Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Joseph Birnholtz - July 28, 1982

Deciding to Move the United States

Uh, how did you get out of Germany then?

Uh, well in Germany I was uh, I was there two years in the camp--in a DP camp, and there was an English lady, Mrs. Weinberg, said to me, "Why do you want to go to Israel? The Jewish people--you suffered so much, you were in the concentration camp, look how bad you look. Why don't you go, why don't you go to America?" And I said, "We Jewish people we suffered so much all over the world and every Jew is fighting for different countries. And uh, it's about time that we fight for our own country." Anyway she was after me because I was a teacher Hebrew--I was teaching Hebrew in the camp.

How did you learn it?

I learned while I was in kibbutz. I picked it up, you see, because I went to cheder before the war and I got in so good. I knew Gemara in Russian, everything. I used to translate every Shabbos for my parents. I couldn't go away from the dinner table until I explained everything from every Sabbath from every week. So it was still in me. So when I went to it back, so it was very easy for me and as a matter of fact, I became a Hebrew teacher and I was teaching also art. And anyway I was very much liked in the camp. I was the youngest teacher there. I was teaching older people, you know, Hebrew and everything. And at that time I spoke just mostly Hebrew because in order to learn Hebrew you have to keep it up and to exercise. So this lady was after me and I had an uncle living in Detroit. She wrote away him letters that how lucky he is that I am--I and my sister are the only ones here and uh, anyway, we didn't hear from him too much. Finally, we uh, she went and signed up for me because I had a very good record. I worked, didn't do any black marketeering. I was just a plain, nice person and she liked me very much. And every time I would give a concert there she would bring the whole army there--the UNRRA--and they were throwing me chocolates and cigarettes, they liked my singing. I also made a picture in the gymnasium hall--a great big picture with a woman with grapes. So they admired me, a young talented person. So she gave me a paper how useful--a, a useful citizen I would be for the United States. So she's the one that convinced me I should go to America. At least anytime that I feel like I want to go to Israel or something or I won't like it, I can always go to Israel but it's harder--as a matter of fact, my sister that lived there before the war, she wrote me the same kind of letter, "It's better to be in America and to want to go to Israel than to be in Israel and want to be in America." So uh, she convinced me also. She also said that as much as I--that you suffered so much I would be like a mother to you. As a matter of fact, my sister was just for a visit from Israel.

When you, when you came to Detroit...

So she signed up for me, this Mrs. Weinberg. She was an English lady working for UNRRA. She signed up for me and she went in to Stuttgart to the American Consul and it didn't take much, a couple months ???. As a matter of fact, what's the date today? I came May--I arrived May the 12th. I arrived in 1947, it had to be.

In Detroit or in America?

In Detroit, yeah. In New York I arrived, Marina Marina--came on a ship called Marina Marina.

And uh, then you came right to Detroit?

Then I came over to Detroit and we went to evening classes to learn English to become American citizens, and that's where I met my lovely wife.

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