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Elsie Levy

Elsie Levy
Nationality: German
Location: Bourbon • Büttelborn • Crumstadt • Germany • Missouri • New York • St. Louis • United States of America
Experience During Holocaust: Escaped the Holocaust • Family Died During the Holocaust • Family Died in Gas Chambers • Family Survived

Mapping Elsie's Life

Click on the location markers to learn more about Elsie. 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.

“From [1933] on, people became more and more scared, not only to come in our store, but little by little they became afraid to talk to us, to even look at us on the street, so that we were afraid to go through town anymore. So little by little it got worse and worse... everyday a new law came out against the Jews, everyday something else.” - Elsie Levy

Read Elsie's Oral History Transcripts

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Tape 1 - Side 1

PRINCE: My name is Vida “Sister” Prince and I am interviewing Elsie Levy for the Holocaust Museum and Learning Center’s Oral History Project. Today is August 19, year 2002. Thank you.
Elsie, you made a – what you call a wall hanging.
LEVY: Quilt, wall hanging, uh huh.
PRINCE: And it was hanging out at the Holocaust Museum and Learning Center. Would you like to talk about that and tell me what prompted you and how you did it…
LEVY: Okay. Eva Klin called me up and asked if I’m interested in doing some – some material in remembrance of the Holocaust. And I gladly took it because I always wanted to do something in memory of my parents who perished in the Holocaust. So we went together to Roz Flax, who is an artist, a St. Louis artist, and we decided on the design, on the size, etc. And we decided on a five feet by six feet wall hanging. Now, the three of us went shopping for the material and bought the material, took it to Roz’s, and she designed the flame, which is the name of the wall hanging. She designed it and next time we got there she had it spread out on the carpet and had the flamed pinned down to the big piece of material. And so Eva and I were supposed to do the sewing, but Eva traveled a lot so I took it home and I sewed the flame on to the other fabric.
Then we were trying to decide what to put on it and we decided to put somehow photos of people who have perished on it. So I have a book of – a lot of German Christian people now print books about the Jews – and I have in that book different people. I also have the picture of my parents. So we copied the pictures of the book, which we’re not supposed to do, so they can come and get me, put me in jail if they want.
LEVY: And copied it out of the book, took the pictures of my parents, took pictures of Roz’s, and pictures of the Klins’ family, cut it to the right size, and then we had it copied on to fabric. And that I embroidered on to the corners of the flame. It took me months. I used to have it on the table here, and when we ate I put it away. So it took a long time to do it, but it got done, and it was really a labor of love and a lot of sadness.
PRINCE: I can imagine.
LEVY: And then we have a chain. I made a chain that was also Roz’s idea. I took three and a half inches of string, cord-like string, and made each one into a ring, and then sewed that on to the wall hanging to connect the different people with this chain. What also happened – Roz found a piece of material and she said, “Oh, I’ll buy this.” We found it crumpled up in a basket and she said, “Oh, I want this.” It was a black and white striped piece of material. So this was then used as a frame around the quilt. It looked like a tallis. Then she wrote the Shema on top of the quilt, which I embroidered on there, and sewed – stitched this frame around it. And that is the picture you see now and I am very proud of it. This is something that I’m very proud of.
PRINCE: And it hung at the Center for quite some time. It looks like a heart beating also, you know.
LEVY: And see, this is the whole thing, with the frame. And then there’s my parents. This is a synagogue – there is a synagogue as it’s burning. That’s the synagogue my parents and I attended, our little synagogue in my hometown – didn’t exist anymore.
PRINCE: So you’ve got your family and other families…
LEVY: And these are all people that I don’t know. Mendel Klin is on there. He’s the only – he did survive. But his brother is on there, and he did not.
PRINCE: Thank you for telling me about it. Now, could we proceed to the interview, and as I said when I came in, I would like you really to paint a picture of your life before the –
LEVY: From the beginning of my life?
PRINCE: Yes, and then how the changes came about. I know that you were born in 1917.
LEVY: Correct.
PRINCE: All right, what is the date please?
LEVY: July 2nd.
PRINCE: And just tell me who you lived with, and where you – you were born in?
LEVY: Buettelborn.
PRINCE: Buettelborn. And where is that in Germany?
LEVY: That is – okay. That is 30 kilometers from Frankfurt on the Main, 12 kilometers from Darmstadt. Darmstadt was like my second home. That’s where I learned to sew, and that’s where I rode my bicycle everyday from Buettelborn to Darmstadt, except in winter; I took the train. But the train was two kilometers away from home anyway so I preferred to use a bicycle. And Buettelborn was a small town. It had approximately 2,000 population. Of the 2,000 people there was one Catholic family. Of course there was no Catholic church. They had to go to the next town to go to church. And there were six Jewish families with a very tiny, little synagogue.
So of course it was pretty close knit. I had an uncle there. He lived a few doors down from us with his wife and four daughters. And we had – my father was in the First World War, the whole four years, from ’14 to ’18. And I had a brother who was born in 1914; one brother was born in 1913, one was born in 1914, and then I was born in 1917 – still during the war. Of course so far I only know what my parents tell me, and I’m pretty sure they told me the way it was. So then father came home in 1918.
We had a good size home for this town. It was a fair size home, a pretty good size home with a big hay loft and out buildings, quite a few out buildings. And of course our hardware store was in – in the house. And a lot of the out buildings were storage spaces for the store – the third floor and some of the out buildings because we had stoves and sewing machines and all that besides the little hardware stuff. So…and we had a big vegetable garden. Mother took care of the vegetable garden.
And it was a pretty normal life. Father would often times load up the cart – like a flat bed wagon and go out of town selling some of the smaller stuff. Mother would take care of the business at home. And my father was not well; he had all this stomach trouble which I tell you later about. It caused – it caused him not to come.
PRINCE: To America?
LEVY: To America. He was denied a visa because of that. So I went to school, age six I went to school and there was one other Jewish person, a little Jewish boy in class. And we were – I mean, everybody knew we don’t write on Shabbas. We went to school but we did not write…or ride.
PRINCE: On Saturday?
LEVY: On the Sabbath. And so sometimes on Sundays a bunch of us girls would go arm in arm through town just singing and having a good time. It was no, nobody knew – everybody knew I was Jewish, but there was nothing different about it, and we were all friends. Then – oh, the Jewish people belonged to vereins, which means different organizations. My father was in the – what was this called…_____verein, in, like a veteran, veteran.
PRINCE: So it was like Jewish veterans or…
LEVY: Right, like a veterans’ organization.
PRINCE: But it was for Jews.
LEVY: No, no.
PRINCE: It was for everybody.
LEVY: It was general; it was general. And he belonged to a song club; he belonged to a bicycle club. And once a year there was a ball for the war veterans. My parents always went.
PRINCE: So they were respected, a respected part of the community.
LEVY: They were respected. Right, as the Jewish – everybody knew who the Jewish people were because we were different. We had the Sabbath and we had the holidays. But we were respected.
PRINCE: Was your synagogue in the town?
LEVY: In town, it was a little synagogue and that was early on, maybe 19 – of course Hitler started in 1933 in Germany. And early on, it might have been 1934, that the windows were mash – smashed and the inside was smashed. But the neighbors were upset about it; they said it was kids who did it. So the Jewish men went to the parents of these children and asked for replacement of these. So instead of getting the money for it, they were ordered to the mayor’s office and they were made to sign a paper that it happened that the storm did this. The storm mashed the windows in the synagogue. It just happened the children – nobody did it but the storm. And –
PRINCE: Your father had to sign it.
LEVY: My father, all the Jewish men – there were only a few Jewish men. The Jewish men were ordered to the mayor’s office to sign a paper that it happened, you know, the synagogue’s windows and inside were smashed but it was a storm that did it. On the way out – and of course these Jewish men were all on a first name basis with the mayor, with anybody there – on the way out the mayor kicks one of the Jewish men. And this Jewish man was very quick-tempered and he turned around and he said, “You kicked me!” And he said, “Come here,” and he made him sign a paper that he fell over the mat. That was one of the little things that happened right at the beginning.
So then my father was in contact with some American people who came – originally came from Buettelborn – this was the the next generation; my father kept in contact with them. He would write in German to them; they would write in English back. So when it was starting to get like that he asked them for the affidavit for his oldest son, my oldest brother, Ferdie.
PRINCE: Ferdie?
