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Ilse Mansbacher

image of Ilse Mansbacher
Nationality: German
Location: Dortmund • Duesseldorf • Germany • Missouri • St. Louis • United States of America
Experience During Holocaust: Escaped the Holocaust • Worked for a Jewish Organization

Mapping Ilse's Life

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

“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 this is where I really felt I helped.” - Ilse Mansbacher

Read Ilse's Oral History Transcripts

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Tape 1 - Side 1

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.
ZINNER: Right.
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…

Tape 1 - Side 2

ZINNER: Helping the people who came over from Eastern Europe.
MANSBACHER: And, oh, they would finally by…I mean they would come in…beginning in about early 1946 – this was a Yiddish speaking group – and here goes my old joke on myself – I had pretty hard time and went to my then boss, Frieda Romalis and said, “I can’t understand these people.”  And Frieda Romalis said, “It isn’t that you can’t – it is that you don’t want to.” Me, the German Jew, doesn’t understand Yiddish of course. Ever since that day – recently – I’ve understood Yiddish. (LAUGHTER)
ZINNER: Over night? (LAUGHTER)
MANSBACHER: Over night, absolutely.  Many things I don’t understand but it’s always possible to get the essence.  So I began to be able to do the same thing for this group that I had done earlier for the German group – translate for them and help them get settled.  They came in much greater numbers than the German Jews did. And the community, though it was involved, also needed a great deal more money for it. So probably the help that they got was not always quite as generous as it had been earlier in the pre-war days when there weren’t quite as many.  This group needed total help. They needed furniture. They needed clothing. They needed absolutely everything.
ZINNER: Did only the Agency provide help for them or did the community at large rally around?  I realize that the funds from the Agency came from the community through Federation, but what about their day-to-day needs?
MANSBACHER: Oh no, the community at large wasn’t that involved.  I mean…this…they really depended totally on the Agency until somewhat later there were enough of them here – so they formed a group unto themselves and really began to help each other.
ZINNER: Did they organize in a very concrete way or was it a very loose…
MANSBACHER: I don’t know.  I wasn’t a member of that group, don’t forget.  I was a German and certainly they did not take kindly to anyone who speaks German.  I can’t blame them for this and I used to make this clear to them that I knew that they did not like German, but unfortunately I couldn’t speak Yiddish so I could understand it at that time.
ZINNER: So there was a real barrier there?
MANSBACHER: Yes.  It took a while until, oh, when I run into some of this group now, we greet each other like long lost friends, because we remember, and they understand now.  We can speak English to each other and can understand each other perfectly. But I don’t know how much the community rallied around them. It was a totally different group from the earlier one…less education…probably with a lower standard of living, generally, than the German Jews had.
ZINNER: Would you say – I’m sorry to interrupt you – but I’m rather curious.  These people who came out in the mid 40s were almost…well, they were camp survivors.  They basically are “survivors.”
MANSBACHER: They are the survivors.
ZINNER: And they are tougher as a result, would you say?
MANSBACHER: Yes, yes, yes.  I would say that…tougher.  They were also, uh, their ethics were somewhat different.  They had to survive by their own wits. They didn’t survive because they had education or because they were smart of whatever it is.  They had to cheat and sometimes they had to steal. Certainly a lot of times they had to steal. Surviving in those years meant just being, uh, being corrupt at times because otherwise they couldn’t have survived.  Not always, but this was part of the…I have always admired their will to survive. This group which came out of that, is an admirable group because they really wanted to live.
ZINNER: These traits which they acquired, and let’s assume that they did acquire these traits during these horrible years, were they of benefit or a hindrance to them, once they came to the States and tried to resettle?
MANSBACHER: I don’t know that.  That would be sitting in judgment.  I don’t know…
ZINNER: Well the way you saw it, did these traits haunt them or did they help them?
MANSBACHER: (PAUSE) I think it depends on the degree of these traits.  I…no…I won’t commit myself.
ZINNER: Okay.  I’m not going to push you.  I was curious.
