewhere.
Samuel Rosenstein fled with his wife and two children to Holland. He and his family were murdered by the Nazis.
Cilly was able to immigrate to Australia through England. She died in 1962. Her daughter Fairlie Nassau, born in 1945, lives in Melbourne and has two grown children.
Hedi Pahmer [née Rosenstein], married a Hungarian who she went with to Budapest. She was deported to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp [Germany] where she survived the war. Afterwards she immigrated to Australia.
The Rosenstein family lived in Vienna’s 3rd district, on Untere Weissgerberlaende. My husband went to elementary and secondary school. In 1916 he was drafted into the Imperial and Royal Military and was an artilleryman on the Italian front. After the First World War he worked for his brother Moritz and played soccer with Hakoah Vienna and spent a lot of time with friends in the coffee houses. Until he fled he lived with his mother in Hungary and was her “spoiled darling.” During his emigration he was first in an internment camp and then, after the German invasion, in hiding.
I knew my future husband from the camp. He was so charming; the women were crazy for him. My husband then moved in with me for the time being. Not just him, a friend of his came along, and then a niece of mine from Hungary came. She got a birth certificate from a friend, a Christian, and then fled. A beautiful girl, Jola. A Christian friend of my in-laws knew my address in Budapest, and so she came and slept in a bed with me. Later she immigrated to America. She met widower with a young son, who wife was killed. She fell in love with him and went with him to Italy. She wrote me a card from Rome saying she got married and was going to America with him. She had four more children – two daughters and two sons.
We had a mutual acquaintance that was with us in the camp – a Yugoslavian Jew. He had bought fake papers a couple of months beforehand. He looked like ten Jews. He had bribed the landlord of a villa and so nine of us hid in one room before the mass deportations. The landlord took the money; you could bribe him. At the end, when everything was over, when we were dancing in the streets, 60 Jews suddenly came out of the neighboring villa. The landlord had hidden them, in coal cellars and everywhere, for money and jewelry. That’s why I say that in Budapest you can get everything for money.
I realized that I was pregnant. I said that the child will either perish with me, or I will do something. My husband said, “You will do nothing. If we survive we are having the child.” He didn’t allow it. But I went anyway. The doctor, who was in the ghetto said, “I won’t do anything. Do you want to die of sepsis?” He didn’t have any instruments, nothing. And my husband immediately said, “That’s out of the question. We are getting married!” Our son Georg was born in Budapest on 27 June 1945. Well, it took a while until we got married – that was in 1947 and our son was a year and a half.
We lay with coats in a room – there were no longer any windows – and suddenly I heard a voice through a megaphone: “This is the Russian Army. People of Budapest wait, we are going to liberate you!” There is a hill around Budapest. It took days for them to come over it. “Hold on, we will liberate you!” In German, in Hungarian, in Russian. And so we waited. And one beautiful day – it was Sunday – I was standing behind the window, it was deathly quiet and I saw a Russian coming through the garden with a fur hat and a machine gun. I turned around and said, “There’s a Russian!” One ran down to the garden and hugged the Russian. When he came back – Steiner was his name – his watch was missing. But he said, “Doesn’t matter!”
My friend was hidden elsewhere. She was Czech and was hidden in a coal cellar. She always said, “The first Russian horse I see, I’ll kiss on the rear!”
After liberation I walked through the streets of Budapest. I stood at the temple fence and watched how the Russians buried the dead from the ghetto. Survivors were able to take out their dead and bury them privately. Tony Curtis, the film actor, is a Hungarian Jew. He had a tree set up there, a magnificent willow that shines like gold. You can have the names of the murdered written on the leaves.
I stayed in Hungary. I said I wouldn’t go back to Vienna until we had our own apartment. My husband always said that there was still nothing to eat, no meat – or else just pork. I was very comfortable in Hungary. I said that I’d only leave when I have my own apartment and there is enough to eat. So he would go back and forth and it was always the same thing: not yet, not yet.
His sisters had a restaurant before the war – it was called “Grill am Peter” – but it was Aryanized. Then my husband wanted to apply for restitution and get the property back. The place actually belonged to his oldest sister, who was killed. She had set it up for the siblings. My husband’s siblings were in Australia. Back then they handed over the restaurant to the Nazis. They were given a certificate that states that they received 5,000 marks; as a result they were able go to England legally. One sister married a man and went with him to Australia. The other sister was deported to Bergen-Belsen and survived with a serious injury. She had to learn how to walk again. And then she also went to Australia.
