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Fred Katz

Fred Katz
Nationality: German
Location: Buchenwald Concentration Camp • Croydon • England • Frankfurt • Germany • Missouri • St. Louis • United States of America
Experience During Holocaust: Family Survived • Sent to Concentration Camp

Mapping Fred's Life

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

“We were hoping that there would be a war against Germany even though we were living in Germany at that time, because we felt the only way to defeat Hitler was through a war.” - Fred Katz

Read Fred's Oral History Transcripts

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Tape 1 - Side 1

GLASER: Okay, Fred, this is September 7, 1981 and I am speaking with Mr. Fred Katz in his library and Fred’s going to talk about his experiences, going as far back as he would like, in his own words, and we will be talking as general or as much in detail as he cares to. Fred lives in St. Louis County and you were born in what year, Fred?
KATZ: 1920.
GLASER: Fred was born in 1920. And where were you born?
KATZ: In Frankfurt.
GLASER: Frankfurt, Germany?
KATZ: Frankfurt, am Main.
GLASER: Now what I would like to do is, just initially Fred, ask you a few questions…sort of lead-in questions. Things that are very general in nature and then, as I mentioned before, you can become as general or as specific as you would like and just wander if you want to. Or if you want to tie into a specific experience as you talk, feel free to do that.
If you can, for the sake of the listener, if you are speaking about a specific situation that may have happened at a certain time…if you could punctuate that by maybe indicating as close to the actual experience relative to your age, or to maybe a certain year or month within the year if you can, from time to time. Just to tie in and to give a reference of time to the person that is listening.
Well with this, I would like to turn the mike over to Fred who will talk about, maybe, what his hometown…Fred, what was your town like as early back as you can remember…growing up in your village?
KATZ: Village? Frankfurt is a big city. Frankfurt was a city of a half million at that time. So, we are not talking about a village…we are talking about one of the larger metropolitan…
GLASER: You lived in the city?
KATZ: In the city, yes.
GLASER: I see, I see.
KATZ: We are talking about one of the larger metropolitan areas in Germany and one of the larger Jewish centers in Germany. Frankfurt always had a Jewish tradition going way, way back because one of the reasons is it used to be a free city and the Rothschilds came from Frankfurt – that was their origin. Frankfurt had approximately 30,000 Jews which was prior to the advent of the Hitler regime and that was a very large…when you consider that all of Germany had about one-half million Jews.
GLASER: Is that all Germany had?
KATZ: About 500,000-600,000 Jews, that’s it. One percent of the total population in Germany was Jewish.
GLASER: What kind of work were most Jews involved in, if that is a fair question, at that time?
KATZ: I would say probably in trade…owning businesses, either stores or other kind of businesses. There were a number of doctors, of course, a number of lawyers, but no blue collar workers – no blue collar workers or agricultural workers because again, going back through hundreds of years, that was prohibited to the Jews and they went into business.
GLASER: You mean to say the Jews, at that time, were well represented in government and in education at the universities and so forth?
KATZ: With the advent, of course, of the Weimar Republic after World War I, the Jews became much more prominent in educational circles; became more prominent in government. As a matter of fact, one of the ministers, the Minister of Economics, Walther Rathenau was a Jew. He was killed, assassinated, while he was in office. The whole life became much more assimilated.
GLASER: Was there any certain tradition that the Jews at that time…were they very assimilated, or did they have certain traditions, or did they live in certain specific areas?
KATZ: All I can tell you is about Frankfurt to some extent. We had to some extent similar to the same analogy as St. Louis, or the United States we have among the Jews who are affiliated…you have Reform and Orthodox. In Frankfurt, we had Liberal, Conservative and Orthodox. There was no Reform movement, as such, even though the Liberal was very close to a Conservative here. Except that we had a choir and we had an organ and things like that. But in our synagogue, the men sat downstairs and the women sat upstairs.
GLASER: How many people were there in your particular synagogue, would you say?
KATZ: I don’t know. It was a very large synagogue. There were two Liberal synagogues that were like together. One in the west end which was more modern and then ours which was still in the ghetto…in the old ghetto which use to be the Ghetto-Boernestrasse. As a matter of fact, our synagogue was right next to the family house of the Rothschilds. This whole area used to be the ghetto. It was very strange, the Jewish community, as such, consisted of people belonging to the Liberal synagogue and the Conservative synagogue. The Orthodox had their own…they were completely apart.
GLASER: With what you have said regarding the religious background of the Jewish community, the Jews did serve for Germany during the First World War.
KATZ: Oh definitely.
GLASER: How would you generalize about the feeling of the Jewish people? Were they maybe, first…German and second…Jewish…or how would you handle that?
KATZ: I think it was very individualistic. Probably to a large extent there were Germans of Jewish religion. To a large extent, like America – prior to the establishment of the State of Israel. Once the State of Israel came in, the American Jew had more ambivalence. They were more ambivalent about the two things.
GLASER: Really there is not a great deal of difference between the feeling of living in this country for most Jews today.
KATZ: That’s right. I am talking now about the Liberal elements. I do not know about the Orthodox at all.
GLASER: The population was pretty well spread throughout other than the specific area where Jews would tend to live?
KATZ: I don’t think so. We lived all over, I remember. And of course, apartments, you know, just like here. People didn’t live in houses. They lived in apartments, so I don’t recall specific Jewish areas. I recall specific economic…high economic areas, you know, with money.
GLASER: Then that wasn’t a problem. If a Jew had money, let’s say, and was recognized – they could live in a nice area just as well as not.
KATZ: As far as I know…I do not recall. Remember, I was very young. When Hitler came to power, I was 13. So what happened prior to that, if there was any overt antisemitism or even covert antisemitism, especially covert antisemitism, I was not that much privy to it.
GLASER: Was your family in business?
KATZ: My father had a number of cigar, tobacco stores which was more or less whittled down to one major store. Besides that, he also went on the road traveling like a factory rep for some cigar manufacturers and tobacco manufacturers.
GLASER: Had he been in the business for a long period of time?
KATZ: As long as I can remember, he was a big wholesaler. At one time, we had a lot of money for a very short time, from what I understand. He was a big cigarette wholesaler right after World War I. So…
GLASER: Was your grandfather, or…
KATZ: No. I knew none of my grandparents. My father…and I think this is very important – that is why I want to bring it out. We were stateless. I don’t know whether you have run across any stateless people in your interviews. Stateless people are people, and Europe was full of them, who did not have a nationality of any particular country. The most prominent stateless people were about a million and a half White Russians who had a so-called Nansen passport from the League of Nations at that time, which more or less was accepted by a number of other countries. However, if you were stateless otherwise, your passport was issued by the country that you were residing in as a stateless person, which meant that no other country would take you. Nobody wanted stateless people. Stateless people were superfluous because you couldn’t get rid of them.
My father was born in Lithuania. He was a Litvak. He came to Germany when he was 12 years old which was about 1893, something around there. And at that time Lithuania was under the Russian rule, so he was basically a Russian citizen. After World War I, he could have…number one…you could not become a German citizen. There was no way to become a German citizen. And he could have, when Lithuania became independent, he could have put his name in and became a Lithuanian citizen. Somebody advised him not to, so he became stateless. And as my father was stateless, my mother was stateless, his children were stateless. Even though my mother was born in Germany and was a German by birth, she became stateless. As soon as she married my father she became stateless. There have been books written for a long time about stateless people. They are even worse off than the…because they have nobody to go to bat for them.
GLASER: What were the limitations of being stateless? You could own a business? You could attend school?
KATZ: Yes you could. I don’t remember whether you could vote, or not. This I don’t know. But you could not travel anywhere else. You could not go into any other country.
GLASER: Even temporarily?
