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Kenneth Wilde

photo of Kenneth Wilde holocaust survivor
Nationality: German
Location: Berlin • England • Germany • London • Missouri • St. Louis • United States of America
Experience During Holocaust: Escaped the Holocaust • Family or Person in Mixed-Marriage • Family Resisted the Nazi Party • Sent to Internment Camp • Was a Soldier

Mapping Kenneth's Life

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

“It was really my main reason for being in the army and for trying to do what little I could to bring the war to an end and to bring the German regime to an end. Aside from the general disaster that it brought on mankind, of course, family reasons are pretty powerful reasons and I felt this is one little thing that I can do to help my family.” - Kenneth Wilde

Read Kenneth's Oral History Transcripts

Read the transcripts by clicking the red plus signs below.

Tape 1 - Side 1 (Eidelman)

EIDELMAN: Would you please start off by giving us a little bit of background: where you were born and where you were from and so forth?
WILDE: Yes, I certainly will. My name is Kenneth Wilde – at least it has been since, I guess, approximately 1943. Prior to that, my name was Klaus Weiss, which is what I was born under in 1923 in Berlin, Germany. As a member of the British army, back in World War II, those of us who were of German and Austrian origin were given the opportunity to change our names to protect those members of our families who might still be in Germany. Or really to protect ourselves ‘cause anyone with a very German name at that time would certainly have been suspect had he fallen into German hands.
I was brought up in Berlin by a father and mother who were devoted to bringing up their two sons, my brother Gerhardt and myself, my younger brother. My father was the son of a businessman, the owner of a mens’ and boys’ clothing store in Berlin. And at the death of my grandfather my father took over the business. So I sort of grew up as the son of the owner of this clothing business in Berlin, and as I grew a little older I used to sometimes run errands for my father and did little odd jobs around the business.
My schooling was the usual public schooling, first at the grade school and later, what is referred to in Germany, as the gymnasium which is sort of the equivalent to high school…right up until approximately 1938, which was the year that – of the famous Kristallnacht, at which time Jewish children were no longer permitted to attend public schools. I had actually already left shortly before this event because I transferred to a Jewish vocational high school with the intention, at the time, of using whatever skills I might learn there to start a new career in some country other than Germany. We were actively engaged in looking for a new home in some other part of the world.
EIDELMAN: What was the religious situation like at home when you were growing up?
WILDE: Well, my mother, of course, was not Jewish. My father is, and prior to my being born, I guess, at the time of their marriage I understand there were considerable difficulties on the part of my father’s family – not so much my mother’s, but my father’s family in accepting the non-Jewish woman into the family. I guess the same sort of thing that happens a lot. Finally these difficulties were resolved and we were raised Jewish, my brother and I – that is to say in a very liberal sense Jewish. We really didn’t practice any particular religion. We would go to synagogue occasionally with my parents or my grandparents, or some other member of the family. But I remember prior to Hitler’s coming to power we would celebrate Christmas, as I guess many Jewish people – full Jewish people did in Germany in those days because it was really, you know, considered more a secular holiday than a religious holiday. And I remember we had Christmas trees and would sing Christmas carols and do all the things that all other good Germans did.
Soon after Hitler’s coming to power, of course, the fact of being Jewish became suddenly much more predominant in our lives and in the spirit of defiance most Jews, I think, at that time suddenly, you know, became much more consciously Jewish. And we started celebrating Hanukkah and going to synagogue on a more regular basis and I went to Bar Mitzvah lessons and became Bar Mitzvahed, and so forth, which I don’t know whether it would have happened, you know, if things had turned out otherwise. So, this is really the religious background.
EIDELMAN: Did your mother go to synagogue with you? Did she consider herself converted?
WILDE: Yes she did really consider herself as converted. In fact she went through instructions and so forth prior to their marriage. Although as it turned out many years later to her advantage – to everyone’s advantage – somehow or other it was not registered on the register of the Jewish community. So her name did not show on the rolls of the Jewish community members – so, which really, you know, was a great benefit to her and my father and my brother who stayed in Berlin long after I had left for England. During all the time that I was there, which was prior to 19 – well, to the outbreak of the war – I left in April, 1939 – there was really not a great deal of difference between anyone who was either a full Jew or a half Jew or whatever. The question was what your religious preference and those of us who were considered – you know – were raised Jewish were considered Jewish just like any other Jewish child. Periodically the school administration would take a survey and, you know, somebody would come into the classroom and say, “Anyone here of Jewish faith raise their hands,” and they would take numbers or names and then just – and there was nothing that we felt particularly threatening. It was just a statistical thing and so there’d be seven, eight, nine, however many Jewish kids. This was a relatively Jewish neighborhood, as you can tell where we were living, and so in my class of 30 some students, I think, we had nine Jewish students.
EIDELMAN: Did you feel when you were going to grade school any special anti-Semitism from the other children?
WILDE: In grade school I absolutely felt nothing at all. I didn’t – you know – none of the kids then – that was, of course way before Hitler – I think we were all much too little to have any kind of political or racial feelings. In fact, I remember in Germany in those days, religious instruction was part of the curriculum in school – public school. I mean that the separation of church and state does not apply there, though in the very first grades, first grade or I guess maybe kindergarten grade, everyone had religious instructions by their regular classroom teacher. And so the first six months or so, and we were talking about birds and flowers and all sorts of things. And then it wasn’t until the biblical New Testament was touched that the teacher came to me and said, “Well, I think – you know – as of now we’re going to separate you from the other children. You’re going to have Jewish religious instruction.” And there was Jewish religious instruction provided in the public schools. So, it was again – it was another just the Protestant, most of the rest of the children in Berlin, of course, were Protestant. Protestant children were given instructions by the classroom teacher who was presumably qualified to do so. And the Jewish children had religious teachings by some Jewish religious teacher, not a rabbi, but a religious teacher. And that really went on for quite a number of years until – I forget what year it was – Jewish teachers were no longer admitted to the public schools. And so most Jewish parents got together and privately arranged to have religious instruction given in somebody’s home after school, in the synagogue or Sunday school, or some other place like that.
EIDELMAN: When you were growing up in school and Hitler was gaining more power and the Nazis were tightening the screws, what were your relationships like with your mother’s family? For instance, your grandmother and grandfather or her brothers and sisters, if she had any?
WILDE: Well, it so happened that my mother’s family lived in an entirely different part of Germany. We very seldom saw them. We had very little contact with them. It was not a very close relationship. It hadn’t been before, and it certainly wasn’t during the Hitler time. We did at one time, right after 1933, in fact in the very early beginning of the Hitler regime, we – my father felt it necessary to leave Berlin for a while because there was, if you recall, right in the beginning there was a boycott Sunday where Jewish stores were picketed by uniformed SA men and people were prevented from – discouraged from shopping in Jewish stores. And so for this event my father’s – my father and I think some of the other members of his family thought it would be best to be outside of Berlin at the time. So, we went and stayed with my mother’s father and my mother’s parental family for a short period of time. They lived in Wiesbaden which is on the Rhine in the southern part of Germany, and then we went on to visit her sister who, at that time, was married to a Frenchman and lived in Strasburg, right across the Rhine one the French side of the river.
EIDELMAN: Do you remember what the substance of the conversations were and what the attitude was of your mother’s family?
WILDE: Well, it was varied. I mean they were supportive to the degree that they gave us shelter. I don’t think there was any great love for us other than family affiliation. Most of her brothers really distanced themselves from us. Her father certainly did give us what shelter and support he could. My mother’s real mother died when she was an infant, so I never knew her, of course, and neither did my mother. My father – my grandfather remarried and so my mother was brought up by his second wife. But there was a – I think she always considered her her mother. But, as I say, they lived in an entirely different part of Germany and the family that I knew really was my father’s family who all lived in Berlin or close to Berlin. And we were very close and we would see each other constantly, and that was the Jewish side of the family.
EIDELMAN: Were you old enough at the time to be aware of mixed parents that got divorced as Hitler gained in power and Nazism gained in popularity and other mixed marriages stayed together, and were you ever concerned about your own parents?
WILDE: No, not at any time whatsoever. I was – I did not know of anyone who was divorced on account of that, I, you know, have since, through what I have read and what I have heard become acquainted with some of those situations. No one I knew was involved in anything like that, and I certainly never for a moment considered that my parents would – in fact, my mother was as Jewish as anyone as far as I could see. My mother always had a great influence on the family. She was a very strong character and, in fact, I remember a little bit later on in high school, I guess it must have been already, a religious teacher making some disparaging remarks about mixed marriages – a Jewish religious teacher – and after the lecture was over I went up to him and I said, “I really don’t like what you said because, you know, I have a first hand experience of a mother who is not Jewish and if all Jewish mothers were like my mother, you know, they’d be very happy.” So, my mother was always extremely supportive and protective of all of us, particularly my father and certainly her children, and in many instances I can remember – and I’m sort of jumping around a little bit here – later on, as things got progressively worse, she would be the one who would go to school and talk to the teachers, you know. And if any anti-Semitic remarks were made or something had happened that she felt was discriminatory toward one of us, or she would, I remember a situation where – this was I guess this was already in 1937 or eight. It was toward the end of all Jewish stores had to put the owner’s name in certain size block letters on the show windows so you could identify. I mean you didn’t say this is a Jewish store. It would just say “Nathan Cohen,” or whoever the owner’s name was was put in a certain size of white block letters on every show window so that anybody passing by would immediately know that this was a Jewish store. And so, on a given occasion, and there were these various occasions when these things were just spontaneously “done.” There would be all sorts of things smeared on the windows like “Juden Raus,” and whatever poetic license these people allowed themselves. And my mother then said, with her (as she said) her Aryan face would go down there with a bucket of water and she would wash all the stuff off the windows. So, she was – she never, ever really considered her own safety or never gave herself an out. She just, you know, was always a part of our family group.
