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Renate Vambery

Renate Vambery
Nationality: German
Location: England • Germany • Missouri • St. Louis • Stuttgart • Switzerland • United States of America
Experience During Holocaust: Attended Nazi Rally • Escaped the Holocaust • Family Survived

Mapping Renate's Life

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

“We had Gestapo in the house while we were packing to see that we didn’t pack jewels or money. I remember my mother and I, before they came, burning… crying while we were doing it… burning all the books written by Russian authors because the Germans wouldn’t know the difference... anything Russian would have been Communist and we wouldn’t be able to leave.” - Renate Vambery

Read Renate's Oral History Transcripts

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Tape 1 - Side 1

VAMBERY: I was married before and my name was Gerstman. I was born in Germany…born in the city of Stuttgart, and I was considered, myself German. I was brought up – not in a Jewish tradition at all. My parents were Humanists and did not believe in any religious ritual. Neither my mother nor my father had gone to temple or synagogue since their respective confirmation and Bar Mitzvahs. I was allowed, reluctantly, to attend temple…Reformed temple, with my grandfather on maybe two occasions on the High Holidays.
My father was a lawyer, practicing lawyer with a reasonably good practice in the 20s. My mother had had training in both business and design. She studied design in Vienna. These were, however, at that time, not acceptable occupations for women to practice occupations or to work outside the home. I have a sister who is four years older – now living in Chicago, and uh, went to school in Stuttgart. It was, what we called, grammar school. I went three years and skipped the fourth grade and then went to high school at the age of nine. The school system in German differs from the American school system inasmuch as there are eight high school years versus four primary school years. And while my sister had been enrolled in a private school at the age of six, my parents decided that I should go to public school. At that time, the political climate was not – it tended towards social democracy in Germany and the inflation was extremely high. So at that time, my parents had changed their views on education and felt that I should be exposed to general German population…which I did. And I recall at a very early age being interested in social justice and bringing home the children in school who seemed to be poor, or at least much poorer than I was and bringing them home to be served cocoa, or whatever we had in the afternoon.
EIDELMAN: How old were you at that time?
VAMBERY: I was in the first, second, or third grade because those were the only primary grades I had since I skipped the fourth grade. It must have been from 1923 through 1925 that I did that. And I will recall that some of them had to be taken to the bathroom and washed because they apparently were dirty before my mother allowed them to sit at the table. We had a maid and almost everybody I knew had, at least, one maid and sometimes two. When my parents went on vacation we sometimes had another lady come in the house to stay with us.
And there was a lot of political discussion at our house because my parents belonged, I believe, to a democratic club or whatever it was called…an organization, and so did a number of my relatives and friends of my parents. So there were evenings of political discussions in the 20s already. And there were, in addition to evenings of music and evenings of reading that I recall. We had the ordinary amenities of life. We went on vacations to Switzerland, Austria, or other parts of Germany every year. We had music lessons. I played violin – my sister played piano. We had lessons in gymnastics and we had lessons in crafts outside of school. I felt we led an ordinary life. I did not have any Jewish friends. I don’t know…my sister had some because in private school, there were more Jewish students.
EIDELMAN: Was this intentional or there just happened to be no Jewish children of your age at your school or in your neighborhood?
VAMBERY: Well in the neighborhood where we lived, when we bought a house, there were no Jewish children that I recall of my age. And there was one Jewish girl in my class – in grade school who, the two of us were in competition for the first place or second. (LAUGHTER) I was usually first and there was apparently too much competition, although I was at her home maybe two or three times and she at mine. So, other than that, I had only non-Jewish friends and really, although I was aware of being Jewish to some degree…I didn’t have…since I didn’t have the religious orientation, it hadn’t had a great deal of meaning to me. And I recall that I asked my mother while we were walking…going for a walk; incidently, it was very important we had to go outdoors every day – rain or shine – either walking or playing tennis or playing outside…whatever. We had to go outdoors. We were sort of pushed outside every day which was healthy. Anyway, I recall asking her – and I may have been nine or 10 years old – so I was not that young at one point, asking my mother, “Aren’t Jews Christians?”…because that showed my confusion. In school I asked to sit in on my friends’ Lutheran instructions. Since in Germany there is no separation of church and state and this was all during regular school hours. I had two years of Jewish instructions at my request, until my father decided that he did not want any religious instruction.
EIDELMAN: How old were you when you took the Jewish instruction?
VAMBERY: That was after the first three years, so I must have been nine and 10.
VAMBERY: And then after that…nothing, and I was considered – I was called a dissident in school. I was placed in a class. We had…
EIDELMAN: Why were you considered to be a dissident?
VAMBERY: I guess it was because I was different from all the others. You had either Catholic, Protestant or Jewish instructions, but I had none. So I was placed as the only Jewish girl in the class of mostly Protestants…I think part Protestant and part Catholics. There was one class that had more Jewish students but I was not placed in that class because I was a dissident. This was not a very comfortable thing necessarily.
EIDELMAN: Were you considered to be a dissident because you did not affiliate with any religion?
EIDELMAN: It was not because of the views you held on social…?
VAMBERY: No. At that time this was the German expression for people who did or didn’t have religious instruction apparently. And it was not the most comfortable thing, and I had to sit during the religious instruction. I couldn’t leave school. It was during the school day, so I had to sit in the back of the room and was supposed to do my homework but I listened in on the Protestant instruction. It was mostly Protestant at that time, and I think the Catholics went somewhere else to another classroom. So this was not the greatest feeling.
One other thing that I think is important in the early 20s during the first grade in school, in 1923, I was considered undernourished, even though I had enough to eat. And the Quakers of America instituted feeding in the schools and I had to take part in it. I did not want to do it, but I had to. They served us cocoa and rolls. Anyway, we thought of ourselves as being totally assimilated being in a process of a democratic institution which we thought of Germany as Weimar Republic being very democratic. And I remember my parents voting…never missing an election…being very ardent voters and concerned. My father wrote a treatise against capital punishment, after having to witness an execution in Germany…as a criminal, when he practiced criminal law. He gave up criminal law after that and practiced mostly civil law. And then around 1930, I became at the age of 13 and 14, I became more aware because there were constant clashes between Communists and Nazis in Stuttgart as everywhere else. This of course was discussed, and…
EIDELMAN: Was it discussed at your home or between your parents?
VAMBERY: In the home…
EIDELMAN: What was your feeling on the subject and what was the feeling of your friends and your family?
VAMBERY: Well my family, of course, were opposed to Nazism. They were also opposed to Communism mostly, although I tend to think my parents leaned towards Socialism or Social Democracy certainly. I think my father was a Social Democrat at one time in the early 20s. And they always felt like you had to share what you had. As a matter of fact, they had a sign in our hallway that said that if you own property, you have an obligation to share it with others. So I…they felt this was just an extreme party. I don’t think that Hitler was taken that seriously at the time in the late 20s and very early 30s, even though his book of course was out, and you read it in school. My teachers began – my professors – most of them had doctors degrees in the high school, the German Oberrealschule began showing antisemitic tendencies as I reveal in the diary. My literature teacher woman said that the decadent literature was mostly due to Jewish authors or Jewish influence…the influence of Jewish authors. That is why she felt literature was decadent and therefore going out in the evening, whatever people did, or movies or theatre, that was all decadent because of the Jewish influence. This was in the…maybe 1930-31.
