Felicia Wertz

Felicia Wertz
Nationality: Polish
Location: Ann Arbor • Białystok • Komi Republic • Leningrad • Lodz • Michigan • Missouri • Novy Oskol • Poland • Russia • Siberia • St. Louis • St. Petersburg • United States of America • USSR • Warsaw • Wyszkow
Experience During Holocaust: Family Died During the Holocaust • Lived in an Orphanage • Was a Child During the Holocaust

Mapping Felicia's Life

Click on the location markers to learn more about Felicia. Use the timeline below the map or the left and right keys on your keyboard to explore chronologically. In some cases the dates below were estimated based on the oral histories.

“It was an absolutely different feeling, that I’m not alone, that you know where you come from. In the meantime, I found this uncle, and my uncle told me, 'You have a family in Israel.'” - Felicia Wertz

Read Felicia's Oral History Transcripts

Read the transcripts by clicking the red plus signs below.

Tape 1 - Side 1 (Prince)

PRINCE: My name is “Sister” Prince and it’s May 12, 1986, and I’m interviewing Felicia Wertz for the Oral History Project for the St. Louis Center for Holocaust Studies. We’re looking at a map right now, and Felicia, what were you saying about the Pale?
WERTZ: I think the Pale was, an idea, it was typical policy of Czarist Russia. They didn’t allow Jews to settle in bigger cities and only in the Ukraine because these were former Polish territories. So, all the Jews actually came to Russia from Poland when Poland was partitioned.
Jews were invited to Poland by the Polish king in the 14th century to encourage trade by King Kasmir the Great. Then Poland started to exist after the third partition in 1795. It was divided between Austria, Prussia, and Russia.
PRINCE: So, first we were in Poland. They were invited by the Polish king from where?
WERTZ: From Germany, from – well, the Jews were expelled from Spain, then from Spain to France, from France to Germany and when they were expelled from Germany, they were invited to Poland. Yes, yes, the flight of Jews from the pogroms and crusaders – to Poland they were invited and at one point they had favors from the Polish king and they thrived, but then when we became part of the – the majority of Poland became part of Russia and Russia could never tolerate different religions – it was Greek Orthodox and…
PRINCE: We began on this because we were looking at a map for Bialystok which is where you fled.
WERTZ: Right.
PRINCE: Let me ask you, let’s go back – let’s go back to the beginning and tell me when you were born.
WERTZ: Well, as I told you, I don’t have a birthdate because no one remembers his date of birth if your mother doesn’t tell you on your birth certificate. Probably I can find it, you know – there is this church, a Mormon church who have all kinds of data, vital statistics and there is this guy – I forgot his name – who is very big on Jewish geneology.
PRINCE: Yes.
WERTZ: His uncle invited me.
PRINCE: Is it Erhlich you’re talking about?
WERTZ: No, not Erhlich.
PRINCE: Truman then.
WERTZ: Maybe Erhlich. (OVERTALK) A young man.
PRINCE: Why didn’t your mother, why didn’t you know?
WERTZ: Well, would you know if you were a baby and lost your parents at age three? Would you know?
PRINCE: So you lost your parents…
WERTZ: Right…that’s what it is. And there was no trace of it. I – well, there were no papers. For instance, how do they tell the age at that point when – “Well, let’s check to find out whether you are ready for school. Show me your teeth.” So if you didn’t have milk teeth and more baby teeth, so you were probably around seven and you go to the first grade. I mean that’s the way people tell age.
PRINCE: How do you feel about not knowing how old you are?
WERTZ: I feel bad about it now. Of course, I have a birth date because I have to have a birth certificate and my educator from the orphanage gave me some dates. Maybe it was her husband’s birthday – who knows? It’s April 24th and so I am stuck with this date but I – it’s a Taurus by zodiac signs and I don’t feel I’m like a Taurus.
PRINCE: Would you like to change it?
WERTZ: Yeah, if I knew the right date. I could find it – I don’t know. Well, it would all depend whether they – they made photocopies before the World War II. They probably didn’t. I went to Wyszkow to the Office of Vital Statistics and they gave me a little note saying everything from the district of the – the Jewish district was destroyed, bombed out in 1939, so they didn’t have any books.
PRINCE: Records.
WERTZ: Records, records about age.
PRINCE: But you know you were born there.
WERTZ: Yes, because I have an uncle who is alive and in Copenhagen and he lived with my mother in the same house and he knows I was born in Wyszkow.
PRINCE: But he can’t help you figure out…
WERTZ: No, he can’t figure out. But I know that he was 14 when we were just little kids. I don’t know exactly.
PRINCE: No neighbors to remember when you were…
WERTZ: He was born in 1925, I know, and at the age of 14 was the year what?
PRINCE: 1925, he was born.
WERTZ: Yes.
PRINCE: In 1935 he was 10 and in 1939 he was 14.
WERTZ: 14…
PRINCE: No, 1938.
WERTZ: In 1938 he was 14. So, he must be 16 then, I guess.
PRINCE: 1939. (OVERTALK)
WERTZ: In 1939 he was 14 then, yeah. So I must have been born in 1937-38.
PRINCE: What’s your first memory?
WERTZ: My first memory? I remember a terrible thing that we were moving somewhere on the horse and buggy, a lot of people in there and so my mother couldn’t take us both at the same time. And she wanted me to stay and she’ll get me later on and take my brother because he was younger and I cried and cried and cried. I didn’t want to stay. (NOT CLEAR) Then I remember that we slept in some Russian peasant’s hut or something and they had this huge – it’s an oven but at the same time it’s sort of like a sleeping place. You climb on it, it’s sort of an (NOT CLEAR) whatever that – the front part was used for cooking but the other big brick sort of structure, you climb on top and sleep on it.
PRINCE: It sounds cozy.
WERTZ: Yeah. There they have a sheepskin.
PRINCE: Sheepskin?
WERTZ: Yes. And I remember I fell out of it that night and I was scared…(NOT CLEAR) And what else do I remember?
PRINCE: So, who did your mother leave you with when she left you?
WERTZ: I don’t remember. She had to go somewhere and then come back and then I remember something that we were driving with this horse and then there was water all over the place.
PRINCE: Were you with her then?
WERTZ: Yes. I was with her. Well, I told you the story that she died in bed with me, as I remember.
PRINCE: Let me ask you about your father…
WERTZ: I don’t remember anything about my father at all. The only thing I remember is he had a beard and nothing else. His brother lives in Israel. His sister lives in Canada and they cannot tell me what happened to him. I know that he was a nice man. I have a picture of him that I got from a group picture they had in Israel and I have it at home. And my brother looks like him, I can tell.
PRINCE: Do you remember anything of your life before…?
WERTZ: Nothing, nothing.
PRINCE: All right, so here we are and you’re three and your mother left you and she came back for you and you rode with a horse and some water.
WERTZ: Yeah, it’s just not, it was not a horse, we were just running away from somewhere and everybody just put all his stuff in…
PRINCE: In a wagon?
WERTZ: In a wagon from Wyszkow, we had to move out.
PRINCE: Do you remember noise?
WERTZ: Noise?
PRINCE: Yeah, when people…
WERTZ: No, I remember normal noise when people started crying when my mother died, that everybody – there was a big commotion.
PRINCE: Well, tell me about your mother’s…
WERTZ: It was in a labor camp already because I remember that there was a – we had a sack of potatoes. This I remember because everybody was so hungry. And every day it was this routine of someone’s turn to peel potatoes and everybody was looking at everybody’s hands if he doesn’t peel – the peelings are not too thick. That was waste. I remember there were fights about this woman who could not peel potatoes very well because the peelings are so thick and that’s waste. This I remember for some reason, I remember. And I am attached to the potatoes because they were like life savers. I remember I always would say, “When I grow up I’ll eat fried potatoes every day, three times a day.”
PRINCE: Like a friend?
WERTZ: Yeah. I’d always say, “When I grow up, (WHISPERING) I’ll eat potatoes three times a day, fried potatoes. That will be my favorite food,” and it still is. (LAUGHTER) Yes, potatoes I like.
Then, what I remember. Well, she – I remember she wasn’t there for some time and then she came and she – I told you, she had no hair on her head and that looked ugly. Or maybe she never had hair, but she lost her wig probably. Now it dawns on me that that was the wig that she lost because, you know, Jewish women – they are completely shorn, or they don’t show their hair. I don’t know about that, about that Jewish…
PRINCE: I don’t know either.
WERTZ: When they show their own hair, they are just shorn. I really don’t know.
PRINCE: I don’t know.
WERTZ: That’s a thing to be found out…I think she had typhoid.
PRINCE: Here’s where we meet again.
WERTZ: Yeah, she had typhoid, so that’s probably when she was in the hospital. And when she came back I remember that she wasn’t functioning very well because she once started putting my brother’s shoes on me and he was much smaller. And I was so mad that these were not my shoes…sort of red shoes, red boots, and she was forcing my feet into it and I knew they were not mine.
PRINCE: And you were still…
WERTZ: I was, I don’t know, three or…
PRINCE: Whatever.
WERTZ: Well, children of three remember a lot.
PRINCE: Yes.
WERTZ: And then we slept in the same bed and I wanted to go to the bathroom during the night, that I remember. And I started waking her up and shaking and she wouldn’t, so I started crying and people came, you know, yelling, there was commotion. And I remember seeing this wooden casket, wooden box, I remember. And my uncle told me the same thing.
PRINCE: Who did you turn to?
WERTZ: Well, my uncle took care of us. He went through the process with some authorities at the city hall, or whatever and he said like now here he is 14 years old, cannot raise the kids and they said we should go to an orphanage; and I remember we arrived. It was terribly cold in that orphanage. It was winter, dead of winter. We didn’t have shoes; we just had rags around our feet there. It was wartime.
PRINCE: What year was this?
WERTZ: 1940 maybe. Must be the winter of 1939. (MUMBLES REPITITION OF PRECEDING)
PRINCE: How about fear?
WERTZ: Well, I don’t remember it. I remember being cold and…
PRINCE: Hungry?
WERTZ: Yes. Maybe fear. My uncle tells me that once he found me he came to visit me and I got all scared and started to cry. I didn’t recognize him.
PRINCE: You didn’t?
WERTZ: I didn’t.
PRINCE: So you were afraid of him?
WERTZ: I was crying, yeah. I was afraid of him, of everything connected with him and life was so…(NOT CLEAR)
PRINCE: What kind of orphanage was it?
WERTZ: Well, it was an orphange, I guess Russian – not Russian actually. You see, Komi the area was, it was Komi Autonomous Republic. The language spoken there is Ugro Finnic, like Finnish and Hungarian and I learned that language.
PRINCE: It’s a combination of Finnish and…
WERTZ: No, it’s not a combination, it’s a language belongs to the group of Ugro Finnic languages.
PRINCE: What does that mean?
WERTZ: Ugro Finnic languages means that they are not in the European and they are not like English, that they have a different way of expressing cases and other things. See, main European languages are IndoEuropean and within IndoEuropean you have Germanic, language of Germanic, you have Romance which are French and Italian and Spanish, and they have Slavic languages. And, see, Hungarians live in Europe but their language is not connected with any of their neighbors or any European languages. Finns, Hungarians, Estonians and Komi form a separate group of languages called Ugro Finnic which has different ways of expressing…So I learned that language.
PRINCE: And that’s what was spoken in the orphanage?
WERTZ: Yeah. And my brother started there. He was adopted by a Russian family.
PRINCE: Your brother was?
WERTZ: My brother was. (NOT CLEAR) He was adopted by a family who didn’t have children and they wanted to have a child to keep the family together, I guess.
PRINCE: Did they know that he was Jewish?
WERTZ: (SIGHS) They didn’t, but they found out for some reason, yes. I guess they knew because…
PRINCE: He was circumcised?
WERTZ: Yeah, that’s one thing. Besides, my brother told me that all the neighbors were constantly whispering, “Zhidyonok, little Jew boy.” And he remembers one – he tells me the story that once he was so hungry and so cold, and he came from the street to the house and she gave him some food – gave him some food and he started eating without taking his hat off. And this neighbor walked in and he said, “Look, he hasn’t even taken off his hat, but no wonder, he’s a little Jew boy, so.” Then he had problems in school. He said he could express himself very well in Russian but the teacher said, “You never express yourself very well no matter how hard you try ’cause you’re not Russian.” He was an antisemitic teacher, he told me. And he didn’t realize he was Jewish, he didn’t know his roots, so for him it was such a problem ’til his early 20s constantly. “Where do I come from, do I have anybody, who is there, who’s alive?”
PRINCE: How did you find him?
WERTZ: Through the Red Cross, from my friend.
PRINCE: We’ll hold that. (OVERTALK)
WERTZ: My brother’s story is real interesting.
PRINCE: I’m looking at some notes and you were born in Wyszkow, you fled to Bialystok.
WERTZ: Right.
PRINCE: And this is where all of this is taking place.
WERTZ: Yes. No, no.
PRINCE: Okay.
WERTZ: I didn’t tell you the one story which you can read in The Gulag Archipelago by Solzhenitsyn. What I was telling you is – you see, let me tell you this – I guess we were in Bialystok for two weeks or a month because the history which I told you about – my mother is in a labor camp. And how we found ourselves there I found out on the way in the 1960s or 1970s when I read Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago. Anna Nadel corroborated my story of it. All the people who found themselves in Siberia and further in Russia, Polish Jews or Polish people, were tricked to go there, those labor camps.
PRINCE: Did your labor camp have a name?
WERTZ: My uncle remembers that place. All I know is there was no railroad going there. I know it took us, when we were transported back to central Russia, it took us – we had to take a boat for two days then ’til we reached the first railroad station or something. It’s a God forsaken place sort of where you just follow trees. That’s where people – nobody cares when they perish or survive, who survives what, see. Well, what happened was that I guess the Russian authorities said, “Whoever has any business in Poland, because now Russia and Germany became one – they signed this pact, Stalin and Hitler…
PRINCE: Non-aggression pact?
WERTZ: Non-aggression pact in 1939. So, Russia occupied part of the Polish territory and we fled to Bialystok and we found ourselves under Russian occupation. So they tricked the people this way, “Whoever has any business is left behind now since we are not at war with Germany, you can go back to your businesses.” My uncle, my mother’s brother, had a little bakery. So they decided to go back to Wyszkow. They told them to come tomorrow, this and this hour, to the railway station. So they all came and they were put in those rails –
PRINCE: Cattle cars?
WERTZ: Cattle cars, and went the other direction. That’s what it was.
PRINCE: Further east?
WERTZ: Yeah. In this way they checked who’s reliable, you know, so who liked the Soviet regime and who prefers this capitalist Poland. If found “unreliables,” then they got rid of them. And this was written, the whole chapter is in Gulag Archipelago. When I found out and I talked to Anna Nadel, she can tell lots of stories. You have her on the list. And she corroborated the whole story that…
PRINCE: What do you call her?
WERTZ: Anna Nadel.
PRINCE: All right. Now you’re in the orphanage.
WERTZ: Yeah. I was in orphanage which was in that Komi Autonomous Republic. Then, I guess in 1943, the…
PRINCE: What are you saying? I have to be honest with you, I can’t catch that word.
WERTZ: Okay. I tell you this is the official name of the place – not of the place but the republic is there. It’s Komi – you can find it in your – Komi Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. Maybe I can show you on the map.
It’s an area. You see, Russia is divided – this is part of the Federal Russian Republic which usually consists of Autonomous Republics. The main city is – a big city, Koflas, which I remember and Syftyfkar, I guess – right. There is this river Vychegda and I remember that the station, near the station – railway station was, because my uncle and I looked up – see, I work in this mapping agency. It was Zelenets.
PRINCE: Your uncle must be very important to you.
WERTZ: Well, uh, yes. He remembers it actually, I – I have bad feelings about my attitude towards my uncle who was only a miner in Poland, worked in mines, I mean. (LAUGHTER) Now he is in Copenhagen. He was a devout Communist, an illiterate person, the only decent person, sort of honest and how he lived among these people who were alcoholics and (LAUGHTER) as if I talked him into it (LAUGHTER) leaving, actually. (OVERTALK) Yeah, but he should have immigrated to Israel. He really, he comes from this very Orthodox family but he broke up with them and they didn’t ask him. His first wife was Jewish, second wife was Polish.
PRINCE: Let’s get back to Felicia.
WERTZ: So then what happened was that…See, it’s a part of history. You have to know some of it. It’s Polish history in order to understand because I would probably die in that Komi or become Russified and become Russian or God knows who – they will change my name and everything else, if not for this. Soviets were preparing Communist Poland so they wanted to have some – what you call in English infrastructure, so they trained people and they organized Polish army, a pro-Communist army in Russia already. They were supposed to liberate Poland and one of the concessions was to allow all the Poles from Siberia and other God-forsaken places to leave then from all those labor camps and Stalin agreed to that. So a woman came who gathered people, kids from Poland. She came one day and she got nine or 10 of us, I don’t know how many, both Jewish and Polish children, and the teachers were envious that we’re going there. They were nice, they’re happy for us, but the climate there is different, there are apples and pears and things grow on trees. And we didn’t know what apples were and we didn’t know what pears were but it must be a paradise when things to eat grow on a tree. And they were talking with such enthusiasm about the place where we’re going to and so we were really very excited about it. So, I remember we went by train there.
PRINCE: Your brother also?
WERTZ: No, he was already adopted. Me and other kids, and we came to the city, Novy Oskol, I write for you. It’s a city, Oskol, near Kursk. Kursk is also on the map of Russia. Central Russia. Kursk was famous for a big battle in World War II, and there, that was a Polish orphanage, Polish for children from Poland and there was a big group of Jewish children.
PRINCE: But we’re still in Russia?
WERTZ: Still in Russia.
PRINCE: Okay.
WERTZ: What I’m talking about is 1946 to…
PRINCE: Now you’re up to 1945 and 1946?
WERTZ: Yeah, yeah. The war was five years over, from 1939 to 1945, 1946. That’s what it is.
PRINCE: And you are now…
WERTZ: In Russia. (OVERTALK) Seven years old, right, and I’m learning Polish and I’m going to my first grade which is on the premises and there, in that place, Novy Oskol, I find that I’m Jewish.
PRINCE: And how did you find out?
WERTZ: ’Cause I couldn’t pray. I didn’t know how to pray. I didn’t know how to say, how to say it, how do you say it in English?
PRINCE: The Lord’s Prayer?
WERTZ: The Lord’s Prayer, “Our Father…” Everybody knew and I didn’t. And everybody was talking about Jesus Christ and I didn’t know who he was. Because I didn’t know how to pray, so I was Jewish, ’cause Jews were considered godless and something bad, and here I don’t know how, there were some teachers who were Jewish too and they felt this antisemitic…It was on the part of Polish people, not the Russians. I didn’t care for Russians (NOT CLEAR) but there was a group of Jewish boys, I remember, and they were persecuted.
PRINCE: They were what?
WERTZ: Persecuted. They talked about them as bad boys and thieves only.
PRINCE: The teachers?
WERTZ: The teachers and other kids except for one who had a phylactery and he prayed, so they think that he’s a good boy.
PRINCE: Oh really? That’s very interesting.
WERTZ: It’s very interesting and I remember his name was David and everybody – in fact, all those Jews are bad, they go to bazaar and steal fruits and vegetables. I was very hungry, you know, and – but this one, he has those, they would say, “blocks,” he has those “blocks” and we laugh at him but he prays with “blocks” and…
PRINCE: How did you feel? Tell me about how you felt.
WERTZ: Well, I felt bad because I didn’t want to belong to that group. That’s how I felt.
PRINCE: You didn’t want to be a Jew?
WERTZ: No. God, no. I wanted to be like all those beautiful Polish girls with blond hair and I didn’t want to be Jewish.
PRINCE: Did you try to be like them?
WERTZ: Well, I didn’t know how. First of all, we were all short. I didn’t have hair because everybody was afraid of the lice epidemic. Can you imagine that the first time I heard the word “America” was connected with DDT, that Americans are really such geniuses that they invented something against lice that lice didn’t have the power to survive.
PRINCE: Tell me about the lice.
WERTZ: Well, it’s a terrible thing. I mean, everybody has lice. (LAUGHTER) During the war there’s not soap, water. Lice makes me feel terrible. My daughter, two years ago, got them and she told me, “Mama, I have lice.”
PRINCE: Came from where?
WERTZ: Epstein Hebrew Academy, sometimes they have lice. Kids, they wouldn’t check, and I got so mad and frustrated because lice is connected with war for me. And first thing we did, we cut her hair short and I just tortured her with that special shampoo, and I really fought it.
PRINCE: Were they little bugs?
WERTZ: You have never seen them?
PRINCE: No, I’ve never seen them.
WERTZ: Little bugs. It’s something awful. I mean, your head itches, it walks and then there are those nits and it’s just awful, it’s terrible.