EIDELMAN: Do you remember discussing the various laws and the impact on your family around the dinner table?
WILDE: Yes, we certainly did but of course as the various laws became promulgated I got older and older. I was nine and one-half, I guess, when Hitler came to power, and was certainly very conscious of it even then because obviously it had been a matter of great concern to all of us. And I had overheard a lot of conversation prior to this and I had certainly witnessed enough demonstrations in the streets and I knew that times were not very pleasant. But, it was in 1936 that the Nuremburg Laws were promulgated and that was something that really didn’t affect our family relationship. It, of course, meant that we could no longer have a maid and, you know, the other things that happened to all other Jewish families. But as far as any advantages that privileged mixed Jews would have and all that sort of thing, I mean, we knew of it but we did not really think of it as something that concerned us directly. I mean, we were never, uh…
EIDELMAN: What are some memories you have of the various laws as they impacted you personally?
WILDE: Well, as far as me personally, I really can’t say that I have any great memories of it. The only thing, as I say, is the fact that we could no longer go to the public schools, but that was not until 1938, and I left Germany in 1939, so I was 14, I guess, at that time. As far as the rest of the – not having a maid was not such a terrible thing for me. It was probably harder on my mother but didn’t mean that much to me.
The really serious restrictions did not really apply until after I left, I mean the time during the war, from the outbreak of the war and then the time of the Wannsee Conference where the extermination was determined. But that was all, as far as I’m concerned, heresay because I was already gone. So, if you are looking for my own experiences, this was, you know, still to come. I would say that the various and sundry laws, you know, prohibiting mixed marriages and etc. were certainly not a great concern to a 13 year old at the time and it didn’t bother me.
EIDELMAN: Do you remember what your primary feelings and concerns were at that time, concerning the effect of the Nazis?
WILDE: It was fear and feeling of terror, I guess, that we had at all times even though, you know, we would go through our normal daily routine and, you know, there would be good days and there would be bad days. I mean, I certainly don’t want to give the impression that, you know, we were cringing in fear all those years.
EIDELMAN: Can you give some examples of moments when you would be most likely to feel fear?
WILDE: Yes, there were quite a few of those. There was a time when my father was, we thought – probably was acutely in danger and I remember very well some the instances starting with the flight from Berlin in 1933 which was, you know, a very short one. We came back and not too long after that, some of the members, the employees in my father’s store, threatened to organize and form a Nazi cell and there was some concern that my father might be arrested as a result of this. And so we left Germany a second time and went to Prague in Czechoslovakia. We, the children, were visiting an aunt’s house and a mutual family friend came unexpectedly in the evening to pick us up and take us home. We had no idea what was going on. We were hurriedly given some sandwiches and packed a little suitcase and then we were taken to another relative’s house whom we really didn’t know. And we all got into somebody’s car and drove to the Czechoslovakian border and next morning we all, you know, walked across the border to some fields and smuggled ourselves across the border. I must say I didn’t really realize at that point just what was happening except that it was a very frightening situation. Then we stayed in Prague for several weeks or months, I guess – I forget exactly how long.
EIDELMAN: Who were you visiting with?
WILDE: We stayed in a hotel. Then, when apparently things settled down somewhat in Berlin, my family decided to go back to Germany but before we went back to Berlin we stayed with some of my father’s relatives in Breslau, Silesia. In fact we stayed there for quite some time. We even went to school there for awhile.
EIDELMAN: Do you remember what led – what chain of events led your parents to taking you on this journey?
WILDE: Well, as I mentioned, it was through the Nazification of the employees in the store who, you know, attempted to usurp the management of the company.
EIDELMAN: Who ran the store at this time?
WILDE: My father was the – was the owner.
EIDELMAN: He remained there while you were in…
WILDE: (EXCITEDLY) Oh, no no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, that we all left together. You mean who was there at the time when we were gone? A friend of my father’s, a World War I buddy of his, a non-Jewish German was kind enough to look after things until such time as we came back. This was really quite a courageous act on behalf of this man because he was a public employee, he was a school teacher and as such should really not have exposed himself, but he did keep an eye on things, and…
EIDELMAN: Was he Jewish?
WILDE: No, no, he was not Jewish.
EIDELMAN: Do you know if any employees stole anything? Or…
WILDE: Not that I am aware of – no, no. This situation, it settled down and eventually we came back to Berlin. And then later there were other situations when there was no particular reason – you know, the word would spread that they are picking up – as the years progressed, of course, people would be picked up for no reason. And word would spread, “They are picking up Jews in” this area or that area, and I remember my father looking for some place where he might possibly hide in the apartment, which was – that, I guess was maybe the most frightening thing of all. You know we would stick some pieces of paper into the doorbell so that the bell wouldn’t ring at night if somebody pressed the button. I don’t know why we thought that would save us, but maybe it might have. And, we had a storage sort of – in the old Berlin apartments they had some rather strange architectural things. There was a maid’s room which we boys slept in because we rented out some of the other rooms. And in this maid’s room there was sort of a storage thing, like a mezzanine that was built up halfway down from the ceiling. And my father was considering, you know, maybe sleeping in that, and that I thought was really a terrible thing that he should have to, you know, to consider have to do something like that. So those were some of the really terrifying things. Then, of course, came the, the one day that I guess everyone will remember and that was the famous day after the Kristallnacht.
EIDELMAN: What is your memory of Kristallnacht?
WILDE: Well, it was a time we were in the state of transition. My father had just negotiated the sale of his business to a non-Jewish man and we were just, we had just taken an inventory and we were just sort of in the last stages of it. The name, I believe, had already been taken from the windows – the show windows that I mentioned, so as it happened my father’s store’s windows were – I mean it was no longer considered to be his store, so his windows were not smashed. But all of the other Jewish stores around us, you know, did have their windows smashed, their displays pulled out of the showcases. Most of it was stolen; the rest of it was vandalized. It was a terrible disaster and then the Jewish owners were forced to come back and sweep up the shards and…
EIDELMAN: What were your personal memories of that day?
WILDE: …and so, you know, walking through the, walking through this disaster, this debris, was, I guess, one of the most unforgettable days that I can remember. All of the synagogues were on fire and it was just like – it was something that you just couldn’t imagine even after all the things that we had already experienced and heard about before, you know, this, I guess, really was the culmination of it all.
I was helping my father at the time. I was not going to school at that particular moment. My brother was. It was his last day in the public school and he, poor little kid, was only about 12, 13 at the time. He walked to school and we had quite a long walk to school. He walked to school that morning through all of this devastation and disaster and when he got there his classroom teacher made him walk back home because he had forgotten a book and so, you know, the poor kid came home and he was just completely devastated. He was beside himself. So, my mother marched back to school through all of this and insisted on speaking to this homeroom teacher and said that she wanted to pick up the rest of his stuff, as he wasn’t coming back, and so the teacher just said, “Well, okay, give him his stuff.” And she went to see the principal, the director of the gymnasium, who was a very compassionate and understanding man, and he said, “Look, I’m sorry for all you’ve had to go through, but I have to tell you it’s just as well that you are taking him out of this school because I’ve just now received word that as of tomorrow I can’t have any Jewish children attending public school any longer.” So that was the end of that, and he went on to another Jewish school that I’d already enrolled in this Jewish preschool that I mentioned. So, that was the – that was the Kristallnacht.
EIDELMAN: You mentioned that your father had already lost his store.
EIDELMAN: That must have been a traumatic experience, especially since it had been in the family for so many years. Do you remember what caused his store to be taken, since you said that he had not – could not operate his store, yet other Jews could operate their stores, and how did you feel about that at the time?
WILDE: Well, it was getting progressively more inevitable that this was going to happen, I mean it would have happened to the others sooner or later. In fact, it wasn’t very long after that that all Jews had to give up their businesses. We, first of all, we were hoping that we would be able to leave Germany before too long, while we were looking, you know, for whatever possibilities might open up and of course they were precious few. We were at that time hoping that we might all be able to go to Chile. My father had heard through a distant relative that there was possibility that we might get a visa to go to Chile and so that was one of the things we were thinking about. And so, business of course had gotten so impossible, so rotten, that maintaining the store would have been impossible anyway and someone did come along who made an offer, such as it was, and we were very busy making the transition. And I must say that in a way we were sort of glad to have it behind us because it had been nothing but a headache for several years. And I don’t think anyone really felt – I mean my father probably felt it was a part of his life, but I think the rest of us were sort of glad to get out from under at that point.
EIDELMAN: What did he do after he sold the store to support the family?
WILDE: Uh, that is a very good question; that is an excellent question…

