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Felicia Graber

Felicia Graber
Nationality: Polish
Location: Belgium • Brussels • Frankfurt • Germany • Lodz • Missouri • Poland • St. Louis • Tarnow • United States of America • Warsaw
Experience During Holocaust: Family or Person in Hiding • Sent to Ghetto • Was a Child During the Holocaust

Mapping Felicia's Life

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

“I was drilled to say the Lord’s Prayer every morning and every night, went to church every Sunday... even after the war, after we were liberated, my parents did not tell me and did not live as Jews until we left Poland.” - Felicia Graber

Read Felicia's Oral History Transcripts

Read the transcripts by clicking the red plus signs below.

Tape 1 - Side 1

HEIFETZ: If you’ll just say your name and we’ll see how your voice picks up.
GRABER: My, (LAUGHTER) – I sound terrible on tape but that’s okay. My name is Felicia Graber.
HEIFETZ: Felicia, you were beginning to tell me about your feelings about talking about this at all and your kind of double pull.
GRABER: Right. On the one hand I feel – as I said – I meant to call the Holocaust Center a long time ago and somehow get involved, and on one hand I felt that I really don’t belong with the survivors. They are older, I mean not that I’m young – you know, in their 60s and 70s, my parents’ age.
HEIFETZ: And you were born in…
GRABER: I was born in 1940. On the other hand I also don’t belong to the second generation either. I don’t know really – I’m somewhat in the middle there and many times have felt that I really should get involved and should speak up and yet I never have. It was like – again – like a double pull, like an emotional struggle within me. On one hand I want to forget about it and on the other hand I feel that I shouldn’t – it’s important to speak up. So these were the reasons that I’ve never really felt – again, as I said – I’ve never really felt where I belong. Do I belong to the survivors, because when I talk to survivors, I really don’t feel that I belong with them. It’s different, different experiences and yet when I talk to second generation, I can identify with them to a certain degree but yet not totally either. So, somehow I am in the middle there someplace.
HEIFETZ: It’s really a unique experience that you’ve had…
GRABER: Right.
HEIFETZ: …and not easily just lumped just together with a group of people.
GRABER: Right. And I think there are very few people in my age group that went, that went through in Europe and I don’t know of anybody here in St. Louis that might be – I don’t know – I know of a friend of mine in Israel I have who comes from the same town that I come from and who is approximately my age – maybe a year or two older, and we talked about it the last time I was there. We did talk about it. She’s a psychologist and she has gone deeply into this, and we’ve discussed this a little bit and she very much feels like I do, that we should speak up and yet there are a lot of things that we feel – we were so young. We really don’t remember that much. How much I do remember is really what I know from my experience and how much is it that I heard for so long, that after while it seems like I’ve experienced it myself. So this is one of the reasons I also wanted to listen to the tapes my father made because I wanted, like, to fill in the gaps. There are a lot of gaps.
HEIFETZ: This is something we’ll get back to, because I’ve heard this from many people whom I’ve interviewed here who are in your age group and it is unique and there has been a feeling of not only “where do I belong?” but “where am I accepted?” because maybe they sort of reject you even where you want to identify.
GRABER: Right. Because the people in my parents’ generation feel, “well you were a kid, you really don’t know what you’re talking about,” and, you know, “how much can you remember?” And then the age gap is also – besides the experience gap, the age gap is too big and the people who were born after the war, even though they feel, you know – there’s a difference of feeling because they really feel like they were touched by the Holocaust but not in the same way, in a different way. And sometimes their reactions are a little stronger, which is very interesting, I found, that their reactions are sometimes stronger than mine. Like my own brother – my brother was born after the war and I have another good friend who is, oh I guess in her 30’s or something like that, whose parents are survivors, and they are violently anti-German, to this day. And much more so than I am. I teach German, which is really a contradiction, but my brother cannot understand that I can do that and this friend of mine, although she’s never said it, mentioned to me a couple of times that she wouldn’t have anything to do – she won’t buy a German car, she won’t buy – you know. And I never did understand why I feel I don’t have such strong feelings. These others have much stronger feelings than I do. I don’t know whether it’s because I lived in Germany after the war, you know. I don’t know whether that has anything to do with it or not but – I don’t even know why I started talking about this. So we sometimes don’t – they don’t understand me in certain ways, you know, and I think that’s why we…
HEIFETZ: Sort of a not understanding your experiences and what they mean to you?
GRABER: Right.
HEIFETZ: And almost not giving you permission to have your own experiences.
GRABER: Right, and also some times one question that I do resent, although I’ve never told anybody that when they ask me that question, obviously – I get this from Jews – well mostly non-Jews when they do find out that I lived in Europe – and also some Jews, American Jews who never lived through the war themselves, like, “How did you manage, how did you survive?” It’s almost like I had to justify myself that I’m around, and my usual reply is, “Oh, it’s a long story, you don’t want to listen to the whole thing right now.” I don’t know, maybe it’s me, but, except, they might not mean it that way.
HEIFETZ: But that’s the feeling it arouses?
GRABER: Okay. The feeling it arouses is like, you know, I have – what do I have to justify myself that I’m alive? You know? And there’s one question I get from people when they find out the first time that I’m…Well, I know at work a couple of times they knew that -–they didn’t know I was Jewish, they knew I was born in Europe but they didn’t know I was Jewish, and this one happened to be a German teacher, I mean originally from Germany and we were good friends and I don’t know – somehow we got to talking about high holidays, and I told him I wasn’t going to be there and he said, “Oh, you’re Jewish,” and I said, “Yeah.” And his immediate response was, “Well, how did you survive the war? I thought nobody survived the war.” You know, it was just – and I’m sure that they don’t mean it that way. They don’t, some of them mean it in an inquisitive – just because they want to know. Very often I take those questions very negatively, and I feel like I have to justify that I’m alive.
HEIFETZ: That’s a heavy burden – on top of everything else.
GRABER: Right.
HEIFETZ: Can you start for me, since I really don’t know, what your experiences were and this really what I’d like to find out from you. Start, I guess, with a little bit about your family, where you were born and the circumstances into which you were born.
GRABER: I was born, as I said, in 1940 in a small but not – a small town but not like a shtetl type. It is on the map. (LAUGHTER) It’s called Tarnow. It’s southeast of Krakow. From what I gather, it’s a town that was 50 to 60 percent Jewish. My parents came from very Orthodox families, both of them. Although my father’s family was originally from Germany but he, himself, was born in another small town. My mother was born in Tarnow. They were – they got married in ’39, March of ’39 and they, well I would say, were a middle class Jewish couple, as I said, from both their backgrounds were very Orthodox although they themselves sort of were drifting away from it. I was born in March, 1940 and as you know, September of ’39 Hitler had invaded Poland. So, at the time when I was born Poland was already occupied. From the things that I hear with a lot of – you know, just to make a long story short at this point, my parents went to various degrees of going according to various laws and regulations that the Germans instituted like, giving up fur coats and jewelry and all that kind of stuff. My grandfather and father ran a jewelry business, they had a jewelry store and they managed to put some – you know, hide some things. Then they were forced to leave their apartment and go into the ghetto. And in the ghetto they lived with either one or two other families. I’m not exactly sure.
HEIFETZ: And this ghetto was in the town…
GRABER: Right, in Tarnow.
HEIFETZ: Could you spell that for me?
GRABER: T-A-R-N-O-V. (The correct spelling is “Tarnow” in Polish) We were there until 1942, I believe. In 1942 there were rumors that some of the people – all the people who had been deported, like my grandparents on both sides had been deported – there were rumors going around that the whole ghetto was going to be closed down which meant that everybody in there was going to be deported. My father, at that time, contacted a – I don’t know exactly how he knew him – but there was a Polish farmer who was a friend of my father, acquaintance of family, I’m not exactly sure – and my father also had some contact in Warsaw, some Jews from Tarnow that had gone to Warsaw and basically set up a network of providing false I.D. papers, birth certificates, baptism certificates. I am not exactly sure how my father knew about them or how he got contact he had with them, but he knew how to reach them and this man, this Polish – Polish – he was not a Jew, okay, he got us: myself and my mother out of the ghetto and he took us to Warsaw, the old man, the farmer. And my mother was…
HEIFETZ: At this point you were what age?
GRABER: Well, it was ’42; I was two years old. Somehow my mother contacted that person in Warsaw who helped to give her papers and helped her along, you know, telling her how to behave and what to say and what to do. Because it was totally a new world for her. I mean, she had been raised in a fully Jewish environment and there was a problem and the problem was me because for two years I had been brought up in a Jewish household and, I got to get a cigarette.
GRABER: You know, it’s funny, I get so, so wound up.
HEIFETZ: There must have been so, so much tension, those first two years of your life.
GRABER: Well, maybe that’s what it is, I don’t know…
HEIFETZ: To have lived with it must have been a terribly troubled world that you were born into.
GRABER: Well, as I said, one of the, in a way the problem, the danger, problem was I because how do you tell a two year old who has been brought up – even a two year old knows that he or she is Jewish, at least I did. How do you tell a two year old all of a sudden that you have to go to church and change like a fault, within one day change the whole way of living?
HEIFETZ: Your whole identification?
GRABER: Right.
HEIFETZ: And do you remember those days before you were two? Do you have any memory?
GRABER: I have very few memories. In fact, what I am telling you is really just – I have some memories from later on in Warsaw. I have some memories, like pictures here and there. What I’m telling you now is all from heresay. I don’t remember any of this.
HEIFETZ: You don’t remember the town?
HEIFETZ: Or your grandparents?
HEIFETZ: Of leaving?
GRABER: No. I don’t remember any of them. That’s totally gone. Uh, in fact, my mother had to change apartments a couple of times because in talking to the landlady a couple of times…the landlady, you know, would talk to little children, “How are you? What’s your name?” You know, “Where do you come from?” At one point I told the landlady, “Well, I’m Catholic, but I’m really Jewish.” And, lucky, they said the lady, instead of going to the Gestapo, went to my mother and said, “I can do no more.” And so my mother had to get a whole new set of I.D. papers because she – even though the lady did want us – mother was afraid that she’ll change her mind, so she changed her name, got a whole new set of papers and then finally got an apartment – a room – in a house where she lived. Of course, she had to make up a story. You know, you can’t just come to and live with neighbors. You have to have a background. You have to invent a background, and so the background was that her – the safest thing was that her husband was in the Army, in the Polish Army, and was missing.
HEIFETZ: In fact, where was your father?
GRABER: Okay. My father stayed in the ghetto. The reason my father couldn’t come with us – there were two reasons. Number one – he looks Jewish. Like, my mother is very – although she is dark – she is dark like I am. But, she has very – she doesn’t have Jewish features. My father has Jewish features, a Jewish nose I guess, if you want to call it that. And even though he’s got blue eyes, he appears Jewish. Also my father was raised in a Yiddish speaking household and even though my mother was too, she had gone to secretarial school and her Polish was perfect. My father’s Polish was not. He could not pass for a Pole because when he’d open his mouth, spoke at any length, besides his appearance, it would be clear that he was not Polish. That is the reason why he could not pass.
HEIFETZ: And were you taught both languages?
GRABER: Well, I guess I was – I guess I did understand Yiddish when I was little. I do understand Yiddish now but at the time I spoke Polish and this man who had helped us get to Warsaw also had become like a courier, like a go-between. He would come to Warsaw to sell some goods and he would bring news of my father because my father didn’t even know where we were. He didn’t want to know where we were, just for security reasons. And this man would bring us things to sell. You know, jewelry, you know, we had to live somehow. And so he would bring things that my mother could sell on the black market to get the money to – well, she had to get stamps, food stamps and all that stuff.
HEIFETZ: Felicia, how – two things – how was it that you got from the town to Warsaw?
GRABER: I guess we got by train. I guess so, (LAUGHTER) I really don’t know. But I assume that’s how we got…
HEIFETZ: And how did you get out of the ghetto?
GRABER: I’m really not sure. But we just walked out, basically just walked out one day. I really am not sure. There are these little details that I really don’t know and I guess I would have to listen to my father’s tapes. Maybe he has some – I know how my father got out. I really am not sure of how – well there were times during the day when the gates were open and I guess we left one day and didn’t come back. This is my…
HEIFETZ: When you say “gates” do you remember them?
GRABER: No. I just know from history books and movies and things like that. I don’t really remember. My father told us that this Marian, the man, was like a go-between.
HEIFETZ: Was he paid for that?
GRABER: No, he never took a cent, he never took a cent. After the war, my father rewarded him, when we could afford it, but he never, never took a cent. We kept in touch with him, we still do – he’s passed away and his wife has passed away but his daughter is still alive in Poland and I keep in touch with her. I send her packages, my parents send her packages, but he never took any money as far as I know. I’m pretty sure because I think my parents said he never took a cent. In fact, when he did, sometimes when came to…(INTERRUPTION)
In fact, my mother tells me that when he came he always brought (since he lived on a farm) he had, you know, he brought butter and bread and goodies, and my mother – and eggs which were a big thing. And my mother would offer him to eat, she always wanted to sit down and eat, and he’d say, “No, no, I just brought this for you and for the child.” He was really a wonderfully righteous gentleman.
HEIFETZ: Do you understand why he was this way? Do you know anything about him?
GRABER: No, I really don’t. You know, there really were some good people in the world, I mean – that’s it, you know. I don’t even know his connection to my parents from before the war. I really don’t even know how they got to know him. All I know is that he existed and I know that he came to see us after the war. In fact, I saw pictures of him but I really don’t – you know, it’s funny, when you ask me these questions because for some reason or other I never, never did ask them myself. You see, I just took these things for granted.
HEIFETZ: You were a child.
GRABER: No, but even now, somehow I never, I guess I never analyzed it. Some of those things that you just accept without questioning. (OVERTALK)
HEIFETZ: …just his existence, however he got there.
GRABER: (LAUGHTER) Right, right. Well, my father, as I said, stayed in the ghetto, and the rumors were going around that the ghetto was going to be closed down which means everybody was going to be shipped away, and my father – okay, there are two stories that I heard. I’m not exactly sure which one – I probably should have listened to the tape before I talked to you. (LAUGHTER) But there are two stories that I heard and I don’t know whether they all go together or how they fit into each other. One was that my father was put on a train and jumped off – jumped off the train and then he had – in order to – he had also contacted one of the guards, you know – the German guards who for some reason or other my father felt was different. And he told him, he said, “Look, I know the ghetto is going to be closed down and I have a wife and a child in Warsaw and I want to join them, and for some reason I think that you are different from the others.” And he said, “I need a way to get to Warsaw and I also need a uniform.” And the reason for the uniform was that the population, including the German soldiers, were – had a great respect for uniforms. And it didn’t make any difference what kind of a uniform. It did not have to be a soldier’s uniform, it didn’t have to be anything official. As long as you had some kind of a uniform, of a streetcar conductor or some kind of an official uniform, nobody bothered you, nobody asked you for I.D., nobody asked you anything. You were assumed to be part of the establishment, and so my father told him that he needed some kind of transportation and he needed some kind of a uniform, and – now, again, I don’t know exactly how, but he got it. The German gave him a bike and gave him the uniform of a streetcar conductor. How my father got them, how he, he – you know, I’m not exactly sure. Then the story I heard was that my father jumped the train and whether that stuff was hidden someplace and he went to get it, exactly how, I’m not sure. But he went to this farmer, to this Marian, who then told my father where we were in Warsaw and gave him our address because my father…And my father came to join us.
HEIFETZ: How old were you at this time?
GRABER: ’43 – maybe, maybe three, I’m not sure. I must have been around three years old. And then one day my father showed up basically at the apartment and there was a new set of problems. My father could not, as I said, live on his own because of what I told you before – his looks and his Polish was not so good. It was okay if he just came in superficially but to really get to live someplace and know the people, it was too dangerous. So, what my parents decided was – well, first of all, when he showed up, he had to be explained to the neighbors and the explanation was that he was either a brother of my father’s – he was my uncle – exactly what relationship I don’t know. But I think he was my mother’s husband’s brother and he would come in his uniform, very officially, I mean, he would – as I said, he had a uniform on and my father is a very friendly and jolly man and everybody liked him, so he came in like officially and – but then – and he would also leave officially, like say goodbye and make sure everybody knew he was leaving. Then after dark, he would sneak back in – into the apartment and so officially he wasn’t living there. Nobody knew he was living there, and we had this, you know, this big closet – they had big, old fashioned closets in the apartment – and it was moved away from the wall, and this where he actually lived for a year and a half. Well, when nobody was around, then he would, you know, go around. I mean, it was not an apartment, it was a room about the size of this probably.

