I was born at home in Frankfurt am Main, Germany on September 19, 1926 to Erna and Milan Rosenthal. I had an older brother, Herbert, who was born in 1924. We lived in a large apartment which had belonged to my maternal grandmother, Lucie Loevinger.
My grandmother was born in Indonesia because her father was a salesman who traveled through the Far East. Her mother died giving birth to her.
Our home was spacious and attended to by a cook and a nanny as well as other staff. My mother, Erna was an attractive woman who played the piano, attended the opera and was considered a Hausfrau, a German housewife. I called her Mutti.
Mutti had one brother, Ludwig Loevinger, who lived in an apartment nearby. I enjoyed visiting him because he had a dog.
My father, Milan Rosenthal, was part owner of a lumber yard and was extremely busy with his business. He had three brothers. He enjoyed reading and playing cards with my uncles.
During the summer, I visited my uncles, Nathan and Jakob in Wetzlar, outside of Frankfurt. On the weekends, the family took trips into the countryside to the Kleine Feldberg (Small Field Mountain) and the Grosse Feldberg (Big Field Mountain).We enjoyed this time spent with my father’s family.
In 1932, before Hitler came to power, I began Holzhausenschul, a public school close to my home.
When I could not return there because of the restrictions against Jews, I attended the Philanthropin, a progressive, private Jewish school that was a thirty-minute bicycle ride from my home. I rode my bike all over the city, which gave me great freedom. I rode to my father’s lumberyard on Saturdays and played with one of the employee’s sons. He was my only non-Jewish friend.
Our family attended all holiday services at the West End Synagogue. The synagogue was considered reform and had an organ. At home, we didn’t light Shabbat candles or observe the Sabbath. However, Herbert became a Bar Mitzvah in 1937, and we celebrated it quietly at home.
Uncle Ludwig’s family immigrated to the United States in 1935 or 1936. He was able to take most of his family’s belongings because there were fewer restrictions then. They also brought my grandmother’s valuables to the United States.
The Nazis’ rise to power and their restrictive laws against the Jews caused my father’s business to deteriorate.
After the enactment of the Nuremberg Laws, we had to move from our large apartment to a smaller one in another building. An SS officer lived in our building and would not reside where Jews lived. We no longer had any staff, and our nanny couldn’t work for us because we were Jews.
In 1936, we were forced to move again. I now had a longer bike ride to school. I still went to the lumberyard on Saturdays with my father. At the yard, he had a Mercedes which was too expensive to maintain. Before the Nazis, Father had a chauffeur who drove this car. Now we could no longer have or afford a chauffeur or the car. Since Jews could not sell their property for its value, one of my father’s employees pretended to own the car and sold it to a Nazi official on our behalf.
During 1936 and 1937, the situation for my family continued to worsen. It was hard to understand. After all, my father had served in the German army in World War I, had been wounded and was awarded the Iron Cross, Second Class.
In 1938, as the Nazis were confiscating or “aryanizing” Jewish businesses, my Uncle Jakob sold his business for pennies on the dollar. One of his employees, stayed with the lumber yard. He brought food to my parents in 1939 and 1940, and took our family silver tea service, a prized possession, and kept it safe from the Nazis who were stealing Jewish property. After the war, he located my parents, now in the United States, sent them the silver tea set, and apologized for a dent in one of the pieces which occurred as a result of an American bombing raid near his family home. To me, he is a wonderful example of an honest German who could have kept this valuable silver set for himself.
By the summer of 1938, my parents knew we must leave Germany to keep our family safe. Many of my relatives fled from Germany to France, Brazil and the US. My parents applied for visas to leave Germany to go to the United States, but the US immigration laws made them very difficult to obtain.
The November Pogrom or Kristallnacht occurred on November 9-10, 1938. Jewish businesses were destroyed, synagogues were burned, and Jewish men were rounded up and arrested.
My parents feared that they would never be able to leave Germany. Recognizing the necessity of sending their children abroad to safety, my older brother Herbert was sent to England in the Kindertransport program. Tragically, he was later sent to an internment camp in Australia and perished on his return to Great Britain when the ship he was traveling on was torpedoed and sunk off the coast of Ireland.
My parents sent me to France.
At first, I stayed with family friends, but their situation deteriorated and it was no longer an option for me. I was then placed with the Oeuvres de Secours aux Enfants (L'OSE). This program was for Jewish refugee children from Austria, Germany and Czechoslovakia. I was educated in France and spent time in three different group homes before I traveled to Portugal en route to the United States.
Fortunately, my parents and grandmother, as well as my uncle’s family, received visas to travel to the United States. They were here to welcome me when I arrived on a Portuguese ship in June 1941.
My high school education was completed in New York.
At that point, I joined the United States Army and served in Japan. After completing my military service, I attended the City College of New York in 1953, and graduated from the New Jersey Institute of Technology in 1964. While attending NJIT, I was hired by Bell Labs where I worked from 1958 to my retirement in 1994.
In a stroke of good luck, another Holocaust survivor and dear friend, Ruth Lebram, introduced me to the woman who would become my wife, Erica Tichauer, also a Holocaust survivor. We were married on January 27, 1952.
We raised three fine young men who married three wonderful women and gave us six loving grandchildren. Sadly, we lost our eldest son while he was celebrating his twenty-fifth wedding anniversary in Africa.
Erica and I lived in Middletown and became active in the Center for Holocaust, Human Rights & Genocide Education (Chhange) at Brookdale Community College in tribute to those members of our families, and all the others who perished in the Holocaust.
There are too many people willing to perpetrate evil acts. It is unbelievable that a supposedly civilized and cultured nation, the Germany of my birth, could commit such atrocities. I still find it hard to believe. Only through education can we prevent the past from repeating itself.