Lilli Prelutsky was born in Berlin, Germany on December 19, 1924. The family left Germany in 1938 and settled in Panama, where her father opened a business. After December 7, 1941, the family was taken to displaced persons camps since they were considered to be enemy aliens. The camps were situated in Texas with separate locations for men and women. The Prelutsky family came to St. Louis in 1943 through the efforts of the New Orleans Jewish community.
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Tape 1 - Side 1
ZINNER: I’m Lotte Zinner, and I’m going to interview Lilli Prelutsky who I think has an interesting story to tell us. Lilli, where were you born?
PRELUTSKY: I was born in Berlin, Germany in 1924, December 19, 1924.
ZINNER: And what about your parents? Where were your parents born?
PRELUTSKY: My mother was born in Berlin as well, but my father was born in Danzig which in those days was neither Poland nor Germany. It was a state by itself and later on I think was affiliated back to Germany. It kind of fluctuated between Poland and Germany.
ZINNER: Lilli, what did your father do in Germany?
PRELUTSKY: He was a manufacturer of raincoats and did that for many, many years, had his own factory, his own business, and did very well with it. My mother was just a housewife. She used to give piano lessons before she married my father and once she got married she didn’t do that. She was an accomplished pianist.
ZINNER: Very interesting. Did your father travel much in his business?
PRELUTSKY: He traveled some, but not extensively.
ZINNER: Was that primarily in the country, or out of the country?
PRELUTSKY: Mostly in the country but also out of the country.
ZINNER: So, he did have some contacts out of the country?
ZINNER: Which might be important for your story later on.
ZINNER: All right. Uh, do you remember whether your parents were active politically or in, uh, the Jewish…congrega…or in the Jewish community in Berlin?
PRELUTSKY: Well my father was active in the Jewish community but he was not active politically in anything, no. He was a very busy man. He was one of those workoholics.
ZINNER: What about your mother? Was she involved at all in the community, or in…
PRELUTSKY: No, no, politics.
ZINNER: Let’s go back to you now – you’re the key here after all. What about your own education? Did you go to public schools or…tell us about your education.
PRELUTSKY: I started off in public school like everybody did in those days which must have been, let’s see, I guess in 1930 and 1933 when Hitler appeared on the scene, uh, we were all required to do the Hitler salute and my parents didn’t like that at all and transferred me to a Jewish private school which I attended for the future years that I spent in Germany and, uh, it was called the Peltason School, and I walked there and back. It wasn’t far from our apartment, and that’s where I went to school.
ZINNER: Now was that primarily a secular education that you got there or did you get a Jewish background, a religious background there as well…do you remember?
PRELUTSKY: (OVERTALK) No, it was sort of more secular but there was some Jewish background too. At one point, uh, my parents felt that I should go and attend a more Jewish environment of school and that was held in like an all-day school. In Germany you didn’t go to school all day till three o’clock in the afternoon…you sort of were finished by 12 or one o’clock. This school that they send me to was in the county and I remember having to take the underground, uh, the train to get there and I spent six months at that school which was Jewish – very Jewish oriented. And I was not comfortable there, I wasn’t a bit happy. All my friends were back in the other school and I began to be very unhappy over there and so finally I started vomiting in the evening so that I wouldn’t have to go to school the next day…all those little shenanigans that children do and they finally decided…well no…that wasn’t for me…and I went back to the Peltason School.
ZINNER: Now how long did you go to the Peltason School? It’s a fairly well known school in Berlin, I know.
PRELUTSKY: Oh it had to be somewhere like five years, I suppose. Must be ’33 maybe ’34 to ’38 till we left Germany. Well no, actually the school had to close at ’37 because it wasn’t permitted to have a Jewish school – so say four years at the most.
ZINNER: Uhm, were you aware of what was going on in the country, as far as the Nazis…you, personally?
PRELUTSKY: Oh yes.
ZINNER: And to what extent…?
PRELUTSKY: Oh, yes, oh absolutely. Well, uh, you couldn’t help but notice ‘em marching and my father was…was very interested in what was going on – didn’t like what was going on and really wanted to leave Germany almost as soon as Hitler became apparent that he was hating the Jews. And he wanted to leave like in 1935 but my mother wouldn’t leave because her mother was alive and she didn’t want to leave her. And that was, of course, was a big mistake because, uh, as it turned out, we had finally to flee Germany to get away from there, but uh, my father was aware…I was very much aware, that’s sure.