Tape 1 - Side 2 (Eidelman)

…savings that he had had or whatever he managed to get for the store, for the next several months and it wasn’t too long after that that he was drafted into the forced labor camps and I suppose he was paid something for that. But – I really don’t know. I’ll have to ask him; I really can’t remember just what he did.
EIDELMAN: At what point do you remember them first discussing sending you or your brother to England?
WILDE: This came up relatively late, I think it must have been in 1938. My mother had a friend from way back, I think she had worked with her at the Berlitz School where she worked when she was a young girl after school. This lady was married to an Englishman and lived in London but periodically would come to visit her old mother in Berlin. So, whenever she’d come to Berlin we would get together. This lady, among other things, gave German lessons and she had a young woman as one of her students who indicated that she might be interested in sponsoring a Jewish child. I mean these were the Jewish equivalent of the Family Service. The Jewish agencies were really quite active at that time in trying to arrange something to shelter some of the children even though they couldn’t do anything for the adults. And England was one of the countries that offered a haven to a good many of these children, and they had to find private families who would sponsor a child. So, this lady and her husband agreed that they would sponsor me. They also found somebody to sponsor my brother but as it turned out, he never got to go. So, I went in 1939, just about six months before the outbreak of the war and it all really happened very quickly and very suddenly. My mother was able to travel, of course, and well, she had her Aryan passport. So, she went to England and met this family, and so it wasn’t totally cold, and she spent a couple of days over there. Then she came back and the moment she came back I think I left and I was 15, going on 16 at the time. And I know the family was rather disappointed when they saw me because they were hoping for a baby and it turned out to be someone who was, you know, almost fully grown. But, we got along and they were very kind to me, and, you know, I really…
EIDELMAN: What were your feelings about leaving your family? Did you feel that you wanted to stay?
WILDE: I felt, of course, I wanted to stay. I also felt that, you know, there wasn’t really anything…I mean, I was old enough to realize that, you know, the choices were really not too great, that it was the right thing to do. I also felt that the chances were good that within a few months we would all be together again, that we would go to Chile because that was very much in the talking stages at that point. It never happened, but, so I left, like any child would leave, having to leave his parents and his home. It’s not the greatest feeling in the world. There were a whole bunch of kids – I don’t know how many. We were on an American ship leaving Hamburg and, you know, it was a very…I mean the young people who accompanied us…I really wish I knew more about them and who they were. They were Jewish people working for the Jewish community. They took us and then, of course, they had to come back. You know, they didn’t get to stay, though I don’t know how they felt about this, but they were just wonderful and they tried to make us kids as comfortable as possible. And they…we sang songs and they played music for us and they just did everything to kind of get us over this, this trauma of leaving our homes and our families. And we had, I think, three days on the ship before we got to South Hampton and I remember I kept hoping that the…
EIDELMAN: Were you worried that something bad might befall your family while you were gone?
WILDE: Not at that time ‘cause I really felt that it wouldn’t be very long before we would see each other again. It was not until a few months later, when the war started, that I realized that we probably never see each other again, ‘cause the chances of being reunited after a war did not seem too promising.
The war broke out in England…in Europe in September of 1939. I was 15 and something at the time. The moment I turned 16 I was picked up by the British police and put in an internment camp along with most other refugees, which at that point…
EIDELMAN: How did you feel about that?
WILDE: (LAUGHTER) I felt if that is my contribution to the war effort, so be it. (MORE LAUGHTER) I was very patriotic at that time and I felt that anything the British wanted to do was all right by me.
EIDELMAN: Patriotic towards Britain?
WILDE: Towards the British, yes. I felt that they had saved my life and anything they wanted to do was all right by me.
EIDELMAN: Is that what the other people also felt?
WILDE: No, not necessarily, you know…no, no, and the older people certainly didn’t, but, you know, for me I was very “gung ho” for anything British at that point, and so it was a very good experience. I must say it was a good experience. It really made me learn to be independent and stand on my own two feet, and I had several months of internment. This was at the time when Dunkirk has just happened and the British were extremely jittery about a pending invasion. And the blitz started right about that time on London so my friends, who’d really been my foster father and mother, did not particularly want to get me out of this camp because they felt I was safer there than I would have been in London. So I was very disappointed that they didn’t because a lot of people started to be discharged. I mean that we were all pulled into the camp and then they immediately started having second thoughts about, you know, should these people really be interned. So, little by little, for one reason or another, people would be discharged. Some went into the British army. Some just went back into some sort of war work, and others just went home for what they called medical reasons. But, I would just stay. I would stay and stay and stay.
EIDELMAN: Do you remember what you did during a typical day there?
WILDE: Oh, yes. I was very busy. I was working in the cook house and I helped prepare food there for the inmates and I was really, you know, this was a good time. I always got to eat where some of the other people really didn’t get too much to eat, especially in the beginning. Rations were pretty scarce. So, I considered myself very fortunate and I met a lot of very neat young people, many of whom I stayed in touch with for quite some time after that, and I really, you know, felt pretty good except I did eventually feel that I’d been forgotten. But finally my release came also and I went back to London and all of a sudden all restrictions were off and all the things that made us enemy aliens in the beginning were suddenly waived and we were just friendly creatures.
I went to work for a while for a department store in London until I was 18, at which magical age I was able to volunteer for the service, and so I joined the British army and spent the next four and one-half years in the British army.
EIDELMAN: During the time that you were in the camp and during the time you were in London, after the war broke out, did you have any communications with your family?
WILDE: Yes, we did have occasionally through the Red Cross. We were able to write 25 words every so often – I forget – like every three months or so, you were able to send a 25 word message to family members in enemy countries. So, I would send a message. It would take maybe six months for them to get it, and then occasionally they would also be able to send a message to me. So, yes, we were in touch. We were in touch really until I went in the army. At which time, of course, I didn’t write to them anymore. I did, somehow through – what I thought was very cleverly coded words – sort of convey to them that I was going to. I said I was going to get a whole new outfit or something, so I was hoping that they would understand that I was going to join the army, which they did.
EIDELMAN: What kind of communications did you receive from them?
WILDE: Uh, well, just that they were alive. There was really not much else that they could say. 25 words is, is not a lot of words. Of course, you couldn’t say anything that the censor might find objectionable, so it was just very bland, just an indication that they were all right, that they were all together and that they were alive. And, so when – it wasn’t until the end of the war, four years later, that I knew for sure that they had survived, which I must say, to this day, I consider a miracle.
EIDELMAN: During the war, the four years of the war, did you worry often about their fate?
WILDE: Of course. It was, you know, something I always thought about and that was really my main reason, I guess, for being in the army and for trying to do, you know, what little I could to bring the war to an end and to bring the German regime to an end. Aside from the general disaster that it brought on mankind, of course, family reasons are pretty powerful reasons and I felt, you know, this is one little thing that I can do to help my family. At least, I was hoping that I could help my family.
EIDELMAN: How many years was it that went by with no communications whatsoever with your family?
WILDE: Well, I would guess it was about four – it was the entire time that I was – four to four and one-half. Yeah. As soon as the war ended in ’45, I got a Red Cross message from them, from Berlin. Then pretty soon after that, I was able to write to them and then it wasn’t too long before some sort of mail service was reestablished.
EIDELMAN: To what extent were you aware of what was befalling the Jewish people of Germany?
WILDE: Well, we, like everyone else, didn’t know all of it.
EIDELMAN: What did you know?
WILDE: We knew what everyone knew, you know, what we heard in the news, what we heard on the radio and what we saw in the newspapers which wasn’t, you know, a great deal.
EIDELMAN: What was it – what were you aware of?
WILDE: Well, we knew, of course, you know, we knew about the…the…concentration camps. We heard about – we didn’t really know much about the extermination camps, I must say, at the time. It wasn’t really until the Americans, I guess, came into Dachau that the full brunt of it was made known to us, just like anyone else. I mean, I had no inside information. I knew no more than anyone else around me knew. We knew, of course we knew about the…the…events of the war itself, the bombing raids on Berlin which, of course I knew my family was living in Berlin. I didn’t know what they were doing. I didn’t know if they were still alive. I didn’t know whether they had been interned, whether they were in a concentration camp, whether they…I really didn’t know anything until after the war and I started getting my first letters.
EIDELMAN: What did you know about the concentration camps?
WILDE: Only what everyone else knew – I knew no more. I knew they were horrible places. I didn’t, I didn’t know how bad until very late in the game, I guess. I don’t know when we first heard about the extermination camps. I guess whenever it was that it became common knowledge.
EIDELMAN: When did you first see your parents after the war?
