SCHWARTZCHILD: –or ever get out; that she would be completely immobilized for the rest of her life. A very lovely young girl, Franya. So, of course, I would go and see her every day, and we had a marvelous relationship. We just sort of hit it off very beautifully together, and Franya had a sister in the camp, Marilla. And Marilla had lost her fiancé in the concentration camp, but another young man who met her in the displaced persons’ camp after the war fell in love with her and wanted to marry her, but she said that she wasn’t going to marry anybody because she had a sick sister, and she had to look after her sister, and he said he would take care of her. And then he was in a camp near Munich, which was in the American zone of occupation, and we were in the British zone, but he would keep—I don’t know how he got from Munich to Westphalia, but he would come every so often to woo her, and eventually they did get married. And it was really very nice. And then he said that down in Munich, or near Munich, there was a hospital that was run by nuns, and he wanted Franya moved down to there because then he and Marilla, his wife, would live down there and Franya would be in the hospital, and she would be able to have proper care. And I got a truck, and I had a friend who had been in the Polish army, a Jewish man who had been in the Polish army, but then worked with our organization as a driver and transport officer. I got a truck from the army. We built a bed in this truck and put the plaster bed on top of the bed and drove—I got the services of a doctor from the UNRRA hospital where she had been all this time, and we drove down to Munich. And the roads were so bad, you couldn’t travel more than about five to ten miles an hour, and we drove for twenty-three hours—
POPKIN: Oh, my, that’s extraordinary.
SCHWARTZCHILD: –in this truck with Franya. And the doctor, every three or four hours, had to give her shots of painkiller because the shaking of the truck on the potholed roads was very difficult on her. And she needed to hold my hand, and so I leaned across–I couldn’t sit down in the back there–I leaned across her cot holding her hand for twenty-three hours.
POPKIN: You must have been stiff as a board.
SCHWARTZCHILD: And when I got to Munich, I couldn’t stand up straight (laughing). They had to sort of lift me out of this truck and put me into bed where I had to stay for three days before I could unwind myself, but I’m happy to say she did get good treatment. She did walk again.
POPKIN: She recovered?
SCHWARTZCHILD: She recovered; she walked again. The three of them came to this country. They still live in this country. She married.
POPKIN: Oh, isn’t that wonderful!
SCHWARTZCHILD: And although I haven’t seen Franya, who was the girl that was sick, I have seen Marilla and David who live in New York, and any occasion I have for being in New York, I always visit with them.
POPKIN: They’re doing well?
SCHWARTZCHILD: They’re doing very well. Neither of them are in good health, but they’re doing very well, and they have their own children. They have a son who is married and has his children, and a daughter who is at school, college, right now. And it’s one of those very nice stories which ended up very well. One thing I omitted to tell you–which I think was one of the most important things when we first went to Germany—as I mentioned, everybody was wandering, looking for relatives, and the very first thing we did in all the camps, all the workers in all the camps, made lists of everybody that came through. And we made the lists of their names, where they came from, who their families were, then the names of their families, whom they were looking for. And these lists were distributed throughout the camps all across Europe, so that if anybody at any camp had heard this name, they just had to look down these lists, and these lists are still today used by the Jewish organizations.
POPKIN: Where have they kept them? With the International Tracing Service do you think?
SCHWARTZCHILD: They’re part of the International Tracing Service and all the Jewish tracing services. Lists were, you know, they were mimeographed, and they were sent to all tracing services, and to this day they are still used. All these various organizations, they still scan these lists, and you’ll also see in some Jewish papers, for instance, The Jewish Chronicle in London used to have, and still does now, but not so much, a whole listing of people who are looking for people.
POPKIN: I want to do that myself. I’m still looking for family.
SCHWARTZCHILD: So there are such lists, and these were started right there.
POPKIN: How long were you there?
SCHWARTZCHILD: I was in Kaunitz for over a year.
POPKIN: You must have been very attached to all those people.
SCHWARTZCHILD: And I was very attached to all those people. And I was only taken away from Kaunitz when it was decided—many of the Hungarians went home. We were able to arrange transport for them to back to Hungary.
POPKIN: Oh, they did go home.
SCHWARTZCHILD: And many of them did. Most of the Poles didn’t. The Poles had absolutely nothing to go back to.