ZINNER: By the way, we didn’t establish…are you an only child?
PRELUTSKY: I’m an only child.
ZINNER: Did your mother or father have brothers or sisters?
PRELUTSKY: Yes, my mother had a brother. And my father had two brothers and two sisters. And my father was the youngest, and he was the very instrumental trying to get them to see it his way that we have to leave Germany, but they would not leave. Now my mother’s brother did leave. He went to France or Belgium – I’m not sure which – and unfortunately he got caught there and was killed but he did have…he did leave, but my father’s brothers and sisters did not.
ZINNER: Now you said your mother’s mother was still living and your gran…and your grandfather was not living any more at the time.
PRELUTSKY: (OVERTALK) 1930-1935, my grandfather…No, he wasn’t at the time. No, he wasn’t.
ZINNER: Did your grandmother live with you?
ZINNER: Uh, did you, uhm (PAUSE) hear the speeches on the radio? You…you…
PRELUTSKY: Oh yes.
ZINNER: You were…you were quite a young girl and did you rea –
PRELUTSKY: Oh yes.
ZINNER: – read the newspapers, magazines…?
PRELUTSKY: Absolutely. I was fully aware of it. Oh yes, I was very, you know, my father was vitally interested in what was going on and very anxious to really…all he could think of was leaving.
ZINNER: But your mother…?
PRELUTSKY: My mother wouldn’t leave.
ZINNER: Uh huh. Were your social contacts primarily with Jewish people or Gentiles or how was your relationship to either one of these groups?
PRELUTSKY: Well being that I went to this Jewish school, all my friends were Jewish and all my, you know, all my contacts were really Jewish. We had a maid that was a Nazi affiliated person. We didn’t have her until the bitter end, but we did have her in the early years of Nazism and she used to wear her uniform around the house with the…and of course my father and mother didn’t know what to do with her. Really they didn’t want to fire her because they didn’t want to antagonize her. But at the same time, you know, they felt we had to get rid of her and I think she was let go at one point. I don’t remember when.
ZINNER: Uh huh. Did you have any personal encounters with Nazism in Berlin…on the street, at home, in school, in any unpleasant…?
PRELUTSKY: (OVERTALK) No, I really didn’t in those early years. I think it really got much worse after we left then it did in, you know, between 1933 and 1938, those five years, where I was fairly sheltered…I didn’t have a bad experience.
ZINNER: Uh, do you have any recollections of any of the discussions, very specifically, between your parents, as far as leaving, as far as the Nazis and the fears?
PRELUTSKY: (OVERTALK) Yes…oh yes, oh yes. Oh yes, my father, very early, wanted to leave Germany and we had no relatives anywhere not in the United States. Everybody wanted to go to the United States. We didn’t have anybody there that would give us an affidavit to come to the United States.
ZINNER: Explain what an affidavit is.
PRELUTSKY: It was somebody that would vouch for your being able to take care of yourself and if not, they would take care of you, or would help you financially whatever the need might be. We had nobody in the United States that could do that for us…had no relatives out of the country anywhere. But my father was very industrious trying to obtain visas to countries in South America where you could, you know, immigrate to, with not too much difficulty.
ZINNER: South America specifically…what places do you remember?
PRELUTSKY: Aw, we tried to go to…he got Peru and he got a hold…he wanted the more advanced countries which Peru, I believe, was one of them. And a couple of them, I don’t remember, La Paz was one. That is where?
ZINNER: Good question. (LAUGHTER) We’ll check it out.
PRELUTSKY: Anyway, he wanted…he wanted to go to a country that was more civilized, and somehow, I don’t know why we stuck on Panama. I think the reason really was…there was…it was close to the United States somehow and the Canal Zone being part of the United States appealed to him very much and they spoke English there. And my father felt that it was easier for us to learn English than Spanish, even though we did take Spanish lessons. I’ll never forget the Spanish we tried to learn and none of us were very successful at it and somehow I think he obtained a visa to go to Panama.
ZINNER: Do you remember just how that came about, that your…that your father was able to make contact in Panama?
