Read reflections and testimonies written by Holocaust survivors in their own words.
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Simple Things in Life
November 16, 2022
Nineteen forty-six is when I came to the United States at 17 years old. I was lucky to have my sister Ellen living in the Bronx. She immigrated to the United States in 1939 just before World War II started. In fact, she couldn’t go to the city of Mukačevo to catch a train to Prague; it was already occupied by the Hungarians, who were allied with Nazi Germany. So, she had to go through mountain roads by horse and wagon to Slovakia, where she caught a train to Prague and picked up her visa for America. Two weeks later, Germany occupied the Czech lands, including Prague. She made it to Sweden and caught a ship to the United States.
A Moment of Great Joy
October 22, 2020
After two weeks of sailing on the Atlantic Ocean, the Serpa Pinto moved deliberately towards the shore of our new destination, the United States of America. The 50 immigrant children, including my brother Joe and me, were informed that early the next morning we would be cruising past the Statue of Liberty. The instructions were that we should be at the bow of the ship, on the port side, before 6 a.m. in order to obtain a good view. We understood that this statue was the universal symbol of freedom and represented the United States itself.
October 23, 2019
I was six years old when I first heard of Americans. The first ones I saw were our liberators. It was in the summer of 1944, and I was hiding in a Catholic boarding school in Montfermeil, a suburb northeast of Paris. Paris was liberated on August 25, 1944, and we were liberated two days later. A student who had left the school came back shouting, “The Allies are coming! The Allies are coming!” So, we all went to the main street to welcome them: tanks, trucks, and jeeps with soldiers with different kinds of helmets and smiles on their faces, giving away chocolate, chewing gum, and even cigarettes. They were our liberators. The headmistress of my school, who was probably the one who knew about my situation as a hidden Jewish child, was holding my hand. (I was the youngest student in that school, and she wanted to make sure I was safe.) I was told they were Americans, and it was the first time I heard of Americans and America. I had heard of the Germans, of course, of the English, of the Italians, but who were these boys? Where did they come from? I was just six, after all.
My Friends Sidi and Milek Natansohn
October 23, 2019
I met Sidi (Sidonia) in July 1948 at my first job in this country. I arrived in the United States in April 1948. We worked side by side as floor girls in a clothing factory and quickly became good friends. We talked a lot as we were working, but I got caught talking and was fired as a result.
Living Up to Our Values
November 14, 2018
When I arrived in the United States after World War II at age 16, I was very anxious to move on with my life and not let my experiences during the Holocaust define me. I got a job in a grocery store and with help from my brother-in-law, I rented a room from a Hungarian family so I could be independent. That helped because I spoke Hungarian. My biggest problem was I did not speak or understand a word of English. So, I enrolled in night school. I was taught English, but also learned about US history and the Constitution. The teacher, Mrs. Durst, was a very nice, elderly lady who stressed how great American democracy is, that we are a country of laws. I knew about democracy because I grew up in Czechoslovakia and I went to Czech schools until the fourth grade. Then the war started and our school was closed.
Onward to America: A New World
November 14, 2018
The children boarded the train and they all began chattering even as the wheels began to turn. The train made a stop in Madrid to collect several additional children. Some of the young passengers had been with me at the Hospicio (orphanage) in Gerona and in Caldas de Malavella, and it was good to see Georges again. Jacques Rusman, a Southern French Jew from the city of Montauban, came aboard in Madrid along with Daniel Rosenberg. Other children that were placed with the group included Georgette and Pauline Wolman, as well as Israel and Rachel Lucas.
On Becoming an American
November 1, 2017
One bright spring day in 1956, my parents and I nervously faced a federal judge sitting in his private office in downtown Seattle, Washington. We were seated across from him at his desk. During the previous several months, the three of us had spent many hours studying a booklet in preparation for this day. The booklet contained questions and answers about the Constitution of the United States, the structure of the federal government, and some of the major historical events of this country. After asking us each several questions, easier ones for my parents, harder ones for me, the judge informed us with a very large smile that we had passed the test; he was ready to swear us in as naturalized citizens of the United States of America.
The Pineapple Voyage
November 1, 2013
The ship, the Serpa Pinto, was Portuguese. It looked a lot like the St. Louis, which is prominently exhibited on the fourth floor of the Museum. It was painted black with red lettering on its side and loomed above us. My brother Joe and I were among the 56 children who ascended the gangplank on September 10, 1941. We had arrived in Lisbon after traveling by train from Brout Vernet to Marseilles, over the Pyrenees, through Spain, and then to Portugal. The Quakers and the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society helped all of us, from France and Germany, obtain passports and tickets to come to America. Only six of these children had parents who were already in the United States. My brother and I were two of those six.
My Dream of America
November 1, 2013
My grandmother lived with us after my grandfather died in 1937. My parents did not want her to live by herself in my grandparents’ house. Among many other things she taught us as young children was the song “Old Man River” from Showboat, the song made famous by Paul Robeson. She also told us that in America each person, rich or poor, whatever race or religion, was equal. As a young child I certainly believed her.
November 1, 2011
Yet again I had to go to the post office to retrieve the package from our Aunt Hannah. How embarrassing! The package was none the better after its trip from London to Washington, DC. I had to take the bus with my high school classmates to reach home. Hanging out from the package were arms and legs—yes, several—of woolen underwear. What was Aunt Hannah thinking? No one wore such items in America. How could she think my sisters and I would need them?