Remembering the Holocaust Part 3: John Rosenthal’s Story

In honor of Yom Hashoah, the Israeli Holocaust Remembrance Day, as well as the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II, we are continuing our Remembering the Holocaust project. This project pulls from two different collections at Ramsey Library Special Collections, Choosing to Remember: From the Shoah to the Mountains and The Sharon Fahrer Holocaust Collection, to explore, honor, and celebrate Holocaust survivors. This is the third installment in the series. John Rosenthal was a young boy from Cologne, Germany when the Nazis took over. John had a long journey before he and his family finally came to the United States, where they finally found a home.

A Tumultuous Journey

John Rosenthal’s Story

 

Rosenthal Family, Choosing to Remember: From the Shoah to the Mountains, D. H. Ramsey Library Special Collections, University of North Carolina Asheville.

Individuals experienced the Holocaust differently. For Frederick John Rosenthal, a young boy from Cologne, Germany, it began with being sent off to Holland. John’s parents, recognizing the growing tensions in 1933 with Hitler’s rise to power, thought it would be best to send John and his brother, Max Adolph, somewhere they would be safer. John and Max’s move to Holland was the first of many moves within the span of a couple of years. Because of constantly moving—much of which was to other countries—John’s education was interrupted. At times learning was extremely difficult due to language barriers.

John recalled one place, Landschulheim Herrlingen, in particular as extremely pleasant. Landschulheim Herrlingen was Jewish boarding school in southern Germany near Ulm. Located in the countryside, not far from what would later be the home of German General Erwin Rommel, Herrlingen provided John and his brother with a “beautiful education” that included music and crafts. However, Herrlingen was also short lived for John. One day, while jogging through the woods, John started limping and fell behind the others. It was discovered that John had contracted Polio and had to return home to Cologne. Back in Cologne John was given all sorts of treatments, from hydrotherapy to electroshock, and had to take two aspirins every night before bed just so he would withstand the pain enough to sleep. What helped the most, John remembered, is his father rubbing his thighs with extract of “bee poison” every night, which “had the effect of increasing blood circulation.” By this time things were tough for Jews in Germany. Jews could no longer attend German public school, go to the movies or opera, or even sit on park benches. “Everywhere you went and looked there were signs, ‘Juden unerwuenscht,’ or ‘Jews not wanted here.’” John also recalled kids chasing after him and throwing stones at him, yelling “Jud, Jud.”

Jewish School in Ulm, Germany, Choosing to Remember: From the Shoah to the Mountains, D. H. Ramsey Library Special Collections, University of North Carolina Asheville.

As things continued to worsen, the Rosenthals began to consider emigrating. They looked to friends in England and the United States for help. John’s father had to sell his business before they could leave. The buyer ended up being a former employee and friend of the Rosenthals who had joined the Nazi party. She bought the business for only 1/3 it’s actual worth. In the meantime, things were rapidly deteriorating for Jews. Daily life included things such as open trucks “filled with Nazi brown shirts, driving through the streets singing their Nazi songs, ‘When Jewish blood spurts from the knife, things go twice as well.’” Then came Kristallnacht.

On the morning of Kristallnacht, John’s father had left to go to the police headquarters to pick up their passports so they could leave for America. After being warned by friends about what was happening, he quickly returned home, gathered up his family and some provisions, and the Rosenthals hid for three days in the top story of their apartment building, among the washers and dryers. The Rosenthals all survived, although the Jewish high school and their synagogue did not.

Frederick John Rosenthal’s Passport, Choosing to Remember: From the Shoah to the Mountains, D. H. Ramsey Library Special Collections, University of North Carolina Asheville.

The Rosenthals were finally able to leave Germany—though not before they paid part of the Judenbusse, the penalty Jews were required to pay for a murder of a German diplomat by a Polish Jew, which was the official reason for Kristallnacht—so they headed to Switzerland before continuing to the United States. The elder Rosenthals had thought ahead and sent much of John’s mother’s jewelry and handmade dresses out of the country. These would provide them with a source of income once they were free from Germany.