KATZ: No, you had to have a visa before that country would let you in, but the country wasn’t going to give you a visa…why should they give you a visa? There was a long time when everything was tranquil and peaceful and everything was fine, yes, they would give you a visa to travel for vacation or something, but as soon as things got into a turmoil, you needed a visa, as well as with a German passport you needed a visa, but you could not travel anywhere. You were not wanted because nobody could ever get rid of you.
GLASER: In your experience at grammar school, what was the school called? There was a word for it.
KATZ: Oh, oh, Grundschule.
GLASER: Because of the stateless nature, there was no problem?
KATZ: No, no problem…not as far as I know. I don’t know what my parents had to do. I don’t think there was any problem.
GLASER: From you, personally, you didn’t recognize any difference in the way you were treated compared to anybody else, as you went into grade school?
KATZ: No, no, nothing to do with it at all. My father did not serve in World War I because he was not a German. As a matter of fact, he was an enemy alien. He could not even be legally in the country because he was a Russian by birth. So he was in the country and it made things harder later on being stateless.
GLASER: Were you treated any differently amongst other Jews?
KATZ: No. As far as I know, they did not. Look, as a German Jew you never liked the Eastern Jews, so my father was an Eastern Jew. You know, I hate to say this and then put on tape once and forever irrevocably, but I think it’s been put on tape before plenty of times. We were not allowed to get together with my father’s relatives. I had cousins on my father’s side…I had aunts…and we saw them once a year. That’s all we were allowed to see them because after all, everybody who came from the East was called a Pollock, even though they were Litvaks, it didn’t make any difference.
GLASER: Would you say, Fred, that in growing up in your family, did you have brothers and sisters?
KATZ: I have one sister – she’s 11 years older than I.
GLASER: Would you say your lifestyle in growing up in Frankfurt was more or less typical? There was no particular incident or series of things that happened during your pre-teens that was any different from anyone else?
KATZ: No, I think it was different than here. You try to compare a teenager or a young person growing up in this environment.
GLASER: Or even compared to someone growing up in Frankfurt…the life was pretty much normal?
KATZ: No, I wouldn’t say that, because I joined the Youth Movement when I was nine years old…the German-Jewish Youth Movement.
GLASER: The German-Jewish Youth Movement?
KATZ: The Jewish Youth Movement was very, very strong among the youth…among the Jewish youth in Germany. I joined it when I was nine and they became a great factor in my life. They practically raised me. The influence of the Youth Movement was much greater influence of my parents’ house.
GLASER: What is the German-Jewish Youth Movement? I have never heard of that.
KATZ: All different organizations. The ones I belonged to originally was called “Kameraden” (Comrades) which they split in 1932 into three different groups. And we joined the one where our leader went into…11 and 12 years old. The one we joined was called “Werkleute” (Workers). These are the people that founded Kibbutz Hazoreah which is a very big kibbutz today in Israel. Martin Buberwas their spiritual mentor. And there was another group which became more German oriented, whereas, “Werkleute” became more Jewish oriented.
GLASER: This was funded by the State?
GLASER: It was sanctioned by the State?
KATZ: It was sanctioned because there was always Youth Movements in Europe, in Germany. The only thing you have here is Boy’s Scouts, but this is more than Boy’s Scouts. This included all the things in Boy’s Scouts but beyond that, we had so-called intellectual trainings with all kinds of camps.
GLASER: Was it military at all, or quasi-military, nothing like that?
KATZ: No, no. We had uniforms, yes.
GLASER: More spiritual in nature?
KATZ: Yeah, I would say. We had uniforms and maybe somebody was lucky enough to have a knife and we would march maybe, but we also…we use to go out every Sunday – generally way out in the woods and we were spiritual enough, at least our leader made us spiritual enough, that instead of taking a street car to the end of the city and walk then we walked to the end of the city and then started walking and gave the money to the Jewish soup kitchens.
GLASER: What did the non-Jews think of the Youth Movement? Anything in particular?
KATZ: No, they had their own. The churches had their own.
GLASER: Then there was no criticism of one or the other, or no jealousies or no ambivalence?
KATZ: Oh there might have been some beatings, maybe…Communists had their Youth Movement – the Hitler Youth and at times, maybe, they got together and beat each other up, but beyond that…
GLASER: Well it really sounds at this point and time, that life at this age – at your age – pre-teen was pretty normalized from an education point-of-view, spiritual, social…
KATZ: Yeah, generally speaking. I didn’t know anything about a Nazi party until I was about 11…about 12. I found out from my parents what it meant.
GLASER: How did that come about Fred? How did you first hear about it?
KATZ: It was very interesting. It was the day after election. Elections are always held on Sunday in Germany, like they still do. And that Monday morning in the newspaper, or something, it said the Nazi party gained a tremendous amount of votes which is translated into seats in the Reichstag – in the Parliament. So I asked them… “Is that good?” They said, “No, it isn’t good.” And they explained to me why it wasn’t. The only reason, they claimed, is the Nazis don’t like the Jews. The Nazis from time immemorial, always were anti-Jewish, but this was the main reason as far as they were concerned.
GLASER: Let me ask you another question. What was the first thing you ever saw from the Nazi party that told you that they didn’t like Jews? Did you ever notice anything?
KATZ: You mean personally, my observations?
GLASER: Were there any rallies, or anything like that?
KATZ: I don’t remember any rallies. I remember after they had taken power – after Hitler came to power on January 30, 1933 and on April first, was the boycott of all the businesses. In answer to the “so-called cruel propaganda” which was spread abroad by international Jewry against the German State, so there was a boycott of all Jewish stores, and we had a store. I came home from the synagogue…it was a week before my Bar Mitzvah.
GLASER: Was it effective, the boycott? Did it work?
KATZ: A lot of them closed their stores so I guess maybe it did. What they did – they had storm troopers in uniform and they would tell people when they walked in that this was a Jewish business. They didn’t try to stop them…nothing physical at that time. Now if I would have been living in a small town, I imagine I would have experienced a lot more in the beginning, antisemitism, than in the large city. You are much safer in a large city – you can meld in – even though they know you. One thing, and this is European and has nothing to do with Hitler, and is one thing I always have to point out when I speak to American audiences…Everybody in Germany had to register with the police. When you move from Olive Street to Grand Avenue, you go to the police station for Olive Street and fill out a form that you are moving to Grand Avenue. And you go to the police station for Grand Avenue and fill out that you moved in. And still today.
GLASER: For your protection – so to speak.
KATZ: Whatever, for whatever.
GLASER: I see, I see, I didn’t realize that.
KATZ: That’s right. They can lay their finger on you. You know, you’re not use to this. That’s why it’s very, very hard to understand the European psyche because basically, I think it is true in most of the other European countries.
GLASER: And they accept that?
KATZ: It’s been there for time immemorial. I’m sure it’s got some benefits connected with it. I don’t know what they are off-hand, but I’m sure they do.
GLASER: Going back to the boycott, Fred, if there was the first, maybe, tangible situation that you recall at that time…going all the way back and this was around April 1, 1933 – would you say from that point on, there could have been a series of things that happened that you recall?
KATZ: Basically you knew things were happening. Even if they did not happen to you personally. For instance, we had school years in Germany, start at Easter. Where here, it is from fall to fall. There it is Easter to Easter. I had finished my eighth year in school at Easter 1933. I’m sorry, Easter 1934. Now let me go back a little – I was in a school in 1933 when the Nazis came into power which was a gymnasium type of school, Oberrealschule. There was some Jews in there, but it was primarily non-Jewish. We decided, or my parents decided, that in the fall which was the split in the semester, that I should move over to a Jewish school, because the situation was getting bad.
GLASER: I see. At that time there was a assimilation in the public schools?
