Gerald was born to a conservative Jewish family in Freiburg, Germany. His father was a businessman. His company was based in Germany and the warehouse was located in Switzerland. His mother helped his father with the business.
Gerald attended a German school until April 1933. The government issued a boycott on Jewish business. They traveled to Switzerland but were unable to stay. Instead they moved to St. Louis, France, where the family lived for a few years. His father ventured back and forth from France into Switzerland to sell supplies to retailers. In 1935, the French allowed refugees to live in France only if they moved 100 km from the border. This made it extremely difficult for his father to conduct business since he needed to travel from France. The family moved to Loerrach, Germany because of this situation.
The Schwab family wanted to leave Germany in 1938. Gerald attended a German school until two days after the Night of Broken Glass on November 9, 1938. By now the Germans began to add the letter J in red to passports of Jews. His father could no longer travel for business.
March 1939, Gerald joined the Kindertransport. He lived with a farmer near Zurich, Switzerland from April till December and then stayed with a Christian family until May 1940. On May 10, 1940, his parent’s received the family’s Visas (the same day the Germans invaded Belgium and Holland). One week later they left for Italy and sailed to the United States on the S.S. Washington.
Gerald was 15 years old when he arrived in New York. His family first lived in Long Branch, New Jersey. After a year in the United States, the family acquired a poultry farm in central New Jersey and Gerald was schooled. In 1944, he was drafted into the U.S. Army and achieved the rank of Corporal by the time he was discharged.