HEIFETZ: Give me just your first name.
HERRMANN: Helen Herrmann. So where should we start?
HEIFETZ: Why don’t you tell me where you’re from.
HERRMAN: I’m from Cochem. Should I spell it to you?
HERRMANN: C O C H E M.
HERRMANN: M – (PAUSES) but sometimes it is spelled with a K, also. But when I went to school, we spelled it with a C.
HEIFETZ: I see, Cochem.
HERRMANN: Cochem on the Moselle. It’s on the Moselle – it’s Rhineland.
HEIFETZ: On the…
HEIFETZ: And you said Cochem on the…
HERRMANN: Moselle…Moselle (PAUSES) very close to the French border also. So I had a normal childhood.
HEIFETZ: Did you grow up speaking French as well?
HERRMANN: No, no, no. We didn’t spoke French. It was German, you know, uh, didn’t spoke French.
HEIFETZ: And tell me about your family.
HERRMANN: My father, my mother and the younger sister (PAUSE) which was four years younger. Well we went to (PAUSE) to a school, you know, like anybody else and you know there was no different if there was Jewish or not that time, that was before ’33 and I went to grammar school till the fourth grade and then I started in a private school and that was Catholic nuns, so I was when I was 14, when I usually go till 14 to school, and that’s it. But in a private school, you could go to 16, but since I’m Jewish, so I couldn’t further…so I stayed home a while and I had nobody, nobody my age, Jewish, Christian.
HEIFETZ: In your town there was no one Jewish?
HERRMANN: No, no one Jewish. There were Jewish, but not…not people, not children of my age. (PAUSES) So I didn’t went to…to sewing school.
HERRMANN: Sewing – to learn sew – little a while, it was also…and after I was 15 or so, you know, nobody talked to you anymore. They all were afraid to talk to you, you know, kids who went to school with me.
HEIFETZ: You were born what year?
HERRMANN: ’20 (PAUSES)…1920. So everything was normal till I was 13, you know.
HEIFETZ: How did the nuns treat you before then?
HERRMANN: Okay too. But they treated me before – there was only one Jewish girl and one true Protestant in that school.
HEIFETZ: How did it feel being the only Jewish girl?
HERRMANN: I…you didn’t, you know, didn’t make no difference, you know. When the priest – they had twice a week the priest came for some…for one hour so we could go out – so we didn’t have to stay…But you always were praying before each…each class. But in the – in the other schools too, you know, in the morning.
HEIFETZ: Even in the public school?
HERRMANN: You know, everything there was no different – state or religion – even, uh, I had Hebrew school, you know, maybe five, six kids but they all very young and so twice a week, we had Hebrew school.
HEIFETZ: After school?
HERRMANN: Ya – Wednesdays – there was no school so between two and four, we had to go to…to cheder and Sunday morning from nine to 12, we had to go also. They had a beautiful synagogue, so the people came from around, you know. There were small towns around – they came for service and the children came to school too.
HEIFETZ: You enjoyed yourselves?
HERRMANN: Oh yes. They had a beautiful – was not a rabbi – I don’t know what you call it, but probably was a rabbi. He did all the functions what a rabbi did. He was a cantor. He was a hassan and whatever, you know, he buried when, he married when – he was a shochet you know, Bar Mitzvah and everything, so…
HEIFETZ: There were no Bas Mitzvahs?
HERRMANN: No, never heard of it till lately, you know. Never heard of it. (PAUSES) So I had a normal childhood. I…in fact, I was the only child in my family for four years so I had everything that, (PAUSES) you know, what I wanted…only grandchild and spoiled.
HEIFETZ: (LAUGHTER) Were your grandparents in your town?
HERRMANN: My father’s stepmother lived in the town, but my mother’s parents lived on the border from Luxembourg so we went every vacation to my grandma, you know, to them. So that time you could. There was a river in between…one part was German and across the river was Luxembourg. So that, before Hitler, you could just cross the river, over the bridge, and then you were in Luxembourg, ya know. There was no different but later on, in Hitler’s time, you had to have papers to go over there. So all of a sudden you couldn’t go anymore.