KATZ: I just recall, my first indication, I think it was very early, maybe before Hitler came to power, just about – I don’t remember – I had a very good friend, my father and his father were friends. He and I were friends and one day he came to school with a swastika on. And something came up and he called me a dirty Jew and I called him a French Christian – I don’t know – I was 13 years old. We started hitting each other, then we didn’t talk to each other. You know, things got to a point where they felt I should move over to a Jewish school. There was a Jewish school which had been in existence for God know how many years, with a complete curriculum. My sister, as a matter of fact, went to that school long before Hitler, or anything like that.
GLASER: Who would have normally gone to that school before? The more Orthodox?
KATZ: No, like I said, my sister went. No, I don’t know, but in ’33, a lot of them switched over. Then in ’34 we decided there was no use for me to continue school because, by that time, you couldn’t go to the university any more. By that time regulations had come out that no Jew – first of all, all the professors were fired already the year before, Jewish professors and that no Jew could go the university any more.
GLASER: How old were you at that time?
KATZ: 14. I went to work instead.
GLASER: You would normally have gone to high school at that point?
KATZ: No. You start high school at 10. It’s a little different system. The Oberrealschule, or gymnasium – you start at 10 and that particular school, it’s like a private school – you pay for it, but if your parents can afford it you go there, and most middle-class people sent their kids in to these type of schools. School is such that you do not choose your subjects…not like here.
GLASER: Now the fact that you decided, or your folks decided that you should not continue school at that point – why do you think your folks made that decision?
KATZ: Because the idea was, of course, for the boy in the families, somehow that have become professional. There was no way to go to the university. Regulations had come out that Jews were not allowed to go to the university anymore. So, it was felt it might be better and maybe you might have to leave the country one of these days. Because in ’34 you still felt that it wouldn’t last too long. You know, because other governments had not lasted. So the thought was that the best thing to do was send the boy to work as an apprentice in a business.
GLASER: Not necessarily your father’s business?
KATZ: No, no, definitely not. Anything – any job. Let me say it this way, just about anything that you went into…you had to serve an apprenticeship – a three year apprenticeship. Not only in manual, but also in office work. That was a cheap way to get labor and then you signed a contract – a teaching contract.
GLASER: Did that mean that once you trained in a certain job that you would automatically be accepted in the job, once you finished the orientation?
KATZ: Well, then you could go to another business after three years and say, “I got my period behind me…I know such and such.” And they held you to it. You couldn’t break contracts. I did break my contract, but you couldn’t generally break contracts.
GLASER: What kind of work did you go into at that time?
KATZ: It was a factory in the office of a bicycle and rubber sole factory. Gummiwerke Odenwald still have my contract. It was Jewish owned, Mr. Jacob Strauss. The renumeration is set by the State. You know the first year you get 20 some odd marks a month; the second year 30, or something like that. You are the “gofer,” you do everything.
GLASER: And you were about 14 or 15 at this time?
KATZ: I was 14 when I started.
GLASER: What did you find in the factory? Were there mostly Jewish kids working with you?
KATZ: No, no, this was in the office. Generally you only hire one, young one a year. That’s all. So there was another one there who was a miserable bastard, pardon me, a Jewish fellow, and he was the nephew of the boss, or one of the bosses.
GLASER: He could afford to be miserable…
KATZ: Yes, I think so. He was 16 you know. He lorded it over the 14 year olds. Then after another year, somebody else was hired and things like that. The funny thing…most of the young ones they hired, were Jewish boys. Even though in the organization, in the office itself, there were some non-Jews. And of course one man was a member of the party and he more or less ran the whole thing. He was a very, very nice gentleman.
GLASER: A member of “what party?”
KATZ: The Nazi party. By that time there was only one party.
GLASER: How did the other people treat him, or how did he begin to treat other people?
KATZ: No problem, because he was basically very nice. He was the office boss anyhow in the sales department where we worked in. He was not unfair or anything.
GLASER: Was there much relationship between the boys or the apprentices with this Mr. Strauss at that time?
KATZ: Oh no. Jacob Strauss was an old man. We were 14. He was probably in his 70’s…60’s…or 70’s. Maybe he was only in his 50’s. From what I understand, he was born in England and fled England at the time of World War I because he did not want to fight. So he could never go back to England, certainly Germany afterwards…and on the train, supposedly that his daughter left Frankfurt for England – he threw himself under that train. I don’t know whether that is completely true or not. Later on, about ’37 or so.
GLASER: How long did you work in the office?
KATZ: I was there for three years. See, I was a member, as I said, of the Youth Movement. As such, I became an ardent Zionist and notwithstanding, rumors we hear in this country, there was a very strong Zionist movement in Germany. I wanted to go to Palestine. In 1936 I went to Hakhsharah, that’s in preparation to go to Palestine and then in 1937 they wanted me to go to Munich to work out in the field in order to prepare myself to maybe go to Youth Aliyah. That meant breaking my contract by two months early, and Mr. Strauss said he was going to take me to jail – take me to court – and we got the Jewish community to talk to him.
GLASER: But the feeling of going to Israel at that time was strong enough for you to begin to prepare yourself for it.
KATZ: The feeling to go to Israel for me was so strong that I turned down a visa to come here. There were visas prepared for my cousin, who now lives in Chicago, and they wanted to prepare a visa for me in 1936. I said, “No, I will not go.” So then it was given to another cousin – affidavits – I’m sorry – affidavits to be sent over in order to get the visa. My parents put a lot of pressure on me… “What’s going to happen to us?” And I said, “I feel I have to go to Palestine.”
GLASER: You were willing to go without even the members of your family?
KATZ: Oh yes. At that time, my sister had gone already. She moved to Holland in 1934 and I felt that to go on a kibbutz – that’s what I wanted.
GLASER: You were how old? 16?
KATZ: Yes, 16.
GLASER: Would you say that was unusual for a youth of that age to break away from the family in Europe at that time? Or is one of that age already pretty mature?
KATZ: Well yes, I think first of all, they are more mature than here, number one. Number two; as I said, the Youth Movement to a large extent took over the raising of me. I spent a lot of time with them. My father worked constantly, my mother worked in the store, so I was very, very much on my own. I worked and had friends. All of my friends were part of the Youth Movement. It was my whole social contact.
GLASER: And they must have felt the same way too, perhaps, about going to Israel.
KATZ: Yes. And some of them did and some of them didn’t. I was supposed to go in 1937 on a Youth Aliyah and we were all ready and then the British White Paper came out and they stopped the immigration. And then I changed my mind a year afterwards and did not want to go to Palestine, but…
GLASER: By this time Fred, was Nazism becoming perhaps more visible?
KATZ: Well it became more visible much earlier. That’s what I wanted to point out before. In 1935 of course, the law of the Nuremberg Laws which prohibited any kind of intercourse – be it sexual or otherwise – between a male Jew and a female non-Jew, or a female Jew and a male non-Jew. Certain things happened. I use to walk to work – I had a bicycle – use to ride a bicycle to work, and then I was 15. There was a lady there I liked, an old lady. I guess she was about 25…26. She lived not too far from me and I use to pick her up in the morning. I use to push my bike and we would walk together in the morning. She worked in the same office. After the laws were passed, I was told by somebody at work, “You better stop it.” And she was told, “You better stop it. You better not be seen much together.”
GLASER: What was her attitude?
KATZ: She thought it was stupid, but she didn’t want to get in any trouble. Especially, she probably wanted to get married and she certainly didn’t want to have anything against her name. Signs appeared before German businesses on the stores with a swastika. And then signs started appearing “Jews are not wanted”…first in restaurants (the first ones were taverns). Jews wouldn’t have gone in anyhow, and then some restaurants. You became more or less an integrated society within yourself. We had a Jewish cultural center, just like a JCCA to some extent in Frankfurt and after a while, you were not allowed to go to the movies or the theater anymore or any of those things anymore. So we did our own because we had a tremendous amount of Jewish talent all across the country and they came in and gave performances and readings. We use to have them in the syngagoues. I remember Franz Werfel once coming to the synagogue and speaking to us.
