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Curt and Gertrude Weiss

Curt and Gertrude Weiss
Nationality: German
Location: Berlin • Breslau • Germany • Missouri • St. Louis • United States of America
Experience During Holocaust: Family or Person in Mixed-Marriage • Family Resisted the Nazi Party • Family Survived • Hometown was Bombed • Resisted the Nazi Party • Survived Air Raids • Was a Forced Laborer

Mapping Curt and Gertrude's Life

Click on the location markers to learn more about Curt and Gertrude. Use the timeline below the map or the left and right keys on your keyboard to explore chronologically. In some cases the dates below were estimated based on the oral histories.

“When we were bombed, we didn’t see such terrible things, but this was so intense, the whole inner city of Berlin was all of a sudden erased.” - Curt and Gertrude Weiss

Read Curt and Gertrude's Oral History Transcripts

Read the transcripts by clicking the red plus signs below.

Tape 1 - Side 1

EIDELMAN: Mr. Weiss would you please start off by telling us where you were born?
CWEISS: I was born in Berlin on the sixth of December, 1895.
GWEISS: Louder?
EIDELMAN: It’s okay.
CWEISS: My parents, my father was born in Ratibor in 1866, and my mother in Goerlitz in 1870 – around 1875. My father owned a men’s clothing store, retail store, in Berlin. H
GWEISS: He opened that store –
e – it was since 1892 –
CWEISS: – and (PAUSE) I went to school in 1901 and left school with the, the so-called Einjaehrige in 1912. Then I (PAUSE) worked in the store of my father as a trainee, and a short interruption in 1914, as a volunteer in a, in a store in Breslau, Silesia.
EIDELMAN: Did you fight in World War I?
CWEISS: In – August 1914 I went as a volunteer in the army and was discharged from the army from this, this part of the service in up to about 19-, November 1914. Went back to Berlin and was again inducted in May 1915. My, my – activity in the field was relatively short. I went – to Poland in 1915 and in August 1915, I was wounded in September 1915, and since then I was in the – had to do – garrison service since November. Since the end of the war. And in November, 1918, then I went back to Berlin, had worked as a – worked a year as a volunteer – so called volunteer in a large Berlin store and in May – May, 1916 – 1920, in May 1920 I went back to my father and worked since then in the store of my father. I married in December 1922…
EIDELMAN: How did you meet your wife?
CWEISS: Well, we met in, met each other in literary circle and she fell in love with me…
CWEISS: …and I married her (LAUGHTER) in 192-, December, 1922. And, we had, we have two children –
EIDELMAN: Did eh, I’ll ask you this. When you were growing up, was your, were you, eh, Orthodox, Conservative or Reform, would you say?
CWEISS: My father, my parents were still somehow, eh, attached to the Jewish religion, but they were very, very liberal, and we younger people were even more liberal. Never had very much to do with religious education. For instance, I had once in a while I had to – had lectures in Jewish religion, but not by the – years I was prepared for Bar Mitzvah and had my Bar Mitzvah when I was 13 years old, but I didn’t ever have much to do with Jewish religion. We were – I, my sister, once we had a tendency to Zionism but not all the time. It wasn’t – it wasn’t very strong. My sister was very ardent – became a very ardent Zionist, but not me.
EIDELMAN: What was your parents’ view of your marrying a girl who wasn’t Jewish?
CWEISS: They were not too, too happy. But I – finally – I had to persuade them and they became quite happy.
EIDELMAN: So, when were you first aware that, or when were you first affected by the Nazis? When did you first start to feel the effect of the Nazis coming into power?
CWEISS: Well, (PAUSE) they came to power in January 1933. Before that we, of course, we heard much and we were very scared of them and full of contempt for them, but we were rather optimistic, and I remember in January maybe two weeks before the so-called Macht Ubernahme we came, we had – we attended a lecture where very well known politician – told us persuavally that the Nazis were through. There was no possibility for them to, to have any chance to play a role in Germany.
EIDELMAN: What year was this?
CWEISS: That was in 1933. In January 1933.
EIDELMAN: What was the word that you said, “the so-called?”
CWEISS: Pardon me?
EIDELMAN: You said the so-called machtunabe?
CWEISS: Macht Ubernahme.
GWEISS: Macht Ubernahme.
CWEISS: Macht Ubernahme.
GWEISS: Take over the power.
EIDELMAN: Oh, I see.
CWEISS: Macht is power – Ubernahme, take over. Well, and then came I guess the first April with the, boycott of the Jewish –
GWEISS: Stores.
CWEISS: -stores. And then things became very very bad for everybody, very dangerous and very unpleasant.
EIDELMAN: Were you working at your father’s store –
EIDELMAN: – when the boycott took place?
CWEISS: Yes. My father died in July 1932. So I…
EIDELMAN: Did you then, did you then take over –
CWEISS: So, I work -, I became the owner of that store.
EIDELMAN: What do you remember about the boycott of the stores?
CWEISS: We were, we fled. We were not in Berlin at that time. A couple of days, before the first of April we took a train to Wiesbaden where my, my, the parents-in-law lived, and I only heard from my employees how things had developed. We had to close the store after the, after about an hour of trying to have it open, by the way, a couple of days before the boycott started, there was a…run of people in the Jewish stores to buy things. The, the opposition of…the Nazis which was quite strong in cities like Berlin, wanted to have nothing to do with this kind of politics.
EIDELMAN: Did you have Gentile clientele that came to you and said that I think this is terrible and so forth.
CWEISS: Yes, certainly, certainly. Especially at that time…during this year the danger for the Gentiles to, to say a few words of opposition was not too strong. Later on it was – it didn’t happen too often anymore, of course.
EIDELMAN: How did you know, eh, that the boycott was coming and to leave? How – what kind of warning did you have that caused you to know to leave?
CWEISS: I think, it was, it was on the radio, and it was in the paper. It was very clearly announced. Mr. Streicher…
GWEISS: Streicher, yes.
EIDELMAN: Yes, Streicher, yes. He was the propagandist.
CWEISS: He was…
GWEISS: No, that was Goebbels. Streicher was the one –
EIDELMAN: Right. But he was with the newspaper. Wasn’t he the anti-Semitic Der Sturmer?
CWEISS: Der Sturmer, ja, ja. He, I guess, was in charge of the so-called boycott, and a couple of days before it was, the business was excellent and then, then –
EIDELMAN: Who managed the store while you were, eh, gone? How did you find somebody you could trust?
CWEISS: I had my – a few people in my store whom I could trust until the end.
EIDELMAN: Did you ever have any employees that were sympathetic to the Nazis?
CWEISS: Oh, yes. Yes. Well, and then in – a couple of months later before we started, I thought I had a very faithful crew there and nobody would, would be silly enough to think that what these people said was true; to follow them, but later on it developed that a couple of these gentlemen were apparently opportunists and became quite faithful Nazis.
EIDELMAN: And how did that impact your store? Did they keep working or what did they do?
CWEISS: They kept – well, they wanted me to discharge my Jewish employees and they caused me plenty of trouble for quite, quite some time, and I tried to…(PAUSE) mich zu wehren…
GWEISS: To defend.
CWEISS: Ja, try to defend myself but it was in vain, so things became very dangerous for me; they threatened with the Gestapo and things looked, looked very bad, so we decided to leave Berlin; we went -–to Prague for a couple of weeks and later on I had a friend who was a…comrade from the war – he took care of my – he was, ja, he took care of my business during my absence now and a couple of – we stayed in Prague a couple of weeks, so even some a couple of months and then he, my friend, reported to me that things had straightened out. There was not much danger anymore for me so we came back, and I took over my store again.
EIDELMAN: The people who worked in your store that were sympathetic to the Nazis, did they want to take over the store?
CWEISS: Yes. They wanted to take over the store. Um…