SCHWARTZCHILD: What we did then, if they had relatives in various other parts of the world, we would try and trace them, and if they could be given some sort of guarantee that they wouldn’t be a burden on any state, for instance. If anybody had relatives in America, if one could absolutely bring proof that they wouldn’t be a burden on the American economy, then they could have permits to come to this country or to any of the other countries. Many people went to Shanghai because Shanghai turned out to be a country that took lots and lots of people, so many Jews went to Shanghai. Many of the Jews left there afterwards, but many of the Jews in Shanghai today are there because that was a country that would take them in after the war. Very few of them were permitted to come to this country. The only time it started to open up was in 1948 when there was something called “The Truman Act”, when Truman said that it could be opened up. And then we had the situation where we had, for example, in one camp alone, in Belsen, there were 15,000 people, and there were many camps dotted all over Germany. But we had 150 permits per month for people to come to this country.
POPKIN: Just a trickle.
SCHWARTZCHILD: Which was just a trickle, and then you had to decide who was going to get those permits and wherever we could get them. Many people wanted to go to South Africa. They had long-lost relatives there, or if South Africa would take them, or any countries that would take them. England was taking very few. Unfortunately, they didn’t do as much as we would have liked them to have done, and everybody knows, of course, American didn’t do as much as it could have done, but we had these 150 certificates under the Truman Act so that resettling was a very big thing. We had all thought, you know, after the war, well the camps would be there for six months or a year, and everybody would then be dispersed either back to their homelands or would be taken in by other countries. Nobody anticipated that five years after the war there would still be camps there. So that when I left—I left in 1950 which was just before, just about the time when all the camps were being liquidated, and people were being rehoused somewhere, resettled somewhere. But at that time it was really very difficult.
POPKIN: I know. I know from my reading that the Americans were totally unprepared for the fact that people couldn’t go home, and there was no place to go.
SCHWARTZCHILD: That’s right, that’s right, that’s true. And after I had left Kaunitz I kept close contact with them, obviously, because they were wonderful friends of mine, all of them by that time. I worked for a little while in our headquarters, but then after that—
POPKIN: Where was headquarters?
SCHWARTZCHILD: Our headquarters was in a little place called Werfel in Westphalia. Westphalia was in a little town near Bunda, just again a small, villagey, tiny little town. And I worked there for a few months, but then I went to work in Belsen.
POPKIN: Oh, then you went to Belsen.
SCHWARTZCHILD: Then I was in Belsen.
POPKIN: How long were you in Belsen?
SCHWARTZCHILD: I worked in Belsen for about a year, and then from Belsen I went to Berlin, and I worked in Berlin for two years, 1948-1950, for over two years until I left and came to this country. We were in Berlin, as a matter of fact, all during the Russian blockade.
POPKIN: You married Steven during that period?
SCHWARTZCHILD: I met Steve, yes, he had come out to Berlin. We had about 10,000 Jews in Berlin and no Rabbi. And Lily Montague, who I mentioned earlier, who also was the head of the World Union for Progressive Judaism, came to the—said somebody to the Hebrew Union College, as a matter of fact, because they wanted a volunteer Rabbi who would go out to Berlin for two years as a volunteer. And obviously it would have to be somebody who could speak German, and since Steven had originally come from Germany and he had been ordained that year, just then, he volunteered and he came out to Berlin for two years, and since our work took us to the same people, I met him in Berlin.
POPKIN: What year was that?
SCHWARTZCHILD: That was in 1948 in the middle of the Russian blockade where you rarely fly in and out of Berlin because no ally was—
POPKIN: It must have been like living on an island.
SCHWARTZCHILD: It was, you see, because Berlin itself was in the middle of the Russian zone of occupation although Berlin itself was cut into four parts. Part of it was French, part American, part Russian and part British, you see. So that it was an island, a quadripartite island in the middle of the Russian zone. So any time the Russians wanted to close the Autobahn, you couldn’t get in or out of Berlin, and that’s what happened during the blockade. So the only way we could get in or out of Berlin was to fly in or out of Berlin.
POPKIN: When you went to Belsen, there was a slow trickle out of Belsen by then?
SCHWARTZCHILD: There was a slow trickle out of Belsen by then. People would go to various countries where they could get to, or would have them, or where they had relatives. Many people also went down to the American Zone of Occupation, particularly into Munich and settled in Germany, so many of the displaced persons, other than German Jews, settled in Germany themselves. But Belsen, of course, was one of the last camps to be torn down because there were such large numbers of them there. But that was run, since there were so many–in the total picture of Jewry, of course, it wasn’t so many–but as a camp, you had ten or fifteen thousand people, which was like a city, so it was run on proper lines. We had a police force there. Now a friend of mine who came out from England, who had been a sergeant in the British Army, he was about 6’7, I think, David Kalmitsky, was the police chief. So he started—he got the police force going in Belsen which was manned by displaced persons who became part of the police force.