HEIFETZ: So then you didn’t get to see your grandparents?
HERRMANN: My grandfather died when I was 12 and my grandmother she just died before they were deported. (PAUSES) So when the war, so ’36, I didn’t want to stay anymore in Cochem. I went to Trier. That’s a bigger town so there were more Jews there, you know…Jewish…Jews. So I found a family…I took care of children and I could stay with them. I stayed with them a year and a half. So…and I could go on all the functions from the Jewish organizations and something I enjoyed. People went to Israel. There was some people living in the house and they said, “I have an aunt in Luxembourg and she wants somebody like a companion. Her husband just died. Would you go there?” I grabbed it. I said, “Oh, sure.” Everybody wanted to go to Luxembourg, you know, there was a lot of young people there, Jewish young people from Germany. The only thing you could go, if somebody sponsored you, you know. Otherwise you couldn’t get in or you had to have a lot of money, to live from your money. (PAUSES) You had to have…to work…you had to get a permission to work. You only could – to get to permission for work, to work, nobody else wanted to do…to go in the household and there a lot of…See, the husband was there too and I didn’t know that. So you only could do – the boys went to farmers – got permission to go to farmers, so there were a lot of young people there. So we enjoyed it too. We stayed there till, in ’40, May fourth I guess, even on that day the Nazis came. So, but in the meantime, my parents moved to my grandmother’s and where they lived, they built a Seigfried Line and the whole town had to leave. And they took ‘em all close to Berlin. They stayed there for two years, but in the meantime, the Goyims could come back, but not the Jewish people. But eventually they could come back and they went to Trier. From there they were all shipped away. So when the Germans came in, the 10th of May, the people where I was working there, they left for France.
HEIFETZ: And at this time, you were 20 years old?
HERRMANN: Yes, I was just 20 at that time. They wanted to take me along. I said, “What’s the use to go along. I only have a German pass. I don’t even get to the border. They will take me alright…they see on the German passport – the J, the Jew – and the last, and the middle name was “Sarah.” You know, every Jewish girl had the name “Sarah.” I guess you know that, so…
HEIFETZ: And the boys had name “Israel?”
HERRMANN: Yes, ya – what’s the use to – I’m not going along, I will stay. And around the corner from me was a girlfriend of mine and she said, “I’m not going either – I will stay too.” Her people went too. So we went – stayed in the house where I was working. It was a big house and the Jewish community at that time there were a lot…a…uh, lot of people there from Vienna – from Austria. But they couldn’t work, you know. The Jewish Federation or somebody took care of ‘em and they stayed in a hotel. But the German took the hotel room, so they had to make room for them people. So, they put the whole house was full of Jews. (LAUGHTER) So we stayed there for all…nobody bothered us – about for six months.
HEIFETZ: How many of you?
HERRMANN: Only about – two girlfriends of mine – maybe three. We were in one room and two couples I guess – that…maybe some more. I don’t know. So, anyway nobody bothered us.
HEIFETZ: What did you do for money?
HERRMANN: We…girlfriend…we found jobs. We worked, household again, you know. Some left – some came back – some stayed, you know. But you…from Austria there they got paid from…from the Jewish…I think at that time it was SR…whatever it was, you know, it’s…So they got paid. So we worked. So we could stay in the house. We didn’t have to pay rent or nothing. But I still…I don’t – I forgot who paid the…the…the light and the electricity. So I didn’t know what happened there. So maybe just nobody paid. (LAUGHTER) So, once of the sudden, we had to get out of there.
HEIFETZ: How did you know that?
HERRMANN: So they came and by dinner then, we had to get out.
HEIFETZ: Did the soldiers come to the house?
HERRMANN: No, no. I guess from the Jewish things, they came. So we…a couple living there, and they went to America and they bought some stuff from Europe, and they put an ad in the paper – which we didn’t know – to send things – and they got wind of it – so we had to get out of there.