GLASER: If you felt, Fred, that the community at that time felt that maybe this “temporary government” or group of people that will probably go away because of the fact that, maybe, in the past, others had come and gone – and now maybe it didn’t appear as if it was going to be short lived…what then?
KATZ: Oh people were trying to leave…people were trying to leave. In the beginning they let you out with your money – if you had money. But then, of course, that was put down. Also people signed up to go to America and the American quota was very small. I think it was 20. So people tried to get out. Together with the Austrian quota it was about 27,000 and it was never filled until 1939. This was the first year it was filled. Some of them tried to get out and felt it was more important. Others felt, “Oh, I’ll get out.” You see, because nobody in their right mind would ever imagine to even think of anything that did happen. Because it never happened before – so you don’t even think of it. You know, you hear people say today – Oh, I knew because he said, “We’ve got to get rid of the Jews.” Well, get rid of the Jews also means…get rid of them out of the country which is basically what they tried to do. Concentration camps were started in 1933 but not for Jews.
GLASER: Had you heard about them?
KATZ: Oh sure, sure, we heard about Kazetz (abbreviation for concentration camp).
GLASER: And they were used for what – like politicals?
KATZ: Politicals, originally. The first one that was started was Dachau. It was started for politicals because if they would have taken those people before court, they would have been laughed out of court, so they put them in protective custody. Oh there were Jews there, but politically. Then they enlarged it and put other people…other groups in there. They tried to get rid of Jews. They tried to get Jews to get out of the country. That’s what they wanted. When this didn’t go fast enough, they then went into terror activities. Now whenever they had things like is poetically referred to, as the Night of the Long Knives, maybe you read about it, the 30th of June 1934, when the SA leadership was killed, Roehm and so on, there were some Jews in there. Because they picked up everybody they could think of who might cause them some trouble and just be included in those things. Fine – this I can understand from a political point of view. The terror activities against the Jews, to a large extent I think and I might be wrong, but I think really started some time in ’38. All of a sudden they decided the Jews weren’t leaving fast enough, so what do we do? Somebody apparently came up with the idea – look we have a lot of people who have traffic violations, that have had tax…where they had to pay income tax, fines or something like that. These are all criminals – let’s throw them in a concentration camp. So they did this, including my father. He went in June 1938 to Buchenwald. Buchenwald was opened in 1936, I think, or 1937.
GLASER: What did he, your father, say before he left? Do you recall? Was there much conversation with him?
KATZ: No. We didn’t even know. I don’t remember when he was arrested. I am sure I was at work. No…wait a minute…’38, I’m sorry, I was back. I did some work in the Jewish community as a mechanic. They tried to make a mechanic out of me. The Jewish community had like a trade school where we could learn. I think that’s when it happened…I don’t know. And he was arrested and we did not know what had happened. We found out later on – I think we got a postcard from him or from somebody, or maybe we were officially notified – I don’t remember, but he was in Buchenwald. The reason for that was he had something against him on taxes one time, long before.
GLASER: And it happened that fast? Suddenly you came home and he was gone?
KATZ: That’s right – that’s right – he was gone.
GLASER: And he took nothing with him that you can recall?
KATZ: And my mother did all these things to try to get him out and I don’t remember what all she had to do to get him out. But he got out, I think, it was two – three months later. Or my sister got the Dutch government to issue entrance visas, transit visas for my parents, both my mother and my father and I think on the strength of that, he was released out of the concentration camp. The Dutch refused to give me a visa because they were afraid I was going to work. You know, there was a worldwide depression going on, and so he came out and told us about Buchenwald. Somehow, at that time, the internal affairs were run by the political prisoners.
GLASER: The internal affairs of the camp?
KATZ: Yes of the camp. You see, there was always a constant fight between the criminal elements and the political elements for control – for the inside control. If the political elements had inside control, most of the prisoners were basically better off.

Tape 1 - Side 2

When the criminal elements had control, there was problems. So at that time, the political elements were in. Somehow or other, they treated him like an old man. He looked very old, he shuffled along, he was thin, he didn’t have to work himself to death, so he got out fine.
GLASER: Do you recall anything he may have told you, or do you recall anything your mother may have said about his experiences there?
KATZ: No, just that he tried to stay alive and tried to be on as good terms with the Kapos – with the prisoner police – the camp police. Inasmuch as he did not want to appear as the big shot, the hero, but rather as a shriveled up little old man, they treated him all right at that time. Later on, this would not have helped at all. They stayed in Frankfurt until…he went in in June and must have come out in July or August…probably in September.
GLASER: What year was this?
KATZ: ’38 – 1938. Then of course the Kristallnacht happened…the Night of the Broken Glass. You know, the historical thing with the assassination of the legation official in Paris and things like that. Well on the morning of November ninth or November tenth, I don’t remember the exact date, we get a phone call that they were arresting all the ones who had been in concentration camps, so we were living at that time in a building that use to have our store downstairs – in the middle of the city. It was an office building to some extent. We lived on the fifth floor and most buildings had an attic in which there were individual rooms up there which were originally for maids – when they had live-in maids. We took my father’s stuff up there trying to get him ready to get him out of town to Holland, because he had a passport and he could leave. So I came downstairs once and there were two policemen in the apartment and they asked me if I was Alfred Katz. I said, “Yes.” They said, “Come with us.” I said, “Why?” They said, “Just come with us.”
GLASER: How old were you at that time?
KATZ: I was 18. We were walking down the stairs. I remember one of them, they were regular policemen in uniforms, I remember that. He was holding me, you know, there. I said, “Do you have to hold me that way? I promise not to run away.” He said, “Be glad we don’t put handcuffs on you.” I said, “I promise not to run away, you can always use your gun.” He said, “That’s too cumbersome.” He took me to the police station and from the police station, I don’t recall the exact time reference, they took me on a truck or bus, or something like that to a place like a convention center, and they put you in there. There were thousands of other people…thousands of Jews.
GLASER: Were you asked to bring anything?
KATZ: No, no, just what you had on. A little bit later they brought my father in too. They put us into little groups and one storm trooper usually stands in front and makes you do some exercises and he calls somebody out and makes them take exercises. I was tall and he always called me out and kicked me around. My father gave me hell. He said I caused it. Finally my father got a hold of a Gestapo agent there and showed him he had a passport with a visa to go to Holland. The guy took him out – took him to the railroad station, had him buy a ticket and that night – the train was going to leave around 11:30 – he said, “You be here tonight.” At 11:30 he was there. The agent was there, he put him on the train and told the conductor, “Don’t leave this man off until he crosses the Dutch border.” And he told my father, “You were very lucky that you met me.” I don’t think my father could have lived through it again. We stayed there all day long and that night. That evening they took us on buses to a railroad station, not the main station, to another station. One thing I recall is that when we left on the buses, there were women lined up outside shaking their hands at us and spitting at us, and things like that.
GLASER: Jewish women?
