Walter Reed spent his adolescence running from the Nazis. He escaped to America and spent the next 50 years running from his past. He changed his name, disguised his accent, and refused to talk publicly about what had happened to him.
“I didn’t want to be Jewish, and I didn’t want to be a refugee,” says Reed, who’s now 77. “I wanted to be an American like everybody else. That meant that I wanted to wipe out the past. I never had any psychological hang-ups about that. I merely had what I considered to be a very sane desire to not be a prisoner of the past. I’m not one of these Holocaust refugees who looks back and grieves–I don’t think I ever did it. But I firmly made up my mind when I was about 17 years old that the Germans of the Nazi era had ruined my life up to that time, and I decided that the rest of my life would not be wrecked by these criminals. I also felt that the biggest favor I could do to Hitler–using Hitler not as the man but as the symbol–was to grieve and be affected for the rest of my life by what they did to millions of people.” He adds, “That doesn’t mean I consider myself heroic or better, because I don’t. Only lucky.”
Reed grew up in a village in northern Bavaria called Mainstockheim, where he was Werner Rindsberg. His father, like his grandfather, was a wine merchant. On Kristallnacht, the night of November 9, 1938, no shops in their village were destroyed, but all the Jewish men and boys were rounded up and sent to the local jail. Kristallnacht, says Reed, “was so overwhelming to so many Jewish families in Germany, because while they feared the worst, they always thought that wasn’t going to happen–and it did happen. In the small town that I lived in–we knew the names of all the chickens, I liked to say–brownshirts came and knocked on our door, and they hauled us to prison for no reason.”
After three days Reed, who was then 14, was released, but his father and many other able-bodied men were sent to Dachau. More than a month passed before his father returned–a broken man, unable to discuss what had happened because he understood that talking about it would mean a return trip.
By that time Jews had been kicked out of non-Jewish schools, newspapers were full of anti-Semitic diatribes, and strict laws about “consorting” with non-Jews were in place. “There were signs in stores saying, ‘Don’t buy from Jews,'” says Reed. “My father’s business was just about stopped dead in its tracks. The climate was so bad that you were like a hunted animal.” Gangs of kids beat up Jewish kids for sport, and brownshirts marched, singing about a time “when the Jews’ blood drips from our knives.” Reed says, “That was pervasive all over Germany. I’m not frightened now, but I can still feel the gut feeling of, ‘Oh my God, they’re going to knife me.'”
In June 1939 Reed’s parents sent him to a refugee home for boys in a blue-collar suburb of Brussels that was financed by the city and a private group of Jewish women. On May 10, 1940, the Nazis invaded Belgium, and Reed and his fellow refugees saw their planes flying overhead. An escape on a train for the boys and the girls from another home was hastily arranged. “That train left in the middle of the night,” says Reed, “filled with all refugees, not just Jews–because everybody who could get away tried to get away. The roads were clogged.”
The 100 children, who ranged in age from 4 to 17, spent eight days on the meandering train, ending up near Toulouse in southern France. They spent the next ten months in a small town called Seyre, hidden in a barn. “It was quite a tough situation, because we didn’t have any money,” says Reed. “The conditions were very primitive. There was disease. Food was scarce.” The Vichy government provided some money for refugees, but it wasn’t until the fall, when the group got connected with the Swiss Children’s Aid Society, that they were given decent supplies of bedding, clothing, cheese, and powdered milk. Even with the supplies, the record-cold winter that followed was difficult.
Eventually society officials decided the conditions were unacceptable, and they found an alternative, the abandoned Chateau de la Hille near the Spanish border. “It was a total wreck,” recalls Reed. He and the other older boys made some repairs and dug wells and latrines, and in the spring of 1941 the rest of the children moved there.
“By the time we got to la Hille,” says Reed, “the knowledge about the persecution of Jewish people in France was present.” He says the French had a “kaleidoscope of attitudes” toward Jews and the German orders regarding them, but it quickly became clear that the French needed to get along with the Germans if they wanted to survive. “You can imagine our mind-set,” he says. “We were very much frightened animals. We had just been through it. We knew what it was about.”
Living conditions at the chateau were still primitive, and food was rationed. “Further, we had about 100 children, some very young, with nothing to do all day,” he says. The camp director did arrange to have classes taught and later sent the children to a school in a nearby village, but they still had a lot of time on their hands. The result, Reed says, was “a catch-as-catch-can summer camp, with the older children directing groups of the younger children.”
