- Margot Kestenbaum (born Cassel, later Pins) is the daughter of Saul Cassel (b. Oct. 22, 1897, Thorn or Laibishen) d. 1984 and Erna Wanne-eickel (b. Nov. 20, 1905, Westphalia, Germany). Her mother was born Christian but converted to Judaism to marry Saul. Margot was born in Breslau on January 30, 1931. Saul worked in the Teitz department store, until he was dismissed following the enactment of the Nuremberg Laws. He then opened up his own wholesale store of his own until he left Germany. When Margot was five months old, her mother was diagnosed with TB. Margot then was cared for by a nanny. When young German women were no longer allowed to work in Jewish homes, her parents hired an elderly woman to care to Margot. Saul had one brother, Isidor and the two families were very close knit. Margot grew up together with their daughter Lotte (today Hirschfeld) who was born ten days before Margot.
When the situation became more difficult in Germany the two brothers discussed the possible options of where they could immigrate. An opportunity to go to the Philippines presented itself, and the two families dismantled their houses, packed dishes and planned their departure. Margot's mother decided she needed to be able to help support the family and took a rush course in sewing, buying a Singer sewing machine to take with them. In October 1938, they took a train to Marseille where they boarded the French liner "Messager Maritime." The trip to Manila took four weeks going through the Suez Canal and Hong Kong. Isidor who had left Germany earlier greeted them. However, upon arriving in Manila, Margot's father, Saul was interned for approximately one month as the authorities thought that he might have been a spy.
Russian emigres arranged found them living quarters in the pension of Mme.Collerman on Pourvenir Street, near the ocean. It was very hot and infested with mosquitoes. People broke out in boils; however, Erna's health improved and her tuberculosis receded. Soon afterwards they moved to different housing which they shared with Isidor and his family. Saul found work in the auction house of a Russian Jew from Shanghai. However, he soon tired of this and decided to try his own luck peddling. He asked Harry Frieder, head of the Jewish community who was in charge of funds provided for the refugees by the Joint Distribution Committee, for a loan. He then bought a car, hired a driver and bought a variety of goods including pens, buttons and watches wholesale in the Chinese market. He drove to remote villages where his wares were in demand. Erna bought additional merchandise which she sent to him and sewed dresses, aprons, brassieres and baby layette which he sold as well. He did this for two years.
During this time, Margot and Lotte enrolled in a Catholic school run by German missionaries. Classes were in English but prayers were held between lessons. However after the girls received Holy Communion and Margot expressed a desire to convert, the girls were pulled from the school and enrolled in the "Philippine's Women's University" where they learned Philippine culture and dances. When Margot was in fourth grade, Manila was bombed and declared an open city. In January 1942 the Japanese entered Manila, and Margot's school was closed down. Her father began to work for a Christian German by the name of Mr. Berg who had two stores, Bergescolte. A Jewish refugee opened a tutoring group where Margot studied for 6-8 months and then returned to the Philippines Women's University where she remained until 1949. The Japanese interned all of the allies. In the Jewish community there were ten people who worked for the underground. The children had a new curriculum and learned how to weave and studied agriculture as well. They participated in national events and attended religious services in the synagogue that was originally built by Sephardic Jews. They had a very active Jewish life. Joseph Cysner, a refugee from Germany and cantor led the service together with Rabbi Joseph Schwarz. Margot learned to love the prayers and also took Hebrew lessons twice a week.
In October 1944, the first Americans landed in Leyte, Philippines. In response the Japanese burned ships in the harbor and massacred civilians. At this time Margot's father was still working at the Berg's store but they were forced to flee from their housing complex. The Japanese were mining roads and the Americans were bombing the whole area. Saul built an air raid center and stayed in the shelter for as much as a week. When the family crawled out, they met American soldiers who helped them get away.
At the end of the war Margot's mother was told to she needed to go to the U.S to have her lung removed. Margot accompanied her for the operation. Although they were detained for a short time in Hawaii, eventually her mother was permitted to proceed to LA where she underwent surgery successfully. During this time Margot attended school in LA but upon her return to the Philippines she finished high school. She met her future husband at the age of 15 while he was serving in the American army in Manila. He was an American Jew of German origin whose parents had immigrated to the States prior to WWII. She then attended Barnard College in New York, marrying Dr. Arnold Pins, after two years of school in 1951. She settled in Chicago where Margot finished the University of Chicago.
Her parents remained in the Philippines until 1955. After the war her father became a partner in the Bergescolte Store. They immigrated to the United States in the 1950's. Margot immigrated to Israel in the 1970's with her son Daniel who was born in 1951. In addition Margot has two daughters, Judy, b. 1959 and Michele, b. 1964. She also has eight grandchildren.