The following story was written by Tom Singer and shared as part of the Memory Project.
On November 7, 1938, Ernst van Rath, third secretary in the German Embassy in Paris, was shot and mortally wounded by Herschel Grynszpan, a 17-year-old Jewish boy, in retaliation for the treatment of his parents, who were among the 17,000 Polish Jews forced by the Nazis to leave Germany. The shooting in Paris provided the Nazis with an opportunity to incite the Germans to “rise in bloody vengeance against the Jews.”
On November 9 and November 10, 1938, the Nazi storm troopers carried out a large pogrom against the German Jews. Nearly 200 synagogues were burned down while local fire departments stood by. Jewish cemeteries were desecrated, thousands of Jews physically abused, about 100 Jews murdered, and 30,000 Jewish men between 18 and 65 years of age arrested and placed in concentration camps. More than 7,000 Jewish-owned businesses were destroyed, and thousands of Jewish homes were damaged and ransacked. The shattered glass from the windows of Jewish homes and businesses gave the pogrom the name of Kristallnacht (Crystal Night or Night of Broken Glass). [Material in the above paragraphs was taken from the website of Aish Hatorah (aish.com ) by the author]
The Nazis came for my father on the night of November 9, 1938, in Stuttgart. Fortunately, he received a warning and was able to hide in the house of a cousin who was married to a Christian man who was an important executive with the Reichbahn (railroad). My mother met up with my father and they got tickets to fly Lufthansa to Marseille, France, and then went to the bank and withdrew all their money. They could only take ten marks out of the country, so they were planning to give the rest of the money to my father’s parents and Aunt Dora [father’s sister].
Our Uncle Curt Weill, the child of grandmother Flora Stern’s sister, was a very wealthy man who made his fortune in the coal business. He was living in Nice, France, and he called the French Embassy and was able to get us permission to be in France for one week. My mother went to the French Embassy in Stuttgart and picked up the visas. My parents called a friend who owned a large luggage store and he personally brought them some luggage. My mother had to pack the bags herself since the Gentile maid quit that day. They contacted a Christian lawyer who was their friend, and he took over our assets and made arrangements for the family furniture and household goods to go to the United States.
Correspondence with a sponsor in St. Louis began in early 1938 and continued throughout the year. Next morning, November 10, 1938, my mother called for a taxi to take us to the airport. Meanwhile my father was still in hiding from the Nazis. When the taxi came to take my mother and me to the airport, the upstairs neighbor, who was a Nazi, called the Gestapo and physically tried to stop us from leaving. The cab driver, who was a good man, picked me up (I was two and a half), told the Nazi neighbor to leave this mother and child alone, and put us in his cab with the luggage. As we were driving away we could see the Gestapo coming toward our house.
We drove quickly to say goodbye to Dora, Karoline, and Berthold Singer [grandparents] and gave them the money taken out of the bank. The Nazis had just arrested a Jewish lawyer in that same building. (Later, Berthold and Karoline Singer were able to get to Lisbon. Aunt Dora escaped to London by becoming a domestic helper, or maid. She married her employer, Carl Cohn, who was a wealthy man in Germany, and she died in London.)
We met my father at the airport. The plane, a small ten-passenger plane owned by Lufthansa, was delayed one hour. My parents were afraid the Nazis would find us. It turned out that it really was mechanical problems and the plane flew to Marseille with no trouble. My parents had no money, and when I asked for milk, the passengers on the plane gave them some money to buy me milk. Elsbeth Singer’s passport.
Uncle Curt Weill sent his limousine to Marseille to take us to Nice. We stayed in a nice hotel in Nice, and his chauffeur took us to the beach and even bought me some clothes. Even though Uncle Curt contacted the mayor of Nice, who was his good friend, he was unable to extend our time beyond one week. After one week in Nice we took the train to Paris. We stayed overnight with Jean Weill, who was the son of Grandmother Flora Stern’s sister—Sally Weill.
We then took the train to Rotterdam and stayed for one week in a refugee house with others fleeing the Nazis. Our ship, the Nieuw Amsterdam, sailed on December 8, 1938. My father sent a Western Union telegram to Wallace Rindskopf [the family’s sponsor in St. Louis] that we would arrive in New York on December 14, 1938. My parents had a beautiful first-class cabin. It was a very rough crossing, and my mother was sick most of the time. It did not bother me or my father, and we ate together in the first-class dining room (I refused to eat with the children in a special room). Most of the cruise customers in first class were going on a South American cruise and commented on how well I behaved at dinner. One of the couples gave me a charm for good luck.
We arrived in New York on December 15, 1938, and were met by Lotte and Werner Steinthal and their one-year-old son. They took us to their small apartment in Kew Gardens, New York City. My father wrote Wallace Rindskopf explaining the delay in arrival.