POPKIN: Were there industries going on in Belsen? How did people live? Was it still all donations at that point?
SCHWARTZCHILD: Well, there were workshops going on. Now normally when camps were first opened, obviously nobody was going on to the German economy, and nobody could go to work because they weren’t permitted to so that everybody had to rely on handouts from whichever country would give them handouts. In a place like Kaunitz, where I was, where the first camp where there were so few of us, I did try to get—we had a lot of people, Palestinians who had been in the International Brigade who came over there to try and get the people to learn to do farming—so we requisitioned a few fields in Kaunitz, for instance, and we tried to get them to teach them all—
POPKIN: Oh, these were Palestinian Jews who had lived in Palestine and worked in communities–
SCHWARTZCHILD: –and who had got into the army.
POPKIN: I see.
SCHWARTZCHILD: –you see, and then came in a Brigade.
POPKIN: And they came—
SCHWARTZCHILD: And they came. They went down to all the camps and started training people as farmer, but this didn’t last very long because it didn’t work that way at all. People who were not farmers were not interested in farming. They wanted to get resettled somewhere; they wanted to find their families, and they wanted to have some kind of retribution. And they didn’t want to work on the fields. That meant hard labor. They needed extra calories for that. The extra calories were not available, so that if they were putting in that many more hours of real hard labor, there wasn’t enough food to give to them. So that they found their own ways of—
POPKIN: Making a living.
SCHWARTZCHILD: Making a living. And I, for instance, started what we called in England “Make do or Mend”. If you got a whole load of clothing, second-hand clothing, or any new clothing, well then—
(PAUSE IN TAPE)
POPKIN: Okay, Lily, you were talking about clothing.
SXHWARTZCHILD: Oh, yes, there’s one particular instance that I could tell you about with the clothing. I had mentioned earlier that although England, for instance, couldn’t send foodstuffs to Germany because they were very heavily rationed, and there were no permits to send food out of the country, but clothing was permitted. And so many organizations, women’s organizations and all sorts of peopled filled the boats, and I was very resentful of this I must confess. They filled the boats with so much junk when foodstuffs could have been sent, that even in a small camp like Kaunitz where we used to have these parcels that came from various organizations throughout the world. I might say that the best stuff came from the ladies of South Africa. Everything they sent could be used.
POPKIN: Was that because they were such a wealthy community?
SCHWARTZCHILD: No, I don’t think so. I think that they just had an innate knowledge that if you send stuff to poor people, you’ve got to send wearable stuff, clean stuff whereas in many of the packages that we used to get from various parts of the world and also from England, unfortunately, where underwear wasn’t even washed.
SCHWARTZCHILD: Okay. We had so much rubbish that was really unusable stuff, that I piled it all in a barn and filled the barn from ceiling to floor with clothing that simply could not be used, or even as I had mentioned before, I started a workshop with “Make Do or Mend”. You couldn’t even use the stuff for anything like that. So eventually, I looked in and around Kaunitz and made inquiries, particularly of my friend, the Burgermeister, who came for his weekly Scheiflage and found a firm that made material. And you know they were making it all out of sawdust which was ersatz stuff, so if you wanted a length of cloth, for instance, they were all little bits of wood shavings in it because the wood shavings that had been made into sawdust was also put in to make cloth.
POPKIN: Oh, I had no idea.
SCHWARTZCHILD: Oh, yes, so that you always were picking out little slivers. And I called—I got hold of the man who was the head of this organization that was making—a cloth mill, in other words, and he came down to see what we had because that they could shred up, and they didn’t have to put wood in it or shavings or sawdust. And I thought this would be a good thing. He could take this away to his factory, put it through all the shredders and reuse it, you see. Well, for this whole bunch of unusable clothing, I got four suit lengths.
POPKIN: That’s all?
