EIDELMAN: One of the things that I had always wondered about was after the war was over, how did you live? How could you, uh, have any money to buy food and how did all the people in Berlin live with the city bombed out like that? With a population of two million it would appear that there was no place to live.
GWEISS: But you see when the war ended, we didn’t know – is it over, is it not – we didn’t – there were the Russians were there; they were, they had occupied Berlin. And the others came three months later, or two months, in July. The French and the British and the Americans. And, well there were no stores, you couldn’t buy anything. Sometimes it said on this bakery they bake some bread there. You can get – and it was a tremendous, er…
GWEISS: …line of people and then they said Juden and Nazi sufferers first (LAUGHTER) and it was –
GWEISS: So, we got some bread. And then the Russians with the soldiers, they were so nice. They opened big stores and let people come in and take whatever they wanted. You know, warehouses, so they had – on the street you could see already there were lentils and peas and sugar and salt and all the bags were broken and had, it was just on the, on the street, because people went and grabbed and grabbed and I have to admit I went, too. So I got a big bag with pudding mixture – at least it was something. When you could find some rice, oh wonderful. And then we did, we used some water and we didn’t have any gas or electricity so we burned paper and tried to heat it up (LAUGHTER) like that in the kitchen stove.
EIDELMAN: With no heat or water.
GWEISS: Water! People went…
EIDELMAN: Even during the war, how did you eat, how did you cook?
GWEISS: Oh, it was really hard because it was, one had to be somehow ingenius to do that.
EIDELMAN: Well, what did you do? How did you cook? Or how did you, what did you eat?
GWEISS: I had to give my folks things for lunch along, so I didn’t have any bread left for me for lunch or -, but I got, my sister sent me some brown sugar – I remember – and this very lovely green grocer woman, she gave me some carrots, so I…kaute.
GWEISS: No, ja, peeled, too, but I mean I didn’t – on a grater – you know.
GWEISS: Some carrot and some brown sugar and put it together and I had a wonderful lunch (LAUGHTER) in a little dish, you know. But we were – you have no idea how we looked. My husband looked like one of the ten most wanted people (LAUGHTER) you know when you see the posters in the post office, and the all funny. Gerhardt who was really developing, he was a young fellow; he was finally 17; he was the one – he didn’t care we couldn’t eat, we didn’t eat. It didn’t matter. But we both were really suffering.
EIDELMAN: How much did you weigh at the worst?
GWEISS: I think, Curt?
CWEISS: I think my…
EIDELMAN: Of course, in kilograms then, not pounds, translate it into pounds.
CWEISS: My normal weight was 170, 170; and I came back to the 110.
EIDELMAN: Oh, gosh. When did you know, when did you know that the war was over, when was your last day of forced labor?
CWEISS: Well, –
GWEISS: Oh, that faded away anyway because there was no transportation.
CWEISS: The forced labor that was, was really a joke finally…
GWEISS: In the end.
CWEISS: It stopped on the end of the war, and we found out about the end of the war.
GWEISS: A friend of Gerd’s came and said, “The war is over, the war is over, we heard it on the radio.”
CWEISS: That’s what it was and 1945.
GWEISS: Because the Russians had big newspaper pages attached to the house walls and so, but we couldn’t read Russian.
EIDELMAN: I see.
GWEISS: We didn’t know what it said.
EIDELMAN: Well, did you see Russians in Berlin before the war was over?
GWEISS: Well, during, I mean they conquered us. Street by street.
CWEISS: It took maybe two weeks until, until the end of the war before the end of the war, we had about two weeks of Russian occupation.
GWEISS: And that was a very horrible experience.
EIDELMAN: What happened, what was it like? What was horrible about it?
GWEISS: There were after all the girls – terrible at night. They were awful. Especially when they got drunk.
CWEISS: They were very undisciplined and very rough.
EIDELMAN: Were you worried about yourself from that standpoint, too?
GWEISS: I just, I wasn’t, no, I – one is in such a state, you know, when there is, I guess a moment when you don’t have any – you only want to get over that and then be free.
