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My Father

By Susan Warsinger

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum owns the original photograph that I donated to the collection when the Museum first opened. It is a picture of me when I was around three years old. My father and I are walking across the bridge over the Nahe River in Bad Kreuznach, the town where I was born in Germany. The time is probably just before the Nazis and Hitler came into power. My father is young and handsome, wearing a double breasted pinstripe suit with a white handkerchief in his breast pocket. It looks like he has a newspaper casually folded in his jacket pocket. He is smiling and his head is slightly bent towards me. He seems to be proud walking with his little daughter garbed in her beautiful white dress, embroidered with vibrant flowers. What makes me happy now, looking at this picture, is that he is holding my hand, and that I am walking confidently into whatever is going to happen to me in the future.


Susan and her father, Israel Hilsenrath, 1931. —US Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Susan Warsinger

When the Nazis boycotted my father’s linen store he had to find other means to support our family. Since it was difficult for Jews to find employment, he focused on selling baskets of berries to the Jewish people of our town. When he returned home in the late afternoon, my father and I had private signals with our fingers to establish how many baskets of blackberries, strawberries, or gooseberries he had sold that day. He made me feel that I was an important person in his life.

After Kristallnacht, November 10, 1938, many Jewish people in Bad Kreuznach wanted to leave Germany and go to the United States. By that time it had become very difficult to emigrate. By 1939, my father found a French lady who was willing to smuggle my brother and me into France. My father and mother had to make a most difficult choice. I think about how painful it must have been for them to send two of their children away not knowing whether they would ever see them again. My father was brave and wanted to do the right thing. He had the foresight to get my brother, Joseph, and me out of Germany so that we would be safe from the Nazis.

After the German army invaded France, my brother and I lost contact with our parents. They had been able to immigrate, along with our baby brother, Ernest, to the United States in 1940. My father wrote pleading letters to the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), the American Friends Service Committee (Quakers), and the US State Department, asking for their help to find us and send us all the necessary papers so that we could be reunited. My father was relentless in his attempts to send us the necessary visas.      


Letter written by Israel Hilsenrath to the American Friends Service Committee in 1941. —Courtesy of the American Friends Service Committee Refugee Assistance, US Holocaust Memorial Museum

Once we were in Washington, DC, my father always encouraged me to study vigorously. When I graduated from Central High School, he inspired me to attend the University of Maryland. Because we could not afford the cost of my living on campus, he drove me there for all my classes. 

My father was happy for me when I married. He enjoyed having three granddaughters. He also drove them to their after-school events. He was particularly excited to drive them to Hebrew school because he wanted to make sure that they studied the Torah and learned about their Jewish tradition. He also drove them to the orthodontist and was always there to help when they needed him. On one occasion, when they were teenagers, my husband and I left them alone in the house, knowing that they could call on my father if there should be an emergency. When we returned home, there had been an incident: a bat in the house. My daughters were certain that this bat would get entangled in their long hair. Of course they were distressed and called my father who arrived quickly and very calmly captured the bat in the bathroom and carried it out of the house. He was somebody whom they could depend on and who told them that he loved and liked them.

My father would have been so proud of my grandchildren—his great-grandchildren. My first grandchild was Matthew and was named after him. These grandchildren are all adults now and have children of their own. He would be amazed at the magnificent, loving, caring, and large family that he created after the Holocaust.

© 2022, Susan Warsinger. The text, images, and audio and video clips on this website are available for limited non-commercial, educational, and personal use only, or for fair use as defined in the United States copyright laws.