SCHWARTZCHILD: That’s all. Four suit lengths. And we had about 200 men in the camp, or nearly 200 men, all of whom needed clothes, and who was going to have the four suit lengths? Who was going to have the four suit lengths? It was a very big problem, and our committee, the camp committee, wanted to tell me that this one needed it very badly; that one needed it very badly, and I said, “Well, if you do it that way, somebody else will say he needed it even more”. So the only way we could do it—we had a lottery. We pulled numbers out of a hat to decide who was to have these four suit lengths. And I said, “Then If anybody gets the suit length that really doesn’t need it, then he can give it away if he so chooses.” It wasn’t the only way to do it, but on the one hand, it seemed to be the fairest way. On the other hand, a lot of the people there were really resentful of that, but there was no way of choosing who needed it more. Everybody needed it except the younger people who worked, greater entrepreneurs, who had found ways and means of finding things. As I told you, they weren’t going to live in this sordid manner ad infinitum, and there seemed to be no closing down of the camps at that point, and we sat in them anyway because nobody seemed to want them. They weren’t going to live there for an indefinite future and still have to scrub around with rubbish they said, so many of them started various business ventures, and at this point I think it would be a good idea if we left Kaunitz.
POPKIN: All right.
SCHWARTZCHILD: Because I’ve spoken quite a lot about Kaunitz, but that just sort of puts me in mind of some of the other things—unless there are any questions you want to ask.
POPKIN: Let me just ask you, did you find that most of these people, after their hard experiences, were pretty optimistic about their future?
SXHWARTZCHILD: Well, that’s a very difficult question, Juliet, because “optimistic” is not a word that is operable, so you really couldn’t use the word “optimistic” in that sort of a way. The only thing that there was such a tremendous will to live. They had a tremendous will to have a future, that “optimism” really wasn’t—“determination” was more—
POPKIN: Determination, they were going to go forward.
SCHWARTZCHILD: They were going forward. They weren’t going to go back, and they weren’t going to have repeated what had happened to them, so it was a determination rather than an optimism. They wanted, they were willing, more or less willing for good things to happen in the future. They wanted to be resettled somewhere, and if they worked, if they couldn’t, and for the length of time that they worked they settled, as I mentioned before. Unfortunately, the camps went on for nearly five years, which is an awfully long time when we had hoped that within a year after the war we’d at least have them settled somewhere, but it just didn’t work out that way. So many of them, and this is why I’ll mention some of the things where they were determined to live as normal a life as possible, that given the abnormalities of displaced persons’ camps, they led what to them were normal lives.
POPKIN: Do you think that there was a higher level of cooperation among the survivors than there might have been in an ordinary community?
SCHWARTZCHILD: Yes, but I think this is a very natural thing in the face of any common disaster because, just as an aside, I remember I was in London all during the bombing, and when so many hundreds of people just lived up in the subways to get away from the bombing, there was a tremendous closeness and helpfulness among everybody because everybody was in the same boat, and some children who were born down there, and they were five years old before they had ever could see the light of day. They were born and lived down under in the subway. At the moment things became fairly normal, I mean as normal as one would be after such a war. The people that had been so close and so helpful, neighbors again didn’t speak to each other. They went through their normal, personal, close manner and went about their own business, and all this tremendous closeness that went on in the face of common danger just sort of under the normal circumstances, doesn’t exist.
POPKIN: So you think the same thing might have happened in the DP camp, that people who might not have gotten on or wanted to be more private later in the normal community, still had a sense of shared destiny there. They had to cooperate with each other.
SCHWARTZCHILD: Yes, they did. But then, strangely enough, and I’m sorry to have to say this in a sort of a way, that even in the camps groups were sort of fragmented, as it were. You know, the Poles didn’t like the Galitziner or the Galitziners didn’t like the Hungarians, and the Hungarians didn’t like the Germans. So that there were all these, you know, antagonisms that had gone on for hundreds and hundreds of years that were completely dissipated during the time of their incarceration—
POPKIN: That re-emerged.
SCHWARTZCHILD: –that sort of re-emerged, not perhaps to such a great degree. For instance, one of the girls that worked for me in Kaunitz, Irena, I told you. I had mentioned that the two sisters came to work for me, and one of them who was a very, very jolly girl, and many people in the camp wanted to marry her, you know, set up house together. She said, “No.” She wasn’t going to marry a Pole. I mean this was her immediate reaction, and then the funny thing was that I got Irena and Ilona—these were the two sisters—I got them to England where they were both working in somebody’s house, a “Lady Somebody’s” house as housekeepers and cooks. And they left there after a while when they’d been there for about a year and went on their own. And then she called me one day because she was going to marry. She was going to get married, and who did she finally marry? She married a non-Jewish Pole, somebody that had been in Ander’s army. And so, you know, how could you explain such a thing? And she wanted my help in getting them—they both wanted to go to Canada, but there was not enough—there was a Polish quota. She could have gone as a Jew, but he, you know, because they had to change the quotas. You know, the Polish quota which was half the trouble in getting people into other countries because certain countries said, “Well, we don’t have a Polish quota”, or “We don’t have a this quota.” And finally, it became such a silly thing, you know, when you had say thousands of Polish Jews that had been in a concentration camp, to say, “Well, we don’t have enough of a quota to send the Poles”, so that they made kind of a Jewish quota. So that this girl could have gone to Canada as a Jew, but her husband who was a non-Jewish Pole, couldn’t go. There was a waiting list of about twelve years, and I don’t know what finally happened to them, but it was such an ironic thing. I laughed at it at the time although it was a peculiar kind of a laughing, that she didn’t want to marry a Pole in the camp, but she did marry a Pole later.