PRELUTSKY: Well he went to the Consul, you know, in Germany and I guess he applied for a visa and that came through to him immediately and he had it. This was already in 1938 – he knew he had to leave. My grandmother had passed away by that time. I think she died in ’37 and he knew we had to leave and everything was really ready for us to leave.
ZINNER: Now we’re talking about 1938. Do you remember when in 1938?
PRELUTSKY: Oh exactly, exactly, uhm, in 1938 – in November – right before really that they smashed all the windows uhm…the Nazis had come to our apartment which was a large apartment complex and our porter (everyone had a porter), was a Communist – and we came home one afternoon, my mother and I, and he said, “You better get away from here because they’ve been here to pick up your father,” and…
ZINNER: Pick up your father to… (OVERTALK)
PRELUTSKY: …put him in either for interrogation. In those days we didn’t know what they were going to do. They wanted to interrogate people. They started picking up Jewish men, and he said, “You better leave because there, they were here.”
ZINNER: Well if he said “leave,” where were you going to go?
PRELUTSKY: Well we knew that we were going to go to Panama because my father had it already – he was ready to leave – he had his visa…he had his…he had booked passage. We were going to leave anyway even if this November 10th episode had not taken place, we were going to leave. Perhaps not exactly at on that day, but we were going to leave – that was for sure – he was not staying any longer.
ZINNER: All right. The porter told you not to come back…
PRELUTSKY: (OVERTALK)…not to come back, for my father definitely not to come back and he never did. He never came back to that apartment again.
ZINNER: All right. Uh, where was your father taken and tell us about that one?
PRELUTSKY: My father had a bookkeeper who, in those days, was an Aryan bookkeeper who had a young daughter, but he sheltered my father for something like two or three days before we could leave.
ZINNER: (OVERTALK) Sheltered him where?
PRELUTSKY: In his apartment, which was definitely against Nazi law. I mean, the bookkeeper could of really have been, I mean, they would have really (LAUGHTER) killed him for having a Jewish man stay with his Aryan daughter. But anyway, he hid my father and my mother and I. I remember going in the middle of the night, packing up the few belongings that we could take, and leaving the apartment intact…completely. Except for the things on our back, that’s how we left.
ZINNER: You left your furniture…
PRELUTSKY: Everything, left everything…everything…the furniture. All she took was her jewelry and clothes, and that’s it. We packed it, she and I, and took it to her brother’s house which was in Tempelhof. He was very rich man and had a home near Tempelhof.
ZINNER: Which is where?
PRELUTSKY: Which is like a suburb in Berlin and he left subsequently too, with his wife, but he got caught. We left very shortly thereafter.
ZINNER: All right. You went to stay with your uncle – your father was staying with the bookkeeper’s daughter. Now somehow you had to get together. Tell us about that.
PRELUTSKY: Well I imagine that my parents must have had conversations by telephone and decided that we were, he, my father had everything ready. We left Germany, I believe, it was November the 10th. I have a little book that says it. On…we left November the 10th, the day of the Kristallnacht for France. We went to France on a train.
ZINNER: You had passports?
PRELUTSKY: Yes, passports. Everything was ready – my father was ready. He was a very wise man, but he was ready already two years ago (LAUGHTER)…he wanted to leave.
ZINNER: You went to France…where did you…on a train?
PRELUTSKY: (OVERTALK) To Paris, ya, on a train to Paris and on the way to Paris, the train stopped, uh, and across from us on the other side was a train going to, I believe, was Buchenwald or wherever it was going. It was filled with people that had black marks on their faces drawn on. I will never forget it as long as I live. They were going to Buchenwald…(OVERTALK)…to concentration…
ZINNER: How did you know they were going to Buchenwald?
PRELUTSKY: Well we knew they were going to a concentration camp. We knew that people were being shipped into concentration camps and we were going the other way – we were leaving the country. It was a very frightening experience. We couldn’t wait to leave because here they were and I’ll never forget the sight of these people on this train.
ZINNER: I can well believe that. Uh, how (PAUSES) where did you meet your father when you were going to the train at the sta…
PRELUTSKY: Well we must have met at the train because he must have told us you’ll be meeting at such and such a time and taking such and such a train to Paris – and that’s what we did.
ZINNER: All right. You’ve gotten to Paris now, and what happened then?
