ZINNER: I’m Lotte Zinner and I shall be interviewing Ilse Mansbacher about her role within the Jewish community here in St. Louis, as well as her personal background on how she came into participating in various programs here in St. Louis.
Ilse, would you give us your name, as well as your maiden name please?
MANSBACHER: Let me spell last name. I L S E, that’s first name. Maiden name, Hochheimer – H O C H H E I M E R. Last name, Mansbacher – M A N S B A C H E R.
ZINNER: And you were born where?
MANSBACHER: Born in Duesseldorf – D U E S S E L D O R F, Germany which is in…sort of in the Rhineland, in 1908.
ZINNER: Okay. I’d like to stop it for a minute just to check. Ilse, your parents were born in Duesseldorf also, or…
MANSBACHER: No. My parents were not born in Duesseldorf but in small towns not too far – in the same general area of Germany.
ZINNER: All right. You…were you married in Germany?
MANSBACHER: I was married in Dortmund, Germany. D O R T M U N D, which again, is in that same general area. I married Kurt Mansbacher, K U R T, who was a physician.
ZINNER: Very good. Now…
MANSBACHER: I was married in 1930.
ZINNER: 1930. Did you settle in Duesseldorf or Dortmund, or where…?
MANSBACHER: Settled in Dortmund and lived there for about three and a half years after we were married.
ZINNER: You lived there until about 1933, ’34?
MANSBACHER: 1934, until we went to America.
ZINNER: How come you came to America so early?
MANSBACHER: Uh, my husband had not participated in World War I. He had not been a soldier; therefore, he was deprived of his ability to seek patients– to see non-Jewish patients who were part of the German insurance system. And without that, a physician just couldn’t make a living. And this was private as well as federal insurance. So there was no way for him to make a living and therefore there was no choice for us but to leave. And it was still fairly early in the Hitler period. We did have a choice of either going to Israel or to come to America, where my husband had a cousin in St. Louis.
ZINNER: Your husband had a cousin in St. Louis?
MANSBACHER: In St. Louis. This cousin was born in St. Louis. Do you want the relationship?
ZINNER: Well do you want to elaborate on that? It’s up to you.
MANSBACHER: Oh, I don’t think it’s important.
ZINNER: All right, fine. So you were given – in other words – you had the opportunity to come to St. Louis in 1934?
MANSBACHER: So we wrote to this cousin and said, “We will not be able to stay in Germany. What possibilities are there to come to the United States?” In response to which he sent an affidavit of support. Maybe you need to know that we knew the cousin and his wife and daughter. They had visited us in Germany in 1930 so we…they knew what they were getting into. I don’t think we knew what we were getting into. (LAUGHTER)
ZINNER: I think you were very lucky. (LAUGHTER)
MANSBACHER: Well it was very early during the Hitler period.
ZINNER: Right, you came to St. Louis immediately.
ZINNER: And was your husband able to practice here immediately then?
MANSBACHER: Uh, it took about six months. He had to take a State Board. His English was pretty bad – let’s put in that way (LAUGHTER) and he had a very difficult time. He studied for the State Board which he took in October of that year – we came to St. Louis in April of ’34. He studied for the State Board and took it in October and passed it, much to everybody’s amazement. He still didn’t know much English and neither did I. And then opened an office with the help of some local physicians. The entire Jewish community was extremely helpful during that period. We were a novelty – we were young – so we got a tremendous amount of emotional support. But at that point, we didn’t any financial support. We were able to bring a little bit of money along which disappeared very quickly. (LAUGHTER) So my husband opened an office about January 1, 1935.
ZINNER: Did you work at all? Did you have any training, or…?
MANSBACHER: Uh, we’re getting into my background which was the upper-middle class Jewish. I had no training. I knew absolutely nothing. I was not equipped to do any kind of work. I did know a little bit of how to keep house, but not too much, since there were maids. (LAUGHTER) And, uh, after a while – that probably was later – in 1935, when my husband opened an office and certainly wasn’t making a living – not only because we were immigrants – but also that was the depths of the Depression. And very few physicians were making a living. I finally got a job as an extra salesperson – selling hats – at Sonnenfeld’s. Only the older generation will remember Sonnenfeld’s, on Washington Avenue…did that for a long time, I worked about two or three days a week until 1938, ’til it finally dawned on both my husband and myself that maybe I needed to learn something…to get a job. At that point I went to a business school, Rubicam’s Business School where I took a course for, I think six or seven months. I learned how to type; I learned how to do shorthand. I learned some bookkeeping and (that must have been 1938) and then early in, oh, about March, April, 1939, one of…oh a friend of a friend – Kay Perlmutter who, uh, was employed by Jew…what is now Jewish Family and Children’s Service, uh, asked would I take a job. This was the period when there was heavy immigration from Germany to St. Louis.
