Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Jews of the Sudetenland

"Despite the extortionist tax and loss of property some 26,629 Jews managed to emigrate, legally or not, before emigration was completely banned in October 1941."

It is just conjecture on my part, however, I believe that the hope for a Sudetenland homeland was what kept my grandparents in Eger (Cheb) until the late 1930's.  Leaving their home this late in the developing conflict led them on a perilous journey across Europe.  Many wealthy relatives and friends had already immigrated to other countries.

It was late in the 1930's, Opa and Oma (my grandparents) and their two children fled Eger (Cheb) and went to Prague.  After a short stay, they left for Holland. My mother remembers the journey.

They left Prague on a train for Minster, Germany to see a Rabbi Florsheim.  She remembers showing their papers at various check points and a German soldier losing their papers to a windy breeze and letting them through. They arrived two hours late.  Her father knocked on the rabbi's door, but no one came.  In a panic, he started throwing pebbles at the windows. Finally a head appeared, "Oh, it is you, Fritz Löwy, Louise, and your two children. I thought you were the Gestapo. I have American flyers out."

A few days later, they left for the train station to take another train. The rabbi told them that he has a sister.  She was married to a German doctor, but the doctor had an accident, hit a tree and died. They had a baby, Judy.  The rabbi insisted that his sister Alice go to America.  She said she hated snow. 

The Löwy family crossed Europe to go to Holland where they met Antonia.  At her house the went up three stairways to the attic.  My mother remembers stones and rope lines for drying clothes outside the window. Delicious soup was brought up for them to eat.  They liked it except that it had bacon in it and they were vegetarians.

(My note:  My grandparents ate meat, my Oma made pork roast for her grandchildren when they visited.   I don't think it was because they were vegetarians that the bacon was a problem.  I believe that it was because they were Jewish and bacon is pork.  My mother recalls that they employed two cooks and maintained two separate kitchens in the house they lived in in Eger (Cheb). When they arrived in the United States,  Fritz (Friedrich) Löwy became Fred (Frederick) Lee, my grandmother Louise kept her first name, their son Alfred Löwy became Fred Lee, and my mother Hanna Löwy became Joan Caroline Lee.  And they were Lutheran immigrants from Germany.  I did not know they were Jewish refugees froCzechoslovakia until I was in my twenties.)

For three weeks the Löwy family stayed in the attic.  They had booked passage on the ship the Rotterdam, but it had hit a mine and would not be sailing.  The Amsterdam was taken out of retirement to replace it. They were headed to America on what I think was one of the last ships to sail out of Holland that was not in danger of being sent back to Europe by the United States. My mother remembers life jacket drills and the feeling that they were always lost.  They set out across the Atlantic in the storm season.  

From what I can piece together, more conjecture, I think the original plan was to go to England and then return home.  In Prague, where Fritz and his brother fled to from Eger (Cheb), his brother's diaries indicate that they were experimenting with making cloth waterproof. Fritz worked alongside his father in a well-known tailor shop that was also associated with a textile factory.  A factory they owned. One of their relatives was in England making fabric, it makes sense to me that better raincoats may have been a goal.

Aboard the Amsterdam, crossing the Atlantic in storm season, everyone aboard was seasick.  My mother remembers a Fred Weiss on the passage. More than half of the journey was spent being soaking wet. There was water all over the ship. Temporary beds aboard were not nailed down. 

Arrival in New York and the Furth family, then a train trip across the United States to Los Angeles.  

The Whitneys met the Lees in L.A. Sylvia and Earl Whitney took them to an apartment in Oakhurst that was set up for them. Earl Whitney was, once, Otto Wittenberg, my grandmother Louise's brother. One of their immediate concerns was that they wouldn't find Alice and keep a promise to a rabbi that helped them. 

(I did say was, once. Growing up, I knew that Earl was somehow related. The Whitneys and the Lees visited on a regular basis.  When I visited Oma and Opa during summer breaks, Oma would drive me to the Beverly Hills Hotel's gift and toy shop to visit with Aunt Sylvia, owner of the shop.  I never put it together that Earl and Oma were brother and sister.)   

Five weeks after arriving, Oma started cleaning houses with a Ms. Tan. My grandmother went with her to a yarn shop that immigrants went to.  The lady sitting there in the yarn shop was a Ms. Florsheim, Alice! Ms.Tan introduced Alice to a jeweler named Fred Weiss (he limped because of polio). They married, my mother helped out in the jewelry shop when she was older. Judy became a school teacher in Livermore, CA.

The Rabbi and his entire family in Germany were killed because of American flyers. 

From Oakhurst, to Studio City, to Hollywood; my grandparents rebuilt their lives. I knew my grandfather, Opa, as a gardener for estates in BelAir, CA and my grandmother, Oma, as a seamstress who worked in smaller shops.  One story is that she worked in the shop that made the octopus dress for Morticia in the Addams family television show. 

More and more information is posted on the internet that fills in my family's story.

The Jews of the Sudetenland
Bohemia & Moravia

Holocaust Education & Archive Research

"The Sudetenland is the German name used in the first half of the 20th century for the western portions of Czechoslovakia inhabited mostly by ethnic Germans. Located on the border with Germany and Austria it encompasses the areas of Bohemia, Moravia, and those parts of Silesia associated with Bohemia.

When Czechoslovakia was forced to accept the terms of the Munich Agreement on Sept 29th 1938, the region was relegated to German control between October 1 and October 10, 1938. The remaining parts of Czechoslovakia were subsequently invaded by Germany in March 1939, with a portion being annexed and the remainder turned into a satellite state, the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia.

Administration of the Protectorate was placed under the supervision of the Reichsprotektor, Konstantin von Neurath and shortly there after Hitler summoned Czechoslovak President Emil Hácha to Berlin and intimidated him into accepting the German occupation of the Czech rump state."

For more information:

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

March of Time -- outtakes -- Sudeten-Deutsche Party; customs

Story RG-60.2150, Tape 2245
Title: Czechoslovakia-Prelude to Conquest
Event Date: March 27, 1938 & April 2, 1938
Place: Bozi Dar, Czechoslovakia
Eger, Czechoslovakia
Most, Czechoslovakia 

I can imagine my grandfather in the crowd. The familiar streets that they walked would soon be a distant memory.

Kathleen Ann LeGreid

Comment from J. Mark (brother): nice read-do not see opa in panic mode-odd,for me-knew very young,they had left a war-
My response:  
Well, maybe panic was too strong a word. Mother was about nine or ten and this was her account. However, they were on the run, literally. They had check points to get through, papers that needed to be in correct order. At one check point the German soldier (according to mother) deliberately let the wind blow the papers off the table and when he was picking them up, he told them to go. The safe house they needed to be at wasn't answering the knock on the door.

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