HEIFETZ: So you found this out by Jewish…
HERRMANN: So then we stayed till the 10th of May. A lot of people, you know, most of them left. There weren’t too many Jewish people, but the one who left, every few weeks, we got an order – we had to leave. We had a very nice rabbi, fairly young rabbi. He was from Austria and everytime the time came we had to leave, he went to the Gestapo. And the first time we went there, there was a guy sitting there – he went to school with. He knew him. He always gave him a little extension. And the next time we went there, that guy wasn’t there anymore. So, I guess they got wind of it, or whatever. So we were in a transport, bus load. I don’t know, maybe 30 or even more with two SS with what you call it? They were sitting there with rifles. And they took us. They told us they would take us to Southern…to France. And we went to Paris the first night and we stayed in a hotel. (PAUSES) And then the next morning they took us on – that time France was partitioned. Part was occupied, one part wasn’t. So they told us they would take us on the…on the border, and would put us on the train, and then we should go wherever we want to. And if they would come and arrest us, we should tell me we would go to Israel. So we were debating where should we go when we were on that train. So we decided maybe we go to Marseilles – that’s a port. Maybe we find a boat, you know, just a boat and go, you know. Maybe we find a boat and go somewhere, you know, could…
HEIFETZ: Did you have money with you? Did you…?
HERRMANN: No, all we could take was 150 marks that time. That’s all we could take. That’s all what we had. So…
HEIFETZ: Did you have belongings with you?
HERRMANN: What did we have much, you know, just a few clothes. You know you couldn’t – you couldn’t take much. That’s all what we had, everybody few clothes, you know, suitcase, that’s all. It was my girlfriend and she had a brother was with us, few young people, boys from where we knew, you know. So we, then we decided on the way we go to Marseilles. When we got to Marseilles, it was like here, the train – it drove in…like the train station here – all the way in. (PAUSES) We weren’t used to that, you know. In Europe – Germany – stations are all outside. You go out and you’re outside, you know, but here the train drove in a hole. Next, and there was a hotel on the one side, restaurant, whatever. And then we got out of the, we weren’t sitting all together so we, in a few compartments, so that we shouldn’t…so when we got out of the train, we saw police picked four people up already – four boys – said, “Oh my God, that starts already.” I had an uncle – brother of my mother – lived in Nice. So when I was in the station, I…I wrote a card, “I’m in Marseilles.” I don’t know what happened, maybe take care of my luggage, whatever happened. So I don’t know if they take us, or whatever. Some are picked up already and…and in that – that was the station or hotel had two entrances. One takes you to the outside, and one to the station. And we were sitting in the restaurant there – a few of the…the guys got up and went…went out and didn’t come back. I said, “The heck – where they’re going? Let’s do the same thing.” So one after the other got out, went out. Marseilles the station is all the way up the hill. We go all the way down steps, so it was night – where should we go? We were tired. We couldn’t stand up anymore. We were three day…three days on the way.
HEIFETZ: Did you eat?
HERRMANN: I don’t know. We took some sandwiches along – that’s all. I, you know what we could take along. So we ate some sandwiches, maybe a little food. I don’t even know anymore. So maybe we had a cup coffee in the restaurant in the station. So then we found a hotel, around that, you know, that it was not a very good neighborhood. So we didn’t notice it. Anyway we found a hotel, says “Open.” So we went in and got a room and at least we were, overnight gone. In the morning we went out, and we found the other one, walking (LAUGHTER) around there too. So we found most of ‘em together again. So somebody said, “I found out – I talked to somebody – there is a Jewish committee here. Maybe we could go there and see what’s what.” So we went…they showed us to the…they knew where it was. So we went with them and sure enough, there was a Jewish committee and it was like a …like a barracks – it said “hotel” but it was like a barracks for…and the ships…ship came in for the crew to sleep, you know…stacked up beds. So we went in and they had a kitchen there. So we got something…we had to stand in line at least to get something warm to eat. So I don’t know what it was anymore. It looked like peas but it was big. So I didn’t like it, but we ate it anyway. (LAUGHTER) So, while we were standing in line there, my girlfriend said, “Looks like it is a cousin of mine there, second cousin of mine.” So and sure enough, it was a…it was her. And I told her I know of a friend of my grandfather he had a daughter in Marseilles but I wouldn’t know what her married name is. She said, “I know who it is and he’s there too, Mr. Tom. I take you to ‘em.” So we went there and he said, “I find you jobs.” So he found my girlfriend and me jobs in a household.