Tape 1 - Side 2 (Prince)

PRINCE: All right, so there you are and you’re…
WERTZ: In 1945. Well, then I found out I was Polish and also that I was Jewish because I didn’t know the Lord’s Prayer, and besides probably I didn’t look very Polish.
PRINCE: Did you have friends?
WERTZ: Yes, I had friends.
PRINCE: Were they Jewish friends?
WERTZ: I don’t really know, but I didn’t care whether they were Jewish or not.
PRINCE: What did you do with your friends?
WERTZ: Whatever you do with your friends. Actually, you cannot say you have friends. You lived together, you ate together, you played together. Everything was done collectively. That’s how I grew up. (LAUGHTER)
PRINCE: In a group.
WERTZ: In a group, always in a group. Yeah. I had my best friend, this friend, her name was Kazia, very nice.
PRINCE: Tell me about the place. What was it like?
WERTZ: I don’t remember. Well, there were buildings; there was a playground of sorts.
PRINCE: Tell me about – where did you sleep?
WERTZ: In a sort of dorm with everybody else. There was a recreation room; there was a dining hall. I remember there was a bad boy, one who threw stones and one stone hit my eye, I remember once. Maybe that’s why two years ago I had this detached retina because they asked me whether I had been hit in the eye because it would be 40 years ago but it happened.
PRINCE: Did you have anybody special to go to…
WERTZ: A person?
PRINCE: Um-huh.
WERTZ: An adult? Not particularly, no, no, not at that point, no. I liked to dance, I liked to sing and I had favorite teachers…
PRINCE: I mean if you cried.
WERTZ: If I cried? Umm – no, I don’t remember. I don’t remember.
PRINCE: Do you remember that time? What kind of feelings do you have about that time?
WERTZ: I feel I must have been a tough person. I, I – I realize that it was a tragedy only now, but not then, being without anybody. Maybe I just developed this thing of being alone, coping alone because I didn’t have anybody. The problem is trust. I am distrustful.
PRINCE: Because.
WERTZ: Rather I prefer people coming to me. I’d rather give than receive. But, I don’t know, nobody was – uh – well, I was not pretty. I was not the best dancer there. Teachers liked kids who were cute. I wasn’t. I was a good student.
PRINCE: You might have been cute but nobody told you so.
WERTZ: Well, I don’t know. I had crooked teeth. It’s nothing cute about it. Well, I was a good student; that was great. I loved going to school, being in first grade and always having my hand up and that was great. And I loved my first grade teacher. (NOT CLEAR) She taught me how to draw. ’Til now I remember she taught me how to draw a pig from letters and I taught that to my children and I usually amuse everybody’s little kids with that.
PRINCE: When you sat down, you said to me, “I don’t look people in the eye,” and you haven’t taken your eyes off me.
WERTZ: Well, maybe I’m changing, (LAUGHTER) maybe I’m changing.
PRINCE: You’re doing, you’re doing – we’ve got a lot of eye contact and you’re not, you’re not looking away any more than I’m looking away, in a normal manner.
WERTZ: Well, I don’t know. Maybe I’m a late bloomer.
PRINCE: Sure, it’s late. That’s possible.
WERTZ: Well, you know, when the war was over in 1945, we all were very happy. And then a long six months trip started by train. It really took us six months. We were six months on the train riding to Poland, back to Poland.
PRINCE: Is that what the war meant to you, was to leave Russia?
WERTZ: To leave? Didn’t mean anything. You know, you go with the group. You just – something new is happening. You know, you are just, you don’t make decisions. Nobody tells you the war is – we know the war was something bad. We lost our parents. War is bad, soldiers die and we have nothing to eat – war. Now that’s childrens’ idea, you know. You didn’t see a life before, you didn’t – you haven’t got used to normal life. Children react to changes very – they’re very adapted to change.
PRINCE: How did you react when your brother left?
WERTZ: You know, I don’t remember. I probably wasn’t at that point that attached to my brother. I didn’t know. Little children are actually – you know that they’re selfish and not sociable at that point at all, not sharing. I remember this woman put him on a little sleigh and walked away. And I remember that but, you know, I didn’t care. Little children don’t have that, that – develop that friendship or sibling feelings. You know, they have to grow up older to know that.
PRINCE: I’d like to go back to your mother for a minute. When you lost her and I asked you, I guess and I don’t…
WERTZ: Then I don’t really think I remember that, I really was attached to every woman who was short and had dark hair and she looked that way and every woman on a street who looked like her I felt better then.
PRINCE: Do you remember crying a lot, being upset or…?
WERTZ: You know, no, no I wasn’t – I don’t remember. I wouldn’t cry at night, never. I remember that we usually were given bread with sugar, and sugar was on that bread, and sugar was such a great commodity. It was like candy, so I had a little handkerchief and I would put that sugar – save it from one day so that I can eat a lot of it. And when I slept – it was in a little bundle and I slept and I kept my hand on that sugar so I wouldn’t lose it. And I remember someone tried to eat it and I cried.
PRINCE: Did they steal it?
WERTZ: Yeah, yeah – a new person. So I cried. But I don’t remember crying for mother. I was a happy person. I’m not now very much, but my child always tells me, “You smile.”
PRINCE: They want you to smile?
WERTZ: Yes. Especially when they were young and they want anything – “Smile!”
PRINCE: (LAUGHTER)
WERTZ: So, the roads were mined so the train went very slow. They had to unmine and then proceed. And then when the train entered the Polish territory, people started getting off the train, those who were from a different place, you know, ’til we ended up in Slutsk which was…
PRINCE: We’ll get the spellings later.
WERTZ: That’s in Poland already and it was, I guess it was late April and that must be in 1946.
PRINCE: 1946?
WERTZ: Right. And I remember the May Day celebration and a victory day after the war was over we celebrated and this was a formerly German city. It was really neat and clean and I was put into first grade there and that school made such an impression on me. Then I cried in that Polish school, regular school where I saw all these Polish girls with beautiful blond braids up to here, with ribbons. And here I come with a shorn head, ugly looking, didn’t have nice clothing – not only me, but all the children that were in orphanages, Jewish and non-Jews and Polish and everyone was pointing fingers how ugly we were. It was terrible, you know. I couldn’t realize how come they are so beautiful and there was war going on and…that was the really shocking to me.
PRINCE: To find out that you, you were – everybody wasn’t the same then. How did you handle that shock?
WERTZ: I don’t know how we, well we all – so what you do, you just perform well in school. You read well and the teacher praises you – you overcompensated. I usually overcompensated intellectually, you see.
PRINCE: So you’d have something.
WERTZ: Yeah. The teacher would say, “Oh, you can read well. Are you from Russia? You read well.” And then, “You write well, your spelling is good.” So, you know, this gives you a little and little kids come and ask your help, and you know, although you are going to be useful or whatever. Anyway, then the worst thing happened. They decided, you know, to send all the Polish girls to confirmation and I told you that, and make them nice white dresses and they told me, “You don’t belong to this group; you are Jewish.” And that was a great shock. Everything Jewish was bad, it was ugly, it was terrible. And then again, the Jewish Joint Committee sent a woman to collect all the Jewish children from the orphanage and here that woman came, and she became my friend later and she was my friend in Warsaw. And she came and she gathered all the Jewish kids and she told us that we’re going to the Jewish orphanage and I said, “I’m not going to go, I do not want to be Jewish,” and I went into hiding.
PRINCE: Where did you hide?
WERTZ: In the wardrobe.
PRINCE: Without food?
WERTZ: Well, with food, but nobody knew. These were huge buildings. Nobody knew where I was.
PRINCE: Could you get out and get some things?
WERTZ: Yes, yes, somehow. I waited in this room by…
PRINCE: Nobody gave you away.
WERTZ: No, no, no. There were 10 of us and that was the time of this pogrom in Kielce in 1946. It was so scary because I heard people talking bad about Jews and I was afraid of the big boys. We were always brought up separately. And well, finally, she found me and she told me I would have to go and that’s it. And I went back with her on the train and (NOT CLEAR)
PRINCE: Did leaving also bother you besides the fact that you…
WERTZ: Yeah, it bothered me. Everything bothered me. Everything was so new and so unequal and just –
PRINCE: Unequal?
WERTZ: Unequal. In Russia, we all suffered, we all were, you know, ugly and here some people were nice and living with their parents, had their parent, and here we are, just really displaced and not accepted. That was it, we were not accepted and especially I, here, realized that being Jewish in Russia was no religion because Russians are atheistic, and here Poles are…
PRINCE: Atheistic?
WERTZ: Well, and here that is pronounced, you know, Catholicism and here you killed Christ, you know, and so you’re bad.
PRINCE: They told you that?
WERTZ: Of course.
PRINCE: I mean, you didn’t just hear it, it was a personal experience.
WERTZ: Oh, it was a personal experience and they beat me up after school because the new teacher of the New Testament told them that the Jews killed Christ. I heard it in class and all kids looked at me.
PRINCE: (LAUGHTER) Set up.
WERTZ: And my God, I didn’t know who he was. I didn’t do it. So, and I remember the first day I came to the Jewish orphanage, I told you about it.
PRINCE: Tell me again.
WERTZ: Well, I came in and we were so beautifully greeted and some girls came to us and say, “We’ll take care of you, we’ll introduce you,” and everything was so nice and there were flowers all over the place. And they asked me, “What’s your name?” I said, “Feiga.” It’s a Jewish name. Feigel, you know, means a bird. They say, “Oh, we have two of them and they have become Felicias, so you be called Felicia. And then I saw kids, nice kids playing along the hall, and I asked them, “Are these guys Jewish too?” “Yes,” they say. I say, “Well, they look so nice,” and she said that everybody here is Jewish, all teachers are Jewish and children are Jewish, and some Polish people work here and they like us and they are nice too. “And you can eat as much as you want.” And that was a big thing because up to that year when I went to the Jewish orphanage, I could pick up any apple core I could find on the street, and everybody was – other kids were doing it and eating. Can you believe that?
PRINCE: Sure, if you tell me, I believe it.
WERTZ: No, it’s true. And they said, “You can eat as much as you want.” I heard different stories that people who – children who would come after war and they were told, “You can eat as much as you want,” they would devour a lot of bread and take and put it under their pillows. Always, you know, this hiding, this hoarding.
PRINCE: Sure.
WERTZ: And so I guess I went through that too.
PRINCE: Well, I can understand.
WERTZ: And that was a very nice year.
PRINCE: How long?
WERTZ: From 1946 to 1948.
PRINCE: How long – I want to stop and go a little slower. First, where was this orphanage?
WERTZ: This orphanage, Jewish orphanage was in – near Warsaw, okay. Let’s put it near Warsaw. It was a Jewish orphanage supported by Jewish organizations, Joint Distribution.
PRINCE: Joint Distribution.
WERTZ: Yes, they would give us those c-rations and there was Hershey bars and chewing gum and we loved it.
PRINCE: Okay. I want just to go back to the – when you would have enough to eat but you still hoarded.
WERTZ: Yeah.
PRINCE: Tell me a little more about that.
WERTZ: Well, just you hoard bread, then the teachers next day say, “Please, you can eat as much – you cannot mess in your bedroom with your bread under the pillows, stop it.” So we stopped it.
PRINCE: But, did it take you a long time?
WERTZ: No, no. We realized how much you can eat. There are other activities, you know. You know, bread is put on, you know and you can eat as much as you want.
PRINCE: So, what else was different? Maybe like sheets, your kind of sheets and –
WERTZ: Well, everything, you know, was sort of nice and we were…
PRINCE: Was it cleaner?
WERTZ: Cleaner and nice and we were – intellectually we were stimulated and the teachers were devoted to us and told us stories and our Jewish identity was brought in. And they told us stories of, you know, biblical stories, the way Jewish holidays were celebrated. We had matzoh for Passover and were told about Hanukkah and we had Hebrew lessons and Yiddish concerts. Artists would come and perform. These famous two comedians, Dzigan and Schumacher were there. So, we just entered into Jewish culture and the intellectual world.
PRINCE: Tell me, when did you begin to feel differently about Judaism?
WERTZ: Just right away, being in – of course, you feel – you see other Jewish people who are nice, who are professionals, you know. That makes you feel good. Well, it started in the Jewish orphanage. We were cared for and we had American UNRRA, you know, clothing.
PRINCE: UNRRA.
WERTZ: Yeah. (OVERTALK) American clothing, and God, we – I remember just those dresses and all the knick-knacks, American knick-knacks, and we loved it. We were so well-dressed and the transport of these rags and second-hand what have you…Then we had the Dodge truck and we could…
PRINCE: Well, with your newfound feelings about Judaism, when did you begin to feel pretty?
WERTZ: Never, I guess – never.
PRINCE: But better.
WERTZ: Better, yeah, felt better – better. Really probably when I was a teenager, when I was dancing and, you know. I had a lot of solos and was popular and would walk on the street and lots of people would say to me, “Oh, little girl, I saw you yesterday dancing. Yeah, it was you; you were so good.” It was my dream, I guess, which came true. I wanted to be a dancer and have solo and with this particular boy and it happened.
PRINCE: Tell me about it.
WERTZ: Well, this lady is still alive and she was a specialist on Janusz Korczak, you know, the Jewish doctor and she was one of my educators. She was just a person I looked up to.
PRINCE: Looked up to?
WERTZ: Yeah, I look up to her and I owe her a lot and I’m bad. I don’t write to her very often. She’s in her late 70s.
PRINCE: When you go home tonight, you’ll write to her.
WERTZ: See, she has many of us, like 80 or 100 and I am not the success story, the full success story. The full success story for her, (NOT CLEAR) And she has never seen my children. I saw her in 1978 in Warsaw. You know, she’s a person to look up to but I couldn’t be very close with her because she’s sort of aloof woman and I wasn’t pretty enough for her to adopt me. So – and she said it at a point in my life that mattered, so that is, you know, chilling. I give her the due but I cannot, you know.
PRINCE: Do you think your children are pretty?
WERTZ: Yes, I do. I’m very happy, yes, I think they are and I tell them all the time, they really are.
PRINCE: What is it like to mother when you are not mothered?
WERTZ: Normal. Well, everybody’s programmed to (LAUGHTER) to be a good mother, maybe better because – well, I don’t believe in history has to repeat itself, that abused you have to abuse, no. But (NOT CLEAR) you know, no. I am too demanding but I can be nasty. 98% and why didn’t you get 100% and that’s bad. They tell me it’s a bad remark. (LAUGHTER)
PRINCE: But you allow them to tell you it’s bad.
WERTZ: Right, and I apologize when I do something like that. (NOT CLEAR)
PRINCE: Well, lots of mothers get over-anxious.
WERTZ: No, I don’t. I don’t want them to be like me, I don’t. (NOT CLEAR)
PRINCE: How would you like them to be different from you?
WERTZ: Well, they should be more practical, they should pick out a better profession in this country. Not like me, and stick to humanities and…
PRINCE: Felicia, they had somewhat an easier beginning.
WERTZ: Yeah, easier, but not that easy in the childhood years. (NOT CLEAR) They don’t have all this war garbage which I had and they can tell me it’s the 1980s. Times are different. My younger daughter’s been very devoted to Judaism and I like it very much even if (NOT CLEAR) She likes Jewish history and it’s very gratifying to her. (NOT CLEAR) I overdo. I have lot of non-Jewish friends and always tell them I’m Jewish and what’s their reaction. Some of their reaction is just – for them being Jewish is bad. It’s just a sin in itself, being Jewish, and you can tell who’s who by the way they react.
PRINCE: And how do you do – what do you do? Are they still your friends?
WERTZ: Some are my friends and some are not and they just don’t know nothing else but for them it’s a shock that I stress it, that I can invite them for Jewish meals – Hanukkah in the beginning and…
PRINCE: You want it up front?
WERTZ: Oh, absolutely, because some of them are even afraid to say the word, “Jew.” They’ll say, “Oh I have a friend who is also.” I said, “What also? You mean Jewish?” “Uh-huh.” They wouldn’t say the word. (LAUGHTER)
PRINCE: Do you seek them out, non-Jews?
WERTZ: No, simply they’re from Poland and I take sort of – it’s a little revenge.
PRINCE: That’s why I’m asking.
WERTZ: Yeah, right. In a little way, in a way it is ’cause I never felt comfortable in Poland.
PRINCE: Now, let me get this straight. Where do you – so you really seek out Polish non-Jews?
WERTZ: Not especially. That would happen because of my work. (OVERTALK)
PRINCE: But you’re sort of drawn to them in a way?
WERTZ: To some people, yes, because the best friend is Polish or she was in Warsaw, she was in the orphanage and we lived together and were in college together and she acquired Jewish friends. She became Jewish. (LAUGHTER)
PRINCE: Um-hum. She has her own…Why don’t you explain to me what I’m trying to get at. Talk to me about how you deal with non-Jews.
WERTZ: Normally, I – with non-Jews, Polish non-Jews, let’s state it because in this country that does not matter.
PRINCE: Okay.
WERTZ: Only with people from Poland, who recently came from Poland or in general they’re from Poland. Because I want to find out whether they are antisemitic or not.
PRINCE: Um-hum. Is it a game?
WERTZ: In a way it is a game, a game. Then I can verify a stronger friendship.
PRINCE: Do you like the shock?
WERTZ: Yes, yes I do because I think that they hurt me – not these particular people but I know that within them and whoever can say he’s ashamed of his nation for what they did to Jews, I can be their friend. If they start avoiding using the word or whatever, Jewish, see, I know.
PRINCE: Do you stay away from them?
WERTZ: Yeah, sure, sure. They know.
PRINCE: Well, you’re due it.
WERTZ: Yeah. No, I just – I mean I experienced that from them. The other thing is, they did this to Jews and I want them to know how Poland is looked at in this country. For the point, I have one guy, a friend of mine, who’s ashamed of being Polish. He says, ‘They are a lazy, shiftless lot, I hate them. I never knew that in Poland. I came here and now I know.” I said, “Why do you say…?” He said, “I hired two guys and they get drunk and don’t come to work. The next day they want a raise.” He says, “Feiga, I don’t want to deal with them anymore.” And most of them have never seen a Jew. There are no Jews in Poland, they heard. They haven’t seen them. But you don’t have to see a Jew to be antisemitic.
PRINCE: No. But the ones that you have made friends with, do they accept you?
WERTZ: Oh, they have. They are intellectuals, people who are, you know. This Polish poet said there is one race of noble people.
PRINCE: You must have some very interesting discussions.
WERTZ: Oh yes, we do have some intellectuals.
PRINCE: And I suppose their growing up was unusual if it was at all during the war, so in some sense you might share that with them, the difficulty of growing up.
WERTZ: With my Polish friends?
PRINCE: Um-hum.
WERTZ: Oh yeah, I tell them how they beat me up because Jews killed Christ. Now they revoked it. The Pope, you know, revoked it.
PRINCE: But I mean they also might have had some problems growing up…
WERTZ: You know what? They don’t know it.
PRINCE: They don’t know it?
WERTZ: You know, it’s the same way like we don’t understand blacks, I think. You’re not black and you don’t understand their plight. I think so. It’s the same. There is a minority who lives its own life and nobody cares. Well, Jews have that sin – they killed Christ. Kill the Jews – sure, kill the Jews. Why should the Germans kill us first. They are sinful. It’s in this Polish short story by Andrzejewski, a famous writer. When the ghetto was burning, “Ohhh, another Jew. Why should we do that, the Germans will do it for us.” It was a Polish woman, it was Viktor’s wife who brought me that story, The Holy Week. (NOT CLEAR) So this country is good…(LAUGHTER, DISCUSSION NOT CLEAR)
PRINCE: We’re still really back in the Jewish orphanage.
WERTZ: Which one? Because I haven’t told you, I was in several.
PRINCE: The first one.
WERTZ: The first one, okay. Then I was moved to a different one. It was always also very great and…
PRINCE: All right. This one was near Warsaw?
WERTZ: Near Warsaw and the other one was also near Warsaw and a beautiful building which looked like a ship they keep in the forest.
PRINCE: Did you mind moving?
WERTZ: Yeah, I mind, I minded moving from that one to Lodz later on.