KATZ: No, no. By the way, they were only arresting men. They weren’t touching women and children. My sister was living in Holland. They put us on the train and we didn’t know where we were going. The train arrived in the early morning at Weimar and they told us, “When we say hit the pavement and run – you do.” And we started running. I remember railroad stations in Europe, you have to go like a tunnel across another track because the other track goes that way, so we go down there and go down a corridor and about one-half the corridor, the other half, there were troopers around with whips, sticks and chains, you know, just hitting us. I fell down. I don’t think I have ever been so really frantic – maybe I have, but I don’t remember because people were just pushing on…they didn’t care. I didn’t think I was going to be able to get up and I saw somebody in front that I had known and just really boxed him one and he turned around and saw me and lifted me up. Then they let us out in sections and began whipping up onto the truck – like a two and one half ton truck, that’s the only thing I have in mind. The gate was down but that’s all. I mean you have to get up there. I was never very athletic, but I was only 18, but there were people 50 to 60, but you don’t care. You get up when they beats you, you get up on that truck. They bring you close to the gate at Buchenwald and then they whip you through the gate. When they let the gate down that means… “Off and start running.” They whip you through the gate and I remember seeing one of them saying…

Tape 2 - Side 1

“Once you get through the gate, now you’re safe. You won’t get beaten anymore.” And after a while, they left us completely alone. They were not prepared for us. They were building five barracks for 10,000 Jews – like warehouses – wooden slabs…wooden boards, you crawled in. They were still working I think, I know maybe on the fifth, or maybe the fourth one when we were whipped through the gate early on that morning.
GLASER: And there were no women?
KATZ: No, no. The women were not arrested until much later.
GLASER: Was there any form of organization in the camp, Fred? Any form of group structure? Internal structure?
KATZ: The main camp always had internal structure. Each prisoner was labeled or wore a patch, depending on what group he belonged to – whether he was political – whether he was criminal – whether he was a homosexual – whether he was a Jew – whether he was Seventh-Day Adventist – or whether he didn’t want to work. The internal camp leadership was usually fought out between the politicals and the criminals. As far as our camp was concerned, after a while, they put out of each barracks some Jewish prisoners in charge, and for the most part, their behavior was just the same as some of the Nazi guards. They walked around with sticks or they had their retinue with them, and if you just looked at them the wrong way, they started beating you.
GLASER: What did you do during the day?
KATZ: Basically nothing. We did not work. We younger ones tried to maybe, I remember trying to help out in the hospital a little bit for a few days, or I really don’t recall. I know we were in the service of bringing the food down from the gate because the other prisoners who brought the food over left it at our gate. And we had to bring it down and then we helped most of the time to ladle out the food.
GLASER: Within your group – was there much dissention?
KATZ: I really don’t recall. I realize that we were young people. At that time, we were violently anti-religious. We made fun of all the people who prayed. Regardless of what circumstances they were in, they had to have their morning prayers…their afternoon prayers. We…we thought this was ridiculous…we felt we knew better at that time.
GLASER: What kind of relationship was there between…you mentioned certain Jews were picked as camp barracks elders…what kind of a relationship was there between the young people and this kind of a person?
KATZ: I don’t know. We stayed away from them. After all, in the 30’s an 18 year old was still considered a child. It’s a little bit different today. He was not considered a young adult.
GLASER: Did you socialize in the camp with other young men your age?
KATZ: Yes, but only within the special compound. We had some people we knew who were arrested. I had a uncle who was also there. My mother’s brother, but he was released after two weeks because he fought in World War I. Also, a husband of a far removed cousin who took care of the hospital – so there were people you knew because a lot of them came from your hometown.
GLASER: Did you think at this point, especially this point, that politically, that this new political party was here to stay…that it was the beginning of the end? Was there that feeling, or was there still hope?
KATZ: You mean for me?
GLASER: For Jews, or for you personally.
KATZ: You see, as an 18 year old, I had undergone a tremendous amount of transformations, politically, and at that particular time, I was definitely in favor of a world Socialist community. Also feeling that without that, there would be no solving of the Jewish question.
GLASER: As it was in Germany at that time?
KATZ: Oh I thought that the Jewish question of course was a worldwide question – was not only true to Germany, but…
GLASER: You were thinking more internationally?
KATZ: Oh yes, yes. I was so convinced that whatever I knew was the right thing that when I think about it now, all I do is bust out laughing.
GLASER: When you say the Jewish question, you mean Israel?
KATZ: No, the Jewish problem. Wherever there were Jews there was always a Jewish problem by their mere presence in any other country.
GLASER: I see. So the problem was their being oppressed by wherever they were, whether it was in Russia, or at that time, maybe Poland, maybe Germany.
KATZ: The Jews having always been a, it’s not my word, I like to steal $30.00 words…heterogeneous element, Pinsker uses it in his book AutoEmancipation, an element which is always…never understood, therefore feared by any people that they live with, have presented a problem.
GLASER: So you felt at that age, that some social order…
KATZ: Socialist, maybe close to Communist, well a Socialist or Communist economic system was it.
GLASER: And you thought maybe that could be created in Germany at that time? Or am I going too far?
KATZ: No, no, I felt that this would probably be eventually…have to be world-wide. What was going to happen in Germany, I don’t know. You know it’s very strange, we were…I remember now that you bring it up, I remember the Sudetenland question. That was a part of Czechoslovakia which the Germans wanted because they felt, they said that mostly Germans lived there and the whole thing. Well, the so-called Appeasement Act of Munich with Chamberlain and Daladier of France gave Germany the Sudetenland at that time, which happened in September 1938, I remember, even though we knew that a war – we didn’t really know, but we imagined that we would get killed or wouldn’t live if there was a war. We were hoping that there would be a war against Germany even though we were living in Germany at that time, because we felt the only way to defeat Hitler, was through a war. You know, when you’re 18, 17, 18 or 19, you’ve got ideas and ideals that are not necessarily, completely realistic, but I think they are very necessary. I think if you don’t have them, the world hurts.
GLASER: Did you feel that your experiences in this camp accentuated these ideas? That because of that experience, you thought more strongly about the ideas? Or did it have just the opposite effect?
KATZ: No, no, no, no. It didn’t. I think one thing had nothing to do with the other. Maybe I became a little more pronounced to the thing that we really need a united world in order to solve all the problems.
GLASER: Would you say that because of the experience in the camp though that you knew, and it was brought to you more clearly, that persecution like you have never seen it before, is a reality and could be affecting Jews all over the world at that time? Maybe the world did not include America, but at least throughout Europe – that maybe the same thing was going on?
KATZ: Possibly. In retrospect that might be true. I do not know. I know one thing. I came to the United States and I was very, very upset about the race prejudice in the U.S. against Blacks. I worked…I went to work in Chicago and I met it immediately at that time in 1940. I said, “I can’t believe it.” It is race prejudice which brought a democracy into a dictatorship, which brought a democracy down. How can you be that race prejudiced in this country?
GLASER: Which democracy were you talking about?
KATZ: Germany.
GLASER: Oh I see. It was a democracy at that time?
KATZ: Germany was a democracy from 1920.
GLASER: Under the Czar? No, no, no, no…not the Czar.
KATZ: No, no, no. The Czar was in Russia. The Emperor was a totalitarian system but under the Weimar Republic after World War I until 1932, it had the greatest democratic principles that the world had ever seen – it just didn’t work.
GLASER: I see, I see. Because of the social economics at the time?
KATZ: There were a number of reasons. And one of the reasons is, there were no provisions in there to stop people from overthrowing, but there were a lot of reasons why it didn’t work. Foreign countries, I think, had something to do with it. The loss of the war of course, the economic situation, and also the German people were never use to the democratic setup…this being the only time they had it.
GLASER: Oh I see. So they only had those few years of experience?
KATZ: Yes, of real experience. Even the people who were leading the democracy had made their secret deals with the Army.
GLASER: The year that you were in this camp was 1938?
KATZ: That’s right. I was there for two months.
GLASER: Now you came over to this country in 1940?
KATZ: December 1939.
GLASER: Oh. During that two year period…let’s talk about that two year period between 1938 and 1940.
KATZ: It was a one year period…1939. I came out of the camp in January 1939 and came over here in December 1939.