HEIFETZ: Did they ask when you went to get the job if you were Jewish?
HERRMANN: He knows, you know, that he only took us for Jewish people, you know. The first job I had was a Turkish…Turkish family. She couldn’t German – I couldn’t French so it was (LAUGHTER) I couldn’t stay there, you know, we couldn’t…
HERRMANN: Communicate, you know. So I said, I went back to Mr. Tom, “I…I can’t stay there. I don’t know what to do. She don’t know what to tell me, so it won’t work.” He said, “I know somebody else, that is a…he’s from Paris, but he speaks German. He is from Alsace-Lorraine. He’s a lawyer…He was a famous lawyer, maybe they’re looking for somebody.” So I went there. They had five girls…five children. So I worked there for a while. He spoke German, but she couldn’t either, but we could, you know.
HEIFETZ: And they were Jewish?
HERRMANN: They were Jewish, ya. They came from Paris. They…they were, you know, refugees also. But he opened a practice there. He helped people who were in Gurs in the concentration camps, at that time…people – they had papers – they could go to America, you know. They was still transportation going, you know. So he had the people. So some people came there. So I guess the…somebody moved from the camp and they could come out and pay the…he went with them to American Consul and get the papers. So I worked there for a while. What happened then, the friend where we met on that organization – so we found a room. We rented a room. I said to my girlfriend, “As long as I have money, I won’t stay here…stacked up.” One side was a man, you know. It was really – there were a lot…at that time there were a lot of Spaniards there – from the Revolution of ’36 – a lot of Spaniards there too. Once of a sudden, they disappeared. So then it was full of Jews from all over. It was like a – I don’t know – people were waiting for papers to go somewhere or some were the men there in concentration camp and the women were there…a…it was a mess!
HEIFETZ: No privacy at all?
HERRMANN: No, none whatsoever. So my girlfriend, another friend, we rented a room. But it was not the best room either. But at least we had our own room. So we worked. Then later on we went a little bit better. We went in a different street, but the only thing, you could disappear was in the worse – worse part of the town, you know, because once of a sudden my…I had papers. So we could get papers that time from the French. Every six months we had to renew it and after the first six months, they didn’t renew. They told me there were enough people here. I should go somewhere else. So they asked me – I couldn’t tell ‘em I was working, ‘cause you’re not supposed to – so since you have money, you can go somewhere else too.
HEIFETZ: Not your girlfriend?
HERRMANN: No, just mine. So I don’t know what the reason was. So anyway, she said to me, “Why don’t forget about it and live without papers? What can they do, so worse can happen, they can take us and put us in a camp.” So that’s what I did. So I stayed without papers, so, but it still was…still unoccupied. It still was French then. But then they started to pick people up, you know, mostly men. There was a…a camp, a working camp not too far from Marseilles.
HEIFETZ: Who’s demanding all of the papers and all if it was unoccupied Germany – I mean French?
HERRMANN: Of course the French…the French…the French…French, so they didn’t want that many strangers around there, I guess, I don’t know.
HEIFETZ: It wasn’t only directed at the Jews then?
HERRMANN: No, no. No, they didn’t know I was…I didn’t, had no, no, Jew on there then…
HEIFETZ: It was simply foreign?
HERRMANN: Yeah, foreigners. That’s what it was. It was special for foreigners where they had to go, you know.
HEIFETZ: I see.