Tape 1 - Side 2

GRABER: Each time we had to go out – like our room came through a hallway, so each time – and there were other rooms with other people living there. It was almost like a hotel type of center. My mother tells me I was so well trained that if I wanted to leave, go out, I would motion him to go behind the cabinet so that if I opened the door somebody couldn’t by accident peek and see that he was there because he wasn’t supposed to be there, he wasn’t supposed to be there officially. He just sort of came and visited. He only went out if he really had to, either to sell something, you know, to bring some money, or for whatever reason he would go out officially. He would go out very early in the morning when nobody was around and then do whatever he had to do and then come back visiting and this just happened very occasionally. In other words, he tried not to be visible. He tried to be visible as little as possible.
HEIFETZ: What a confusing thing for a child to have this stranger appear.
GRABER: Well, not only that, but I was taught to lie very efficiently because it was trained into me that there was nobody living the apartment except my mother and I, and I was trained to – my mother tells me that she would wake me up at night because – well, basically my parents’ life was in my hands – she would wake me up at night and say, “Who do you live with?” And I would say, “I live just with you and that’s it, just with my mother alone.” You know…And I was really drilled, drilled, drilled to lie. Other things also. For example, my father was – I don’t know how – but manage to buy things to eat on the black market but they were not available to the general population. Don’t ask me how, I really don’t know. But, for example, we had butter and we were never hungry. We always had enough food to eat. And my mother tells me that when I would play outside with the children – she couldn’t keep me in the house – there were other children in the house and we would go out and play. And if other children, when I was outside, I would always ask for bread and margarine even though I knew that in the house I could have butter and jam which was unheard of by other people. So, in other words, I lived two lives basically. As a child I was drilled in this – and outside world that you had to behave in a certain way. Now that I think of it, it’s unbelievable for a young child to be drilled that way. And my mother tells me that each time I went out to play, she would, she would be a nervous wreck, to say the least, until I got back and then she would drill me, “Now what did you talk about, what did he say, and what did your friend ask you and…?” Because one slip of the tongue would…You know, the German soldiers were not looking for Jews who lived as non-Jews. I mean, they were not looking for Jews in the general population. There were all kinds of rewards and all kinds of spies and all kinds of rewards for the population to hand in Jews, and so this is why we were not only afraid for the Germans but the Polish population was probably just as, if not more, antisemitic than the Germans were, and they were more than happy for a pound of bread, they would turn anybody in. So, all I had to say playing was, “My uncle is living upstairs,” or “There’s a man who’s living upstairs,” or something like that. Anything would be suspicious. Everybody was spying on everybody.
HEIFETZ: So there was no trust, and no childhood for you?
GRABER: I never thought about it, but I guess not. I never thought about it in terms of a normal childhood. No, obviously, there wasn’t. You know, there are other things my mother tells me like, for example, that she had this friend who was like her – this Jewish man I told you about before – who was like her mentor, who told her what she could do and what she couldn’t do. She went to see him once in a while to find out about news and to help guide her through the maze of, you know, everyday living which for her was also a totally traumatic experience and he told her at one point that I was just looking too Jewish that my hair was too dark, even though my mother’s hair was dark too but I had more Semitic features and he was afraid. And, so he told her that she should leave me especially when she went out once or twice a week and went to the market and in the market, any public place, there were a lot of Germans milling around. You know when you are in your apartment, in your house, you’d have to worry about the neighbors. But when you went out, you know, to the market or official place, so he told her not to…to leave me at home. Well, he told her two things. First he was going to have my hair dyed blond and then decided against it because they decided that this wasn’t going to work in the long run. And then he told her not to take me along when she went out shopping, when she went to the market because it was a dangerous element. I stood out too much from the regular little Polish kid. And also he told her not to bring me to him because he was afraid, he was in danger. He didn’t want to have a lady with a Jewish looking kid coming to his apartment. You know everybody obviously…So, from that time on – this was still before my father joined us – my mother whenever she went out shopping would leave me alone and, you know, she was telling me that sometimes I would, when she came home, I would be crying because I was afraid. I was by myself and then she would be gone for a long time and, you know, that I – I don’t remember this. This is just things that she tells me. I was afraid she wouldn’t come back and things like that. The things that I do remember, as I said, I remember the apartment, I remember my father. Somehow I have a vision of a chair behind a closet and my father being there and this went on for about like a year and a half. And then, I think it was 1944, the Germans – the Russians were coming towards Warsaw and the Polish partisans decided that they were going to help the Russians, the Polish underground. And they – there was a revolution in Warsaw, not the ghetto. The ghetto was gone by then. And, which by the way my mother tells me she remembers when the ghetto was fighting, the comments of all the people around, you know, she could not give out any feelings of any kind. And, this – I do remember the uprising because there were – what happened was that the Russians were at the river in front of Warsaw and the partisans started an uprising to try to help the Russians where the Russians in infinite wisdom thought that they were going to kill of all the partisans because they didn’t want to have them in the Polish, they wanted to have Poland for themselves and they didn’t want to have any – another power, people of influence – so they stopped at the river and didn’t budge and basically let the Germans slaughter off the partisans. But in the meantime there was a lot of fighting in the city and there were air raids and we were supposed to go down to the basement during the air raids. Well, my father couldn’t go to the air raid because he wasn’t officially there, and so every time we’d go, then the neighbors could tell my mother, you know – she had to go. She couldn’t stay up there with me. But then she was down in the air raid shelter.
HEIFETZ: She would leave you?
GRABER: No, no, she would go down to the air raid shelter with me and leave my father upstairs. He could not go. The neighbors were constantly kidding my mother about this brother-in-law of hers and you know they felt sorry for her. She’s a widow – probably a widow – you know, and they kept telling her to – so finally they kept telling her, “Well you have a brother-in-law, you are here all alone with your child. Why don’t you ask your brother-in-law to move in with you? And this way you’ll have a man in the house.” So, that allowed my father to be officially there and during the air raids to come down. But what I do remember, I do remember the air raids. I remember the sirens and I remember going down on the floor and – I don’t know whether I’m imagining it or whether it’s reality, bombs whizzing in through the open window at night. Now again, maybe it’s my imagination. (LAUGHTER) Well, anyway, on the urging of my mother’s neighbors, my father officially moved in but what happened was that the Germans then what they did was systematically bombed Warsaw. They went from house to house, emptied all the buildings and then blew them up. And I remember that, I remember the German soldiers standing at the door and us leaving, and it was almost like those cattle – what you call those – when you see cattle…(OVERTALK)
HEIFETZ: In the trucks?
GRABER: No, no, just walking, you people just…
HEIFETZ: Being herded?
GRABER: Herded, being herded out of the city, you know. And we went along with them. We were that general part of the population. At this point nobody cared whether you were a Jew or non-Jew, you know. It was just a matter of surviving. And, I don’t know if the whole population or, but a big part of the population of Warsaw was driven out of the city and out into the country. We walked to a small little village outside of Warsaw – I don’t know the name of it, my parents do – and found shelter with farmers. Most people did, they had no place to go. They went to farmers and asked for shelter basically. We found shelter, you know, with a farm family. One thing about a Polish farmer, according to my parents, and I don’t have too much, too much information of my own, a Polish farmer is one of the most primitive person, at least at that time. Most of them didn’t know how to read or write, very primitive in terms of superstition, way of living, just a very primitive way of life. Things – basic things like hygiene was, you know, very primitive. Anyway, they took us in. They were very goodhearted people. They took us in and my father who was my uncle, my mother, myself, and they took a great liking to me. My parents obviously worked, you know, my mother helped, worked too. And my father worked in the field.
HEIFETZ: Does that bother you?
GRABER: That had this big farmhouse. Again, my mother was there as the widow of a Polish soldier and there was her brother-in-law. At that point it didn’t really matter that my father’s Polish wasn’t so good or he looked – because the farmers didn’t know any better. They were very uneducated, as I said, very…
HEIFETZ: Unaware of the world…
GRABER: Unaware of the world. But they had, they had heard of Jews and my father said, you know my father had to go out with the guys to the pub, drinking, you know, and he had to be part of the, of the club. You couldn’t make yourself separate. They would tell stories, telling stories about Jews. At one point my father was telling me that they were talking about another farmer, that his pigs are so nice and fat, and that’s because he has Jewish pigs. He said, “What do you mean Jewish pigs? Well sometime ago there some Jews that came and had run away and found shelter with this farmer and, well he killed them – or he called the Gestapo who kill them or the Germans or something like that. And he buried them. Well, at night the farmer needed feed for his pigs so he unearthed the corpses and fed them to his pigs, so that’s why they were so fat and they were Jewish pigs.” So these are the kinds of stories that they were talking about. So, even though they were so generous, there was no doubt in my parents’ mind that if they had just any suspicion that we were Jews, we wouldn’t be alive for one minute. Well, of course there were some little things that become very big. For example, this everyday washing became a problem because they had – you know, everything was done in this common big room and in those days no male was circumcised except Jews. So my father had to invent reasons to go down to the – when he wanted to wash, he had to go to the river and bathe and he became a celebrity because even in the wintertime – and Polish winter can be pretty fierce – he would go on with the act and crack the ice and swim in the river. These are little things in the big thing of life but your life depended on these little…
HEIFETZ: And being so shrewd…
GRABER: Well, I guess it’s survival. It’s a matter – I guess it’s survival instinct. And he was this young, strong man, and the farmer had two young daughters, so he tried to talk my father into marrying one of them and my father had to find some kind of plausible excuses why he would not marry. And, anyway, we stayed with them until the Russians liberated Poland. After the Russians liberated us…
HEIFETZ: Did you at this time declare yourself to be a Catholic or…?
GRABER: Catholic, yes. I was drilled to say the Lord’s Prayer every morning and every night, went to church every Sunday.
HEIFETZ: Do you remember the church?
GRABER: Not then. I remembered later on because even after the war, after we were liberated, my parents did not tell me and did not live as Jews until we left Poland. Because even after Germany was defeated and Poland was liberated, there was a lot of antisemitism still going on. We eventually, well, we first went to a city called Lodz after we left them and this is one of the memories that I have. The trains were just mobbed. Everybody was going – everybody – there was – everybody was going some place, either going back home or going someplace. The trains – and the trains were not still really running but not many trains were running and for years, until very very recently, whenever I came to a train station I’d became panicky. It’s – I had – I remember that scene on going to that train station with all these thousands and thousands of people, being afraid of getting lost, people yelling and screaming and trying to get on the trains. And, it was also dusk and for years, until I realized why I was feeling that way, and even sometimes now when I am traveling someplace and it gets dusk – it’s not light and it’s not dark yet – I get very nervous, I get this, this, this fear in me. I know now because I couldn’t understand for years why does my heart start beating when it gets dusk – I’ve never been walking in a street – oh, I was a teenage, I was, I don’t know, 15-16 years old walking in the rush hour downtown – we’re living in Frankfurt at the time, in Germany – and I was walking – going somewhere and people were – you know, a whole lot of people going back and forth and it was just getting dark and I got so panicky all of a sudden and I couldn’t understand at the time why I was so panicky and, I guess, when my own process, slowly I remembered that picture, I remembered that picture and by remembering that picture I sort of understood why I was feeling that way. But I was afraid because not very long ago – a few weeks ago I was driving someplace and it was dark and you know that the sky gets sort of like funny little clouds and I was getting that old feeling and I said to myself, “Well you’re still not over that. It’s still there somehow.”
HEIFETZ: You know what I also wonder. I wonder if in addition to that if you must have left the ghetto at dusk…
GRABER: That’s interesting. I don’t know. I never thought about that.
HEIFETZ: You had an awful lot of traumatic leavings…
GRABER: Um-hum.
HEIFETZ: …and probably they were in partial darkness and surely the feeling for you must have been, “Where am I going?”
GRABER: Right.
HEIFETZ: …what’s happening, as a child.
GRABER: Yes, I’ve never thought about that. You see there are a lot of things I’ve never really thought through.
HEIFETZ: This is why I think I can understand your husband’s concern about you speaking about it and your own concerns, but I think that the more we remember in detail, sort of the less power the memories have even though they are upsetting, they also can be freeing.
GRABER: Yeah, that’s true. Yeah that is probably true. I have often felt the need to go into psychotherapy – well, maybe not the need – felt that maybe I would benefit from so longing for it.
HEIFETZ: Right, right, yes, “longing” is a good word for it.
GRABER: To somehow get a lot of that stuff out and maybe understand a lot of things that I do or that I feel. Well, in a way, some of the things through readings I have come to understand a little bit more. Like, you know, they are talking about the fear syndrome when you raise your own children. With the second generation of survivors I’ve read a lot about that and I remember, even to this day, my – you know I don’t know what to separate – at this point I don’t know what to separate what is quote, unquote, normal anxiety that everybody has and what is special anxiety because of my background. I don’t know where one ends and the other one begins (LAUGHTER) I really don’t know how it works. But I have, I have thought very often that it might be beneficial for me to do that. I never…
HEIFETZ: One thing seems, so far as you talked, is that telling the facts and stories is something that you were trained very early to do. You still do clearly and believably as you must have…
GRABER: I’ve grown up hearing that.
HEIFETZ: Yes, but I guess what you weren’t maybe allowed because of circumstances was your own feelings at the time, your own reactions, normal reactions to a stranger, to the confusion, to being left alone, to all the emotions that must have been going on. It’s like that part had to be shut off.
GRABER: It’s very interesting that you say that because I never even thought about that. I guess I just took it as the way it is. The only thing that I, like I said, I do remember this particular instance like I told you here. I remember fear of uniforms which was interesting because when I met my husband he was in the Army. (LAUGHTER)
HEIFETZ: Fear and yet…
GRABER: Right.
HEIFETZ: …attraction?
GRABER: Right. And…
HEIFETZ: Were you afraid of your father?
GRABER: Was I afraid of my father? I’ve never been really close to my father. To this day I’m not very close and yet, you know, I guess to this day I’m a little bit afraid of him. I’m never really comfortable, you know. I don’t know whether this has anything to do with those years or later, I don’t know. I guess it may be a little humorous but not so humorous story. After the war, after we left Poland. No, after the war my mother told me that she married my uncle. And for years and years and years and years…
HEIFETZ: You did not at that point know it was your father?
GRABER: No. She just told me that – I did not find out, as I said, until after we left Poland – we went to Belgium at the time, and the day before I was supposed to go to school, the first day of school – you know, I was seven years old at the time – my parents sat me down and told me that I was Jewish, that he was my father, you know, and sort of told me just basically that I was born Jewish and the Jews were persecuted and they had to live as a Catholic and that my father was really my father.
HEIFETZ: I imagine that was upsetting to you to…
GRABER: Yes. I don’t know why, and you know for years I was convinced that I had been adopted and I used to tell tall tales to my teachers in school. I don’t remember telling that but my mother – and it’s funny that I don’t remember because by that time I was in second grade, you know, I was much older. But my mother tells me she was talking to one of my teachers and the teacher was sort of, was telling her how terrible it was and my mother didn’t know what she was talking about. Apparently, I was telling her that first of all my father wasn’t really my father, that he was my uncle my mother married. And for years even though I knew it, I had doubts about that. That was one thing I really doubted for years and years and years. And…
HEIFETZ: And now?
GRABER: Oh, no. I, I, I don’t now. I don’t. I mean, I know I’m hesitating but I’m just sort of thinking. No, I’m convinced he’s my father. But it took a lot of years to realize, you know, emotionally feel that. But I also was telling tall tales about having an older sister who was killed by a dog. Why a dog again? Maybe I had seen dogs because the Germans had dogs and actually just thinking about this as I’m telling you this, I never thought about it. I had told my teacher that I had an older sister who had been killed by one of the German dogs or just dogs or somehow. I don’t know how I ever came up with that story, but I know my mother tells me that for years and years and years she had to fight to, to, to – unteach me to lie, because I had been so drilled. You know, I guess, I guess, you know – thinking back now – as a child I did not know the difference between a lie and telling the truth, and even though I don’t remember her doing this and I don’t remember telling lies – but my mother says it took years until I got, she got the idea across to me. What was the truth and you know – what was a lie and you’re not supposed to tell lies.
HEIFETZ: If I think about it, the story you told about you at age seven, I guess, or eight and the meaning that that must have had to you, I think in a way that you were telling the truth, that there had been a little girl that had been sort of killed off…