EIDELMAN: How did you feel when the teacher said this?
VAMBERY: Then I began feeling more Jewish and resenting it more and more. Then I started identifying with more Jewishness and being Jewish. And I would reveal this at home. I would tell some of this at home. Especially when my social science instructor asked each person had to take a party. We were 37 students – all girls at that time – and there were that many parties in Germany. That was pre-Hitler! He assigned parties to study, to report on it and he assigned the Communist party to me. And my father was sure – and I was pretty sure too because I was Jewish. Because according to Nazi theory, all Jews are Communists and all Jews are Capitalists. Of course I can’t ever reconcile the two, but that is the way it was. That was, you see, the hypothesis, so he assigned that. My father wanted to go to school at the time and protest and I asked him not to. I felt it would be more difficult for me if he did. So I did – I studied it and I liked it. I liked what I read mostly and the, in theory at least, I liked Marxist theory. So it began creeping in. My art teacher, that was maybe in 1932, showed his anti-Semitism by getting very angry at me because I drew or painted a stained glass window. This was the assignment and I painted a Jesus Christ on the cross which is the only stained glass window I had ever seen in a church. And said I had no right, as a Jew, to paint Jesus…to do any kind of image of Jesus, and he was very angry – lowered my grade. I used to have A’s. I don’t remember what I got – a B or C and was so angry that he threw an ink bottle all the way from his desk to the end of the room, I recall that. And these were the things that were creeping in – creeping anti-Semitism, and since I didn’t really have an identification with Judaism, it was more difficult and I couldn’t find it at home. We didn’t even observe the holidays, although I remember staying home for Yom Kippur once or twice in high school. I don’t remember exactly how that came about. My grandmother on my father’s side fasted and then came over to our house in the evening to eat. My grandparents on my mother’s side already had Christmas trees, although my grandfather went to temple…Reformed temple…on the High Holidays, so it was rather confusing. My mother’s siblings…one sister and two brothers…had married non-Jewish spouses. It meant that all my cousins were raised as non-Jews, Lutherans mostly. My…only my one…of my other sisters married a Jewish opthamologist and my mother was…and father were both nominally Jewish. But as I said, not observing. And we couldn’t consider ourselves, I guess, belonging to the Germany intelligentsia that was really being handy to think. And my father was also the attorney for the South German Broadcasting System which gave us a lot of access to a lot of broadcasts and concerts and other cultural activities. And that, of course, ended. I think that must of ended in ’33 or ’34 very early. And the people that came to the house were somewhere of Jewish origin but felt similar to the way my parents felt and never attended temple to my knowledge, or a synagogue. On Sundays, instead of going to church and so, some people did, we went out in to nature on hikes, on long hikes usually. And then we had pamphlets in school. Hitler used pamphlets – must have been from, I would say, 1931-32 on. When we got to school in the morning, there were pamphlets on our desks asking students to join.
EIDELMAN: Who passed them out?
VAMBERY: I don’t know. They were usually on our desks when we came in. So I have a suspicion that someone in the school, possibly even the teachers, since many of them became Nazis at that time. And very few in my school, that I recall, that were not or if they were not, they didn’t dare to say it…that they weren’t Nazis.
EIDELMAN: Did you have discussions with your schoolmates about the topic of the Nazis?
VAMBERY: Yes…I did, but my two very closest girl friends left me because they wanted to join the BDM – Bund Deutscher Madchen. That is an organization for young German girls. In 1932, I think it was, I went with this one very close friend on a youth hosteling trip. We hiked, and we finally got permission from our parents to do it – just the two of us – and to parts of southern Germany and staying in youth hostels. And I remember having some discussions at that time that she became somewhat leery and somewhat afraid of being seen with me then already. And then after ’33, with the event of Hitler, she sort of broke off all relationship with me. She did it in a very nasty way by somehow denouncing my father, something…I don’t even recall the details…saying some things about him that almost even then, got him into very serious trouble…including possible concentration camps. And they were there…Dachau was already there and they knew about it. When people say they didn’t know about concentration camps, it’s a total lie! I was 16 and 17 and I knew about it. So that was the way she did it. She couldn’t tell me directly. She was not able to do that, you know, to say, “I don’t want to be your friend anymore.” She also ostracized me in school. She didn’t talk to me anymore. It was shortly after we had just been on this trip together – where we slept together in youth hostels and walked together, and hiked together. And the other friend had been a friend even longer, about eight years already in grammar school. She asked at one point, and that must have been in the end of ’33 or beginning of ’34, before I went to England – she asked to meet…to go to the end of street car line in separate street cars, which we did, and then to walk into the woods. At that time you could do that, and to meet there, and that is what we did. And she said, “You know, I can’t come to your house anymore and you can’t come to my house, because my father will lose his job.” He worked at the post office, I think. “But if you want to, we can sometimes meet out.” Do it this way, because we used to be very close and could tell each other everything. “Go to the end of the street car line and meet on the woods.” And I said, “No, I didn’t want that.” I said, “If you can’t come to my house and I can’t come to your house, then we can’t be friends.” And that was the way I felt at that time. Whether this was, you know, the way to go or not, I don’t know.
EIDELMAN: What did she express any feelings about this?
VAMBERY: Well, she did really, apparently in retrospect, she did not want to break up the friendship really, I think. That was my feeling, because she wanted to continue that way by meeting. But I think, I don’t know how much I thought it through. My reaction just was, no, I don’t want it. I don’t want you as a friend if you can’t come to my house anymore, and I can’t come to your house. And I, in retrospect, I think she may have wanted to continue because it was a long standing friendship and it would have been with the other. We had revealed everything to each other – all our deepest secrets. So this was the end of the friendships with my really closests. And I was in school at that time, and I felt there was – no one talked to me anymore, and I was totally isolated during recess. And so I said, “I can’t go to school anymore.” And my father said, “Yes you can…Because I was an officer and I have a gold medal for being wounded three times, and I have the Iron Cross First Class, and they can’t do that to you.” And I said, “But I can’t. But I can’t go and be ostracized.” And so while very soon after that the laws came out anyway that you could only go to Jewish schools, whatever, so that was when I then went to England. But fortunately my parents – at that time you were still able to send a little money – my mother had to go to the offices of the police Gestapo…they were sort of combined at that time – to get every month – to get permission to send me a few dollars or a few marks, whatever it was, to England. And then later to Switzerland when I went. But I did join in 1933 – then I joined the German Jewish Youth Bund Deutscher Group…Judisher Jugend Ring we called ourselves – like a ring, and we sang songs and we met. And we knew that eventually most of would have to leave, except that some of us, initially we were so patriotic said, “Well, we are German Jews, …and we will try to stay as long…” And then in contrast to the Zionist youth, who had to…decided that they had to go to then Palestine. And at one time we met – the two groups of us – met together in the home of our pediatrician, whose children were our ages and were in the various groups – Jewish groups – and his name was Dr. Einstein, Otto Einstein…he was a cousin of Albert Einstein. And the Gestapo was there and somebody handed a little slip of paper around that said, “Be careful, Gestapo.” And they found, they noticed that we handed this slip around…asked us…asked to see it. The men who were from the Gestapo, and asked. We really didn’t know. We didn’t know who he was. And there were usually no adults there. So when he saw it, he was fortunately, at that time, kind enough to tell us to go home as fast as possible. And I ran all the way home. And so that was the last time we met together. I do know that some of the youth groups – the German Jewish and the Zionist – the boys had actual fist fights at times over ideology because we were still, at that time, somehow tied to Germany.