The United States was a time of acclimation for John, who had to learn a new way of speaking and dressing. “…the English I learned was the King’s English and of course I was made fun of in school. Also, I wore short pants, which also were made fun of, so the two quickest acclimatizations were dropping the King’s English and dropping the pants to full length.” John’s parents continued moving the family around until John’s mother’s business was finally reestablished in New York City, where it became quite successful and included customers such as Saks Fifth Avenue, B. Altman, and Henri Bendel, and more. John helped out with the business by taking charge of all the incoming and outgoing correspondence. The United States was also where John received his first degree through a business school in New York.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, John was drafted into the United States Army where he was sent to the University of Minnesota as part of an Army Specialized Training Program. It was on his journey to Minnesota that John stopped off in Asheville, where he later returned to live.

John had a long, tumultuous journey before he and his family finally found a home. He is a reminder of the great lengths to which parents would go to keep their children safe, even though “safe” was a hard place to find during these trying times. The elder Rosenthals used every mean with in their capabilities to rescue their family from a terrible fate that many others were not fortunate enough to escape. Despite difficulties John faced, and perhaps even in defiance of the abuses John and his family experienced at the hands of the Nazis, they did finally find a safe place to call home.

John’s story is part of the Choosing to Remember: From the Shoah to the Mountains collection at D.H. Ramsey Library Special Collections, located at the University of North Carolina Asheville. This collection is a compilation of oral histories of Holocausts survivors. For more information on John and other survivors’ stories, visit Ramsey Library Special Collection’s online finding aid.

If you are interested in exploring more Holocaust survivor history, please see our newly processed collection, the Sharon Fahrer Holocaust Collection.

-Kristen Byrne

 

Remembering the Holocaust Part 2: Richard Braun’s Story

In honor of Yom Hashoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel, as well as the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II, we are exploring some of the stories in our Jewish History collections at Ramsey Library Special Collections. This week is the second installment of our Remembering the Holocaust series. Like Hilde Hoffman (from our previous post), Wolfgang Richard “Dick” Braun was a child during the rise of the Nazis. From recalling the prejudice he experienced at the hands of his fellow students to remembering the signs hung in public places saying “Jews not wanted,” Dick’s story shows us what it meant to internalize these abuses as a child, to accept them as “the order of things.”

“The Order of Things”

Dick Braun’s Story

Young Dick Braun, Choosing to Remember: From the Shoah to the Mountains, D. H. Ramsey Library Special Collections, University of North Carolina Asheville.

“The Germans swallowed Hitler lock-stock-and-barrel because he promised them a rebuilding of a greater Germany and he was well on his way,” remembered Wolfgang Richard “Dick” Braun. Dick was the son of affluent, well-educated parents who believed there was no way the good Germans could really subscribe to the Nazis’ silly propaganda. However, after reading Mein Kampf, Dick’s father took Hitler at his word and knew Hitler was very serious about his plans.

Dick’s memories of Nazi Germany were through the eyes of a child, as he was around 10 or 11 when Hitler came to power. Dick recalled kids coming to school in brown Hitler Youth uniforms and all the teachers wearing swastika buttons on their clothing. Eventually, Dick asked to be excused from the outings his class would take. These outings were part of the official school curriculum and involved things like hiking and were designed to help the kids develop an appreciation of nature. However, as Nazi ideals and prejudices continued gaining hold in German society, children like Dick experienced harassment and abuse at the hands of their fellow students. Dick remembered having to run away at times because it would become physical.

Wolfgang Richard Braun’s Passport Page 2, Choosing to Remember: From the Shoah to the Mountains, D. H. Ramsey Library Special Collections, University of North Carolina Asheville.