Tape 2 - Side 1

GRABER: Many years ago when they first started Yom Hashoah, I was at the “J” and somebody had this bright idea – I know I’m going to cry just thinking about it because I was shaking the whole evening and I should have left, but I was with my husband and I didn’t leave. Somebody had the bright idea to give everybody a Star of David as they walked in and I don’t remember wearing a Star of David, I really don’t. I don’t even remember seeing it, but when I saw that Star of David and they wanted to pin it on me, I just freaked, that’s the only word I can think. Something in my mind blew. I was so – I don’t know why I said – I went in and I was shaking the whole – I’ve no idea what the program was about but I was shaking through the whole thing. My husband didn’t understand what was going on. I was crying, I was upset, I was – and I really didn’t understand – I still don’t quite understand. I mean, somehow from my subconscious something came through, but it was so traumatic that for years – up to now, I have not gone back to a Yom Hashoah celebration even though my husband who goes every year says they have not, have toned it down and made it, you know. In a way I feel guilty, I think I should go, but it was so traumatic to me.
HEIFETZ: Can you tell me what you think your association was with that and what it meant to you to have that on you?
GRABER: I don’t know. I mean, I refused to take it, obviously. I don’t know. I don’t understand it myself because I don’t ever – I don’t think I ever wore – or maybe if I did I was – I know my parents did. My parents wore a Star of David but I was too young to understand what it meant.
HEIFETZ: What about…Did you wear any Catholic symbol, a cross or…
GRABER: Yes, I wore, I wore, I had a little medallion which I still have. My parents kept it as a memento, I guess and I took it from them. It’s a little gold medallion which is nothing. My husband doesn’t want it in the house (LAUGHTER) but I took it anyway. It’s – I don’t know why I’m keeping it.
HEIFETZ: It’s just like a part of your childhood.
GRABER: Right.
HEIFETZ: And part of you.
GRABER: Yeah, I guess so. It’s a little medallion with Mary and Jesus on it.
HEIFETZ: Like a St. Christopher’s medal?
GRABER: No, I don’t know how you would call it. It’s small, it’s about that big. But, just the face of Mary and next to her is the baby, you know.
HEIFETZ: Do you remember wearing it?
GRABER: I remember it, I don’t remember wearing it. I remember it. And I also remember when I left Poland we had at that time my father had built up a nice business, a jewelry business, and he left basically because of – well, the Communists were taking over and he was – life was becoming for anybody that had a private business – was becoming impossible. You either had to join the party or you were really in trouble. So, before we left Poland I had a – my parents had a maid and my brother was born by then and he – my mother had not been well. She had some quite extensive surgery, a couple of surgeries after the war. So my – I had somebody like to take care of me because my mother was not well. And so before I left, as a goodbye present, they gave me this gorgeous, beautiful prayer book – Catholic – I don’t know how they…Catechism. And, I mean, I remember how it looked. It was beautiful. It was white and gold and one of the things I did when I found out I was Jewish – I started tearing it to pieces. Again, I don’t know why. It was just something I did and…
HEIFETZ: You must have felt so betrayed and deceived.
GRABER: I don’t know how I felt. I felt lost. I remember feeling – I remember – you know it’s funny because I had very few emotions as I remember. Maybe I was so bewildered that I wasn’t feeling anything. I remember that I had heard all these stories about Jews, you know, from the maid and from, you know, Jews who – I remember walking in the town where we lived after the war was over in Poland – walking with this young woman who was taking care of me. As I said, my father had a nice business. He was quite well off, and I remember there were two men who passed us – sort of dark complexioned – and she says, “Those look like Jews, those look like Jews.” And me, I looked at them. I remember that feeling looking at these people, you know, like they were like creatures from outer space. And then when I was told I was Jewish, somehow I still see those two men in my mind. You know, I just saw them briefly but somehow it made such an impact on me and I said, “Gee, I’m one of those,” you know. And…
HEIFETZ: Something negative.
GRABER: Right, it was something negative at that time and…
HEIFETZ: And even before that, Felicia, you were afraid of yourself anyway.
GRABER: Right. Living a life of…uncertainty.
HEIFETZ: You were unintentionally harmed.
GRABER: Right.
HEIFETZ: Now it had a name.
GRABER: Right.
HEIFETZ: Jewish.
GRABER: Right, yes, I guess so. But I remember all the, the questions I had like, you know – my mother tells me, and again it’s something my mother tells me. I’d come home from school everyday with different questions. I mean, my grandmother was Jewish and my grandfather was also Jewish and it was just like almost – it took me a long time for this to sink in. But I don’t feel any – I obviously don’t feel any negative feelings about being Jewish – maybe the rabbi. (LAUGHTER) Both my children are – well, especially my son is definitely very Orthodox. He just got married recently. And yet, you know, it’s funny. I get very, very emotional when I, when I’m around – like my son’s wedding or any type of thing that are very Orthodox. It seems like my son’s wedding was very Orthodox with a black hat, you know, men and women separate. I always feel like crying. I always feel as if something from my past is coming back. It’s just like – I don’t know – as if I had seen it before and somehow it’s coming back. (CRYING) Sorry…the tissues now…
HEIFETZ: And the coming back, is it a pleased longing in another sense…
GRABER: Um-hm.
HEIFETZ: …or is it a horrible haunting…
GRABER: No, it’s not a haunting. No, it’s not a negative, it’s not a negative feeling…
HEIFETZ: Like a missing thing and here it is?
GRABER: Yeah – right, right. It’s as if it’s something that I – you know when I see my son in a black hat and a black suit, it’s just like something that’s come back to me, not in a negative way whatsoever, just positive. I feel good about it, truly good about it.
HEIFETZ: Like having your own childhood back?
GRABER: Right, it feels very good, and again I feel like crying but not, not, not tears of sorrow or anger – just tears of emotion I think, more than anything else.
HEIFETZ: The same kind of emotion that allowed you to rip up that catechism book, going back to what you really were.
GRABER: Right.
HEIFETZ: You didn’t have to pretend anymore.
GRABER: Right. Of course, you know, as a child I don’t know if I was pretending or not – I don’t know. Maybe some place in my subconscious, you know, you’re going to analyze this and sometimes I wish I could have the money basically to go for that. (LAUGHTER) Somewhere it has – you know, if you go into psychology they say that the first six years of your life are the most important years psychologically and emotionally and everything else. And when I – the first time I heard this, I read this, I said to myself, “Boy, am I messed up – I must be messed up (LAUGHTER) because the first six years of my life were totally, you know, from the childhood point of view – I never really thought about it that much. It was just something that happened and I accepted it, it was…
HEIFETZ: And your tears tell you how important it was to you.
GRABER: Yeah. It is, it is important.
HEIFETZ: You don’t have to analyze it in an intellectual way…
GRABER: Right.
HEIFETZ: …nobody can take away the way you feel. You know it has to…
GRABER: Right, right.
HEIFETZ: …come from down deep and old experiences.
GRABER: Right. Occasionally I think of – as I said – I talk very – I don’t even think my husband has ever heard the whole story except – I have never told him. He said my father goes – he – you see – there are two reactions from people that I know from people that are survivors. Some people can’t stop talking about it and some people don’t want to have anything to do with it, and my father is the kind of person that will talk about it constantly…sometimes to the point where I don’t want to hear it. I do and I don’t because the last time I visited them I did find out a lot, especially about the post war period, exactly why we left Poland and details and things. But sometimes it gets to the point where I don’t want to hear about it anymore. My mother, on the other hand, very rarely talks about it. She doesn’t want to talk about it. The only time she talks about it is when we talk about religion. You know, we are what we’ll call Orthodox and when she comes, she does not observe and she very seldom talks to me about it but occasionally she will say, “I wish I could believe and I could be Orthodox, but I can’t. I’ve seen too much.” And then she’ll, you know, tell me some of the things she’s seen, but that’s about it. I mean, she doesn’t really talk very much about it.
HEIFETZ: Does she practice at all or is it just not Orthodox?
GRABER: She practices certain things, certain things that are really ingrained in her. Like, she will light candles on Friday night. She will go – she will – things that her mother, that were somehow important to her mother even though her mother was Orthodox. But there were certain things that I guess stood out in her childhood as being important, that remind her of her mother, she will do. She will light candles on Friday night, not necessarily at the time, but just as a – and she says not for religious reasons. She says so herself, she just does it out of tradition. She will observe the Yahrzeit of her mother. Her father – she can’t – my grandmother died before the war she died a natural death. Well, she was sick – they call that a natural death. My grandfather was taken away – her father was taken away as well. Both parents, my father’s both parents. So there is not Yahrzeit as such to be observed except on Yom Kippur. She – that’s about, you know, the extent of her observance.
HEIFETZ: The holidays?