POPKIN: And his army was the Polish Army in exile.
SCHWARTZCHILD: That’s right, that’s right. You see, so there were certain–not as deep as they had been, you know, because it was still early days. It was still early days after the war.
POPKIN: Why don’t you go on then because I know you had some things that you wanted to tell.
SCHWARTZCHILD: Well, yes, just a few things that may be of interest. I’ll start perhaps with Exodus. As you know that the so-called Exodus ships were taking people illegally to Israel and the boats were turned back.
SCHWARTZCHILD: They were turned back, and they came back to Hamburg. And when they came to Hamburg, many of the workers–those of us who went to Hamburg to rehouse them—and we were still in British Army uniform at that time.
POPKIN: I see.
SCHWARTZCHILD: So when we got to the boats, we were booted out by the Jews.
POPKIN: Oh, really.
SCHWARTZCHILD: Because it was the British that had turned them back—
POPKIN: I see.
SCHWARTZCHILD: —that wouldn’t let them land, and here we come in British Army uniforms to say we’re going to help them and rehouse them, and they just wouldn’t trust us. And so it took many long discussions on the boats with the Jews there at meetings to assure them that although, you know, we were in British Army uniforms because this is the only way we could work under the circumstances in Germany, that we were there as Jews, and we certainly wanted to help them even if we couldn’t get them back at that particular point on the Exodus ships to Israel, or Palestine then, we had no control over what was happening at the other end.
SCHWARTZCHILD: And so they were dispersed to various camps.
POPKIN: It must have been very difficult.
SCHWARTZCHILD: And it was disappointing, and then as soon as it was feasible, many of them went to Palestine again in the various ways that people got there. A lot of people got there—a lot of people didn’t try at that time—but a lot of people did go. A lot of these people were brought back to Belsen and this is a peculiar story. It always intrigued me that they had this group of people from the Exodus, and they had gone to two places, Emden and some other place where they had been dispersed. But when I was in Belsen this was where a lot of them were.
POPKIN: Let me stop for a second.
SCHWARTZCHILD: We had all these people in Belsen, as I mentioned, and there was the question of dispersing them again or sending them back to Palestine by way of Marseilles. They used to go to Marseilles and from Marseilles they would take boats; they would set sail from Marseilles. And I remember that in Belsen, of course, there was the British Army that was there, quite apart from all the various organizations, charitable and the organizations which helped a bit: the Red Cross, the Quakers, the Jewish Relief Unit, the Joint Distribution Committee. The Army was there and also a large group of people called “The Control Commission” who were the civilian workers from England. And there were large numbers of them because it was such a big camp, it had to be administered by, you know, like a whole city. And I remember, and I don’t know when and how the underground work went on. I don’t know, and I don’t choose to know, as a matter of fact. But I do know that it could only have been done with the help and the connivance and the great assistance of all parties, whether it would be the military, the Control Commission or anybody else that happened to be around in any sort of power. But overnight, those people from the Exodus, those that had come back to Belsen, disappeared, and they were no longer in Belsen, and it was an overnight thing.
POPKIN: I see.
SCHWARTZCHILD: So that you can’t just have a load of people disappear from the camp.
POPKIN: It was a carefully organized conspiracy.
SCHWARTZCHILD: It was a very carefully organized conspiracy which was wonderful, of course, and restored your faith in all sorts of mankind, as it were. And I’m assuming they went back to Marseilles or various other points and dispersed to various places, possibly Israel, probably Israel. One setback wasn’t going to deter many people.
POPKIN: I wonder if they’ve ever had a reunion in Israel of all the Exodus people who came.