PRELUTSKY: Ahh, we had, he had booked passage on a French ocean liner from Le Havre, I think it was called the Columbie – if I’m not mistaken, and we stayed in France a few days, in a little room, and my mother sold her jewelry in France…
ZINNER: How could your mother sell her jewelry in France when…
PRELUTSKY: We had no money.
ZINNER: No, uh, not…I understand that, but how did she make contact with people? How did she know to find people?
PRELUTSKY: I don’t remember how she did it, but I guess she went to jewelry stores and sold ‘em. She had some beautiful jewelry that we were hiding, you know, on the way out of Germany and was the only thing that we had that…it was the only money we had. We didn’t have anything else. We had to flee with really the clothes on our back and her jewelry and she sold it all. How she sold it, I was not really completely aware – only know that she did sell it.
ZINNER: All right. You went from Paris to Le Havre. (OVERTALK)
PRELUTSKY: Took a boat to Panama.
ZINNER: Which is something that your father had arranged previously.
ZINNER: So he had the ship’s tickets?
ZINNER: All the papers were in order? Go on from there.
PRELUTSKY: And he was ready, so we went on this boat to Panama and arrived, I guess, it was in Colon there were the boat dock which was in the Canal Zone. I mean that was my first experience coming into Panama. And sure enough, in Colon everybody spoke English and here we were, uh, there were a lot of German refugees there already, and we stayed in some sort of a rooming house, I suppose it was, and we had a room to ourselves. And I remember the big fans and the cockroaches flying all over. And it was sort of frightening experience. I suppose we got there somewhere in the middle of November. It must have taken about a week or whatever to get to Panama by boat – and there we were. It a, it uhm, was an interesting experience. My father was a very industrious man. I don’t know how long it took him to decide that he had to go into business. I don’t believe that he…
ZINNER: That he decided to go in business in Panama…
PRELUTSKY: (OVERTALK) Oh yes, absolutely, yes, yes, uhm…what…what exactly happened in the interval between the business and whatever work he did at the time, I don’t remember exactly. I do know he opened a store.
ZINNER: What kind of a store did he…?
PRELUTSKY: A dry-goods store. Everybody had a dry-goods store in town. And I went to work when I was 13. I turned 14 years in Colon and, one of the other refugee people brought me an ice-cream cone, I remember that distinctly. That was my birthday present and (LAUGHTER) my first ice-cream cone cause nobody, you know, we didn’t have ice-cream cones in Germany. But anyway, he opened a, uh, a, uh, dry-goods store called the Prince of Wales and one of the other refugee man was his partner and he operated that store beautifully and did very well. And I had a little job in an office where I did menial things. I don’t even remember what it was, but I didn’t finish school…
ZINNER: Let’s back-track. You’re working in Panama. You spoke German. Did you…what language did you need to use in Panama?
ZINNER: How much English did you and your family know?
PRELUTSKY: Well I really didn’t know any, but I picked it up very rapidly. Uh, in those days, I used to speak French, but I picked up the English as I went along. It was easy for me. My parents picked up as they went along.
ZINNER: How was your father able to (PAUSES) have enough money to be able to start a business just from…from the…
PRELUTSKY: I really – these are the little details which as a 14 year old (LAUGHTER) I do not remember…whether he did it on credit…probably did it on credit, uh, or whether the other men had money and subsidized him. I really don’t remember. I do know we had the store and we sat in front waiting for customers and there were lots of customers because all the sailors and soldiers and what have you, you know, that docked in Panama came to these stores. And across the street from us there was a bordel. I mean it was a…it was an ideal situation, you know. They were there and the business was just, really, really it was fine. It worked out very well and we rented our apartment – a little one or two bedroom place as far as I remember. In those days, you rented refrigerators, you didn’t buy them. You rented them and I don’t know how many refrigerators I cleaned out before we found one that we decided that we would keep.
ZINNER: Did your mother work?
PRELUTSKY: No. She never worked. (PAUSE) She kept house and cooked.
ZINNER: And you worked in an office.
PRELUTSKY: I worked in an office – a telephone office.
ZINNER: So at 14, you never went back to school?
PRELUTSKY: That’s right, I never went back to school.
ZINNER: So you’re basically self-educated at this particular point.
ZINNER: Somehow you got to America.