The racism didn’t just stop at school, though. Dick recalled seeing Nazi flags flying outside of people’s windows on holidays and knowing immediately what this meant–these individuals were antisemitic. They didn’t like people like Dick or his family. Dick also remembered seeing signs in public places that said things like “Jews not wanted.” He didn’t remember these things as painful, exactly, because children don’t really have any perspective on this. They simply see these sorts of prejudice and accept it as “the order of things.” Dick also recalled another tool of racism that the Nazis used called an Ahnenpaß, which was a sort of “ancestry pass.” These documents could be used to separate Jews from non-Jews and allow people like police officers to single out Jews for mistreatment. According to these documents, being 1/8 Jewish made you a Jew. Dick related it to racial distinctions that were made in the United States, where a drop of Black blood made you Black.

Dick Braun with His Paternal Grandmother and Cousin, Choosing to Remember: From the Shoah to the Mountains, D. H. Ramsey Library Special Collections, University of North Carolina Asheville.

Dick’s father, who was a physician, lost his practice in 1935 due to the Nuremburg Laws. It was then that Dick’s father decided they had to leave Germany. The elder Braun left for England to see whether this country would be a suitable place to relocate his family. While in England, Dr. Braun decided to travel to the United States as well and, after locating some family in the U.S. who were willing to provide the Brauns with affidavits, Dr. Braun decided the family would be relocating to the U.S. The Brauns were luck in that their entire family, save for Dick’s elderly paternal grandmother, made it out of Germany alive. As for Dick and his parents, they lived in Manhattan where life remained difficult as the U.S. was in the midst of a depression and Manhattan was overrun with doctors, making it more difficult for Dick’s father to find work.

Dick’s experiences are a painful reminder of the effects and influences that our beliefs and political policies have on children. Even though many gentile children previously had no issue with Jewish children, they learned this behavior from their parents and government. Even though Jewish children previously noticed no difference between themselves and their peers, they were taught to understand that they were separate and lesser. These lessons are internalized and, although it is possible to undo such social conditioning, the memories of segregation and hate and exclusion will remain.

Dick’s story is part of the Choosing to Remember: From the Shoah to the Mountains collection at D.H. Ramsey Library Special Collections, located at the University of North Carolina Asheville. This collection is a compilation of oral histories of Holocausts survivors. For more information on Dick and other survivors’ stories, visit Ramsey Library Special Collection’s online finding aid.

If you are interested in exploring more Holocaust survivor history, please see our newly processed collection, the Sharon Fahrer Holocaust Collection.

– Kristen Byrnes

Remembering the Holocaust Part 1: Hilde Hoffman’s Story

We are pleased to feature a series of blog posts in honor of Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, which falls on Tuesday, April 21 this year. The posts were written and researched by Kristen Byrnes, an alum of the UNC Asheville History Department who is currently enrolled in UNC Greensboro’s Master of Library and Information Studies program. Kristen did this work as part of her practicum through UNCG’s MLIS program, working with several collections from UNCA’s Jewish Life in Western North Carolina Collections to illustrate the impact of the Holocaust on individuals. This first of four posts tells the story of Hilde Hoffman. Kristen’s posts will come out each week during April.

– Gene Hyde, Head of Special Collections.

This year’s Yom Hashoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day, is particularly special as this year marks the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II. In honor of this event, we will be celebrating our local Jewish community with a series of posts that highlight Holocaust survivors in Western North Carolina. These posts will pull from two incredible collections at are housed at Special Collections: Choosing to Remember: From the Shoah to the Mountains and the Sharon Fahrer Holocaust Collection, a new addition to our repository. Please enjoy the first installment of our Remembering the Holocaust series as we learn about Hilde Hoffman’s story.

Prejudice: A Learned Behavior:

Hilde Hoffman’s Story

Hilde Hoffman with lion cub, Choosing to Remember: From the Shoah to the Mountains, D. H. Ramsey Library Special Collections, University of North Carolina Asheville.

