Eva and her parents fled to Spain when Hitler came to power. When Franco won the Spanish Civil War, they fled to Paris, and in 1941, eventually managed to get to New York.
My family and I were lucky in that nobody in our immediate family was interned in a concentration camp.
I was born in Berlin in 1931. My father was a lawyer, and when Hitler was elected Chancellor in January of 1933, difficulties for Jews began almost immediately. Jewish lawyers were disbarred, and so my parents made preparations to leave Germany. My father could never understand why some German Jews insisted on staying and why many did not believe in the dangers they would face in Nazi Germany. My father had read Mein Kampf and said our future in Germany was clearly outlined in these pages.
Since he had some business connections in Spain, we left for Barcelona in 1934. At first we spent the summer in Madrid, but the intensive heat of the capital proved to be unbearable for us Central Europeans, and we fled to the cosier seaport. There we stayed until the Spanish Civil War broke out in July of 1936. On the second day of the war we headed for Paris, where my father made a difficult living importing fountain pens and pencils. Working in France was almost impossible for non-French citizens.
General Franco’s forces defeated the Spanish Republic, and the Civil War ended on April 1, 1939. My father took that opportunity to return to Spain to build up his business, giving radio correspondence courses. Ever gazing successfully into the political crystal ball, he said that war would come to Europe, that France would be defeated and that we would be in serious trouble if we stayed in Paris. Spain, he forecast, would stay neutral because of the bloody conflict, lasting three years that the country had just suffered.
Although Barcelona was devastated and the country had serious food shortages, we lived peacefully in that lovely seaside city, until the fall of 1940. Then my father, often impulsive, dismissed from her job in his business a woman whose husband had been shot by the defeated Loyalists. This gave her enormous influence with the ruling party, and in revenge she denounced my father as a spy. In Franco Spain habeas corpus did not exist, and people were imprisoned without even being asked their name.
After two months in prison, my father was finally released, when my mother, through intensive efforts, obtained affidavits for us from relatives in the U.S. American law at that time specified that before a visa would be issued, an immigrant to the U.S. must have an affidavit from an American guaranteeing that the immigrant would not become a public charge. The American consul in Barcelona was neither friendly to potential settlers nor eager for our presence on his turf. Fortunately, he did issue visas for us.
We arrived in New York on March 12, 1941. My father, like many former German lawyers, went into the export business, and my mother started her working career sorting industrial diamonds near what is now Diamond Row—47th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues in Manhattan. We got along, modestly at first, and then more comfortably.
Since there were so many refugees from Nazi Germany in New York City at that time, I never felt like an outcast or a foreigner. Unlike many of my German-speaking friends I insisted on maintaining my native language, along with the French and Spanish I had acquired along the way. I always enjoyed speaking different languages, and it just seemed natural to keep them. When I was 11 or 12, I exchanged German lessons for French conversation with a young lady who waned to be a singer and aimed to improve her German pronunciation—a good way to get lessons for free.
I have always thought that Hunter gave me an especially wide and thorough background in the humanities. After Hunter, I went to Queens College where I met my husband, who was a refugee from Vienna. On graduation from Queens College, we moved to Madison, Wisconsin, where I received a Master’s degree in Spanish and then a second Master’s in Library Science from the University of Wisconsin, while my husband got his Ph.D. in Spanish there.
In 1966 we moved to Cornell. I stayed at home until my children were in school, at which time I got a job at the University Library, first in cataloguing and then in book selection for European studies. This position was a very enjoyable one that gave me the opportunity to use my languages.
I might add that I was not conscious of anti-Semitism until I worked in Madison, Wisconsin along with an elderly, white, Protestant lady who was a big fan of the late Senator Joseph McCarthy during his heyday. I put an end to her remarks when I mentioned casually that I had been forced to leave Hitler’s Germany.
Although I grew up as an American, my European upbringing stayed with me and is a significant part of who I am. My children, born in this country, are completely American and exclusively English speaking. Even though I could claim German citizenship now, acquire a passport from the European Union and avoid those long lines when entering the continent, I fell too grateful to my adopted country to make this claim. For many years, I have had a strong sentimental feeling about my American passport, so strongly desired and acquired with so much difficulty.
- December 2007
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