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Oral history interview with Robert Blumenthal

Oral History | Accession Number: 2018.61.1 | RG Number: RG-50.106.0266

Robert Blumenthal, born on July 28, 1938 in Batavia, Dutch East Indies (now Jakarta, Indonesia), discusses his maternal grandparents Max and Emmy Adler and paternal grandparents Albert and Emma Blumenthal, who were all born in Hanover, Germany; his father Paul, who fought in the German Army and was wounded by shrapnel in WWI; his father’s work in an export-import firm of pharmaceuticals and food (G. Hoppenstedt) in the Dutch East Indies and his return later to Hanover; his mother Hilde Adler, who came from a very assimilated, not religious German Jewish family; his parents moving to the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) and becoming well established in the Dutch community; his mother’s return to Holland in order to give birth to her oldest son Peter in 1936; his grandparents in Hanover selling their property after Kristallnacht in 1938; the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the fall of Singapore and the Battle of the Java; escaping on the S.S. Pieter Both to Australia under dangerous conditions along with his mother, brother, and cousin Lucy, the internment of his father in a Japanese prison camp near Bandung; seeing plumes of smoke on the coast of Sumatra; arriving in Sydney, Australia in March 1942; reconnecting with friends in Adelaide, including the Collet family; his mother experiencing some antisemitism; speaking Dutch at home and English at school; having a normal childhood but having to move frequently and having no contact with his father for four years; hearing bells ringing in August 1945 on VP Day; his father being released and getting the Batavia house and the business in order and then joining the family in Adelaide at the end of 1945; attending different schools in Adelaide; returning to Batavia for a few months and then going to Amsterdam; his parents having a “code of silence” and never talking about what the family experienced during the Holocaust; having a normal life living on Botticelli street, Amsterdam South; attending high school where they taught classics; studying chemistry at Leiden University; joining a ”fraternity”, enduring hazing, and feeling different for the first time; becoming friendly with Herman Frank who had been hidden during the war and going to Israel with him in 1960; becoming more interested in religion and going to the Weitzman Institute in Israel for five years to get his Ph.D.; marrying his Israeli wife; traveling to Paris and the United States; being recruited by the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland; identifying as an American Jew but also having an affinity for Holland; feeling that his experiences made him a more interesting person; not talking much about his childhood to his children but giving them a Jewish education; thinking about his experiences more now that he is older; feeling comfortable and safe here and not having to hide; how taking care of his mother’s emotional state while his father was imprisoned and the loss of his grandparents who perished in the Holocaust made him more empathetic; using writing to open up about his experiences; becoming aware of his parents’ experiences; and his mother dying at age 51 of cancer and three of his grandparents dying in concentration camps (Emma Blumenthal in Auschwitz and Emmy and Max Adler in Sobibor).

Some video files begin with 10-60 seconds of color bars.
Robert Blumenthal
Gail Schwartz
interview:  2018 March 08
creation: Bethesda (Md.)
1 digital file : WAV.
Record last modified: 2020-03-26 09:38:42
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