HERRMANN: Protector – that’s what they called them. And they took all the boys, and took them in the…by the time they had…they got ration cards. See I couldn’t get my ration cards. I had to buy ‘em on the black market. You had to show your papers when you get the ration cards. So…
HEIFETZ: Where did you get black market?
HERRMANN: Oh you could get black market all over. Always somebody there that would help if you pay…
HEIFETZ: How did you find the people?
HERRMANN: Where you worked. They helped you, you know. I later on…we worked with Gentile people, you know, and it was occupied. The people we knew – the Jewish people left then also, you know when the Germans came in. Once all of the sudden, my girlfriend and I were the only ones there what we knew, so she worked for a gentile woman. She was very nice. And I worked for a gentile woman. There was a organization like it…dispenser, like a clinic. It was I think, you know, it was from Americans paid, or whatever, I don’t know. There was a girl. She had a baby. She said, “You better take care of the baby.” I said, “Sure I would.” So she helped us get the cards and I did some laundry for other people. I washed and I cleaned and I did everything. Then the Germans came. So somebody told me – you have no papers. I tried…I, if you want to, you can get a false…false papers that you’re French.
HEIFETZ: Excuse me – when you, when you were in unoccupied France, what did you do about keeping up with your religious life?
HERRMANN: That time we could go to synagogue, you know. There was a temple, you know, it was Sephardica, you could go to temple. We went on the holidays to temple.
HEIFETZ: Did you keep kosher?
HERRMANN: How could you keep? We glad something to eat, you know, nothing kosher anymore. That was out. But we always could get matzot, so I never ate bread…always could get matzot. The only thing you had to give double ration from your bread card to get matzot. You could get two pounds…two pounds of matzot, and you have to get four points bread cards. But I always managed to find them so that’s the only thing I kept. I never ate bread on…
HEIFETZ: What about…when…oh well, you didn’t go to a mikvah anyway?
HERRMANN: No – I wasn’t married. No use to go to a mikvah. I don’t even know where the mikvah were anyways. So I don’t know if the Sephardic…they have different customs. So one time we had to stay at the hotel where, the room where we had…somebody told us get out of there – there will be a…they go from house to house and look for people. So we didn’t know where to go. It was late at night. We still didn’t know where to go. So my girlfriend said, “Let’s go…go in that temple.” So we went to the…They had a Jewish rabbi and he lived and the caretaker lived next to the temple. So we went in there – we said, “We have no place to go overnight.” The only place you can go, you can stay and sleep in the library. So we stayed in night – in the library, and I’m telling you, that was the worst night in my life. There were pictures hanging from all the rabbis, you know…life-size pictures, you know – light from the outside shown in. I’m telling you it was awful. So every time you hear the noise, he said, ah uh, now they’re coming in here too. So we just stayed there one night there. Then we find where I was working, the woman was very nice. She said, “If you want to, you can sleep on the kitchen floor.” So my girlfriend and I, we slept, oh, about four months on her kitchen floor. Stayed at night on her kitchen floor.
HEIFETZ: That was a very courageous thing for her to do.
HERRMANN: Ya – she was a gentile woman, so we…
HEIFETZ: She must have liked you.
HERRMANN: There were houses that were like – a big apartment – like a complex and you could go from one house, over the roof, to the other house, you know, a big complex. So in the morning we went up on the roof and went on the other house downstairs. In the evening we went up there so we had to leave early in the morning before they got in the kitchen, you know. But it was a stone floor! So we stayed there a while till it quiet down a little bit and somebody told us there to see the Armenian were very good to us. See, they went through the same trouble. They knew – so we found an Armenian. I tell you…the worst…when we went to Marseilles, I showed Willy where we lived. He didn’t know how we could live. But we did. So the Armenian people had, oh, usually two, three people in two rooms, you know, they were not…So that there was an older couple – they had one room. It was here was their room and here was a room that was like a dark room…no windows – just a window to the hall. Next door, another Armenian couple. But they knew we were staying there. And one night they came – the Gestapo – from room to room and said their, “Open up, open up,” and they told ‘em there’s nobody in there that belongs to them – just a storage. I’m telling you, we were outside. I tell you our hearts went like that! And in the morning when we came down, all the – everybody practically we knew, were gone. Nobody was left anymore. So we…we stayed…
HEIFETZ: Must of been very grateful to those people?