MANSBACHER: No, don’t pursue it.  The only thing you must remember too is that they did this in the concentration camps…that this is a group which had been suppressed for hundreds of years in Poland.  They already, in Poland, had to live by their wits. They were being persecuted, so there’s a long tradition of this kind of thing.
ZINNER: Outwitting the system.
ZINNER: But most of them, to the best of your recollection, adapted?
MANSBACHER: They adapted quickly.  They became, well, we know now are the upstanding members of the community, and they were eager to work.  They would take any kind of job. I’m sure many of them started as janitors…with menial jobs and worked their way up.  Some of them came with very young children – children who had been born in displaced persons camps and some of those are now very wonderful members of the Jewish community in St. Louis.
ZINNER: You must feel awfully good about this.
MANSBACHER: This I feel good over.  What I feel also very good about is that after a while, when they established these laws in Germany about indemnification, I was able to get them some money.
ZINNER: Tell us more about that.  That’s interesting.
MANSBACHER: Uh, the law said that…let’s…well let me relate myself first to the Eastern European group.  They were indemnified for the time they spent in concentration camps. They were indemnified for illnesses resulting from this.  And there were many people who, uh, started having – I remember one young woman in her 20s who had heart disease – and she is still alive – nevertheless, she’d had heart disease ever since she was a young woman and who’s getting a monthly pension from Germany because of this.
ZINNER: This young woman is from Eastern Europe?
MANSBACHER: Comes from Poland.
ZINNER: Uh mmm…very interesting.
MANSBACHER: Yeah.  I’m still relating myself to the Eastern European people – group.  In order for them to apply for this money, they had to prepare a curriculum vitae so they…I mean a life history…so they started, “I was born in 1934 in this shtetl in Poland.”  And then we’d go into what kind of a house they lived in and the furnishings of the house; the lifestyle of this group and then we talked about the day when the Germans marched in on September 1, 1939, and thereafter.  And what happened to them after that. This became a heartbreaking experience for them and very often for me. They had to tell me how they were herded away – how the parents and children were separated – what…how they’d lost track of their parents and never saw them again – how…or some parents who never saw their children again.  So this often was difficult. I was able to contain myself, but many a times, the clients really broke down and felt it was more than they could bear to recapitulate – nevertheless they did. In many instances they got lump-sum payments. If they had not had any major medical disability, they would get a lump-sum payment for the period of time in concentration camps and I would say that about 75% of this group who got lump-sum payment, bought a house with that.
ZINNER: It gave them their start.
MANSBACHER: This was a start.  This was when they could buy a house, most of them in University City – most of them north of Olive.
ZINNER: These repayments were calculated on a per diem basis more or less?
MANSBACHER: Yes.  This was on a per diem basis…so and so much per day, of wearing the yellow star, plus the days.
ZINNER: In addition.
MANSBACHER: In addition.  And then as far as diseases were concerned – that was on the severity of the disease.  This group of people then needed medical examinations in the United States and the physicians needed to write down whether or not they thought the disease was caused by their stay in concentration camps.
ZINNER: Were these examinations at the expense of the claimant or the German government?
MANSBACHER: No, the German government paid for that.  My husband did some of those examinations.  So he did – and there were some other physicians who did these examinations and were being paid by the German government.
ZINNER: Very interesting.
MANSBACHER: Later on, apparently the German government felt that they couldn’t entirely rely on these physicians and they themselves appointed some non-Jewish physicians who originally were German but had emigrated to the United States, but this was in the ’50s.  This was a group of people who had then – I remember most of them – were either residents or connected with the…with St. Louis University. They were young men, and I really think, had some goodwill. They did not try to quote, “Do these people out of their money.”
ZINNER: They were sympathetic?