By then all of Reed’s relatives, except his parents and two younger brothers, had emigrated to New York. One of his aunts was trying to get him out of France, and in August 1941 he got a visa from the U.S. consulate in Marseilles and “something else that was almost impossible to get–a booking on a ship.” He still doesn’t have the slightest idea how she pulled it off.
On his way to Lisbon, Reed stopped in a town in southwestern France and ordered an ice cream. “I remember that vividly,” he says. “I remember nothing else about the rest of the trip.”
Reed arrived in New York just before Labor Day. Not wanting to be a burden to his relatives, who’d had to leave everything behind, he became an apprentice to a tool-and-die maker. He also enrolled in high school and had a young Bernard Malamud as his English teacher.
In 1943, when he was 19, Reed was drafted into the army. “For the first time I stepped out of the Jewish refugee community in New York of which my relatives were part,” he says. “Once I got into the service and began to meet real Americans–as I thought of them–and began to experience what I thought real America was about at that time, I resolved that I wanted to be like them and not a lifelong German-Jewish refugee. I won’t for a moment say whether that was a good or a bad idea. That was irrelevant to me.”
He was offered U.S. citizenship and discovered that he could change his name as part of the process. “I decided I no longer wanted to be called Werner Rindsberg,” he says. “I consciously retained the initials and retained my original first name, Werner, as my middle name. I did that because that’s what my parents named me.” He says he must have heard the name Walter Reed somewhere. “I wanted to sound very American, very non-German, very non-Jewish.”
His basic training at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri landed him in a “foulmouthed army with all kinds of people from all over. It was quite an awakening, and it furthered the desire not to stand out, because there were all kinds of prejudice against all kinds of people.”
The army trained Reed to be a bulldozer mechanic, and in early 1944 sent him to England. Then it decided it had enough bulldozer mechanics; instead it needed combat engineers, who go ahead of the infantry to lay pontoon bridges. Reed and his unit were shipped to Normandy after D day. American troops were about ten miles inland, and no one was certain where the Germans were. “There was tremendous fear,” he says. “That was the key thing about it–the uncertainty. And of course you heard the sounds of battle up ahead. From Normandy, as Patton’s army advanced, we followed in its wake.”
Then Reed heard that officials at Allied headquarters in Paris were looking for people who spoke German well, and he volunteered just as his unit was being transferred to the front. After two weeks of training in prisoner interrogation in a suburb of Paris, he was assigned to a six-person military intelligence team, and they were sent to Metz, in eastern France, late that summer. “It’s my first view of a city destroyed by war,” says Reed. “It’s in a shambles, because there’d been heavy fighting–most of the buildings destroyed by fire, smoking. It was eerie, like in a movie.”
He was assigned to the 95th Infantry Division headquarters, where his job was to interrogate German prisoners. “I did not have a whole lot of ‘Now is my chance to get even with you bastards,'” he says. “We had a paranoia in America, built very consciously by the government, that made us anti-German, anti-Japanese. So I was over there not so much getting revenge on the Germans as trying to get rid of Hitler because he was trying to conquer America. It wasn’t personal–‘You robbed me of my youth and my parents.’ The one thing that was prevailing was: ‘You robbed me of my buddy.’ By that time I was assimilated with my companions, and so I was no longer the refugee kid.”
After the war he continued doing interrogation. “When the Allied victory came in May of 1945, I was in Germany, and my unit of military intelligence interrogators was transferred to the U.S. military government, which was running that part of Germany,” he says. “Basically our job in counterintelligence at that time was to make sure that Nazi Party members didn’t end up in the German government. The official policy was to avoid having Nazis stay in power in universities, in government.”
His unit checked when people had joined the Nazi Party as a way to gauge whether they’d enthusiastically embraced the Nazi philosophy or had joined because it became unavoidable. “We were quite good at ferreting out the Nazis,” he says, adding that they were helped by large numbers of people who were “coming out of the woodwork and pointing the finger.” But, he says, “you had to be careful that it wasn’t some personal animosity when you listened to the ones doing the accusing.” Among his assignments was the denazification of the university at Marburg. “Marburg is one of the great universities, and here I was–an immigrant boy, not having finished high school–deciding which of the eminent faculty could teach.” Other unit members weren’t much better qualified, and eventually a professor from Harvard was brought in to make the decisions.