SCHWARTZCHILD: I don’t know, but I wouldn’t be surprised. I don’t know, I don’t know. But it was just a very interesting little vignette how, you know, something can happen overnight, and nothing was said. No conversations went on about it at all because it all obviously had to be kept somewhat quiet, otherwise, it might have gotten out to the bigger brass, or whoever might have tried to stop it.
POPKIN: Were people of all ages included in that trip?
SCHWARTZCHILD: Uh-huh. But another thing in Belsen—I go on a little bit about Belsen—you asked, I think, the last time we spoke, what people did; how they lived; what sort of—
POPKIN: –daily life.
SCHWARTZCHILD: The daily life they had. Well, in a place like Belsen, for example, where there were so many people that it really was a whole city, and a city with a police force. As I mentioned, too, David Kalnitsky had started to form the police force there. And, as with Israel now, where you find there are dozens of political parties and everybody tried to get the votes, that was exactly what went on in Belsen. There must have been twenty or thirty political groups vying—what do you call it when you, with this last election?
SCHWARTZCHILD: Campaigning, and they had elections. And there must have been twenty or twenty-five different parties.
POPKIN: What kind of governing board did you have then?
SCHWARTZCHILD: Well, Yossel Rosenzaft kind of headed it up. And then it came under, you know, all the various—and they had all the Israeli, you know, the names of the Jewish organizations, you know, the Jewish names or the Hebrew names of all different parties. Like Mapam and Mapai [Mapam and Mapai were the Zionist political parties that later formed into the Labor and Likud political parties in Israel] and so on and so forth. Millions of—dozens of them. And then they had all this campaigning, and people would go around the camps with their campaign speeches. It was really—(laughing)
POPKIN: What was the total population then involved?
SCHWARTZCHILD: Well, when I was there, I suppose there was about fifteen to eighteen thousand.
POPKIN: Each party couldn’t have had too large a constituency.
SCHWARTZCHILD: No, but it was very, very active, very active. Anyway, that was the one thing that they did. But then some people became very—you know, they wanted to do something. Belsen was out in the country. It wasn’t, you know, smack on top of any kind of town where they could go and get a job. If they went out—people were permitted to go and live on the German economy if they wished, but many didn’t, and it also meant that they wouldn’t have had the protection or the “Protexia”, as the word goes, of the camps, you see, and all the organizations which administered and looked after the camps. If they went out in the German economy, they were on their own.
POPKIN: Would it have been easy or comfortable for them to go out in the German economy?
SCHWARTZCHILD: No, which is why a lot of them didn’t. Later on many did, for instance, down in Bavaria and Munich, many, many did, and they became very big business people down there.
POPKIN: I understand there are about 25,000 now.
SCHWARTZCHILD: Yes, yes, well I guess so. I just don’t choose to speak too much about it. I know too many things about that group down there, and I don’t choose to discuss it. For me it’s a little painful.
POPKIN: Yes, I gather not the most distinguished group of people down there.
SCHWARTZCHILD: Quite. So that anybody who wants to talk about it can, but I don’t want to. But in Belsen what happened, I remember, and I always wondered how they managed it because Belsen is in the middle of a country, not near a coast.
SCHWARTZCHILD: Well, I was making some rounds to visit some friends, and they said, “Come here. I want to show you something. Do you need some fresh fish?”
I said, “Fresh fish. Where is anybody going to get fresh fish here in Belsen?”
Well, they had taken one of the rooms and somehow built a huge tank, lined it with some metal or something, and they had a fresh water tank about the size of this whole kitchen.
POPKIN: How extraordinary! Where did they get the fish?
SCHWARTZCHILD: Well, I wasn’t about to ask because people were always coming and going, and somehow they managed to cross the borders into—they went to Belgium; they went to Switzerland; they came back. They went to Austria—
POPKIN: The Netherlands?
SCHWARTZCHILD: They went to the Netherlands. Anyway, there was the fish! Fresh fish tanks and people would go in there and buy their fresh fish for their gefilte fish and what have you. And it was really quite extraordinary, in the middle of this camp, there was this fish market.
POPKIN: I’ve seen the word “organization, organizing” as a medic word.