And then I went to…my parents wanted me to go to dancing class because that was the thing to do. My sister had gone and she had gone to a mixed…Jews and non-Jews…a mixed group and that in 1933 you couldn’t do it anymore. So I did go. This is the one friend I just had a letter from…from Israel…who went to dancing class with me. And so we did that, but you see then already, there were a lot of places we couldn’t go…stop…like here, you would want to stop at Howard Johnsons or whatever or The Blueberry in the loop. We couldn’t go to most of those places anymore and there were one or two places….
EIDELMAN: Is that because of the Nuremberg Law?
VAMBERY: Yes. Well Jews were already not allowed in the…a lot of places anymore. You see on the first of April 1933, Hitler was – came to power in January in ’33. On the first of April was the boycott – the Jewish boycott. I don’t know if anyone had ever talked about that. I recall that my father went to his office. It was a Saturday. That I remember very well, and called home cause he didn’t expect – he always thought because he was so pro-German, and had been an officer and all that, and he had belonged to the Officer’s Association and all that – met with him like I think every month or whatever – that it wouldn’t happen to him. So anyway, it did. And there was a guard in his office and there was a big sign “Jew” over his shingle. And I remember him calling home and having a long conversation with this man who had to stand guard. And he told them that he fought for this country or that country, Germany, while this man was probably my age…while he was still in diapers and apparently the young man said he just had to do it and that was it. He didn’t have any choice and he was supposed to. This was his job. So this was very early on, you see, and it also…in 1933 I think already we were not allowed to have any maids or any household help under 45 because the…presumably the Jewish man…head of the household would get the young maid who was not Jewish, pregnant. And so the only help one could get – I don’t consider that a disaster now – at this point, but it was just these were all the signs…the only household help we were allowed, was women over 45 who presumably couldn’t get pregnant.
EIDELMAN: What about your neighbors? Did you have discussions with them and what were their feelings towards you?
VAMBERY: The neighbors, and we had non-Jewish neighbors on both sides. There were no more discussions after ’33 on politics. No more. That all ended. I think they barely said hello and the neighbors on one side had girls my age. We had been friends at one time…that deteriorated. And I don’t know exactly what it had to do with Hitler that much, but it probably did in retrospect. We barely said hello anymore, on the other side also. So the boycott was very early. We have a guard at the office. People are not going to come in because they would be apprehended if they try to come in. And see now, the guard was not posted there all the time, but…and I don’t know whether I think my father took the label off the Jew, and I don’t know how often they replaced that. But anyway, this was already, you know, very early and then soon after that, you see, my parents had belonged to a tennis club. Every Saturday they played tennis with my aunt and uncle. We used to go too. And they couldn’t go anymore. My aunt who was Jewish – my mother’s sister – could still play because her husband was not Jewish. But that stopped, apparently in the…
EIDELMAN: How were they told that they couldn’t play anymore?
VAMBERY: Every place had signs, “Judensindnicht er laubt”…Jews are not allowed, or “Juden Verboten,” or whatever. It was there…every place. And always sometimes, they would tell people, you know, you can’t come anymore. But this was posted on practically every restaurant, the swimming pools that we used to go to in summer. We couldn’t go any more. That was already in ’33 – ’34. And some localities, I hear, it was different.
EIDELMAN: As far as your non-Jewish relatives were concerned…did you have get-togethers with them, and if so, what were their feelings about this?
VAMBERY: Well my aunt, this part what is in my diary…my cousins were brought up as Protestants. They tried to hide very much and keep it a secret that the mother was Jewish.

Tape 1 - Side 2

My aunt worked in an insurance company and they had Hitler pictures up in the house also in the early ’30s. I mean, after ’33 or maybe ’34-’35. So they were very careful. I mean, we still saw each other in the homes, but they had to be very careful. My other uncle, my mother’s oldest brother, had lived in New York already since before World War I.
EIDELMAN: Well, were your cousins Nazis? You said they had a picture of Hitler up in their house?
VAMBERY: Their father put the picture up to, I guess, to appease his business partners, or whatever…his friends, so that when they came in, everything seemed okay.
EIDELMAN: When they talked to you, did they say anything about how you were being treated or did you tell them what was happening to you?
VAMBERY: No. Well they knew. My cousin, as a matter of fact, my cousin was in England with me for a whole year. Because at that time, 1934 to ’35, she is a year and a half older – she did not know whether or not she was going to be able to manage in Germany as a half-Jew. What would happen…whether she could or couldn’t. So she went to England with me at that time, but went back a year later. We both went back and returned initially just for vacations. And she stayed in Germany and had already, which is in my diary, said on occasions she was glad that people didn’t know that she had a Jewish mother…and therefore, didn’t know that she wasn’t pure…racially pure. And this is the cousin I visited. I don’t know if you want that now, but I have it. I visited in 1978…I visited several times in between in ’67, 78…35 years, 33 years after the liberation, and after the end of the Nazi terror. When I came to Germany I wanted to spend one more time seeing all my older relatives in Germany. My aunt was still living. She was almost 89 and died shortly after I was there. Her daughter, who I said was a year and a half older than I am, and I had never before…I had been there three times before, and had always stayed in a little hotel nearby. They had not invited me to stay in their house. They had a large house. So I wrote that I would only come this time if I could stay in their house with them. I would not otherwise visit anymore. So my aunt wrote immediately, “Yes, come.” And as soon as I came to Stuttgart, I was in Spain and England before, my cousin confronted me by saying, “Please don’t tell anyone who you are…why you left Germany. I have told our young girl, (they had an au pair girl from England – she was 18 years old) that you had married a G.I….an American G.I. and that’s why you went to America. And don’t tell them who your father was (My father would have had his 100th birthday this year). Nobody in Germany…in Stuttgart would have known him anymore anyway. And if you go to the store next door, don’t tell them who you are.” She gave me all these instructions. She had a room rented to somebody – not to tell this person that I was a refugee from Hitler and whatever. And I said, “Edith – it’s thirty three years after Hitler. You’re not living in Nazi Germany.” And she said, well of course this was all in German…she said, “It’s not a good idea for people to know even now.” And so you know that it hasn’t passed. The repercussion of whatever, or the Neo-Nazism is there and it’s forever…apparently. And so I stayed this week because mostly I really wanted to have some more contact with my aunt. And she played the piano for me and all that. She was my mother’s sister. We had been very close…the families…we had gone on vacations with each other and so on. So then I spent a week in Uln where the cousin, a woman who was married to a cousin of my mother’s, which she is not Jewish and she’s very much the opposite. As a matter of fact, she is 86 years old and is coming to this country to attend a Bar Mitzvah, although she is not Jewish at all. But she has a very different feeling. It was okay for all her relatives – her non-Jewish relatives to know who I was and to meet them. And then I went to Bad Reichen Hof for a week where my aunt and uncle who used to live, who fled to New York – well he did – are living in a retirement center because he felt he couldn’t manage in New York anymore. They are 88 and 86 now. And my uncle, who is my mother’s youngest brother, is still living now, had been in concentration camp and was able to get out because of his non-Jewish wife. She did go there to get him out with the stipulation that he leave Germany within 24 hours, which he did. And he went to England and then came from England to New York, where…I wanted to finish – that my uncle in New York had been the Chief…Editor-in-chief of the German newspaper, the New Yorker which he…became very Staats Zeitung – Nazi oriented, in ’36-’37. And in a way, fortunately for him, he developed Parkinson’s disease and was retired by the paper. Because they would not have kept him as an editor-in-chief although his children didn’t know that they were half Jewish. When we came in 1937, my cousins in New York, Erica and Eleanor, they were 14 and 12 and their mother was not – she was Swiss Protestant – had not been told that their father was Jewish. And this was the first experience they had with Jews or with they ever knew that their cousins were Jewish.