MANSBACHER: They were sympathetic, yes.  This was the Eastern European group.  The Germans were indemnified for the same kind of thing…for stays in concentration camps…for wearing the Jewish star…for illnesses caused by the Hitler regime.  But they were also indemnified for loss of income – which means that, for instance, the Jews were forced to sell their businesses and if they could prove that this was so, and if they could prove how much they had lost, then they would get a payment.  Some people would get a life-long pension because of this loss. Lawyers, for instance, who had to give up their practice are to this day getting a pension; former German lawyers who came to the United States that were almost – none of them was able to get back into law, now get a monthly pension.  Physicians would get it. Some of them were not old…my husband did not get it because he was not old enough when we came here. He got a lump-sum payment.
ZINNER: Was it only for professionals that these payments were made?
MANSBACHER: No.  People who were in business, as I…people who lost their jobs…who were employed and lost their jobs, would get…actually they would be indemnified up to the day when they had reached the income that they had had in Germany.  Let’s assume that somebody made $500, the equivalent of $500 a month in Germany, if the person emigrated to the United States in 1934…by 1939 had arrived at that $500, that’s how long he would get the pension – for these five years.  After that, he wouldn’t get a pension…so that would be a lump-sum payment. These were the people who lost their jobs. If he never reached that again…this is an older group with the people, for instance, who came in in their 50s and had lost their job and never again reached that standard of living, would get this for the rest of their lives.  This is not related to social security. This has nothing to do with German social security.
ZINNER: Is that kind of money taxable?
MANSBACHER: No.  They have since – I have always said, “No.”  There seems to be a difference of opinion and there are some people who think maybe it is and maybe it isn’t.  Don’t take my word as an authority. (LAUGHTER)
ZINNER: What about more material things that were involved?
MANSBACHER: Yes.  Thank you for the question.  People who owned real estate would be indemnified for this.  I mean, if a house was worth $10,000 and was just taken away from people because they were Jews, this money would be repaid to them.
ZINNER: Who paid that?  The government or the people who bought the house, who took it over, or what?
MANSBACHER: No.  The people who bought the house.  The German population to this day is being taxed for indemnification.  This is a separate tax which they are paying to this day to pay the Nazi victims.  The Austrian Jews…the Austrian population is being taxed. The same law holds true for the Austrians…for Austria, including the real estate.  For a while, the Eastern Europeans, mostly Polish Jews, tried to get indemnification for the real estate which they owned. Some families did own that – they were never really able to prove ownership – and they are very few and far between.  I can’t remember anyone who really got any kind lump-sum payment for that.
ZINNER: The East European governments, in other words, made it much more difficult?
MANSBACHER: No – the East European…(OVERTALK)
ZINNER: Oh, it’s – this is all being repaid by Germany?
ZINNER: I see.
MANSBACHER: Poland has never taken any…they have never considered them.  But actually, you can’t expect Poland to pay for Nazi damage.  It’s Germany that did the damage.
ZINNER: Still a very unusual situation and a very, in retrospect, a very fortunate thing that this happened, because it seems to me there would have been many people who would have become wards of the state.
MANSBACHER: I think so.  And really it made it possible for many people to have a slightly better style of living.  There were also some old Polish people who survived the war who would have a small income. They came to this country with their children – they were never able to work – they were not in any physical condition to work – they usually didn’t speak English – but they had a small income, so they were not entirely dependent on their children.
ZINNER: It gave them a little dignity and it gave them an opportunity to fend for themselves and to hold their head up high at a time after they’d really been beaten down pretty doggone much.  So you did this…
MANSBACHER: The actual work with this started about 1952, ’53.  It was part of my job at Jewish Family and Childrens Service – it never took up all of my time – I remained…I finally ended up being the administrative secretary, so I did a great deal of other work but this remained my job.  And I still do whatever little needs to be done on a volunteer basis now. There came a time, that was probably in the 1960s when the German law with regard to German social security was changed. And people who had emigrated but had worked in Germany before they emigrated, were able to claim their social security.  So…
ZINNER: When they reached a certain age?
MANSBACHER: When they reached 65.  Well, they started earlier, I mean, they started to establish their eligibility much earlier than that and there were various and sundry things connected with it.  I mean they could pay additional amounts of money in order to make themselves eligible. Whatever it is as of this day – I would say at least 75% of the former German emigrants get this social security – get a monthly payment which, to the best of my knowledge, also is not taxable.