ZINNER: Excuse me. You had finished Rubicam?
MANSBACHER: Had finished Rubicam and almost finished – I hadn’t gone the nine months – I think I had gone only seven months, but I knew enough shorthand and I knew enough typing, uh, and this was an opening in the…at that time…the Agency was called the Jewish Social Service Bureau at 3636 Page. The old timers will remember it. The Agency had just established the St. Louis Committee for Service to Immigrants which was separate from Jewish Social Service Bureau. It had a budget from Jewish Federation. The Executive Director of the two agencies was the same – that was Frieda Romalis – but the staff was separate – certainly the professional staff. And since immigration became heavier and heaver, there were then two secretaries, so I was the second one. And one of the prerequisites for the second secretary was that she speak German so that she could help these new immigrants who didn’t – many of whom didn’t speak any English…to translate. So that I started there, April 7, 1939. And I had a combination of…I mean my job was a combination of things…taking shorthand, typing letters and whenever clients came in who could not speak English, help the case worker with translation.
ZINNER: At that time, the people coming in were primarily from Germany. Is that correct?
MANSBACHER: They were only Germans.
ZINNER: They were only Germans.
MANSBACHER: This was pre-World War II.
MANSBACHER: These were Germans only. I don’t remember anybody else. So that of course was a very easy thing for me to do.
ZINNER: Jewish Family Service, at that time served as a clearing house, is that it? Or was it also that they helped people in other ways? Did they only help the people, the ones that were here?
MANSBACHER: The Jewish Social Service Bureau, as I said, was separate. St. Louis Committee for Service to Immigrants was the “so-called” resettlement agency. That organization worked in conjunction with the National Refugee Service in New York of which Cecilia Razowsky was the Executive Director. The National Refugee Service would try to distribute the immigrants all over the United States. They had established quotas for each city…so and so many families or so and so many individuals to such and such city. And St. Louis was heavily involved in that.
ZINNER: Was the Jewish community at large involved in this at all, or was it strictly the Agency?
MANSBACHER: No. The Jewish community was involved in that there was a Board of Directors. There was a group of women who established something called “Buy-Ways” who helped these German female immigrants to make some use of their skills. They would – some were particularly good bakers, so they would sell those things. Some made candy. In fact, there are two families who started making candy – the Taubers and the Mayers who then later on established businesses and became quite successful with this. Oh, the Kaufmans made florintiner. So…I mean…in all this was a group of women in the community who were extremely helpful. You want the names of some?
ZINNER: Do you remember any of the names? I think it would be interesting.
MANSBACHER: Margaret, Mrs. Arthur Freund, Evelyn, Mrs. Paul Treiman…some of the other women who were involved. Mrs. William Schwab; Mrs. Robert Friedman and Natalie Arnstein. There were many more whose names I don’t remember.
ZINNER: Very interesting. What about the men? I realize that the women were the ones who ran “Buy-Ways,” but were the men involved in any way at all there also?
MANSBACHER: Not to my recollection. They were members of the Board of Directors…
ZINNER: Of the Agency?
MANSBACHER: Yeah, of the Agency. And this was pre-women’s lib. (LAUGHTER) Oh, Genevieve Krieger was a very important part of the entire St. Louis Committee for Service to Immigrants. She really was one of the moving spirits in that organization.
ZINNER: In what way?
MANSBACHER: Uh – she would at times take people into her house and keep them there for a few days until their housing was found. She was particularly interested in the people who came here alone who were in their early 20s and really were sort of lost until they found jobs and could be on their own.
ZINNER: What about the professional community in St. Louis, and I mean, more specifically with that, what about the religious community? Did they do anything?
MANSBACHER: The one congregation that I remember vividly is Temple Israel. I think we must understand that most of the people who came were Reform Jews. Many of them, maybe Conservative – very few Orthodox. So many of them came with young children were vitally interested in Sunday school for their children and in some kind of temple activity and Rabbi Isserman and his congregation were outstanding.
ZINNER: Rabbi Isserman…excuse me…Rabbi Isserman was the rabbi…
MANSBACHER: Was the rabbi of Temple Israel. They had only one rabbi at that time.
ZINNER: And where were they located at that time?
MANSBACHER: At…on Washington and Kingshighway. (PAUSE) I remember, uh, as I say, most of these German immigrants came from what I would consider, Conservative background. The relatives who received us here in St. Louis were members of Temple Israel…took us to temple one Friday night…and I remember being shocked because the men didn’t wear hats. Uh…my husband was shocked. I also remember Rabbi Isserman’s sermon at the time. And he had apparently just come back from Germany – I realize that now – but he kept on talking about something which neither of us understand. It finally dawned on us that he was talking about democracy – only in German it sounds different, but, but he obviously was reporting on his trip. We didn’t know enough English to understand enough already.