So that brought home to me, maybe you need to know who you are – what your identity is. I still don’t believe in any religious orientation. I think religion divides more than anything…divisive…but I do feel that you have to have some idea of your identity.
EIDELMAN: Getting back to Germany – you went to school in England. Then you came back. What type of discussions did your family have at home, at the table, whether or not you would leave and what would happen, and…?
VAMBERY: Yes, that is a good point. In 1934 when I left initially with my cousin to England and I was very leery about leaving, I really…I thought I might not see my parents again because things were not good…were pretty bad at that time. We realized it. I realized it and I think they did. And then when I came back in ’35, a year later, my father had pretty much lost his practice. Really he…people couldn’t come anymore. And they had rented a room by that time, in a house, to have some additional income. And we were then talking about the possibility of having to leave. My father was still resistant. My mother finally said, “I will leave this with Renate…with me.” She would not, because she felt absolute necessity for me to get out. And my sister was living away from home and then getting married. She got married in ’36 and moved to Frankfurt and her husband had already…before she met him…been on hakhshara. That means he had decided to go to Palestine. Hakhshara is where you train for a agriculture. And so Ruth, my sister, who had excommunicated herself at one time from the Jewish community in Stuttgart, had decided to go to study Hebrew, Ivrit, and go to Palestine. She obviously rejoined…or mean I don’t think there is such a thing, but it is printed in the community, Jewish community paper, that Ruth Leibman had “Ausgetretan,” that means she had excommunicated herself which was, I remember this very distinctly, it annoyed my father terribly. That, he did not want either. He didn’t want her to separate herself. I think she did it mostly to annoy him, and so she was 18 at the time. And it was…was in 1930 when she did that. And then she swung the other way after 1933 and decided…anyway that is how she met her husband. And they were not allowed to get out when we did because the police – Gestapo in Frankfurt – interpreted his being on hakhshara as being a Communist. And so they held his passport and they couldn’t leave for another year. They got out…just before the Kristallnight. So anyway, yes, it was very serious. I remember that there were, when we had people, like relatives or friends, there were only – maybe you didn’t have more than two or three people at a time in the house and all the blinds were drawn and you talked in a whisper. I remember that on the street car with my mother already in ’33 or maybe a little before then, we would not held a conversation anymore for fear of being misinterpreted or picked up…or whatever. So this was very early. The whole atmosphere was heavy and unpleasant. So I went back to England and for several months I became ill and after being treated there for a kidney infection, they sent me back home. And after that, I attended school. I went to Switzerland. But by that time, my mother was certainly convinced that she was going to leave and that we would have to leave, if we wanted to be safe. My father was getting calls at night. Apparently I was not there at the time – from former colleagues – not to show up in court and not to show up, you know, that he would be apprehended…be arrested. And so he had all kinds of frightening calls. And he still…somehow…he didn’t want to leave.
EIDELMAN: So was he still practicing law?
VAMBERY: For the few things that I show you, a letter in ’33, that he tried to get someone out of prison – a Jewish client. It was refused…was rejected. It’s in this book I have. He was still, I guess, practicing some, a few things that maybe he could practice. I really…it was practically down to nothing.
EIDELMAN: Was there not a Nuremberg law that eventually said that Jews could not practice law?
VAMBERY: That came, I think, that came the year we left in ’37. But you see, even without the law, after he was told not to show up in court anymore and all that, he really couldn’t practice anymore. But in spite of that, it was extremely difficult for him. Don’t forget, he was 55 when he left…and to leave – like all his books – his law books. He took me, the last few days before we left, when he finally decided we would leave, to his office and said, “What should I do with all these books?” And I said, “Well, I guess you have to leave them.” And for me, it didn’t seem that big a deal at that time. But for him, it was very, very hard and I only realized it much later when I got to that age. So anyway, it was his livelihood. He said, “What do I do – wash dishes?” And he had never washed a dish at home. So anyway, by the time I was in Switzerland… ’35, ’36 to ’37, they were convinced and they wrote. My mother did most of the writing, I think to the States and for affidavits, which came from our relatives here in St. Louis. These are my father’s relatives. My mother’s, as I said, her brother who was the editor of the German newspaper, was already very sick and didn’t have enough money to give us a good affidavit, so we did get it from our relatives here, and then decided that there was really no way out. We did have conversations during the time I was home, in between, in ’35 and ’36, about going to a South American country. My father would have preferred. Somehow I knew Spanish and French better than he did English. And he would have preferred that probably. And then some people went we knew, our friends…our relatives…were going to Australia or different places. But then since we did have a good affidavit, we decided to come to this country. And while we were packing, I was home for that…that week, that last week before we left – I finished in Switzerland. We had Gestapo there in the house…while we were packing…to see that we didn’t pack jewels, or money, whatever. And I remember my mother and I, burning all, before they came, burning…crying while we were doing it…burning all the books written by Russian authors because we knew that the Germans…these people…wouldn’t know the difference between Dostoevski and Gorky and Chekhov. And anything Russian would have been Communist and we wouldn’t be able to leave. And so we said… “It’s really better to do it that way – to get rid of all the Russian authors…Tolstoy…everything…and burn the books so that that wouldn’t keep us…hold us back from leaving.” So that’s what we did. And I have the German classics that they allowed us to take out…Goethe and Schiller and so on.