SCHWARTZCHILD: “Organizeered, organizeered”, everything was “organizeered” there, too, you know. It said something for their determination to do for themselves. One didn’t question how they probably went to one of these other countries and brought, you know, whatever it is you bring back for starting a fish spawn or small fish or whatever it is. Anyway, they all came back with little buckets, you know, closed-in buckets of stuff, and in no time flat, we had a big fish market there. They also started a nightclub in Belsen because, you know, there was a lot of people with nothing very much to do in the evenings. So they started this nightclub, and they got it all—I don’t know where they got all these red lamps and all kinds of fixtures, glass chandeliers, and what not– And, of course, among all the people there, there were many musicians and a lot of the ladies became part of the cooks, you know, the kitchen. And you could go in there and have dancing and music and entertainment and a good meal and spend your evening at little cocktail tables. And it became a nightly event. And then the group of people who ran the nightclub also ran a restaurant in the daytime, and the funny thing was that this was completely–you know, according to the Army law, to the regulations, it was really not permitted. But who would go to stop such a thing, you know?
POPKIN: They needed it.
SCHWARTZCHILD: That’s right. And the very people that really should have stopped all this sort of thing–these were the soldiers and the Control Commission people—they went in there every day to buy their meals, to buy their sandwiches and their pieces of chicken because Army food wasn’t that great, and they were delighted to go in and buy some decent food (laughing).
POPKIN: Did you try to keep the whole camp kosher?
SCHWARTZCHILD: No, this wasn’t always possible. This was another point–I keep popping back to Kaunitz, it’s true, but since that was my main camp—what Belsen did, there were, you know, the Hungarians were not kosher, by and large. Most of the Poles were because in Poland you didn’t know anything else. You know, in Poland, in all the little ghettos, it always was—
POPKIN: But not in the cities. You know, my family’s from Poland.
SCHWARTZCHILD: No, not in the cities, but by and large, you know, there was no such thing as Reform Judaism there. It was all—you might have been a lapsed Orthodox, but nevertheless, the only sort of religion that there was, was Orthodox Judaism. There weren’t any other groupings there as there were in Germany, you see. What happened in Belsen, one of the very first things they did was to build a Mikvah. You see, that was the first thing. And then they had little religious groups, and they would have services, of course. But they did have a Mikvah there because many, many of the couples were very Orthodox, and this is where I hop back to Kaunitz because some of the Polish people there who were Orthodox, when couples got married, after their menstruation, they had to get to a Mikvah, and we didn’t have a Mikvah. And so I remember there were about three ladies in particular I know that were very, very Orthodox, and every month they had to get to Belsen to go to the Mikvah. But if you want to go somewhere a couple of hundred miles here, it isn’t such a big deal. But this would take perhaps two or three days, sos that after their menstruation, they’d take two or three days to get to Belsen; three or four days to stay in Belsen and get their Mikvah and get to know all their friends; two or three days to come back, and they would have a very short space of time in between when they could cohabit with their husbands, and then they would have to make arrangements once again to go back to Belsen. So their lives seemed to be going back and forth from the Mikvah.
POPKIN: Oh, my.
SCHWARTZCHILD: You see, this is how it was. And these people, where we got rations, finally we got foodstuffs through the Joint and through the Army, and then later a lot of the foodstuffs came from the German economy, and meat was included. They wouldn’t eat the meat because it was non-kosher meat. So what they would do would be to exchange it with some of the others that weren’t so kosher. They would exchange their meat for cans of sardines or salmon or any other fish or cheese or any dairy dishes. And there was a sort of exchange going on there until one day it was decided that perhaps we could make some arrangements with a local abattoir to slaughter our own cow—
POPKIN: I see.
SCHWARTZCHILD: –and of course this is where they called me in because they had found—we had gone to the Burgermeister who had gone to one of the slaughter houses, and they said, yes, every couple of weeks we could send the shochet there and kill a cow, and then we would have the fore part, and the back part would be left to the slaughterers to sell out on the German economy. But they wanted me to go and check out this whole thing.
POPKIN: Oh, I see.
SCHWARTZCHILD: And I remember I happened to get to the slaughterhouse at the time when, not the shochet, but the slaughterhouse itself had just killed a cow, and they were slicing it up. It was all trussed up; it was hung up from ropes or chains from the ceiling, but the legs were still moving around.
POPKIN: Oh, my.
SCHWARTZCHILD: And I came right outside, threw up, and said, “I’ll never eat meat again.” You know, it was a terrible sensation. I had never seen anything, you know, a slaughterhouse is not exactly the place to be. Of course, after a while, as with everything else, you forget it. But it took about six months before I could even look at a piece of meat after that (laughing).
POPKIN: I can understand that.