EIDELMAN: Did they give a hard time to the person who was running the store while you were gone?
CWEISS: Yes, but apparently it was not too bad. So, then I had my store but the store became very, very, very, extremely difficult to manage. I had my, er, usual (PAUSE) expenses and for instance, my rent was very high, my (PAUSE) er, I had to pay my employees and I was not allowed to discharge them. And had fewer and few customers –
EIDELMAN: Was that because some of the Gentile customers were afraid to be–
CWEISS: Yes, yes, yes. They became worse and worse –
EIDELMAN: Were they at any time forbidden by law to shop in your store?
CWEISS: No, no, no, no.
EIDELMAN: They were just afraid of being seen shopping in your store?
CWEISS: Ja, yes, ja. I remember, for instance, it was the last year when I had my store, a very old and very old customer of mine and a very good friend of mine came to my store and ordered suits according to measurements, and a day later he came back and said, “I’m very very sorry, but someone had seen me going in your store; it’s impossible. I have to cancel that, that –
GWEISS: Order.
CWEISS: – that order. He was a teacher in a art museum which was very close to my store, and he told me that the janitor of that, of that museum had seen him, seeing him going in here, and he was afraid of him – of his position there, they would fire him.
CWEISS: So, then I had my store with, until – October – it was October?
GWEISS: Ja, October –
CWEISS: October, 1938 –
GWEISS: Wait a minute, Kristallnacht.
CWEISS: Ja, yes.
GWEISS: Well, that was September, October, ah, ’38.
CWEISS: So, shortly before the Kristallnacht.
GWEISS: You know what that means.
CWEISS: Ja, and the date before the Kristallnacht, the store changed its owner, became Arysh.
EIDELMAN: You mean you sold the store the day before Kristallnacht?
CWEISS: Ja, so I was very happy. My windows were not…
EIDELMAN: Did you have any idea that Kristallnacht was coming that day?
CWEISS: Oh, no, no, no.
EIDELMAN: So it was just luck –
CWEISS: It was just plain luck. I had very unfriendly competition on the, –
GWEISS: Corner.
CWEISS: – corner of the street, and he had less luck – his windows all were broken. And these were very – my store was quite a large store – it had windows and he had, I guess, at least eight maybe 10, and well it must have cost him a fortune – it would have cost me –
EIDELMAN: And he was Jewish?
CWEISS: Ja, certainly. Ja, ja. So. And then, and…
EIDELMAN: How did, do you, did you get a good price for your – when you sold the store?
CWEISS: I got a very bad price for the store, very bad price –
EIDELMAN: Do you remember? What did you get for it compared to what the value of the goods was – what the book value was?
CWEISS: Maybe 20 percent. And they didn’t pay everything. They held back – I don’t know anymore how much it was – maybe 10,000 dollars so we had; they said it was a law – it might be it was a law…We were not allowed to pay everything until I could prove that I paid all of my taxes. And, after about half, half a year later, I had paid all my taxes and I went to them and told them showed them the proof, and then they said oh, they had, they had – after they had made the contract with me the final contract with me, they had – asked and – someone to examine all the goods again and they had found that they had paid too much already and they would – they would, wouldn’t pay a penny. I remember they had, they paid but a very small amount of the down payment – of that final –
EIDELMAN: Was this a very upsetting thing to you, to work so hard?
CWEISS: It was a very upsetting thing for me, yes. It was very unpleasant and very, very, very awful.
EIDELMAN: What do you remember about Kristallnacht?
CWEISS: Kristallnacht. (PAUSE)
GWEISS: May I pitch in here a moment?
CWEISS: Go ahead. Ja, please.
GWEISS: Because actually the first we noticed that there was a Kristallnacht was when our younger son – the children went to school – and he all of a sudden came back from school crying, crying, crying; he had forgotten his French grammar book – he never had forgotten that before, but it was such an exciting time for all of us – even the children, and so he forgot to take it and his French teacher, by the name of Marcus could have been Jewish somehow (LAUGHTER) Jewish related, and he was very mean and sent the child back, and on his way to school he noticed the Kristallnacht stores, you know, broken in, merchandise on the streets, and this got him emotionally so upset and now this teacher made him walk back the same way again to go through all that, to see that again, home. And so we said, you don’t go back to school – we don’t let you go back.
EIDELMAN: What did you do at home during that day? When did you find out?
GWEISS: Well, that is where, we found out that –
EIDELMAN: When your son found…
GWEISS: – out that something is going on, and then, of course, we heard that synagogues were burning and all that.
EIDELMAN: How did you hear?
GWEISS: From people.
EIDELMAN: People calling you up on the telephone saying –
CWEISS: By the way, I…
GWEISS: Well on the telephone, did we still have a telephone then? I think we didn’t, because telephone and radio was, were one of the first things they took away from us.
CWEISS: Anyway, I remember now, things looked – before we got the so called Kristallnacht, things looked very awful for the Jews because the propaganda in the newspapers became shriller and shriller. There was the story of von Rath, you know, from Paris, and there was the cry for revenge and for, so we knew – we expected that something terrible was coming. So I remember the night before the Kristallnacht, I didn’t stay at home. I stayed with acquaintances and I came back in the morning and there was, I saw what, what happened in…on my way home –
GWEISS: Where did you stay? I forgot that.
CWEISS: Customer of mine.
GWEISS: Oh, ja.
CWEISS: We hardly had known these people before, never saw them again. So I stayed there during the night because I thought maybe they would, they would pick us up as…they had done, really had done and would put me in the concentration camp. So…
GWEISS: That was going on very much –
EIDELMAN: Were you aware of any friends of yours that were taken to a concentration camp?
CWEISS: Yes, yes, yes, yes.
EIDELMAN: Did you discuss at home the concerns about and fears of going to a concentration camp?
CWEISS: Ja, ja, certainly. Certainly, certainly.
GWEISS: Of course, so…
EIDELMAN: Did you feel any special safety or any special danger as a result of having a mixed marriage?
CWEISS: No, no. Maybe a certain kind of minor security –
GWEISS: That we survived we knew after it was all over.
EIDELMAN: So, during, when did they start – for Jews that were not part of a mixed marriage, when, at what point were you aware that almost all the Jews were taken to concentration camps?
GWEISS: Much later.
EIDELMAN: Do you remember…
CWEISS: To the concentration camp or Auschwitz?
CWEISS: You know, at that time I guess Auschwitz did not exist.
CWEISS: And people want to…
GWEISS: Bergen Belsen.
CWEISS: No, no, Buchenwald, Buchenwald, yes. And…
GWEISS: Sachsenhausen.
CWEISS: Ja, Sachsenhausen, so and, and in Berlin it was, I think, at that time, only a minor – still only a minority, which went to concentration camps. I had a friend during the forced labor time, a very good man, an excellent worker and in a way, quite an intelligent man, and always when he talked about someone who was arrested and went to a concentration camp, he said I’m sure he must have done something.
GWEISS: He couldn’t believe that…
CWEISS: He couldn’t – he was, by the way he was a very Orthodox Jew.
EIDELMAN: Did there come a time where, where there were laws passed that if your wife were non-Jewish that you had special dispensation – not to go to a concentration camp?
CWEISS: No, no. I mean later on there was – we read this two – groups, groups. The – privileged Jew and the not-privileged Jew. And, the privileged Jew had to – who lived in mixed marriage or was descended of mixed marriage must have been, not a member of the Jewish community on a certain date, I don’t know when it was, and the others were the non-privileged Jews and they had – wore a star and so on, the privileged Jews had much better than the…
GWEISS: They were hard.
EIDELMAN: Were you, so were you in that category? Of privileged Jews?
CWEISS: I belonged to the non-privileged Jews.
GWEISS: Our children were geltungs Juden – not privileged but…