And so anyway, the times were very, very bad and I know my mother particularly suffered extreme, really extreme pain, because of her sister, brother and all of the people…all the relatives they had been very close…that were, you know, half Jewish. And she didn’t want to leave and then this aunt, my mother’s sister, who was married to opthamologist – they had a son in China and they could have gone to China and they didn’t go. They felt, you know, it couldn’t happen to them either. And they were eventually exterminated in Theresienstadt. He died of starvation, I heard, and my aunt died with a broken hip. She was supposed to march with a broken hip. I mean, it was miserable. We had the report later. And they could have gotten out, but so as a lot of others – they didn’t. They felt, you know, the Germans couldn’t do that to them. But the signs were there, and God, but the thing is when I’ve talked to them…when we went to this school in St. Charles, and they said, “Why didn’t everybody leave?” You know, when I told the kids I couldn’t go to school any more and I said… “Well, how would you feel if you couldn’t go to school?” And they said, “Oh, that would be fine. I would love that.” And I said, “Yeah for a little while you’d love it, but if you couldn’t, you know.” And then they said, “Why didn’t everybody leave?” And I said, “Okay, where would you go tomorrow if you were told you can’t live here. Do you know where you would go?” And then, of course, nobody knew.
EIDELMAN: Did you ever see Hitler in person?
VAMBERY: I didn’t, no. I don’t think I saw Hitler in person. However, I had to march with my school – I guess it was in 1933 – to see Baldur von Schirach. He was the youth leader and we had to march and stand in the rain for three hours. And at that time, we had to give the Hitler salute and shortly after that, it said Jewish students or children cannot, no longer, give the Hitler salute. So, yes, you would immediately be able to pick out. However, I still had to march with the school down to the center of town where he was speaking and listen to him. All the school children – the whole town – had to be there to listen to him. And Hitler, in person, no – he was there, but we didn’t go to hear him. But it was a very frightening atmosphere and even when I think about it…even in your own house, you know, if you think, you better lock the doors…close the blinds…and whisper in your own house. That was from 1933 on.
EIDELMAN: Did your friends in school threaten you or say any unpleasant things, or did they just say nothing?
VAMBERY: No – they did say nasty things about…once when we brought our lunch to school…and I had a banana or whatever, they said, “Only Jews would have the money to buy a banana.” They said something like that which wasn’t true. It wasn’t all that true at all. I mean, others ate it too, and they were making pretty nasty remarks – comments about Jews. Most of the time, I mean, after they had to…decided, you see…that they had to get rid of me somehow, that they had to…that they couldn’t keep up their friendship. There were a couple of kids in school – one of them I did try to find her when I came back. I couldn’t find her because she was probably married under another name or moved away, had sent flowers to the boat when we left…for me. But that took courage to do that. But it…I had no personal contact with them anymore.
EIDELMAN: How were you affected by the fact that Jews couldn’t go to public places or movie theatres?
VAMBERY: I didn’t go to movies very much in Germany. You couldn’t go to movies under 16 so I would…have just really started going to movies…only to educational. The swimming pool, because we used to go there a lot in summer. That affected us, my sister and myself, very much. And the public places felt very restricted and very discriminated against because you could not go to most restaurants anymore. It is not that we went out that much, but the fact that you couldn’t – that you were not allowed to go to most of the public places – that you were afraid wherever you went, that you were going to be apprehended.
EIDELMAN: Did you have to wear a star at that time?
VAMBERY: Not at that time, no. That came later. That came in ’38.
EIDELMAN: Did you try to go places where the sign said that Jews were forbidden – that you figured that no one would know who you were?
VAMBERY: No, no, I didn’t. I wouldn’t and I’m sure my parents didn’t. They were much too law-abiding. (CHUCKLES) I do know that my friend – I have a friend who’s living partly in England and partly in Florida – he lived in Mainz…a different…another community…and he said he still went with some of his non-Jewish friends. He would still go places because apparently the atmosphere was very different. That he would still go and just pay no attention to the signs. But I didn’t and my family didn’t. (LONG SILENCE)
EIDELMAN: When you were in gym class in school, did the children treat you in any way different from the non-Jewish children?
VAMBERY: In gym, or you mean…before ’33?
EIDELMAN: Let’s say before ’33 and how they treated you after ’33.
VAMBERY: No, not particularly in gym. I don’t think so.
EIDELMN: Or let’s just say, in general. What I am asking is…did you feel much anti-Semitism before Hitler came to power? Were you aware that people were anti-Semitic, let’s say, between 1920 and 1928?
VAMBERY: Right. I started school in 1923. I was in nursery school, kindergarten before then. No – there was an incident in grammar school. It was probably the second or third grade. As I said, I was always first in class. I was reading long before I went to school and I had really no problems. Anyway, I was accused by a teacher of cheating on a test…of looking up something or other while we were taking a test…I think. One of the girls in class said she saw me cheating. First of all, I didn’t need to cheat. I knew my material. Secondly, I would never have done it. I was brought up in a very law abiding family. Since my father was a lawyer and we always had to really go by the book and observe the law and be honest at all times. And so it wound never have occurred to me. Anyway, she did…this girl apparently – she told the teacher that I had looked up something in order to complete the test. And the teacher then, I am sure now, and I was sure much later – that it was an anti-Semitic thing that I had to defend myself…and I was in tears and that they interpreted as being guilty, you see, by bursting into tears. And I had to go to the principal and eventually it ended up my parents going to school. Of course, you see, in the mid 20s, there was a strong Weimar Republic and a strong civil rights, you know, kind of things, civil liberties. And my father went to school and eventually it seemed to…this was then ironed out. But I changed schools after that – after the year was over. I’m pretty sure…I’m convinced now…that it was an anti-Semitic thing.
EIDELMAN: At the time did you feel that it was?
VAMBERY: I wasn’t…I didn’t identify that much that to really be able to…
VAMBERY: I think my parents felt that way. I was maybe eight or nine that I wasn’t that sure that that’s what it was. But later convinced because it was really…part of the thing was probably jealousy. Because as I said, this other Jewish girl who was in my class for a while and I were always ahead – the two of us were always…took the first two places in school.
EIDELMAN: Would you say that as you were growing up before Hitler came into power – that you were not really aware that there was any anti-Semitic feeling in Germany?
VAMBERY: Except for these isolated incidents – I was not that aware, no. I became only in 1930 aware of that.
EIDELMAN: Do you have an opinion as to how much anti-Semitism there was in Germany before Hitler came in, compared to how it is in the United States now?
VAMBERY: Yes, I see some real similarities because I see the economy in a very similar situation. I see the unemployment very…
EIDELMAN: I was thinking more of peoples’ views as opposed to the economic situation.
VAMBERY: Yes, I think…I don’t think Americans are very different from the way Germans were. I think when things go bad, they blame it on Jews. And you hear them say, when a Jew does something that is negative, he is called a kike. There was a column in the paper last night by Bob Greene on that…that immediately is a derogatory term used. So I see that it could happen here. And that is why I am very concerned that we alert young people particularly to that. I mentioned – I think that I went through almost four years of psychoanalysis and I think I had it so repressed at that time that I don’t think I ever talked about it. But I think I do see similarities in…in attitudes here too.