In 1945 Reed went back to Mainstockheim to find out what had happened to his family. The villagers told him his parents and two younger brothers who’d remained behind had been “sent to the east to a labor camp.” Many years later he discovered that in March of 1942 they’d been deported to Poland and killed.
Reed was discharged in February 1946. “After I got back to the USA, I resolved that I would never again be in the kind of discrimination and persecution that I had spent my early life in,” he says. “I separated myself from my dearly beloved relatives, primarily because I thought they were living in the past.” He thought they made too many comparisons between their old and new lives and spent too much time mourning their losses. “In effect, the Nazis were able to destroy those people in psychological ways,” he says, though he quickly adds that he sympathized with them. “My difference is that I decided at a very young age that they weren’t going to do it to me, and I was able to change my perspective, my attitude, and my reaction to it. I don’t have any pain as I talk about this, and it’s not because I’m hard-nosed. I’ve learned to equate the Nazi excesses and cruelties to other things–civil rights, Rwanda. Not to diminish it, but it makes it not my one and only grief, my only hurt. I haven’t felt for a long time ‘the victim.'”
Now he realizes that this was partly an adolescent rebellion, partly a common immigrant reaction. And it was partly a response to the bigotry in America at the time. “There was rampant anti-Semitism,” he says. “I remember learning terms like Polack, dago, kike, and as a result, I determined that I in no way wanted to be someone they could call by one of these names.”
The future he wanted was an all-American one. “I assure you it had nothing to do with ‘the burden.’ It was strictly to give me an even chance to succeed in the eyes of others rather than being weighted down or, for that matter, being Jewish.”
First he headed for the University of Missouri. There, he says, “one of the things that was inculcated in me was curiosity–never take anything for granted. In other words, look behind what was going on. That’s always motivated me. It’s not that I have to be different to stand out. It’s not that I try not to be conventional–in many ways I am conventional. I try to be inquisitive.”
He majored in radio and graduated in 1949 with a bachelor’s in journalism, then promptly got a job offer to be news director of a new station. But the pay was so bad he decided to go into public relations, so he spent a year as a public information officer for a military school.
The next eight years were spent with a firm based in Kansas City that had him constantly on the road helping clients–colleges, hospitals, universities–organize fund-raising campaigns. One trip took him to Fairfield, Iowa, the site of what was then Parsons College. “I was living in a hotel, and the only other residents of that hotel were little old ladies and traveling salesmen,” he says. “I was terribly lonesome socially, and I hated the town for that.” But he got to know some of Fairfield’s leaders and merchants, and then his fund-raising campaign was a success and he became a town hero. “I learned that there are a lot of things going on in small-town America that I had been blind to,” he says, “and from that time on, I developed an affinity for small-town America.” He says he was attracted by “the honesty, the simplicity, the community feeling, the fact that faddy and fashionable rich individuals are no more than just that.”
He remembers vividly one man he met in the mid-50s in Omaha–Morris Jacobs, the founder and longtime CEO of a big ad firm. Reed was directing a yearlong capital fund-raising campaign for Creighton University, a Jesuit school, and Jacobs, who was Jewish, was the campaign’s chairman. The irony of a Jew heading a Catholic team wasn’t lost on Reed. He kept his own identity secret, yet he adopted Jacobs’s motto: “‘You have to pay rent for the space that you occupy on this earth’–meaning that you have to do your civic duties.”
Traveling and working in so many different places taught him a lot. “That was one of the most valuable periods in my life,” he says. “I saw what all those community leaders were doing for their communities, so I got to know how things run in small towns as well as cities. I saw the satisfaction they gained and the contribution they made. I really wanted to do that.”
After nearly a decade of this “gypsy-type experience,” Reed was ready to settle down. He thought the best places to be in public relations were New York and Chicago. New York was too big and too expensive, so he came to Chicago in 1958 as the public relations director of the National Automatic Merchandising Association, the national organization of vending-machine businesses, where he would stay until he retired.
Through all those years Reed never revealed the truth about his past to his friends or coworkers. He’d almost completely eliminated his accent–he says only one in a hundred people ever notice it–and he spoke quickly and articulately, using American expressions. When people asked, he told them he was born in Brooklyn–he even put that on employment forms. If asked about his parents, he would say they died in a car accident. “I wouldn’t do this now, because I’m very self-assured and I don’t give a goddamn what you think of me,” he says. “You may castigate me for this, but I know I did this in a world and in an America that has vastly changed.”