GLASER: So you were in the camp roughly two months.
KATZ: Yes.
GLASER: Why were you released? What happened?
KATZ: Because my sister who was living in Holland at that time arranged for me to get a transit visa to England. My mother did this through my sister. My sister’s husband had family in England, British people, cousins. For a while, if you put money into England…into an English bank, and you had somebody to vouch for you, that you could live there, and not work. The Council in Frankfurt issued you a transit visa, the British Council. So he issued that. My sister sent money over there. My brother-in-law’s cousin wrote a letter or something like that, that I could live with them and the British Council issued a visa and on the strength of that, my mother took that visa to the Gestapo – and on the strength of that, I was released.
GLASER: So in other words, the Gestapo, even at that time, was still trying to get people out of the country?
KATZ: Out of the country, that’s right.
GLASER: It was still their goal?
KATZ: They had to do it. People had no idea about going out and killing people. If you died…fine. But to ostensibly go around killing other people, no, this was not, no they wanted to get people out of there. A very funny thing, well, it wasn’t funny, a very strange thing when I got out, all of a sudden, it seemed like the British Home Office did not honor any of the visas issued by the Councils, so we didn’t know what to do. We had heard that…that people were not let off the boats in England, so, very simplistic, we figured out…the boat, yeah, they can put you back on it. Let’s go over by plane. We’ll send Freddie over by plane and they can’t send him back. So I went by plane and landed at an airport called Croydon. At that time that was the main airport…1939. And they wouldn’t let me in. Everybody was allowed in except me. I was sitting there not being able to speak very much English.
GLASER: Who else was on the plane with you?
KATZ: Nobody…I don’t know. It was a regular commercial flight.
GLASER: Oh, I see. So they weren’t necessarily people from camps going over?
KATZ: Oh no. It was a commercial flight.
GLASER: Why wouldn’t they let you in?
KATZ: Because apparently they had orders from the Home Office not to honor any of the visas issued by the Councils. And fortunately, the cousin’s wife of my brother-in-law at that time, she’s still alive today and to me she is the female Winston Churchill, an indomitable spirit. Her father was the head of the German-Jewish Aid Committee which was a committee which did an awful lot about bringing Jews out of Europe. She was waiting outside and I was waiting inside. She was going to pick me up and I was going to stay in her house. Well she started screaming at these people and said, “Call the Home Minister…” She knew him. If it weren’t for her, I might not have gotten in because I know later on the British refused to let people in that had landed.
GLASER: And yet this was an arrangement between England and Germany at that time?
KATZ: It had nothing to do with Germany…nothing to do with Germany. It was a British Council in the city. He got the information from London, from the bank, and things like that.
GLASER: Working with the Gestapo to get Jews out? I mean the Gestapo would let the Jews out if they had this?
KATZ: All the Gestapo wanted to see was that you could leave the country, that’s all…that there was another country that would take you. That’s all they were interested in. Of course, they would check you out and see that you didn’t take too much with you, you know, things like that.
GLASER: So if there had been another country, hypothetically, that was willing to take everybody, they could have all been saved?
KATZ: Yes, they could have all been saved.
GLASER: Do you think America, at that time – just out of curiosity, knew of this situation?
KATZ: Oh yes.
GLASER: Politically they were aware of it?
KATZ: Oh yes.
GLASER: They knew you were trying to get out and all they needed was a place to go?
KATZ: There is a very interesting book called Politics of Rescue (by Henry Feingold). Oh yes, Roosevelt knew, Cordell Hull knew. The one that was in charge at the State Department was a Missourian, Breckenridge Long, Under Secretary of State. He had absolutely no conception of what was going on. All they wanted was not to bring Jews in. Harold Ickes who was the Secretary of Interior said, “Why don’t we bring them in and let them go to the Virgin Island? Then they can come in without quota.” That was turned down. They wanted 10,000 in Alaska. Somebody brought up to bring 10,000 to Alaska which could have used them. This was turned down. They were going to bring in 50,000 children, either 5,000 or 50,000 children, the sociologists fought that. They said, “How can you do it, how can you do it? How could you take the children away from their parents?” Everybody knew what was going on. I mean, the top people knew and it wasn’t until Morgenthau really pushed Roosevelt, until the Bermuda Conference in ’42 or something that was trying to get people in.
GLASER: Fred, to go back a little bit to the camp that you were in. It didn’t resemble a jail exactly, because there weren’t bars on the windows, but it was electrified barbed wire…there were guards and there were weapons used and there was whippings going on and people were sick, it had to be total chaos because of the number of people that were there – not knowing why they were there.
KATZ: Oh I don’t know whether there was total chaos. You know the, uh, I was going to say something but I don’t know whether that is true. I was going to say the Germans has a tendency to adapt to things, but I think a human has a tendency to adapt to situations.
GLASER: You were receiving mail?
KATZ: After a while we were receiving mail and could send out mail. After a while you could receive money, providing we contributed a certain amount into the Prisoner’s Welfare Fund…we could get the rest of it.
GLASER: Were there any photographs taken by anyone? Was there no equipment, no cameras, or nothing?
KATZ: No, no cameras. The photographs that we have today, they all came from the Nazi period afterward – during the war.
GLASER: Had you heard during the period, what was going on within Germany, politically against Jews in terms of the war and all that business? Was there much conversation amongst these prisoners as to what was going on on the outside?
KATZ: You mean those two months that I was in camp?
KATZ: I really don’t remember. Maybe we discussed politics and I am sure that if everything was according to the way everything else went, we did. And with the older people we said, “Shh, shh, shh.”
GLASER: Now when you were told that you could leave, and you knew where you were going and how to get there, obviously you knew your family had arranged for you to go to the camp…to the airline…
KATZ: Oh no. I was at home for two weeks.
GLASER: What was happening at home then? What had happened at home during this two months absence?
KATZ: My father of course was in Holland already with my sister and all my mother was doing – was trying to get me out. As soon as I left, she left a couple of days later for Holland also.
GLASER: What had changed in your neighborhood, anything? Were people surprised to see you?
KATZ: I didn’t know that many people in the neighborhood. We were living in a business district because, as I told you, we had our apartment on top of the building where we had our store. The only ones in the apartment building that we really knew was the dentist that use to take care of me. And he, of course, wore a uniform and I don’t remember whether I saw him after I came back. He saw me when I was arrested and I think it gets to a point where people start thinking – people get arrested generally by the police when they do something bad. “I have been good so I don’t get arrested. He gets arrested, so he must have done something bad.” I think a whole mentality like this goes across. We found the same thing in other countries when the first Jews they arrested were the German Jews and not the local Jews. The local Jews said, “They don’t mean us.”
GLASER: When you got off the plane and you were able to assimilate into your new life in England at that time, philosophically, what did you think in terms of politically or in terms of what was happening in Germany? How did you feel at that time? You were probably 19 at that time. Did you think there was going to be a war?
KATZ: I was hoping for one. I tell you, I was higher than a kite when I heard about the agreement between Germany and Russia because that to me was the start of a World Revolution.
GLASER: Non-Aggression Pact? Where they wouldn’t attack one another?
KATZ: Well no. There was a Non-Aggression Pact which was signed the latter part of August 1939. What I saw out of this was there was going to be a war between Germany and England and that Germany and England and the other allies would rub themselves raw against each other. Of course, having no idea that Hitler would just march all over…rub themselves raw and then Russia would step in and clean up the whole thing and make Communism or Socialism all over the world.
GLASER: That wasn’t so bad for you because that’s about what your thinking was.
KATZ: That’s right, that’s right.
GLASER: So that was in line with your thinking.
KATZ: That’s right, at that time, definitely.
GLASER: That’s real interesting. Do you think you shared that philosophy with many people at that time? I mean, was it a popular thought?