Tape 2 - Side 1 (Prince)

PRINCE: Felicia, did your friends go with you, or did you – why did they move you?
WERTZ: Oh, well, there were, I don’t know, probably there weren’t enough children or they wanted to leave, concentrate, I mean they make one orphanage out of several and…
PRINCE: How was it different?
WERTZ: Well, probably there were less and less children – they all grow up and, you know, and there were not more orphans, you know. Then I was moved to Lodz in 1948. There I stayed until 1955, ’til I graduated from high school and that was, uh, I had good experiences there.
PRINCE: What were some of them?
WERTZ: Dancing, for instance…
PRINCE: Was that with the boys too?
WERTZ: Oh yes, we were dancing and, oh, it was my teenage years. The only nice thing about it was the dancing part. The rest was…
PRINCE: What kind of dancing?
WERTZ: Folk dancing. It was – well, we performed. We had a group – about 18 probably dancers.
PRINCE: Costumes?
WERTZ: Costumes, everything. They were very professionally done, both costumes and the dance choreography. We had one of the best dance teachers who was a dancer herself, a Jewish woman, Sylvia Sven. I had a dream about her last night. She went to Israel and she worked in the theater there.
PRINCE: Do you dream very much about things that happened?
WERTZ: Sometimes I dream and I, I don’t write them and I forget them. But, the other night I dreamed about this Sylvia Sven. I remember her favorite, the dance we loved most was about a ghetto woman whose child dies and she still believes that her child is alive. She was dancing as if she was holding a child and there was no child but she just danced around like that and cried. And it was a pleasure. She arrived twice a week and we had Israeli dances which she invented about Maccabees, about Yiddish dances from weddings and it was just something, this girl’s pleasure in dancing, and there was one great thing that I was in the movies.
PRINCE: You were in the movies?
WERTZ: Yes. And I think those movies still exist in archives. There were movies made in Yiddish. I have to check. I have to go to the “J” and find out about it from Jewish Archives. Yes, so I was in the movies. They made two movies about the orphanage in Poland and I saw this film being shot on our premises and I participated. And they would put makeup on us and this repetitious thing, a thousand times before, you know, this – this was fascinating. And then we saw the film and I’m on three-quarters of the film there, braiding my hair and braiding theirs. They thought my two crooked teeth were cute, (LAUGHTER) so I was a lot in that movie. I loved it.
PRINCE: I don’t even see your crooked teeth.
WERTZ: No, now it’s now, it’s straight. I have a crown. But at that point we were in the middle of making a movie. Can you imagine? And many of us were in it. I told my kids, “You’re in the movie,” and I said, “I also danced on T.V.,” and they were surprised. Now today my daughter went to Bob Richards, Channel Five. She had an interview – she arranged an interview for herself because she had an assignment on meteorology and she talked to him for two hours. She said, “Mom, I went to the studio and I saw this.” And I said, “Yes, I saw it too.” “You?” I said, “Yes.” She couldn’t believe it. (LAUGHTER)
PRINCE: Do you dance today?
WERTZ: No, I don’t know why. I should go back to it, I think. I guess I will.
PRINCE: Can you tap dance?
WERTZ: No, no. I know about dancing folk dancing.
PRINCE: They probably have folk dancing…
WERTZ: They do have. They have.
PRINCE: It would bring back a lot of memories.
WERTZ: Yeah, and it’s usually a nice group of people.
PRINCE: Would that bother you – those memories?
WERTZ: No, no, no, it wouldn’t. I know, well I know what to avoid, what is not like. Why should it bother me in a way, you know.
PRINCE: You know what to avoid.
WERTZ: I guess, I guess I do, I guess…
PRINCE: I guess we all do. (OVERTALK)
WERTZ: I do, yeah, we all do. I think the things I lived to hear, the last three years are worst – are worse than other things I lived through. I guess to live through divorce, to live through unemployment was worse than things which happened to you, you had no control over when you were younger.
PRINCE: Yeah. As bad as it was, someone was in charge of you, someone…
WERTZ: Yeah. Besides, when you’re aware of everything, things hit you harder than – see, so a child who lived through Holocaust, I think – my idea is it gets easier, they overcome it easier than an adult, you know…
PRINCE: I’ve heard that.
WERTZ: I, I – it’s my opinion. The awareness of tragedy, I guess, has a greater effect on you and these things happen.
PRINCE: You mean, a child doesn’t?
WERTZ: It doesn’t when everything later on straightens, it’s fine.
PRINCE: The person who said the same thing that you said, said it for a different reason. Her reason was that the child doesn’t know what it’s losing.
WERTZ: Yeah, that’s true, right. Well, so I was in an orphanage until I was 18 and left for college.
PRINCE: Where did you go to college?
WERTZ: In Russia, in Leningrad.
PRINCE: Could you choose where you wanted to go?
WERTZ: No, I couldn’t choose. I choose that I wanted to study abroad and I wanted to study in Russia. I just wanted to go abroad to study, abroad.
PRINCE: That was going abroad?
WERTZ: Yes. I wanted to go abroad and study in Russia and study Russian language and literature.
PRINCE: Let me get the history for a second. You’re in Poland, after the war, so Poland’s…
WERTZ: Poland became Communist. (OVERTALK) Well, Communist is a strong word. You see, Poland hates to be called Communist. It’s called “People’s Democracy.” It’s something Socialistic because Poles are not – anyway they’re under Russian knuckles because Russia liberated and the regime has to listen to what Russia says, but the people are mostly anti-Communist, that is up to now Poles – bad policies and Communism don’t mix well – doesn’t mix at all.
PRINCE: But going abroad and then going to Russia – it didn’t mean going to France.
WERTZ: No, it was going to Russia because I loved Russia. I was brought up – like everything about Communism was good. That’s was we were all brainwashed, growing up in Poland in those years up to 1955 because this was the era of the Stalin cult of personality and we believed that everything Communist is good. And going to study in this best country in the world, the most humane and everything else, a country you look up to. (NOT CLEAR) I was brought up very brainwashed. My – uh – one of the educators was a devout Communist, even was in jail before the war because she was so devoted, a Jewish woman – because, you know, a lot of Jewish people were in the Communist. So I was brought up by them and sure, I believed in this ideology very strongly – up to 1956. Then there happened this, you know – Stalin died and there was this revolution in Poland and then the 20th Congress in Russia with Krushchev told the world about Stalin’s crimes, so that was a shock for everybody, you know. Then my friend, who was a devout Communist woman, committed suicide. God, she thought she taught wise the people, lives she believed in.
PRINCE: Oh my.
WERTZ: Yes, this Jewish woman committed suicide. She was in charge of all educating young engineers. She taught Marxism to them and she believed in what she taught and here she found out that she was glorifying a murderer and committed suicide.
PRINCE: What was your given name?
WERTZ: Felicia. It was Feiga.
PRINCE: What was your last name?
WERTZ: Smolarczyk. It was Polish. My uncle is also Smolarczyk, the one who lives in Israel.
PRINCE: At least your people live there. Did you believe in God there?
WERTZ: No, no, I didn’t believe. Some people say I have a religious mind but I didn’t believe in God. I wasn’t brought up with that.
PRINCE: When they introduced you to being a Jew…
WERTZ: That was traditional, that wasn’t really a religious part of it.
PRINCE: Did you go to services?
WERTZ: No, we never had services, there was no synagogue and I guess the teachers, everybody was atheistic; this is the new breed of Jews, like Israeli type, progressive Jewish, traditional, not religious.
PRINCE: But, is it the same – it’s not the same.
WERTZ: It’s not the same, I realize that’s not the same, but most Jews went to Israel were not religious. Zionists were not religious. The pioneers, they were those liberated Jews, the reformed new breed of Jewish people who respected Jewish tradition but divided religion from tradition.
PRINCE: When you were learning to be Jewish, you were taught by…
WERTZ: We were taught history, not religion.
PRINCE: Not religion because they didn’t believe…
WERTZ: They didn’t know and we didn’t know. You see, Jewish religion and history lot of times coincide, right? So it’s intermingled.
PRINCE: But was it because they never – they didn’t have…
WERTZ: They were Communists because they came over from Jewish homes and from Jewish ghettos in Warsaw or Lodz, but they were sort of emancipated Jews. Let’s put it that way.
PRINCE: Okay.
WERTZ: They wouldn’t go to cheder; they went to regular schools at that time.
PRINCE: Did you ever learn to believe in God?
WERTZ: I really don’t think so. I maybe believe in God just on my own. I think it’s a sign of being civilized (LAUGHTER) to believe in God.
PRINCE: A sign of being civilized…
WERTZ: To believe in God. Well, in a way I think that – well a human being can be, as someone said, there is boundless perfectability and there is boundless baseness in a human being. (LAUGHTER) And I do have this presence of a judge – uh, somehow keeps check.
PRINCE: So you think in terms of a judgmental…
WERTZ: Ummm – yes, that would be the conscience for some people.
PRINCE: You’re so tied up with history.
WERTZ: Well, when you live in Europe, you have to – you are a part of history and, well, history is a part of my life. And this country has the luxury of…
PRINCE: Of not being, as you say, close to their neighbors.
WERTZ: Yah, well you can wage wars but thousands and thousands of miles away from home. Nothing happens on this territory. Not in Europe. So, you’re very lucky and I guess people should appreciate it more.
PRINCE: Okay. You’re saying a person whose…
WERTZ: Yah, for instance there is a girl in…
PRINCE: You’re saying someone who suffers…
WERTZ: Yah – I feel superior to people who never experienced anything, you know, and, uh…
PRINCE: Superior in what way?
WERTZ: In a human way, that I know more about life. For instance, there is a girl at my office, very beautiful – tall and blond and keeps her weight down and does everything perfectly. She tries to reach perfection and she corrects whatever I translate. And the other day she told me she doesn’t enjoy doing anything. She likes the tedium of it. Whatever she does, she has to do it right. She doesn’t enjoy it. She doesn’t enjoy music, she doesn’t enjoy art. She even doesn’t like her work – maybe she likes it but it’s a tedium that she does to perfection. She really doesn’t know how to enjoy anything.
PRINCE: Did you ask her why?
WERTZ: I didn’t. She doesn’t know herself why. She’ll talk to me. She’s so concerned with form and everything. She said she doesn’t have big brains. She can repeat things. She went to Oberlin and…
PRINCE: Oberlin?
WERTZ: Oberlin.
PRINCE: It’s a good school.
WERTZ: It’s a good school but she said she didn’t compete intellectually because everyone was way above her head. But with this industriousness and being very precise and since everything is in writing, so she could graduate.
PRINCE: So, has that been one of your feelings of being superior?
WERTZ: Well, I feel superior although she is very beautiful and attractive, I feel superior to her. She envies that I have children and she doesn’t. (LAUGHTER) She takes courses, classes constantly and doesn’t enjoy them. They kill her because (NOT CLEAR) and I tell her to take linguistics because, see you’ve done this, then don’t make the mistakes I make and it’s a new line and she wouldn’t. She wants none of the hard stuff that she hates. I don’t know. Do you understand people who are doing things which they don’t like? And do them well?
PRINCE: You know, I think sometimes they’re afraid to try something else. They know they can do that well and they better not fail and try something else.
WERTZ: Um-hum. Well, I put it correctly to her and she just couldn’t stand it. She was mad at herself for making a mistake.
PRINCE: She has to be a perfectionist.
WERTZ: Yes, she has to be.
PRINCE: She’s afraid to get out of her little niche.
WERTZ: Right.
PRINCE: It’s “Sister” Prince and I’m interviewing Felicia Wertz on May 21, 1986. This is our second interview. Felicia, let’s go back and give me capsule of and a sequence of events from when you were born, even though you’re not exactly sure what year.
WERTZ: Okay. So, I’m born in Poland in the year 1937. Let’s let it be 1937.
PRINCE: Okay.
WERTZ: I lived in Poland in Wyszkow ’til, I guess, September, the 15th of September, 1939. Then, emigrated or ran away or fled to Bialystok. I stayed there probably for a short time.
PRINCE: That’s because Germany invaded Poland?
WERTZ: Yes, Germany invaded Poland and then from there I went to a labor camp in Komi ASSR, an autonomous republic and stayed there, I don’t know – maybe for two years or a year and a half. There my mother died. I lost my parents.
PRINCE: Wait, were you…
WERTZ: Still in the middle of war to probably 1940 to 1943.
PRINCE: Were you sent to a labor camp by –
WERTZ: Yes, the whole family, by Russians.
PRINCE: Okay.
WERTZ: Then, I guess from 1943 to 1945 I was in an orphanage, a Polish orphanage. The first orphanage was local, Komi orphanage in Russia.
PRINCE: Local Communist?
WERTZ: Komi, that’s a nationality – autonomous – it’s a nationality.
PRINCE: Okay.
WERTZ: And the second orphanage was only for Polish children who lived in Russia.
PRINCE: So, the first was just for the local people who lived in Russia?
WERTZ: That’s near the labor camp, in that area where the labor camp was, in that region.
PRINCE: The second one?
WERTZ: Yeah, the second one was a better one because it was for Polish people, for Polish children who were supposed to go back to Poland after the war was over, and we did so.
PRINCE: And why did they…
WERTZ: …when the war was over.
PRINCE: And how did you get moved?
WERTZ: Well, because they sent emissaries all over the country to bring.
PRINCE: Now, did we get the dates of each of these?
WERTZ: Well, I can give you everything approximately. It’s just – this is the period of 1939 and 1945 we’re dealing with.
PRINCE: So, approximately when you were in the first orphanage, your mother died when you were three – that was approximately 1940.
WERTZ: ’Til 1943, then 1943 to 1945 in the other orphanage.
PRINCE: In the Polish orphanage?
WERTZ: Polish orphanage. And then, the whole orphanage, the Polish orphanage which was in Russia, came to Poland in 1946. And then I was for a short time in the Polish orphanage and then a Jewish orphanage. From 1946 ’til 1955 I was in a Jewish orphanage. In 1955, I left for Russia to study at college.
PRINCE: In Leningrad, and that’s really where –
WERTZ: In Leningrad, about 1955-1960. Then from 1960 ’til ’66, in Warsaw.
PRINCE: In Warsaw. And then you came to the United States?
WERTZ: In 1966. Tomorrow will be 20 years.
PRINCE: Were you going to do anything special?
WERTZ: Well, no, but I’m going to school. My daughter is going to get honors for her performance in school. She is a straight A student. And she is going to get honored. It’s a special evening for honor students.
PRINCE: That’s a nice way to spend it, isn’t it?
WERTZ: Absolutely, that’s why I went to the beauty shop. She doesn’t want to have mom look like Orphan Annie.
PRINCE: (LAUGHTER) Well, your hair looks lovely, and you’re satisfied with it.
WERTZ: Yes – I don’t think he’s a great artist but my hair – nobody can ruin my hair. It’s natural.
PRINCE: I’d like to go back and talk about some things that we talked about last time, only a little bit more detail. When you fled to Bialystok, who –
WERTZ: It must have been…
PRINCE: No, no – when you did, you said you went in 1939. Who went with you?
WERTZ: The whole family, the whole Jewish shtetl probably.
PRINCE: But in your immediate family?
WERTZ: My immediate family.
PRINCE: Was your mother?
WERTZ: My mother, my father, my uncles, my mother’s brother lived with us, Uncle Isaac – he lives in Copenhagen now.
PRINCE: Uh-hum – okay.
WERTZ: So, the whole family, the whole shtetl.
PRINCE: So your mother, your father, your brother, yourself and your mother’s…
WERTZ: The city was bombed out, so people had nowhere to go, almost, and they left.
PRINCE: And their mode of travel was…?
WERTZ: Was on foot, by horse and buggy, whoever had it.
PRINCE: In the other tape you said that one of your first memories was being left for a period of time.
WERTZ: Maybe they had to write or something and get me back. I don’t know. But that was – it’s a vague memory.
PRINCE: It’s a vague memory.
WERTZ: Maybe they had – maybe the, the horse and buggy came but not everybody could get in and their bundles, so they had to leave someone and maybe I didn’t want to be left with strangers, left alone or whatever.
PRINCE: What do you remember about your mother?
WERTZ: That she was short. She had dark hair and she was very quiet. Short hair, dark hair.
PRINCE: Was it curly?
WERTZ: I don’t remember, but I don’t think so.
PRINCE: Do you remember her touch? Do you remember her holding you?
WERTZ: No, I don’t remember that, but I remember that that short woman and adult woman just always real nice to me. They probably looked like my mother. And I had a friend like that in Israel. She became my very close friend. She wasn’t a mother figure because I met her when she was an adult, but she had – you know – things like she always would say, “You have to have candy for your pillow,” or something. And I was a student and I was hungry and she would always feed me, and I’d say, “I have an exam, I’m in a bad mood.” “No, you have to eat and then you will feel better.” So I would come and she would give me tea and something else and say, “See, you feel better now.” And she was so nice when my brother came. I didn’t have an apartment and she had a one room apartment, like a studio, and she let my brother live in the kitchen. I’ll never forget that. My brother, she comes and visits him every year.
PRINCE: What is her name?
WERTZ: Irena Gefon.
PRINCE: Let me ask you something. Did you ever wonder what your mother – did you ever dream about or daydream about what your mother might have been?
WERTZ: Uh, well, sometimes when I’m older I dream, I guess. If not for the war, I’ll be married woman with a thousand children because we were a very Hasidic family, you know, very Orthodox. And, that’s what my life would be in an Orthodox Jewish community.
PRINCE: But, I’m talking about your mother. Did you ever daydream when you were little about…
WERTZ: Yes, I just was – I felt it on Sundays. Did I tell you that?
PRINCE: Uh-uh.
WERTZ: Well, some children had relatives or had one parent. Although they had one parent, they were in orphanage in Poland because the parent had to work and no one would take care of them. And on Sunday they would come and bring apples and candy and sometimes toys. Nobody would come and visit me.
PRINCE: Where was your brother?
WERTZ: I wasn’t with my brother. My brother had the same feelings that he hated Sundays. (OVERTALK) I didn’t hate them but I – parents were coming to other children, bringing in things. There was a girl whose parents – her father was a lawyer. He would bring her a suitcase of apples and sausage and she would share with us. She would tell me when her parents are gone, “Whenever you want an apple, you can go under the bed and reach for one.”
PRINCE: What did you do on Sundays instead?
WERTZ: Oh, I don’t remember what we did. It was three meals, as usual, and some excursion or something. We just – I didn’t cry.
PRINCE: Why not?
WERTZ: Well, I don’t know, I just – I don’t know – maybe I’m, I’m a happy person. I didn’t cry because of that, but some parents would give us some candy and I would say, “Sabina, your mother is good. She gave me a candy.” I don’t remember the name of the candy. (LAUGHTER) But, you see, it was this lack of individual attention that people crave when they see it. You can get used to not having it.
PRINCE: Can you?
WERTZ: Yes, you miss it, but if it’s not there, it’s not there, and you are not alone. There are others too and I wasn’t the only one. When you’re living with people, you know, like you have here support groups, right?
PRINCE: Yeah.
WERTZ: People with the same unhappiness – unhappiness mostly – get together.
PRINCE: Right.
WERTZ: And they feel better about it. The same was there. We all were in the same position, orphans, so we didn’t dwell on that. It’s, uh (LONG PAUSE) Well, I don’t know, maybe I’m a cold person because of that, I don’t know.
PRINCE: A cold person?
WERTZ: Cold, tough, because of all this things.
PRINCE: Do you feel you’re cold?
WERTZ: I don’t know. Some people think I am. But I always talk with my children, always (NOT CLEAR) cold from my daughter…try hard. (NOT CLEAR) And they found jobs for themselves for this summer, and they called and my 16 year old walked into a flower shop and asked for a job and she got it. She didn’t rely on my doing things for her.
PRINCE: That’s not being cold, I don’t think.
WERTZ: (NOT CLEAR) You know, parents…love is doing things for children – giving – this sometimes worries me, it gives me a complex that people are giving material things to their children and I cannot afford it. Every 16 year old in Ladue almost has a car, and my daughter doesn’t and I don’t allow her to drive mine a lot. I need my car for work.
PRINCE: And sometimes you feel badly about that?
WERTZ: Well, yes, sometimes I do feel – I think the system makes you feel bad sometimes. Recently, I think the past several years – it wasn’t before that because I was always on campus and I was usually, you know, teaching professionally and everybody was…

Tape 2 - Side 2 (Prince)