WILDE: I saw my parents in – right – well not very long after the war. The war ended in Europe in April or May – May, I guess, of 1945, and I was at the time in the tank regiment and we were stationed somewhere near Bremen and that’s where the war ended. And then I transferred to military government. I thought I could be more useful there than just polishing my equipment on a tank and I went to Kiel in Schleswig-Holstein which was in part of the British sector and worked as an interpreter in the denazification office for the military government which was a very interesting position. I had a good many contacts with some of the former Nazis and those who felt that they had never been. I also met some of the people who were trying to form a new local government, as we – at that time they had just local regional – beginning to have some regional governments. They had a mayor and they had sort of a county system of government, and then while I was still there the land of Schleswig-Holstein became an autonomous state within – well there was no federal republic at the time. I mean, they were just independent federals – I mean just states of Germany under British, American, French, whatever jurisdiction, but Schleswig-Holstein became one of those lands and the government was at first appointed and then elected to run the land, and so I was slightly involved in that. The British regional commisioner opened the first parliament and I was the interpreter there. I was there and gave the German version of this speech. And so while I was there in Kiel I heard that some fire engines that had been evacuated from Berlin to Schleswig-Holstein were being returned to Berlin and I asked if I could go with them as a guard, so that I could have an opportunity to go to Berlin. I did get permission to go and so I went to Berlin, I guess it was in late ’45 maybe early ’46. That’s when I first found my parents again. I remember we got there in the evening and I went to the house where we had lived, it had been bombed, and found it was no longer in existence, and my parents had moved to another address which I was only slightly familiar with but I knew what it was. So, I went there but it was pitch dark and in those days there was hardly any electricity or no street lights or anything. It was pitch dark and everything was locked and I couldn’t find a soul, so I went back again the next morning and I saw two people, what looked like an older gentleman and a young boy pulling a little wagon with some firewood down the street. And I thought they just possibly could be my father and my brother, and they didn’t look like I remembered them looking but they were emaciated and terribly old looking, I thought, but they just might have been. They, in turn, looked at me and, as my brother later on said, when he saw this British soldier coming down the street, and he said, “Well either he’s going to complain about something, or it must be my brother.” So (LAUGHTER), that’s how we met. And so then my father went upstairs to sort of prepare my mother that I was coming, and then (LAUGHTER) we all went and had a good old family reunion for a couple of days, and that was a wonderful day and a very emotional time.
Food at that time for them was extremely scarce, as it was for everyone in Berlin, but my mother was able to find some white bread and sprinkle some sugar on it and that was, you know, her treat for the family.
EIDELMAN: How were they able to get enough money to eat?
WILDE: Well, the…nobody really had any money then. I guess everything was done by barter. Whatever they had that they could barter, they would barter and they would get something in its place. Cigarettes were, of course, were the big thing which they probably wouldn’t have had, but they had some other valuable of some kind – a piece of clothing or something that they were able to barter and get some bread or some flour or something that they could usefully eat.
EIDELMAN: What do you remember talking about at your family reunion?
WILDE: We talked about everything and we were trying to make up for seven years of separation. We were just trying to tell each other what we had been through. My part of it was relatively minor. I really hadn’t had the experiences that my family had had living through all this, you know, directly.
EIDELMAN: What stands out in your mind concernng what they told you?
WILDE: Well, I guess the very fact that somehow through all of this they managed to survive. My brother was at that time – I guess he was 18. He had been arrested innumerable times and released and rearrested and released and rearrested and worked in all sorts of construction jobs and whatever odd jobs they sent them to do. These were boys, of course, you know, who were sent to do all sorts of jobs. My father had been arrested several times. My mother had stoutly, as she always did, always gone to the authorities and tried her best to get them released, sometimes along with some of the other non-Jewish wives. Most of the Jews who were still in Berlin at that time, I guess, had non-Jewish wives. Otherwise they would probably not have been there. I remember my mother telling me about some of these occasions when the Jewish men had been picked up at their place of work and put in one of the former Jewish schools in Berlin. And no one knew for sure where they were, how long they would be there, whether they would stay there or what would happen. And all of a sudden a group of non-Jewish wives would congregate outside the school and they would demand to see their husbands. This sounds like nothing but when you think of the times and the courage it took to openly defy the government, it’s an incredible thing to do. And, my mother said that on several occasions the Berlin policemen would more or less tacitly cooperate with these women. They would say, “Well, let me see what I can find out.” And, then they would come out and they would say, “Oh, Mrs. Cohen, your husband told me to tell you that he wanted me to give you the key to the house,” or something, so she would know that her husband was in there. And so these Berlin, certainly non-Jewish, probably good Nazi policemen did their best to sort of show some compassion with these women who were worried to death about the fate of their husbands, and likewise their children.
EIDELMAN: What did your brother do during the war?
WILDE: Just exactly what I said. He was hauled into labor gangs and, you know, he would work on construction or cleaning bomb damage up…
EIDELMAN: With other Jewish boys?
WILDE: With other Jewish boys, mostly Jewish boys who were probably half Jewish boys because had they been pure Jewish boys they probably wouldn’t have been there anymore.
EIDELMAN: Then do you think that there was a special treatment given to children of mixed marriages?
WILDE: Yes, at that time, yes, I think there was a difference. As I said, prior to the war, there really wasn’t any difference. If you were, you know, practiced – if you were known as practicing the Jewish faith, that was all that was necessary. During the war there were all sorts of new laws that I don’t even begin to know all the details. There were privileged Jews and there were Jews first class and second class and all sorts of things. In fact, we were just discussing this the other day. Until 1944, I think, those who were only one-quarter Jews were able to even maintain positions in the civil service, or some of them, I think, were even army officers and it wasn’t until 1944, when the Germans had nothing better to worry about but to cleanse their ranks of these people who were one-quarter Jews. But there was a difference, certainly, and my brother, Gerhardt, who was the son of a non-Jewish mother and a Jewish father, did have a certain amount of protection as a result of that. Had he not, had he been a full Jew, I don’t think he would have been spared the concentration camp. My father, I think, also derived benefit from having a non-Jewish wife. Otherwise, why should, you know, he have been spared when all the rest, or practically all the rest, were taken to camp.
But I just wanted to mention the – uh – some of the things and again, you know, you asking what did the family talk about. Obviously, we talked about members of the family, what happened to this one and what happened to that one. My grandmother and my father’s sister and her family had all gone to Holland and had all been arrested and put into a concentration camp, first in Westerbork in Holland; later in Theresienstadt. My aunt’s husband and oldest son were killed, not in the same camp, but in different camps. My aunt contracted typhoid fever and she finally did recover.
Another cousin of ours, and this really – this is the one you should be interviewing – except that he is living in Berlin – who’s a full Jew, managed to survive the war really by his wits. He was a high school student. His family – in fact this was the family we had stayed with in that short time we were in Breslau, as I mentioned.
EIDELMAN: What is his name?
WILDE: Conrad Latte. He is now a symphony conductor in Berlin, and he had always wanted to be a conductor, and even when he was a little boy, I still remember some of his essays in school saying, “When I get to be a conductor, etc.”
EIDELMAN: Is he Jewish?
EIDELMAN: And he’s related to you how?
WILDE: He is my father’s cousin’s son.
Anyway, the whole family came from Breslau to Berlin because at the time it was thought that Berlin would be a safer place to be than a smaller city, which it generally was. And, Berlin was a pretty neat town and as much as a good many of the Berliners, like the policemen that I mentioned, really did a lot to help the Jewish neighbors. If it hadn’t been for the non-Jews in Germany, I guess no Jew would have survived. Anyone could have just taken a Jew and killed him. It would have been – you know, nothing would have happened. But, a lot of non-Jewish people took Jewish people and hid them, at great peril to themselves.
Anyway, Conrad and his family showed up at my parents’ at one of the worst possible times when Jews were being arrested right and left. And my mother felt that she really, you know, could not take a chance of putting them up in their apartment, but she did for a couple of days. And then she went to the home of the same friend who had looked after my father’s affairs when we were abroad at the time his business was threatened. My father’s friend, of course, had been drafted. He was an army officer, I forget where he was. His daughter, who was a teenager at the time, was living by herself. Her mother had died shortly before, so the girl was living by herself in Berlin, still going to school, I believe. And, she volunteered to take these people in. She was no more Jewish than this chair. And, so for quite some time they stayed there. Then they moved to other places. Eventually, the parents were picked up and never heard from again.
Conrad somehow managed through all of this to take lessons from some of the most prominent German musicians, under one name or another. Some of them knew who he was and still did everything they could to befriend him. Finally, he joined the German equivalent of the U.S.O. and gave concerts for the troops at the front, under the name of Conrad Bauer, until, I believe, it was made known that this particular U.S.O. troop was going to perform for the Fuhrer himself, at the Fuhrer’s headquarters. I think at that time Conrad decided it was time (LAUGHTER) to take leave and he disappeared.
Again, he came back to Berlin, always showed up at my mother’s at the most unlikely times and she would feed him and give him shelter for a day or two, as long – as far as it seemed safe to do so, and then get him off to someone else.
Eventually, Conrad was arrested. He was put in a camp in – I believe in Berlin, and believe it or not, he managed to escape. He and another fellow climbed over the wall and escaped, and managed to live out the rest of the war in hiding, and today he is a conductor in Berlin. We were recently in Berlin on a visit, and unfortunately I didn’t get to see Conrad, but I saw him several years ago when we were there. But, his name is still on the billboards, so he is still going strong. So that was a happy end on that story, but he had gone through a lot.
And so, by having a non-Jewish parent – this is really what I was trying to say, she was able to do a great deal of good, not only for my own immediate family, but also for some of the more distant relatives who needed help.
EIDELMAN: Getting back to where we were before, you had come home.
EIDELMAN: Had this reunion.
WILDE: Right.
EIDELMAN: With your family.
WILDE: Right.
EIDELMAN: Then, what happened?
WILDE: Alright. Then what happened – I went back to Kiel and the American Joint Distribution Committee, which was, I guess, the most blessed thing that happened to the Jews in Berlin, or not only in Berlin…I am not talking Berlin as though it was the only place on earth, but to the Jews in Germany…had given a great deal of help and comfort to the survivors and fed them and clothed them and looked after them, and made it possible for those who wanted to – to get visas to come to the United States. My family decided that this would certainly be the right thing to do, to turn their back on everything they had been through and start a new life. So, they left for the United States not too long after that, I believe it was in 1946. And, I was demobilized in 194…