Tape 1 - Side 2

EIDELMAN: So, you were not privileged?
EIDELMAN: If that is the case, why do you think that they did not take you to a concentration camp?
CWEISS: Well, there is no, (LAUGHTER) there is no norm, you know, there is no norm; there was no order. It was just pure luck.
GWEISS: Today it was so; tomorrow so.
EIDELMAN: In other words it was just pure luck?
CWEISS: Pure luck. Pure luck.
EIDELMAN: Did they, did the Nazis ever…
GWEISS: I don’t know if I may talk or not.
CWEISS: Later.
EIDELMAN: Why don’t I wait. I’ll interview you – right.
GWEISS: Because you have to mention Himmler. Kanarienvogelchen.
EIDELMAN: Oh, what I was going to say was, did you, were you ever picked up by the Nazis?
EIDELMAN: What was the first time and what happened?
CWEISS: Well, it was, you know there is no – no reason, no order in that the kind of –
GWEISS: No sense.
CWEISS: – of state. Just, if, when the Gauleiter had maybe slept badly, then he made a law, some crazy law, you know, so in this case it was in, was it in 1944?
GWEISS: No, not that late.
CWEISS: Yes, in 1943 or 1944, I’m quite sure. Anyway, there was a, the Gestapo had the idea she went to see the documents the – Jews who were mixed marriage had to prove that they were a mixed marriage, and so we were ordered to appear in the Grosse Hamburgerstrasse, I guess it was, in the old, Jewish home for old ages; we were ordered to that office to appear, let’s say on Wednesday at nine o’clock with the documents. And so, one day – I was at home, when I came home my wife told me and the so-called Abhohler were there – it’s where the people, who pick the people up to –
GWEISS: Transport.
CWEISS: – later go on transport, transfer to Auschwitz and so on. While they were here they wanted to, they wanted take you along and, – my wife told them that – pardon me?
GWEISS: He asked me.
CWEISS: That it was a mixed marriage and the leader of this group said well then you have to appear on Wednesday at 10 o’clock in the Grosse Hamburgerstrasse – with the documents, documents. And so, I, I went there and nobody had a look at these documents and we, I had to stay there, stayed there for about two weeks, and during this time nobody asked for my documents and nobody knew what was happening next. I was, I was a prisoner of the Gestapo.
EIDELMAN: Were there other prisoners with you?
CWEISS: There were quite a few other ones – as far as I know in my vicinity they were all people who were, had to, had to be transported to Auschwitz or so on. Nobody knew, of course at that time,
EIDELMAN: Were they also people of mixed marriage?
CWEISS: In my neighborhood there were none. They were all full, 100 percent Jews. The – it was told that we – the Jews – would be transported to Poland and had to do forced labor there. Of course there was no word about the concentration, about concentration camp, and Auschwitz and so on. Nobody, nobody, nearly nobody believed it. And, it was very skillfully done from the Gestapo. I remember there was – to show how mad the Nazis and Gestapo worked, there was they pretended, there is a law that the family, families should not be separated. They should go – as families into, to be in the new Jewish colonies in Poland. And I remember there was a gentleman with a little boy who stayed there for about, I was told he stayed there for about four weeks already in that old age home because his wife had become very sick and had to, to be brought to the Jewish Hospital. And of course they wouldn’t transport him without his wife and he had to wait until his wife became transport – able to be transported too. That would prove to us, certainly, there was a humane public…the man who took very well care of us Jews. Later on we heard that shortly after they were transported they were, they were separated. Man there, woman there. But it looked very good.
EIDELMAN: And how did you find out that you were released?
CWEISS: Well, then maybe after two weeks they said all Jews who were in mixed marriage had to, had to assemble somewhere. And we did and now we, I found out there were quite a few mixed marriages. The Jews of mixed marriage, too. And so this group might have been 50 or 100 people were transported to the Rosenstrasse. Rosenstrasse was the center of the Jewish community. They were the main offices of the Jewish community. And we stayed there for a couple of days. I don’t know how long it was – maybe a week, hardly a week and then all of a sudden they said we should go home. Then in the meantime maybe you heard about it, it was very, very nice affair. The Berlin, the old Berlin police was not a pillar of the new regime. They were very still were very, very good, the majority of them at least, were very good people and so someone had the idea…one day the policeman appeared and said, asked, “Mr. Hans Meyer, Mr. Hans Meyer,” and Hans Meyer said, “Here, here.” “Well, Mr. Hans Meyer, your wife would like to, you forgot to give your wife the key to the apartment. Would you kindly give me the key?” And he did. And so, he went back to Mrs. Meyer which waited outside and she knew now that Mr. Meyer was there. And about maybe about this riot of the so-called Arysh women, before the Rosenstrasse – maybe you heard about it?
EIDELMAN: Tell me about it.
CWEISS: It was a – for days it was a riot of, of, of Jewish women, excuse me, of non-Jewish women – from the – their husbands were imprisoned and they, they…
GWEISS: Demonstrated.
CWEISS: – cried and wanted the husbands back. And it was, really it was amazing. The Gestapo which, I guess in no other case, would have, would not have, done something very bad against such riots – the main thing what has been done according to what I heard was a couple of wives – of these women were arrested for a couple of hours and had kartoffel zu schalen.
GWEISS: Peel potatoes – the Gestapo –
CWEISS: Peel potatoes, but in general nothing happened, and we must – these so-called mixed marriage men must have had, must have had – a guardian angel in, in, in the Berlin Gestapo that once in a while, – they didn’t, they couldn’t do the worst to them. So, anyway, we were discharged after a couple of weeks. My son Gerhardt was with us in Berlin. He was arrested, too, and was, I guess – no, he was in, another so called summplatz in another place, but he was, he could go home after a couple of days, too.
GWEISS: Same day.
EIDELMAN: How did the, how did you support yourself after you sold the store? How could you afford to pay your rent and buy food –
CWEISS: I had some money.
EIDELMAN: Was it kept at a bank? Or was it cash money that you –
CWEISS: It was kept in a bank.
EIDELMAN: So, the Nazis did not do anything as far as you knew to confiscate the money – of Jews.
CWEISS: Well, no, it was – one couldn’t have more than 200 marks every month, but I’m not quite sure how much it was at that time. Anyway, we didn’t – we never had that money enough.
EIDELMAN: You mean you were only allowed to withdraw 200 marks a month?
CWEISS: Ja, I think so, yes.
EIDELMAN: So, you didn’t come – you weren’t worried about depleting all of your savings? Or were you?
CWEISS: Well, the, the – money became worthless, more worthless and worthless every, every day. It was better when one had to exchange things and was the state of the economy was not too excellent, in this respect.
EIDELMAN: You mean you had to barter for food, for instance? How did that work? For example.
CWEISS: Well, anyway, the majority of, of, of the food, the essential food was –
GWEISS: Rationed.
CWEISS: – rationed and was very cheap. And we didn’t get everything as Jews anyway. So, I mean things were in this respect much better than they were in the first war.
EIDELMAN: If you were not working, let’s say, during most of the war since you had sold your store, how did you spend most of your days?
CWEISS: Well, –
GWEISS: Good question.
CWEISS: Not too long after I had, after I had sold my store, I had to do forced labor.
EIDELMAN: Forced labor?
EIDELMAN: So, the Nazis said, more or less, okay, you’re a husband of mixed marriage –
CWEISS: Eh, in this case there was no difference.
EIDELMAN: Oh, in – early on in the war, all the Jews –
GWEISS: Before then.
CWEISS: Yes, yes.
EIDELMAN: During the war – at the beginning of the war all the Jews in Berlin, as far as you knew, were not taken to concentration camps did forced labor?
CWEISS: Right.
GWEISS: Not right away.
CWEISS: Ja, not right away. A year after.
EIDELMAN: And were you living – did you go home when you were not working?
CWEISS: Yes, yes, yes, yes.
EIDELMAN: And, um, so throughout the war, the entire war, you were doing forced labor?
EIDELMAN: What kind of jobs did you do?
CWEISS: Well, eh, I was – I dig, I dug –
CWEISS: I dug trenches and…
GWEISS: For an airport –
CWEISS: I worked, um, Siemens Halsker, you know
GWEISS: Very famous, ja.
CWEISS: The coal department was very interesting.
GWEISS: Unloading coal from the barges.
EIDELMAN: What type of hours did you put in on most of these jobs?
CWEISS: Well, I think about 10 hours and very, mostly, I guess, seven days a week. So, and then I worked in a transport company.
EIDELMAN: I see. Um, did there come a time when the Jews who were not of mixed marriage, who were working on forced labor in Berlin, had to go to concentration camps?
EIDELMAN: No. Did there come a time when all –
CWEISS: Yes, that was in 1943, maybe 1944. 1943, I guess.
GWEISS: That was…not ’44.
CWEISS: 1943.
GWEISS: Yes, when the Endlosung (final solution).
EIDELMAN: And so, the, and so as a result it was not until 1943 that the husbands of non-Jewish women were treated differently thanks to, as you put it, a guardian angel –