LEVY: Ferdie – Ferdinand. And, uh, it promptly came. And my brother left in 1934 for the United States. And of course as time went on, you know, Jewish people couldn’t have maids anymore, Christian maids. Oh, we got a letter – see, we had added another story to our house after the First World War, made it one story higher. And so because of that there was still something owed on the house. We got a letter from the bank; we have to buy the mortgage within a week or the house will not be ours. So mother had a brother in her hometown and he paid us out – he paid, so otherwise they would have taken the house from us.
And so then, little by little…then there was the boycott. That was in April of ’33 already. I think it was in April. Which meant that the Nazi uniformed people walked up and down in front of our store and anybody who dared to come in was written down and was reported.
PRINCE: And the store was still in your house, so they were walking up and down in front of your house.
LEVY: Yeah, we were still in our house.
PRINCE: No, I mean the store part of it.
LEVY: The store was in the house.
PRINCE: So this is your house that they were walking up and down in.
LEVY: Yeah, right. So the neighbors made fun of them. At that time they had still making fun of them. I remember one of them said, “Boy, isn’t it too hot to walk? Why don’t I bring you a chair to sit down.” And at that time they could still do that. Well, of course, this happened not only in front of our house. It was all the Jewish establishments.
PRINCE: Uh huh, six families you said.
LEVY: Excuse me?
PRINCE: You said six families. There were six families – six Jewish families.
LEVY: Yeah, that’s all there was. And it was only the ones who had an open store. There was a tailor; I don’t know if they did it. I don’t really know. But from then on people became more and more scared, not only to come in our store, but little by little they became afraid to talk to us, to even look at us on the street, so that we were afraid to go through town anymore. Everybody knew us – it was a small town. We would go out the back way if we wanted to go out of town. We were afraid to go through town anymore. Not only – I mean, they didn’t attack us but we were afraid the people who wanted to talk to us – they would come by and say hello in walking by. Nobody would see it because they could be reported. And so (SIGHS) little by little it got worse and worse, you know, everyday a new law came out against the Jews, everyday something else.
PRINCE: Let me ask you a question. You were – in 1933, I believe, about 16 years old.
LEVY: Right.
PRINCE: So you were aware, you could hear…what were your parents talking about? What were they saying? Your brother had already left, and what was happening to you? Were your friends – were you in school still? Talk about that a little bit.
LEVY: All right. By that time I had started working in Darmstadt, in the next city. And I only remember one incident – people would ride a bicycle and people would try to ride with you. So there was a dentist who would come to town from Darmstadt, like twice a week or so, to be a dentist in Buettelborn. And he started riding with me and I said to him, “I don’t know if you know that I am Jewish. You may not want to ride with me.” He said, “Well then I can’t,” and he rode away.
PRINCE: Were you wearing a star or anything at that time?
LEVY: No, no, I told him I was Jewish. I didn’t want to ride with anybody who wouldn’t have if they had known. I told him I was Jewish and he said, “Well then, then I can’t,” and he rode away. Nobody would talk to you. People who would want to come to us would come – oh gosh, this one lady. She wanted to come to us, was afraid even at night to come by the door, the front way. She would come the back way and knock on the hay loft door to let her in so nobody would see her. There was one lady who would bring us food at night. Now this was already a little later. It might have been in maybe ’35. And they had a grocery store and she would come at night and bring us a bag of food because we were not wanted in grocery stores anymore. “Juden _______,” no Jews here. So she would bring us food at night. Of course we paid her, but some people felt so badly they took chances like that to help.
LEVY: And I sent them packages after the war. The people who were good to us I did send packages after the war because I had nothing. So –
PRINCE: In Darmstadt were you working for a Jewish place – employer? Was your employer Jewish?
LEVY: Well, this – my boss was Jewish, and she had non-Jewish people working there. At that time it was still okay in the city, from the city. Now househelp, they were not allowed to work in Jewish homes. But this was a business, sewing, okay, seamstress, and these people were glad to have a job, and so they worked there. In fact, one used to come with a yellow jacket. She was in the Nazi organization, children’s organization. She used to come with the yellow jacket to the Jewish people.
In 1934…1935 my next brother left. Now he had gone to, uh, mechanical – he had become a mechanical engineer in Darmstadt and he could still, they still let him be there, surprisingly. And he got his diploma and then he, of course he had to re-educate himself, had to work, go to school in the daytime, work at night, or vice-versa. I don’t know which. So he came in ’36.
PRINCE: You mean when he came here.
LEVY: Came here to the United States, to New York.
PRINCE: No, but I mean he had to work and re-educate himself here. Is that what you were talking about?
LEVY: Right, he had to work like in a garage to make a living.
LEVY: And then go to school I think at night.
PRINCE: So he came in ’36 and went to New York.
LEVY: In New York. And – so then – in the meantime, my father was in the hospital, stomach trouble, had surgery and had stomach trouble and mother stayed with him in the hospital. And we had rented, our best friends, Steins, had sold their house so we rented two rooms to them in our house. And I guess since business was down to practically nothing, we rented two rooms to Christian people – a husband and wife with their little girl – in the same house. They had come from Hamburg, which is another part of the country. We knew his brother, was a very – and his wife. They were very fine people; they had become friends of ours. And this brother asked could we rent some rooms to his brother who is moving here? So sure enough they rented.
And one day, now this must have been probably in 1936 – his name was, uh…anyway, he came down and said to my mother, “Artur Stein,” the Jewish family’s son, 19 year old son, “has bothered my little girl.” So mother was trying to stop him, and he went straight to the office, the mayor’s office, and reported Artur Stein that he molested his two year old little girl.
PRINCE: Oh my God.
LEVY: So now – my mother’s in the hospital, my father’s in the hospital, the Steins lived there, and…anyway, the Christian people lived there. Lo and behold, Mrs. Stein had wealthy people, family, they did get to hire – of course right away Artur Stein was taken into custody, immediately was arrested – and for some strange reason there was actually a hearing about this. Normally if somebody was accused of that, that was the end of him. Well, there was a hearing and it turned out that this Christian man had left two wives in Hamburg that he had never divorced, had record of all kinds of stuff that he had done, and Artur actually got freed.
LEVY: He got freed but now these two families are still living there and I’m by myself down here. Mrs. Stein comes in the yard and Mr. Bernhardt – it just came to me – Mr. Bernhardt came down and said, “Where is that criminal?” So Mrs. Stein says, “Well, who is the criminal?” And with that he chases after her. She runs across the street. He – now they had to leave. So they left at night.
PRINCE: The Steins.
LEVY: The Steins, moved to Frankfurt. Now I’m there by myself with that Bernhardt person and he would come home late at night. And when I heard him come in and go up the steps I would be shaking, I was so scared because he had all this anger that he didn’t get through with this.
Well, anyway, then pretty soon mother came home from the hospital to sell the house and sold it and sold as much of the furniture as she could, and I was sent to Crumstadt, to my grandfather. My grandmother had died all during this time so now I am 19, 20 years old and I am sent to take care of my grandfather, whatever needs he had. We had fruit trees. I had to pick the fruit and get it canned and what all. Well, you know, you didn’t waste anything. You never wasted anything. So I was in Crumstadt now and when father (BACKGROUND NOISE) when the parents came there too. Okay, now my brother sent the affidavit for my parents and me; we were supposed to leave together. And right away it was determined it was not enough for three people to get the visa on that amount of affidavit. And it was determined that I would go first. I am young: I have to go first.
And I did leave in August of 1938. And the parents were to come shortly after. Now, this is August, ’38. In November of ’38 was the Kristallnacht. When my parents, that’s from witnesses, left in the middle of the night, when they saw what was going on, and I’ve heard different versions of where they went – if they went to Darmstadt on foot. There was no other way of getting anywhere. And they then moved to Darmstadt after this. My grandfather went into a home. He didn’t understand – my grandfather didn’t understand any of this, you know, he couldn’t understand. He was very well respected. He had a hardware store and people – when we were there in 1988 – were still telling me how wonderful and how honest and how hardworking –
PRINCE: Was this your mother or father’s…
LEVY: My mother’s father. My other grandparents I didn’t know.
PRINCE: And his name was?
LEVY: Abraham Bruchfeld – Bruchfeld, the third, there were so many Abraham Bruchfelds, jah? And it was hard for my mother, I’m sure, to convince him that he must leave. So then my parents moved to Darmstadt in a cousin’s – distant cousin’s apartment. It was the two people, my cousin and his wife lived in there, and now there were he and his wife, my mother and my father, my mother-in-law, her daughter, her son-in-law, another couple Hirsch, and there were two…there were 11 people in this apartment now. A lot of people who didn’t know where to go, so he took them all in. So all these people lived there. And I got desperate letters from there, how they were all –were not allowed out of the house, only at certain times, couldn’t go in stores. They’d ask somebody to buy for them, sneak it in. And we sent affidavits to the parents and mother got the visa. My father didn’t get it because he had been sick. So they didn’t get out.
