Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Hilma Geffen - February 15, 1985

Moving to Berlin

How did you feel to leave Rangsdorf?

Uh, we felt terrible to leave Rangsdorf. Worst of all, my mother felt terrible. My mother was a typical Jewish middle-class woman. She was very proud of her possessions, of her family, of her possessions, she was very proud of the house. The house meant status to her because my...we had a house, most of her relatives and most of my father's, except for one brother, no one had a house. They lived very nice in Berlin, in the apartments. But she had considerable status. And she put, both my parents put a lot of work into that house, a lot of love, a lot of care, and the house was supposed to last for the rest of their lives. Houses in Germany were built to last. It was a very modern house. One has to think of 1931, '32, when it was built, '33. Uh, it was a very modern house and uh, so she never went back. She never passed by the street. Uh, if anybody ever said, "Do you want to go back and go by and visit?" she always said, "No, never. I'll never go back." And she never did. In 19...I finished school in 1930, 1940. I finished high school. It was, I was at that, I was fifteen and I could have gone on, but I did not see any future in going, keep on going to high school because I knew I couldn't go to the university and uh, my father wanted me to learn something practical so he uh, uh, said I should go to the handelschule, which is a commercial school. I learned bookkeeping there and shorthand, English, my English I had all learned, and French. Uh, uh, math, bookkeeping math, all commercial subjects. It was a two year course. But in April of 1941, a new edict came out that no child, Jewish child was to be educated any further. All Jewish schools were closed. There was no Jewish teaching going on. Children who were under fourteen were kept in day care centers with the strict uh, provision just to play, to be supervised but no teaching. Anybody who was fourteen and older was to go the uh, factory. Working for, through the various factories. And people were assigned to the various factories. By that time my father was not allowed to work anymore at all. He was for about a year, he had not worked. And he was now also compelled to work in the factory. He worked at Siemens. And I was, I was uh, sixteen and I was to go to work also in a factory which was called Deutsche Telefonwerke, the German telephone works. We also had uh, a new thing came, we had to wear the yellow star. It started in May 1941, every Jew had to wear a yellow star on the left side. It had to be sewn on. There were, ever since the war started, ration cards were issued. Food was rationed, and Jews received their ration cards with a big "J" printed on it. You had to register with a grocer to receive from that grocery store your food rations and whatever the uh, most of the food that, whatever the non-Jews received, the Jews received about half of it. They were, very often there were extra rations given to children, to old people, people who worked hard, very heavy physical work. None of those benefits were extended to the Jews. The Jews got just the bare minimum ration of, people received a pound of butter, the Jews got a half a pound of butter. It's for, eventually uh, meat was cut out for Jews. There was just the bare minimum that uh, Jews received. No matter what they worked, where they worked, how they worked.

From Kristallnacht to the beginning of the war, or even beyond the outbreak of war, had your father any thought of leaving Germany?

Yes, we had a lot of thought. My father uh, I had a lot of cousins that went with, to Israel, to Palestine with the Youth Aliya in France in 1933 already, and in 1934 and in 1935. We had thought of going to Palestine and my father was very curious about it. In December of 1934 and in January of 1935, he went to Palestine. He had to go by ship. It took a week from Berlin to go to Tel Aviv. It took a whole week. He took the train to Italy. I think it was Brindisi. And then from Brindisi by ship to Tel Aviv. He looked around, he stayed there, he talked to many people, he met my cousin, who's still in Israel now uh, he met friends whom we knew. Some said go, some said come, some said don't. He couldn't make up his mind. People said if you uh, come out with money you can stay here and you can live well. Some people said if you still have a job in Germany, stay. It isn't so good here. He, he got conflicting advice. When he came back, he put himself on a waiting list. In 1937, our number came up and we could have gone out to Palestine with money and he said, "I'll wait another year. Put me back for another year." Because he still worked. We were in Rangsdorf. We lived fairly well and it won't, how long can it last, how long can Hitler last? That was always the question or the answer to everything. How long can he last? It cannot last anymore. Once if he started the war, he can't last anymore, there's so many shortages in this country. And he still lasted. He outlasted everybody. Uh, then, so we could have left Germany in 1937 to go to Palestine. My mother hated the thought of leaving her house in Rangsdorf and her friends and her family. And she said, "Palestine is hot. I cannot take the heat. I am not young anymore." And they were in their fifties. My parents were as I said; they were not very young when they married. So they were both in the fifties. "And I don't speak the language, I cannot adjust. The heat will make me sick." There was malaria in Palestine. Palestine was not modern as it is now and so let's wait another year. So of course, that was the fatal year.

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