ZINNER: You say that he had returned from Germany?
MANSBACHER: To the best of my knowledge he had taken a trip to Germany and had just come back.
ZINNER: Was there a specific reason for his taking that trip, that you can recall, or…was that the only trip he took, or…
MANSBACHER: Even that I don’t know. I don’t think I ever knew Rabbi Isserman well enough to…I really don’t know.
ZINNER: All right, I thought…
MANSBACHER: Somebody else might know a little more about that, but I don’t.
ZINNER: All right, we’ve…we’re up to about what year at this point?
MANSBACHER: Oh in my personal history…about 1939.
ZINNER: All right, and you’ve started working for the Agency.
MANSBACHER: I started working at Jewish Family and Childrens Service. From then on, had a perfectly wonderful time…really being able to help this group. Now that was only from 1939 and 1940. It was only two years, then World War II broke out and immigration stopped.
ZINNER: Right. So during that period of time when people came in, you helped with interpreting things for them where the need arose?
MANSBACHER: What also happened is that we began to know this group very well because my husband served as their physician. The Agency had begun to call on him when the immigrant group needed a physician because he spoke German and could be more helpful. The group got their ambulatory medical care at Jewish Hospital Clinic but this was in the days when house calls were still being made so when a house call was needed, he made the house call for the adults. Dr. Marianne Kuttner, who is now deceased, made the house calls for the children. She was a pediatrician.
ZINNER: Was your husband the only physician who had come over here from Germany?
MANSBACHER: No. There was one other physician during those years named Dr. Franz Stern. He was a OB-GYN specialist in private practice also. In fact, they had come to St. Louis almost at the same time. These three, Dr. Kuttner, Dr. Stern and my husband came at about the same time, and took the State Board at about the same. There was also an E.N.T. man in private practice, Dr. Erich Fischer. He came…no, he came that early too, because the three of them took their State Boards together in Kansas City.
ZINNER: Okay. So their medical needs were taken care of. Now what about social, recreational, or anything of that sort? Was there any direction given in that field?
MANSBACHER: No. This was an enterprising group. They…I don’t really think that they had any help. But they established the Self Aid – a group of German immigrants who would meet regularly. It wasn’t really so much actual help…
ZINNER: Do you remember where they met?
MANSBACHER: I think at the YMHA on Union. I remember my brother-in-law, Ernst Mansbacher was the President. I remember an evening when Max Wilmers violin, and Edith Wilmers piano, and Kurt Mansbacher viola, played chamber music there. It was purely a social kind of thing.
ZINNER: In other words, this gave them an opportunity to socialize.
MANSBACHER: And to meet each other. And many of the people we met then are friends…my friends to this day and when we went through the same kind of things. But some of them certainly, I mean, we can sit down now – and say, “Remember when.”
ZINNER: Great. You have that mutual…that sharing.
MANSBACHER: I’m trying to think what else would be of importance.
ZINNER: Was the Self Aid strictly a social group then?
MANSBACHER: As I remember it – yes. I think so. I think there were times whe
n they tried to get jobs for people but it was an extremely difficult period for jobs…this being depression years – Jewish Employment and Vocational Services certainly was active in that and tried. Oh, there was a woman who went around the streets trying to get jobs…Marianne Jacobs was her name. She was employed by a Jewish Employment Vocational Service and she tried to get jobs. There were some firms which were – oh, I would say – more helpful than others. And really went out of their way to employ this group of immigrants. I can’t remember what – but I remember that there were…where these firms – I don’t think I could answer if I were asked now – which firms were they.
ZINNER: Well – just lucky that these people were around to help as much as they did. What about…we’ve talked about the women, we’ve talked about the men as far as employment is concerned – what about their children? Was there any thought given to making…helping them adjust a little bit more…in any way?
MANSBACHER: I can’t remember that. Children who came with their families I think adjusted very quickly. When they started school…I would say that 90% of them went to Hamilton School. And I do not remember problems, none whatsoever. They learned English quickly – the staffs at the schools were helpful and I can’t remember – now someone else might remember the period a little differently, somebody else who had children in school might remember this a little differently.
ZINNER: All right, then let’s go on to…you said in 1940 immigration stopped – so that…let’s get back to…to your involvement.