Tape 2 - Side 1 (Eidelman)

…June of 1946. And, I was demobilized sometime shortly after that and I went back to England for a few months and I was trying to get a visa to come to the United States and join them, and I managed to get that. And I got passage which was not too easy to get in those days. There weren’t too many ships for passengers. And, so in November of 1947, I came to the United States and came to St. Louis to join them, and so, since then, we have been living in the same city and sort of taken up our normal family life again.
EIDELMAN: What about your brother?
WILDE: My brother is now a full professor at the University of Minnesota. He’s married.
EIDELMAN: Does he come to St. Louis?
WILDE: Yes, he came to St. Louis with them. He finished his studies here at Washington U. Then he went to University of Wisconsin and got his Ph.D. and has been at Minnesota now for – gee, yes, almost 20 years. My brother, incidentally, is not Jewish. He married a gentile girl from Milwaukee and he raised his family – his family has been raised Christian.
EIDELMAN: While you and he were both living in St. Louis, did you and your brother have discussions about why he wanted to be Jewish or why he didn’t want to be Jewish; rather why you did want to be Jewish?
WILDE: Yes, in a way. I mean, he understood the reasons. I don’t know that we particularly sat down and discussed it. It was, you know, quite clear to me why because – and I didn’t mention this before – O.K., what had happened when we were children growing up, of course, we were both equally religious and non-religious, whatever it was we shared. We had in our very early childhood we had our Christmas tree and then later on we celebrated Hanukkah and whatever. So, there was certainly no difference. One of us didn’t decide to be Jewish and the other not Jewish. And, I suppose it would have stayed that way except my brother became very close to a Protestant pastor in the neighborhood in Berlin where we lived. This gentleman’s son had been actually a school friend of mine, and I guess they kept in touch, and then there were younger children, I think – maybe one of the younger children might have been a classmate of my brother’s too. And then there was a daughter – at least one daughter, maybe more. Anyway, they were a very, very fine family and they sort of gave him the support and the normalcy that he needed as a young boy growing up, which he couldn’t get in his own home because of the situation being what it was. At home, you know, it was constant tension. It was a fight for survival and there was this pastoral family living a relatively normal life and being extremely supportive of him, giving him the recreation that he needed, giving him ideas and thoughts that had nothing to do, you know, with the immediate urgency of survival or going to work the next day, and that sort of thing. So, he needed that very badly, and as time developed it became an emotional attachment. I think he became quite attached to the girl and, uh…
EIDELMAN: Which girl?
WILDE: The daughter, the Pastor’s daughter. And so, it was almost inevitable, and he was so impressed by the Pastor – his name was Von Rabenau – I can’t remember his first name – that he, himself, I think, expressed a wish to become a Pastor. So had he stayed in Germany, he probably would have (LAUGHTER) become just that.
So, that it’s not surprising. As I say, I understand what made him do this, how he became so attached to Christianity, that it was not really necessary to sit down and have a particular discussion about it. So, he married and raised a family of – in the Christian faith, and of course I married, and my family is raised in the Jewish faith, and we get along just beautifully; (LAUGHTER) we have no problems with that – none whatsoever that I am aware of.
EIDELMAN: How do you feel about the German people now, versus how do you think that he feels about them?
WILDE: Well, I have never felt any great hatred for the German people because I really have no reason to. I know of enough non-Jewish Germans who have, you know, done more to help their fellow men than perhaps some Jewish Germans might have done. So, from that respect, I never did feel any hatred against an entire people. I did my bit to bring about the downfall of the Nazi regime, and that was where my hatred was directed, and still is. Anything else, I would say is you know, it’s redundant. We have been back to Germany – I have been back to Germany many times, partly on business and partly on vacation. I have taken my family to Germany and we have always enjoyed it. We have – uh – in the beginning I have tried to have talks with Germans about the situation. Certainly, when I was in the military government I had many talks and at that time, of course, it was still very fresh and people were still participants. Now when you go, you know, you find people who have really only read about it in books, if they’ve heard about it at all.
I want this to be kept alive. I want people to know what happened and I’m very much impressed that in Berlin, again in particular, there are still innumerable memorials to the Holocaust, so that, you know, it is not being swept under the rug. And, right in the middle of the Wittenburg Platz, which is the center of the shopping district there at the beginning of the Kurfustendamm where the Kauf des Westenf (KDV), the big department store, there is a big bronze, brass rather, memorial plaque listing all of the names of the concentration camps. And then there is the Jewish Community House, and the Furzon Strausse, which at one time had been a synagogue of which only the entrance portal is left, and the rest of it has been rebuilt as a very modern structure. And, there is a very large memorial in there which is, I suppose, visited mostly by Jewish visitors, I must say.
In East Berlin, of course, there is a lot more recognition, I guess, of victims of Fascism. I mean, they do this sort of on – by rote. I mean, they have rallies and they have memorial commemorative meetings and that sort of thing. There is this big former armory, I guess, that is now a memorial to the victims of Fascism and so forth. So, there is still a great deal, I mean you don’t really feel that this is all 40 years ago. I mean, you still feel that it’s very much part of the present scene. How much the average German really concerns himself with it, I do not know. I do know that many people have benefitted very greatly from the monetary compensation they have received. I mean, most of our older people have had a relatively comfortable old age because of the Wiedergutmachun (the restitution) that the German government has provided and is still providing.
EIDELMAN: Did your mother and father, or did you personally receive any reparations?
WILDE: I myself have not, but my father does, yes. He does (a) for the loss of his business and (b) I guess he receives a certain amount of social security as a result of having been an employee for X number of years and so forth. He made a lump sum back payment which entitled him to a pension. My mother-in-law likewise, Eve’s mother, receives a rather nice monthly stipend from the German government in restitution and also her social security. So, both of these – I mean, this is now in my own immediate family – both of these families have been able to live a comfortable old age because of the money that they have – they are still receiving from Germany.
EIDELMAN: How did you meet your wife?
WILDE: I met my wife right here in St. Louis.
EIDELMAN: Is it a coincidence that…?
WILDE: Yeah, absolutely, it really was. I met her shortly after I came to St. Louis. There was a self-aid organization of Jewish refugees in St. Louis, and my folks thought it would be nice if I went to some of those meetings to meet some of the other people from Germany. And that’s where I met her, and so she, she offered to show me around and take me to a concert or something, and that’s really how it all got started. We both, we both happened to be from Berlin. She, of course, is quite a bit younger than I. She left Berlin when she was quite young – she was 11, I guess, or nine.
EIDELMAN: Did you speak German at that time? Did you speak German to her?