My husband sought trial – there were return courts back then. There were always just two judges there. The Aryans that had taken over the restaurant were dead. Their son took it over. At the first trial my husband was given the offer of 35,000 shillings as a reparation payment. Our lawyer was Doctor Pik, who was later president of the Jewish Community. He had been a schoolmate of my husband’s. 65,000 shillings were offered on the second date. The lawyer then said to my husband, “If they’re ready to give 65,000, then they’ll give even more.” At the third trial there was a third judge present. Two said they had to give it back. My husband didn’t want the money; he wanted to get the restaurant back so that we could have a future. The judge said you couldn’t take the young man’s living, since he, who currently owned it, didn’t have anything to do with the Aryanization. That was the attitude back then. The young man got the restaurant because the judges weren’t all agreed. My husband got nothing for it.
My husband had a certificate saying that he was racially persecuted and in a camp. The districts in Vienna were divided amongst the victorious powers back then. Our district had a communist mayor and my husband was assigned an apartment with this certificate.
Originally I didn’t want to go back to Austria. I wanted to be with my children and parents in Israel. But my husband said that he didn’t have the right profession for Israel. He was a businessman and had worked for his brother, who had a large oil company. He was the representative. That wasn’t a job for Israel. You needed to have money there – money to be self-employed. What could he have done at his age? He was already ten years older than me and no longer such a young man. He wanted to go to Austria to apply for reparations and get the money so we could go to Israel.
I stayed here in Vienna because I didn’t want my children or relatives to put up with me. In 1949 I went with my son to Israel for the first time. You still had to go by ship back then. The first money that my husband received was a restitution payment of 16,000 shillings. He said, “Go. See your children.” The money wouldn’t have been enough for us both.
We were on the ship for five days. It was nice. My mother was still alive back then. She had a pretty two-and-a-half room apartment in Tel Aviv. My sister had a wonderful apartment directly on the sea on Hayarkon [street on the sea in Tel Aviv]. They built hotels later so you could no longer see the sea from the apartment.
My daughter Bessy was already married to Mr. Aharoni and had a five-month-old baby. She got married at 18 in the military, in the Israeli military. She later worked for the city administration for ten years and looked after old people.
Lilly, married Drill, came to Vienna a year after me. At that time she was 18 exactly – that was 1951. She went to school in Israel but could, of course, speak German. My mother never learned Hebrew. I never saw my father again. That was horrible. At the beginning Lilly wanted to be teacher for handicapped children and went to a school in Vienna for that.
My son went to Israel after his exams. That was shortly after my husband’s death . He lived on a kibbutz and studied psychology. There he took on the name Zwi Bar-David. He married Illana, whose mother’s side of the family was from Berlin, from the Scheunenviertel, and they had two daughters and a son. Because of his son’s muscle disorder, he moved with his wife, my then three-year-old grandson Ofir, and Noemi, his younger daughter, to Vienna. His eldest daughter Noga lives in Israel and works as a nurse. My grandson graduated high school this year with good grades and studies at the Vienna Technical University.
I disliked the Austrians. I always saw them as Nazis. Once, in the early 1950s, I was in Israel for two moths. As soon I was back in Vienna and went to my bakery to buy bread, the baker’s wife asked me, “Where were you for so long, Mrs. Rosenstein?” “I was in Israel!” I said. She looked at me and said, “You’re a Jew? But you don’t look like one!” To which I replied, “Why, Mrs. Schubert? Don’t I have horns on my head?” She said, “No, for god’s sake, I don’t mean anything. We had a delivery man, Mehljud, he was a respectable person.” That was the early ‘50s. Things haven’t changed much over the years. Haider or Stadler [Ewald, FPÖ politician] have surely given us enough of an opportunity to think about it. Even if you want to forget, you cant. We’re constantly being reprimanded.
I didn’t experience any anti-Semitism in Germany. I would laugh and joke with our Christian workers in my father’s workshop. Many even knew when our holidays were. I would have preferred to go back to Berlin after the war. I think my husband would have also happily come along. But that wasn’t possible. Since there was that misfortune with the illness: he got cancer. He died in 1961. He was 63 years old.
I didn’t want to remarry. I was offered – by a friend of my husband’s, even. My husband had been dead for two years then. It was Christmas, my family was living here and the children were still young. I wasn’t interested. I only had two men in my life and I know that both loved me. It wasn’t mediated. They just met me as I really am. My first husband ran after me for a whole year.
I was with my sister in Berlin, but it was still East and West back then. We had a childhood acquaintance, a neighbor kid, Sali, who was already in the West. We wanted to go to the East, to visit our home. You had to change 25 marks into East German marks. He sad, “No, for god’s sake, who knows what will happen, you might meet trouble.” He talked us out of it. Later, I was with my granddaughter in East Berlin. I didn’t go back to where we used to live. I couldn’t do it.