Her Personal History
My name is Erica Rosenthal, nee Erika Tichauer. My life might have been similar to yours if Adolf Hitler and the Nazis had not come to power in Germany in 1933.
I was born on August 12, 1926 in Bernstadt, Germany, the second child of Martha and Max Tichauer. I had two siblings: Heinz, the eldest, and a younger brother, Horst. We had a wonderful life. We had aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents who had an active part in our lives. We also had a very special nanny who cared for us because both of my parents worked. My father also employed a chauffeur, named Joseph, on whom I had a childish crush.
My father owned a wholesale and retail candy business. My mother worked with him in the store and also functioned as the bookkeeper. Father was a World War I veteran who fought for his homeland, Germany, and was awarded the Iron Cross for his service. My mother was a brave, quiet woman who was always there for us children.
When I was three years old my family moved to Cosel. I attended school, vacationed with my family, played with my brothers and my friends, went to religious services and loved life.
In 1933, my life began to change when the Nazis came to power and Hitler became Chancellor of Germany. Going to school became difficult because of teachers who supported the Nazi cause and taught about “bad” Jewish blood.
On April 1, 1933, I remember coming home from school and finding two Sturmabteilung (SA) officials outside my father’s store. Though it was just a few months after the Nazis came to power, they had already organized a boycott of Jewish-owned businesses. They wouldn’t let anyone inside to shop. They did allow me to pass. My father tried to explain it by telling me that Hitler didn’t like Jews.
One day in 1936, while doing homework in my room, there was an accident outside my home. I was told by Nanny to stay inside and not to look out of the window. I was ten years old and not the most obedient child. Curious about my “bad” Jewish blood, I snuck out with a piece of blotter paper to try to see how German blood was different from mine. A policeman saw this and was going to arrest me, but Nanny came out and saved me. Because of this, I had a record with the Gestapo.
The Nazi laws against the Jews continued to mount, making life for our family difficult. The Nuremburg Laws, enacted in 1935, stripped away our German citizenship. They also prohibited non-Jewish women under the age of 45 from being employed in Jewish households. Our beloved nanny could no longer work for us, though she still visited. My father’s business was “Aryanized”, that is, taken away from him and given to Aryan Germans. So we moved from our large, lovely apartment to the Jewish community house. We no longer could get our funds from the banks.
I was still attending school, but clearly my parents were worried. Most of the Jews in Cosel and the surrounding areas were trying to flee Germany. My older brother Heinz had left home for training to be a blacksmith. My parents had determined that this skill might be useful in the long run.
We lived in the Jewish community house for eighteen months. A teacher came to us since we were no longer permitted to attend the public school. We lived in constant fear.
During the November Pogrom (Kristallnacht) in November 1938, my mother and I were tormented by an angry mob and forced to witness the burning of my synagogue. My father was arrested with all the other Jewish men of Cosel. Fortunately, he was released several weeks later. The danger to us was clear, so my parents made plans to send their children to safety. With the assistance of my cousin Ruth, who had already departed Germany for England, arrangements were made for my younger brother Horst and me to leave Germany as part of the Kindertransport. My oldest brother Heinz was too old to participate in the program.
Horst and I needed passports to travel. Unfortunately, my record with the Gestapo, from my childish attempt to blot “Aryan” blood, held up our departure. My father had to go to incredible lengths to get permission and documentation from the Nazis allowing me to leave.
In May 1939, after saying good-bye to our mother and Nanny, Horst and I traveled to London as part of the Kindertransport,. I had one suitcase in which I had packed my father’s Haggadah (the story of Passover and the prayer book for the Seder), my mother’s locket and a book. It also contained my autograph books, with messages written by my family and friends. Our father traveled with us to Berlin, where we boarded the train. His words to us were: “Be good people and stay Jews.”
Our final destination was unknown; the train was sealed. There were so many children. We spent endless hours on the train, the men in the ominous black uniforms of the SS yelling at us. We were tired, hungry, and terribly afraid. We sobbed silently, as the SS threatened throw us off the train if we made noise.
Finally, the train slowed down and came to a stop. The SS men got off and were standing on the platform. It was very quiet and still—I could hear my heart- beating.
The train then started very slowly and went a short distance to another platform. We were over the border--Holland, freedom! Gentle, smiling faces greeted us, handing us doughnuts and orange juice. As long as I live, I will equate orange juice and doughnuts with freedom.
The train continued on to the coast where we boarded a boat and traveled to Harwich, England. We were taken to Tottenham in north London, and later to Surrey. We lived with a foster family, attended school, and I was later trained as a nurse.
In Germany, my older brother Heinz was arrested and sent to Auschwitz concentration camp. He was fortunate to survive years of slave labor.
For several years, we were able to communicate with our parents back in Germany via the Red Cross. The last letter we received from my father was dated November 16, 1942. Tragically, my parents were murdered in the gas chambers at Auschwitz-Birkenau.
At age sixteen, I went to Hereford to attend nursing school. I passed all the required exams but needed to obtain clearance to demonstrate that I was not a German spy. I know this is hard to believe, but the government required this of all "enemy aliens", even 16 year-old Jewish girls.
I finished nursing school and began caring for babies and small children. All of the Jewish nurses were asked by the Jewish Refugee Committee to move to Birmingham, so we could all be together. There I resided in a Jewish hostel.
In 1947, Horst and I traveled to the United States and settled in New York City. We reunited with Heinz who was already there. Once there, I decided that we needed “more American” names, so Horst became Howard, Heinz became Harry, and I became Erica. We found housing, and I worked in a number of hospitals. I met my future husband, Manfred, in 1950. He was introduced to me by a fellow nurse, Ruth Lebram, also a Holocaust survivor, who became my lifelong friend.
Manfred and I were married on January 27, 1952, had three wonderful sons and are now the proud grandparents of six. However, tragedy appeared in our lives again when our son, Herbert, died of natural causes while celebrating his 25th wedding anniversary in Africa. However, he left us with a wonderful daughter-in-law and two granddaughters.
I became involved with the Center for Holocaust, Human Rights & Genocide Education (Chhange) at Brookdale Community College and have often spoken to school groups and religious institutions, as well as at the New Jersey Statehouse during a Kristallnacht memorial program.
I think about the many children—separated from their families—and of the train that brought me to safety and freedom. I know it is my duty to tell about the many trains that went the other way and did not return. I had a chance to live again, and so it is up to me to recount the facts and say, “It must never happen again!” I am Erica Tichauer Rosenthal, and this is my story.
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