KATZ: I’m sure it was a popular thought in the United States of the people who were Socialist because – you’re much too young – but there was a tremendous segment in the United States who were against Lend Lease; against helping England; against helping anybody, until the 22nd of June 1941 – until the Nazis attacked Russia.
GLASER: That’s right. After they had dominated Europe.
KATZ: That’s right. But as long as Russia was in a Non-Aggression Pact with Germany, they didn’t want anybody else. So I imagine there was a feeling like that around. I don’t know how prevalent it was, but people who believe in Socialism, who were starry eyed and who thought, “Oh God, how could we think that Joe Stalin was such a great man.” You know, because again, we didn’t know.
GLASER: You had no way of knowing, but you thought that way primarily because of its effect on the Jewish community?
KATZ: I don’t know. Maybe I became a Socialist because I was a Jew. I don’t know.
GLASER: Maybe it was a popular thought at that time because of all the oppression over the splinter governments that were coming and going.
KATZ: It’s possible. Because don’t forget that some of the leaders in the Russian government were Jews. And supposedly there was no antisemitism in Russia. As a matter…for a while, it was against the law.
GLASER: Until relatively recently, it wasn’t a popular thought in Russia as far as the rest of the world was concerned, in terms of Communism.
KATZ: Yeah, yeah. But we found out that it goes back much further than we anticipate because you can’t take it out of a Russian. The Russian is antisemitic.
GLASER: When you were in England, now you spent how much time in England?
KATZ: Just about a year.
GLASER: This made you about 19, or maybe 20?
KATZ: I was close to 20 when I came here.
GLASER: And the war had started?
KATZ: Yes the war in Europe had started.
GLASER: What kind of news did you get about the war other than what you were reading about? Did you receive any information from people out of Germany? Was there any communications whatsoever?
KATZ: No, no. We still got some communication from my sister until Germany overran Holland in the beginning of 1940, May 1940. Then that stopped too.
GLASER: She didn’t indicate what was going on in Holland? Or she did, up to that point?
KATZ: Yes. Then maybe we did get some letters afterwards, but I found out much later from her…speaking and talking to her and things like that – what she went through.
GLASER: Was there ever any fear that if Germany had advanced on all of Europe the way they had at that time, this could also happen in England? I mean, were the Jewish people in England also beginning to fear what was going on because of what people like you told them?
KATZ: I was only in England for three months of the war. All Germany had done was overrun Poland. I spent most of my time in England in a camp – in a Jewish refugee camp. We got some news. Again, of course, I made some English friends and so my English picked up much better.
GLASER: But the rest of your family was in Holland?
KATZ: My sister and my parents were in Holland.
GLASER: Do you know what happened to them?
KATZ: Oh yes. We came over together. We came on the same ship. They came from Holland, then the ship went to Southampton and I joined them. We came together and I think we came on the Lithuanian quota. My sister came over here in 1947.
GLASER: That’s interesting. What would you say, Fred, I am going to go back just a little, just out of curiosity. You hear conversation today about the fact that maybe the Jewish people could have avoided some of the things that happened to them. Philosophically, do you have any thoughts on that?
KATZ: Avoided? Which way?
GLASER: Well by the Nazi party when they first came to power and all the things that we have talked about…oh, the various situations that they created. The signs above the stores, the restrictions and so forth. As this was beginning to build, philosophically, do you feel that perhaps with all that beginning to happen, could the Jewish people have done something more to protect themselves or was that impossible?
KATZ: No, it was completely impossible.
GLASER: They could not have done anything to protect themselves?
KATZ: I think basically what you are asking which is, what is generally asked – not the way you asked…what is generally asked is…Why didn’t the Jews defend themselves? Why didn’t they fight back?
GLASER: Well maybe there was nothing to defend themselves against at one point. There was no offense/defense. It was a very subtle thing at first.
KATZ: Oh it was subtle at first. Even though you knew that the party was antisemitic.
GLASER: There was no fighting back at that time?
KATZ: No. You see the country was still a…supposedly a democratic country. It was ruled by the vote. If you represent one percent of the population, you don’t have very much power at the polling place. I don’t think there was a way for the Jews to change things. Look, there were Jews who supported Hitler, we know that – with votes. Because the basic vote for Hitler in the beginning was, most of it was anti-Communism, so I don’t see any way the Jews could have done anything to prevent it. Just like I cannot see how the Jews could have done anything later on. Then of course, the one thing you always get is… “As an American, I would not have stood for that. I would have fought, even if I would have died in the attempt.”
GLASER: No, the circumstances were a lot different. There was no form of speaking out for or acting against the State over there, as I understand it.
KATZ: That is right. And of course, the availability of weapons wasn’t there. Here, it is so different. I know my sister always use to say, as an example, when people use to ask her, ““What did the people at the Bataan March do against the captives?” They had a lot more and they didn’t rush them all…”
GLASER: Do this for me, Fred, if you would. Comment a little bit, or as much as you’d like about your feeling of coming to America, knowing that the Americans, when they had the opportunity to accept Jews from Germany, when Germany was allowing Jews to escape if they had a place to go – that you came to America and you must have been very bitter because you knew that there were hundreds of thousands of Jews trying to get out to this country that you finally ended up at. It was one country that was not allowing Jews in, in large numbers.
KATZ: I wasn’t that bitter at that time because I don’t think it really hit home quite that much. And I am certainly not bitter now. I know it’s very prevalent among the Jews right now to hate Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
GLASER: It was within his power to change that policy?
KATZ: That is right. However, I think, number one – the way I look at it, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, number one, was President of the United States. He was not…his job was not to take care of the Jews. His number one job was to look out for the interest of the United States. I have read since then what had happened, that I believe that Roosevelt could have not asked Congress to increase the quota. If he would have as much as mentioned it, Congress would have cut down the quota. Because during that period Congress went through a period, or – there’s a 30 million dollar word again and I knew it, I forgot it, and I like to use it…fear of strangers – what is it? What’s the name of the word? I don’t know, maybe it’ll come to me. But the Congress of the United States did not want strangers in this country. Did not want foreigners. We were going through a depression. We had comparatively a lot of unemployment. Even though the people who would have come in would have generally found jobs, and we know that, but you cannot explain that to somebody who will never understand this. They don’t want foreigners even though everybody in this country originally was a foreigner. They don’t want foreigners. Also, Jews in their mind, were Eastern Europeans. The quota for Eastern Europeans were still smaller than for German Jews. Jews, even if they were Germans, they were Eastern Europeans in their minds.
GLASER: Even though they were Germans?
KATZ: Yeah. But they were Jews and, “We’ve got enough Jews. We don’t need that many Jews.” All of these things were in the mind of Congress. Now what Roosevelt could have done, this is the one thing that he can be blamed for…he could have told the Councils to fill the quotas, not to be that much of a stickler for details. Because we know, for instance that the Council knew, the American Council, that every city, wherever the Council was, knew that you would get a job if you came to the United States. But if you told him you had a job, you wouldn’t get a visa, because you were not allowed to have a job. Because somebody gave an affidavit, so you would not fall, so you would not have the State take care of you. So that person is supposed to take care of you. Now if Roosevelt would have told the Councils in the different areas, “Forget about checking everything out. Just fill the quota”…more people could have come in. Maybe not that many more, but you see – here is the one thing, and I think a lot of people seem to overlook to a large extent too, and I’m using that in quotation marks when I say “only”… “only” about a little over 200,000 German and Austrian Jews were killed. The rest of them all left. The big amount that was killed was Polish and Russian Jews, after the war had started.
GLASER: When you say, they left?
KATZ: Left Germany.
GLASER: So they did get out during that period?