WILDE: Did I speak German to her? I have never spoken German to her. No, (LAUGHTER) we never speak German to each other. I speak German to my parents but I do not speak German to her, nor do I speak German to my mother-in-law, as a rule. We have certain people (LAUGHTER) we speak German to and certain people we don’t. No, we don’t.
We were in Berlin just a couple of months ago and tried to look up some of the places where we had lived. We found the apartment where Eve had lived and well, the buildings where we had lived were all bombed out, so they weren’t there anymore. But, it’s quite a kind of nostalgic thing to do – to go back and try to retrace your steps. My daughter was with us. She was anxious to see some of her roots. I don’t know that we found any roots or not, but she did enjoy, I think, going through this with us. We took some pictures of houses where some of our friends had lived and asked us to bring a picture back with us, and so forth.
EIDELMAN: Do you have any friends who are still living in Berlin?
WILDE: Yes, well except, outside of my cousin whom I mentioned, we looked up an old couple of friends of my father’s and mother’s really – not ours so much, although we knew them when we were children. It was another one of my father’s ex war buddies. They live in East Berlin. They are now in their 90’s, at least the gentleman is, I think. His wife is almost 90, and it was quite an emotional visit. We did manage to look them up and we spent a couple of hours with them. They are not Jewish.
EIDELMAN: When jumping way back to when you were young in Berlin, during your school years, did you have any close non-Jewish friends?
WILDE: Uh, – no, no, not really, I don’t think. It was just – I don’t know why, I mean it would have perfectly all right in the very early stages. No one really thought about Jewish or otherwise. I think most of my friends, my close friends, were always Jewish. I know when we had birthday parties we generally had some non-Jewish friends also but they were not as close as my Jewish friends were, and those that I really (PAUSE) palled around with, I think, were all Jewish.
EIDELMAN: Do you recall whether intermarriage at that time was socially acceptable?
WILDE: At what time?
EIDELMAN: Let’s say when you were in high school.
WILDE: Well, at that time things had already gotten to the point where it was already lawfully not possible.
EIDELMAN: Right. (INTERRUPTING ABOVE) Let’s say prior to that. Was there much mixed marriage?
WILDE: Well, as I told you, at the time that my parents got married, it was probably not – well it was not uncommon because obviously there were quite a few, you know, those who were in Berlin during the war were all mixed marriages. And there were quite a number of them. I would say that many families frowned on it – perhaps the Jewish part of the family more so than the Christian part, at least in a lot of cases, just probably as it is today. I don’t really think it’s changed all that much. Later, in the late 20’s, my guess is that it really wasn’t frowned upon so much by anyone at that time, but I’m strictly guessing – I really don’t know.
EIDELMAN: What are – do you have any relationships with your mother’s side of the family now?
WILDE: Well, there’s hardly anybody left. My mother is quite up in age now. She’s over 90. She only has, I believe, two brothers still living, one of whom is considerably younger than she is. He is just 70 and she is in touch with him now more than she had been for a long time. I mean, there’s been quite a reconciliation and this younger brother whom she hardly knew because he was so much younger than she and I think she had already moved away from home and, I guess, practically gotten married. He was still a child. But, he writes to her quite frequently and she writes to him, and, you know, lately they’ve even taken to calling each other on the telephone for somebody’s birthday or something, so there is – there is a tie there.
EIDELMAN: Do you ever have any…?
WILDE: I have not…
EIDELMAN: …discussions with him?
WILDE: I have not visited him. Oh, several years ago I happened to be in Frankfurt on business – they live in Weisbaden still, which is not too far from there. I picked up the phone and called and talked to him, you know, briefly, but it was not possible for them to come to Frankfurt, nor was it possible for me to go to Weisbaden to visit. My brother was there last year. He was in Germany and he made a point of stopping to visit with them and he had apparently a very good visit. As a result of that, I think, is now these telephone calls now and so forth, I mean, a closer feeling between the brother and the sister.
There is another brother living but we really don’t know much about him. I think all of the rest have since died. The sister who was in France – in fact, she was the closest to us, I guess, at the stage back in 1933 when we were there. She was the German speaking announcer on the radio station in Strausborg which is sort of a mixed lingual city, partly French, partly German, partly Alsacian, just neither one or the other. Anyway, she was the German speaking announcer, and as such, of course, she had access to a lot of news that the average person might not have. So, she was interesting to talk to, she knew what was going on and she was sort of a soulmate at the time. I think later on things changed a little bit and both she and her husband, for whatever reason, I think sort of withdrew from the opposition to Nazism and sort of became quiescent if nothing else. So, we sort of lost touch with them after that.
EIDELMAN: Let me ask you about the Olympics in Berlin, in 1936. What do you recall about that?
WILDE: Well, I remember them, you know, as being one of the big events.
EIDELMAN: How did it feel to be Jewish during the Olympic period?
WILDE: If you had to be Jewish, I guess (LAUGHTER) during the Olympics was about the best time because everyone was on their best behavior. You know, they had these – they called them Sturmer Boxes on the street corners, which was a bulletin board where the Sturmer, which was a rabidly anti-Semitic newspaper, was published, and you could stop at any street corner you liked and read the latest anti-Semitic diatribes. During the Olympics, all of these boxes had been removed and so, you know, everyone was – was being pretty good at that time. I remember it as being, you know, a big sporting event. It was a great, a great thing at the time, a lot of publicity. Berlin was in the spotlight and there were, you know, photos of the most recent events would be displayed in shop windows and there wasn’t any television, of course, but you’d get immediate photographic exposure of the latest events and they would be displayed prominently in…
EIDELMAN: Could any Jews attend the Olympics?
WILDE: I think so. You mean as spectators?
WILDE: I would say so, as far as I know. I don’t think there were any – we didn’t. I mean we and anyone that I knew certainly boycotted them but I don’t think there was any prohibition against going to the event. At that time I think you could go to any public theater or anything else.
EIDELMAN: Did you say that you intentionally boycotted them?
WILDE: Oh, yes. I don’t know of any Jew who went, attended the Olympics.
WILDE: Well, because anything that was sponsored by the State, even if it was the, you know, the public (LAUGHTER) transportation system, we would automatically be in opposition to it. I mean, no matter whether it was good or bad or indifferent. I mean, we would be in opposition. So, no matter what it was, you’d even be happy if the Hindenburg blew up and Lakehurst. It was just that kind of a thing. I mean, you know, anything detrimental that happened at that time, you know, that could in any way be construed as being to the detriment of the regime would be in our favor. There was a collapse of the – they were building, in fact, just before the Olympics – they were building a new subway through the center of Berlin to the Olympic stadium. There was a terrible disaster. The tunnel caved in and a number of streetcars, buses, all kinds of things fell into this hole. I mean it was a disaster of some proportion. Secretly, I think, at least I was kind of glad. It was another thing that happened. (LAUGHTER) Oh, you know, it was – your, your, your sense of morality becomes somewhat warped in those circumstances.