EIDELMAN: – or whatever, so you, you continued in your forced labor job.
CWEISS: Yes, yes, yes, yes. Until the end. Until the end of the war.
EIDELMAN: Going back a little bit, when you sent – how did it happen that you arranged to have your son go to England? And why did one son go and the other son did not go?
CWEISS: Well, number one, I guess it had something to do with the Jewish community –
GWEISS: Kindertransport.
CWEISS: Ja, with the Jewish…
GWEISS: Children’s transport.
CWEISS: Ja. And number two –
GWEISS: One had to have a sponsor in England.
CWEISS: Ja, the second, it didn’t work. Something we wanted to…
GWEISS: Both were supposed to go…
CWEISS: Both of them but…
EIDELMAN: You couldn’t get a sponsor for the second one?
GWEISS: We did have a sponsor but –
GWEISS: We had a sponsor but the older son, Kenneth, whom you met.
GWEISS: He was, he went in April. That was, went through, and Gerhardt had to wait ‘til August, and when his time was due, he had the flu.
GWEISS: And he couldn’t, he had a high fever and was sick. So after that the war broke out and he, there was no chance anymore. That was in August, ’39.
EIDELMAN: Were you, as a father I imagine it would be difficult when you had children or one child and you, by working seven days a week from seven in the morning until the evening –
GWEISS: They were supposed to be nights.
EIDELMAN: – and at nights, you really, was it upsetting not to be able to spend time with your child?
CWEISS: Well, my child had to do forced labor, too. (LAUGHTER)
GWEISS: The one that was with us. He had to, he was 16 at that time and they were not allowed to go to school anymore. And, he had, he got a job at a so-called – dismantling you know, where the bombs had damaged the houses – almost put them to smitherines.
GWEISS: They had to, to, to assort the different kinds of material and dismantle it.
EIDELMAN: So, therefore, you were always concerned that something would happen to him?
GWEISS: Oh, ach, of course, of course. And still we were fortunate in comparison to many others, who –
EIDELMAN: So, from your standpoint you were so busy working that you didn’t have, um, you didn’t really have too much time to worry about –
GWEISS: Oh, we had plenty –
EIDELMAN: I mean you had time to worry.
GWEISS: – while he was digging coal or this, his brain could work.
EIDELMAN: Did you have, did you have when you got home from a hard day’s work, what was the substance of the conversation when you got home at night?
GWEISS: He was tired, dead tired and dirty.
CWEISS: Anyway, we were, of course, always very interested in the affairs of the world, and we tried to read in the newspapers and to discuss the situation –
GWEISS: Yes, and the child we wanted to –
CWEISS: And well, we had to –
GWEISS: We read aloud classic books.
CWEISS: We had a chance to talk to each other, even if it was after working 10 hours a day. And –
EIDELMAN: What were your main concerns at that time?
GWEISS: Survival.
EIDELMAN: Survival. Um, at what time, were you ever afraid for your own safety as far as bombing from the Allies was concerned?
CWEISS: Oh yes, sure –
GWEISS: (LAUGHTER) Yes, and we got it, too.
EIDELMAN: What happened?
CWEISS: Well, the house, the house where we lived was bombed and everything –
EIDELMAN: At what time, what happened, tell me about it.
GWEISS: At what time of the day or…? Night.
CWEISS: It was evening, ja.
GWEISS: The Americans came during the day and the British came at night. When it stopped, it went on constantly.
EIDELMAN: So you were asleep when your house was –
CWEISS: No, no, no, no.
GWEISS: We got the alarm around, let’s say, usually eight or nine, it depended on how light it was, how much moonlight there was and all that were the conditions for good flying weather.
CWEISS: We were sitting at dinner and I, I had been very favorite. I had gotten a rabbit and we had, even I guess,
GWEISS: Ja, really.
CWEISS: We hadn’t eaten half of it –
GWEISS: It was because we didn’t want to eat it all at one time and then…
EIDELMAN: And then what happened?
GWEISS: It was gone.
CWEISS: Then what happened?
GWEISS: It was the night we were bombed.
CWEISS: There came an alarm and we had to go to the, to the –
GWEISS: We had our luggage –
CWEISS: – basement.
GWEISS: – ready. We noticed how the bombs were cluttering on the roof – it was a big apartment corner building –
EIDELMAN: How many stories tall was the building?
EIDELMAN: Five stories?
EIDELMAN: And so, you were in the basement with many other people.
GWEISS: Oh, yes. But we had to be, at a separate, at a separate locker, so to speak.
EIDELMAN: Because you were Jewish?
EIDELMAN: Were there any other Jews in your locker with you?
GWEISS: Ja, we had, you see, we had a big apartment, we were not allowed to live there all by ourselves. We had to take people in. We had a couple, a Jewish couple, living with us and they had a –
EIDELMAN: So in your – the Jewish part of the locker it was you and the other couple who were living in your apartment?
GWEISS: Ja, right, right.
CWEISS: Of course, it was during, during the war it was quite different. We had, we had several basement experiences.
GWEISS: Ja, we had after ours, after we were bombed.
CWEISS: We had to, we were bombed, and that basement I guess we were sitting together with the others.
GWEISS: Yes, and then came these…
EIDELMAN: After the bomb came, and you could hear it hit the building –
GWEISS: We could hear?
EIDELMAN: When you were in the basement when the bomb came, did you hear –
GWEISS: Oh, ja, well of course one heard noises all over.
CWEISS: I don’t know. I don’t know whether we heard it.
GWEISS: Well, I mean what –
EIDELMAN: What happened, what happened –
GWEISS: – the flack, from the ground to the, to get the planes down with Blitzfire and the bombs from up there so it was quite a racket going on.
EIDELMAN: So, then, when the bombing stopped, did you try to go back up to your apartment; did you try to get some goods?
GWEISS: We had to go to the attic and try to, to extinguish the flames; we had water all over and sand, just in case and we had to try to distin – extinguish the flames, but it didn’t work, because it was so dense and so much smoke. We couldn’t see anything anymore. So we left and went into our own apartment and tried to rescue some of the pictures. My son grabbed so we could save them.
EIDELMAN: Were you able to save your pictures?
GWEISS: Ja, well the ones there, yes; but, of course, not much. I had our bedding every morning I put it in a bundle because I thought if something happens, we can grab at least our bedding and can somewhere bed down with other peoples, and then we had little biddy luggage; we had also with us and a knapsack, two suitcases, one dress, two dresses, and a suit and a coat. You know, to save as much things to wear as possible. My son and my husband did the same and so we had that and a few things – some books and some pictures of Gerd, grabbed quickly but has instinctively a funny feeling. When I entered our apartment – I mean it happened before each time that our windows – where the glass was all gone – air pressure you know, and so I went to do the kitchen and tried to close the windows – stupid me! It didn’t help anymore, it was over, and at that time they didn’t just let simple bombs drop, that was schwefel what is this?
EIDELMAN: Straight? Strafe, strafing?
GWEISS: No, no – the thing that is running down the wall and it – it’s sulphur. No? Sulfur, schwefel. Yes. Sulphur. Maybe you have heard how they, how they did in Hamburg. It was horrible and they started in Berlin, too, so I thought the length – the wall, I saw the stuff running down, and you know, this is – you can’t – I mean, it just burns.
GWEISS: You can’t do anything about it.
EIDELMAN: Did you go back to your, to try to clean up what was left of your apartment the next day?
CWEISS: There was nothing –
GWEISS: I beg your pardon? How could one? Because all down there was only –
GWEISS: There was only –
EIDELMAN: It just all crashed in big pile of –
GWEISS: I thought it was –
EIDELMAN: – of junk.
GWEISS: – the wall standing and I could look from the streets through all the room into our kitchen and I saw at the wall hanging in a little container for soap and detergent or something, and that was hanging crooked.
EIDELMAN: Did you have it all planned out where you would go if that happened?
GWEISS: Yes, yes – we made arrangements.
EIDELMAN: And where did you go?
GWEISS: To a friend’s house, not very far.
EIDELMAN: Were they – the friends Jewish, were the friends Jewish?
GWEISS: If she would…
CWEISS: Yes, a mixed marriage.
GWEISS: It was a mixed marriage. Her husband had died – her Jewish husband had died shortly before we invaded her apartment. Well, I mean if it would have happened to her, she would have come to us and so it we got it so we lived with her to the end of the war. That was not very, not too far off. It happened – our bombing happened the famous date – 30th of January. But not ‘43, but ‘44. And in ‘45 the war was over in May. So we stayed until then with her.
EIDELMAN: What do you remember about the war, the war coming to a close? What were your hopes as the war, and what were your hopes and what were your worries as the war came to an end?
CWEISS: Well, (CLEARS THROAT) the last weeks of the war, it was, were nearly a standstill; the streetcars or the buses stopped running and there was – it was –
GWEISS: Chaotic.
CWEISS: Ja. I had at that time a very important war job. I had to (COUGHS) paint the attics of the houses with something which made them –
CWEISS: Ja, fireproof. And it was very, I mean it was…