PRELUTSKY: Yes. I got to America in a very strange way. Uh, of course, I was a, let’s see, in 1941 I was turning 17 years old. Is that okay? (SOUND OF PAGE TURNING) All right I turned 17, I had a boyfriend – my first boyfriend, second, I’m not sure which. (LAUGHTER) Anyway, and we were taking a ride this Sunday afternoon, December seventh, when the war broke out. I’ll never forget it. It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon and they declared war, and here I was, we didn’t think much of it – so we finally had a war going, but it wasn’t very long within two weeks they started picking up German – all these German refugees – my father…my mother and me. Now I was able to escape from it because this boyfriend that I had wanted to marry me. I was 17 and he was 35…32, I think…32 – he was 15 years older than I was.
ZINNER: Was this young man Panamanian, or…
PRELUTSKY: No. He was from Vienna and he, uh, was very wealthy. He had been in Panama for many years already and ran his own jewelry store. And, he wanted to marry me. And so I could have really escaped this entire procedure, but I felt too young and…and innocent to leave my parents off to nowhere, cause they were – they were being interned and I could have gotten married and lived in Panama happily everafter, and not knowing what happened to them – so I went with them. And we were interned there and, it was decided to ship us to the United States which on one fine day, they loaded – I don’t remember how many we were, into some old ship that was infested and I mean “infested” with bedbugs, and loaded us off and we went to some port in the United States. It might have been New Orleans – I’m not sure which.
ZINNER: Let’s backtrack a minute. You (PAUSES)…they interned you and your family. What happened to your father’s business and to the apartment?
PRELUTSKY: (OVERTALK) Oh, the business…I guess he had to close it, the apartment had to close. There were a few people that were Panamanians that had already had their citizenship now, what they may have taken over that part, or possibly my boyfriend took part of it in – I don’t remember – that’s so long ago.
ZINNER: You…were you able to take anything with you out of Panama?
PRELUTSKY: Not much, no.
ZINNER: (OVERTALK)…So again, you went with the clothes…
PRELUTSKY: (OVERTALK)…Again, oh sure, the clothes on our back, absolutely.
ZINNER: And you arrived in the United States…?
PRELUTSKY: On this infested boat, and the men were taken away immediately and interned into what we later learned – into a real prison. And we were shipped to Seagoville, Texas which was a woman’s prison. And it was a lot nicer, the women and children, or you know, teenagers were together and the men were shipped into a real prison. And we didn’t see or hear from them for about six months.
ZINNER: Let’s clarify the date on that.
PRELUTSKY: Well it had to be…
ZINNER: (OVERTALK) Do you remember?
PRELUTSKY: What happened in say, roughly, January of ’42, and this all took place in the year of ’42. We were interned roughly…uhm…
ZINNER: You and your mother?
PRELUTSKY: All three of us. We didn’t come to St. Louis until 1943 so roughly we were interned from a year and three-quarters – something like that.
ZINNER: All this time?
PRELUTSKY: All that time.
ZINNER: In Louisiana?
PRELUTSKY: No, first in Texas, and then they sent us together…they finally sent the men to…Seagoville, Texas and let the families be together.
ZINNER: Let me get the name of that camp in Texas straight.
PRELUTSKY: Seagoville, Texas.
PRELUTSKY: Seagoville…S E A G O V I double L E, Seagoville, Texas. I guess it’s still there – it’s a woman’s prison.
ZINNER: That’s the women’s prison?
PRELUTSKY: Uh huh.
ZINNER: Now where were the men interned, do you remember?
PRELUTSKY: (OVERTALK) Remember…it was not in Texas. It must have been out somewhere in Oklahoma. It was a well-known prison, but I don’t remember.
ZINNER: Were the, were the people all treated as prisoners, or did you have special privileges? Were you treated like the criminals, or…?
PRELUTSKY: No, they did not treat us like criminals. We really had free reign at Seagoville. We were able to go about. It was a huge, like a huge campus, but of course it had the wires around it. But it was a large, it had to have, I don’t know how many acres of ground. It was very comfortable and very, very pretty. That was not bad at all, but where the men were, they were treated more like prisoners. They really had no way of getting out or doing the things that we were able to do.
ZINNER: Which is…for instance…
PRELUTSKY: We were able to take walks. We had our…we could prepare our meals. We were fairly free in the confines of the…of the…you know, prison grounds.