GRABER: She – well, she will…I don’t think she even goes to services on the high holidays. She used to fast on Yom Kippur, basically because she had promised her mother on her mother’s deathbed. But she was going from religion at that time. It was something – a process that had started. She was in a youth movement called “Hashomer Hatzair.” I don’t know if you are familiar with it. It was a Socialist youth movement. It was very – it was a Zionist – my mother was very Zionistic. In fact, she had moved to Israel, had been in Israel a year, and come back because her mother was dying, but had full intentions of going back and living in Israel. She was in the – but it was a socialistic type of Zionism. It was not religious Zionism. She – I really don’t even know if she goes to services on the high holidays. She will go to say Yizkor. I don’t know. You see, I’ve been away from home for so long. (LAUGHTER) When we were young, we used to go on the high holidays, but I think she did it more for her children. She wanted to bring us up knowing what – that we are Jews, having a sense of tradition.
HEIFETZ: I wonder if you know when you described the room where you lived in Warsaw that there were things that went on, inside rules, that weren’t to be known. Were there religious observances that went on inside.
HEIFETZ: Did she talk to you about…
GRABER: If she did, I do not know that. I mean, I knew that she knew when the holidays were, now that you mentioned it, because I remember she said, “Well eruv(the evening before) Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year), this and this happened.” So, in her mind she knew that it was Rosh Hashanah or it was Pesach, but I don’t remember any observances of any kind.
HEIFETZ: Or references, really?
GRABER: Or references. I don’t know that.
HEIFETZ: What did you do as a Catholic girl? Do you remember what you were taught aside from the catechism and the Lord’s Prayer?
GRABER: I don’t think they ever sent me to actual instruction. It was a matter of going to the church on Sunday, and in fact, after the war – during the war my mother took me. I mean, everybody went to church, had to go to church. You couldn’t not go. My mother says she used to stay in the back and I would always push and go in front because I wanted to be right there with it – just a difference in our type, but you know my mother – I don’t remember these things but I remember, I do remember going to church after the war.
HEIFETZ: Do you remember how you felt in church?
GRABER: Good. I, I, I remember this – I have one picture, you know, that stays with me and in fact I don’t remember saying that my mother tells me. I would complain to her that how come during the war she always used to – I mean I didn’t say “during the war,” I said, “When we lived in Warsaw you always came to church with me and now we don’t anymore.” She always sent me to church with the maid. I’d go with the maid. And she would, you know, make up some kind of excuse, whatever. But I had a positive feeling about it. I – there was no negative feeling connected with it whatsoever. I guess I made the transition (LAUGHTER) quite easily.
HEIFETZ: Well, it was a time for the two of you to go together and certainly if you’d had an Orthodox background, you were used to service and ritual and…
GRABER: I guess so.
HEIFETZ: …God and prayer.
GRABER: Right…right. But I never had any kind of – I guess maybe I was too young or whatever – I don’t recall any kind of formal (UNABLE TO HEAR)…
And after the war, as I said, my mother more or less let me go just because I wanted to. Before the war – I mean during the war, she went because it was one of the things to do. After the war, it was just like there was no religion at all in the house but, you know, the maid and my brother’s – my brother was born in 1946 while my mother was sick, so he had a nurse and so, you know, I just, I just went with them. I went with the help, so to say, and I wasn’t told to but I was also not told not to, I guess. If you wanted to go, go ahead type of thing.
HEIFETZ: Did you have a close relationship with any of the help? Because you must have spent a good deal of time with them…
GRABER: Yeah, I remember, I remember a couple of – okay, vaguely. I don’t really recall – the one that I do recall and she lived with us – she was the daughter of this man who helped us during the war, the one I still correspond with. She worked for my father for a while in the store and had a room in our apartment, so she was not really help – well, she was an employee and I remember her. I remember my brother when he was a baby had a nurse and she was a – I don’t like her. (LAUGHTER)
HEIFETZ: How – how – you were, how many years were you when your brother was born?
GRABER: Uh, six. I was born in ’40, he was born in ’46. I was right before the war, he was born right after the war.
HEIFETZ: And do you remember his being born?
GRABER: Yes, do you mean in terms of how I felt about it or…I don’t know. My mother wasn’t well. Well, she wasn’t well already when she was pregnant. She had a thyroid condition.
HEIFETZ: Goiter?
GRABER: Yeah. And she had a very serious operation right after he was born. She had, I guess, the goiter operation. It was misdiagnosed at the beginning and she had to go out of town to be operated on, so she was more or less – I didn’t see her for awhile. And, I don’t know – well, my brother was also born with a hernia so that is why he needed a professional nurse. In those days they didn’t operate until a child was over a year old, so he was not allowed to cry because it was dangerous and he needed to have a professional nurse to be able to – besides, my mother couldn’t take care of him. I don’t know. He was – I sort of accepted him. Maybe I accepted everything that came along. (LAUGHTER) It seems like every time you ask me, I keep saying the same thing. Later on, when we moved to Brussels, left Poland, I sort of took care of him a great deal. You know, when I came back from school, I took him for walks and I took care of him a great deal. And later on, when he grew up, we didn’t always get along well, too well. We had – I guess like any brother and sister – and I guess to this day sometimes we get along fine – other times we…(LAUGHTER) But I guess that’s – you know we were never really – I don’t know if it’s because of the age or what, we were never extremely close. I don’t know. I guess I was always the older sister which he probably resented, always telling him what to do. I guess he was normal.
HEIFETZ: Was his birth more associated with your mother being ill than it was a brother? Was it a difficult time because…
GRABER: You know, I can’t remember. You know it’s funny because I must have been a very – I must have been numb. You know, you ask me these questions. I must have been a very unfeeling child because I don’t recall any – if I felt, I don’t recall having any kind of feelings associated even with my – well, I remember going to visit my mother in the hospital but I don’t recall any fears or any – just, it seems like I just went on my merry old way doing what a little girl does…
HEIFETZ: Being good?
GRABER: Yes, (LAUGHTER) oh yes, I was a good little girl. (LAUGHTER) I remember seeing my first doll – that I remember. I remember eating my first orange which I didn’t know what it was. I remember a friend of my parents who was a young man. He was Jewish too, I found out later, because at that time I didn’t know. He was in the Polish Navy. He was a young man. I don’t know what he was then – maybe 20. And he was a good friend of the family. He used to take me out a lot. I remember having a lot of fun with him. He told my father he’d wait for me. My father promised me (LAUGHTER) in marriage. He stayed in Poland and joined the party. I don’t know what happened to him. I remember seeing this older man who came to visit us. We lived in a small town in Zopot in northern Poland just near Gdansk, where all the shipyards are, Danzig. We lived in a small resort, like Atlantic City type. It was small.
After the war my father built up a jewelry business which he build up from the rubble. I mean literally from the rubble – he just walked…The town was in ruins and he walked through the rubbles where he was told there had been a jewelry store and he found, he was a goldsmith and he was one of the first stores open in town. And when the war ended the only thing we had were the clothes on our backs. And (OVERTALK) my father is a remarkable man. He really…The things he did during the war were really remarkable and after the war he, I mean that’s all we had – just the clothes on our backs – and he built it up. He built this business which he lost again when we left Poland, almost totally, and had to start all over again. But he was a big man in town…you know, an important personality in town during the few years we lived there. Nobody knew we were Jewish – I mean, if they knew, they didn’t – I mean if they suspected, it was not – you know. We never openly lived as Jews. There were no Jews, I don’t think there were any Jews in town.
GRABER: Oh the first thing that my mother and I are alive we owe to my father. I mean, he’s the one that pushed us out of the ghetto. My mother didn’t want to leave. My mother’s attitude was, “Well we live together, we die together.” And my father’s response was, “Separately we’ll live, together we’ll die.” And he took a lot of gambles but he acted and he won. He saved a lot of people also. He was incredible. It took its toll, it took its toll but he – there’s no doubt in my mind that had he not acted the way he did, my mother and I…(TOO SOFT AND DISTORTED TO HEAR) And we owe very much to him ‘cause he would not – my father is not a follower. It’s something I always try to keep in mind myself. If somebody helped me to do something and that’s the way to do it. And I think, you know, sometimes it’s not the right way. (LAUGHTER) (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Because people…So people who just went against the grain and did what they thought was right had a chance.
HEIFETZ: To act on their individual instincts and resources. It’s one thing to have a plan, it’s another to be able to execute it. (FURTHER UNINTELLIGIBLE CONVERSATION) It’s very…well…
GRABER: Of course, you know there was a lot of – well – I don’t know how to call it. Do you want to call it luck, do you want to call it fate, do you want to call it God? You know, there are many names you can put to it. Combination, cause I know a lot of people who did try and didn’t make it. In fact that man who got all the papers for everybody – he got killed in an air raid bombing on the last day of the war – not as a Jew, just as a citizen. So, who knows, you know, it’s almost – when you think of it, it’s unbelievable. And then sometimes you ask yourself, “Why?” That’s the big question. I was just talking to my husband before you came. I told him, I said…(CRYING) I’m sorry.