There were a few exceptions. In 1968 he met his wife, Jeanne, the daughter of a well-known banker in Cincinnati. “My wife found out the day I proposed to her, and I had known her for a year,” he says. “Even when we were married her best friends and my best friends knew nothing about my background. Nothing. Nor the people in our wedding party.” When his relatives from New York arrived, no one asked about their funny accents or his ethnic identity. “I camouflaged it so much that the only people at the wedding who knew anything about my background were, of course, Jeanne and her family.”
Not that Reed’s relatives were happy. “They were always very much concerned that I might marry a shiksa,” he says, “and I always knew that I would.”
Reed and his wife had three sons, born in 1972, 1975, and 1978. “Obviously, the question arose, what do we tell them and when?” he says. “We resolved it without any hesitation whatsoever. It was a given the way we’ve raised our children that you had to be honest, you had to be straightforward, so we told them when they were six, seven, and also informed them that nobody else knows this.” He’s particularly proud of the way they responded. “I’ve never seen any kind of a ‘Gee dad, I feel sorry for you.’ It just was handled in a very natural way. If they asked I would tell them why I did something. We didn’t try to inculcate them with the polemics of the whole thing.”
He was delighted that when they were watching television coverage of the 40th anniversary of the Normandy invasion, his youngest son, who was eight at the time, asked where Reed was during the war. Reed told him. About three months later his son said that watching the coverage with him had been very meaningful, but he’d wanted to know which war Reed had been in, the Civil War or World War I.
Reed’s oldest son, Brian, had been born with cerebral palsy, which became obvious when he was about a year old. But Reed and his wife refused to put him into an institution. Instead they decided to teach him to be as self-sufficient as possible. Reed says both he and his wife saw it as a moral, not a religious, decision.
In 1974, when Brian was a toddler, Reed began to speak publicly about his son’s condition and about how people treat the disabled, and in 1977 he became one of 16 Illinois delegates to the White House Conference on Persons With Disabilities. In the mid-80s he began a nine-year term on the board of directors of the Anixter Center, a service agency helping people with disabilities in the Chicago region, and he cofounded and served as the first president of the Parents Alliance of the Northern Suburban Special Education District.
Asked if there’s a connection between his advocacy for the disabled and the help people gave him and his fellow refugees in World War II, he at first seems surprised. “My wife and I are very devoted to our children, as good parents ought to be,” he says. But after a long pause he adds, “My tendency to get involved in causes–good government and discrimination especially–is because I experienced at an early age the importance of helping other people. The activism on behalf of the disabled grows out of the sense that if good citizens don’t take part in the life of their country, bad things will flourish. To me, it’s not just the Nazis. It’s Cambodia. It’s Ethiopia. It’s burning books or forbidding books to be read, because I remember when the Nazis burned books and kicked out artists they didn’t like. So yes, I think my past and my youth-time experiences have shaped my life. The idea that there is a benefit far beyond your own needs in helping people grew out of the experience we all had when others worried about us. They didn’t have to, but they did.”
Reed retired in 1989 but soon started a consulting business. Then a few years ago he read a Chicago Tribune article that said Steven Spielberg’s foundation was collecting oral histories from Holocaust survivors before they all died. “I thought, ‘Well, maybe I ought to do that,'” he says. “By that time I was in my early 70s, and I found that that was a time for contemplation. I hesitated for a while, then I called them up and volunteered.” Before going he read through the cache of letters his parents had written their New York relatives between 1939 and 1941; then, like more than 40,000 other survivors, he told his story in front of a video camera.
About a year later he told the story again, this time to people who thought they knew him. He’d been active for about five years in the Wilmette Harbor Rotary Club, which every couple of months asks members to share their stories. “I knew my time would come sooner or later, so I wrestled with what do I do,” he says. “Do I tell them the truth, or do I tell them my sham story? The Rotary believes in being honest, and it took quite a bit of soul-searching on my part, because it meant stepping out of the closet for the first time.”
He decided to tell the truth. “I started off by saying that, in short, the story of my life is that I’m a survivor, and I’m a survivor in various respects,” he says. “I survived escaping from Germany, escaping from Belgium, escaping from France, surviving World War II, and then in 1985 I had a serious heart attack. And I’m still here.”
He remembers that the room was crowded. “It floored them,” he says. “These are people who see me every week, who know me reasonably well, and who had no clue that I wasn’t born in Manhattan, Kansas. I think there was some stunned silence at first. There was sort of surprise, and then I think also a degree of compassion, because Americans by now have a pretty good idea what the Holocaust was about.