PRINCE: What’s the date again?
LEVY: This was in, uh, I don’t know, maybe 1940. So of course mother wouldn’t leave without father and they were taken to Theresienstadt. All the people in that apartment, all 11 of them, they were taken to Theresienstadt. And most of them were shipped from there. Mother was the only one – my mother-in-law was the only one who stayed there. And the fact that she lost three sons in the First World War might have had an effect that they kept her alive, and besides she was 79 when they took her. And she survived – this was a good story with my mother-in-law. So now she had lost all her children.
PRINCE: Your mother-in-law? So she –
LEVY: My mother-in-law, my hus –

Tape 1 - Side 2

LEVY: She had eight children. One daughter died right after the war according to a cousin – of starvation. She was not at home. She lived away from home. And then she lost her other daughter and son-in-law with the Nazis, and the three sons were here. So they were still here. And we used to get little German-Jewish newspaper, Aufbau, and they had a list of people who were freed – 1200 people were freed by the Nazis getting trucks. The Red Cross gave the Nazis trucks in exchange for 1200 prisoners. And my mother-in-law happened to be one of them. When all the names were in this Jewish paper, this Aufbau, when that Aufbau came I dropped everything. My kids were little. I dropped everything and I read the names, hoping. Well sure enough, there was an Emilie Levy. Well, Emilie Levy could be anybody. We got in touch with the Red Cross immediately and sure enough it was our Emilie Levy who was now in Switzerland. She was one of the 1200 people that was freed.
She – they – she told how it happened. She said they were told that they were going to be freed, where do they want to go. And my mother-in-law said, “Sure, we’re gonna be freed.” You know, they were lined up outside on – for hours they were standing there. And they were sure they were gonna be shot. They were standing there waiting. Well lo and behold, they were sent to different countries, and she chose Switzerland because she had a nephew there. So we got in touch with her and it took us a year to bring her here.
PRINCE: That’s amazing.
LEVY: That was amazing. This was shortly before the end of the war. It was in ’45 already, like the beginning of ’45. I think, if I’m not mistaken, in February of ’45. And she came here and lived another 12 years here with us. And she got to see her three sons; they were still all here. But I couldn’t ask about my parents; I couldn’t get myself to ask. And then finally one day she just said, “Your parents were taken to the East from Theresienstadt.” We knew what happened to them then. So of course I never heard from them again. So that was, uh –
PRINCE: So the last contact –physical contact – was when you left for the United States – with your parents – that was –
LEVY: Yeah, yeah.
PRINCE: And then the last –
LEVY: And then I had some letters from Darmstadt, from Darmstadt from them, desperate letters. And you know, we thought, “Surely they’re going to come anytime.” In fact my father (PAUSES) At that time we were living on a farm, Carl and I, when I came here from New York. I had a hard time in New York because with jobs and all that, and with language and all. So Carl kept begging me to come and I came here. And when I came here I got the big surprise of my life. Instead of in St. Louis, he had rented a farm with a friend in Bourbon, Missouri.
So anyway, so my father wrote at that time, I guess it was kind of a request to God. He said, “If you’re not kosher, we’re not coming to you,” you know.
LEVY: Kind of thinking that would…so they didn’t come. But we had – we were on a farm, dairy farm, and it was hard work, a lot of hard work.
PRINCE: Carl was here already.
LEVY: Carl came in ’37.
PRINCE: And you knew Carl already.
LEVY: I knew Carl from when his oldest brother left for the United States. They gave – the parents gave a party. But – the mother and the sister gave a party, a farewell party for him and invited everybody they knew. And that’s actually when I met Carl. I hadn’t met any of the family at all. They just invited all the Jewish people they knew about and that’s when I met Carl. And I really did not know him very well. He used to come to Buettelborn trying to – as an excuse; he tried to teach me to play the violin. He played the violin, which I liked very much. And of course I never learned to play the violin. I learned other things but (LAUGHTER BY BOTH) So, he used to come to Buettelborn. Then he left in ’37, and when I then came here and had trouble, and he kept saying, “Come here, come here.” So I came and we were on the farm for three years, and then we came back to the city. And while we were on the farm we had our daughter, our little Irene. And the partner was also from Germany. And he too – he was a night watchman here, which they didn’t like. So they decided to go on their own and they worked hard but they liked what they were doing.
PRINCE: What were their names – Carl and –
LEVY: Carl and Max Reisenberg and Hedwig. And we remained friends all along until they both were gone. They ended up buying the farm after we left.
PRINCE: What was the business that Carl went into?
LEVY: Uh, where?
PRINCE: I thought you said they left the farm and went into – and worked hard. I thought you meant they went into a business.
LEVY: Well, that was, that was their own business – the farm was.
PRINCE: The farm, and what was on the farm?
LEVY: That was a dairy farm. They would sell milk, you know, we milked cows. And everyday the milk would be picked up and we had a monthly check; it was a regular income.
LEVY: So – and then, they both used to be cattle dealers in the old country. They were respected people in their towns. And then of course they came here; they were nothing. You know, pulling weeds in the cemetery – God knows what they were doing. So they decided to be doing something on their own and were quite successful. But then as our family grew…it was a one family home. And we decided to move back into the city. That’s when Carl started working for Krey Company, that was a slaughterhouse. And he worked – he would leave – well, I have to tell you too. I was pregnant now again and we bought a little bungalow in Maplewood. But in order to make bigger payments he sold the old car and he used to take the streetcar – at that time there was a streetcar – to work which took him I don’t know how long, forever, to get to. So he would leave five o’clock in the morning, get home late at night, because he wanted to do the extra hours, was time and a half pay, and worked very hard.
So pretty soon he got a call from an acquaintance to go in business with him – the kosher chicken business, chicken and eggs. So that’s what he did then. Then he started in the business in 1944, in November, and I was very pregnant by that time, huge. By the end of November, toward the end – middle of November, I found out that I was having twins. So (LAUGHTER) not only the twins were born December the 11th, we have no car because the car was sold. So I took a cab to take little Irene to the in-laws first and then go to the hospital to have my twins. And Carl wasn’t there when they were born because his new business – he couldn’t get away. So then we had the twin boys in ’44. So now I have a house full of babies, okay? (LAUGHTER)
PRINCE: Yes, (LAUGHTER) and no car.
LEVY: And a little – no car, (LAUGHTER) and a little bungalow. And in the meantime grandma came. When the twins were two and a half, grandma came. And we put a bed in the dining room for grandma, and the kids slept in a sunroom, and it went through the bedroom – well anyway, we managed okay. We didn’t each have our own room and all that.
LEVY: And, so then we bought a bigger house, but – so as the children were growing up, it was fun, you know. I used to, as cheaply as possible, entertain them. I’d take a picnic basket and we’d go to the zoo or wherever. And, (TAPE STOPS)
PRINCE: Tell me a little bit more about – let’s go back now – and tell me a little bit more when you were living in Buettelborn and you were younger, a little bit more about your religious background.
LEVY: Right, we had a teacher come from a different town on the bicycle on Sundays and for two hours he would teach Jewish history, Hebrew, the Bar Mitzvah if there were any in the crowd – that was always in those two hours.
PRINCE: In your group, in your synagogue.
LEVY: Well, it was anywhere where you could find a room, sometimes in a school, in a public school kind of room or wherever there was – wherever you could find a room. And so, the Bar Mitzvah was taught in there. So, to tell you the truth, I did not learn a lot because there just was not enough time. And I’m still – I read Hebrew but not very well. And I’m always amazed when I see these children on their Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, how well they’re doing, beautifully. Then, other than that, well, there was this little synagogue in town and we used to have services – I can barely remember when I was a very young child, that there were services on Sabbath. It was tiny; there was room for maybe, maybe 12 men and as many women. They were upstairs, kind of upstairs. (OVERTALK) Well, it was just a couple of steps up.
PRINCE: Yeah, but it was separate. And the men – they wore a tallis and a yarmulke.
LEVY: Oh yes, yes.
PRINCE: Did your father wear a yarmulke during the week?
LEVY: Yes, well in the last years, in my younger years, he didn’t really have time, but in the last years he lay the tefillin in the morning.