We were living with four adults and two children in two rooms. My father looked for work in New York but was not able to find anything. My mother worked as a maid for a short time. Mr. Rindskopf sent Mr. Nathan Rosenthal and Mr. Buell to meet with my parents [in New York], and in a letter of January 9, 1939, it was reported to Mr. Rindskopf that “They are a very fine couple and have a very fine son about three years old.”
With that endorsement, Rudolph Singer arrived in St. Louis on the Pennsylvania train by himself on Sunday, January 29, 1939, at 12:40 p.m.
The sponsors, Wallace and Bobbie Rindskopf, lived at 7391 Norwood Avenue in University City, Missouri. They had a small basement room for my father. Meanwhile my mother and I stayed [in New York] with the Steinthals and Lotte’s father, the lawyer Alfred Gunzenhauser.
One week later, my mother and I took the same train to St. Louis to join my father. The three of us slept in the small basement bedroom for about two weeks. We had our meals with Wallace and Bobbie Rindskopf and their children, Wallace, Jr., who was a medical student, and Jean, who was a senior in high school. The grandmother, Schloss, lived with them and also their full-time maid, Emma. My mother said they spoiled me because I was a “cute blond boy with blue eyes.” Since I could speak only German, they could not understand me and I kept telling them, “Ou bist dumm” (you are stupid).
It was too crowded for us to stay in the small basement room, so after two weeks the Rindskopfs helped us to move. They found a furnished attic apartment at 5840 Columbia Avenue, St. Louis, Missouri. They rented it for ten dollars a month from a widow, Mrs. Schneider. There was no kitchen and we had to use Mrs. Schneiders’s, which was difficult. There was a large garden and my mother had some of the German immigrants for coffee and cake in the afternoon as they did in Germany. In February 1939, my parents were contacted by Otto Reinemund, who was given our address by Anneliese Levi, his cousin and the daughter of Arthur Levi [Levi had cared for Singer’s mother as a child after her own mother died at age 30]. Before 1938, he lived in Munich, Germany, and his parents had an estate next to the August Busch estate. He was able to come to St. Louis and worked for the Anheuser-Busch Brewery. Further, he was very active in the local Jewish community and dated the daughters of the Rice, Baer, and Wohl families.
On my third birthday, March 1, 1939, my parents had dinner at the Rice Estate (now Oak Knoll Park) at Big Bend and Clayton Road in Clayton. Emma, the Rindskopfs’ maid, was my babysitter. Otto Reinemund had obtained the invitation and among the guests were Carlyn and David Wohl of the Wohl Shoe Company (now Brown Shoe Company).
The Wohls liked my parents, and David Wohl gave my father a job as a bookkeeper, and he worked there for thirty years. Carlyn Wohl found us an apartment at Newberry Terrace, which cost $25 a month. Mrs. Wohl and her chauffeur helped us move from the attic apartment to the five-room flat. Fortunately the furniture then arrived from Germany. There were several German Jewish refugees who lived in the neighborhood and they all tried to help each other.
On November 10, 1944, we appeared before a federal judge and were sworn in as naturalized citizens, which happened to be on the date six years after we left Stuttgart for France.
I am very thankful to become an American and live in this country. Also, I am very grateful for my loving wife, three children, and six grandchildren. Further, I strongly feel this history of our family’s journey to America needed to be written and preserved for future generations or it will be forgotten.
I’m very sorry you had to go through this and your a very strong person.
Your story was so sad to hear
I’m very sorry for what you had to go through, Tom.
That story is crazy I can’t believe that happened.
This was very well written
Your story helped me understand the event a lot more! We are currently learning about it in class. I am very sorry about the tragic event. What was the scariest part of the situation you were in?
Did other kids make fun of you in Germany for being jewish.
Your testimony on how you narrowly escaped Nazi Germany was truly inspiring. Thank you for allowing me to understand the role you played in this horrible moment in history.
While reading the story I thought it would be about the ship that was turned away and forced to return to Germany. I’ve wondered if any on that ship survived.
How desperate you must have felt for your very life, and those you loved.
Thank you for sharing. I wish the story would be embellished with more details.
That really humbles me to think that my life is bad I couldn’t imagine what had happened I am so sorry.
You stayed with my Oma, Opa and dad! I am Wendy Steinthal – Lotte and Werner’s oldest granddaughter. It is so strange to read your story and know many of the people you are speaking about. In fact, I remember visiting Aunt Dora in London when I was very young. I remember my Oma’s and Opa’s own story of coming to America and how they tried to get her parents to come when they first left for London. Alfred didn’t think things would progress as they did. I am grateful that my Oma and Opa could convince them to leave and get out of Germany. Thank you for sharing your story!