EIDELMAN: Well, once the forced labor had ended and it became a joke, at that time how did you spend your days? What did you do during the day?
GWEISS: We tried to find an apartment –
CWEISS: Ja, an apartment, and I tried to find a – a new…
GWEISS: To build up a new existence –
CWEISS: Ja, um hmm.
GWEISS: Which was very very hard –
CWEISS: And –
GWEISS: And we were terribly depressed.
CWEISS: So pretty soon they started concerts and…
GWEISS: My husband was not very healthy.
CWEISS: …theatre, very early in Berlin. (PAUSE)
GWEISS: But I remember Gerd always said, “Ah, Mutti isn’t it wonderful! I don’t have to look constantly like here and there, there’s nobody…”
EIDELMAN: What d – what, if you were depressed. What were the main things that you were depressed about at that time? Just the fact that – well I’ll ask you. What…
CWEISS: Well, it was (PAUSE) I don’t really remember –
GWEISS: He was not very strong to begin with after –
CWEISS: Anyway, (PAUSE) it was, of course, very hard. I had no – nothing anymore, to find something, to start.
EIDELMAN: I see. In other words you feel like you spent your whole life and you built up a successful business and now you have nothing?
CWEISS: Very very good. Yes.
EIDELMAN: Which – for the breadwinner of the house –
CWEISS: Ja, ja.
EIDELMAN: – would be very difficult.
GWEISS: Yes. But fortunately there was, especially one friend who helped you to try to – I think they were even beautiful these lamps.
CWEISS: Very nice, ja.
GWEISS: Somehow he, he knew somebody who had lamps, you know, from ceiling, and to sell, and so my husband got a few and he tried to sell them. (LAUGHTER)
CWEISS: At that time, no money and no work, it was…
GWEISS: Ja, right it was.
EIDELMAN: So then what happened? So you’re faced after the war with no money and nothing?
CWEISS: And then, pretty soon we heard about the possibility to get to the United States and –
GWEISS: Ja, that was because you worked for the Joint, I mean…
CWEISS: No, then, after –
GWEISS: Didn’t you go to Lichterfelde…
CWEISS: No, I worked for the Joint.
GWEISS: Did they come to you?
CWEISS: They came to me, sure.
GWEISS: They asked you if you would –
CWEISS: But I don’t remember anymore –
GWEISS: Because if people came to our house and after we got stacks of forms to fill out, you know, applications and people who wanted – Jewish people who were still there. Either you used to live underground or that is another thing. We had several underground people, too, who we tried to help during that time.
CWEISS: I wanted to tell you that we had – we had the possibility after we were bombed, we lived in, in one room together with at –
GWEISS: At this friend of ours –
CWEISS: At this friend’s, it was quite uncomfortable and it was not too nice to our friend either, so we tried to find an apartment for ourselves. And they, there was, I guess, a…
GWEISS: We had to go to the housing authority –
CWEISS: To what?
CWEISS: Ja, ja, and they, they gave us a very nice apartment which before was –
GWEISS: And the Nazis was…
CWEISS: – occupied by the Nazis, yes.
EIDELMAN: How about paying for it? Who paid for it? The apartment?
GWEISS: Ja. (LAUGHTER)
EIDELMAN: Well, how did you have money to pay for it? During the war were the banks continuing to function in all this time?
CWEISS: No, we had – the money didn’t play any role. I don’t know how, I don’t know anymore how it was, whether –
GWEISS: Whether –
CWEISS: – we sold something what we had or…
GWEISS: – what we still had left (LAUGHTER) after being bombed.
CWEISS: Anyway, we – we paid it. It was a –
EIDELMAN: You mean you would sell some belongings, jewelry, or something of that nature?
CWEISS: Ja, yes, yes. But really I don’t remember anymore how it was. I cannot remember that anyone of my friends had difficulties with money. The money didn’t play – I mean it was…
CWEISS: Nobody could…
EIDELMAN: You mean everybody was broke?