PRINCE: Mmhmm.
LEVY: But we were, you know, Sabbath was closed, and people knew it. In an emergency they would come in the door. If a farmer needed a hoe today that would go in the field, he would get it. But Sabbath and the holidays was closed and of course during September there were so many holidays that it really affected people. We were the only hardware store in town at the time.
PRINCE: So…when you had holidays and you celebrated them, did people from Darmstadt – did you get together? Was this just for the Jews, the Jewish people that lived in your town? Did you…?
LEVY: No, this was strictly family, strictly family. And Friday nights were very, very beautiful. My father had a pretty voice, a nice singing voice, and he’d sing the Hebrew songs. And this was special, and of course there was always a special meal on Friday night, even with desserts, which we didn’t have during the week. And, uh, the kugels, and the typical Jewish food, typical German-Jewish food.
PRINCE: And tell us what that is, tell me what that is. Tell us why it was special.
LEVY: Well, I know for instance – we didn’t know about borsht, we didn’t know about – what is this called ch – challah or something?
LEVY: No, khallah we knew, not a bake – khallah, but it was not called khallah. It was called berches. It was not called khallah. Khallah is a new word for me here.
PRINCE: So borsht is Russian.
LEVY: Borsht is Russian. And they – there is a dish, gefilte fish, I never heard of it.
PRINCE: Okay, well tell me what you did; tell me what you did.
LEVY: What – you mean – at school?
PRINCE: What your mother fixed and what you might have helped too?
LEVY: Okay, we used first of all, we had a horse and had some goats. So sometimes we would butcher a goat and during – we were raised on goat milk. And we would butcher a goat and that was our meat then. The hind quarters were sold to non-Jews and the front quarters we ate – because hind quarters are not kosher. And so we would have soup, always soup on Friday night. During the week we would have soup, potatoes, and vegetable. That was during the week – soup, potato, and vegetable, and a little piece of meat. It was, like, divided – a pound and a quarter was divided in the family.
And on Shabbas we would have chicken soup, or some kind of beef soup, and khallah – mother baked the khallah most of the time. And we had meat or chicken, and usually either noodle kugel, or potato kugel, which was my husband’s favorite, potato kugel, my grandkids too. And then from the goat something was used and stuffed, some part of the stomach or something was stuffed with bread stuffing. Or we would have, uh, a bread kugel, sweet, sweet with sugar and cinnamon and sometimes apples or cherries in it. And then we had meat and we had dessert, blueberry pie during the season or spiced cake, different thing on Shabbas.
And then in the morning we would go to services. Later when we didn’t have the synagogue anymore we went to the next town on Saturday morning, walked there and walked home. It was like three kilometers, three kilometers.
PRINCE: And was the synagogue closed because of the Germans? Is that what you’re saying?
LEVY: No, the little synagogue did not exist anymore.
PRINCE: Because?
LEVY: Because it was, uh, first of all, there were not enough Jews; there was not a minyan anymore in town.
PRINCE: It had nothing to do with –
LEVY: Well, in the beginning we used to – people come in from out of town to help make the minyan for the High Holidays. And other than that we didn’t use it anymore because we couldn’t get minyan. And then we couldn’t use it anymore at all because it was damaged. (PAUSE)
PRINCE: Uh, kosher. Who blessed it and made it kosher? And where did you buy it?
LEVY: The shohet came when we had the goat. The shohet came and killed the goat and there was a kosher butcher.
PRINCE: Oh, there was one in –
LEVY: Not in town. Well, my uncle later had some kosher meat, but we used to have to go out of town to get the kosher meat, not far, but you’d get the kosher meat and sausage out of town. And then later it was verboten; it was not allowed. When the Nazis came in, you couldn’t get any kosher. It was not allowed anymore.
PRINCE: How difficult was that for you all? Or was that a minor thing that was what was happening…
LEVY: Well, my grandfather was Orthodox. If he had known, he would not eat it. And my aunt used to bring it and she said, “Well, bear can be killed kosher,” just so he’d eat some meat, because he would not eat it. We eventually ate it, even if we couldn’t…I mean, only front, front parts. But, that was right away, no shohet, no more shohet, nobody was allowed to kill it the kosher way anymore.
PRINCE: So your mother lit the candles.
LEVY: My mother lit the candles.
PRINCE: And it was a beautiful evening.
LEVY: And Kiddush, of course. Father made Kiddush. And my father enjoyed singing and all this. And bentshn, surely bentshn after the meal. The whole bentshn, you know, the prayer, the whole prayer; it’s a long prayer. And that I had to learn by heart, the prayer after the meal. And that was sometimes Saturday afternoon, my father would listen and see if I had learned it.
LEVY: I couldn’t remember it all anymore.
PRINCE: When things were beginning to happen that were unpleasant, when things were happening that were changing your lives, were you aware of the larger picture? I mean, did you want to hear the radio, or read the paper and your family, and find out what was going on?
LEVY: It did not come through the radio. None of the news came through. You could only hear it from other people directly, quietly so nobody would hear it. Even the Jewish people had to be very careful that nobody heard that you said something negative about the regime.
PRINCE: No, right – but I mean when, uh, when all these affronts to you were going on, did you want to know what was going on in Berlin, you know, did your – the rise of Hitler…
LEVY: Well, you would hear certain things from people traveling. You wouldn’t hear it on telephone; I’m not sure if people dared to even say anything on the telephone. But people would travel from town to town. You would hear things that were happening, and you knew that the Hol – the Kristallnacht was all over. You knew that pretty soon.
PRINCE: Elsie, how – how did the non-Jewish people learn – where, who told them to treat you all, the Jews, that way? Did they go to a meeting? Were they belonging to clubs in town? I mean, where – all of a sudden, and it was so – you were such a part of everything.
LEVY: Right.
PRINCE: There was nothing going on. Nobody made you feel uncomfortable. And then all of a sudden so – would you say it was just underneath their skin and it just needed to be…help me to understand.
LEVY: Okay, it was – it went very fast because after the boycott, little by little –
PRINCE: And that was in like ’34 or something?
LEVY: It was, the boycott was in ’33 already.
PRINCE: ’33 already.
LEVY: I think.
PRINCE: With the Jewish stores.
LEVY: Boycotting the Jewish stores. And they learned pretty fast that if you don’t do like they say, something bad is going to happen. I remember – like I said, we had few acres of ground – or did I, I guess I didn’t say it. And we had wheat. And the wheat would be ground into flour and taken to bakers. And the bakers would use that flour to bake your bread and you’d only pay for the baking, a few cents. So one time I went to the baker, one of the bakers, and wanted to buy bread, and he said, “I’m sorry. It came up in our meeting, in the bakers’ union, we can’t sell you any bread anymore.” So then I said, “Well, what about the flour, our flour that you have?” And he said, “Okay, I’ll give you the flour.” And he gave me a bag of flour that was all wormy, that you couldn’t use. (LIGHT LAUGHTER) But that’s, you know, in meetings people heard.
Then there was the Nazi antisemitic paper; Der Stuermer, it was called. Anybody who had any dealings with Jews were in Der Stuermer. Artur Stein, he was in Der Stuermer. Rassenschande, that’s called, uh, oh well. He shamed the pureness of the German lot, okay. And that was in Der Stuermer, but it wasn’t in Der Stuermer that he wasn’t guilty. That was never shown.
PRINCE: That was never shown.
LEVY: No, that was never shown.
PRINCE: Because that was rather miraculous.
LEVY: Well, right. That was never shown. They – there was one item in Der Stuermer, this relative of a relative of mine went to a farmer’s. Somebody had an apple tree and he went; he picked up the apples from the ground. The guy said, “Go get ’em.” And on the way home somebody saw him and asked him where he got the apples, and it was in the paper this, this, uh, Aryan, this German, pure German man gave this Jew apples. And that was in the paper. You know, there was so much – people were so scared. They were – it was most – I don’t know what the percentage was who were really Nazis against the percentage of people who were scared, people who did do something for the, for the Jewish people. They deserve to get a medal because they put their life on the line.
PRINCE: And their families.
LEVY: And their families. There was one man, he was a Social Democrat; he was known. So they took him in what was called schutzhaft, that means for his own protection they took him in, to protect him because the people are so upset with him. So they took him in schutzhaft, beat him up to a pulp, and sent him home the next night. I remember the man very well.
PRINCE: What had he done?
LEVY: Excuse me?
PRINCE: What had he done?