EIDELMAN: What specific things did you repress that have now come out?
VAMBERY: I had repressed, seems to me…that while…all the things that came out later in my diaries and so on…that had gone on in my life and we got to Hitler…I dealt mostly with my relationships with my father. And in analysis, that is what you do. And I may have mentioned something, for instance, that I had a non-Jewish boyfriend whose mother asked me not to see him again. That was another thing. He was my first real boyfriend and was not Jewish. And he was very much in love with me. And his mother came to the house and asked my mother to tell me…I met her then…not to see – either come to their house or to have him come to my house…or be seen with him anywhere…anymore. So I did. He didn’t really ask…she did, his mother. And so, although he did write some letters later and did…wanted to go to Italy with me, but at that time, I wasn’t that interested in marrying him. I don’t know, it seemed so far away. I seemed to have a lot of other problems and other things that I wanted to get straightened out first before settling down – and so I didn’t.
EIDELMAN: How has being through the experience in Germany changed your life or affected you?
VAMBERY: Well I thought about that the other day. I talked with some of my friends who are native Americans and I said, you know, I mentioned that it really ruined my adolescence, actually most of my adolescence, when other kids here have a lot of fun and I had to leave home then and go to England and Switzerland which doesn’t sound bad to most people…except that I didn’t know if I would ever see my parents again or what was going to happen. I went under pressure. I didn’t go because I wanted to study at the Sorbonne. It was a different thing. So I feel it ruined my adolescence. I think it has affected my relationships with people, in general, in spite of all the analysis I had which was helpful to some extent, in not really trusting people very much because right now, with crime and so on, I have been cautious about that. But I think it affected and I believe I did that for most most people I know…the relationships with people in general. Since you know, whatever, the years from the time I was 14, 15, to the time I came here, 20, and then I had to work very hard here in order to go to school which was very important to me. So I had another three or four years when I had very little social life because I concentrated all on education and work. And so I think it took at least five or six years out of my life.

Tape 2 - Side 1

EIDELMAN: How did you feel being in the situation that you were in, and what about it caused you to be unhappy?
VAMBERY: Well, I had the relationships with my best girl friends were over…null and void…and as I said, I was not able to form any close relationships with any girl friends at that time. I went to dancing class and I met some boys there and I became friends and then came this incident with my boyfriend who was not Jewish, and that was terminated by force. And so I did have some friends in this group but I never felt that close as I had to these two friends that I had for so long. And I felt some closeness to some of the boys and I said one is from Israel and I saw him in Israel again after 37 years. And one lives in Chicago now, and I have had some contact with both of them. They are married but I was never…I felt I was not able to form the kind of real close relationships – maybe except with my husband – I don’t know that I would have had otherwise, that I had previously.
EIDELMAN: Did you feel since you all did not practice Judaism at home – did you feel you were persecuted for something that you didn’t believe in?
VAMBERY: Well, yes, it was a strange kind of thing to be persecuted. And, see, I don’t believe that persecution as some Jews believe, some non-Jews and some Jews believe, that it’s punishment from God, because you’ve fallen away. I don’t believe that. And I don’t believe I’m an agnostic anyway – I don’t believe if there were a God that He or She would punish…could be that personalized anyway. And to punish people who don’t do any harm anyway, I just don’t believe this kind of justice exist…if it were justice, or that it’s anything that personalizes. So I guess I can’t…I felt at that time…yes that I wasn’t really that Jewish. I didn’t know why it should hit me, but that doesn’t mean that I felt it was justified to persecute the more Orthodox or more religious Jews. I never had that feeling. But I had a psychiatrist at Malcolm Bliss with whom I talked a great deal about it…a Jewish psychiatrist, and he said in all seriousness it was punishment for Jews having been too assimilated and fallen away from Judaism.
EIDELMAN: When you were at home during the Hitler era, did you listen to the radio?
VAMBERY: Yes, sometimes. We didn’t listen very much, it seemed to me. We didn’t use the radio very much. I don’t know. It was just not part of habit we had to listen to radio very much.
EIDELMAN: What newspapers did you read?
VAMBERY: We had the regular, like similar to what you would have here, like the Post-Dispatch…the newspaper of Stuttgart, published in Stuttgart. We then had constantly stories about Hitler and Nazis. Almost every day you read…my aunt incidentally, reiterated that when I was in Germany in ’78, that every day new laws came out. And that even later, was even worse. She said every day when you opened the paper, there were new laws against Jews. And this was, in her case, she then told me that she had been baptised, which I didn’t know. In 1942, a minister came to the house, or something, so she could convert. They thought that that would save her. She, nevertheless, had had her orders for deportation in 1944 anyway, and somehow her non-Jewish husband was able to keep her home in the basement, hiding her in the basement, until the liberation.
EIDELMAN: What about your sister?
VAMBERY: My sister lives in Chicago. And her first husband died, as did mine, from a heart attack. And I think that had to do, in both our cases, had to do with Hitler. They both died at the age of 54 and 55. In her case, she had formed such a close relationship with her husband that when he died after 20 years of marriage, she had to have psychiatric help. And her psychiatrist said to me and her, and also wrote a report on it, that it was the result…he saw it as the result of Hitler…that the two had formed such a close relationship that, to the exclusion of other people, so that his death was much more devastating to her than it would have been if she had had a lot of other relationships.
EIDELMAN: When you were studying in England, you were at a type of boarding school. Were you primarily with other Jews?
VAMBERY: No, there were – in the first school I was. This was the Steiner School, Rudolf Steiner. Because I had attended that for the last year in Germany when I was still in school…I had attended that school. I should have to change that…had attended that for a few months, because we thought I could still go there and the atmosphere was a little different there. But still there was not very much contact with students either. This was Steiner School and there was one Jewish boy from Hungary whom I also saw later on, whose father was a playwright in Hollywood later. And there were not…the school was not primarily Jewish. Then later on…the second time I went to a school that had been open by German Jews, a woman who had had a school in Hamburg…had directed a school in Hamburg…opened that and they were primarily Jewish there. A number of them were planning on going to Palestine at that time, which I did not want to do.
EIDELMAN: Did you make friends at these schools who were not Jewish and what was their reaction to the stories that you told them?
VAMBERY: Yes I made some friends. But I don’t think I…see…in retrospect, I feel that I never really talked about it very much at that time…about my experiences with my other friends. I didn’t really talk about it till much, much later. I don’t think I talked about it in my analysis very much. And I think this came out much later, only, maybe in the 1960’s or so that I was…or even wanted to talk about it.
EIDELMAN: Did they say anything to you about it…that the non-Jewish students even know that you were Jewish? Did they know why you were there?