“I think if I had told them that I had been abandoned by my parents and was rescued from some animal park in Riga, the result would have been the same,” he says. “They found out there’s something about me that’s worth knowing.”
Coming clean had a profound effect on Reed. “The act of revelation to me was as significant as it was to them, because I realized once I had done it there was no way of going back,” he says. “What made it easier–or really less significant, I would almost say–was that by that time I was over 70 years old, and once you get past 70, if you’re half-normal, you lose some of your hang-ups, you don’t really care what people think.”
A few months later, in August 1997, the daughter of close family friends who was marrying a young Frenchman invited the Reeds to the wedding in France. At first Reed objected to the cost and the time, but then his wife suggested they add on a three-week vacation. He decided they should visit the sites where he’d been hidden long ago. When they got to Seyre he was surprised to discover that the owner of the barn where he and the other refugee children had lived for ten months was still alive. “From him I learned that 90 out of the 100 children had survived the war,” he says. He also learned that the survivors had been having reunions and that the girl he’d fallen in love with, his first love, was still alive. When he describes learning that detail he says, “I still have goose bumps.”
That same day Reed and his family drove to the Chateau de la Hille, which had become a bed-and-breakfast. Its owner showed him a French book about the children of la Hille, written by one of the older refugees and published long after the war. “In it she details the stories of the children, the escapes,” he says. “It broke me up. Including the story of my first love.”
He left his business card with the owner, and three days later some of the other former refugees visited the chateau and were given his number. They got in touch after he returned to Chicago, and he learned that they’d been trying to find him for years but had failed because Reed had changed his name and walled off his past. He says simply, “I was lost.”
Reed was surprised at how deeply he remained connected to his past and the people who’d shared it with him. “I am normally a very rational person, but this is just unbelievable,” he says. “This was 60 years ago. We’ve all lived very divergent lives. We’ve scattered all over the world. I discovered that not only I but practically every one of us who was in the refugee camp in those years had retained an unbreakable feeling of bonding with the people with whom we were, whether they escaped and are alive, or whether they died or were murdered.”
His rational side wanted to understand the details of that past. He discovered that 40 of his companions had been imprisoned in August 1942, when the Vichy government delivered them to a holding camp. Some had been deported and killed, but the Swiss Aid directors insisted that the children were under Swiss protection and told the camp officials they’d close down all Swiss children’s camps in France if the children weren’t released. They were released and fled with the help of the la Hille camp director, some to Switzerland and others across the Pyrenees into Spain.
The most poignant story for Reed was the one of his first love, Ruth Usrad. He wrote her after visiting la Hille, and she telephoned him from the kibbutz she’d started with her husband in Galilee, just below the Lebanese border. She’d written a book about her experiences that described how she’d learned of the children’s transport to Belgium and how she’d gone down to the station with her sisters and bullied her way onto the train. It also described how she’d later been part of the French underground. “My wife says–and she’s right–it’s a lot more dramatic than Schindler’s List,” Reed says. “The way she hid, the way she escaped–it’s like a spy novel, her life is, from the time she was 15 to when she was 19.” She also described a letter she’d got in 1946 from Reed, who’d called himself “all-American”; she’d torn it up. And she wrote that while he’d been madly in love with her, she had only liked him. He’s not so sure that was true but says, “It’s about being one’s first love, I guess, which in most of our lives doesn’t mean it’s anything more than a memory. We have a tremendous attachment. It’s different.”
The two wouldn’t meet again until 1999, when Usrad’s sons gave their parents an anniversary gift of a trip to America, and the Reeds brought them to Chicago for a few days. “That was the first time I’d seen her since 1941,” says Reed. They spent the days together sightseeing and visiting.
Meanwhile Reed had learned the stories of some of his other companions. “There’s the story of Werner Epstein, who was caught trying to flee across the Pyrenees on foot, sent to Auschwitz,” he says. “He still has the deportation order, signed by [Adolf] Eichmann, and I have a copy of it. He survived Auschwitz and a death march, came back to France, found his sweetheart from la Hille, married her, became a chef in Paris. Because they had a sick boy who needed medical attention, they moved to the USA. He became a chef in California, owned a restaurant, and still lives there.”