LEVY: Nothing. He was just in the wrong party. He was active in the party – not the Nazi party – he was not active in the Nazi party. Rather, he was known for being in a different –
PRINCE: For having a mind of his own.
LEVY: Yeah, a different…yeah. Beat him up. So after the Nazis, after the war, one of the people who beat him up got a nice job in the next town. So this Mr. Schulmeyer, was his name, I think Schulmeyer was his name. He saw to it that he lost his job. He said, “He is one of the guys who beat me up.” So this guy lost his job. So that was one good thing that happened after the Nazis.
LEVY: But a lot of them survived and did okay for themselves afterwards. (TAPE STOPS)
PRINCE: …do you want to tell me?
LEVY: One night we woke up to breaking glass in the middle of the night. My parents and I both ran downstairs to the, to the store. And they had smashed our store window, the big plateglass window. And the neighbor across the street was coming home, see, the streets are very dark in the small town. They have on corners little lamps that you can see, and we were in-between the two lights. The neighbor came home and shone his flashlight at them. And he knew who they were; they were the mayor of the town, the treasurer of the town, and somebody else. Three people, the head Nazis of the town, took it upon themselves to smash windows of Jewish people. So we left it. So pretty soon the mayor’s assistant came and said – he was a kind of a nebekh rakhmones kind of person. He said, “Mrs. Levy, do me a favor; put that glass back in. They keep bothering me to come and tell you you have to put the glass back in.”
PRINCE: Mrs. Levy?
LEVY: Uh, Mrs. Hirsch. I’m sorry.
PRINCE: Mrs. Hirsch.
LEVY: So we had the glass put back in. The next week it was smashed again. Our door was smeared with “Jude,” dirty Jew. They came and made us wash it off, made us wash it off so they could put it on again. So when it was, the window was smashed again we boarded it up. And mother said, “I don’t care anymore what they do to us. I’m not going to give them another chance.” We – the bedrooms were upstairs – and we had the kind of shades, kind of row shades that you pulled up like, okay. They smashed the window in our bedroom, upstairs, through the shades. So we were afraid to stay in the bedrooms anymore. That’s very important; I didn’t tell you that before. The fright you live in, and this was only the beginning. My parents went through a lot worse after that.
Now, in Crumstadt, where my mother was from, where we lived – where I lived the last year before I came to the United States – was much better. They, the mayor in the town, he had a way of kind of soothing the Nazis more, okay; he had a way about it. And when there the Kristallnacht, the synagogue there was damaged, they were gonna make the Jews clean it up. And the mayor saw to it that somebody else had to clean it up. At least they didn’t have to do that.
PRINCE: And that was unusual.
LEVY: He was a friend of the Jews and he was not replaced by the Nazis, so that made a big difference of course. (TAPE STOPS)
PRINCE: Well, that is unusual that he would do that, or they would allow him to do that. Uh, tell me about your school when you were like 16 and things were going on, 16, 17, and about your friends that you used to skip through town with and sing.
LEVY: Well school was really nothing special to report. I went to realschule, which is a private school, for three years until my mother got sick. She had heart trouble and at age 12 I had to be home because I had to help mother with whatever needed to be – housekeeping.
PRINCE: So you stopped your schooling.
LEVY: No, I went back to public school.
PRINCE: Public school.
LEVY: Until age 14. So, of course, in private school I took French, never took English, but French for three years. And so then I went back to public school and graduated from public school. My father went to – I know that he learned Latin – that was also kind of a private school that he went to. And mother – girls didn’t go much to colleges. She – her parents sent her to a private home to learn house, housekeeping and cooking and like that. She was good at it. The other thing I wanted to say, to show you how relationship was with Christians –

Tape 2 - Side 1

LEVY: There was, before the Nazis there was a definite relationship between Christians and Jews. Sunday nights the neighbors would sit out – this was a small town – the neighbors would sit outside, take their chairs, and share the news of the week of the town. My parents would always be sitting with them, in the middle of them; we children would play in the street in the meantime.
On winter nights – my mother was an expert knitter. Some neighbors would get stuck with their knitting. They would come over and mother would help them out, what needed to be done to correct whatever they had done. It’s not unusual. A lot of times they would come over just to talk. Maybe somebody had a baby in town, or whatever. Christian people would come over. It was not a strict separation. Like I said, they know – they knew we were Jewish but it didn’t bother them. It didn’t bother them.
PRINCE: Yeah, they were comfortable in your home. Did you go to their homes? Would your mother have gone over there?
LEVY: Once in a great while, not as much, not as much really. Uh, there was a baker across the street. Of course we would go to a business or to the farmer’s to get certain things. Once in a while mother would go of course, but not very much.
PRINCE: But there was that –
LEVY: They came more to our house.
PRINCE: Yes. You were more open and you were hesitant to –
LEVY: Right.
PRINCE: Did your little girlfriends…
LEVY: They came to the house.
PRINCE: They came, and did you ever go to their houses?
LEVY: I went to their houses.
PRINCE: And this was easily – as a child you did –
LEVY: Yeah.
PRINCE: – more easily than the adults.
LEVY: And strangely enough, I usually sought out the people who were kind of poor, kind of the under-dogs. Those children I usually visited more than – and I had other friends too – but somehow I kind of felt sorry for the children who didn’t have a lot of friends or…so I usually was friends with them. And children would come to our house.
PRINCE: The other children, besides the ones that you…?
LEVY: Yeah.
PRINCE: All kinds.
LEVY: Yeah, all kinds. In fact – this was funny – before I started working in Darmstadt to learn sewing, mother thought I have to hold a needle, okay. So there was a seamstress in town and she wanted me to go there to kind of sew little things for myself. And there was one of my former schoolmates was working there too and she asked me to come to her house, and when I came there she proudly showed me the new picture they got of Hitler. She didn’t know that I was not interested in Hitler, (LAUGHTER) didn’t realize that. Now this was in, probably, in ’34. And she was not a dummy. This one was one of the smartest ones in class, but didn’t realize that I really didn’t care about Hitler.
PRINCE: Yeah…you had to act, you had to say the appropriate thing I guess.
LEVY: Well, I, I didn’t say anything. I don’t remember, but…Then this friend who was here a few times, this Christian friend who was my schoolmate in grade school, said that a friend of theirs, they didn’t have a picture of Hitler in the house. So they came and presented them with a picture of Hitler. And the person who brought it, the Nazi who brought it said, “Now where do you want me to put it?” And she said, “I don’t care. You can put it against the wall or hang him up.” So (LAUGHTER) the guy reported her; that was very bad to say something like that, and they did haul her in for a couple of hours because she said, “You can hang him up.” You know, those –
PRINCE: The things like, uh, when you had to write “Sarah” or “Israel” on the letters, was that –
LEVY: That was after me.
PRINCE: Was that after you?
LEVY: That was after Kristallnacht.
PRINCE: Okay, and the star?
LEVY: I didn’t wear it. That was after; that was all after Kristallnacht. And I was not there during Kristallnacht.
PRINCE: How soon do you think things that were happening in large cities got to you all? I mean, I wonder if it was an immediate thing that after Kristallnacht people wore stars and after –
LEVY: We didn’t know that until after, after, you know, after the war. We didn’t…
PRINCE: No, no, I didn’t mean you all, I meant if you lived in a small town when these things were going on, if you had been there, how quickly did it come from big cities into the more rural areas. I wonder, just…as quick as –
LEVY: Only on person to person. I mean, otherwise you didn’t know. It wasn’t in the papers, it wasn’t – it was called gruelmaerchen – you were spreading, uh, lies, anything that if you were truthful about what was going on, it was gruelmaerchen, you know. The Nazis found out that in America they knew some of the stuff that was going on and it was just all lies. It was not true. It just didn’t happen, just the terrible Jews spreading this news.
PRINCE: So I still want to know how you lost your friends and how they treated you when things were –
LEVY: The same way like everybody else.
PRINCE: They just stopped –
LEVY: They wouldn’t talk – they wouldn’t dare talk to me anymore. People who were good friends would pass by me, and maybe on the way by so nobody would see it, they would say hello.
PRINCE: Did your parents ever sit you all down? Or did they need to? Or help you understand why people didn’t like you or didn’t want to be with you anymore?
LEVY: Well I was old enough to know what was going on. I mean, I was in my teens.
PRINCE: Yeah, but, but – you were Jewish and you knew what was happening, but the why of it, the why.
LEVY: Well we all knew that the only reason we were mistreated was because of our religion.