ZINNER: That’s quite helpful.
MANSBACHER: Indeed. (LAUGHTER) Speaking for myself, yes.
ZINNER: Well it doesn’t take away the pain.
MANSBACHER: Oh it doesn’t make up for anything.
ZINNER: It doesn’t make up for anything but you…I think perhaps the bitter taste is not quite so bitter.
MANSBACHER: No.  And I know I’m repeating myself, but I continue to feel that much as the German Jews have suffered, it is nothing compared to the Eastern European group.  Oh I mean they didn’t talk about the Hungarian Jews. There was the Hungarian uprising in 1956 when many Jews fled from Hungary with just the clothes on their back.  Again, the American Jewish community came and helped. The group was resettled out of New York – the National Refugee Service again went into action. Some people came to St. Louis – some of the Hungarians came to St. Louis.  They had not suffered quite as badly as the Polish group had. They had suffered more than the German group had. So they came here and made a fine adjustment after some years. I think there was some difference in their cultural background as compared to the Polish group.  They had a little more education and there were some professional people in there. Now we go way back now to the German emigration. There was a period when a German dentist who had had to leave Germany, came to St. Louis and took their additional training at St. Louis University and the Jewish community here helped them during that period.  Several…one or two stayed in St. Louis. The rest of them went other places.
ZINNER: It seems to me that the funds that have been raised for Federation and for the national Jewish charities here in St. Louis, as well as in other communities, many of them…we can see…been put to some very, very good use.
MANSBACHER: Oh tremendous use, because a tremendous number of this group are now contributors to the Jewish Federation…are very active members in the drive and really help immeasurably.
ZINNER: I’m curious about something.  Was there ever any suggestion during these various programs when these various groups were being helped…repayment for any of the help that was given?
MANSBACHER: Yes.  There was talk about it.  It was really never quite carried through.  At one point, I’m trying to think, I’ve had some personal experience there.  My parents-in-law came here in 1940 and we…we took out a loan because we didn’t have any money to bring them here.  They came from Germany via Italy to the United States.
ZINNER: In 1940?
MANSBACHER: 1940, just before the war.  And then the then National Refugees Service sent them to St. Louis – my mother-in-law and father-in-law who were then old people in their 70s…sent them to St. Louis…paid for their transportation and several years later we got a bill from them which we paid.  I’m not so sure (LAUGHTER) this happened very often. It wasn’t a tremendous amount of money – it was just train transportation from New York to St. Louis. By that time, we were able to do that.
ZINNER: Had you paid for their trip from Italy to the States?
MANSBACHER: Yeah.  From Germany to the States.  Yes, we paid for that. Had taken out a bank loan and had paid for that.
ZINNER: So it was just the matter of the transportation from New York to St. Louis.  And you say it took them several years to send you a bill on that. (LAUGHTER) They must have been very anxious. (LAUGHTER BY BOTH) But you took…there was no further responsibility on anyone else’s part for your parents-in-law…you cared for them?
MANSBACHER: No.  When they came here, my brother-in-law and sister-in-law helped.  I mean, they lived with my brother-in-law and sister-in-law and we paid them – I mean helped…
ZINNER: But between you, you were fortunate enough (OVERTALK) – that they were…did not need any outside help is what I am trying to say.
MANSBACHER: No.  We were very fortunate.  I mean, we didn’t need any outside help.  That’s true.
ZINNER: Right.  Very good.  Very interesting.
MANSBACHER: You want to stop now, or do you have more?
ZINNER: Thank you very much, Ilse, for sharing with us.  You did a phenomenal job in the city. I can see where both you and your late dear husband performed services that were very vital, very important, and made life easier and gave people a great deal of respect and self-esteem.  Many of these people were very down and needed every bit of the lift they could get. And you and your husband were able to give them support and make them feel like human beings again in this country – feel welcome in the city and gain a great deal of independence and become contributors to the community.
If you think of anything else you want to tell us, give us a call and we’ll be happy to talk to you again – anything you want to talk about.  Thanks a lot.

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