Tape 2 - Side 1

Yeah they apparently the bombed city, no – the attics were fireproof because usually when we had done our job and went home and then the next day came back, the house didn’t stand anymore. It was very interesting.
EIDELMAN: How did you get – if the public transportation was not operating –
CWEISS: Yeah, well it was, uh –
EIDELMAN: How did you get to your next job?
CWEISS: Well it was terrible; it was very very difficult. (LAUGHTER) I remember it was in…not in the end of the war – in 1944, I had a very crazy foreman and I (COUGHS) the night had been terrible – the bombs were at – falling – and there was not a car in, in, in the whole city and then greatest difficulty – difficulty to get to my job and it was about half an hour later and at an hourly rate, and when the foreman saw me, and I excused myself with these difficulties. He said, “Ah, das war mal typisch.” That means…typically Jewish. (LAUGHTER)
CWEISS: In this case really – even the most Arysh – Aryan wouldn’t have been able to do it better. Ja.
EIDELMAN: So, as the war came to an end, were you just hoping that the Allies would win, so that the war would come to an end?
CWEISS: Yes, yes. Yes, yes. We certainly did. And another nice (CLEARS THROAT) little story when I worked at the Paketen office – you know what it is – air transportation company. And we…of the morning after that very bad –
GWEISS: Air raid.
CWEISS: – air raid, this foreman was in, of course, in a very bad mood and he, he tried to harass us as much as possible, and then he said, well you forget you can think you’re Churchill.
EIDELMAN: Oh, I see. Who was that that said that?
CWEISS: The foreman.
EIDELMAN: Oh, the foreman.
EIDELMAN: During the bombing raids how did the people get sleep at night if they bombed during the night?
GWEISS: Some had even couches set up quite comfortably –
EIDELMAN: How long did the bombing raids last?
GWEISS: Oh, sometimes many hours.
GWEISS: Sometimes only a short time, especially when the Fuhrer’s birthday or some (LAUGHTER) prominent person’s birthday and they made speeches. Then the Americans came during the day. At the moment somebody started to make a big speech to honor this birthday person – the bombs came (LAUGHTER) they were not very far away and so they made the fun out of it – it was especially the last birthday of Hitler, because I know I had to work forced labor, too, by then, and I was in a bunker. A big, big thing and next to me were sitting some foreign workers, Dutch people. You know they took people from all these conquered countries, took them into the Reich for work. And I had some very nice conversations with these foreigners and we got to laugh at every few minutes it was the all clear, and then I guess this person started his speech again and vvvooommmm – here came the siren again. It was always interrupted. They were all very interesting symptoms.
EIDELMAN: Now I thought before you said that the Jews could not have radios, but then you said at some point you listened to the news on the radio.
GWEISS: Oh, well that was – we had to have – before we were bombed, we had as I told you people living with us – they are not allowed.
GWEISS: And she had a radio.
GWEISS: She was – she could keep it. So at a certain time when we could hear BBC but you should have seen how she – first the windows were – we put blankets there and pillows so that no sound would go to the outside because that meant your head if they found out. And then we put our ears into (LAUGHTER) the apparatus and we heard BBC. And were a little bit informed about what was really going on.
EIDELMAN: Was there a big difference between what the uh – German government was saying and what the BBC was saying?
GWEISS: I should say so.
GWEISS: And that was – and then came these funny – suddenly we got – er, the Germans got rationing of wheat and all sorts of things – liquor and cigarettes, you know they emptied the warehouses because they knew it is only a matter of days now and these all were symptoms and then there was Goebbels that was the Gauleiter of Berlin – you know who Goebbels was?
GWEISS: And he told the population, “Don’t worry, there is a brigade rank that is on its way.” It never came of course. And you won’t believe – the Russians were very close already, but the Russians won’t make it, our brigade rank – they will chase them off. So all these little things we put together and, of course, the moment the invasion happened and I mean – in France – it was the, the North Sea – well, then we knew that is the end. Now it can’t be too long anymore.
EIDELMAN: So, when D-Day happened on June 6, 1944 –
GWEISS: Yeah, this is what I meant –
EIDELMAN: – you figured that that was – it was a matter of time.
GWEISS: I was on my way to get – I got from the city offices from little, like rationing cards for to get some spoons and some cutlery and maybe a towel or two, because we – everything was gone.
EIDELMAN: Did you have to pay to get the rationing cards?
GWEISS: Yeah, no, for the cards?
EIDELMAN: To get rationing cards?
GWEISS: No, no –
EIDELMAN: But you had to pay, did you have to pay to buy the items with the rationing cards?
GWEISS: To buy the items? Yes.
EIDELMAN: And your savings still held up so that you could buy things?
CWEISS: Yes, yes, yes.
GWEISS: There was not too much on the – especially for us because my husband and my son didn’t get white bread and they didn’t get any meat, so I had to buy – I was standing in line at the horse butcher to get horse meat – I got the double for my card, you know, so it wasn’t that expensive what we could buy.
EIDELMAN: Why did you get double?
GWEISS: Because I was Aryan.
EIDELMAN: So, in other words – the Jews got half.
GWEISS: Oh, no – the horse meat –
EIDELMAN: Oh, the horse meat you got double –
CWEISS: Because it was horse meat.
GWEISS: Yeah, oh I thought you meant – why I got meat and the others didn’t.
GWEISS: No. That was the horse meat – that’s why people were standing in long lines and also that was interesting because we knew when they opened perhaps them at seven o’clock and from five on in the morning we were starting (LAUGHTER) to stand in line to get something. And the conversations here and there I heard were just wonderful for me. I thought, oh, when my husband comes home I have to tell him –
EIDELMAN: What types of things? What types of conversations?
GWEISS: Defeatistisch, very much so. You mustn’t forget Berlin isn’t – I mean in smaller places in Germany there was, of course, everybody made “Heil Hitler” not so, for instance – our green grocer’s lady, she told me, “What do you think here comes the other day a little boy and says “Heil Hitler, do you have butter?” and I said “Heil Hitler I don’t have any butter.”” I mean, that just was the spirit.
EIDELMAN: You’re saying that a lot of the people that you met in your everyday travel were not sympathetic to Hitler.
GWEISS: Oh, people around, I mean, of course, my husband was a small boy when he lived already in that building, and the store was open in 1892, so people knew the family so well, and they were really and – you came here and I have to emphasize that because, especially in the beginning people condemned all Germans, but our experience was really the opposite. I got from different women who had stores – one had a tobacco store and the other a confectionary – and I needed little things to send to Theresienstadt, – we had one employee there and some relatives – little packages to send them like, like – not very big – and so I got a, for instance, a carrot or a potato or onion even and from the – one gave me cigarettes; the other one gave me some candy, which was, of course, (LAUGHTER) some ersatz, and not real candy, at that time, but it was something. And they even came to our house, to our door, and we had to have the Jewish star on our door, so, I mean if – other people in the house had seen her, my goodness –
EIDELMAN: You mean, people came to…
GWEISS: She brought fruit – and I know you don’t, aren’t allowed to buy it; I got cherries and I got apples or whatever it was. They brought it to the house.
EIDELMAN: So, your non-Jewish – your friends must have figured that –
GWEISS: They were not really our friends – they were the neighbors –
GWEISS: – who knew my husband from when he was a little boy.
EIDELMAN: So, your neighbors were very, very helpful.
EIDELMAN: Did you have any neighbors that were not helpful or any –
GWEISS: Oh, you told me that too – well, she was a nice woman, but she became Nazi, of course, and then suddenly when we met on the grund steps, it’s that I was thin air. She didn’t see me. She couldn’t say hello or good morning or Heil Hitler, nothing.
EIDELMAN: Did you – when did you have your last correspondence with Kenneth and…
GWEISS: This was really up at first because the war – we could – it was fairly easy because via Holland we could, but after and very soon Holland was overrun so that fell off and then we had – the Red Cross. But 25 words took a year and half going and another year and a half coming back with the answer, so we were very – but fortunately my friend in England through whom we got the sponsor, the family who took him in, and guaranteed for him. She could write to me, too, to us.
EIDELMAN: During the war?
GWEISS: Well, via Red Cross. I mean.
EIDELMAN: During the war?
GWEISS: Ja, but only via Red Cross, not a normal letter. 25 words. And we had to be very – er, I mean you want to let them know everything but not saying it in so many words was not so easy. But one became quite…(LAUGHTER)
EIDELMAN: So, did you know, during, for example in 1944 did you know that Kenneth was still okay?