MANSBACHER: Okay then, from 1941 until 1945 I changed jobs at Jewish Family and Childrens Services and became the private secretary of the Executive Director, Frieda Romalis. And oh, we did what Jewish Family Service Agency does in those years and that was private counseling. There was one thing that I neglected to talk about during the pre-war period and that was resettlement. People were being sent to St. Louis by National Refugee Service and were then settled in small towns in outstate Missouri and Southern Illinois. I don’t know whether anybody has talked about this.
ZINNER: Let’s assume they haven’t and let’s find out what you’ve got to say about it.
MANSBACHER: Well, I remember there was a professional person employed by St. Louis Committee for Service to Immigrants who would travel through all of Southern Illinois and get these communities to accept whole families…give them a job, prepare some housing for them and integrate them into the community. It was a successful program. I think some people are in these small towns ’til this day. They are, or their children are. Some others left and came to St. Louis or went somewhere else. But it was a very active program. It was a helpful program in that people became integrated very quickly. Now I don’t know any specifics at this moment. I mean, I can’t remember any specifics.
ZINNER: Do you think that the people who were settled in these smaller communities were primarily people who had come from smaller communities and would perhaps prefer living that way, rather than in the big city?
MANSBACHER: I don’t know that anybody “preferred” living there. I mean they…most people really wanted to stay in the bigger city. But if they came from smaller cities, I think the chances of adjustment were very good. If they came from a large city, the chances of adjustment were nil and they would reappear in St. Louis a week or two later and say, “We can’t make it.” I think that takes care of that.
ZINNER: Do you think there are records of this anywhere available that we might be able to track down some of these people?
MANSBACHER: These people?
ZINNER: Some of them…isolated ones perhaps…that you might be able to…
MANSBACHER: I don’t remember any. There are certainly records of people. Now this is confidential material and I don’t know whether Jewish Family and Childrens Service is willing or able to give you the names.
ZINNER: All right, fair enough…fair enough.
MANSBACHER: I mean it might take an ad in the Light or in a Southern Illinois Jewish Community News asking for people to respond if they’re interested…or an article in Light.
ZINNER: Sounds very interesting. What about Missouri…outstate Missouri? Were any…was anything done in that area?
MANSBACHER: Yes I remember. Cape Girardeau, St. Genevieve, certainly St. Charles. There are all kinds of people in St. Charles. In those days, St. Charles was pretty far away. It no longer is, but it was then. (SPEAKS MORE OR LESS TO HERSELF) Oh, I remember – Farmington, Missouri. I don’t know…
ZINNER: Very interesting. I don’t know whether anyone has given any thought to that particular phase of things.
MANSBACHER: There are some records about resettlement.
ZINNER: All right. Okay, we’re back to…
MANSBACHER: We’re back to 1944. ’41 when I…
ZINNER: You became a private secretary and worked with Frieda Romalis.
MANSBACHER: That period is not relevant to what we’re doing here. We’re getting back to the resettlement program in 1945 after the end of World War II. And this was the period when the Agency became totally overwhelmed with the Eastern European immigration – the group of people who had survived the war – who had survived concentration camps – and who had survived the displaced persons camps. This was a much younger group. So many of this group had been thrown into concentration camps when they were in their early teens or very young adults and had spent these four years there. This was also the time when the Allies occupied Germany and there was a military government. It took a good many years but between 1949 and 1952…the Allied governments worked out an indemnification program with the German government to…
ZINNER: Indemnification program?
MANSBACHER: To indemnify people for what they had suffered under the Nazi regime. This was applicable to the former German Jews and became applicable to those Jews in Eastern European countries which had been overrun by the Nazis. Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia…Hungary came later. Poland, in particular.
ZINNER: What about Austria?
MANSBACHER: Austria, yes. Austria was part of that.
ZINNER: Because there were many Jews who came over here from Austria.
MANSBACHER: I didn’t mention any of the Austrians, some…many of those came even before World War II. Some of them, not too many, but then many of them came later. Anyway, the Austrian Jews are included whenever I talk about this immigrant group, certainly the Austrian Jews are included. The people which I feel strongly suffered most under the Nazi regime, were the Polish Jews. They were totally destroyed. Their families were totally torn apart and this is where I really felt the indemnification program could do some good. They came to this country with the clothes on their back and nothing else. The German Jews had still…many of them had still been able to, at least, salvage their furniture and salvage their household goods.
ZINNER: Now you’re talking about the German people who came after the war, or before the war?
MANSBACHER: Before the war – before the war. I, at this moment, I remember practically no German people who spent the war years in Germany, in concentration camps or in, uh, maybe a few who were hidden from Hitler…from the Nazis. But 90% of the post-war immigration was Eastern European. And they are the ones who needed tremendous amounts help – financially and emotionally. What they had suffered emotionally is unspeakable and, uh, this is where I really felt I helped. And I remember days when finally somebody…