HERRMANN: Yes, we paid, you know, not that we, you know, but anyway it was risky for them too, you know. It was a little room. Oh not…not even as big as dining room here. There was bed in there. We slept two and my girlfriend and I we slept in one bed – a little table – I say two chairs. It was all, hooks on the wall where we could hang out the clothes. Outside was a toilet, of course, for the whole…whole floor for everybody. There was a table and water, so, for everybody too…everybody now and then took water. But sometimes they didn’t have water, you know. They even shut the water off. We had to go down on the street and take water. And if the electricity was low – so whatever they had to say, they cut the water off, quite often. So anyway, we survived.
HEIFETZ: How long were you there?
HERRMANN: Well, I was there from January ’41. I left for America ’46.
HEIFETZ: You stayed in that room for…?
HERRMANN: No, no, no. So then…the Americans or whatever, there was a bombardment. The haupt street was ka-put. The bombs…it was on a Saturday morning and I had off. I wasn’t working that Saturday. Once in a week, you could to where public bathing houses, you know. You could take a shower, or whatever. They were only two days open because they had to save the coal, you know. So that Saturday morning, I went in the shower – I was debating – I want to go to beauty shop – get a haircut. I went in the beauty shop. There were too many people. She couldn’t take me, so I forget about it and I go, and then the sirens started to go. I couldn’t – so I ran to other house and I stayed until it was over. And the room where I stayed, the whole plaster, everything – came down. Oh a lot of people got killed…in the thousands. So the beauty shop where I wanted to go…disappeared. Was gone too. So I was lucky. (LAUGHTER)
HEIFETZ: And where were you when that happened?
HERRMANN: So I went another street and I stayed there in a…in a…in a house, you know, in the door and waited till, till it was over.
HEIFETZ: All by yourself?
HERRMANN: Ya, so then I didn’t know where my girlfriend was. She was working that day. So she went looking for me – I looking for her, you know. Finally we…we caught up with each other.
HEIFETZ: You were very good friends?
HERRMANN: Ya. (PAUSES) So in the meantime, the boys were in camp, and they were all deported, so we never heard anymore. It was a brother was in there and some friends.
HEIFETZ: Were you able to contact your family during all of this?
HERRMANN: When I was in the…not my parents…no, that was out. So I didn’t even know where they were. So when I – when I was in unoccupied – my aunt, they lived in Luxembourg – my sister was living with them. They lived on the border from France and when the war started in ’40 and the Germans came in, the whole town left. So they were fighting in that town. In the meantime, there were goings on – maybe two, three family, Jewish people – my aunt they stayed there to work in Red Cross and once in a while, I could hear, but once of a sudden, I didn’t hear from them anymore either. That was in ’42 so they took them somewhere. I don’t know where they took them.
HEIFETZ: Your sister too?
HERRMANN: Ya. She was living there. My aunt, she had only one daughter. She was 14 years old when they operated on her and decided it was not worth it. I don’t know what she had – but she died. But then my aunt she didn’t care anymore. So maybe they could of saved herself too like some of them, you know. But I…I imagine they didn’t care anymore, so also deported. It was also in ’42, and I had, my mother had another brother in Belgium. They had a little boy – so in ’42 they disappeared too. So nobody heard anything anymore from them. So in the meantime, I got a false French card.
HEIFETZ: How were you lucky enough to get that?
HERRMANN: Cost me a lot of money.
HEIFETZ: Not luck, hard work.