GWEISS: Yes, because – now wait a minute. When did he – when he was 18 years, let’s see he was 15½ when he left. When he was 18 he volunteered for the British army. And – so that was 1939, 16 – ’41. He joined the army and my friend – we got a Red Cross 25-word note from her and she said, oh Kenneth – Klaus – at that time his name was Klaus, because he had to change his name –
GWEISS: – and he was visiting us over Easter or whatever and it was so nice to see him and he had such a beautiful new suit on – ah ha, we thought that means he joined the army – it was a military suit. And so that’s how we entered – when we were bombed we told him we had moved. And so then he knew, too, where I was – assumed that we probably were bombed, too, but he knew that we were living as well as he.
EIDELMAN: I see. Well, once you knew that Kenneth was in the army –
GWEISS: Then we had some more worries. (LAUGHTER) Ja, ja.
EIDELMAN: Let me ask you a couple of questions about while your husband was in these…yes, in there or during the so-called riot – you called the Arysh Womens Riot or the riot by the non-Jewish wives of Jewish husbands –
GWEISS: Oh yeah, ja – well I was not among them, because I had – I didn’t know where he really was, to begin with. I didn’t know these women. They were all from the center – we lived more on the outskirts – not outskirts – but in the west of the city and how they knew – just great. But I had another opportunity. I had to take care of two boys. My Gerhardt – yet he worked at a factory and his schoolmate – when he was still could go to school – Fritz Gluckstein – he lived not far from us. He worked there, too, so I took these two boys because I knew that now there is a very – the atmosphere is so, so tense – so I couldn’t I didn’t dare leaving them – I felt like a mother hen and I had to take my two boys – took them to work and picked them up again. So that – to be sure that they come home all right.
EIDELMAN: You picked them up by walking?
GWEISS: By walking, of course. And, so, I am sorry that I missed these women who were demonstrating and chanting and making all kinds of – I, I, I thought this is well known. (PAUSE)
EIDELMAN: Your son, Gerhardt – Kenneth, mentioned that he had a good friend where he spent some time – was it a, a, a pastor or a minister?
GWEISS: Oh yeah, that was, ja, that was a pastor. Do you see, the Evangeliche Church was divided; there were Deutsche Cristen, that were the Nazis, and then Bekennende Kirche, and that is, were the anti-Nazis. And this pastor von Ravenau, he was in the – you probably know about Niemoller – have you never heard the name of – well he was famous for being more in prison than out.
GWEISS: And this pastor von Ravenau – one of his sons was a classmate of Kenneth’s. And this pastor von Ravenau when it became worse and worse so that Jews were not allowed to go in parks and sit on the bench or only for work could they use the transportation – public transportation, otherwise they were not allowed to – to use this transportation facilities. And so, he came, is Gerd there? Yes. Well come on we are going to the Grunewald, so he took him and went with him way out into the suburbs into the woods and walked long hikes with him, and he was very good to him. And I must really say that – when he was not imprisoned.
EIDELMAN: When who wasn’t? When von Ravenau wasn’t?
GWEISS: Ja. When because he was, very often he was.
EIDELMAN: They imprisoned him for helping Jews?
GWEISS: No, no. For being a Bekennende Kirche Mann and not a – of course, you see, when he had Sunday-Monday services then there was Gestapo sitting all over –
EIDELMAN: I see, I see –
GWEISS: – and they were listening to his words. And when there was something that was not convenient, then off you go.
EIDELMAN: Did, when you were working in the labor camps, did you have to have a Jewish – wear a Jewish star?
GWEISS: Only in the camp.
CWEISS: (CLEARS THROAT) Excuse me. When the law – I had to, of course, it was not there right away – it was – I don’t know. When did it start?
GWEISS: 1942. I know it because when I was…
CWEISS: So, 1942 I had to; my son had to, too. And I remember at that time there was a rumor among us Jews that Roosevelt had ordered all Germans in the United States to carry stars with the name of Deutsche.
CWEISS: And we were very happy about that. Ja.
GWEISS: Also, that – can you imagine – at a Jewish hospital for instance, I sometimes I had to go there because one of our employees was sick and so – anyway, I was there and they had on their hospital gown – they had to wear this star.
EIDELMAN: Did – when you were walking down the street with the Jewish star –
GWEISS: Ja, ja, of course –
EIDELMAN: Did you, did the Nazis or did the average population make any comments or say things that –
CWEISS: Very seldom, very seldom –
GWEISS: To Gerd.
CWEISS: What’s that?
GWEISS: To Gerd – they did.
CWEISS: Yeah, but I’m talking about myself.
EIDELMAN: Right. What were your experiences?
CWEISS: My experiences were – I had – I only remember one little kid – I was walking with my wife and that was –
GWEISS: That was I walked arm in arm with him.
CWEISS: Ja, arm in arm and the little boy saw us and said, in a very bad German grammar, I will try to translate it, “It is very bad for an Arysh woman to be married to a Jew.
GWEISS: – to be married –
GWEISS: -to be in love with a Jew.” (LAUGHTER) But our son is –
CWEISS: – the only thing that ever happened. But on the other side I remember once we – a group of Jews we included with some work to do, I don’t remember what in the, in, in, not the best district of, of, of Berlin, and we saw a man who had found a – was an owner of a cigarette store. He came to us and gave us cigarettes and said, “Oh, I thought there were no Jews anymore in Berlin; now I’m so happy there still are some.”
CWEISS: It was really an exception to –
GWEISS: Gerd said when he was, for instance, walking on the street at first when he started, when the thing started that Jews had to wear that – at that time there were not too many left anymore in Berlin. Many had been transported already. Gerd said a gentleman approached him and said, “I feel so bad to be a German when I see that as a such a disgrace, such a shame and I wish you the very, very best,” and so Gerd was – just – he said, “Isn’t that wonderful how this man…” And when the metro, the underground, when it was pretty dark, the woman gave him an apple – here take that, I know you don’t get it. And so, I mean strangers –
GWEISS: – just to show their – that they agree, not with them, but with him.
EIDELMAN: Did at any point during the war, did you have knowledge about the death camps that were in existence?
CWEISS: Well, my wife says yes; I say no.
GWEISS: Well, towards the end it was – no, no – Emmy, our maid of, she used to be with me – but we were not allowed to have maids anymore – and she used to be a maid at our house for quite some time – was very attached to our children – and she came from time to time visiting, brought us some bread and you know, when she could, perhaps spare, and she told us that it was also quite shortly before the end – a soldier, it was when they had an air raid, they were all in the basement and there was next to her a soldier sitting, on furlough, and he is, he was almost beside himself because of the horrible things he had witnessed in Poland. I don’t know if – I guess it was Treblinka or something like that, not really Auschwitz –
CWEISS: Well, I –
GWEISS: – it is, you know these, these massengraber they had to disrobe and then they were shot and fell into the – agh, terrible.
CWEISS: I think, as far as I can remember, that nearly until the end I was of the opinion that this, that these transports went really to labor camps and I thought where the Jews would, maybe under very bad conditions, be forced to do –
GWEISS: Hard work.
CWEISS: – hard labor, like we did in Germany already. And these little things like – I told you about that man who was waiting – had to wait for his wife from the hospital – and quite a few other things, had made me believe that there – it was not 100 percent terrible.
EIDELMAN: I see. But did your maid – did you say that your old, your former maid told you about what she had heard? What did you – did you believe her, what did you think?
GWEISS: Oh, of course I believed because we thought that there is something going on, of course, at that time I had no chance anymore to listen to BBC, but we had this feeling as if there were –
CWEISS: I remember, now remember…
GWEISS: – something.
CWEISS: Colleagues of mine who really went voluntarily – especially one man he came one morning to us, a co-worker, and he said he came with it fully ready to go –
GWEISS: That second –
CWEISS: Ja, he said his children were ordered to…to, to be in the transport and had to leave next week and certainly he would join them, to join them. Of course, it was the last we heard of him.
EIDELMAN: As far as your social life is concerned during the war, was there any? Did you get together with friends ever in the evening and what type –
GWEISS: Yes, to exchange our worries, but we couldn’t really entertain.
GWEISS: We didn’t have anything to entertain with.
GWEISS: To offer.
EIDELMAN: Right. What type of friends did you have, did you mingle with?
GWEISS: What, I mean, there were mainly Jews…because the others…
CWEISS: Colleagues and relatives…
EIDELMAN: Did you have any Jewish relatives that lived in Berlin throughout the war?
EIDELMAN: The war?
GWEISS: Relatives who lived in Berlin throughout the war?
CWEISS: Ja, sure….NO, No, no, no – all the…
GWEISS: Ja, ja.
CWEISS: Sisters of my father. Died a natural death of a – thing.
GWEISS: I think all of this is a little much for you.
CWEISS: Well, it’s all right.
GWEISS: I think you know actually everything there is to be known.
EIDELMAN: Well, you know, that’s up to you. I’ll stop if you want.
GWEISS: Can you still –
CWEISS: No, but we…