PRINCE: Right, but why did they want to mistreat you?
LEVY: We don’t – nobody knew. Nobody knew why.
PRINCE: Well, I just meant, was there a discussion as far as…
LEVY: No, nobody knew. We just knew, you know, we would talk about different people and we’d say, “Oh, that’s a Nazi, and that’s a Nazi, and this one is not,” discuss different people of town.
PRINCE: Did you cry then when you were young like that, when these things were happening?
LEVY: I cried when, when I was, you know, all of a sudden, wasn’t – was non-existent or worse, sure. And when that glass was on that floor in the store, we all cried like babies.
PRINCE: Did you cry together? You didn’t – you all knew…
LEVY: Oh yes, because we saw, “My gosh, this is evil worse than we thought.” I remember my father saying, “They’ve already,” you know maybe in ’35, ’36, my father said, “What else can they do to us? They already have taken our dignity. They have taken our business. What else can they do to us, kill us?” Little did he know that was exactly the plan. Who would know? And being in the war and suffering through four years of the war in the front, children would…would say terrible things to him when he came through town on the bike and he couldn’t handle it. He just couldn’t handle it. He would talk back. And then mother was always afraid that he would be picked up and arrested.
PRINCE: Yeah, well and, given your life, trying to be, to be…a soldier in the First War, and then to be treated like – it’s like, it’s like, what’s your life about?
LEVY: It just faded away all of a sudden. (OVERTALK)
PRINCE: Yeah, right. So I would think that a man in that – it has to really be –
LEVY: And you have pride.
PRINCE: Yes, and he can’t protect you.
LEVY: You can’t say anything. You can’t – there’s nobody to go to.
PRINCE: No, no.
LEVY: There’s nobody to go to. You only get more hurt and more insults. It’s – you know – my daughter does not understand it, that I just don’t hate Germany, all of it; that my friend comes here. My daughter can’t stand the fact that I have a German friend.
PRINCE: Is this a friend from (UNCLEAR)
LEVY: Yeah, from grade school, and they were very much anti-Nazis.
PRINCE: And how did you know that?
LEVY: I knew them from child on. I knew –
PRINCE: But did you know that when all this was going on?
LEVY: Well when all this was going on they were afraid like everybody else. They were fearful. There was something else that happened in my house. I was probably 17, which would make it 1934, okay. There was a sign that said “Leopold Hirsch Hardware Store.” One day the doorbell – the store – somebody comes in the store and mother was busy so I go in to wait on the customer. And in come two SS men. So when I saw them of course I started shaking. They wanted to sell Der Stuermer, that’s Nazi antisemitic paper.
PRINCE: Is this 1934? Did you say?
LEVY: I think ’34. It must have been ’34 or ’35.
PRINCE: SA men maybe, SA – instead of SS.
LEVY: ’34 or ’35, I’m not sure of the year. But I was old enough to wait on customers. So these SS men offered Der Stuermer, they wanted to sell Der Stuermer. So I told them we’re Jewish, we’re not interested in Der Stuermer. But I had a long conversation with them. I was pretty quick with the answers at the time, and they left.
After they left there was something on the counter. This was called a totschlaeger. It was a metal, metal handle, and out of it came a metal spring. Totschlaeger is a killer. It was left on the counter. Now, what to do with this thing? Is this something they planted there for the Jews so they can say the Jews had this weapon? Or will they come back to pick it up? We didn’t know what to do; we were so frightened. We didn’t know what to do with it. So after a week or two we buried it in the backyard. So we felt sure they would not come back for it. But all these little scares, these ways of living – left this darn thing on the counter. I can still see it. I can still see it. It was like a handle – like this. And out of it came a metal spring, and that’s what they used to – it was a weapon.
PRINCE: It was a weapon.
LEVY: It was a weapon.
PRINCE: And you couldn’t, you know, go after them and say, “Here, you left this,” because then…
LEVY: Well, they were gone, you know, they were gone. (OVERTALK) Just little incidents that happened, (LAUGHTER) sometimes you wonder how you lived through it all. And, and of course it got so much worse after I left.
PRINCE: Well I think that’s – it’s very interesting about your daughter –
LEVY: She can’t accept it.
PRINCE: No, that, that the two of you have this parental dilemma.
LEVY: When I say, “You don’t understand.” She says, “No mom, you don’t understand.” I said, “I’ve lived it.” And she just can’t accept – she won’t even let me explain because it’s so much easier, like people who hate Blacks. It’s so much easier to take people in a group.
PRINCE: You have, you have chosen that this is the way you can live with your life, is to live this – feel this way.
LEVY: I know that there were good people. Next door to us, the people also sold – is it still on?
PRINCE: No, we’re fine. I just have to keep looking at the tape to be sure that it hasn’t stopped and you’re not…
LEVY: Okay. Next door to us, we were not the best of friends because they were kind of competition. They also sold stoves and sewing machines. During the Nazi time, people would – and our window was into their yard, okay. People would come in their yard, they would let them come in their yard, knock on our window, and tell us they want nails or whatever they need. And we’d sell ’em through the window. They weren’t Nazis. Even though, like I say, we were not the best of friends because of the competition, neighbors were not – a lot of them were not for this. First of all, there was the Depression in Germany. People were out of work for years. Hitler came and promised them everything – promised them work – and they did get work because he prepared for the war. He did all this work, that he could really get people working. But little did they know what it was all about.
PRINCE: Uh, do you find that there are other people, like yourself, who share your feelings about the Germans?
LEVY: There are, but I think not a lot, because for most people it is much easier to just hate everybody. And that’s when I wrote a poem about this because that makes me crazy. It’s – I don’t know if you want to (SHOWS POEM)
PRINCE: All right, well maybe we’ll have you read this at some point. Uh, let’s see, I had another…(TAPE STOPS)
LEVY: In 1988 my husband and I were invited to go back to Germany for the 50th memorial of the Kristallnacht. And I always – I always swore high and low, “I’ll never go back to Germany,” because I was there once in ’64 and I was very uncomfortable. But my husband wanted to go and he wouldn’t go by himself so okay, reluctantly I – we went – I went. We got such a reception. I mean, we felt like some personality; they treated us so well.
PRINCE: Were you in a group?
LEVY: Just my husband and I. They had invited a bunch of people but because it was like 10 days before, two weeks before, that they, you know, that they invited us, there was so little time between; nobody else came. We were the only ones who came.
PRINCE: And this was Darmstadt? Or…
LEVY: This was in Grossguera, which is the town seat of Buettelborn, okay, _______. And they treated us beautifully. There was a welcoming evening in Buettelborn in the town hall and there were a lot of Christians. And I was more than glad there was a group of maybe 45 – 40 people, 40, 45 people there to greet us and to ask questions. Mostly younger people and they didn’t know – they knew something happened to the Jews, but they didn’t know exactly what it was. And that’s when I thought, “Good, I’m glad I came,” and I could tell them what happened to us. And they would ask questions like, “How could you live like that? How could you live like that?” Well, we lived like that because we had to. Good people would come and help us out, through the backyard, whatever they could for us. So, uh – I mean, it was cost free. They paid for everything, bouquets of flowers, and money, and what all.
Then the hometown of my mother’s invited us to be sure and come. Well, we were only there 10 days; it was so short, okay, so we went there. And again there was, in a private home, a man who is into the Jewish history invited us, invited some more people from the town, and one lady says, “Here is something that belongs to you.” And she puts out a sugar tong that my mother had given her because she brought food to them to Darmstadt.
PRINCE: Wow. A sugar what – a sugar…?
LEVY: Her mother had sent her to my parents.
PRINCE: Yes, but what did your mother give her?
LEVY: A sugar tong, you know.
PRINCE: Oh, a sugar tong.
LEVY: A sugar tong – tong?
PRINCE: Tong, yes, I’m sorry.
LEVY: And I – I have it here.
PRINCE: Oh my.
LEVY: So that was of course very touching. And while we were there, there was also in Darmstadt, they had built a new synagogue. And the, uh, what is he…more than the mayor – anyway, a bigshot from the area.
PRINCE: Governor?
LEVY: Whatever, sent us a chauffeur with a car and drove us to Darmstadt for the dedication of the new synagogue. And of course there were no more tickets for in the synagogue but they had a separate room where they showed it on the screen and he got us in there. And there were a lot of people from different countries they had invited for this day. That was another touching, very touching, occasion. But I was really glad then that we went because these young people did – and we made a lot of friendships then. Different people who we met there became friends and have visited us here too. And then I thought, “Gee, Germany has really changed.” And then after we were back awhile I thought, “What are you talking about? Only the good people came to see us.”