ZINNER: You say you prepared your meals? Were you allotted food that you prepared yourself then, or were you able to buy something in a commissary, or…
PRELUTSKY: (OVERTALK) Oh yes, yes. No – you cold buy something in the commissary, I beg to remember, but it was a limited amount, but the food was supplied by the prison.
ZINNER: Uh huh.
PRELUTSKY: And you were just given the food and you cooked it and fixed it according to your liking.
ZINNER: Were there work details for the women…for the men?
PRELUTSKY: Well the women – we were all women and children in those days, and the prisoners, the women prisoners, they were in a different part of this big prison. Uhm (PAUSES) not really work details, but each building had a matron, I remember, who kinda watched. And you did have bars on the windows but your doors were open. I mean, you were not confirmed to your room. Each person had their own room.
ZINNER: How did you spend – tell me about it – let me…let me…let me turn the tape and then we’ll go on, okay?
Tape 1 - Side 2
PRELUTSKY: (OVERTALK) I read a lot…
ZINNER: Give me an idea on how you spent your days. You, your mother and your father, so that we can understand in a prison situation, the time hangs very heavy.
PRELUTSKY: Well, for the first few weeks, we had no contact with my father or any of the husbands, uhm, that you know that we had come with. We just knew that they were in a prison, and eventually letters started to come. We found they were in, whatever prison it was, I believe somewhere in Oklahoma, and they wrote us how they were treated which was not as good as we were treated. Our days…
ZINNER: Excuse me a minute. Do you have any idea, any recollection of how many people were involved in this whole situa…in your particular situation? I mean, was it 50…was it hundreds…was it thousands…?
PRELUTSKY: Ohhh, oh no, it wasn’t more. It wasn’t thousands, but it was in the hundreds…it was in the hundreds. It was quite a lot of people, say 250-300 people. Families, not 300 families, but people, so maybe there were – I don’t recall, 50, 60, 70 families involved.
ZINNER: All right, uh, let’s…let’s get some idea on how…
PRELUTSKY: We spent our days?
ZINNER: I would assume that we would look on you as political prisoners in this particular…
PRELUTSKY: That’s exactly what they looked upon us. They said that we were German, that we were Nazis and that we were enemy aliens is what we were. On our papers it said enemy alien and that we tried repeatedly told them we had no status, that Germany had taken our status away. We were not Germans. We were really stateless. But the United States insisted that we were Germans – that we were enemy aliens and therefore had to be interned. And they were very adamant about it and there was just no way that they were going to change…that’s the way they looked upon us and we tried to explain. The men finally joined us in Seagoville, Texas and my father had become very ill, uhm, he had devoloped hypothyroidism which, in those days, was not really treatable although by…by surgery in Panama, he would have surely died. But to make a long story short, he, uh, he was saved due to the fact that we came to the United States which was like a miracle really. But anyway, we were considered enemy aliens and we spent our time in Panama…I mean in Seagoville, very leisurely really. I read a lot. I did all my reading in those days…I read night and day and we really…we played cards. We really had more like a vacation and there was really no work for us to do. I imagine we kept our rooms clean, but beyond that, we really had it very easy. The men joined us perhaps six months later, and we became family again and we just…the men finally kept trying to write letters to the Jewish communities of our plight and that we wanted to get out and that we wanted either out or back to Panama…we were going to go back…they should just let us out. We tried to explain to them and they didn’t listen.
ZINNER: Were you, once your father, once the men came to Seagoville, were you able to live as a family? I mean, were the men and women…was it, uhm, the men and women able to live together?
PRELUTSKY: (OVERTALK) Yes, yes, yes. Oh yes, oh yes, oh yes, we were not treated cruelly in any way. It was just that you couldn’t get out.
ZINNER: And that in itself is cruelty.
PRELUTSKY: And then all of a sudden they decided that they would send us to New Orleans into a plantation type of environment. And we had to pack up our belongings and leave Seagoville. I guess we went on a train to New Orleans into this plantation type of environment. It seemed like a big, old hotel…a wooden structure. I’ll never forget, looked like a fire trap to us and there we were all together in New Orleans, and it was really in New Orleans that we became organized. The men organized because in New Orleans there was a large Jewish community and we approached them and they finally listened to us.