Tape 2 - Side 2

He’s not too crazy about me doing this. So he says, “There are other reasons than that.” I said, “Well, maybe I gave birth to Sarah and Steven, maybe that’s the reason.” I mean, I don’t know. I don’t think, I can’t say I think about it a lot. You know, I go my way and do my job. I go to work and, you know, live a normal life just like anybody else. But once in awhile it, it, it – you know, you think about it and I guess I don’t know whether it’s called survival skill they call it or whatever you want to call it.
HEIFETZ: It makes you wonder about not only a plan, what kind of reason for it in general, but what purpose then…
GRABER: Right. You know, was I spared for specific reasons? I don’t know. Maybe my children will show, my grandchildren. Maybe that’s when the – maybe my children or grandchildren will do something. (LAUGHTER)
HEIFETZ: You know, I really believe we should let, whatever else the reasons are, I think it’s really, your answer is really vital and important and that is that you know that you have a story, it’s your own, and that you utilize it in whatever – and that just doesn’t mean taping – but I mean in your own heart and head. I mean that you know this is who you are and this is what you believe because of it. And whatever else you want to do with that, that it comes from an incredibly crucial experience at a formative part, time of your life.
GRABER: Yes, but again you know, when you put into perspective of what other people went through, my story is not that unusual, with what other people went through. There are people who went through much bigger hell than I have. I mean, I never starved, I always had clothes on my back. I always had enough food to eat. I always had the essentials, you know, in terms of physical – if not comfort – well, yes, the basics. If I was in danger, I wasn’t consciously aware of it. So if you take this in that perspective, I mean, my story is different, you know, in talking to people who have lived a nice sheltered normal life. But when you take it and compare it to some of the real horror stories that you hear, of children wandering through the forest, living with partisans – you know, I went through the war like a – like a song, really. It depends on how you look at it.
HEIFETZ: Well, I – first of all I don’t think that I’m saying that other people don’t have horrible experiences, but I don’t think people’s pain is a matter of comparison.
GRABER: No, that’s true.
HEIFETZ: Not only pain, but lessons, whether they’re painful or you learned a lot about the capacity of people to be generous and kind under life-threatening – you, you learned a lot of lessons. In all, I think what I mean is to hold those close and not deny them, whether they were ways that bring faith or ones that were anxiety ridden. They’re yours.
GRABER: Right.
HEIFETZ: And it doesn’t – I think one of the things that disturbs me when you talk is it’s almost like saying, “I don’t really have a right to feel bad.”
GRABER: Well, I don’t know. Do I feel that way?
HEIFETZ: I can understand in the magnitude of six million or the torture of one, but that isn’t really how any of us can live. It has to be recognizing how bad we did feel. You know, if a child feels hungry for two days, it doesn’t matter what’s happening in China. It doesn’t mean that that’s not historically more significant but for that child, even if it ends after two days, two days of no food is a terrifying experience and maybe important in his life, and should be understood as that.
GRABER: Yeah. I guess so. I’ve just been told so often, “Well you were young, you don’t remember anything.” You know, “You were so young, you don’t remember anything. What could you have remembered? It didn’t touch you. You were too young to understand.”
HEIFETZ: That’s a great disservice.
GRABER: I, I, you know, I never really sat down, as I told you. This is the first time that I really discussed this at any length. Occasionally I’ve told some people very superficially. But, I don’t know. Sometimes I wonder what effect, you know – like I told you before – sometimes I wonder what effect this had, if any. I mean, it must have had some effect, obviously. But…
HEIFETZ: You know, I’m thinking, this has taken a couple of hours. You must be tired and I’m wondering – do you think we could stop now and come back and tape one more time, to go on and tell me what happened after the war, bring me kind of up-to-date and to get back to this question because I think something I really would like to understand – what your thoughts are about how you think it has affected you, what you think about this now.
HEIFETZ: And do that another time.
GRABER: Okay. That’s fine.