So, as I say, I don’t know of any Jew who went to the Olympics even though, you know, he might have taken an interest in, you know, who won, who lost. But, we certainly didn’t go.
EIDELMAN: Did it, you mentioned that Der Sturmer was published on the street corners.
WILDE: Right.
EIDELMAN: Was that something that made Jewish people, or made you personally upset as you walked down the street?
WILDE: (AGITATED) It was one of the many things that made you upset, of course. I mean, but that was only one of the many things. I mean, everytime you saw someone in uniform it made you upset. Everytime you heard some of derogatory remark, or, you know, somebody in school or, you know, your, your, your, your schoolmates – some, not all, I mean – something you, you can’t generalize about anything and certainly not about this. There would be times when some of the kids would, you know, wait for me after school, and they would beat me up. And there were times when passers by would stop it, you know. I remember to this day, there were about six kids who waited for me – one of them was partly Jewish – to beat me up and then a lady came by and separated us and they said excitedly, “Well he’s Jewish!” And she said firmly, “Well it doesn’t matter. It’s still not fair for six of you to gang up on one boy.”
So you’ve got to try to remain objective, and it was certainly not, you know, everyone wasn’t black and everyone else wasn’t white. But, there were many, many, many things that made you feel, you know, inferior; that made you feel dirty, that made you feel bad.
EIDELMAN: What are some of the other things?
WILDE: Well, just the – the – the names on the Jewish stores. All the things that you were forced to do or not to do. The time came when you could no longer attend a public performance in the theater or a concert or anything else. The Jewish community was forced to provide its own entertainment which turned out to be, again, a blessing in disguise because the Kulter Bundt, which was formed by the Jewish community in Berlin, became one of the highlights really of the Nazi years. They had some of the finest artists in Germany, performed in this very small organization which was there for Jews, by Jews and some of the finest entertainment, some of the best plays, operettas, operas were put on by this Kulter Bundt. So that was, I remember – even as a child I remember – going to some of those performances, and to this day I remember how much they moved me.
EIDELMAN: I would like to go back for a minute to your father’s store when he was threatened by these employees who were Nazis – is that correct?
WILDE: Yes, that is correct.
EIDELMAN: Were you working in his store with these people?
WILDE: No, no.
EIDELMAN: You said at times…that you would help out.
WILDE: Yes, I would help – I would help after school, on Saturdays, or whatever. I’d run errands, I’d take things to the tailor or deliver to customers. I – sometimes I’d be behind the wrap desk and try to help in any way that I could. Some of those people – by that time I’d already left – some of the people, I guess, were still there, but, yes, I knew them. I was certainly aware of…
EIDELMAN: How did you feel about it? Did you have certain feelings for each person – like or dislike? Didn’t you talk at home about this person or that person?
WILDE: We talked at home a great deal – a great deal. I would think that – I would say that by the time I was actually old enough, you know, to consciously participate in the activities, the ringleaders had already left. Basically, I think, there were two or three men who were involved in this and I think they had all left by that time, so whoever was left in the store – they were either Jewish, themselves Jewish, or they were friendly non-Jews. So, I didn’t have any feelings about any of the employees there, feelings of hostility or fear of any of the employees there.
But, I mean it’s silly things like, say this is nothing that’s really all that remarkable, but everything that happened, that would happen to anyone, was always magnified, of course, when it, you know, it involved Jews, us in particular, when it concerned us.
We had a little piece of property in the suburb of Berlin. It belonged to an uncle of mine and my father bought some of it from him to settle a debt, I believe. Anyway, we had this little piece of property and there was a sidewalk in front of it – the piece of property and it was the obligation of the owners – property owners – to keep the sidewalk clean and swept and raked, I think. Every Saturday you had to rake the grass and mow the gra – you know, the lawn and keep it clean. And, of course, we didn’t live there, we would only go there occasionally. So we always had to hire someone to make darn sure that the sidewalk would be swept because, you know, anyone was liable to a fine if the sidewalk was messy. But the Jews’ sidewalk, you know, that would have been – could have been enough reason to put you in a concentration camp. So everything, every, I mean, as I say, silly things, you know, they were always magnified and you always worried about, you know, was this neighbor a Nazi or was this neighbor this. Wherever you went, you always had to look over your shoulder. You always had to watch what you were saying. In fact, you know, it got so that we were all talking in riddles. You know, we would say one thing and mean another, and sort of already know when somebody said this, they really meant just the opposite. And it was just, you know – it’s from a child’s perspective I guess it was even, you know, stranger, you know, because it’s just not a normal way of growing up.
The non-Jewish friends we had we cherished and they really were very, very good to us. They really, you know, took much more of a chance than I don’t know, you know, very many of us would take in a similar situation because every time they consorted with us, every time they had us over to their house, every time they permitted someone to sleep there, they broke the law, and they really didn’t have to. I mean, there was no particular benefit to them.
EIDELMAN: Did they continue to do this right up until the time you left?
WILDE: They continued to do this right up until the end of the war. As I say, this girl who took in my cousin, I mean, there was absolutely no reason for her to do that. She, she had, she meant nothing to her. She just did it for sheer humanitarian reasons. She just knew that here was a human being in need of shelter, and she provided it, took a tremendous risk, but she did it, and so did many others. I mean, this is just one I know and I can cite, but I have heard of innumerable others.
EIDELMAN: Was it illegal for the Pastor you mentioned who took care of your brother – was it illegal for him to have your brother over?
WILDE: Probably yes, I am not sure. In his position, possibly one could justify what he was doing. Perhaps he was trying to convert him or something. I’m not sure. I guess there’s a fine line there but he probably went beyond the call of absolute duty. But I would say in this particular case, conceivably there was a professional reason that he might have been able to make a case for it if somebody wanted to be legalistic about it.
EIDELMAN: As you look back on your whole experience in Germany, what stands out in your mind the most?
WILDE: I guess what stands out in my mind the most is my nightmares after I left, dreaming that for whatever reason I suddenly was back there and, you know, the terror of the, the, the waking up in the middle of the night or dreaming – that, well I used to dream this, but this time unfortunately it is really true. I guess that’s really what stands out more than anything else. Just this, this, this, this terror that was always there even though, as I say, it didn’t manifest itself, it was just subconsciously, it was always there. There were times when we played and acted just like normal children, but subconsciously the terror was there. And I really didn’t realize it until years later when I would dream about finding myself back there and then I’d wake up and I’d go to sleep the next night and I’d dream…