ZINNER: When they sent you to this plantation in New Orleans, you were actually out in the world, is that what you are saying, you…
PRELUTSKY: Oh no, we were still in prison…
ZINNER: Oh, this was still…
PRELUTSKY: Oh still, yes – it was still, uh…
ZINNER: (OVERTALK) You were not out in the community?
PRELUTSKY: Oh no, oh no, oh no. We had a few outings where we were allowed to go into New Orleans with…with guards, of course, you know to shop. But we were always with guards. We were never allowed to be by ourselves. But after a while you get used to it, you know. We were glad we could shop. We could get out into the community – it felt good.
ZINNER: You were able to shop? In order to shop, you need money.
PRELUTSKY: I suppose we all had some pocket money. We must have had. We must have had because I remember shopping…we must have had some money.
ZINNER: Okay. And you said you read a lot. How did you get the books?
PRELUTSKY: We were supplied books – the Seagoville, Texas there – they had a huge library being it was a prison – it had a big library. So we had books. We were able to, you know, to take out books and read. I read a lot I know…reading night and day. Today, I don’t read anymore but those days, I read continually.
ZINNER: All right. You said that in New Orleans the people began to organize and approach…were able to approach the Jewish community. Uhm, were they, how were they able to contact the people outside of this place?
PRELUTSKY; Well, I suppose our plight became known after a while, you know, because the guards and the people that ran these place, I mean, they got, you know, the men became active that this can’t go on. I mean we’re not aliens. We’re not enemies. We…we escaped from Hitler. We escaped the Nazis, look what you are doing to us? And we were ready to go on a hunger strike. And that, of course, started the whole thing going, because we were gonna go on a hunger strike because this couldn’t go on. And that is what finally got them going. The Jewish community finally rallied and did things in our behalf.
ZINNER: Such as?
PRELUTSKY: Such as…they must have sent representatives of the government to decide that they should…they must have investigated us and seen that we were telling the truth – that we didn’t belong in prison – that we weren’t enemy aliens. But they still didn’t know what to do with us. So they decided, well okay, they were going to leave us stay in the United States even though we were illegal…
ZINNER: (OVERTALK) All right…
PRELUTSKY: …for the duration of the war.
ZINNER: We’re to what year now approximately in 19…?
PRELUTSKY: We’re in 1943, because I came to St. Louis sometime in 1943. I’m not sure of the month.
ZINNER: Okay – we’re in 1943, there is still a war going on…
PRELUTSKY: (OVERTALK) Oh yes, oh yes.
ZINNER: In the United States. Okay. Then, uh, the people from the Jewish community in New Orleans have offered their hand to help. How did things progress from there?
PRELUTSKY: We were, I remember, that we were called together and that they had made a list of all the different people there of what they were capable of doing…manufacturers, what have you…secretaries. They divided us up into little packets sort of, uhm, friends of ours went to New Orleans…went to Chicago…some went to Cleveland. We were designed to go, designated to go to St. Louis because my father being a manufacturer, he felt they would do well in St. Louis. And that is how come I came to St. Louis.
ZINNER: Very interesting. Now, were you sent to St. Louis and what sort of…you didn’t know anyone here. What happened to you here?
PRELUTSKY: That’s exactly right. Nobody…we didn’t know anybody here. But the Jewish community here, the Jewish – whatever they had going here – accepted us. We came here and they saw to it that my father got a job and that I got a job and that we got an apartment which was on 5575 Maple Avenue – I’ll never forget it…a little wooden house and there we were. My father had a job at Forest City. No, he didn’t – that was later. He worked at…at Weiners Department Store on North, South Broadway. Do you remember Weiners Department Store on South Broadway? He and I got a job there. He worked for $50.00 a month and I worked for $25.00 a month. But in those days, that was a lot of money, and we had a job and my mother kept house. The only restriction was, we had to report or we were being observed every month by the, uh, by the uhm…uhm…not the FBI the…yes, the FBI. They came and checked up on us if we were in the designated places where we were supposed to be. Every month they would come and check up on us. Somewhat embarassing, especially when I worked at Kline’s. Here he would come – Mr. Wendt – was his name, and I use to see him coming and cringe because he was going to check up on us if I was still there. We were not allowed to leave the city or do anything without their knowledge. We were still prisoners with restricted freedom.