HERRMANN: Ya. So the girl where I took the baby…where I took care of the baby, the gentile girl…in fact she was engaged to a Jewish boy and got killed also – she had the baby. So anyway, she told me, “I know a girl from the underground, maybe I get you in touch with her – maybe she can help.” (PAUSES) So she told me, “Meet her there and there you will find her, she has a paper in her hand, or whatever, so we usually met at the post office.” And I met her at the post office, the first thing when she saw me, she said, “What kind of identification do you have?” And I showed her my card and she said, “Oh my God were you lucky nobody asked for it. That’s the most false card I have ever seen. I get you new one.” So she got me a new card…a good false card. (LAUGHTER) So you were lucky that…that nobody ask you for it. You know that time you couldn’t go without cards. Once in a while the…the guys came in the streetcars or whatever, they ask for identification, you know.
HEIFETZ: Did you carry it with you at all times?
HERRMANN: All the times. So then she gave me one. But I didn’t have to pay for that so she…she tried to give it to me, so from the underground, but I never knew her name so she never told her name. So ever so often, I met her. Once in a while she gave me money too, for my friend and me. But she never told…told us her name. She only told the first name, but I didn’t even know anymore the first name. But once a sudden she didn’t came anymore, so I don’t know if they had taken her or whatever. So we stayed – then we got another room in that house – the people what lived in the one room – they moved to Cannes. So it has a little better room. At least it had a window. So we stayed in there…I stayed in there, till I went to America. But after the war – quite often, we always had to buy our ration cards, see…see could of…we were afraid with a false card we couldn’t get our ration cards.
HEIFETZ: Your friend had a false card also?
HERRMANN: Sure. We all had false cards. So we always said, but we always find people who helped…we had whole bunch of cards…red cards…there were tickets – for cigarettes, or tickets for wine. You know the French drink a lot of wine. So which we didn’t use and the cigarettes we didn’t use. So we exchanged around. We always managed to get something else for that. So we…but I have to say the Armenians there were very, very good to us.
HEIFETZ: You know a lot of people said no…no one was willing to help. But you had maybe four different experiences with gentiles who were extremely helpful. Do you think that there was something about you?
HERRMANN: I don’t know, but the most of them came – see the Armenians they went through the same the Jews went through, you know. They had to leave and they killed them, you know. So they knew what – how…how to…and the other gentiles they came, they came from Alsace-Lorraine also. They didn’t stay with Hitler. They were some kind of refugees too.
HEIFETZ: There were people who really didn’t believe in Hitler?
HERRMANN: Ya, ya. So that’s the gentile I knew, you know, who came from Alsace-Lorraine and helped us. So, in fact, one woman she helped us. I guess she deals…she dealt in black market and she helped us to get (LAUGHTER) so whatever we…So but anyway, she was nice enough, she…we could sleep in her kitchen, you know, for couple months.
HEIFETZ: What…when you were living, I keep thinking about that little room, that you were living in with your friend. What…what did you talk about? What did you do when you weren’t working?
HERRMANN: We were – I don’t – I don’t even know what we were, you know. Not much to do. Sometimes we went to walk. We went to the ocean, you know, Marseille’s right on the ocean. So we went into…we walked sometimes. We were afraid to go in the bus or streetcars. We walked in the morning to work and we walked most of the time home. In fact, even to save a nickel, you know. So if the weather was nice, but sometimes it was so terribly cold, we didn’t have any heat in there. I’m telling you we went with the coats in bed. We put the coats on and the gloves and stockings and we laid, and went to bed. It was cold wind there, you know. We had no…no heat in there – nothing to…
HEIFETZ: Did you talk about your families, or…?
HERRMANN: Sure. So my girlfriend had all my – from my relatives names, in case something should happen to me. So she should write to ‘em, whatever, you know. So, but she never wanted to come to America. So, in fact, she passed away already. She’s not living anymore. So I gave her, you know, she knew all my family and everything…the names, in case something should get separated, you know. So in the meantime my relatives in Nice, they left too, for one night and then they went to Switzerland. So they had a horrible time too. So they were in camp in Switzerland. So my uncle was German and my aunt was French, so they had to leave through the barbed wire also.