In 1998 Reed and his wife decided to organize the third reunion of the children of la Hille, this time in Chicago. The first had been in Israel 50 years after they’d left la Hille, the second in 1993 at the two camp sites. A dozen survivors who were living in America came to Chicago with their families.
The Reeds had timed the reunion to coincide with the Field Museum exhibition on Varian Fry and his rescue of 2,000 famous artists, writers, and politicians, including Marc Chagall, Hannah Arendt, and Walter Benjamin. Reed had volunteered to be a guide for the exhibit and to give talks. He also set up a panel of his former companions, and they all spoke of what had happened to them.
Since he began telling his story five years ago, Reed has spoken to senior citizens’ groups, to Rotary Clubs, and to lots of schoolchildren. “Why am I doing all this?” he asks. “First of all, I am truly fascinated by how the story of the children of la Hille is intertwined with what went on in history in those years–both as victims and as examples of the tremendous courage of a lot of people in those awful years. We are sort of living examples both of the misery that Nazi Germany brought upon the world, but also of the tremendous courage and unbelievable, unheard-of resourcefulness that such misery produced in people, including teenagers. I’m fascinated by that and have gotten an awful lot of satisfaction when asked to tell this story.”
He says he’s also discovered “a tremendous interest in history as history. It is more like, ‘Gee, I’m awfully glad that I can tell you about this because I lived it and I was there.’ They could read about it or watch it on TV, but here’s a guy who’s living flesh and who was there. I’m no longer the guy who worries about whether the story gets out–which I was. I’m now the guy who stands up there and says, ‘I’m going to tell you about what it was like.'”
There are other motivations as well. “I sense an obligation on my part, while I’m still alive, to illustrate what went on in those years,” he says. “I have no compulsion to do this. I have no sense of righteousness. It’s more the ability to communicate something–that’s the PR man in me. I feel I’m an instrument, a tool.”
Last September, Reed organized the fourth reunion of the children of la Hille, this one again in France. The whole village of Seyre turned out, and the barn owner’s son, an international banker in Versailles, welcomed the survivors. He acknowledged the great personal risks his family and the families of the other villagers had taken, then thanked the children of la Hille “because you all made worthwhile lives, and if you hadn’t, it wouldn’t have been worthwhile.”
At that reunion Reed learned the stories of more of his former companions, including the Weinberg children, whose father had been legal counsel to Austria’s chancellor. Their family had fled to Greece before Hitler entered Austria, but they didn’t like Greece so they moved to Paris–just before the Germans had arrived.
Reed has the names and addresses of about 55 of the refugees, and he’s toying with the idea of going around the world collecting their stories. “Whether I write a book about it or not, I intend to gather it,” he says, demonstrating again his creed of optimism. “I think the life histories of a number of these people are so stunning. I don’t want them to die with them. And of course it’s a logical application of my journalism training.” He recently found out that the World Jewish Federation and Random House are trying to collect and publish all the Shoah stories they can. He suggested they translate the autobiography of Ruth Usrad, which has been published only in Hebrew in Israel.
The speech Reed gives is called “The Triumph of the Human Spirit.” He chose that title because “even in the darkest times and the most horrible situations, humans can rise and do rise above the circumstances. That’s the reason I’m interested in the story, that’s the reason I’m staying involved in it.” He stresses that he wants people to grapple with these larger issues, not just hear his personal story. “I can tell you that if I never, ever tell it to somebody, my life will not be diminished.”
So why does he keep telling it? “I’ve always felt that all of us ought to be using whatever talents we have and capitalizing on them,” he says. “I’ve realized over the years that I have some talents in public speaking, and in utilizing that to tell the story, I realize that I am doing something that I ought to be doing. I’ve often asked myself, ‘Am I doing this in order to make my parents feel good, to give something back to them?’ Over time I have answered, ‘No, that won’t do them one bit of good, because they’re no more and too bad I couldn’t do something for them when they needed it.’ No one could. I’ve always felt that I should live my life and act in my life in a way that they would be proud of me. That’s my tribute to them because, in large part, I am what I am because of the home and upbringing they gave to me.”
That’s also the reason he has steadfastly refused to accept the lifelong pension the German government gives German survivors of the Holocaust. His relatives all took it and chastised him for not doing so. “I could have claimed it for my father’s business, which they took away, or the house, which they took away,” he says. “But I never claimed it, mainly because what they really took from me I couldn’t get back. I’m not the typical survivor, and I’m not doing it to be different either. I’m just doing it to be me.”
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Nathan Mandell.