CWEISS: Ja, everybody was broke. Everybody.
GWEISS: And you know what, sometimes happened on the street when you walked; there came a Russian soldier who gave you a handful of money –
CWEISS: Ja, ja, he had –
GWEISS: He had stolen it somewhere and…(LAUGHTER)
CWEISS: If you would have dollars at that time, you could have bought whole streets –
EIDELMAN: Um hmm. Well –
CWEISS: – and cigarettes; a cigarette cost maybe what – really…
EIDELMAN: Well, how was food, how did you obtain food after the war?
GWEISS: Ja, that was the thing. The Russians had – rations.
CWEISS: It was difficult to –
GWEISS: Rationed of –
CWEISS: Anyway, we survived.
EIDELMAN: Did the –
GWEISS: We survived, ja, but –
GWEISS: You see one time might, everything that was on your rationing card, you got it once and then for a whole month or more, nothing. It was absolutely not organized, and it was very very bad, too. So we, I know I had a beautiful dress and we sacrificed that you met somewhere on the street a Russian officer – and a – this woman was a also a soldier of the –
CWEISS: Two Russian soldiers – doctors, two Russian doctors.
GWEISS: I guess she was a doctor, yes. I remember. Anyway he came home and said, “Oh, we get some visitors in the afternoon and a Russian colonel and a woman companion. What shall we do with them? Well, show her that dress, maybe she will buy it and then we can get something.” Instead of money they give us maybe lard and butter and cheese or whatever, you know, and sure enough they came. And she took my dress and later I missed it so badly, (LAUGHTER) but we had to eat for a while a little bit. I mean, you know, we were not used to having regular meals –
EIDELMAN: Tell me about the time when a, when Klaus or Kenneth came back to see you.
GWEISS: Oh, my goodness. Well you know he was by then almost 24 years old and when he left he was 15½ , so I know we had, by coincidence, some Aryan friends who were nice to us, through all these years, they had moved away from Berlin to be safe from the bombs, and they were in the process of moving back and they had two little children. And she asked me if I would take the children for a few days, and of course I was very glad to – somehow…show my appreciation and, at that very day when these children were with us, the one who couldn’t hardly walk, one was four, I believe, and one was two – and she was, we had to go pretty fast to a certain store where I had – where they had my application for food, for the card. And so, and on that day, we should we were supposed to get all sorts of things. So I took my two little children and walked there and got what we needed, and started back home, and here comes Gerd and says, “Mutti, Klaus is here.” What? Klaus is here? Because the days before we always look when we saw a British – maybe he is in that time; we knew he was with a tanks. (LAUGHTER) His uniform; we had no picture or anything. And so, so I went up in the apartment and there he came. And we were talking before how will it be if we are reunited and it wouldn’t be or couldn’t be amazed if perhaps he would be so estranged from us – I mean living in England with all those different people, and in these formative years.
GWEISS: But it wasn’t, no. Not at all. That was wonderful – we are very very fortunate because we really, I mean so many people had it much worse than we did, and we – and the immediate family survived. I guess (PAUSE) and it is all so, so long ago; now we will dream of it again.
EIDELMAN: My wife, uh, wanted me to ask you the question although it probably applied more to people who were in concentration camps, but over the years have you had, do you have bad dreams about what happened?
CWEISS: I have. Yes.
GWEISS: My husband, yes. More than I do, as I never remember my dreams, very seldom.
EIDELMAN: What kinds of dreams did you, do you have?
CWEISS: That I’m arrested or that I, that I will be arrested…This, this this kind of dreams.
EIDELMAN: Um hmm.