LEVY: The bad people are still there, you know. They didn’t want to see us.
PRINCE: Right…how did you get – and then we’ll wind it up I guess, unless you have something else. How did you get involved with your schoolmate again?
LEVY: Well, after the war she wrote. She wrote me a letter.
PRINCE: She knew where you were?
LEVY: Uh, how did she find my address…oh. You know, I don’t remember. I must have been in touch with her before the war because during the war nobody could write. She wrote to me – oh no, I know why. Another schoolmate of hers and mine who was –
PRINCE: Was this public or private school? Which school was it?
LEVY: No, this was the public school.
PRINCE: The public school.
LEVY: Public school. And he was thrown into jail for distributing anti-Nazi papers during the Nazi time and he was caught at it and he was thrown into jail. And I knew that, and I sent him a package after the war.
LEVY: And he got so excited and he was a friend with this friend, Marie, and he was here once.
PRINCE: What was her name?
LEVY: Marie Beissweinger, Marie.
LEVY: Okay. In fact, she gave 30 dollars to the Holocaust Museum when she was here last time. But that’s how he got my address, and I don’t remember how I got his. But when he was here he was still excited about the package because it happened to come on his birthday, which I didn’t know it was his birthday. And he said the post office called him at the time and said, “Here is a package from America.” And he said, “I don’t have anybody in America.” Well, it was a package from me because I always felt people who fought that kind of stuff deserved to be rewarded.
PRINCE: Okay. Would you like to read your poem?
Abolish Hate
All through life it’s necessary,
to keep on hand the dictionary.
For writing resumes, or books,
it’s in Webster’s one always looks.
So one can present with endless pride,
with generous help from the word guide
A dissertation error-free,
which may lead us on to victory.
There’s honesty, truth, love, and peace,
Music, harmony, thank you, and please.
But the one word that must abate
is the dreadful and destructive hate.
Be it foreigners, government, or creed,
a campaign of hate is guaranteed
by those who have a weird addiction
to steadfastly keep the world in friction.
One land against another,
Brother against brother.
What causes man to act this way
And urges him to go astray?
Is it fear or maybe ego?
Prisons are full to overflow, with felons who are serving time
whose hate made them commit a crime.
Let’s at this time just pretend for peace’s sake,
We could put an end to malice, hatred, feuds, and war,
To bring about a brilliant star.
For all earth’s children young and old,
in peace would break out oh so bold.
What a valued, rare donation,
we’d leave the future generation.
So let’s all vow to stop the hate,
to save mankind before it’s too late.
The world revolution it should be,
to halt all hate and let it start with me.
PRINCE: You’re very creative.
LEVY: It’s one thing – I just felt like I had to do something. So that’s the story.
PRINCE: You’ve been very kind today, and very articulate, and very giving, and I appreciate it.
LEVY: And thank you for doing this.
PRINCE: No, thank you. And if you think of something else that you think…I can always come back. I appreciate it.
(End of Interview)
PRINCE: Today is September 4, 2002, and I am back with Elsie Levy for just a few more moments.
Elsie, let’s begin with when you left, were able to leave Germany.
LEVY: Okay. My two brothers came here first. And they sent – I mean, being here shortly they didn’t have a way to send a large affidavit, meaning the, uh, what you’d have to get before you get the visa to enter the United States. So, when the affidavit came, it was not large enough for my parents and me to leave together. So it was decided I would –
PRINCE: Large means the amount of money?
LEVY: The amount of money, yes. And it was decided that I, being young, the parents said, “You go first and we come later.” Well, as it turned out, that was not to be. The parents never came because my mother eventually got her visa, but father did not because he had illness before. So he did not get his visa. So mother, of course, would not leave without him.
Uh, when my father had spent four years in the First World War and came back walking with the cane, and he got his little pension. And then Hitler came in power; that was cut off. He didn’t get the pension anymore. So I came here. My father used to say, “What else can they do to us? They have already taken our dignity. They have taken our business.” By that time there was no more business. “What else can they do to us, kill us?” Little did he know that was exactly what they were planning. Who would believe a cultural country, like Germany was supposed to be, they would have plans like that? Well, they did it very efficiently like they do everything else, as we know – their murder factory. That’s plural – murder factories.
Well, I left Germany in 1938, August 1938. My parents brought me to this train and of course for me, I was 21 years old. It was, you know, it was exciting coming to America. My parents would come right away so that was no big deal leaving. So I went first to Holland, then to England. Then England in Southampton I got on the boat, the Aquitania. Do not write the style line, which is no longer in existence. And then I came here. One of my brothers picked me up here. On the boat, well, it was not – there was a lot to do on the boat, that young people did.
PRINCE: Were there people like you? Was there talk of leaving Germany and why you were leaving Germany?
LEVY: Yes, there were a lot of people who were fleeing from Germany to come to the United States, the lucky ones who could get out. And, uh, so there was a group of us. And we had fun on the – on the boat.
PRINCE: So the atmosphere was one of…what?
LEVY: Well, of course everybody still had some people left behind, but most of the people thought they would come.
LEVY: Nobody realized that they would never see them again, like the kindertransports, same thing. So, when I got here, my brother was here to pick me up in –
PRINCE: Where’d you land?
LEVY: Excuse me?
PRINCE: Where did the ship come in?
LEVY: I was trying – Hoboken. Hoboken, New Jersey.
PRINCE: Oh, Hoboken, New Jersey.
LEVY: Yeah. And so I – my younger brother who was working nights, he took me around for a job. I had to have a job because I was – I came with 20 dollars to my name. That was all I was allowed to take out, and some linens and stuff at that time still let you take out, some dishes that were my parents’ that were supposed to be for my parents when they came.
By the way, when I, okay, before we left Germany there was an organization that was called Zoll Fahnduing. That meant that the customs would come to your house and check everything that you were taking. Anything you took that was new, you had to pay them again. That was, uh, custom duty to them, the same amount that, you had to show –

Tape 2 - Side 2

LEVY: …only 20 dollars. So my brother took me to different places. He looked in the newspaper for me for a maid someplace since I couldn’t – I mean, I was trained for seamstress, but if you can’t understand, you can’t talk. So I found a job in a household, a doctor’s household, as a maid. And they were Polish, and very patient with me, and showed me this and that. You know, this is a broom and this is a mop, and this is…And I was lucky. I did not have too much – it didn’t take me too long to learn the language enough so that I could understand. And then I really didn’t want to do housework anymore so I looked for a job as a seamstress. I walked up and down Madison Avenue, and Fifth Avenue, and wherever there was a sign out for dressmaking I’d stop in and ask for a job. By the way, I had never lived outside of my home.
PRINCE: Yes, and you hadn’t been very far away when you were getting on the boat. Where did the boat leave from?
LEVY: From, uh, Southampton. The boat left from Southampton.
PRINCE: And the train left from where?
LEVY: The train left from Wiesbaden, I believe.
PRINCE: So…I mean, Darmstadt was about –
LEVY: Darmstadt was as far as I’d – well, I went on my bicycle a lot of places. I went…you know. But, now I’m here, and I have to learn the language. Okay, I know enough now to be understood. I look for a seamstress job, and I did get a job on Madison Avenue. Hazel Coleman, I’ll never forget the name.
PRINCE: What was it?
LEVY: Hazel Coleman was the name, the first seamstress job I had. And, I think that’s when I got my social security card – at that time. So, uh, in the – as a maid I was making 40 dollars a month and room and board, okay. Now, as a seamstress I’m making 10 dollars a week without room and board. Mrs. Coleman said to me, “Okay, when I know what you can do, you get a raise.” Well, I didn’t get a raise. (LAUGHTER BY BOTH) I asked for it, you know, when you’re in need you learn to do a lot of things. And she said, “Okay, I give you a raise.” So next pay I got 10 dollars and 50 cents a week. (LAUGHTER) And I still had to pay room and board even though I was living at my brother’s. You know, they didn’t have the money. So, I was paying very little, like seven dollars a week, and then I had the rest of it to pay for cab fare. It was all I had. But, you know, those were difficulties. And then they closed for the summer and I worked in a factory, and they closed for the summer. It was one job after another, and finally I really got tired. I had another, you know, lots of jobs and they didn’t work out.