PRINCE: That’s true, there is a difference. Okay.
WERTZ: I made a friend who has a degree in comparative literature and she was in computers and I said, “Did you forget about literature?” She said, “No, but not good money enough.”
PRINCE: I want to get back to – what do you remember about your father?
WERTZ: For some reason I remember that he had a red beard and blue eyes, but probably it’s not true because I have this picture and they told me that like my brother, his hair was dark and his eyes were dark too. I don’t remember anything, so the only adult I remember in the house was a man with a beard.
PRINCE: Do you remember anything else about…?
WERTZ: Nothing, nothing.
PRINCE: Your uncle you said was about 15 years old – did he tell you anything about your mother and father?
WERTZ: My uncle knows very little. My uncle was 14 years. He used to go to cheder and then he was working in the bakery of his other brother’s family.
PRINCE: Isaac?
WERTZ: Isaac, yeah. And he didn’t tell me – he didn’t remember a lot.
PRINCE: Isaac, you said was in Copenhagen.
WERTZ: He is in Copenhagen.
PRINCE: Have you ever written to him and asked him any questions?
WERTZ: Yes, I, I, I didn’t. I should. I guess I should visit him.
PRINCE: Or write them and ask them.
WERTZ: Yes, I can write them. The problem is that he doesn’t read or write Polish well. He’s just almost illiterate and his wife is Polish and she – the one thing she’s interested in is collecting crystal. I don’t know.
PRINCE: I would think they could answer some questions about your parents.
WERTZ: Maybe. When I was in Israel in 1967 and I asked everybody what my father really wanted, they said they don’t know. There were six brothers and his brother lives in Israel. His sister lives in Canada. His sister, she was in Bergen-Belsen, so she was, she doesn’t know, but his brother, the same name, Aaron, lives in Bat Yam – Aaron, and he doesn’t know. I don’t think they know. I just don’t believe that the family doesn’t know what happened to one member of the family.
PRINCE: When you talked about going to the Jewish orphanage and what it was like there, you seemed so comfortable with, and so familiar with the intellectual Jewish life. I was wondering if it was familiar to you, if it struck any chords – that maybe that was the kind of life you had led.
WERTZ: Well, when do you mean?
PRINCE: From zero to three.
WERTZ: Well, I didn’t have time to absorb anything. Being Jewish in Poland means you are not liked and if you don’t have a support group of your own, you can – you’re…
PRINCE: I mean, did you – do you remember lighting candles – I mean…
WERTZ: No, I don’t remember.
PRINCE: Do you remember any books or your mother reading to you?
WERTZ: No, I don’t remember.
PRINCE: Prayers?
WERTZ: I don’t remember. My uncle remembers. He used to belong to the synagogue, but I don’t remember.
PRINCE: You, yourself – no dolls? No particular doll or toy or blanket or anything?
WERTZ: No, nothing, nothing.
PRINCE: Okay. Do you remember what you were like when you were three?
WERTZ: Well, my aunt in Israel tells me that I was a cute girl and imitated some children talk. I just mumbled but I don’t remember. I think I was thin at some point.
PRINCE: (LAUGHTER) We were all thin at some point.
WERTZ: No, very thin – very thin, because that was during the war and the women would say – well they would take your hand and say, “You’re so thin and (NOT CLEAR) the children you need to go somewhere and eat more.” But it always would be when the war would be over – when the war is over. It’s not a matter that you have to eat. You don’t eat; there is not enough food.
PRINCE: Right. But, it’ll happen. When your mother died, what did you do?
WERTZ: Well, I cried. People came in and my uncle took us. Then again, there was this little horse and a buggy and it was probably early spring because there were floods from thawing snow, I remember.
PRINCE: Did anybody afterward, or your uncle explain anything about death to you?
WERTZ: No, no. I didn’t know about death. There was a person and there is not a person that was not anymore, so now I realize this, but…
PRINCE: Did you expect her to come back?
WERTZ: I don’t remember. I remember this comfort of sorts that – I remember I used to wet my bed constantly and they would yell at us and she had two sets of sheets, a nice one – white ones and then –
PRINCE: Who is this, who is “she”?
WERTZ: The orphanage. And I always, you know, was, I was so ashamed of it, you know. But maybe that bedwetting was part of being in a strange situation, not understanding the language, and being with strangers.
PRINCE: Did you dream that…?
WERTZ: I don’t remember.
PRINCE: Even when you were seven or eight?
WERTZ: No, I don’t remember.
PRINCE: Do you remember having nightmares?
WERTZ: Nightmares sometimes – it’s strange – nightmares seemed like, like if I killed someone or am hiding or something like that. (NOT CLEAR) and I’d wake up scared.
PRINCE: It must have been – it must have been awful to lose your mother.
WERTZ: I guess, I must have, but you don’t realize. Things go so fast. (LONG PAUSE) Well, they do, and you move on and act. There is no time for contemplation. Your life – my life was very well organized then. You go to school; you get ready for school and activities. There is no time for private, uh…
PRINCE: For private thoughts.
WERTZ: For private thoughts, there isn’t and probably that’s good. Well, life is organized in a certain way and you are with children who are in the same position. Orphanages have done well with people whose parents have perished somewhere or are in the war, fighting, so…
PRINCE: When you played, did you ever play house and was somebody the mother or father or –
WERTZ: I don’t remember. You know, I don’t remember.
PRINCE: We really never touched on privacy or – did you even want to be – there are two different questions here. I want to ask you how it felt and did you feel alone?
WERTZ: I felt – I think I always felt alone. I feel alone now. All my life…but I’m not lonely. Although I was brought up in – I don’t know – I’m a loner. On the other hand I have a lot of people around me. There is not a weekend without my inviting people to my house and being invited. I like a lot of people. I grew up with them. I lived in the orphanage always with four or five people in the same room, the same bedroom. In college there were at one point – there were nine girls in one dorm bedroom. So, I’m used to people. For instance my house is like Grand Central with people coming in and out constantly, which is good – I like it. I’ve been told people – Russian people – are very gregarious and Polish are gregarious, but…
PRINCE: But you’re a loner.
WERTZ: But I’m a loner at the same time. I never get involved in any, in a particular group of people who do things, who want to do things like going together to movies, going together for vacation or whatever. Although I had girlfriends in college, five of us.
PRINCE: Well, you go through passages often, you know.
WERTZ: Yeah.
PRINCE: You don’t always have to stay the same in your life.
WERTZ: That’s true, that’s true. But I am still gregarious. At the same time, though, I feel lonely. (LAUGHTER)
PRINCE: Well I think you can be both. I think you can.
WERTZ: Both, yeah. I think maybe I have that complex of being an orphan, someone said.
PRINCE: And what is the complex of being an orphan?
WERTZ: I don’t know that…I feel that I’m an orphan.
PRINCE: You feel that you’re an orphan. What does that feel like?
WERTZ: Well, it – it doesn’t feel good anymore I guess. So Sholem Aleichem has a story, “Oh, I’m an orphan. I don’t have to listen to a mother.” It’s a child who doesn’t realize that a tragedy happened and he says, “Oh, I’m an orphan. That’s good.”
Not anymore. Maybe because I’m not married. I considered my marriage kinda like a substitute for both, marriage and a family.
PRINCE: Did you feel like an orphan when you were married?
WERTZ: No, I felt very good when my children were around and growing up…Then I felt like that was a marital problem and so trapped in being a professor’s wife and not my own person.
PRINCE: When have you – have you ever felt like your own person?
WERTZ: Yes. Now I feel (NOT CLEAR) although it’s not easy.
PRINCE: What is your own person?
WERTZ: Well, I guess I’m a survivor and I keep a stiff upper lip and I even keep smiling and people are surprised. “How can you, you don’t have this and you don’t have that and you…”
PRINCE: When they say that, what do they mean? Are you talking material things?
WERTZ: Yes. But to one person I said, “What do you think – because I’m poor,” let’s put it, although that’s a questionable what’s poor and what’s not poor. “So you think that we’re not human, that we, I shouldn’t entertain, shouldn’t – you know.” This guy is so stingy I know and he makes – well he has a decent salary, but he thinks that we do outrageous things – to invite people for dinner or a picture.
PRINCE: Many times people think that things other people do that they wish they could do, had the nerve to do, are outrageous. But they really think very highly of that person. They just can’t do it themselves, so they sort of –
WERTZ: That’s true.
PRINCE: – put someone down and they wish they had the courage to do it.
WERTZ: I know. Yeah, that’s, that’s – you’re probably right. That’s probably the case.
PRINCE: When your brother was adopted, we talked about that a little bit. Did you wish you could be adopted too?
WERTZ: You know what – NO. I could have been adopted. There were a lot of people coming to – in Poland – to orphanage – American couples and Polish and I’d hide. I didn’t want to be adopted. I had this idea that someone not my mother – how can they be nice to me? Besides, what I hated about it was they looked at the children as if – like you look at animals and toys and pick up which one is good looking and which one is not and I just couldn’t stand it. I have two friends of mine who were adopted and they persuaded to them that they went to their real parents. It was easier at that time, that they found your mother and those children believed that.
PRINCE: They really found them, or they just told them?
WERTZ: They told them.
PRINCE: They just told them.
WERTZ: And they adopted them, and, uh…
PRINCE: Were you afraid somebody might tell you that?
WERTZ: I didn’t want to get up, to know. No, I didn’t want that. Oh, I loved to come to people’s homes and see nice houses. I liked to see apartments where everything was nice and well taken care of; that’s what would be dreamed of in Poland.
PRINCE: I was going to ask you how they went about the looking or finding the child to adopt at the orphanage.
WERTZ: They would go to the principal and talk about the possibility…
PRINCE: Was it ever discussed with you, that someone wanted to?
WERTZ: Yeah, they, they discussed that for some they say that people would go on to adopt children but some they would not. Some children liked it because they would be the next baby, would have a watch and show off (NOT CLEAR) and they bought them this and that and had an apartment. This undivided attention, that’s what people needed.
PRINCE: Did you feel a sense of loss if, like a friend got adopted?
WERTZ: No, no. It didn’t bother me. For some reason, I didn’t want to be adopted.
PRINCE: No, I mean that you had lost a friend.
WERTZ: Well there were not so many close friends; there were not many close friends.
PRINCE: Did you have any close friends?
WERTZ: Oh yes, I’m still friends with them, still.
PRINCE: But they weren’t adopted?
WERTZ: No, they were not adopted, not everyone was up for adoption. Those that remembered their parents and knew that they definitely died were not adopted.
PRINCE: Not adopted, or adopted?
WERTZ: Not adopted.
PRINCE: Or not wanted to be?
WERTZ: Some didn’t want to and some were not. Sometimes they would ask, what you like, sometimes she would ask. She still lives there and she likes Janusz Korczak and she published several books, an extremely wise woman, intelligent and…
PRINCE: Have you said her name? Was that –
WERTZ: Maria Falkowska.
PRINCE: Okay. I wanted to be sure it’s the same.
WERTZ: Maria Falkowska. Well, I wanted to be adopted by her but she thought that I’m not pretty enough, so…
PRINCE: What did your – she thought you what?
WERTZ: I wasn’t attractive enough.
PRINCE: She told you that?
WERTZ: I think so. She didn’t say that but with many, many hints she told me. It’s a funny thing that I still remember that ’til now. Sometimes how people can hurt you at a certain age that you remember that. It doesn’t hurt me anymore, but then it did.
PRINCE: Sometimes those hurts that we got when we were small do – we carry those.
WERTZ: Well, they shouldn’t, they shouldn’t. I don’t think it’s that important, not anymore, but at that point it just hurt because I felt so ugly always. I didn’t have enough. I couldn’t dress, you know. I had two dresses, one for winter and one for summer, a pair of shoes for winter and summer. That’s all you had and everybody wants to look nice. And, and at one point she really disappointed me. I mean, I remember, I started crying. She compared me to some girls who had parents and the girls were quite attractive and they were dressed up beautifully, but the parents could afford it. And she’d say, “You don’t look like Stefcia. Stefcia has such a beautiful dress and Stefcia has this.” I thought, “She wants to hurt me, ’cause she knows where I come from and why does she say that?”
PRINCE: And this was in the orphanage?
WERTZ: No, this was when I was a freshman in college. (TELEPHONE RINGS)
PRINCE: You had a lot of – I want to say grief – you had a lot of loss. You had a lot of, of very difficult things happen to you.
WERTZ: Maybe, but you see, if you live in a country where a real loss is (LONG PAUSE) death. For instance so, I was alive and I survived the war, I was not in a concentration camp like other people, so it is nice to have life, like a life of luxuries and so you learn to live without luxuries.
PRINCE: Because would you feel guilty if you felt any other way?
WERTZ: No, I wouldn’t feel guilty feeling that way, but – well, everybody’s hurt in certain ways there. You know, living in Poland for Jewish people and for Polish people carries certain burden and certain discomfort, certain loss (NOT CLEAR) So this is common pain, I guess.
PRINCE: Do you consider yourself a survivor?
WERTZ: I think so. I think so. You know, I could have died.
PRINCE: I think so too.
WERTZ: I was little. (OVERTALK)
PRINCE: I just wondered how you…
WERTZ: In those freezing weathers? My goodness, when we wouldn’t have shoes. I could have…
PRINCE: Yes, but I mean a survivor of the Holocaust.
WERTZ: I think so.
PRINCE: Yes, I guess so too. Do people – other people – consider you a survivor?
WERTZ: Whoever was in Russia is not considered a survivor because, although my parents perished – because your life was both threatened and not threatened. It was threatened maybe more by severity of the weather. See, they didn’t treat people as Soviets. They put them all in one bag, all the people from capitalist Poland and they are not reliable. I mean, they are not brainwashed or Communists, but they would not single out Jews.
PRINCE: The Polish people?
WERTZ: The Soviets.
PRINCE: Let me ask you this, though. In June of 1941, when Germany invaded Russia, and did they go into Bialystok?
WERTZ: Yeah. They didn’t send a lot of Jewish people. They hadn’t the Bialystok ghetto, right.
PRINCE: They had those Einsatzgruppen which murdered Jews in…
WERTZ: So when did the Nazis come to Bialystok? I see, what I’m telling. See in June, yes, so I had to be – I was there before June, 1941. It must have happened that we went to that labor camp in 1940. (OVERTALK)
PRINCE: You were deeper into Russia.
WERTZ: You are right. You see, again, if my uncle wouldn’t go to railway station. If he didn’t want to go back to Poland, I would end up in Bialystok ghetto, so I’m a survivor. If he –
PRINCE: Well, we ascertained that you are a survivor.
WERTZ: I’m a survivor. Well because if he didn’t have his business, this bakery in Bialystok.
PRINCE: Are you talking about Isaac?
WERTZ: No, Uncle Simon who lives in Israel.
PRINCE: Okay. The one who had the bakery.
WERTZ: We still wanted to go back to Poland and…
PRINCE: He didn’t…
WERTZ: And he didn’t because they played that trick on us. They put us in those cattle cars and took us to Komi. If we didn’t want to go, then the Germans in a year would come there and we would all end up – there was a Bialystok ghetto, wasn’t there?
PRINCE: I think so. I could look it up for you if…would you want me to right now?
WERTZ: I would like that.
PRINCE: They couldn’t ascertain if there was a…
WERTZ: Well, they were murdered anyway.
PRINCE: We’re looking in a book, Martin Gilbert’s book on the Holocaust and when it talks about Bialystok, the Germans came in and murdered most of the Jews.
WERTZ: Burned them in the synagogue.
PRINCE: Burned them in the synagogue. Felicia, when your uncle came to the – when your mother died and your uncle who was 15 – Aaron?
WERTZ: No, Uncle Isaac.
PRINCE: …came to get you and took you to the orphanage, what did he explain to you?
WERTZ: I don’t remember.
PRINCE: Did you wonder why he didn’t keep you?
WERTZ: No, I didn’t. He was taken himself to some railroad building, (NOT CLEAR) railroad battalions…(NOT CLEAR)
PRINCE: So he couldn’t keep you.
WERTZ: He couldn’t – how could he? 14 years old, not a parent. He had no place to live.
PRINCE: So it was another loss.
WERTZ: Oh yes, he lost his parents too.
PRINCE: No, you had another loss.
WERTZ: Yeah. He certainly came to visit me but I didn’t recognize him, probably, and I cried – I probably looked very ragged and…
PRINCE: Do you think he cried when he came or when he left?
WERTZ: I cried when he came. I was afraid. A stranger comes.
PRINCE: Did you get to feeling better as he stayed with you?
WERTZ: No, I thought he was a stranger and he talked a strange language which I couldn’t understand.
PRINCE: You were at a number of orphanages. You were, I believe in one, two, three…
WERTZ: Five.
PRINCE: I guess I’d like to know how you lived there and what your rooms were like and…did you wear uniforms?
WERTZ: In Poland we wore uniforms to school.
PRINCE: What were they like?
WERTZ: Oh, it was navy blue – I don’t know the fabric. Anyway, it’s a shiny fabric. Nice uniforms – white collar.
PRINCE: Like a Catholic school?
WERTZ: Yeah. Well, it’s like a…
PRINCE: Jumper?
WERTZ: You call it a jumper, like a housecoat sort of style, like a coat, like nurse’s. Everybody had to wear them. White collar and navy blue.
PRINCE: So your physical needs were…
WERTZ: Well, but you have to have the skirt and the blouse and the dress underneath. Well, my physical needs were taken care of. We have our own sleeping quarters but in winter we had to stoke all the – how do you call them? Stoves, no, heating. It’s not a fireplace but a stove, you know, a ceramic stove which gives heat. Do you know of anything like that?
PRINCE: I know what you mean.
WERTZ: I had duties.
PRINCE: What duties did you like?
WERTZ: What duties did I like? Oh, I liked making fire because that was an art to do that. It makes everybody happy and it makes warm and (NOT CLEAR)
PRINCE: How did you make a fire?
WERTZ: How? Well, first you clean the – I don’t know what you call it.
PRINCE: Grate?
WERTZ: Grate. And then you cut some sticks and some paper and coals. You had to carry coals from the outside. And so you put coals in there, you know, and hope that it will start. And when fire gets bigger, you put more coals. Then you see that vent is open. (NOT CLEAR) And when it gets to the stage of white and hot and…the ceramic part gets hot. Actually, we made it a point not to lean against that fireplace or whatever. How do you call this thing. No, no, no, I don’t need it, I just…because it would take heat from other people. It would not be distributed.

Tape 3 - Side 1 (Prince)