GWEISS: But for instance, his sister and his mother were in Theresienstadt and also my sister or his sister’s daughter, and Ilse, she never never touches that subject she never talks about it again. Theresienstadt was luxury in comparison to the others. But, of course there was still another horrible experience. They had a 19 year old son. They had – they moved from Berlin to Holland to be safe from the Nazis, but the Nazis came after them – I mean and also after them. And so, they came, they were at first, er, in Westerbork – that is a camp in Holland and from there, and well before they came to Westerbork, Peter, his son, came home for supper one day and they were sitting at the table eating and the doorbell rang. It was Gestapo. Dieser Junger Mann – they have to ask him some questions and he has to go with them and his father said oh couldn’t he at least finish his meal. Ach, he won’t be long – he will be right back. So Peter went and was never seen again. But they once, they got a card from him from Mauthausen – that is a very horrible camp in Austria –
GWEISS: – where they make awful experiments on these (PAUSE) prisoners. So that was Peter, and then the others came to Westerbork, and from there to Theresienstadt and the husband of my sister-in-law was taken from there to Auschwitz. So he was lost too, and the three women, I mean Lillian was a little girl but I mean, mother, daughter and little girl they survived and they went back to Holland first and now Ilse lives in New York.
EIDELMAN: I would like to ask you about, um, Jews that lived in Berlin who were you said lived underground and you helped –
GWEISS: Ja, we had, we knew, we had somewhat – one was Conrad Blatte, I think, Kenneth said he talked about him –
EIDELMAN: Uh hmm.
GWEISS: – to you. And that was a young violinist – I never forget that was at a time when my husband he preferred – my husband preferred to work nights, nightshift. You know, he said to unload the barges was beautiful – sky overhead…He liked it so much better than day work.
EIDELMAN: Um hmm.
GWEISS: And, so then I thought he could – this boy could stay overnight in his bed, but it was always when the air raids came one had to go down and leave the door open so the people who inspect the house for maybe some scattered shrapnels or something, they would find a person then there and that wouldn’t do.
EIDELMAN: Um hmm.
GWEISS: And so, and this fellow said no no – he puts two chairs somehow together and somehow curled himself with some bedding in there and for a little while and when he was through he had enough sleep, he was up again, because he said, cheez, he can’t really fall asleep, to have a nice sound sleep, he couldn’t dare. And, he played so beautiful the violin. We have no idea…
EIDELMAN: When did you hear…
GWEISS: …what happened to him, we have never seen him again.
EIDELMAN: What’s his name?
GWEISS: I don’t know his name anymore. He was a complete stranger, I mean a friend said couldn’t he stay at least one night with you? And I said, you know this house it is so risky because we are not safe from inspection. And then the air raids and take this stranger down to the –
EIDELMAN: Right. Then you’re, your Aryan friends would see him. Right? During an air raid?
GWEISS: No, it was –
EIDELMAN: If there was an air raid you went down to the basement.
CWEISS: Ja, well, well then it was, sure.
GWEISS: He would have to go down.
EIDELMAN: Then your Aryan people in the building would see him and someone could possibly report you?
GWEISS: Ja, horrors.
CWEISS: The the, then, ja.
GWEISS: Well, the people who were the upper upper stairs, you know they were, it was the Luftschutzwart if you can imagine what that means. Air raid warden –
EIDELMAN: Um hmm.
GWEISS: I think would be the best translation. So he would have inquired terribly about this fellow. So we didn’t have an air raid when he was there, but it was too risky, we couldn’t, we couldn’t do that again.
EIDELMAN: Do you know how – the people did, that hid underground, how did they live from night to night?
GWEISS: Oh, oh – well they are, there is so much written about them –
CWEISS: Ja, it is true; there is very much written about them.
GWEISS: Ja, you could, I mean, in English, too.
CWEISS: Yes, yes.
GWEISS: But, er, why Conrad is, I guess he got…very very nervous.
CWEISS: There is a book, The Last Jews of Berlin, maybe you, if you are interested in that subject, you get it in the library.
EIDELMAN: The Last Book of Berlin – The Last Jews in Berlin.
EIDELMAN: I’ll get the book. Do you remember who the author is?
CWEISS: I don’t remember right now.
EIDELMAN: So when the, when you came to the United States how was it determined what city you would come to?