Tape 3 - Side 1

HEIFETZ: Felicia, before we go forward, I wanted to ask how you felt about the last interview when I left.
GRABER: Good. I really felt good. I had a feeling almost like I got things off my chest. I expected to feel bad, I expected to feel depressed maybe, or whatever you want to call it. But I didn’t. I really had a good, almost like a feeling of relief, I want to call it, and I’m surprised with myself.
HEIFETZ: I asked because you had mentioned you were so reluctant and I really thought about you and wanted to know.
GRABER: Yes, I know, I really did. I really was glad that I went through with it and it made me feel better instead of worse, so it worked out fine.
HEIFETZ: When we stopped, we were talking about you were, personally you were going to a Holocaust reunion here – a Holocaust meeting and the experience you had with the Star put around your neck.
GRABER: Well, actually, they didn’t put it on me. I refused to put it on, but it was just the idea of seeing that, seeing it that really triggered a tremendous response in me that I did not fully understand. And I fully still don’t understand. I mean, I understand it logically, I understand it intellectually.
HEIFETZ: What is that you understand?
GRABER: Well, knowing a little bit about psychology, it must – you know – it’s not difficult to realize that it must at one time, somehow I must – you know, I saw it around me and somehow I connected that with something negative and seeing, maybe also seeing, you know, the pictures in movies with people wearing the stars. Although I never, when I see it in pictures or in the movies, it never really bothered me. I mean, I knew it was there but I never really had an emotional response. I mean, I understand intellectually that this was connected in some way but somehow subconsciously I connect this to some negative experience. What that experience is and what this, what it, what it, what it, why it means – why I had such a violent response to it. Such a, the negative response in me really. What I was really shocked was the violent response because I usually am not, at least I think, you know – it’s hard to assess yourself (LAUGHTER) but I don’t see myself as a person that gets into these violent emotional states. Of course it depends on who you talk to – they might disagree with me. (LAUGHTER) I – I realized it’s one of the few times when I had no control over myself. Now, not that I was screaming and yelling but I was just shaking, I was – I don’t know if I was actually crying, on the verge of tears or holding my tears back. I was just shaken and I just wanted to get away.
HEIFETZ: Did it make you angry?
GRABER: I don’t think it made me angry. What made me angry were the people – yes, I got angry with the people for doing this. I felt it was very poor taste. I was – I get angry at that. I don’t know if I felt angry right then or felt angry later on when I thought about it. I thought it was in very poor taste, and like I told you, I did not go back to Holocaust Yom Hashoah celebration. In fact, to this day, I haven’t – maybe I’ve been to one since then because I was just afraid to – I was afraid that something will happen to get that emotional reaction. I didn’t want – I did not want to be subjugated to this kind of – of, well I mean, I don’t know how to explain, but people sometimes – educators do that a lot. They want to be cute. I don’t know if “cute” is the right word. They want to be innovative, creative, sometimes in the wrong way and they play with emotions without really realizing what they’re doing. Like, I have seen all kinds of games on the Holocaust. I have heard of people doing Holocaust activities with children and when I read about it, I thought, “Oh my God, how can you do that to a child?” About putting kids in, in, in, in garbs of prisoners and putting kids behind bars. I mean, all kinds of weird esoteric things. The purpose of it is probably – the ration…I understand the rationale to make them feel, but there are certain things that you cannot feel. You might not even want them to make, to have them feel. Why subjugate a child to this trauma that is not necessary. And you don’t know how the child is going to react. I mean, I have taught classes on Holocaust to high school kids and to adults. I would, I would never, never dare to start some – or even never dare to start something I cannot control, that I might unleash some kind of emotions which I cannot remedy, and this is the case, also not only with the Holocaust with kids but with other teaching. But, especially with the Holocaust – when you deal – you don’t know some of these kids might have, might be children of survivors. They might be grandchildren of survivors. They might have heard stories. To put them in this kind of a situation, unless you are a trained psychologist who knows how to get them back, so to say, I think is – well, criminal may be too hard, but it’s almost criminal.
HEIFETZ: Can you describe the Star that they gave you?
GRABER: Oh, it looked just like – it was yellow. It looked just like a Star of David that you see on any pictures and was made out of paper. I mean, it was, (OVERTALK) it said Jude on it. Either Jude or Zyd or something. I’m not really sure, I tell you the truth – something. It was very bland looking little thing.
HEIFETZ: Was it a necklace?
GRABER: No, no, no. They pinned it with – they had pins, they pinned it on and, I don’t know – maybe I make too much of it but I, I just had a very odd reaction to it.
HEIFETZ: No, I don’t think you make too much of it. The only reason I was wondering was because there are two different things that happened to you in that experience with a symbol. One is being persecuted for being Jewish. The other is being forced to wear a symbol saying that you were Christian…
GRABER: Um-hum.
HEIFETZ: …where it was forced on you. So a symbol has really both, both meanings for you because you did mention the necklace.
GRABER: Um-hum. But I don’t think – I mean, I mean, you might have a point there. Now, as far as I know from what my parents tell me, I don’t think that I ever wore a Jewish Star because I was too young, cause only children of a certain age – now I don’t know what their age was – I think it was about two and I was just under two. So I don’t know if I, myself, ever wore it. But, I mean, I know my parents did.
HEIFETZ: Wore a Jewish Star?
GRABER: Right.
HEIFETZ: The yellow Star?
GRABER: Right, when they were in the ghetto they did. I mean, I don’t remember it, I don’t remember seeing it but I know that everybody else did, so and you know…
HEIFETZ: You must have seen it.
GRABER: Right.
HEIFETZ: You know it’s a really traumatic thing to see them having to wear it or to witness perhaps their reaction to it.
GRABER: Right. I would say probably the reaction as a child, because if you, you just show – I mean, you can show a star like that to a child and you say, “Oh, it’s something good,” and the child will accept it as something good. And I, myself, never had to wear it’s just that I didn’t want to when I was made to wear it. It must have been the environment and the people around me that looked at it as a negative thing for me to look upon it as such. I assume – this is all assumption…
HEIFETZ: It certainly triggered on – must have triggered a very old reaction in you that was probably something that you felt at the time from, as you say, not just from your parents, but from everyone’s reaction must have been. How horribly dehumanizing – the experience to put that on especially for people who are so proud of their religion. And you can see that this doesn’t, isn’t something you can replay that you would want to go back to.
GRABER: Right. I really felt, the more I thought about it later, in that particular case, I really felt it was just in very poor taste. Again, I understood, I understood what they were trying to achieve. They didn’t mean to – they did it out of good motives – they meant to – as a remembrance, and I don’t think they realized what it could mean to somebody. I don’t know, you know, how -–if anybody reacted the same way I did. I never talked to anybody about it. I mean, I told my husband about it but, of course, he has no feelings attached to it. And I did not talk to anybody else – any survivor, you know, how they felt about it or what. All I know is they never did it again so maybe there were other people, maybe. I never did complain. I never did say anything about it but maybe other people told them they were aware that it was not appropriate.
HEIFETZ: Felicia, after I left last time, did you think about other things that you might have wanted to have talked about – back, before we go forward?
GRABER: Oh – well there was one thing but that is, that sort of keeps coming to my mind – a lot. Very often on occasion that I have nothing to do with the Holocaust and in a way it’s – well I guess it’s very personal and I guess it comes back to my mind because it really touches a – a (CRYING) here I go again. At the very, very core of my being, I knew – I ‘ve known for a long time already – that my mother was pregnant with me. Well, I was born in March. The war started in September, so I don’t know how many months she was pregnant. But after Germany invaded Poland, my mother wanted to have an abortion and there was a lot of talk back and forth. You know, she didn’t have a child. Logically it makes all sense, but when you are involved it gets a little bit…you know what’s coming, you know. All you need is a baby at this particular time, and I really am not exactly sure the reason – because I’ve heard different versions and, you know, time sometimes has a way of warping what actually happened. The reason why she did not. I know my grandparents were very much against it, they were very religious people and they were very much against it. One story I heard is that she was too far gone and the doctor thought it was too dangerous. Then by the time, another story, she decided to have it, the doctor said he couldn’t do it because it was, they were being – bombs flying and the lights, the electricity could go off at any time and it was just too dangerous. He wasn’t going to take the chance, that it was just too dangerous a procedure in these circumstances. And I, I’ve known this for a long time and I guess more or less accepted the fact. You know, it’s just one of those things that you cannot really take it seriously. What really shook me up was when I was listening to a tape of my parents, at one point, my father says that a lot of young people went to Russia when Hitler came, you know, and Germany forbid it. I don’t know why I’m crying, really. And he said they couldn’t because my mother was pregnant (CRYING) and my first thing was that if they had not been pregnant, if my mother had not been pregnant with me, they would have gone to Russia and not have to go through all this. And that really shook me up (STILL CRYING) more than the idea of not being born. (EXCUSES HERSELF) I’ll be right back…
And, I had not known about this. I knew that my uncle, my mother’s brother, went to Russia and a lot of young – other young people, especially single people – men – went to Russia to join the Russian Army and I mean, they had a rough time but they were not really persecuted, and when I heard that on the tape it really, really made me feel rotten. It made me feel almost like I was guilty – although I know, I know I’m not, and I know I’m not, you know, logically I’m intellectual – I know that I have no guilt. But in a way I felt that because of me all these things happened to my parents. If I weren’t around, it might not have happened. Of course my husband, when I told that to my husband because he walked in when I was – after I had just listened to it and I was really dissolved in tears. And so, he wanted to know what was going on and I told him. Of course he, you know, he, he intellectualized it and said there was just no way I could think that way because you don’t know if they had gone to Russia, you don’t know what would have happened to them. Maybe they wouldn’t have survived in Russia. A lot of people did not survive in Russia. Life was very, very difficult even though you were not persecuted as a Jew, but there were other things, and you know, he…
HEIFETZ: That really doesn’t take away the feeling of being responsible for their suffering.
GRABER: Right. You know, and I, I think about it. I think since – ever since I heard that tape. Maybe that’s one of the reasons I’m also afraid to listen to the rest of the tapes because I say, “What else am I going to uncover?” You know, I thought I sort of knew, more or less. I just wanted to get a clear picture of exactly the – you know, because a lot of things are mumbled up in my head and after hearing this, I really am afraid almost. I, it’s like I want to and I don’t want to because I said, “Well what else am I gonna hear that I’m – that, that this is really gonna shake me up.”
HEIFETZ: Felicia, the feeling that you were responsible in this way, is that something that you remember feeling when you were a child? I don’t mean that you connected it with anything, but just that feeling?
GRABER: Well, I don’t know, now that you asked me that. I never, I don’t know if I feel responsible. I’ve always in a way felt – well, I thought it was – I never connected the two. But I always had like a way of feeling that I was responsible, make sure that – especially my mother was okay. Like, if I was at – when I was a teenager and I would go out and I – if she was home by herself, I always felt guilty if I went out and left her home by herself. I don’t know if you – I don’t know if this is connected or not, I really don’t know, because, as I said, I did not know about this recent thing. I do have often – you know, I feel responsible very – you know, I haven’t thought about this until you asked me that question. I do very often feel responsible for, or maybe take on responsibility for things that I should say, “Well, I did the best I could,” you know, that’s it. I never thought about it in any other connection but just almost as part of my makeup. That’s the way I was. But it gets me in trouble a lot of times (LAUGHTER) because I always – not always – but very often feel that I have to do. Somebody complains to me about something and I always feel that I have to do something about it, with my family especially, and I am trying and I took assertiveness training years ago and she always tried to remember to say, “Well that is not my problem, I cannot do anything about it.”
HEIFETZ: Can you give me an example?
GRABER: Oh, I can give you hundreds. One thing in particular that got me in a lot of trouble. There was a family squabble where my mother complained to me about my brother, about something he had said or done and she was quite upset about it and I wanted to make her feel good. So, knowing very well my brother did not mean it – so I called him and said, “Mom feels very bad about this. I know you don’t mean it that way, but I just wanted to let you know how she feels.” ‘Cause I wanted mom to feel good. She was visiting and I, I felt upset that she was upset. Well, my brother, meaning very well, calls my mother and says, “Well, I didn’t realize that you were upset about this.” She turned and hangs up the phone, gets on me and says, “Why’d you call him?” You know, first of all, she tells him, “No, I’m not upset, no everything’s okay.” Then, when she hangs up, gets on my back saying, “Why did you tell him – you shouldn’t have told him anything. I just told you I was upset, I didn’t want him to know.” And this is when I learned, I said, “From now on, I’m keeping my mouth shut.” No, but I get myself into these situations. I’m just giving this as an example because I have a tendency of getting myself into these situations, of trying to make everybody happy and getting myself caught up in this impossible entanglement, always being in the middle somehow. I have that – it’s an art almost, I’ve developed into…(LAUGHTER) Real talent to get myself into these situations and I’m trying hard not to but sometimes I’m not doing too well. Now I don’t know again, you know, I just brought it up because you asked me and…
HEIFETZ: Well, certainly.
GRABER: …whether this has anything to do with what we were talking or not, I don’t know – you know, how can you tell what shapes your personality? You know, I never even thought about it in that connection until you mentioned it now.
HEIFETZ: There’s not one single thing but you can understand how, under the circumstances, you may have picked up a feeling of responsibility for problems and this being an old way of looking at your task and your burden.
GRABER: Um-hum. It could be, I mean, now that you mention it…
HEIFETZ: Certainly in that extremely loaded situation which you’ve been in.
GRABER: You might have a point, that maybe as a child subconsciously somehow, my parents felt, “If we didn’t have that child…” I mean not – and you know very often I have heard, even to this day I hear from my parents in a positive way. “We want you…” or if I don’t feel well or something is wrong, they sometimes say, “You were taken out of Hitler’s hands. You were literally grabbed out of Hitler’s hands.” They don’t mean negatively, they mean very positively. They always talk about it in terms of, “You should not have to work so hard because you were saved. You deserve everything,” you know, “You deserve the best because you were grabbed from under death’s jaws” or whatever, “Out of Hitler’s clutches.” I don’t know in what connection I was talking about. Oh, yes, so I don’t know, maybe, maybe that part gave me a feeling that I owe somebody something, I don’t know. I never thought about it this way. But I heard that – I mean, I mean, even to this day I, very often when something comes up, my parents – either my mother or my father – will bring it up just as almost as a way of expression. Not, not just saying, you know, like I said, my mother especially is very concerned about my health, sometimes to the point – which is also I figure which what I read is survivor’s guilt type of thing and not believe that everything is okay. Any little thing, she thinks something’s definitely wrong with me. Any little problem I have – even as a child – every little problem I had, she took me to several doctors just to make sure because she – I mean, I read that this is a symptom of many survivors. They just cannot believe that they survived and everything’s going to be okay, they expect something bad will happen and too if there’s something, you know, wrong with me, my mother right away thinks that I have cancer or I have this or this – always the worst. And I talk to her on the phone every other week or so. She keeps track when I go to the doctor and “When did you go?” I say, “I don’t remember the last time I went.” “Well, it’s time for you to go back,” and it’s almost a paranoia type thing that she just cannot believe that I am in good health. Not that she wishes that I were not, but it’s just the fear that something bad is going to happen and I have that too sometimes with my children, not in terms of their health, but I have it – again I don’t know how much, I’m sure there are certain degrees every mother when they drive a car or when they go some place or – for the longest time when they left home and I didn’t hear from them for a week or two. I never thought I would be able to survive that not knowing what they were doing, where they are, you know, even when they were home I wasn’t with them 24 hours a day, obviously. But I know where they were approximately, what time they come home, you know, like a normal life. And when they left home, at first I knew something terrible was going to happen to them because I would not know what time they are coming home and where they are and what they are doing. And, sometimes, sometimes I have it to this day when they come home and they fly. I have these flashes – “I shouldn’t have asked them to fly,” you know, and things like that. But, you know, again, I don’t know how much of it is normal, fear that everybody has, how much of it is somehow connected to the, to the, my experiences.
HEIFETZ: But you were aware that separations – a feeling of being cut off was frightening.
GRABER: It was. It is not so I got used to it. My children left home very early and they both left at the same time which was traumatic because our son went to Chicago to high school. In fact the same day we put our daughter – she had graduated high school and went to Israel for a year – we drove her to the airport and put her on the plane to Israel and rolled up the car and took my son to Chicago to school. So it, it was a little traumatic and I have a hard time. And again, I have a way of – my emotions run very funny. I always delayed. My emotional response was delayed for some reason or other. I was feeling perfectly okay the first few weeks or so. In fact, my brother kept calling and saying, “Are you okay?” you know, “Are you all right?” And I was fine. And then things started – things started happening – two weeks later. I would get depressed for no reason or cry for no reason and when everybody thought, you know, “Oh, she’s doing fine, she’s doing beautifully, her children are gone and she’s doing fine.” This is when my reactions came and I do that a lot. I mean…