SCHWARTZCHILD: But we did, therefore, then—this was quite a while after liberation, of course—but we were able to arrange for some kosher meat. But before that, it was a question of exchange. And many, many people in Belsen, they had their own slaughterers, but until they did, until it was all set up, they just didn’t eat meat. They ate canned stuff, and the calories were brought in with beans, you know, dried beans and peas, you know—
POPKIN: They had dried eggs in Belsen.
SCHWARTZCHILD: –and stuff like that. Yes, as a matter of, you know, but not the meat. Most of them—many of them—or most of them got very, very fat because it was such a—
POPKIN: Starchy diet.
SCHWARTZCHILD: Such a starchy diet because it brought out the calories, but it wasn’t, you know, there wasn’t enough, you know—mostly starchy diet—potatoes you could get.
POPKIN: I understand that the American troops were sent sweet potatoes, and nobody would eat them.
SCHWARTZCHILD: Well, nobody knew what they were, you see, and they certainly weren’t going to eat sweet potatoes. But it’s just because of what you’re used to. You know, after a while, one gets used to all these things. Anyway, they had a fishery, they had a nightclub, and they had a restaurant. Now they had all sorts of other things, I’m sure. There was even one little street in Belsen or one little alleyway between the huts or between the houses, whatever one wanted to call them. They had names of streets so that you could know where you were and go around. And one of them was called “The Bourse”.
POPKIN: The Bourse.
SCHWARTZCHILD: And at that time there were a tremendous amount of—well, black market I’m afraid was right from the beginning. When you couldn’t get things, you wanted things, nobody was giving them to you, so that the black market was very big everywhere. And it—well as a little side thing–I’m not sure if I would want this to be used, but we’ll discuss it afterwards. I probably—no, one other girl, a friend of mine and I were probably the only two people that I know of–whether it was the Army or whether it was any of the organizations–that refused to have anything to do with the black market ourselves, I mean, personally. And if you have a demand, there is a supply, and there’s a tremendous demand for things, so the black market was very, very—
POPKIN: Down on The Bourse, were there financial transactions?
SCHWARTZCHILD: There were so many financial transactions on The Bourse, which is why they called it The Bourse, but as a matter of fact, it became such a big operation, that they affected Zurich. Now this is a part—I mean it’s on tape now, but I’m not sure that we would be wise to use it, but we’ll think about it.
SCHWARTZCHILD: It affected the whole monetary market of the world.
POPKIN: How were you able to deduce that?
SCHWARTZCHILD: Well, I didn’t. I had seen all these people just standing around as one does in these either diamond districts or financial districts. I didn’t know what they were. And my friend, Kalnitsky, who was the police chief, he said, “Well, don’t you know what that is?”
And I said, “No.”
And he said, “Well, that’s The Bourse.”
I said, “What are you talking about?” And he told me some things. He wasn’t going to tell me all the things that he knew because he had his reasons, I suppose, and he didn’t want to rock too many boats.
POPKIN: I suppose that may have been the start of the great diamond industry in Israel. Today The Bourse—
SCHWARTZCHILD: Yes, I know the diamond is the one business—
POPKIN: –is one of their biggest—
SCHWARTZCHILD: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. Now, for instance, I mean nothing to do with diamonds or money, but many of the industries. For instance, Yossel Rosenzaft sent an entire shoe factory to Israel.
POPKIN: That he did?
SCHWARTZCHILD: Yes, on boats. An entire shoe factory.
POPKIN: Every bit of equipment that they would need.
SXHWARTZCHILD: Every bit of equipment; all the building materials to even put up a factory.
POPKIN: He must have been a very good entrepreneur.
SCHWARTZCHILD: He was a very good entrepreneur, and he had a very good “in” with the British, with the British government, because, as you know, you can’t just send boats out at that time with equipment.
POPKIN: What year was it when he sent that? Do you know?
SCHWARTZCHILD: No, I don’t know, but it was probably around—it was after the State of Israel had been established, so it was probably 1949, and this was only one, one item, for instance.
SCHWARTZCHILD: Yes, all sorts of industries were able to be started in Israel because of the possibilities that had gone on in various other places.
POPKIN: Of course, these were traditional Jewish businesses. It’s not surprising—
SCHWARTZCHILD: Yes, I know.
POPKIN: –after all, diamonds in Amsterdam—
SCHWARTZCHILD: Oh, absolutely not. I’m not saying that they were all done through some kind of illegality. It was a natural thing to go into the diamond industry and what they knew, shoe making, for instance.