KATZ: A lot of them were able to get out of Germany. Now a number of them again went into the Western European countries and then got caught later on. Like my sister and her husband, and a lot of people in France, and so on. But the big bulk of death came out of Poland and Russia. No doubt about it…that we know.
GLASER: Do you feel, Fred, that because you were born in Germany and Germany is not necessarily the Hitler era, it isn’t, in terms of current history, it is. But you having been born there, whatever your experiences were at that time, as you think back, as you developed during your childhood period and you had a family life and you had educational experience and you had a social life…do you still think back at Germany – not the Nazi era – with a certain sense of pride, in terms of nationalism. Can you think back to the place where you were born with a sense of nationalism?
KATZ: Nationalism, no. I don’t think I ever had. Oh, I don’t want to say “ever,” but most of my life I’ve never had any nationalism for Germany. I’m not a nationalist as far as the United States is concerned. I feel nationalism is the cause of a tremendous amount of evil.
GLASER: Well then maybe not nationalism, maybe…
KATZ: You mean pride? A certain pride?
GLASER: Maybe because you were from Germany. A pride of nation, a pride of birth.
KATZ: Maybe a pride to…I don’t know. I’m not, never thought of it that way. If I was proud of anything as far as Germany is concerned, and me, if I would be proud, maybe I would be proud – if that makes any difference – I don’t know whether that makes any difference. I was born in the same country where Goethe was born or Beethoven was born. Maybe, does that give me a kinmanship? I don’t know.
GLASER: Could you go back to Germany today?
KATZ: To live?
GLASER: No, no – to visit?
KATZ: Oh I have been several times. Oh yeah, I enjoy it.
GLASER: Do you, have you gone back to Frankfurt?
KATZ: Oh yes.
GLASER: Have you gone back to your street or your community?
KATZ: Oh yeah, oh yeah. Of course none of them are standing anymore.
GLASER: Is the street still there?
KATZ: Most of the streets are still there except the one where I was born. I was born in the ghetto, or what used to be the ghetto in the Buernestrasse, not in the hospital, because the French occupied the city then, when I was born. That doesn’t exist anymore. But all the other streets where we lived, they are still there.
GLASER: How do you feel when you go back there? Do you feel hatred?
KATZ: No, no, no. I told you that before when we started talking about it, when we started talking. No, and I do not feel also, maybe once in a while, I did in the early…when I…the first time I went back was during the war. But after the war, the first time, I was back in ’65…maybe then when I saw somebody my age on the street I might have said to myself, “What were you doing?” I don’t know. Maybe if was.
GLASER: So you went back during the war?
KATZ: Yes. In the American Army.
GLASER: Oh is that right? Back to Germany during the war?
KATZ: Yes. I’ve been back… ’65, ’68, ’69 and then ’78.
GLASER: Do you ever find yourself talking with someone in Germany about things – the way they used to be, just to see what maybe their opinions are…get their ideas?
KATZ: Oh yeah, yeah. We did at times. The only people I talked to were people that I know – that have never been pro-Nazi and have always been anti-Nazi.
GLASER: So those are the people that you have had a chance to talk with?
KATZ: Yes. You see through some of my British friends, through some of my rabbis, I have made some German friends who are friends of theirs and they had some extremely interesting experiences.
GLASER: Would you be in a hotel in Germany, for example, and find yourself at dinner or something with other men discussing whatever it might be, and then find yourself involved in a conversation about Germany – the way it was during the Hitler period?
KATZ: No, I do not think so. I don’t know whether I would want to. Maybe there might be the fear that somebody might say, “It’s the best thing we ever did.” Maybe…maybe. I don’t know. It hasn’t come up. I had a conversation three years ago…two years ago. I went up to Alaska to teach a course on the Holocaust. And on the way up we took a train from Skagway to Whitehorse, Yukon and on the train was a young publisher from Germany. We started talking.

Tape 2 - Side 2

And he sent me a book which is now, has also been translated in English about the Hitler period. And the book…people started to ask that some good things he feels that also happened during that period. I said to him, “Yes, you know he build nice streets. He built the autobahn.” Just like they used to say about Mussolini…he made the trains run on time in Italy. These things exist, but I feel I wouldn’t go into big conversation with Germans I don’t know.
GLASER: I see. Because you’re really not sure who they were, or what they did at the time, or what their feelings are today about that era?
KATZ: I, I, I, I don’t basically have the opportunity because we don’t meet that type of people in Germany when we travel.
GLASER: Are you staying away from that opportunity?
KATZ: No, no. Not on purpose. We usually stay in a pension-type hotel and you talk to people and they know that you’re from Germany, they don’t ask you. They ask, “How long have you been gone?” And you say, “About 40 years,” and they think, “Oh, I better not even talk to you.”
GLASER: I didn’t realize that. The people in Germany, if they had the opportunity to talk to someone who they could tell, by age, and by the time you left could have had something to do with that era, that the people in Germany don’t raise the issue either.
KATZ: Well even if they had nothing to do, just to be living in that era, in order to be able to continue living, you had to more or less go along with whatever was the prevalent thing – whether you agreed with it or not. You don’t necessarily want to talk about it. It’s like, for instance, a lot of children – we’ve read books – a lot of children left parents because they said to their parents, “How could you do things like that?” But by the same token, the Jews who came back to Germany and are living there, the children apparently said to them, “How could you come back?”
GLASER: Did you ever talk to any Jews who have gone back to Germany to live?
KATZ: No, I talked to a rabbi in Berlin who now lives in Australia who had a congregation in Berlin and a lot of the rich Jews in Berlin came back. They came back because of money.
GLASER: They didn’t come back with anything though?
KATZ: No. They came back because of money.
GLASER: They came back because they knew they could earn a good living?
KATZ: No. Because the State would give them back all the things, you know…
GLASER: Oh, I see, I see. It was an economic issue?
KATZ: There was an economic issue. There were a lot of old people who…I remember my parents had friends who went to India. India was no place for them. They were in their 70s. He had a pension coming from the I.G. Farben Industry, so they went back. What are they doing in India? There were also a number of people in Israel who went back…older people. They were more used to that kind of life.
GLASER: Well there is a life-style. There is a dramatic life-style.
KATZ: Well, it is a western European life-style and of course a lot of Jews in Germany today are ones who fled from behind the Iron Curtain. You’ve got about 30,000 Jews in West Germany…600 in East Germany.
GLASER: That really aren’t Jewish anymore in terms of their practicing Judaism?
KATZ: Who?
GLASER: In East Germany.
KATZ: The 600 are…I’ve got an article. I subscribe to the GDR Review and there’s an article in there. The Jews have been treated like they’re extinct.
GLASER: Oh, like a showcase?
KATZ: I mean they do everything trying to keep them alive, you know. But there are no young ones. They have synagogues. They have communities. They have kosher butcher shops in East Berlin.
GLASER: Oh, more for impressing other people?
KATZ: I don’t know. I guess they want to keep them alive, you know, because they don’t want to be known as the ones who put the “death knell” to what the Nazis did.
GLASER: Well, this is very interesting, Fred, very interesting.
KATZ: I don’t know. You see, I didn’t suffer that much. I am sure you have talked to a lot of people who went through all kinds of really gory details as far as…
GLASER: Fred, I haven’t. I haven’t yet.
KATZ: You haven’t? You talked to Steve didn’t you?
GLASER: Uh huh, uh huh.
KATZ: Yeah, Steve’s a good friend of mine.
GLASER: Is he really? I didn’t know that.
KATZ: Oh yes, Steve’s the oldest friend I’ve got here. I’ve known him since 1945-’46.
GLASER: He’s really a fine gentleman. As a matter of fact, we had an interesting experience. I walked into his living room with this machine and…Well, I’ll turn it off.

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