Tape 3 - Side 2

HEIFETZ: ….something you do on your own or you can share with others?
GRABER: I usually do on my own. I share with my husband to a certain degree. He comes from a very – his psychological makeup is very different from mine. It’s one thing that – probably the only thing – that we don’t think on the same level and obviously I don’t think because he’s male and I’m female. I really don’t know, I guess that varies but I always think about it. So, I do talk to him sometimes about it but I think, I know he has a hard time understanding what I’m going through. Not that he doesn’t try to, but he just, he just – he’s a very logical person. Everything goes with him very much on logic and intellect. And he sometimes has a hard time to understand me when I get, when I get upset about certain things, I try to express it. A couple of times I was thinking of getting some professional help and just going and talking to someone. I never have, probably just because old taboo, of the old myth, you know. (LAUGHTER)
HEIFETZ: You should do it on your own?
GRABER: You should do it on your own type of thing. Sometimes when it gets real bad, I think of going and then I work it out myself and it goes away. So I never really have – oh, just one time I talked to my doctor and asked for advice. It was the time after my kids left when I think I was pretty upset. I talked with my doctor and asked him and – I just didn’t want to start with a psychiatrist – I just didn’t want to start with, you know, years of – so, I’ve never really gone and talked to anybody – except you. (LAUGHTER)
HEIFETZ: I’m glad you’re able to talk to me. Felicia, you mentioned your husband and that reminds me that there’s a whole part of this history that we haven’t covered, and that is starting back when the war ended and you were in Germany then…
GRABER: No, we were in Poland.
HEIFETZ: In Poland.
GRABER: Yeah. And when the war ended we were in Poland. Were living with the farmers that I told you about and there is one scene that I do remember from that time is the Russian planes flying overhead and everybody yelling and waving; my father and all the other farmers being stone drunk, they were just singing and you know, everybody was extremely happy.
HEIFETZ: Do you remember how you felt?
GRABER: No, I really don’t. You know, I have very little remembrance of my feelings at all. It seems like almost – you know, you asked me several times and in a way it’s bothered (LAUGHTER) me, not that you asked me that, but you’ve asked me several times how I felt and it seems like I didn’t feel anything. If I did, it was so suppressed because I don’t remember any feelings of either fear or – the one feeling that I remember is the one I told you with the train. That is only actually only feeling of fear, feelings, period, that I remember.
HEIFETZ: But at this point with Russian planes – perhaps it was confusing to you?
GRABER: Right.
HEIFETZ: You didn’t have much…
GRABER: Right. I remember – I mean, I remember the scene of, people holding each other and waving to the planes and smiling and laughing.
HEIFETZ: You were how old at this time?
GRABER: I was five. It was in May of ’45. After that – now I don’t remember exactly in what sequence it was, but we went to, my parents went to Lodz, the city of Lodz and rented an apartment when I got very sick. I had either typhus or typhoid; I never did figure it out – one of the two. (EXCUSES HERSELF TO ANSWER TELEPHONE CALL) Where was I? Oh yes, we went to Lodz and we lived in a – my parents found a room. All I remember is there was like on top of – we walked up a lot of steps and I was very sick and I don’t remember being sick, I just know from what my mother tells me. And they wanted to take me to a hospital and my mother would not – because it’s very contagious. I don’t know what – I never did figure out whether it was typhoid or typhus but it’s very, very contagious and the doctor wanted to take me to the hospital because of the quarantine and my mother just refused to let me go, and what she did was just locked herself up in the room with me. By locking herself up, I don’t mean that she wouldn’t let the doctor in, but the doctor said I could not get in contact with anybody because I was a health hazard to anybody I would come in contact with, and so my mother basically played nurse and she stayed with me in the room. She didn’t want to let me go to the hospital she claims because the conditions at the hospital were too awful; which is really bad and she just did not want to let me go. And so, she, I don’t know how long, a week – two weeks – I don’t know. She just did not leave the room and stayed with me. And everything was passed through the door – food or whatever was just handed to her through the door. Oh, I’m sure she must have cooked also. I don’t know exactly how she did it, but I know she did not leave, leave the house because she, she could have been a carrier too, I think – I’m not sure. And my father – I don’t know – it was after I got well. Exactly, I don’t remember – but he went to – he had to start, you know, rebuilding – rebuilding life. We had nothing. The only thing we had were the clothes on our backs.
HEIFETZ: How did he have money to pay for this apartment?
GRABER: I don’t know, I really don’t know. I know that all through the war my father, you know, because he was in the jewelry business, had gold and watches and stuff like that. The way he had them how he, you know, managed to, I really don’t know. Again, that really may be answered on those tapes, I really don’t know. A lot of those days you really just almost like didn’t pay rent. You just like, you were taken in and you helped, you know. It was just everybody helping everybody and help. But I don’t know if this was the case or not, I really don’t know. Because, money, money really was worthless, so it was really a barter system. You either had something that somebody wanted or you worked for whatever you got, just like on the farm. My parents worked for their upkeep when we were on the farm. They didn’t pay the farmer, they just helped along. They were free laborers really – well, they worked for their room and board. Money was worthless. So, but exactly how that worked right after the war, we don’t know.
My father was – I don’t know who told him or somehow got news that up north in the city of Zopot which is near Danzig – that’s where he ended up and I don’t know how he got there. I know there’s a whole story with trains and there was a whole chance meeting which again my father went and I stayed with my mother in Lodz. My father went to Zopot – now why Zopot I really don’t know. And then my mother didn’t hear anything from him for a long time and she got very concerned. She decided to go to try to find him with me and somehow we met in the train station because he was coming back to get her – to get us. It’s very confusing. I’m really not sure exactly what – how it happened. And there are all these answers I really hope someday soon I’ll get from those tapes. Anyway, my father had literally from the ruins found – in the ruins found – he found a bombed out jewelry store with all the equipment to cast jewelry in – things like that. And he literally looked through the ruins and found the equipment and was one of the first stores in the city of Zapot that was rebuilt. And we had an apartment. He got us an apartment. Again, the apartment was – it was taken – there were a lot of Germans living there in that city. They were called Volksdeutsche; they were Germans that had moved to Poland and then that part of Poland had been annexed to Germany and then when it became Poland again, they stayed there. They were German citizens. It was one of the reasons that Hitler took over Poland because he said to defend his citizens. In the apartment that my father got was living a German – I don’t know whether it was a couple or a widow, or woman, I really don’t remember. They were really running scared because they knew that time – their days were numbered in Poland. In fact, they were expelled shortly afterwards, all the German citizens were expelled from Poland. Why she took in my father, whether they were forced to take people in, I really don’t know exactly. But she took us in and we, we went to Zopot and my father slowly built up a very nice store and nice living and really became the – it was a small town – like the big shot in town. Officially, we were still not Jews, although I’m sure some people suspected that we were because, as I told you before, my father doesn’t look Polish and his Polish isn’t that good, so I’m sure that there were, you know, it was like, it was an unofficially known fact but officially…
HEIFETZ: And to you, at this point, it was not known?
GRABER: No, no. Then my brother was born in 1946 and my mother got – my mother was already sick while she was pregnant with him. And she was operated on, I think I told you, shortly after his birth. He was just a few weeks old when she had her operation. And again, she had to go to Krakow because in a small town in Poland in 1946 there were no doctors or hospitals facilities for such an operation.
HEIFETZ: So here you are, having moved over and over again, having lost a home…
GRABER: I never really did have a home, even after the war. You know, this is the house I’ve lived in the longest all of my life, right here. We lived, we moved in, we bought this house in 1973. I have never lived longer than five years in an apartment in a place. I guess, you know, when people ask me, “Where is, what’s your home?” I really don’t have one.
HEIFETZ: Even now?
GRABER: Well, now yes. Now St. Louis is my home, where my husband is, where my family is. It’s my home. But I even – but throughout my growing up years, even after I got married because my husband was in the army, so we moved even then. The longest I’ve lived in one place is five years, I mean one apartment, cause I mean I had to live in Frankfurt. I lived in Frankfurt for about 13 years but we moved several times, but in terms of – I guess I’m a very rootless person.
HEIFETZ: At that time it must have been very, not only unsettling, but very again confusing and difficult to adjust, especially now when you’ve come through the war to another new place and then another place.
GRABER: Yeah. You mentioned that last time I think also and it’s funny because I do not recall any emotions again. I do not recall any emotions of feeling lost or missing my mother or – and I was six years old then, six, seven years old. I mean, if I did, I don’t remember any feelings of being left alone or any feelings of – I don’t know, it seems like from what I remember, things just went on without me being emotionally involved in anything. I’m sure I was but I don’t remember.
HEIFETZ: You protected yourself from…
GRABER: Whatever, whatever, right. And we, as I said, we, well, things were getting – the Communists started to take over in 1946-47, and my father, as the big capitalist in town, was made pretty, was made to feel pretty uncomfortable. In fact, I just found out last year, he told me the story, the whole story how they left, why they left Zopot and because he was basically being blackmailed by the tax people auditing. They kept telling him all the time that, that he owed them more tax and more taxes and they – and it was a matter of either pay up or else type of thing. And he could see – there was no end to this. He either had to join the party which he had no intention of doing, or he had to get out. So, in 1947, we left actually on the way to South America with a stopover in Belgium.
HEIFETZ: How did he make that decision?
GRABER: I don’t know. I think South America was a place where a lot – I think Brazil was a place where a lot of Jews went after the war. Belgium because my father had a distant cousin in Belgium. And we were supposed to stay in Brussels only a short period of time.
HEIFETZ: Were these things explained to you or was it only later that you knew what was happening?
GRABER: I really don’t know. I really don’t remember. You mean, why we left?
HEIFETZ: Where you were going, what was ahead of you.
GRABER: I, I really don’t remember. I do not remember whether this was explained to me or whether this was just something we are doing.
HEIFETZ: A fait accompli…
GRABER: Right. I have a feeling, and this is strictly a gut feeling, that this was just something like “we are going.” The only time that I remember any explanation was when I was told that I was Jewish. That I remember very vividly, and – but – you know, I remember living in Brussels and again there was a whole big financial – my father really lost a lot of money, because we were really living pretty well and then we moved to Brussels. He had bought pounds sterling which turned out to be fake and they were counterfeit and they were – Hitler made a lot of counterfeit pounds sterling, also dollars, I understand, and somehow, in trying to destroy the economy of England, and my father had bought them and of course they were worthless. So, financially he was – our financial status changed dramatically. Where – in Poland my mother had a maid and a nurse for the baby and a girl to come in and take care of me, you know. We lived in, in that beautiful apartment. We came to Brussels and we lived in a two room apartment and there was no talk of maids or nurses or anything. And my mother had really just been shortly operated. It wasn’t that long after her operation. My brother wasn’t well. He was born with a double hernia and they would not operate until he was a year and a half old. So, these were not very happy times. My father had a hard time working because in Belgium you had to be a citizen in order to be able to work, and they wouldn’t give you citizenship, so you had to sort of work unofficially, so to say.
HEIFETZ: And what did you do?
GRABER: Oh, I was – okay – I went to school, which was a traumatic experience because I had gone to first grade in Poland and then I was put into second grade in a French school. That I remember.
HEIFETZ: Do you remember going to first grade in Poland?
GRABER: Very vaguely like. I remember walking but I don’t actually recall being in school – like friends or things like that. I remember that I went – used to go to school and I remember sort of sitting and writing something, but I don’t – things like friends or building, I really don’t recall. I, I can picture myself on the way, you know, either from or to – that’s about it. (LAUGHTER) In, in, in – when we – there was talk about putting me back in first grade, I remember that, when I first came to Belgium because they felt that I did not know French and there would – and I don’t know whose decision it was. I wouldn’t say it was mine. I was too young to make these kind of decisions. For some reason or other, whatever the decision was, whatever the reason was, it was decided to just let me go on in second grade and, again, I don’t know how, but I did it. I learned the language and even though – and I, and I remember these as happy years. I remember, I remember the school. I think I changed schools because my parents moved. My father was able to work and actually what he did, he really – we lived in Belgium but he really traveled to Germany and worked there because Germany was open country right after the war. So even though my mother wasn’t very happy because he was hardly ever home, for me they were really happy years. I was going to school. We got a better apartment. I remember those years, you know, very, very positively – taking care of my brother, walking him. That’s another responsibility, really, it was my responsibility when I came home from school to take my brother for a walk. And we stayed there for – until 1951. It was a constant struggle between my parents because my father wanted to move to Germany and my mother – we had a cousin in Munich who had been liberated from the camps and he got married and lived there. He eventually moved to the United States shortly afterwards. We went to visit them, I think it was ’48 or ’49, and my mother was so shook up about being in Germany. She said she would never live there. But, in 1951 she just finally gave up. It was just impossible. She was, she was home by herself with two kids all the time and my father couldn’t work in Belgium, so he had to work in Germany. So she finally gave in and we moved to Frankfurt, moved to Germany.
HEIFETZ: How was that for you? You loved your Belgium home?
GRABER: I really, again, I really don’t – it wasn’t so bad because – I mean, I don’t – let’s put it this way, I don’t remember it being traumatic and I did not go – they didn’t put me in a German school, which I remember not wanting to. There was, not far from Frankfurt – about 40-50 miles from Frankfurt – there was a boarding school for French army children because Germany was occupied by France, American, and British troops and they had a boarding school for army dependents, French army dependents. And so this is where I went to school. I lived in school all week and came home on weekends. And…
HEIFETZ: And you spoke?
GRABER: French. And I – well, two of my – I lived, I boarded with two girls who became my very, very dearest friends. In fact, one of them came to my son’s wedding. She was in New Jersey and she came to my son’s wedding. In fact, she sent me a picture. This is a picture of that school and there are the three of us.
HEIFETZ: Oh, how darling. Which is you?
GRABER: I mean, you can’t recognize me? (LAUGHTER) Because we all three alike.
HEIFETZ: Is this you?
GRABER: Yes, that’s me.
HEIFETZ: And visit, the one who came to visit?
GRABER: This one right there. And the middle one now lives in – where does she live? She lives in France, has two little girls and the other one lives now in New Jersey. We were called the three musketeers; we were always together.
HEIFETZ: Now, by this time, you were by this time how old?
GRABER: 11, 11-12. Right.
HEIFETZ: And at what point were you told that you were Jewish?
GRABER: Oh, that was when we first came, that was when we first came to Brussels. In fact, for some reason or other, my parents did not want to have me go to school thinking I was a Catholic. I don’t know why – what, what made them feel that way, but they just felt that I was going sort of our to the world, you know, to go into a school, and they just did not want me to go. They wanted me to know before I go that I, I am Jewish, and this is where, the day before, the evening before I went to school for the first time in Brussels. They sat me down in the kitchen one night. He was a baby then. And, you know, they told me about it and they told me that my grandparents had been Jewish and my great grandparents and – my reaction probably was stunning – stunned – and I think I told you that I had received that beautiful catechism book from the young girl who had taken care of me, and I just went and ripped it to pieces. I really don’t know why I did it. It was, I guess, like a – I don’t know how to analyze a child’s actions – a break with the past? Whatever the reason, I, I, you know, you , you can analyze it many ways I guess. And my mother tells me, although I don’t remember this, but my mother tells me that every day I would come home with all kinds of questions about my background and about this and about that. Probably the hardest thing that I remember, the hardest thing for me to accept – I think I told you last time – was that my father was my real father, because that, that – because before I was told that my mother hadn’t – my mother had not told – told me he was supposed to be my uncle. I was just told that he – my mother married, my father had died and my mother had married. In fact, I was telling every – my mother tells me I was telling everybody that I didn’t know when the marriage took place because I was never there at the ceremony, but one day she just told me that she got married. And that was probably from what I remember the hardest thing for me to accept. I guess that’s probably normal from a child’s point of view – every – cause it really touches you at your very, very inner being. But by that time, by the time I was in Germany, I was a full Jew and I was – in fact both girls are Jewish. We are probably the only three Jewish kids in the whole school.
HEIFETZ: When you say “full” Jew, what do you mean?
GRABER: Well, in other words, by that my quote–unquote Catholic past was really gone. In other words, I felt comfortable. I felt comfortable being Jewish. I – my parents – even though were not religious, but traditional. They are a Jewish traditional home and my mother would, you know, light candles on Friday night, would have a traditional Friday night dinner…