HEIFETZ: You, but you said…I’m, I’m amazed, you said that while you were working, you would go and get your hair cut.
HERRMANN: Yeah you had to go and get a haircut once in a while or something, you know. So the people around there where we lived, they knew me, you know, whatever. So they saw us long enough.
HEIFETZ: But you obviously still cared very much about your appearance?
HERRMANN: Oh sure, oh sure. You had to take care of yourself, you know. You had to take a bath once in a while – not every day like here – people don’t do that like they do here, you know. So once in a week you could…could go in the public, whenever they…they had the coal. I don’t know what we paid for it – couple of francs or whatever. So I think sometimes they give you, you couldn’t even – you didn’t even have soap. Was like…like sand, you know. So you were lucky once in a while, you find a piece of soap, you know. With that you couldn’t wash your hair, you know. It was like sand. So you had to go somewhere once in a while – get a hair…get your hair washed, real, you know.
HEIFETZ: It wasn’t as much for vanity as it was for cleanliness?
HERRMANN: Ya, so because with that soap you had, was like, even in the shower, it didn’t come out, you know. So you needed a haircut once in a while otherwise, you know. Oh sure before, you know, before Hitler, you could go to movie – before the occupation, you know, then to the movie on Saturday, whatever, you know. You didn’t have to be afraid, you know.
HEIFETZ: Did you have boyfriends?
HERRMANN: No. I had some friends, but not what you call boyfriends, you know. In fact, I had some friends, they were in camp not too far from Marseilles. He was supposed to come to St. Louis also. He had a sister here. So we always were talking when…when we meet in St. Louis again, you know. But he didn’t make it. But I knew him from before the camp, you know. In fact he was a relative of my aunt’s so…but I met him again in southern France.
HEIFETZ: Must of seemed like a…an amazingly small world?
HERRMANN: Yea, a lot…lot…lot of boys we met, we knew from Luxembourg. You know they all, once of a sudden they all were in that camp. So twice a week my girlfriend and me we bought bread. They didn’t get enough to eat there either, you know. We bought bread and took it. They came out in the evening and there was a little tavern or whatever, so we met there and…and gave them the bread.
HEIFETZ: It was, uh, what kind of a camp then – just a labor camp?
HERRMANN: Some kind of labor camp, ya. So it was from the French. It was not from German. But later on the German took ‘em all. So they had to work on the street or whatever. I don’t know.
HEIFETZ: And no one stopped you from going to give them…?
HERRMANN: No – we said it’s our boyfriends, you know, it was my girlfriend’s brother was there and twice a week we took the bus. Was an hour’s drove by the streetcar. In the afternoon, when we were through with work, we took some bags. We went and got some bread, you know…got 200 grams bread…that’s a little piece what…what is that…you know special for men who works, even for…for somebody else if you don’t have nothing else. So we took the bread and we went over there one day the camp…they were gone.
HEIFETZ: Must have been a terrible day for your friend especially.
HERRMANN: So she never heard of them no more and some escaped. So I knew two boys from…from Vienna. Once of a sudden we saw ‘em again, so they escaped. So they didn’t…didn’t even go along or whatever. How they escaped, I don’t know, but they were there.
HEIFETZ: Did she give up hope, or…?
HERRMANN: So she always thought maybe he’s somewhere. But she had a sister in middle France. Her husband wasn’t Jewish…was American, but nobody knew she was Jewish. So she all of a sudden maybe we would try to go to her, you know, but so she had a little garden, that sister. Quite often she’d send us a package of potatoes. In fact, she was the one who told us, “Don’t stay in your rooms tonight.” She came special from her husband worked on the railroad station so she got cheaper railroad. One day she came, she said, “I…I heard from somebody, they should be, they come and take people away, don’t stay in your rooms.” And where my girlfriend worked, the Jewish people, the first job – they left too on the border for…for vacation. So she had the key. She said, “You know what, we go and sleep there?” So we went there and slept at their house. So we slept…