VAMBERY: Yes, vaguely…vaguely, they vaguely knew. In the other…in the second school, of course, they knew. They were all refugees. All of us were refugees there and now when I went to Switzerland afterwards, I was the only…no…there was one other Jewish student from Germany, and so that was not emphasized a great deal again. I sort of became part of the…I had some good friends there. As a matter of fact, the last week of our schooling in Switzerland, we went, the whole class always went to Italy. And I could not get the money. There was no way of getting the money from Germany for me to take part in that trip to Italy. So I said, “I just can’t go…I’d have to stay.” And so all my friends there…the girls…all got together and got enough money collected…enough money so I could go too. So they were good friends. I did a strange thing. I didn’t, I did for a short while – I corresponded with a number of people in Switzerland and England. And then I broke up, you see when I came here, I broke up all my…I decided I didn’t want to have any more to do with them. And I didn’t speak any German for the first ten years at all. And I didn’t want to have any more to do with anything that reminded me of Europe or Germany or so. Because I became an occupational therapist and I joined the armed services in 1944 when I had my citizenship. But I did not identify with…there were very few Jewish women, particularly, in the armed services. And so my relationships there were…I dated Jewish men in the army, but I had one friend I still see, who is Jewish…who was a dietician, and I still have a couple of non-Jewish friends that I correspond with. But I guess it was difficult for me to identify that much with being Jewish.
EIDELMAN: After the laws prohibited your father from practicing law, how did you get along financially? How could your family support itself, and how could yur family raise enough money to send you to England…to a boarding school which must have been very expensive?
VAMBERY: Well it wasn’t that expensive at that time. What we did was…see, now my cousin and I back here, we were together. We worked for our room and board by putting on the high tea in the evening. We were responsible for that. We fixed…they had sandwiches and things like that. We washed the dishes three times a day. They couldn’t send much money. And in Switzerland, I had to pay a tuition. As I said, my mother had to get permission, every month, she had to go down and get permission to send me what was necessary. I also did some work there to make up for the tuition and worked all through, as I said, my vacation. So that was the way…I suppose. I never really asked them that much, that they, first of all, my mother had rented a room in the house that brought in some money. And then, no more maid. We couldn’t have it anyway. And I suppose they had savings, some money, you know, that they had, over the years, saved…whatever income, I don’t know.
EIDELMAN: When you left Germany, were you able to take any possessions with you of value and what happened to your house? Were you able to sell that and did you realize any value from that? What happened to your family’s accumulated wealth?
VAMBERY: Well the house was sold at whatever value…emergency sale…at a very low price, and we took, I still have some of the books. We had furniture my parents were able to take, at that time, in ’37 – afterwards you weren’t able to take anything anymore. We had, what you call the lift, we had some furniture for…they said for three rooms. You could bring furniture for three rooms. The other furniture, I guess, the other furniture was just sold with the house. I think we left it there. I really don’t recall exactly. We had some trunks with clothes and some things…some furniture was held back. The company just kept the things they wanted to keep…the people…the movers. They just weren’t there when we came. I have even a picture of the lift. I took a picture before we left – while they were loading it. And my parents took the kind of things that seemed important and a lot of them were books, and they took up space. And we didn’t take the piano. I don’t know what happened, I guess they were just left there. I took my violin, I know that. And we had furniture for the bedroom, living room and dining room…a sort of couch for me. In the beginning and that was it, and the house was, as I said, sold to people. I don’t remember who bought it, under pressure, and we were able, I think, to take the equivalent of 800 dollars in cash to pay for the tickets. That we could do…the boat tickets on the SS Manhattan.
EIDELMAN: What about any money that was left over from the sale of the house?
VAMBERY: That was, at that time, had to be left there. But later on, my father was able to get restitution. So he was getting restitution and he got restitution for the house. But of course, at that time, we didn’t know that. That was in the late 50s or early 60s.
EIDELMAN: Do you recall how much money you got?
VAMBERY: I don’t remember exactly. He got the difference, I think, of what the house would have been worth and for what he had to sell it and also he did get a good pension. Since he had been a lawyer, he got the highest pension. He got the same, well I don’t know, maybe 20,000 dollars or whatever I got, incidently from my husband…my first husband, what we call goodwill. He had a publishing business. His daughter and I had split the…what they call…goodwill for loss of business.
EIDELMAN: How much did they give you for that?
VAMBERY: They give you a maximum of…goodwill was a maximum, I think, of 10,000 dollars. And I got restitution for loss of schooling. My father documented that.
EIDELMAN: How much did they give you for that?
VAMBERY: The maximum they give you for that was 5,000 dollars. They had to substantiate that you lost…that you couldn’t go to school anymore. Since my father was a lawyer, and he did do a lot of these resitution cases for other people too, and after he was retired, he did mine. Fortunately he did mine, because I don’t think I would have ever gotten it all together. It’s a very detailed kind of thing that you have to prove. It came in two installments…I think first 2,500 dollars and then another 2,500 dollars for loss of schooling.
VAMBERY: Everyone who…I think, if they applied for it, who was not able to continue, finish, schooling in Germany, and there were no way of getting any advanced training, of course, at all. My sister just told me recently that she had applied for – she had already had her training in gymnastics and physical therapy, but she had applied for training as a nurse, an infant nurse at the time before…she wanted to get that before she was going to leave. That was, maybe, in 1935 or so that she applied. And they said, “No, we cannot accept Jews.” As I’ve said, I have not become religiously Jewish. It has not affected me that way. On the contrary, I personally, I have a very hard time with…when I hear people who were in camps and suffered the most gruesome indignities, that they can still believe in God and I have a hard time saying, “I was saved by God.” You see, it is very difficult for me, so why weren’t the other six million, you know? What they did, they do…if there is a God, what did they do that they weren’t saved? So, of course, there is nothing rational about a belief in God. It’s an irrational thing, really, but to me, it’s an irrational thing.
EIDELMAN: Do you have any feelings of revenge that last today about the German people and how do you feel about Germany today, and German people?
VAMBERY: I have very strange feelings when I go back. I feel I don’t trust the people, especially my generation, and my parents. Most of them are not living anymore. When I went to the stores in downtown Stuttgart, I was going to the stores and wanted to say something or so and I wouldn’t because some of them I knew, knew my father and had had some correspondence with a couple of them. One is a book publisher. And the other had knitwear. And the reason I did not go back for 30 years was that I had the feeling that if I went back, I would hit people. That was my fantasy that I would go around slapping people! That’s why I didn’t want to go back. Well I didn’t do it. I had enough impulse, control, so I didn’t do that. I still feel, even the last time, and hitting them. But I felt uncomfortable. I don’t feel particularly comfortable in Germany, because as I said, my generation…I do like, do love, the new generation of young Germans.