So in the meantime, Carl was here – my husband was here – and he kept begging, “Come, come, come.” So I – like you do – I was sick and tired of New York and I came here and we got married. So now we were trying to make a go of it. Now, we both lived in our own homes in Germany, and that’s what we were aiming for. We want to live in our own home. We had a little three room apartment in Maplewood and we had, in the meantime, we had our daughter. She was born while we still – we were still on the farm.
PRINCE: I think that we went – I think we did this.
LEVY: Oh did we?
PRINCE: Yeah. Tell me about – tell me about the difficulty, though, if you can, of what you were saying the other day how that man came and walked the streets trying to find, just like you did, (OVERTALK) and who they had been.
LEVY: Yes, for the men it was extra difficult. The women could always find work because the German women were really searched for for housework. And – but the men had just an awful time. It was like the end of the Depression. And the employers could hire well-educated people, even for street cleaners, because people were out of work for so long. And I remember the one man who lived in the building where my brother lived – well, where I lived with my brother and sister-in-law. And he had a department store in Meinz, Germany, evidently quite a good-sized department store. And his wife never had to work. So they came here; they had – I believe they had a retarded child. How they got here I don’t know, because they must have had an enormous affidavit. And, uh, he hounded the street everyday and got so despondent and the wife was always tired. She couldn’t work; she was tired. And he had just an awful time. Now I don’t remember – some people would go house to house selling eggs or selling cheese, selling sausage. I remember one – one time in this same family where this people, this couple lived, uh, her son was a butcher. And somebody came to the door to sell sausage and she had such pity on him she bought sausage. Well, the son said, “Why are you buying sausage? I have it in the store. We can’t afford it.” But, you know, people had –
PRINCE: Yeah, tried to help.
LEVY: Yeah.
PRINCE: Was – was there a problem with being German at that time? An accent, or, you know because –
LEVY: Yes. You did not because now war in 1941 – finally in 1941 the war started with America. I mean, America started in the war. Now you did not want to hear anybody you talk German. My mother-in-law came in 1946; I think we got that already. And, uh, we didn’t have a car. My husband sold the car to pay for the house, make another payment on the house. And anywhere – sometimes I wanted to take my mother-in-law someplace, by this time she was 81. She lived another 12 years…almost 82. And on the streetcar – she didn’t speak English; I had to talk German. And people would look at you kind of funny, you know. “Damn German,” they probably thought.
LEVY: So there we were taken, our citizenship, and here we were enemy aliens. We were not allowed to have a camera as – coming from Germany.
PRINCE: You were called enemy aliens?
LEVY: Yes.
PRINCE: You had that title, I mean, that somebody –
LEVY: Yes.
PRINCE: Because Mr. Bremler, I told you I interviewed him, and he said that he had some kind of choice like he could either go into the army, American army, when he came over, or he could be considered an enemy alien.
LEVY: That’s right. (PHONE RINGS; TAPE STOPS) So, yes, we were called enemy aliens. We were not allowed to have a camera because they were – you know – we were not sent away like the Japanese, because they couldn’t tell by looking at us. But there’s certain things that, because we were part of the enemy, as far as America was concerned. So that was not good. But we lived through that.
PRINCE: Did you become, at that time, try – even though you lived out a little bit and your husband’s business was farming or cattle – were you, when did you begin to sort of begin to be part of a Jewish community?
LEVY: When we came back to St. Louis – do you mean – yeah, when we came back to St. Louis, because when we were out there, we really couldn’t. There was no way. Even though some people would drive their children to St. Louis from out there for Sunday school, they could afford it; they had a factory out there. We could not. We didn’t – well the little one was, she was only little anyway. But this was not possible so we lived the way we had to live there.
PRINCE: And now when you came back did you, when you came to St. Louis did you…
LEVY: Yeah, then we joined, joined first Brith Shalom. We were actually married by Rabbi Halpern, which – Halpern – who was the rabbi at B’nai Amoona at the time. But then we joined Brith Shalom, and then we changed – well now we belong to Shaare Zedek, which is a Conservative – for years and years and years.
PRINCE: Did your religious observances change when you came here and got married and raised your family? Was it different than at home in Germany?
LEVY: Oh yes. They were different. Sure, I mean, there you live in a small town, of course, we kind of compare the small town we lived in Germany – lived in in Germany with the city we live in here, which is not quite fair. But it was a different life altogether. On Shabbas, on the Sabbath, we would visit with the different – there were only six families in the town. But we would visit each other and my father used to play chess with his brother who lived a few doors down. And it was a different life. Well, here you were much too busy to do any of that because you were busy trying to make a living and trying to get – first of all, we were always aiming to have our own house. If it’s just a small house we didn’t care; we wanted our own, not to pay rent. So then we did buy a little house in Maplewood. Do we have that already?
PRINCE: Umhmm.
LEVY: Okay. So this was our aim and it wasn’t easy coming here. Like I say, my husband was well-established in Germany. He was a cattle dealer, was respected, was established. And he came here with nothing, you know, it was very difficult. And my husband never really got adapted to America. His mind was always still in his hometown, totally.
PRINCE: And how did that work –
LEVY: In his mind, in his mind. When he got the letter from _______, he was in heaven. He told everybody he got a letter from ______; he was so excited because this was his hometown. He had lived there 30 some-odd years.
PRINCE: And who was he getting the letter from? A non-Jewish friend or…?
LEVY: Well, especially after we were in ’88 in Germany he had – the mayor sent him letters. I mean, when we came back, you wouldn’t believe the mail we got, thank you’s that we came, that we took the courage to come there.
PRINCE: Oh, to go to –
LEVY: To go to Germany.
PRINCE: That was in 60 something.
LEVY: In ’88.
PRINCE: Oh, that was the second time.
LEVY: That was the second time, when they invited – when we were invited. The mayor wrote the county – what do you call this – county seat had, whatever his name is, uh, wrote, there was a person who kind of took care of us while we were there. We got letters like you wouldn’t believe thanking us for coming at that time. And, the, the gratitude –
PRINCE: For coming back.
LEVY: For coming back.
PRINCE: Elsie, are you telling me that in spite of everything his heart was still in Germany?
LEVY: Always.
PRINCE: Always.
LEVY: Always, yeah. He never really got adjusted to – he had trouble with the language, to begin with. And that was his life. He didn’t know anything – he never had been out of, out of his town overnight. Never. And, it was – so, you wouldn’t believe when we were there how they all came.
PRINCE: He was completely uprooted.
LEVY: Oh yes, yes. And when we were there in ’88 everybody told everybody else, “Hey, you know Carl Levy is here, Carl Levy is here.” Then something happened in that time after the Jewish people left. Somebody came – the same thing happened in Buettelborn – somebody came to – now this is, okay. Carl left in ’37. And this night was after the war in the ’50s or ’60s; I don’t know what year. Somebody came to ______ claiming that he is Carl Levy, selling carpeting. And people would buy carpeting because it was Carl Levy. Of course Carl Levy never was there because…somebody knew Carl Levy’s name and claimed to be him.
PRINCE: But didn’t they know when they saw him that it wasn’t Carl Levy?
LEVY: Well they – people change. This was 30 years later.
LEVY: Okay. They didn’t know.
PRINCE: How weird.
LEVY: Yeah, and the same thing happened in my hometown too. My friend who was visiting here said that her brother was buying – I don’t know what it was, pots and pans, whatever – from somebody who said he was Artur Stein. The Artur Stein that we had on here…
PRINCE: Artur Stein.
LEVY: And – but many years later how do you know what the person looks like? So, uh, that’s the kind of thing that happened after all this. The stories are unbelievable.
PRINCE: Yeah, it’s like they’re made up, but they’re not.
LEVY: No, not according to what we heard. So what else is there – is there anything else?
PRINCE: No, I think I just wanted to get that feel of the difficulty that it was and I’m glad to also have the allegiance that one’s heart doesn’t – it was his life, his life. All right, Elsie, I’ll try not to…(LAUGHTER)
LEVY: No, I’ll be glad to tell it because like I always read, it needs to be told.
PRINCE: All right, keep your door open for me. Thank you. (TAPE STOPS) Say what you were saying that everyone…
LEVY: Oh yeah, okay. Americans just do not realize how good America is. And I always feel that everybody who was born and raised in America should spend at least one year, not a visit, at least one year in a dictatorship. Live away from America so they’ll be able to compare America to – because people think, “It’s not so bad; how bad can it be?” They should try it; that’s the only way they’ll ever know.
PRINCE: Sometimes we don’t realize how free we are.
LEVY: We don’t realize how good we have it.
PRINCE: Thank you.

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