CWEISS: Well, we had to…
EIDELMAN: And how did you get in –
GWEISS: We knew somebody in St. Louis –
CWEISS: Well, er –
GWEISS: – on our street – oh, excuse me, I didn’t want – go ahead my darling.
CWEISS: So, I mean we had to, in, we really didn’t know anyone in the United States besides –
GWEISS: This couple.
CWEISS: – one couple who lived in St. Louis and who had written to us after the war. And so we thought maybe then we go to St. Louis and there would be – and these people.
GWEISS: There were…
EIDELMAN: Were these some Jewish friends?
CWEISS: Yes, yes.
EIDELMAN: Formerly from Berlin?
CWEISS: Yes, yes, yes.
GWEISS: We were not allowed to stay in New York or go to California.
CWEISS: And we didn’t want to stay in New York. We would have loved to go to California, yes.
EIDELMAN: What, why were you not allowed to go to New York or California?
GWEISS: I guess there were, was maybe a shortage –
CWEISS: Too much Germans as opposed –
EIDELMAN: I see, okay.
CWEISS: – and too many Jews already.
EIDELMAN: Um hmm, so you came to St. Louis.
CWEISS: We came to St. Louis, yes.
EIDELMAN: And how did you get a job? And how did you learn…
GWEISS: Oh, that went very fast, I must say. Oh, I’m sorry.
CWEISS: The Jewish, eh, unemployment, the Jewish employment office took care of us.
GWEISS: So, we…
CWEISS: And they were quite nice about it.
GWEISS: So my husband –
CWEISS: Anyway we had in New York, we got, we came over with the aid of the Joint, you know.
EIDELMAN: Excuse me?
CWEISS: With the aid of the Joint.
EIDELMAN: Um hmm.
CWEISS: And in New York one gave us; we stayed in New York for a couple of days and we got a ticket to St. Louis; here we were asked where we wanted to go; and we said St. Louis and they gave us a train ticket to St. Louis, and there, then we had, given notice for the Jewish – what is it?
CWEISS: Federation, yes. And so we had to go there and they took care of us as good as possible.
EIDELMAN: What was your first job?
CWEISS: What is it?
EIDELMAN: What was your first job, then how did you get a job?
CWEISS: I –
EIDELMAN: And what was your job?
CWEISS: At first I got a job in the shoe factory, but only for a couple of days.
GWEISS: Well, you had to sweep the floor or something.
CWEISS: I had to sweep the floor, too, yes. But it was not, it was not good for me. It was, it was not skillful enough of a job. So after a couple of days I quit and a day or two days later I got the job in Charles Myers, it was, it was, it does not exist anymore, it was a large pants factory. And there I stayed for about 15 years.
GWEISS: And I also got at first a job, to do some hand sewing at mens’ coats and at Mark’s House.
EIDELMAN: Yes, I know Mark’s House.
GWEISS: Does it still exist? Oh, ja? Uh huh. And I was sitting there.
EIDELMAN: They sold out to somebody, but they still exist. They’re not under that name.
GWEISS: And I was sitting there with women; I was always thinking to myself, what language do they speak? (LAUGHTER) I couldn’t make out what language it could be. It turned out to be Italian, but way down, Sicilian, you know. (LAUGHTER) Nice women, very nice to me, but for me it was hard – it was piece work and I never could make it to 14 coats and they, these obermacher, the bonze there, what do you say it is, because I got $25.00 a week, but I was supposed to make 14 coats and more if possible. And I didn’t make it. (LAUGHTER) So when he became more and more urgent and then something else came up I got a job at the Berlitz School and so that was easier for me, anyway. From then on, then, ja, that was also very interesting, I must say. My, both my men folks had to go to the draft board the moment we had arrived here. The draft law was still in action and, so he was too old, but Gerd he was drafted right away. Oh, it was hard for him, he didn’t know much English and (PAUSE) they sent him first to Fort Sheridan for training and I thought my goodness with all these bullies, it was really hard, but it couldn’t be helped and from there he was sent to Japan. And, his letters were first…