ZINNER: Well, you were on parole.
PRELUTSKY: Parole, sort of, yes.
ZINNER: Sounds like.
PRELUTSKY: That went on for about two, three years.
ZINNER: They kept you under scrutiny for that length of time?
PRELUTSKY: Oh yes.
ZINNER: Were you able to apply for citizenship papers at the time? Do you remember?
PRELUTSKY: Well, my mother wanted me to get married to an American, that was my way out. And I did become engaged to an American soldier – I guess it was 1944, 45, but I couldn’t go through with it. I wasn’t a bit happy about the arrangement. You see, it was an arrangement provided I would marry an American and thereby would become legal, and in turn, they would become legal. But I didn’t go through with it. I couldn’t. It broke this poor fellow’s heart. That’s what happened. And in 1946 (LAUGHTER) I met my husband and married him. ’45 I met him and married him in 1946. And that’s when I had to leave the United States and step into Toronto, Canada…one step into the border and come right back. And that made me a legal entry. Crazy, it was absolutely crazy.
ZINNER: Wait a minute. You were shipped from the Canal Zone to the United States by the United States Government…
ZINNER: You were interned here in the United States for a considerable length of time, yet you were considered an illegal alien?
ZINNER: Is that correct?
PRELUTSKY: That’s exactly right.
ZINNER: You had had the proper papers to enter Panama earlier?
PRELUTSKY: (OVERTALK) Right.
ZINNER: And still despite all of this you were considered an…?
ZINNER: An illegal…
PRELUTSKY: Illegal alien.
PRELUTSKY: Correct. Absolutely.
ZINNER: And in order to get all of this squared away, you had to go into Canada and re-enter the United States?
ZINNER: To make it all legal?
PRELUTSKY: Legal and kosher. That’s right, exactly. And that only could take place by my marriage to an American citizen. I had to marry an American citizen and that enabled me to be able to do this and my parents then, in turn, because I was legal. They had to do the same thing. We could not do it together. It had to be done separately. I had to go all alone from St. Louis to Toronto – stay overnight. I stayed overnight, I came back and that made me a legal entry.
ZINNER: And then you married?
PRELUTSKY: I was married…
ZINNER: This was after…?
PRELUTSKY: After I was married…
ZINNER: You went to Canada after you were married?
PRELUTSKY: Oh yes, after I was married.
ZINNER: All right and your…and only after you had made this legal transition…this, this…undergone this formality, after that you received your citizenship papers?
PRELUTSKY: Very shortly thereafter, I didn’t have to wait all those many years and my parents though had to wait longer than I did. But they then…were…that enabled them to do the very same thing.
ZINNER: Very interesting. I never heard of that before.
PRELUTSKY: It’s…it…I don’t think it’s done that way anymore, but that’s the way it was done.
ZINNER: The law changes on these things, but very unique.
PRELUTSKY: (OVERTALK) That’s the way it was done.
ZINNER: And that’s…that’s how you got from there to here.
PRELUTSKY: In a very unusual way.
ZINNER: Most unusual, and I think that this is going to fill in an interesting gap that we’ve got in the histories that are on record.
PRELUTSKY: It was so strange. But in addition to this, if this had not taken place the way it did, my father would have surely died in Panama because the operation that was required in those days – you had to cut open the neck and you had to be conscious and talk so they wouldn’t take out part of the thyroid gland and that could only be done by a very few doctors in those days in the United States, all of which was in the Marine Hospital in New Orleans. A Dr. Lane – he saved his life.
ZINNER: Thank goodness, thank goodness.
PRELUTSKY: It damaged his heart, I mean, it was that bad, but he, uh, he would have surely died in Panama. And that’s my story.
ZINNER: That’s your story.
PRELUTSKY: Very strange.
ZINNER: Very interesting story, Lilli. Didn’t catch the date when we opened up the tape, so we’ll give it again. Today is August the first, 1984 and I thank you, Lilli. I think it’s a really interesting experience.
PRELUTSKY: I’m glad I was able to tell it.
ZINNER: We thank you.
PRELUTSKY: It’s like a dream. It’s like a, really like a story that I made up, but that’s actually what happened.
ZINNER: No, I know it’s not a story because I remember meeting you about 1943 and that’s how long I’ve known you. Thank you.