PRINCE: So it made you feel good, made you feel warm, to make other people feel warm…
WERTZ: Yeah, right. And (UNCLEAR) someone said, “Go to bed. It’s 10 o’clock, and…” And well, I remember as a teenager I wanted to go to a play and I (UNCLEAR). And they locked the gates, but I climbed over and went from home at midnight with a friend.
PRINCE: What kind of friend?
WERTZ: Oh, a girlfriend. And again, when we were coming back, we had to climb the gate again, and then we were punished.
PRINCE: What was this punishment?
WERTZ: Oh yes, they had a fun way of punishing. But I had to sleep with the youngest first and second graders’ bedrooms, all the little people, so much responsibility. And, oh yes, and I was denied going, every weekend Saturday night we’d go to the movies, and I was not allowed to go to the movies for a month.
PRINCE: Did that bother you?
WERTZ: Yes it bothered me, but they wanted my apologizing and my admitting my guilt, and I wouldn’t.
PRINCE: (LAUGHTER) And you’re just smiling at me and winking.
WERTZ: I wouldn’t because that was done for our sake and I got to see that play and…because that was the thing that first they allowed me and then they didn’t. They changed their mind.
PRINCE: You had your principles.
WERTZ: Yeah. That was the problem. Usually I tried to be a good little girl. (UNCLEAR) I never had to tell them to study or anything like that. It’s like a given that they have to perform in school and do their homework.
PRINCE: And they know that.
WERTZ: And they know that. They see that others don’t and that influenced them.
PRINCE: What did you own as a child?
WERTZ: Nothing, no possessions, nothing. I’m not attached to possessions today.
PRINCE: Did you have a hairbrush?
WERTZ: Oh, I had a – no, no, I had a comb; it was rationed. Maybe I had a brush, some American brush.
PRINCE: Toothpaste?
WERTZ: Yeah, we had. I had – maybe I had my own stockings. I washed them every night.
PRINCE: (UNCLEAR)
WERTZ: Oh, we, I don’t know where we – oh, at one point I was working, performing in a theatre, in a dance school. They had a children’s play.
PRINCE: Is this the folk dancing?
WERTZ: “Cinderella” – yeah – no, that was not the folk dancing. That was part of the play, “Cinderella.” A very respectable theatre was running “Cinderella” for children, the play, but actors were playing. And they invited us to dance, a couple of dances there. And that was a thrill because it was a firsthand look into real theatre life and into acting. And I made money. So I could buy my stockings and underwear and go to the movies. And I wouldn’t take my makeup off after dancing, and I would go on the street, to streetcars and have makeup and they’d let me…she’s so young and so painted. I have a picture of it. (LAUGHTER) My Anya keeps it in her room, real made up, not realizing – oh, I loved that. I feel so close to actors and theatre because of that. Then we had a movie made.
PRINCE: You told me. (OVERTALK) That’s on the tape.
WERTZ: Yeah. Friday I’m meeting a person who is in film, and he might know – see, I grew up with this Jewish writer who was Polish. His name was Henryk Greenberg; you never heard about him. He wrote about Holocaust. He was a Holocaust survivor, and he became an actor in Yiddish theatre in Warsaw. He lives in America. I’m meeting his friend, probably on Friday, and I will try to get those two movies in which I am.
PRINCE: Oh, that would be wonderful.
WERTZ: I am not starring in there, but a good part of it is with me.
PRINCE: That would be great.
WERTZ: My two crooked teeth and my braids.
PRINCE: (LAUGHTER) Is it – can you think of anything at this point?
WERTZ: Well, let’s see. It’s a short period. (LAUGHTER) Five years or more – the Holocaust was five years – no, six. (OVERTALK) Short years of someone’s life, no?
PRINCE: Short or long.
WERTZ: Short or long. (UNCLEAR)
PRINCE: It depends on what you’re doing.
WERTZ: It doesn’t depend on time.
PRINCE: No, how short or long it is depends on what’s going on. All right, let’s pick up then when you were going – oh, I know, wait a minute. You call one of your daughters Anna?
WERTZ: Anya.
PRINCE: Anya. Is that after anyone?
WERTZ: Well simply, Anya, the name for me is connected with sort of courageous, uh, intellectual woman, self-sufficient and strong.
PRINCE: That’s very pretty. Your mother’s name was…
WERTZ: My mother’s name was Brina – Brina. That’s a Jewish name.
PRINCE: And your father’s name was?
WERTZ: Yaakov – Yaakov. But it’s nothing…appears on the mother’s name. For some reason, I remember mother’s name – I don’t why – but I remember my mother’s name. I don’t remember my father’s name, so they gave me in my birth certificate – there is my mother’s real name, and my father’s name is invented, but that’s what it is – which is the name of the principal’s husband, so…
PRINCE: She gave you the birthday too.
WERTZ: Uh huh, yeah.
PRINCE: Okay. Let’s pick up now – you finished high school. You’re back in Poland, and you’re going to –
WERTZ: Russia.
PRINCE: Russia, to Leningrad. You are how old?
WERTZ: 19.
PRINCE: And that’s 1946…
WERTZ: 1955.
PRINCE: 1955. Where did I get ’46? I wasn’t good at math. 1955.
WERTZ: Yeah, 19, and I’m going to Russia and I stayed for five years and then I graduated…
PRINCE: Tell me about it.
WERTZ: Yeah, well, so I was in Russia. I was – you were able to study there, to study abroad. I mean, I just wondered – because I was learning the language and I was so convinced that it was a good country, that and I just wanted to – it was considered a sort of reward for being a good student to go and study abroad.
PRINCE: Because everyone probably did not get to do it, did they?
WERTZ: Not everybody, right. You had to pass through all kinds of tests and…
PRINCE: You were something special then.
WERTZ: Yeah, sort of.
PRINCE: Yeah, I would say so. I mean, did you feel pretty proud of yourself?
WERTZ: Yeah.
PRINCE: Did you set that as a goal?
WERTZ: To be proud of myself?
PRINCE: No.
WERTZ: To go there? Yeah, yeah, I knew some friends who went. And a friend of mine went; she’s still my friend. And then I went, but I went to a different city. She was not in Leningrad.
PRINCE: I’ll ask you what you thought I was going to ask you. Did you set yourself a goal for feeling proud?
WERTZ: For proud? Yeah, well, I sort of was proud of myself, of my achievements, and of trying to do well in school, and do other things. Well, I wasn’t socially very popular.
PRINCE: With boys you mean?
WERTZ: Mmm hmm, with boys.
PRINCE: How did you learn about boys and girls and…?
WERTZ: Birds and bees? I don’t know. I never learned about it; I guess it’s intuition. (LAUGHTER; OVERTALK) I mean we studied biology and we learned…it’s a matter of feeling, and I was in love with one of the boys in the orphanage, but he loved my friend. She didn’t love him. Oh God, I was just really very unhappy.
PRINCE: What did you do when you were unhappy?
WERTZ: Oh, we talked and he said that he loves her and that I shouldn’t think about him. Do something else, put your mind – I really felt, that hurt my feelings, being rejected…(UNCLEAR)
PRINCE: No, let’s back up a little bit, back up to ’46. Did we discuss at all – were you having any awareness of the war then?
WERTZ: In ’46?
PRINCE: Yeah.
WERTZ: Well, listen, I came to Poland in 1946 and I came to Warsaw and there was a heap of rubble. There were no cars. Everything was bombed out and it looked like bombed out, you know – like you haven’t seen it bombed out. You can’t have an idea –
PRINCE: I saw some buildings in England in 1954 –
WERTZ: (OVERTALK) When things are demolished – demolition – that’s how it looks, all over the place. You know what they used for transportation in 1946? Dodge army trucks, American Dodge army trucks. And – you know what picture I remember most of? There was a young ______on the top of that heap of rubble.
PRINCE: Oh my.
WERTZ: And that’s – that was my – and unbelievably manicure.
PRINCE: Manicure?
WERTZ: Manicure, life goes on after the war.
PRINCE: Uh huh.
WERTZ: I remember that.
PRINCE: Manicure.
WERTZ: Manicure.
PRINCE: (UNCLEAR)
WERTZ: Yeah, like someone was opening a store, war’s over, (OVERTALK) some part of, some part of the, maybe basement, survived, you know. And life starts going on. And I remember this; I used to work on Sundays helping clean up the rubble. And always this Russian inscription everywhere, “_________,” which means, “It’s the mine, no mines anymore.” Because the Germans were very confusing with the mines. And I remember –
PRINCE: And this was with the Jewish orphanage.
WERTZ: Yeah, when I came first to Warsaw in 1948. Was it ’48? ’47, ’48, because I was at the unveiling of the monument to ghetto.
PRINCE: Oh, you were?
WERTZ: Yes. I was there when the monument was unveiled and I remember I wrote a long article for a newspaper. It was in 1948 when we went. There was a woman who was in the ghetto, a ghetto survivor, and she showed us all the ruins and the streets and how they lived. There wasn’t much that was left at that point, now it’s – there’s nothing. They built up new – the apartment buildings – but I was there and I was ________.
PRINCE: Was there anyone else there?
WERTZ: Where?
PRINCE: I mean how many –
WERTZ: Monument – when it was unveiled? It was a big event. It was all ____ event, Polish and Jewish event, people from all over the world, Jewish delegations came. It was very big.
PRINCE: You said this was 1946?
WERTZ: 1948 they unveiled that monument.
PRINCE: I wonder, had Israel been declared a state, a nation?
WERTZ: Uh, not yet.
PRINCE: It was April.
WERTZ: April. (PHONE RINGS; TAPE STOPS)
PRINCE: Felicia, what were – what were people feeling? How were they reacting to this around you?
WERTZ: Oh, Jewish…Jewish people were proud of it. It was, you know –
PRINCE: Can you remember the sequence or the…?
WERTZ: I don’t remember. I know there were lots of speeches…
PRINCE: Prayers?
WERTZ: I don’t remember prayers. I know that not every year we would go and then sing a song. It was…
PRINCE: Hatikvah?
WERTZ: No, this partisan song, “Never say that this is the last road you take.” __________…ceremony. And then she’d give the translation at the Holocaust celebration.
PRINCE: Yom HaShoah.
WERTZ: Yeah, Yom HaShoah…
PRINCE: Never what?
WERTZ: Never say that this is the last way.
PRINCE: This is the last way?
WERTZ: Yeah, that’s the last way. It goes, __________.
PRINCE: Yeah…a way out, the sewer.
WERTZ: Well, if you have this program with songs, many programs on the Holocaust.
PRINCE: Yeah, that’s it. When did you become aware, I mean, of the Holocaust?
WERTZ: Well, it’s constantly around you, you’re constantly aware. I mean, of course everybody who went through, the teachers, everybody knows someone, everybody was telling about it, and all the movies, all the books, everything around is about Holocaust.
PRINCE: No, I’m not talking – I meant then, the beginning.
WERTZ: Then, then – oh the beginning. Well, so I was an orphan. People were talking; there this was a war.
PRINCE: And you were a child. Wasn’t it very frightening?
WERTZ: So you hear war. Yes, it’s frightening. So you hear a lot. You hear that this Russian woman got a letter – letters from ______ come in triangles, got one piece of paper________ got a triangle letter. Sometimes a triangle, he was wounded, her boyfriend, or her fiance, or her husband. Sometimes someone was killed.
PRINCE: This was the triangle letter then?
WERTZ: No, triangle letters were from the front, from the first line usually.
PRINCE: Oh.
WERTZ: But sometimes…so you were around people who had all this. In the orphanage you were around children who survived because they were on a train and the parents would take – you probably heard these stories – but would take the boards from one of them, from the train, and they would jump. And some people would jump to their death. And some would survive, and the peasants would pick them up and –
PRINCE: They would take the boards out from underneath the wagon.
WERTZ: Yes.
PRINCE: The cattle car.
WERTZ: From the cattle car, the floor.
PRINCE: And jump in between –
WERTZ: Yeah, yeah.
PRINCE: You know something? I never have heard that. I’m glad you brought it up.
WERTZ: Yes, yes, several children I know that both his parents died and his brother and sister, and he was all alone.
PRINCE: They got killed by the train…
WERTZ: Right, being caught and everything, and he just rolled over. He was little, and everybody knew about it. He was a very cute and intelligent boy. I think that he is now in New York somewhere, Henryk Lanzmann.
And my close friend, who lives in Springfield, Ohio, was in the ghetto of Plotsk. His mother was German, his father was Jewish. And his mother and father both went to ghetto because she wouldn’t denounce him; she didn’t renounce her husband. So they were both in ghetto. And this guy, he never talks about Holocaust, but he has a lot to say, he hates to remember. He would stand in line for bread all night and when his turn came, people looked at him and didn’t know if he was Jewish. And with the guilt – he would run home, come home, feeling guilty. He’d stand all night, and didn’t bring bread. So you lived with this type of children. Children who survived, some of them survived in monasteries, who were completely, who became Polish. And they would say their prayers; they didn’t want to be Jewish. I told you about the girl who would look for traces of blood in matzo when she came to the orphanage, and they served matzo. So, you know, you just, everybody had a story to tell how they survived the war.
PRINCE: Did you feel, when you look back to Warsaw, when you got to Warsaw anyway from the orphanage, and you began to hear about the Holocaust, did it occur to you that this – this could happen all over again? That this war would start all over again?
WERTZ: No, it didn’t. (UNCLEAR) No, but you just had this certain type of fear because you were Jewish, you know. First, as a simple thing, we had this – also a Dodge truck – which would take us to school because we lived in suburbs out of town. And these country kids were running after us and shouting, “Jews, Jews, ______.”
PRINCE: That’s why I asked did you ever think about it. Could it happen again?
WERTZ: Yes, yes, because of antisemitism you learn not to trust. And intermarriage is very badly looked at; everybody is afraid of intermarriage in Poland.
PRINCE: But you have –
WERTZ: Me? No.
PRINCE: I thought you said you married a non-Jew.
WERTZ: I did in America.
PRINCE: An American non-Jew.
WERTZ: An American non-Jew, here.
PRINCE: I see. Okay, we’re in Leningrad.
WERTZ: Yeah, in Leningrad I was young, a young lady, and – well, I met with antisemitism there too. At one point I was with a very nice young man who found out I was Jewish (UNCLEAR)
PRINCE: You seem to be continually hurt, if not by losses, by being Jewish.
WERTZ: Yeah, yes. Well, it’s simply you recognize who is who.
PRINCE: Yeah. I have to admire your courage and your ability to come out…
WERTZ: Well, I guess most people are like that, in a way…
PRINCE: Do you ever allow yourself to feel sorry for yourself?
WERTZ: Yes, I do, but I try not too much.
PRINCE: Why?
WERTZ: Well, because it immobilizes you; then you cannot do anything. You think it’s the end of the world and that’s not true. It’s not true that it’s all hard. That’s the worst thing, to feel sorry for yourself. Well, I learned one thing; you don’t have to be perfect in everything. One thing you do right, another thing is not good enough. So try with the good one. At least your day is perfect one good thing, one thing you done well. That’s what I learned in my profession too. I have a good week when my translations are good. And sometimes when I cannot find anything, when I don’t understand, when I translate two paragraphs during eight hours (UNCLEAR)
PRINCE: But when you have the other kind of days or if you feel sorry for yourself, you kind of – are you afraid that if you do it for two days in a row or three, then –
WERTZ: Well I’m not afraid now of anything –
PRINCE: You can’t pick yourself up –
WERTZ: I’m not afraid of anything now because I have this job. I was – for three years I couldn’t sleep at night because in the middle of the night I wasn’t bringing them bread home, and I – I have here – I have a profession. I have my own job. And my life was really scary. My scariest moment was when my daughter told me that I bought Melanie a tacky dress for Bat Mitzvah. And when she told me, I cried, because I really – the young girl was really sweet and I wanted that she – I wanted her to buy a nice dress, but I couldn’t afford it. And I went to the bathroom and cried and when she realized that, she apologized. “It doesn’t matter, and now I love that dress, but I was 10.” And she saw me buying this dress at Venture. See that’s what it is when you live in – go to Ladue school system. But, but they’re not into that now; they know it.
PRINCE: Well, it’s a matter of growth to understand that you’re doing the best that you possibly can and that those things are –
WERTZ: And for me those things are not that important. I believe in a person looking nice in a dress…
PRINCE: And then they have their peers. And they just – it’s a sense of maturity, I suppose.
WERTZ: She doesn’t compete. Her best friend is a Russian immigrant girl who lives on the same street, right across from us. And they always both look very nice. So it’s not a matter of – when you’re young it doesn’t matter what you wear; you look nice in everything.
PRINCE: No, but today – we always look at if you had on – had tears in their clothes they would sew them up. Now they sell clothes with tears in them (LAUGHTER) that if you owned them you would sew them up. But, you know, it’s crazy. (TAPE STOPS; OVERTALK) It’s the – I think what would interest me would be the ability to learn to give love or to – and I don’t mean the sexual love – I mean just give of yourself when you really have so little (OVERTALK) so little of it as a child. And I know we talked about that a little in the tape before.
WERTZ: It’s interesting; it doesn’t effect maybe, love towards children – I don’t know. Maybe I cannot relate to people as parents, you know. I – I just cannot call anybody a mother or a father. So I don’t know parental love. Otherwise I guess I’m normal, except that probably I fell in love with the wrong man.
PRINCE: Felicia…(PAUSE) Well, not knowing parental love doesn’t mean you’re not normal.
WERTZ: Yeah, well –
PRINCE: Just that somehow you missed a certain –
WERTZ: (OVERTALK) I don’t know if it’s parental love or it’s this reliability, this unconditioned love from parents…
PRINCE: It’s all different kinds of things depending on who your parents were. Sometimes it’s not good.
WERTZ: That’s true too, could be true.
PRINCE: And sometimes it’s very good. And sometimes it’s too good. But it doesn’t…it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s not normal. Normal is a strange word that we throw around.
WERTZ: Yeah.
PRINCE: And it really has no meaning.
WERTZ: I guess (UNCLEAR) And I was attracted and attractive, and then the important thing happened that –
PRINCE: Excuse me, attracted and –
WERTZ: Attractive – that’s what I said.
PRINCE: I’ve been waiting to hear you say that. (LAUGHTER)
WERTZ: Oh well. But then this thing happened, you know, in 1956. There was this debunking of all the faith and belief that comes in this _______ thing. That was a terrible thing for everybody. It was like losing a religion, or losing faith.
PRINCE: Another loss.
WERTZ: Yeah, another loss. But, uh, whoever was from Poland was smart ______ and that was true. But the Russians couldn’t ___________, no religion whatsoever. So this was taken away from them. So I saw people crying; they just couldn’t believe it.
PRINCE: Hadn’t that always been true in Stalinist Russia? (OVERTALK) But Stalin was there for so long.
WERTZ: Yeah, yeah, but that’s always true about Russia.
PRINCE: Lately their rate’s been dying.
WERTZ: Oh, I have to show you a letter a friend of mine sent me from Moscow. That this – Gorbachev wants to really waken this lazy, lazy and boring country. And secretly they’re preaching capitalism and they’re allowing people to – free enterprise. But probably only secretly because they couldn’t admit that communist doesn’t work_____ economical system.
PRINCE: So, uh, what was it like to live in Russia before the – I mean –
WERTZ: I mean, I came as a foreign student, so I had this kind of foreigner – I looked up at – I looked up to – and I wore nice clothing because in Poland people, we had more ____ than in Russia. So I’m already attracted because I’m a foreigner – the house, and the dancer and _________.