At first, the rise of the Nazis wasn’t particularly alarming, Hilde remembers. “I just heard the marching of big armies of people, marching and demonstrating and singing and the running around with flags and in the beginning, it seemed like just a very patriotic behavior after the war and no personal fear was felt. It wasn’t until… the end of 1934 when new rules were made.” These rules—which would change how Jews related and interacted with the rest of society—were even felt, though not always understood, by children.

From a young age Hilde knew she was Jewish, but that was the only difference she could see between herself and Lottie, her best friend who was not Jewish. Hilde and Lottie’s friendship continued during the rise of the Nazi party. The Nazis began to inject segregation into Germany’s school systems, prohibiting Jewish children from playing with their classmates at recess. They were made to eat lunch separately as well. Hilde remembers this isolation as absolutely devastating. Eventually, non-Jewish people were no longer allowed to interact with Jews. Despite this rule, Lottie’s aunts—at great risk to themselves—insisted Hilde accompany the aunts and Lottie on a vacation under the guise that Hilde was just another one of their nieces. This was the summer of 1934. This, Hilde says, show that “sincere friends are willing to take tremendous chances.” Hilde took a chance herself when she snuck into the church to see Lottie’s confirmation, an act that was absolutely forbidden. Hilde later received a photograph in the mail of Lottie in her white confirmation dress. Lottie’s confirmation in the Spring of 1935 would be the last time Hilde ever saw her.

“Prejudice is something we learn. We either learn it by seeing it from our elders, or it is taught in some schools, maybe, and we have to be careful that we don’t indulge in that because it’s going to poison our outlook in life and it limits our abilities…”

She also remembers witnessing segregation in larger society as Jews were prohibited visiting public places such as the theater, concerts, even the zoo. This was another shattering blow to Hilde, who had long loved the zoo. Since Hilde visited the zoo multiple times a week, she was familiar with all the zookeepers. She recalls the birth of a lion cub who was rejected by its mother. The zookeeper took this cub and placed it with his dachshund who had just given birth to puppies. The dachshund nursed the lion cub for a few weeks until the cub grew too large and the keepers began to bottle feed it. Throughout this time, Hilde visited the zoo often and knew of the lion cub’s progression. On the last day Jews were allowed to visit the zoo, Hilde’s father took her one last time. The zookeeper, seeing Hilde crying said, “if you father has a camera with him, why don’t you have your picture taken with your lion cub because then you’ll always remember.” Hilde sat on a bench with the cub, talked to him, and had her photo take with him.

Hilde with Lottie and Lottie’s aunts, Choosing to Remember: From the Shoah to the Mountains, D. H. Ramsey Library Special Collections, University of North Carolina Asheville.

Hilde’s message for us is a call to educate ourselves. “You live in a free country, this is probably the best country in the whole world […] At one time Germany was a beautiful country, Russia was a more or less beautiful country, look what happened to all these countries because people didn’t care enough to maintain their society at a certain level of broadmindedness […] Try to get to know as many people as you can of as many different religions, of as many different nationalities or if you can travel you see them in their own country, which is even more educational. And after a while you will understand that doing this, you’re not losing a thing of your own identity, but you’re enriched by the things that you can learn from other people and that they can learn from you. And most of all, prejudice isn’t born in nobody. No baby ever that I’ve met and I’ve met a lot of babies, has shown any kind of prejudice. So prejudice is something we learn. We either learn it by seeing it from our elders, or it is taught in some schools, maybe, and we have to be careful that we don’t indulge in that because it’s going to poison our outlook in life and it limits our abilities and I think it takes away some of our happiness.”

Hilde’s story is part of the Choosing to Remember: From the Shoah to the Mountains collection at D.H. Ramsey Library Special Collections, located at the University of North Carolina Asheville. This collection is a compilation of oral histories of Holocausts survivors. For more information on Hilde and other survivors’ stories, visit Ramsey Library Special Collection’s online finding aid.

For Hilde’s full interview, please see the video below.

– Kristen Byrnes