Tape 4 - Side 1

HEIFETZ: Felicia, this – I know we just discussed this before this issue. Having been brought up in a web of lies, can you tell me how event that has affected you?
GRABER: Umm… – that’s a tough one. I don’t know, I really don’t know, because I just never thought about that, but when you think of it logically, it should affect the person that they don’t believe in anybody. I mean, but I’m just the opposite. I, in fact, I have a heart – it’s one of my problems in class, in school. I always believe my students. I always have a tendency to believe (LAUGHTER) what they tell me. (LAUGHTER) It’s hard for me to – it’s hard for me, especially with adults, but even with kids, my initial response is always to believe what they tell me. It’s – I’ve got to have pretty hard evidence and then I get very, very angry when I realize I’ve been lied to. And when adults lie to me, I have a very hard time with that. It’s happened a couple of times to me and I have a very hard time to understand it. I have a tendency to believe what everybody – what people tell me. So, I really don’t know.
HEIFETZ: In terms of there’s a particular and sensitive issue, not being lied to.
GRABER: Well, maybe, maybe that’s a way of – maybe that’s why I can – that’s a possibility. You know, you bring up all kinds of (LAUGHTER) ideas that I never thought about. Uh, that’s a possibility, that that is the reason that I get quite upset when I’m being lied to. I can’t stand it from kids, but especially adults. That might be a possibility. I never thought about it that way. But that would be – until you brought it up – I couldn’t think of any one thing, but that could be one. I really can’t think of any other. I can’t think of any. Well, that’s about it really. I mean, after I stayed in this school a couple years. I didn’t stay there longer because, you know, I don’t remember why or when my mother, my parents took me out. It was really my mother’s decision. I was homesick to a certain degree. I was homesick, I remember that. My mother really felt that I needed to be home, I was still very young. I was – what – 11 years old, 12 years old, and so again she sort of gave in and took me, put me in a German school which meant again learning a new language. Although I had, that was not so totally foreign because I had been living in Germany and, you know, picked up some. And…
HEIFETZ: Did you question her decision in taking you out of school? Did you object?
GRABER: No, I don’t – I don’t think I was too happy in that school. I mean, I didn’t mind it, I had these two good friends, but I don’t think I objected because I think I wanted to be home. I don’t think I objected. I don’t remember objecting. Because the rest of the kids were really – I cannot really say that I felt very comfortable there. They were army brats, nothing against army brats. My kids were army brats for quite a while. But it’s a different type of, of life, different type of background. I didn’t really feel I belonged there. Although I had some friends, I mean, I was never the social butterfly and never have been, but I had some friends. But I, I think I was homesick and I don’t recall being unhappy about going, going to my home. The only thing that I felt uncomfortable at the beginning especially was of course the language but also the idea of being among Germans because I had been raised with the German as being the bad person and then I was surrounded by them. I was in school with them. There were very few – I went to school in Germany from 19 – I think it was 53, I think it was ’53 until ’57. It was always a dream all these years. I can recall maybe two German girls that I made friends with. I knew very few Jews. There was only one Jewish girl in the school, there were two Jewish girls in the whole school of about a thousand kids. We happened to be in the same grade and even though…
HEIFETZ: How did you know?
GRABER: How did I know that she was Jewish? I don’t know how I met her. I really don’t know how I met her. We just knew there were no other Jews, I mean, all the Jews knew each other then. The Jewish community – okay – maybe you just knew who was Jewish. I mean, don’t ask me how, you just knew. The Jewish community was very small and they were like refugees from all over. We had Hungarians and Polish and Russian (OVERTALK) but a lot of Polish, and some returning German Jews returned, but they really kept apart. The German Jews really started coming back later on and they really in a way kept apart. They were like coming home while we were the outsiders. We went to the same places and we went to the same cafes and we went – and you just knew each other, even if you were not friends, but you knew each other. You saw each other in synagogue, even if it’s only once or twice a year, but you were there. You saw people. You just knew. I never even thought about how I knew it. (LAUGHTER) You just knew. It’s interesting, though, this girl was, I mean, under normal circumstances there’s just no way I would be friends with that particular girl. I’m not talking about these two, I’m talking about the one in Germany. She was very, very different from me. She was a little bit older even though we were in the same grade. Also, she had been made younger for survival sake during the war. But, we were very, very different personalities, different outlook on life. She ran away from home when she was about – I don’t know – 17 or 18 – eloped with a guy because her parents did not approve of him but they obviously did afterwards. Which she was totally different from – I was the little wallflower, little goodie-goodie, you know, (LAUGHTER) but I felt comfortable with her because she was Jewish. I felt at home with her. While I maybe had one or two – one – two, about I can think of – two German girls I felt comfortable with. But I did not feel comfortable. I was still like an outsider, I always felt I didn’t belong. I think I felt like that all my life in a way. And I always felt I wanted out, that I remember, definitely. Now whether this was encouraged by my, especially my mother – my mother wanted to leave Germany very badly. She had a growing daughter, a growing teenager. There were very few Jews. She was constantly on my father’s back. She wanted to come to the United States. They did immigrate officially just because their quota came up and they made the official entry but – and then they went back and then they let their permit elapse, it wasn’t valid anymore. My mother always – I don’t know whether – what came first, whether I was uncomfortable because my mother kept telling me I didn’t belong where I didn’t belong and my mother – I really don’t know exactly. And I keep saying “my mother” because my mother was the one that really was involved in raising us. My father was busy with his work and he did not really get involved in day to day. As I told you, I was never really close with him. So this thing was always in my head that I wanted to go to the United States, I didn’t want to be in – I wanted to get out of Germany. I didn’t belong there, I didn’t want to be there. I was 14, 15, 16, I would not date a German. I think my parents would have had a heart attack if I would have dated a German. That was instilled in me. You cannot date a – well, actually it was “you do not date a non-Jew, and especially a German.” I mean, a non-Jew, if you go out once it’s not the end of the world, but a German you will not date. In fact, I had a date once with a German young man. It was later on and I was in college. And the first time in my life, the first and only time in my life, I stood him up – just could not go through with it. I had no way of contacting him and I never showed up. I never saw him again. But, I could not do this to my parents, to go out with a German. And…
HEIFETZ: Were you afraid of something?
GRABER: No, I was not afraid of them, no. I was just – it was just something you didn’t do. It was like consorting with the enemy type of things.
HEIFETZ: Betrayal?
GRABER: Right. It was just that you did not do that. No, I was not afraid. No, there was no fear. There was no fear. It was just – I did not belong with them. They just belonged – I was separate, I was different, I was, like you said, a betrayal. But with their parents – even they don’t realize themselves, these young men were my age, but you don’t know what their father was during the war. Could you just imagine what if your kids’ father was in Poland during the war with one of the soldiers. You know, you just couldn’t. You couldn’t get past that. Also, with the girls. Also, there was a certain amount of being – feeling that you were different and since I was like almost the only Jew there, I remember being surrounded by kids, by friends, girls in my class because where I went to school it was only girls because they had coed schools and also just public schools just for girls and just for boys, and I don’t remember how these discussions came up, but you know how kids talk about religion, about this and that, but I remember being surrounded and this one particular picture where I was standing in a classroom or in the hallway and there was a group of girls around me, each one were discussing religion, I think, asking me, throwing questions at me about Judaism. And it was almost like I was the only Jew around, I was the only one that could give the answers. And you know how kids are. “Well, that’s dumb, or that’s this.” And I sort of felt that I had to defend Judaism. I was (LAUGHTER) the only defender there, and it was almost like being attacked, you know, like being surrounded and attacked. You have to defend yourself, to defend your religion. You have to defend what you are, and I guess this picture is really, seemed symbolic of how I felt, being in Germany – that I felt surrounded by enemies that were too strong, by people that I didn’t belong with, and I wanted to get out.
HEIFETZ: Were any of the friends you made, either Jewish or non-Jewish, did you talk about your experiences – not about Judaism, but about your personal experiences?
GRABER: I don’t think I would – nobody talked about it. Among the kids we never talked about it.
HEIFETZ: Not even those two Jewish girls?
GRABER: No. In fact, this one, the one who came to my wedding, she was hidden during the war and both her parents got killed. And her parents that she was living with were really her uncle and aunt who adopted her. I knew about it and everybody knew about it but we never discussed it. It was never talked about.
HEIFETZ: It was taboo.
GRABER: It was almost like it was just something you didn’t discuss.
HEIFETZ: Did you understand that – now – why you would have been reluctant, why you might have felt reluctant about bringing this up?
GRABER: I don’t know. It was – it was just like – well, there are certain things, like there are certain things, you don’t talk about without really knowing why. Maybe today now in the American society where things are more open, but I – just – I never never discussed my experiences with anybody, not even with my parents. Whenever – with my parents it was they telling me what happened, but it was a one – a one way street. It, it – you know, even with my husband, my husband is just coming in – I would maybe say something here and there. I remember at one time I found out something about my grandparents and I started telling him and I started crying and that was the end. I never went on. It was just something you didn’t discuss. I don’t know why.
HEIFETZ: Because there was such a well spring of emotions connected within, do you think?
GRABER: Yes, to a certain degree. You know, like, you know, if I talk to you and I start crying, I understand, I realize that you understand, that you’ve done this with other people, but I still feel uncomfortable. And you do this with your own family sometimes. It becomes, it becomes, it’s different and….
HEIFETZ: Particularly, if you feel you are responsible for what happened?
GRABER: Yeah, that could be also. That could well be also. (OVERTALK) I never felt really comfortable. You know, with my children also, you know in one way I, I, I want them to know, because after all, it’s their heritage also, but it’s just – you know, whatever they do know is mostly from my father and my daughter knows much more than my son because my daughter understands German and my father speaks Yiddish, so she can understand him. While my son has no, really no real connection with my parents. Well, he understands Hebrew but, you know it’s not something that is so fluent. So, I really don’t know how much my children know. It was just something that I never even thought of discussing with them. In fact, when my daughter first – I don’t know how old she was – got The Diary of Anne Frank, I had very – I went through a lot of emotional turmoil whether I should let her read it or not. I had very ambivalent feelings. On one hand I felt, yes she should read it, she should know. On the other hand, my other side was no. I wanted her sheltered from this. She didn’t have to know, she doesn’t have to know. My brain won over (LAUGHTER) and I decided no, I mean, she has to know.
HEIFETZ: Did you feel wanting to protect people from pain?
GRABER: Right, my first reaction – I went through a couple of days, I remember, I know I was discussing this with my husband. I didn’t want her to read it. And then she went on reading Elie Wiesel, you know. It was very difficult for me because she was still at that time at the age when I could say “no.” Now – (LAUGHTER) you know, later on you can’t do it. But at that time I still had that authority, you know, that control, I don’t remember how old she was. When I could have said, “No, that’s not for you,” or, “You’re too young,” or something like that. I remember it being quite a struggle within me to allow her to read it, cause intellectually I realized it was important, but emotionally I wanted to shield her, you know.
HEIFETZ: Um-hum.
GRABER: And, you know, now the girls, you know – going back to these girls, you know. This other girl I was telling you that I met and once was my friend in Germany – in the German school. I knew, I knew that she went through the war because the adults talked about it. About this girl I knew that her parents had also been killed and that her brother was not her real brother. He was her half brother, and that, you know, her father was really her uncle who had adopted her, that she had been hidden some place in some attic for a couple of years. But this was hearsay from parents. We never discussed this.
HEIFETZ: You know, part of it is almost true like it was the adults’ lives that you were supposed to have gone through this, like…
GRABER: Yeah. Maybe in a way it was – in a way they wanted to shield us maybe from it, but then we heard about it all the time. It was, it was constantly around us and whenever adults…
HEIFETZ: It was supposed to be your experience.
GRABER: Right, yes. Right, because again, like we discussed last week last time, “Oh, you were too young, you don’t remember.” You know, the same idea and, “What can you remember, you were still a kid,” you know, type of thing. It was something that was the adults’ experiences and we were too young. And, I wouldn’t have even thought about bringing it up. It was something that – I mean – even to this day, I mean, when we talk, you know, we reminisce about our youth, but we don’t reminisce about the common experiences. I mean, we don’t even dream of bringing that up. I don’t know why. It’s just, you know, one of those – like you say – maybe we don’t feel it as our experience, like you say.
HEIFETZ: Um-hum. It could be. Felicia, I know that your husband’s here and I don’t want to continue too much longer.

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