Tape 3 - Side 2 (Prince)

(BACKGROUND CONVERSATION)
PRINCE: Well, and you were young.
WERTZ: You know, it was like a dream, everything. The city’s so beautiful, cold, terribly cold in winter, but beautiful in spring and June. They had these “White Nights,” so they say, you know, northern lights –
PRINCE: Is that all that’s in the nights?
WERTZ: No, that’s day all the time, that’s day, and you walk.
PRINCE: White Nights, right.
WERTZ: White Nights, and you walk all the time, and so it is beautiful when you come across this winter palace. It was a heritage museum and ______ and all this beautiful art. And the studies were much more difficult, so you studied history…
PRINCE: Could you excel there too?
WERTZ: Yeah, I could. So I started to learn English. (UNCLEAR)
PRINCE: So you knew Polish, you knew Russian –
WERTZ: Russian, and I also studied English, and oh, we made friendship with Americans. The first exchange between Russian and America when the fall started. And I met a handsome American man but he was married. We just were friends. And you know what happened?
PRINCE: What?
WERTZ: Americans were spied on. So they wouldn’t confront him, they confronted me that I shouldn’t go – not because the guy was married, but because he was an American. I should ignore him and I should…But we Polish students, we decided to – that we liked them, but we like Americans, charmed us when we looked in their direction. See, I lived in a huge six floor dorm. It was a floor of guys and a floor of girls. I mean, it was nice. (LAUGHTER)
PRINCE: You were ahead of us.
WERTZ: Well, simply the – well schools there were segregated, separate for girls and boys. (OVERTALK) But college, the dorm, well we were all adults.
PRINCE: But it took us a little later I think…
WERTZ: Are dorms co-educational now?
PRINCE: Yes, they are.
WERTZ: Well, I mean –
PRINCE: Some.
WERTZ: There was this kitchen; everybody cooked in it and it was always dirty. Everything was dirty. I mean everything was just from the Stalin age I guess – who cared. You didn’t have anything to eat so you get _______ going to the store and buy two pounds of potatoes, cook them, and salt, and eat them. Students, you know.
PRINCE: Yeah.
WERTZ: So, yeah, and you know what? I was introduced to – to Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald was there, and I knew all those songs.
PRINCE: You were?
WERTZ: Right, and that’s the way I learned English, was listening to records. I know “My Fair Lady” by heart, singing all the songs. Of course then the Britishers came, and some of my girlfriends married Britishers. And that was my first glimpse with America, through those foreign exchange students.
PRINCE: Did you ever think that you would – think of marrying an American and moving here?
WERTZ: Yes, as a matter of fact – do you know who wanted to date me? It was Undersecretary Hagerty; his son was in Leningrad and he invited me for Thanksgiving dinner. And I didn’t know what Thanksgiving was all about. And you know what happened? Here, they were accompanying us, two Americans and two Polish girls, and we were in a hotel restaurant because it was the only good restaurant there. And here I see a table with a Polish boy. I look up, and who do I see? Of course a Polish consul whom I knew because he was at the meeting with him before. And he tells me he wants to talk to me. So this American guy thinks he has to come up also. So he tells me in Polish that he doesn’t want me to see – to see me in this company. The American asked me, “What did he say?” I said, “Well, he asked me how I’m doing.” And you know that – that episode walked after me and made my life miserable later on. Because I came to Poland in 1960 and I didn’t tell you a whole new story – but maybe next time. And then the Red Cross told you, in the Jewish paper I found, that someone was looking for me. And I found this uncle. And uncle said, “Listen, you have a whole family in Israel.” And I got in touch with them in Israel, and they sent me a ticket to go to Israel to go and visit them. And I wasn’t given an exit visa.
PRINCE: Oh, bless you…
WERTZ: In 1962, ’63, I was trying so hard to visit Israel. If I visited then I would probably stay there and be in Israel right now. They didn’t –
PRINCE: This was because –
WERTZ: Because of that meeting with America and because they just – they thought I was…anyway.
PRINCE: This was from the Polish government.
WERTZ: Polish, yeah. So that’s – that’s…
PRINCE: That’s like being in Russia –
WERTZ: Then I felt –
PRINCE: Wasn’t it?
WERTZ: I felt – yeah. I felt ______. They treat me – oh, that was my shock. They treat me like their property. I write a very angry letter…to the higher ups.
PRINCE: And what did it get you?
WERTZ: It didn’t get me anything, but I express my feelings…
PRINCE: Did they answer?
WERTZ: No. I just really felt so bad after that. I couldn’t live in that country anymore.
PRINCE: How did you get out?
WERTZ: How? I married an American; a young handsome man came.
PRINCE: Oh, he was – he came to Poland.
WERTZ: Well, Wertz – Mr. Wertz was my second husband. I married Mr. Goldberg, was my first husband. He came to Poland as a babysitter of a famous professor and I lived in a house (SIGHS) which the professor visited. He visited this house because this lady, her brother in Ann Arbor, his colleague –
PRINCE: In Ann Arbor?
WERTZ: In Michigan.
PRINCE: Michigan.
WERTZ: So, uh, Carl was studying Russian, and I was studying English, so we helped each other. And then after four years he came and asked for my hand in marriage.
PRINCE: He was there four years?
WERTZ: He was there for one year.
PRINCE: And went back.
WERTZ: Went back, and we had been writing letters.
PRINCE: Oh.
WERTZ: And then he came in ’64, and then in ’65 we got married, and then I came here in ’66.
PRINCE: With him.
WERTZ: No, alone. He left.
PRINCE: He left.
WERTZ: He left because he had to finish school; he was a student in Ann Arbor.
PRINCE: Oh, and you came here to be with him.
WERTZ: Yeah.
PRINCE: Oh, okay. I thought you meant –
WERTZ: I came to be with him in Ann Arbor.
PRINCE: What was his first name?
WERTZ: Carl.
PRINCE: Carl. How long were you married?
WERTZ: A year – well, from ’65 to ’67, but one year we were not together. (TAPE STOPS)
PRINCE: All right, this is the third interview. Hi, my name is “Sister” Prince and I’m interviewing Felicia Wertz on July 15, 1986. Felicia, we’re talking about how you came to America.
WERTZ: Well, I got married in 1965 and then I – I couldn’t leave Poland right away with my husband because it takes time to get an exit visa, permanent exit visa. Besides, I wanted to bring my brother from Russia to Poland before I left for America. So I came to this country 20 years ago on May 22, 1966. (LAUGHTER) And I was married to Carl Goldberg, and we lived in Ann Arbor, Michigan and I worked there at the university in the Slavic department teaching Russian and Polish. (TAPE STOPS)
PRINCE: Felicia, before we go on, explain how you found your brother after being separated from him when you were so young.
WERTZ: For 22 years.
PRINCE: For 22 years.
WERTZ: Yeah. Uh, I remembered that I had a younger brother who cried constantly. And then I remembered that he was no more. But I remember that he was driven away on a children’s sledge in Russia.
PRINCE: Sled?
WERTZ: Sled – sled or sledge – what do little children have?
PRINCE: We call it a sled.
WERTZ: Oh a sled, you know.
PRINCE: Do you remember him crying when he went away?
WERTZ: Yeah, I remember – no, I don’t remember crying, but I remember how he looked and I have his picture as a young boy in my house. And when his daughter came recently she recognized right away, “It’s my papa,” (LAUGHTER) round-faced boy with freckles and dark eyes. Anyway I remember, as I told you, that my mother died previously. Do you remember that story?
PRINCE: Right, you were three.
WERTZ: After my mother died, we were orphans in care of 14 year old uncle. And that uncle took the two children, went to the nearest authorities and asked them what can he do about these two children?
PRINCE: I would like to ask a question now because this – you were in a labor camp with your mother when she died.
WERTZ: Right, right.
PRINCE: How could he get you out of the labor camp to take you to the authorities and take you to the orphanage?
WERTZ: Well, how could he…I think they needed people to work. My uncle couldn’t stay there any longer. War was going on and they needed every able body so probably they had to, to – needed people for the front, on the front lines, or backing up the military.
PRINCE: But they didn’t mind…?
WERTZ: I don’t think – they didn’t mind. Well, it happened; I don’t know how it happened.
PRINCE: Yeah, I just, I was – in listening, re-listening to the tape yesterday…
WERTZ: Yeah, yeah…So, they took us to the orphanage. And now, the story which I know now, it’s the story my brother told me after 22 years, what happened to him. Well, it was very cold there where we lived during the war in that orphanage, and I remember a year later a lady came and took us from there to central Russia. I remember that teachers would interview us of our going there because they would say that good things grow there on trees. They meant apples and pears and cherries, because the place we lived in was tundra; there was nothing. It was always cold and…it was just, I guess, a forsaken place; you couldn’t…See, I remember that we took a boat for several days on the river until we reached the railroad station. And then we were brought to Korsk (?), the city of Korsk, near – not the city of Korsk, sorry. __________ means the area of Korsk, and a little city, ________. That was my story, and then after the war with that orphanage I came to Poland.
In the meantime, my uncle, the 14 year old uncle, spent the war years in Russia. He worked in a ________, in a collective farm, and married a woman who was older than him, had children with her, and came back to Poland after the war. And he obviously was looking for both of us. He was – he put a search through the Red Cross. In 1960 I was sitting at my friend’s house, and I had a telephone call from a friend of mine who told me, “Do you know that Red Cross is looking for you and we have the information from the Jewish paper (which appears in Poland, _______)?” Well, and so she brought me the paper and there was the address of the person who was looking for me. And I took a train and went there, and that was the uncle, Itzchak.
PRINCE: What did you think? To think that somebody was looking for you –
WERTZ: Yeah, oh first it was a shock for me, but I’m not an orphan. I was so proud – to a certain point I was always proud that I had nobody. Nobody teased me about it because there were other people too, but the older I would get, I would think, “Well, why am I so alone?” Well, so he says, “I am Uncle Itzchak who took you to the orphanage. What happened to your brother?” I said, “He was adopted.” So I went to the Red Cross and put a search, continued searching. And after two years I got a letter from, from Red Cross that “the boy you’re looking for, Annoch (?) Smolarczyk, lives in _______. And he told us that his real name is Annoch Smolarczyk.” Well, now what happened – why did we find each other?
PRINCE: No, you said where he was living, but where is that?
WERTZ: This is in Russia, ________. __________ is a city where foreigners are not allowed during the war. That was the headquarters of the Soviet government because it was far away from the front line. It’s on the Volga River.
PRINCE: How did he happen to…I mean, what kind of family was he living with?
WERTZ: Okay. What happened, okay, a lady – he was living by himself at this point, unmarried, working in a t.v. station as a – not a camera…mechanic, as a technician, t.v. technician, and going to college, evening college. Okay, so, I called him and he came to the phone. You can call, even if a person doesn’t have a phone number, a telephone at home, you can call the post office, and then the person comes at the second hour.
PRINCE: Was your heart pounding?
WERTZ: Yes. And he said, “Well, I remember there was a little girl holding my hand.”
PRINCE: Ohhh…
WERTZ: And he says, “And your voice is very familiar.”
PRINCE: Ohhh…well, how did you say it to him?
WERTZ: In Russian.
PRINCE: No I mean – a sister –
WERTZ: Yes, in Russian, right way. We were speaking Russian.
