Oral history interview with Erna Witsches Schmidmayer
Erna Witsches Schmidmayer, born in Odessa, Ukraine, discusses her childhood in Danzig, Germany (now Gdansk, Poland); escaping Nazi Germany on the Kindertransport to London, England in 1939; and her immigration to Palestine in 1946.
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- Erna Schmidmayer
- Giselle Heimann Ratain
2017 August 18
1 : MPEG-4.
- Credit Line
- United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Giselle Heimann Ratain
Record last modified: 2020-03-26 09:54:32
This page: https://collections.ushmm.org/search/catalog/irn575059
Also in Oral history interviews of the Grünfeld/Heimann Family collection
Oral history interviews with members of the Grünfeld/Heimann family who discuss their escape from Nazi Germany and experiences as refugees in Shanghai, China.
Kurt Heimann, born December 7, 1912 in Berlin, Germany, describes being barred from advancing in his early career because of the German antisemitic laws in the 1930s; his family life; meeting and marrying his wife (Lotte Grünfeld); escaping Berlin, Germany via train on September 16, 1940 with his wife, parents, and brother (Gerhard); arriving in Shanghai, China; life in the Shanghai Ghetto with other Jewish refugees; conditions in the ghetto, including the starvation, cramped quarters, diseases, poverty, and bombings; relying on his upholstery trade to support his family; going to the United States in 1948 with his wife and son (Manfred Leo); settling in Denver, CO; the birth of his daughter (Giselle) in 1954; and his community in the Colorado Rockies.
Lotte Grünfeld Heimann, born September 3, 1918 in Berlin, Germany, discusses her happy childhood in prewar Germany; her parents Leo (Eliezar) and Erna (Esther) who had emigrated from Tarnow, Poland in 1913 and were tailors; how her aspirations to become a gymnast and compete in the 1936 Olympics were dashed as Hitler came to power; her work as an apprentice at Hermann Tietz department store; meeting Betty Abraham (Wagowski) who introduced her to a cousin, Kurt Heimann; falling in love with her future husband on their first date; the declaration in 1938 making all Polish Jews “stateless”; Kurt Heimann’s Hungarian passport, which he used to secure citizenship for Lotte; the aftermath of Kristallnacht; obtaining visas to go to Shanghai along with her in-laws; complications as a result of her Hungarian paperwork; an incident with an SS officer who almost arrested Kurt; arriving in Shanghai on October 19, 1940; the difficult years living in cramped quarters with poor sanitation along with 20,000 other European refugees; daily bombings; working with her husband to establish an upholstery business; the birth of their son Manfred in 1943; boarding the freighter SS Gordon bound for the United States; the affidavit from her cousins Margot Grünfeld and Dick Shafran who had preceded them; finding their ultimate refuge in the United States; and establishing themselves in Denver, Colorado, where their daughter Giselle was born.
Gerhard "Jerry" Heimann, born on September 29, 1921 in Berlin, Germany, discusses his childhood in Berlin, where he helped his family with their upholstery business; the aftermath of Kristallnacht when his family determined that the 17 year old should flee to Holland; arriving in Nijmegen, Holland, where he was turned away by a Nazi boarder guard; returning to his family in Berlin; the family's good fortune of securing visas to Shanghai, thanks to the efforts of his sister-in-law Lotte Grünfeld Heimann, who had petitioned the Japanese embassy in Berlin; leaving Berlin on September 16, 1940 by train on the Siberian route through Lithuania, Russia, and Manchuria, a month before Germany closed all escape routes for Jews; the family's arrival in the Shanghai Ghetto where they were housed in crowded and unsanitary barracks; experiencing daily bombings; finding work in the French Concession of Shanghai, where he was able to supplement his family's meager rice rations; immigrating to Israel in 1948 following relocation efforts by the Joint Distribution Committee; living in Haifa and helping support his family through plumbing work; moving with his parents in 1953 to Denver, Colorado to join his brother Kurt and sister-in-law Lotte; getting married, working hard, and thriving in the Colorado Rockies; and his feeling that his family's survival was a combination of luck and miracles.
Margot Grünfeld Shafran, born on January 10, 1924 in Berlin, Germany, discusses her early years as a treasured only child; growing up with an extended Jewish family in Berlin in the 1920s and 1930s; her father Reuben Grünfeld, a Polish citizen who in October 1939 was seized and deported to the Polish border where he languished for nine months until his wife, Lotte Secher Grünfeld, arranged for three sets of papers and passage to Shanghai, China on the half-freighter "Suwa Mauro;" arriving in the Japanese-controlled district of Hongkou in August 1939; living in crowded and unsanitary barracks and experiencing daily bombings; meeting a US serviceman, Richard Shafran in 1945; getting married to him in the Ohel Moshe Synagogue in Shanghai in March 1946; moving to Poughkeepsie, NY, where they began their new lives together; working for the family business; her altruism and her husband's generous support in providing affidavits for numerous extended family members to establish themselves in the United States after WWII; their pride in their work and children Ronald and Aynne; and their 67 years of marriage and pleasures of grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Holocaust survivor Lotte Grünfeld Heimann sings songs from her childhood in Yiddish, Hebrew, and German. Songs in Yiddish: 1. "Dos iz a sud derbay" (Perlmutter, Schorr; from the operetta "Kay un shpay"; NY, 1920s) 2. "Tsvelf shlogt dokh shoyn der zeyger" (folksong; Ruth Rubin/YIVO collection) 3. "Di zelner" AKA "Oyf di grine felder" (adapted from a WWI Ukrainian folksong; see R. Rubin "Voices of a People," 226) 4. "Bay mir bistu sheyn" (Secunda, Jacobs) 5. "Zug farvus" (Secunda, Jacobs)
Mary Grünfeld Wilk Sanders, born September 14, 1912 in Tarnow, Poland, discusses her escape from Nazi Germany in 1939 and life in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.