Tape 2 - Side 2 (Eidelman)

EIDELMAN: Was that during the period when you were in England?
WILDE: Yes, primarily. It was in those years, the first seven years or so after I left.
EIDELMAN: The fear that you had, was this fear of physical violence, or what were the…?
WILDE: No, again it was the fear of the unknown. It was the fear of what could possibly happen, what might happen and I don’t know – no, no, it wasn’t that, it was just the fear that you have in the dark when you don’t know what might be lurking around the corner is really what it was.
EIDELMAN: Did you observe any violence when you were in Berlin, Jews being physically assaulted or taken away by police or…?
WILDE: Nothing really terrible, I mean, nothing like what other people would have seen. I mean, I didn’t see the moving vans. But, just seeing the street scene, I guess, the, the time of the takeover of the Nazis, the violence that was in the streets at that time which wasn’t particularly directed against Jews. It was just a political violence, the men standing in front of the polling booth with their election posters or the opposition parties being beaten, posters being torn out of their hands and that sort of thing. The strike of the streetcar employees which had nothing to do with the Jews whatsoever and nothing even to do with the Nazis – well, it had to do with the Nazis because the Nazis and the Communists jointly organized the strike and seeing the first streetcars running again and seeing these men standing there by the side of the street and throwing rocks into the streetcar and trying to hurt the driver. Those things, I guess, are really what I remember and to say that they are not really particularly directed at the Jews, I remember the brown shirted SA men standing in front of the Jewish stores, talking to the people, trying to persuade them not to come into the store. I remember people, you know, smiling and then agreeing with all of this. The general feeling of, you know, good will and righteousness on the part of so many of the Germans who felt that, you know, this was the way it ought to be. I guess those are the things you remember.
I also remember, of course, you know, how they looked when they were prisoners of war. It was just the opposite, bedraggled themselves and in need of support and compassion and just, just the very, very opposite of the way they had looked just a few years before.
EIDELMAN: One thing that we didn’t talk about at all was your experience during the four years that you were in the British army.
EIDELMAN: What did the non-Jewish English soldiers feel about the Jewish situation? Did you have any discussions about it?
WILDE: I don’t think they cared – really cared – very much about the Jewish situation one way or the other. It didn’t mean much to them, as, you know, I don’t know why it should. The war was important to them, I think, as it was, you know, to the average American G.I. People did know what they were fighting for. The British, of course, had even more reason because, you know, they had seen the bombs in London and they knew, you know, their homes were threatened. So, there was – they didn’t feel that they were fighting a war to save the Jews. I think they felt they were fighting a war, you know, to save their own country which is important.
EIDELMAN: So, you don’t have any particular memories of being in the army that were unusual because you happened to be Jewish?
WILDE: No, no. There were some other Jewish men in my outfit. The average British soldier was no more pro-Jewish than the average anybody else. I mean, there was, you know, plenty of anti-Semitism and plenty of anti-Semitic remarks made in the British army too. So, you know, it was really no different from the way it is anywhere else.
The shock, I think, was universal when the first pictures came out of the concentration camps which is when you pressed me on that before. I mean, that’s when all of us really for the first time saw what it was like, and I think that was when there was a universal shock, just as there would be universal shock when you look at the starving children in Ethiopia or anything else, you know, that really tugs at your heart strings. I think it must have been for those G.I.’s who first came into those camps it was obviously also a completely unexpected scene and it must have been a terrible experience.
EIDELMAN: Did you have any other friends who also came from a mixed marriage who you still correspond with? In other words, I wonder if other Jews with mixed marriages in Berlin had similar experiences.
WILDE: I cannot recall anybody else. My brother does ‘cause he, you know, went through the whole war with these young men and I think he is still in touch with a number of them. I do not – I really didn’t know anybody else, I think, of mixed marriage at the time. Really, it wasn’t until he went to, you know, a Jewish school and met some of the kids who were still in Berlin at the time, and then in the various work labor camps that he was in, gangs that he was in. The other boys would have been also of mixed parentage, so that’s where he met them and that’s how they became friends and those are the people I think he is still in touch with, some of them. I really didn’t know anybody else, I think, of mixed marriage, or if I did it, you know, didn’t mean – I wasn’t aware of it at the time. That is to say when I was there you knew you were either Jewish or you weren’t and it really didn’t, you know, make that much difference whether you were of mixed parentage or not.
EIDELMAN: Is there anything else that I haven’t asked that I should have asked?
WILDE: No, I think you asked all the pertinent questions that I can think of answers to. As I say, my experience was certainly in no way, shape or form unique. I was not there at the time when the real, real hard times befell the Jewish population, such as was left, and there are, you know, a lot of people who can talk a great deal more to that subject. My own experience, I think I have related to you as best as I can.
EIDELMAN: Thank you very much.
WILDE: You are most welcome.
EIDELMAN: Concerning the name of Kenneth Wilde which you took when you were in the British army – when you came over to the United States did you ever give any thought to changing your name to Klaus Weiss?
WILDE: I thought about it – I did think about it and thought otherwise. I decided I had a history now with my new name and I did not really feel that I wanted to change it back, but it is one of the things – one of the scars, I guess, that’s left in my psyche because I do, you know – I’m embarassed about it and I think about it and really have decided that there is nothing more to be done, that we may as well live with it. My children have that name. My wife has that name and so we’ve started a new family.
EIDELMAN: When you first came to the United States in filling out your papers, did that go through your mind? Can you picture the situation where you were first being…?
WILDE: It absolutely occurred to me, yes. I don’t know quite how I can best explain this, if I can explain it even to myself. I came to – the name change, of course, had been legal. In Britain, I mean, it was legally changed just by a stroke of the pen. I had established a war record under that name and I had spent the better part of my life in England and not the part when I was a child living in conditions of terror. And so I really did not feel that I should wipe out all of this that had happened. I mean, the part of my life that I really had reason to be reasonably proud of, and resume, you know, just resume an old name and then just drop the seven or eight years into the river. So I decided to keep it, and it is – I must say it is a source of some embarassment and it embarasses me when I’m with my parents who have been here now for, what, forty years almost and who finally got used to it.
EIDELMAN: How did they feel about it?
WILDE: I don’t think that they were too thrilled about it but, you know…
EIDELMAN: Did you have any discussions with your parents…?
WILDE: I mentioned it. I said, you know, I really wonder – maybe I should take my old name back and they said, “Well, it’s up to you to make the decision.” So, I decided not to do it.
EIDELMAN: And what about your brother?
WILDE: My brother was not involved in this at all. I mean, he was – you know, he didn’t change his name because he stayed in Germany, so the rest of the family is all Weiss and my brother’s children, of course, are all called Weiss. It’s just us mavericks who have a different name.

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