PRINCE: No, no, I don’t mean what language. But I mean, what did you say to him?
WERTZ: That I’m his sister, and he says, “Yes, I remember there was a girl who hold my hand.” What happened to him was that he was adopted by that woman who had unhappy marriage and she couldn’t have children, so she thought a child would bring happiness to her marriage, but it didn’t. They divorced; they were both very poor. He was an alcoholic. And then she was left alone with this child, and she worked very hard and there was nothing to eat. And, uh, so he was in the orphanage. He went back to the orphanage –
PRINCE: Oh, he was –
WERTZ: She couldn’t support him, yeah. And so –
PRINCE: By that time you had left.
WERTZ: Yeah. We lost track of each other. Nobody knew – I didn’t know who took him, and where and how…when he was 14 and he had entered the eighth grade, he wanted to go to vocational school and he needed his birth certificate. So the principal of the orphanage showed him his file and said, “Listen, there is this strange document in your file which is foreign.” And at that point everybody was afraid of anything foreign. So he asked to look at it. It was an old battered document, probably birth certificate, Jewish – but in Polish language. And my brother studied German in school so he could figure out the letters. And he memorized the name, his first name, and the lady decided to be very nice. He said, “It’s foreign. It’s old. It’s not Russian.” “I’ll give you good Russian name. I would write on your passport that you are Russian, new birth certificate that you’re Russian. We will give you a new birth date. And we’ll write the fifth point in your Russian internal passport when you have written Jewish travel (?).” And he said, “I’ll write to ________ that you are Russian.” And she was nice – she destroyed that document, but he memorized the name. Then –
PRINCE: Excuse me. She was doing him a favor?
WERTZ: Yes, she was doing him a favor, right. So he’s now Sokolow too, which happens to be a very good Jewish name. It was a famous Zionist, Sokolow; everything in Israel was Sokolow. This 16 year old daughter of his told me that she felt so good. Everybody say, “You have a famous name.” (LAUGHTER)
PRINCE: Sakolov.
WERTZ: Sokolow – Sokolow, S O K O L O W, Sokolow. Anyway, now he was in orphanage, and he tells me the same story, how I hate – how he hated Sundays and holidays when everybody had those visitors and he had nobody, and where did I come from, do I have any relatives? He constantly was thinking; it was bothering him. Uh, and he saw the same movie I did. I didn’t know – it was Russian, pretty bad movie, but the subject matter was interesting, how two brothers find each other after the war after 20 years. He saw that movie and I saw that movie.
PRINCE: Oh my.
WERTZ: When he saw that movie he said, “Well, it’s impossible. I must have some family. I’m going to write to the Red Cross too.” So he wrote to the Red Cross, and in the meantime my letter was there too; it’s just coincidence, pure coincidence.
PRINCE: Is this the Polish Red Cross?
WERTZ: No, Soviet – Russian. They call it the Red Half Moon because they had Muslims. He wrote to them. What happened was, he didn’t answer fast to my letter, to my search, because it happened when he was in his 20s already – he’d lost contact with his adoptive mother. And when he wrote to the Red Cross for the first time, she found him, and he didn’t want to have anything to do with her for some reason. So, with the next time they called him from Red Cross he didn’t even answer because he thought that that was the same woman.
PRINCE: Same woman.
WERTZ: Finally they called him that “you are – you are searched abroad,” and that made an impression on him; how come abroad someone’s looking for me abroad? And then he answered. And then I got a letter.
PRINCE: Abroad meant Poland?
WERTZ: Poland, well Poland – he was in Russia. And this whole thing started; I was really elated and I write him letters. And the first, I remember it was March 31st, or April, 1964. I went to Russia with an excursion. That was just…
PRINCE: Can you just enlarge a little bit on the word elated? I mean…
WERTZ: Well, I was very happy that I have someone, and all my friends were so supportive. And we were thinking about bringing him to Poland, and we should be together, and…
PRINCE: It must have given you an entirely different feeling.
WERTZ: Yeah, absolutely different feeling that I’m not alone, that you know, that you know where you come from. Well, in the meantime, well I found this uncle, and my uncle told me, “You have a family in Israel.” And I start writing to that family in Israel, and they would send me oranges which was a great treat in Poland to get oranges, you know, like five, ten pounds of oranges. They come in cases. In Poland oranges are a luxury.
PRINCE: Just to have somebody thinking of you.
WERTZ: Yes. Well, it’s –
PRINCE: Pay attention to you.
WERTZ: Right. Now, which is connected back with the story you have there. And I – they send me the money to visit them in Israel and I wasn’t allowed to go. It was before I found my brother; that frustrated me very much. Anyway, my family is very orthodox –
PRINCE: Because of the visa?
WERTZ: Yeah. My family is very orthodox, in Israel, on my mother’s side. They live in Mea Sharim and B’nei B’rak. They are really very Hasidic Jewish people. And my uncle, my father’s brother, is a cantor. He is not that orthodox as…Anyway, so I went to Moscow and recognized my brother right away on this Russke railway station. I looked at him; he was just standing there. And I recognized him. He had a coat – I told his daughter – which was too long, and a hat which was too big, on him. Well, I didn’t say a word, and he told me, “Yes, this coat is too long because I don’t have a coat; it’s a coat of my best friend who said, ‘Listen, you’re going to meet this sister from Europe. You cannot look like a schlump. Take my coat. I know you don’t have a coat. And buy a hat.’” And the guy was six feet tall; my brother is short. So he bought him a hat.
PRINCE: Did you touch each other? Did you hug each other?
WERTZ: Yes, yes we hugged each other, and I remember what – he was so totally Russian. You know, Moscow is not a very sophisticated city. I remember we went to that hotel where I stayed and all this excursion, how I grew up. And he said, “Well, we have to celebrate,” and bought a bottle of cognac and four apples, which were the most expensive things in that store and that restaurant, you know. And pours it into a glass and says, “Drink,” you know, it’s a Russian way…He always talks about it. He says, “How could I must have looked to you?” I said, “No, you were my brother.” I knew Russian, so I wasn’t shocked, and we spent four days together in Moscow.
PRINCE: Did you have – was there always something to talk about?
WERTZ: Oh constantly. Well, since we spoke the same language, and he asked me about things and how’s it in Poland, and about family and everything. And then I said, “Well, you’ll come and visit us.” So –
PRINCE: “Us” being…
WERTZ: Me and my friends, because my friends became like a family. And I feel so guilty not writing to them – 82, 80 years old, women, and other friends my age which is – the strong friendships are typical of Poland and Russia; or maybe it’s a part of European culture.
PRINCE: More so than the United States?
WERTZ: I guess so. Probably you have family – you rely too on families. We came from – well, everybody was from Holocaust victims, so friends substituted for those big families. I can compare with the Russian people who came. They all live in families; I don’t know, somehow I’ve never seen big Jewish families (LAUGHTER) in Poland because you know, Poland suffered the most during the war, and people rely on their friends, which are like a family. So he came to Poland in 1965. And he – and then I can tell you – I talk for hours his shock, culture shock, he went through. (LAUGHTER) But…
PRINCE: What was it like for him?
WERTZ: For him? He – he had a culture shock like a Russian coming to America because Poland was so different from Russia. First is, he wanted to see a real capitalist because there is private property in Poland, little – (TAPE STOPS)
PRINCE: Say it again.
WERTZ: Little shop owners. So he, he say – he says, “I have never seen a capitalist.” And you know in Russia he’s so brainwashed that they are bad and ugly and fat, and – and capitalist; yes it’s bad, you know, because they live in worker’s party. So I said, “Well, let’s go and see the private shop owners in Warsaw.” I decided to buy him a tie, so we went into that little store and the salesman was – owner, same thing, was so polite, and nice, and gave him advice, ask him what kind of suit you want to wear with it. So he bought it and we came out and he said that he’s very disappointed. I said, “Why?” He said, “He’s not fat and doesn’t smoke a cigar.” And that was the caricature of a capitalist. (LAUGHTER) He had there –
PRINCE: Did he have any memories – I know he was younger – but did he have any memories of your mother?
WERTZ: I never talked to him about it; I don’t think so. I, I don’t think so. He remembers about…about the other, the adopted mother that he – that there were constantly neighbors who were constantly whispering that he’s a little Jew boy, little Jew boy. Well, he was circumcised, of course, and it bothered him constantly.
PRINCE: How did he – and so if – also your father…
WERTZ: He doesn’t remember that; he was younger. He’s a year younger than I am, year younger. I remember he was constantly crying for some reason.
PRINCE: Oh. (LAUGHTER)
WERTZ: And I couldn’t take it – when he was little.
PRINCE: Yeah.
WERTZ: That’s what I remember.
PRINCE: Did you tell him that?
WERTZ: No, no, for some reason – well, I haven’t seen him for eight years. Actually, it’s time to see him.
PRINCE: Tell me, he had the background of being called “little Jew boy,”
WERTZ: Yeah.
PRINCE: He then grew up in Russia, changed his religion –
WERTZ: He hasn’t changed – well, yeah –
PRINCE: Somebody changed it for him –
WERTZ: For him, simply –
PRINCE: As far as getting along…
WERTZ: See, it’s not religion, it’s nationality there because he doesn’t – the country’s not religious at all. But – well he felt he was Jewish because he doesn’t look Russian. He’s short, and has dark eyes and dark hair.
PRINCE: And so…what is he today and how does he feel about it?
WERTZ: He’s – well, he’s, he’s the father of three lovely daughters. He has a job with Erikson(?) Company, and he’s an electronics engineer in Sweden, has a Jewish – Polish-Jewish wife. I guess (LAUGHTER) my niece tells me that she wears the pants in the house, as she says. Well, I guess he would prefer to be an American, from what I know.
PRINCE: Yeah, but I mean as far as being Jewish…
WERTZ: Oh, he’s very comfortable with it because of Israel – he’s Jewish, no problem. Always he felt he is Jewish, close to Israel…
PRINCE: Because being Jewish wasn’t – when you were young, was not good…
WERTZ: No, it wasn’t good. (OVERTALK) Sure, it wasn’t for him either.
PRINCE: Wasn’t for him either.
WERTZ: Wasn’t for him either, but (OVERTALK) he’s, yeah –
PRINCE: It’s interesting that you two decided to be Jewish.
WERTZ: Oh yeah, well, you cannot hide it. I mean, you cannot, see, in America –
PRINCE: People do, though, Felicia.
WERTZ: In America, here. In Poland once you in – in any shape, form, or degree, relate to the Jewish people, you become Jewish. Here it is only religion. In Poland if you convert, they – they still will think that you are Jewish, and all that kind, that you’re a convert, and it sticks to you, like you’re still Jewish. Nobody – you’re born Jewish, and that’s it. It’s only in this country with tolerance and understanding, but – well, all religions are considered equal, but when Jewish is considered something bad, and you convert, you want to become better, so – to be accepted. Or otherwise, marrying a Polish blond, you know, and becoming sort of assimilated. But it doesn’t happen. People found out that it never works.
PRINCE: There.
WERTZ: There. Never, never. If you are Jewish, it’s being – it’s like, you know evil, (LAUGHTER) being Jewish.
PRINCE: But he doesn’t feel…
WERTZ: Oh no. He doesn’t. He’s proud of it, and Sweden is a very accommodating country. I don’t think he’s very happy there, but his wife is happy there. He visited me here –

