Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Joseph Birnholtz - July 28, 1982

Life in Detroit

When you first came to America did you have any impressions of America--any initial impressions?

Not really. I knew it's a, it's a free country of opportunities and so on.

Did you run into any trouble when you came here? Was there any anti-Semitism here?

Yes, I did. It was very shocking to me when I came here was about first two weeks. See I used to take lessons uh, because I was studying opera in Germany. I forgot to tell you that. As a matter of fact the German teacher was a, was a professor of music, was a professor of music and he was uh, he was training me every morning I would go for lessons and his wife was an opera singer. He wanted me to sing opera for the German people. And I said to him, "I couldn't do that. My heart wouldn't let me. What you people did to us, to my parents and everybody--I have no heart to sing for you." So uh, just to get back to the story over here in Detroit, I used to go for lessons. And uh, I didn't know how to get back to Dexter, where I used to live just by my uncle. So I met this man and I could recognize he's Polish and I didn't tell him I was Jewish, I told him I came from Poland. So he was so happy to see me, and when we ??? Friday evening to Dexter on the bus. He said, "Follow me, I'm going the same way." And he saw a whole bunch of Jewish people standing waiting for minyan to go into services Friday night, and he said, "You see those Jewish people? Too bad that the Germans didn't kill them all out." And the same man, he invited me for dinner, you know, he didn't know I was Jewish. So I came home. He didn't live too far away from my uncle on Clements somewhere, Clements near Dexter. To my uncle, I came home crying and I said this is what I went through and I came here to a free country and here's the same anti-Semitism like it was in Poland and Germany. So he says, "Dear Joe," my uncle told me, "don't feel bad about it, just forget it. He can say anything in America, as long as he doesn't do it--as long as he doesn't do anything. He can talk on the president, he can talk on anybody." But it was very bad feeling for me to hear this--came to America and he said, "Too bad that the Germans didn't kill all the Jews," the Polish man.

Uh, when uh, since you, you met your wife, how did you meet your wife?

We went to evening classes to learn English to become a citizen and she used to sit in front of me. We fell in love and I used to work in a supermarket in the beginning, she used to work in a cookie factory. And she also worked for Sanders, which they didn't know she was Jewish. Her maiden name is Klein. And uh, she worked there for a...

Would it have mattered?

Pardon me?

Would it have mattered?

They would never, they would never have hired her if they knew she was Jewish in the beginning, by Sanders. So and then she worked for another cookie factory and I used to meet her on the bus. I come every day. I went to Gratiot and Seven Mile and she went somewhere else, I don't remember where. So that's how we met. And we were the first ones in the school that the teacher said, "Let's everybody get up and say 'mazel tov,' congratulations to the couple that just got engaged--to Edith and Joe." We were the first ones to get engaged at school.

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