Tape 2 - Side 2

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.
EIDELMAN: Shredded.
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.
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 –
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?
GWEISS: Rathaus.
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?
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 –
EIDELMAN: Russians…
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.
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 –
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.
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.
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 –
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.
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?
EIDELMAN: Federation?
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?
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…

Tape 3 - Side 1

EIDELMAN: Mrs. Weiss you said that you had to work at forced labor. Do you remember when it started and how you found out about it and why you had to work?
GWEISS: Well, it was very simple. In 1944 – in July of 1944 (LAUGHTER) – I had my 50th birthday and that was the time when women – German, Aryan women who were married to Jews had to join the labor force. And so I was assigned. I had to go to an employment office and they assigned me to a drapery factory, that is, we had to er, um, to stencil on a piece of cloth insignias of certain drapes which we had to produce. For instance, it was not the swastika Hitler founded, it was, for instance, for the – well like the labor force, people who were not military – in military service – but they had to do some sort of labor like digging trenches or, I mean civilians who were drafted into the force. And they had, of course, their own flag and for instance, this kind of flag we had to make there.
EIDELMAN: Did you find out by mail – in the mail that you had to go to work?
GWEISS: Well, I forgot. Not by mail – definitely not, but this happened after we were bombed in January of ’44, and this was in July. And the lady where we stayed after we were bombed told me that over the radio they mentioned that people and so on who are women who are over 50 or turned 50 had to join the labor force.
EIDELMAN: Did you think this was unfair –
GWEISS: So I got – I think I got a notice. I’m not – it is not very important I must say. I had to go to a certain employment office and there they assigned me to this job. I wasn’t very long there, because that was in the fall of that year the very very heavy air raids for the inner cities started and we had – for instance on some days when we did not work we had alternately to be there as watch people for air raids, for bombing or something like that so we could get help and so the building would be safe. So, and I only was there once and when I was assigned to a second Sunday to go there, we knew we had heard over the radio that the inner city was completely rubble, and this factory was located where the newspaper center was in that section of the inner city. And so, my husband walked with me and the closer we came the hotter became the floor under our feet, the sidewalk, and we smelled more and more this terrible smell. And then I said you’d better go back. I’m not – I’m almost there and I didn’t want for him to see maybe what I would see, because there were corpses lying all around. At first I thought they were stuffed animals, but they were really – they were originally human beings who shrank to something very small, and it looked like they had a pelt instead of human skin. Or a leg was sticking out of the rubble and so – I mean a horrible sights – and then when I tried to look down the street, I noticed – ah ha – the building isn’t there any more, so I don’t go any further. And I didn’t want to go the same way back past all that horror again so I walked further on through to the Zeitung, the newspaper section, and it was even worse, I have to admit, and finally it was a very long walk to where we lived. I was home and my husband and our friend where we stayed – they were worried about me, because it took so terribly long before I came home. But then I just couldn’t tell them anything – I started crying, crying, crying because it was so awful.
EIDELMAN: Was that the first time you had seen such a terrible thing like this?
GWEISS: Yeah, because when we were bombed we didn’t see such things, but this was such – so intense the whole inner city of Berlin was all of a sudden erased. I mean here there was here and there a bomb that fell on a house, you know, and that was bad enough, but of course that was a terrible experience.
EIDELMAN: Let me ask you about when you were working with the other Aryan wives. Did you share your experiences about what had happened?
GWEISS: We were very careful not to talk too much, because our boss was a Nazi, naturally. We sensed it must be pretty much close to the end of the war, you know, and we didn’t want to lose our lives in this last phase. So we talked very superficial stuff. Even if there were bugs maybe when we had our lunch break or something like that. So, no we didn’t.
EIDELMAN: Did you make any friends that you would get together with on a Sunday, for instance?
GWEISS: We were beyond that stage of socializing. At that time everything was too much out of order. Don’t forget it was 1944 already. And in May 1945 the war was over. So it was – we were really happy when we were home and we could cook a little thin soup and have a piece of bread or something, because there was no real distributing of food or anything like that. On the other hand, when it was – when it came more and more toward the end, then all of a sudden Goebbels ordered that the stores should go Sundays even – on Sundays the stores were closed – go to the butcher or the grocery stores and get eggs and perhaps meat and sausage and we got even cigarettes and things, you know, to keep the morale up.
EIDELMAN: In the book, The Last Jews of Berlin, did you have a copy of – yes, I read it – and it seemed to say that Goebbels did not like the idea that there were still Jews in Berlin. He said that here is the capital of Germany and he sees too many people walking around with Jewish stars. Were you aware of this and were you concerned that towards the end that he was going to send you to your husband or that you were going to have to go to a concentration camp?
CWEISS: Sure, sure, sure. Always we were concerned about –
GWEISS: Towards the end you saw less and less Jewish stars. First of all they were really very few left. And the few who lived underground never wore stars, of course. Otherwise, my husband and my son they tried when they were on the street – they tried to have a book here to cover this so that the people on the street didn’t notice.
EIDELMAN: To your knowledge were there any couples where the wife was Aryan and the husband was Jewish who were taken to concentration camps?
CWEISS: We heard about it.
GWEISS: The ones I worked with?
CWEISS: No, no, no, no. We heard from such cases. Yes.
GWEISS: But I didn’t experience it with any of my co-workers there.
EIDELMAN: But you knew of people who had Aryan wives where the husbands were –
CWEISS: We heard about that. I didn’t know these people but I heard rumors.
GWEISS: But of course my husband worked for years in forced labor, and you had quite a number of your colleagues were taken away to concentration camps.
CWEISS: No. He means someone who was in a mixed marriage. Oh, sure it happened. We don’t know anyone to whom that happened.
GWEISS: In Berlin I guess it didn’t really –
CWEISS: It happened once in a while.
GWEISS: Yeah, but you know we knew from a lady in Frankfurt –
CWEISS: Yeah, sure.
GWEISS: But, uh…
EIDELMAN: You know from a lady in Frankfurt that…