In 1967 they had a demonstration downtown for Benny Ohnesorg. He was a young German killed in Berlin for his leftist activities, whatever. And they carried a coffin, and he was not in there. They had a demonstration downtown. And I had been in a lot of anti-Vietnam demonstrations, so I told my relatives, I was going downtown – that that would make me feel more at home. They didn’t go. My relatives didn’t go. And I went downtown and was among a lot of young Germans and I said, “Now I feel at home with this kind of…that spirit.” I don’t feel when I was in this Bad Reichen Hof where my aunt and uncle are – it is a resort town, but they’re in a retirement center and I stayed in a little hotel – I couldn’t stand when I had to eat breakfast there in the morning. And when I walked around and I saw all the rich, fat Germans; and a lot of them do have a lot of money now, and buying very expensive things…I felt a lot of hostility. And I guess I still feel that now. I know it is not fair to transfer that to all Germans and particularly the new generation that is essentially different, but I have that and I had to. I didn’t even know if I wanted to translate the letters…found out I could still translate, still translate from German script. I didn’t know that I could still read it enough and I’ve been doing some translations at Washington University too with Dr. Rosen’s wife. But I do have that very strong feeling, even some people here. And I know a number of German Jews. But also I have a lot of friends who are not Jewish, like at the Ethical Society. And yet just recently I thought that – I don’t know if you are aware of – one of our Ethical leaders, Jeff Hornback, and his stance on Israel that was in the papers here, and I don’t agree with him. And I do want Israel to live and I feel very strongly about that…that Israel has to survive. And yet, I didn’t disassociate myself…a couple of people did from Ethical, because of that. That’s his particular personal stance and yet I had the feeling, I mentioned it to some of my Jewish friends…but most of my Jewish women friends are also not traditional Jews…that there really, if something happened here, another Holocaust – I don’t think many non-Jews, including my Ethical friends, would stand up for us. I really feel that way. I don’t think they would in spite of everything…in spite of the kinship I feel in…and all the other ways…I don’t think they would be there.
EIDELMAN: How did you happen to arrive in St. Louis and when your family got here…were any of the Jewish synagogues or families interested in learning about what had happened, and did they invite you to speak?
VAMBERY: We came here because our relative who owned the Angelica Uniform Company – I think the name has been changed – they were here in St. Louis. We had relatives in New York and relatives in Chicago, but we felt St. Louis was the best place. For one thing, the refugee organizations did not want everyone to stay in New York. And we came to St. Louis and were helped to settle, first living in a little hotel, until the furniture came. I got myself a job almost immediately working at Shriner’s Hospital for Crippled Children, to not have people on my back all the time, that was before I returned to school. But here was no one…we were among the first 150 families that came to St. Louis as Hitler refugees, and no one contacted us except the Post-Dispatch. And I think we had our pictures in the papers, I recall, I believe the magazine section. There were no rabbis, temples, synagogues, no Jewish organizations. The Jewish Family Services, it was at that time, there was no Jewish Employment Service where we went, where…everyone was sent there in order to get some help with a job. And I remember the director then, Miss Ramolis, who sort of had the attitude and I never forgot it, I met her later professionally. She said she remembered me, and I said I remember you very well too. She acted as if we were intruders and sort of had the attitude, “What do you expect? We have a depression here. What is it you want from us?” And the answer was…there are no jobs, there are just no jobs. I got my own job in the first two weeks at Shriner’s Hospital for Crippled Children…just by walking up and down Kingshighway and applying everywhere. And since I had training with children…part of my schooling in Switzerland included training with children, infants, I worked as an aide 12 hours a day or 12 hours at night until I returned to school. So there were some jobs, but anyway, there was no help…no help from Jewish Family Services. They were not very kind to us. They just felt that, you know, “What are you doing here? We have our own problems.”
EIDELMAN: Did you join the Ethical Society in St. Louis, or did you join a temple?
VAMBERY: No, my father then joined the Ethical Society…I think it was, that same year, probably towards the end of the year, and I attended – the few times that I had free times – I did go to what was called the Young Adults Group there. But I had very little time because I was working and going to school, and he joined because there was no real interest from any other source that I know of.
EIDELMAN: Were any of your Jewish friends in St. Louis interested in what happened to you?
VAMBERY: Well there was a group of German Jews and they got together and all the refugees that came, they formed a self-help organization called Self-Help. And I remember going to some of the meetings…were usually on Sunday afternoon. We met, probably it was a community center, or maybe at a temple – I am not sure – in some kind of a community place and decided to help each other. That was the only thing we could do. People helped each other. Those who had jobs helped others with jobs. Those who had apartments, helped newcomers…finding apartments and so on. It was called the Self-Help and the founders were the German Jews refugees and Dr. and Mrs. Gruenfeld. The doctor is dead now, who was a surgeon. They had come in their 20s and they were well established by that time. And Gerhard and Julie Gruenfeld helped those who came later. They were the only family that I remember…no, there was another, Mrs. Jonas. Her husband was also a doctor – had been a physician. And those were the only people that I remember. They were Jewish German origin that helped the newcomers settle. There was no other interest to my knowledge.
EIDELMAN: Was the Ethical Society that you joined interested in learning about your experiences in Germany?
VAMBERY: No, I don’t think so. Certainly nobody asked me. I don’t know that my father was asked about it. I don’t think they were. I don’t think anybody was. I think people were preoccupied with their own economic problems and personal problems, and then the war…then later the war was, somehow brewing. We knew something was going to happen. They pretended not to know and if they did know, they didn’t care…including my own relatives.

Tape 3 - Side 1

VAMBERY: In 1935 before I returned to England, I wanted to earn some extra money and I was hired as a camp counselor by a totally Jewish camp where the children were being prepared to go to Palestine. And I was hired for a two or three week period. This was in a small community in the province I lived in Luneburg…I can’t recall the name at this point. The children were all between the ages of 6-12. And it was an Orthodox camp. It was my first exposure to Orthodox…Judaism as a matter of fact. The next morning – the morning after we arrived there – there was a town crier. We used to have these in the small towns in Europe and they still had one there who used a bell to make himself heard. And he announced that Jews could no longer bathe in the creek. The children had enjoyed in past years, bathing in a little creek that was there. It was not even a river. And he announced that…in a very loud voice…so that was one thing we then knew, we could not do. When we went for a walk with the children and I was with them, the children of the town were throwing rocks at us, and we had to restrain our children, the Jewish children, from returning the rocks. Because we said, “You can’t do that. You have to be absolutely, accept what is happening and you cannot retaliate,” which was a very difficult thing to do because we don’t ordinarily, don’t instruct our children to do that. So we were constantly…they called us Jews and all sorts of other names, while we were walking…trying to hike through the town and to other areas in the woods. So this was an extremely difficult experience for me and, I think, for the children even more so, because they were young and they had to be…absolutely mobile…while rocks were being thrown at them.
One more thing I wanted to ask that when you asked me yesterday how we knew that Jews were not welcome anymore in certain places. My sister with whom I talked on the phone last night (she lives in Chicago), informed me that she remembered very well that there were signs that said, “Juden ohne begierig,” that meant, Jews are not desired…Jews are not welcome. I did not remember the exact wording but that was the wording of the sign. There were places and when she would go somewhere with her husband on an outing and there was no place where after 1935, where we could even get to buy a cup of coffee…because they all had the same signs…”Juden nicht wuncht,” Jews are not wanted.
I think this would be my addendum to yesterday’s tape. Thank you.

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