GWEISS: Oh, I won’t go into that. It is too far fetched and it was not of such importance. But as a rule, I mean there was a black humor saying, “Mixed marriages are Himmler’s Kanarienvogelchen,” that means canary. So Himmler tried a lot not to touch, to do anything to these mixed marriages.
EIDELMAN: Why do you say – why did they say it was Himmler’s canary?
GWEISS: Yes. It was a –
CWEISS: I am not confused. I am not of your opinion.
GWEISS: It – you are not of the opinion, but the saying –
CWEISS: I am not of your opinion, no. But –
GWEISS: But they said so –
GWEISS: Himmler’s Kanarienvogelchen.
CWEISS: No, Himmler’s –
GWEISS: Is it still on? Oh, for heaven’s sake.
CWEISS: I’m not – I wouldn’t agree.
GWEISS: Hast du den ausspruch nie gehort?
CWEISS: Yes, that was with Danemark.
CWEISS: With Danemark.
GWEISS: Well maybe for Denmark too, but there was…
CWEISS: No, no Himmler was not in favor of mixed marriages.
GWEISS: Okay. But he could have, he could have sent them all…
CWEISS: Yeah, well the…
EIDELMAN: Why, was Himmler – was it believed that Himmler had in the past – had a mixed marriage or –
GWEISS: Not he, himself, but that is what they said – I mean it was a rumor.
EIDELMAN: It was a rumor that he had a mixed marriage in his family –
GWEISS: Not he, himself, but in his family – his daughter or his, somebody.
EIDELMAN: I see…also in the book, The Last Jews of Berlin, they talk about various people who lived – Jews who lived underground – and who did not wear a star. Were you aware of any such –
GWEISS: Ach, and how, of course.
EIDELMAN: Are there any stories you could tell about some of the Jews who lived underground?
GWEISS: I mean, we had a nephew who lived – it was, he was the son of a cousin of my husband’s. They lived in Breslau which was the capitol of Silesia where you had the before Ratibor that’s in Silesia – that’s now Polish. And, this family came to Berlin because they thought in Breslau the ratzia, – the raids were so awful that they’d better come to the big city, that it might not be so bad. And of course, it was the same in Berlin – that was the endlosung, the big, the last straw so to speak for the Nazis to try to eliminate the Jewish element from Germany, and so they all – they came to us and of course, we said you can’t stay here because we are not safe. Every moment somebody from the Gestapo or SS can come and check our house or, you know, for us as well as for you it is bad to stay with us, so we tried to accommodate them at least for a night here, a night there, and then eventually the parents were haunted and found out and taken to the Konzentrationslager and the son just disappeared. But, of course, we had contact with him since I always washed his underwear and stuff and he stayed here or there – it’s it is a whole book to, to tell you about his life. I only –
EIDELMAN: But he lived?
GWEISS: Yeah, he was, yeah. He was a music student.
EIDELMAN: Is that Conrad Lauder?
GWEISS: Yeah, von Lauder. And he…
EIDELMAN: Oh, Conrad Lauder was a – lived in the underground and was one of the people that you helped and stayed at your house from time to time –
GWEISS: Yeah, because he was a relative of ours – of my husband’s.
EIDELMAN: Did you have people that would knock on your door and you would answer it and they would say, “I’m –
GWEISS: They wouldn’t dare doing that – to ask us to – no oh. They – one had to be much more careful.
EIDELMAN: Well how would they make contact with you?
GWEISS: I don’t know – they didn’t. We only knew from acquaintances.
EIDELMAN: I see. Friends would tell you that there was a person –
GWEISS: You see, this Conrad Lauder he had a great protector. There was – he was a very well known pianist, Edwin Fischer. He tried to protect him. Then a composer, Gottfried von Einem – he was very very good to him, and so he could – what he had to slip from here to there – to this day I should say he is very nervous and is not a real normal, I mean he is normal all right, but you know this constantly to be on the alert are they coming and put their hand on my shoulder and I am taking away – so he is living in Berlin and is the conductor of an orchestra there.
EIDELMAN: So in other words when you were living in Berlin, you were aware of a number of people who were living underground.
GWEISS: Oh, of course.
EIDELMAN: And from time to time, helped people.
GWEISS: Oh, yes. But as I said for us it was very – for instance there was, through other friends we heard there is a young violinist – 18 or 19 year old boy who for one night doesn’t know where to go. If we could possibly take him in. I said it is so hard. First of all, when there are air raids we all have to go in the basement and leave our doors open – the front door – so when there was a certain group among the tenants who went to check if anything has happened, you know, during the air raids, they would have seen a stranger there in our apartment, that would have been the end. But one night we took him and that was when my husband loved to work nights – he had to shovel coal from the garage to heat somewhere outside and he said it was so peaceful and so nice, that night work was what he loved, so to speak, if you can talk about loving that work. And so he worked at night and I thought, well, maybe we can somehow hide this fellow even if there is an air raid – we didn’t have air raids every night. That wasn’t quite towards the very end of the war when this particular, that this all happened. So when I said to this young man well you can sleep in my husband’s bed and if there – if there should be an air raid, of course you can’t come with us in the basement. You either crawl under the bed or cover yourself – if they come and inspect they won’t lift the bedsheets and so maybe they won’t see you. And fortunately there was no – and besides – this young fellow said no, I won’t. He took two chairs, put them somehow together and put some pillows and blankets there and he slept that way so he could in a second dismantle that and nobody would…and so that is where he – when he slept somewhere how he slept. And – he was – we have never heard how his destiny developed. Never, I never talked to him again. And I think this is it.
EIDELMAN: You don’t know whether he lived or whether he didn’t. Was he a friend of Conrad Lauter?
GWEISS: No. They didn’t know each other.
GWEISS: And the friend who asked us to take him in for the night – she was taken away to Auschwitz, so I didn’t hear from her or from this young man again.
EIDELMAN: How did you happen to be asked to put this girl up for the night?
GWEISS: The girl was a boy.
EIDELMAN: Oh, the boy.
EIDELMAN: No, I’m talking about the one that went to Auschwitz.
CWEISS: The one we took in was a boy.
GWEISS: It was a girl who was taking a lady – a sick woman by. But that didn’t bother them. But, what did you ask – how she approached us? Or…
GWEISS: Oh, yes, she was, she lived also underground, so to speak, at this eye doctor’s house, and this eye doctor was my – she was a woman – they were close friends and she always disappeared in a wardrobe when some stranger showed up in that house. So, but, when they took this family – this young doctor and her husband, then she had to – she was taken along. She just – when I had an appointment there and she came, she came into the office and asked me if I couldn’t please – she had asked before but at that one time it was so urgent that I said yes. And so.
EIDELMAN: So that was awfully nice of you because you were really risking your life every time you did this.
GWEISS: But what – it was on a string anyway. I mean we never knew how we would survive, but we were very fortunate that our immediate family did survive.
EIDELMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much for the interview.
GWEISS: Well, I – it just really was – you are so diligent and so thorough. (LAUGHTER)
EIDELMAN: Well that’s because we are well-trained.
GWEISS: And what are you doing with all that?

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