Tape 4 - Side 1 (Prince)

PRINCE: All right, let’s go back. Now, you and your brother came to America?
WERTZ: No, I came alone.
PRINCE: You came alone.
WERTZ: Yeah, I came to Mr. Goldberg.
PRINCE: With – not with Mr. Goldberg.
WERTZ: Yeah, to him. We were married. (OVERTALK)
PRINCE: You went to Ann Arbor.
WERTZ: I went to Ann Arbor and I was teaching. I was very happy there professionally.
PRINCE: Let’s slow up a little bit.
WERTZ: Okay.
PRINCE: You had took a plane?
WERTZ: I took a plane, and that was my first, first flight in my life. I took a plane from Warsaw to Frankfurt. I had lots of flowers, but I was sick. That was my first flight in my life. I gave the flowers to some American professor who was going to meet his wife.
PRINCE: Your friends gave you the flowers?
WERTZ: Yeah, all my friends and my brother, everybody was at the airport. And then I arrived to New York, changed planes in New York, and arrived in – arrived at Chicago, O’Hare Airport, and my husband met me with a bouquet of red roses.
PRINCE: (LAUGHTER)
WERTZ: And my first words were, “I hate flying.” I remember it was three o’clock in the morning, my time; it was eight p.m. there. For some reason I remember. And they lived in south Chicago which was a Jewish neighborhood at that point, the Eighth Avenue. And the next day, well, I didn’t eat that day, night, anything because…the next day I had breakfast, I remember. And then she took me to Marshall Fields.
PRINCE: Oh, a good place to go.
WERTZ: Because I had only one suitcase, that’s all my worldly possessions…
PRINCE: Talk about culture shock.
WERTZ: No, I didn’t have a culture shock. I read too much about America, and I didn’t have such a culture shock because nothing fit me. I was not the all-American girl. (LAUGHTER) So I was disappointed that nothing fits me, everything had to be taken in or shortened. And that – I, I read too much. I knew the language, I knew literature, and I – I knew what to expect.
PRINCE: And was it as you thought it would be?
WERTZ: Uh, no. Everything surprises – a lot of things surprised me.
PRINCE: What were some of those things?
WERTZ: Well, the worst thing, which I didn’t like, it’s the attitude towards Poland and everything Polish. For the first time I realized there are Polack jokes and that, you know, Poland’s not the center of the world, that people laugh at it. On the other hand, they laugh, but they don’t know anything about Polish culture. So it’s also – sort of simplified notion about people from Poland and the country.
PRINCE: Felicia?
WERTZ: Yeah?
PRINCE: When you lived in Poland and Russia it wasn’t good to be Jewish.
WERTZ: Yeah.
PRINCE: And when you came here…
WERTZ: Yes, that was a great, positive thing –
PRINCE: Wait a minute. It wasn’t good to be Polish.
WERTZ: Polish. That I liked. I must tell you, when I heard Polack jokes, I rejoiced because that’s – whenever you traveled by train, the people would get together and start telling dirty jokes about Jews, bad jokes.
PRINCE: This was in Poland?
WERTZ: In Poland, right. And here I said, “God, someone sized you up right!” (LAUGHTER) That’s what I thought.
PRINCE: Oh, so getting back at Poland.
WERTZ: Yes, and someone would tell me, “Do you want some Polack jokes?” I said, “Yes, tell me some.” And just someone – you know, gave them that.
PRINCE: So you didn’t feel much allegiance to Poland?
WERTZ: No, no, I never did. I mean, I believe – I believe that there is one race in this world of noble people and they – you can find them anywhere. And it doesn’t cut through nationalities (LAUGHTER) or countries. (OVERTALK) Noble people, nice people, noble people. I say noble; in Polish it sounds better, magnanimous people, or whatever. But why should I like country I was born? Because I was born there? I didn’t make that choice, right?
PRINCE: Right.
WERTZ: So I, uh, I have very close friends who are not Jewish, Polish, they’re in Poland and I’m still in touch with them. But they’re – actually, they’re all, all their friends are Jewish too, so we all know they are Polish…(LAUGHTER) So, but I know this straight example of antisemitism which is very abhorring, and I don’t like that, so…
PRINCE: The what?
WERTZ: Abhorring.
PRINCE: No, what did you say before that?
WERTZ: Antisemitism.
PRINCE: Oh, antisemitism.
WERTZ: Antisemitism, which I hate and I never identified. I felt alien. Always when you’re Jewish in Poland you feel sort of alien.
PRINCE: Okay, I’m glad we went into that.
WERTZ: Yes, and here in America and being Jewish, was to be proud of it and that was really a very good feeling.
PRINCE: That was a new feeling.
WERTZ: Well, it was a new feeling, right.
PRINCE: Even in the Jewish orphanage you learned about it but you –
WERTZ: Oh, we were proud of –
PRINCE: You were proud of…?
WERTZ: Yeah, being Jewish. I mean, but, on the other hand, we knew that we are hated by others and you always have to prove yourself. (TAPE STOPS) Yes, and then she had a big party for me, sort of like a second wedding of sorts. I had to buy my dress, and I bought a white dress, a very nice one, and people brought so many gifts and I was all happy. Of course the gifts they were giving, and endless, endless, endless eating, endless – God, I felt there’s something unhealthy about it. (LAUGHTER) I never had it so good.
PRINCE: Did you feel guilty?
WERTZ: Oh, always at the beginning, you know, you just feel that something’s missing, nobody’s bothering you. (LAUGHTER) You don’t have chores, well what is it? It’s uncomfortable at the beginning, you know.
PRINCE: It’s not normal for you.
WERTZ: Not normal, right, right, not normal. You don’t hear constantly that you are bad, you should do this and you should do that. It’s just something. Well, then we drove to Ann Arbor. I enjoyed the ride. I saw and read every sign and checked that I understand everything, asked every word I didn’t understand. It’s a good feeling when you come to a country knowing the language. The same – I know this with my niece. She speaks beautiful British English, and she didn’t know if she would ask a lot, but she felt so good because she could go places. She understood everything. It was great, absolutely. And then, two weeks later I got a telephone call that someone didn’t come for summer school, a teacher didn’t show up, and would I teach summer school, Russian – great. So I just was – my first year – first, I would say five years, were very – the beginning was good, because a year later we divorced. That was a real shock to me.
PRINCE: How was it a shock?
WERTZ: How big a shock? Well –
PRINCE: How was it a shock?
WERTZ: It was a shock because I’m in a foreign country. I have no close friends. As a matter of fact, I didn’t, except for that professor. He was very understanding. And then I found out my faculty colleagues were so nice, so understanding. And I stayed in the department and taught, although he – my ex, Goldberg, wanted to get me job somewhere else, without the car, without anything. He took me to an interview there, just like – just getting rid of me. It was so crude…and he fell in love with some German girl.
PRINCE: And you were used to a support group of friends…
WERTZ: Yeah, I was used to support. But, as you see, I survived. (LAUGHTER)
PRINCE: You survived.
WERTZ: I survived. That was – it was tough, but thank God I had that job which kept me – sort of gave me strength. And I – well, I – see, I’m very friendly with my – with Mr. Wertz; he’s a very mensche human being because we didn’t have children with Goldberg. I didn’t have children in the first marriage.
PRINCE: When did you marry Mr. Wertz?
WERTZ: ’69.
PRINCE: ’69.
WERTZ: And I divorced in ’67.
PRINCE: Did you meet him in Ann Arbor?
WERTZ: Yeah, in the same class then. He was my student.
PRINCE: Oh.
WERTZ: He was a genius student. Uh, also younger than I am, and the first husband was younger. I don’t know why I ended up with younger men, (LAUGHTER) and always liked older men, I mean more mature. Anyway, I think he behaved terribly towards me. I mean, Mr. Goldberg showed no compassion, not whatsoever, just – well, he’s not happy in his marriage from what I know. I mean, he has two daughters and…
PRINCE: How long were you married to –
WERTZ: Mr. Wertz?
PRINCE: Mr. Wertz.
WERTZ: Eight years – oh, 10, I guess.
PRINCE: And did you come here?
WERTZ: Uh, yes. We got married in Cleveland, at his mother’s place. And he got his first job at Washington University after getting his Ph.D.
PRINCE: Is he here now?
WERTZ: No, he’s a professor at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. Well, those first years here were very problematic, very tense, because, uh, every year he wouldn’t know where he would teach the next year. It was a drop in student enrollment and they were cutting teaching staff and he was the youngest. So every year we’ll have to go to convention and, you know, the “red slave market,” so called.
PRINCE: Yeah.
WERTZ: And that really put a strain on our marriage, lots of…
PRINCE: What – people who grew up in families see their parents’ marriage, sometimes it’s a bad marriage, and they learn about love in one way; sometimes it’s good – whatever good and bad is, you know. But they do learn something. You didn’t have any – anyone to watch.
WERTZ: No, I didn’t; that’s true. I didn’t have anyone to watch.
PRINCE: Whether it be quote “good or bad.”
WERTZ: Yeah.
PRINCE: Whatever, that might – did that, did you think of that thing?
WERTZ: No, no, I never thought – I didn’t really. I was brought up by single women – but widows, not by choice. They were always talking about their marriages as the best thing in their lives, how they loved their husbands. But they’re perfectly adjusted professional women and I liked that, you know.
PRINCE: Another thing I want to ask you – relistening to the tape, it occurred to me that you had always lived with a group of people; therefore, you had your support system in the orphanage. Then you went to college and – when did you find that you were alone, there was nobody to attend to you? I mean, when you live in an orphanage, somebody to – whether it be a mother or…we all find ourselves alone when we realize we are responsible for ourselves.
WERTZ: When did I find out I was alone, after the divorce?
PRINCE: No, I just mean – even before, was there a point where you found out that you –
WERTZ: That I’m alone?
PRINCE: Mmhmm, that you were responsible for yourself?
WERTZ: Well, yeah – well, I always was responsible for myself. But, uh, you know, you want to have a close friend at least who lived with you through the same, through a lot of things, in the same situations. You cannot expect someone to understand you who doesn’t know, have any of your background or anything, right?
PRINCE: Right. You know, it says that – there’s a saying that to know someone, you have to know their memories.
WERTZ: That could be, could be the case. I had a girlfriend there in Ann Arbor who was from Russia and she – her husband was a friend of my ex. But then, she had her mother and father – and she had her own problems. So whenever we were together, we had little babies together and we were very close. But then, you know how it is in this country, people move.
PRINCE: Yeah.
WERTZ: And I moved. I’ve lived in four different states already, so I have friends all over.
PRINCE: What would you say was the happiest time of your life?
WERTZ: I think having my first – first and second child.
PRINCE: Your children.
WERTZ: Mmhmm. I was really – having my first, I guess, years of marriage, having a baby, Anya, my first child, was really the happy…I was super – supermother, and I loved it, and I just was so – I worked and I had the baby, and everything was so great.
PRINCE: Do your children know all about your background? Are they interested? Have you told them?
WERTZ: Yeah, they’re getting more and more interested, especially during the visit of my niece; those three girls got so friendly. Just was, my house – I just, I miss her already. The house – we were always four of us together. We’d go places together, and they played music and really, was really nice. And they got interested; one evening we talked about it. And she said, “Oh, your cousin…” “Oh, I didn’t know I had such a big family!” And that,“you have a cousin in Paris, and a cousin here,” and that was very, very nice.
PRINCE: Was she aware of the Holocaust? Did that come up in the conversation?
WERTZ: Yes, my children are aware of Holocaust, sure.
PRINCE: I mean your niece, your brother’s daughter.
WERTZ: Oh yes, definitely. She’s from Sweden and she went to Israel several times. And her mother is very much aware of the Holocaust. And everybody tells her she looks like Anne Frank; she really does, come to think of it now. She’s a very pretty girl, and accomplished and delicate, and it was a sheer pleasure to have her. (TAPE STOPS)
PRINCE: We’ve talked about the past a lot, Felicia. How do you feel about the future?
WERTZ: Oh, I really don’t know how to feel. I feel sort of that I – probably I haven’t lived to my potential. I – I don’t know. I just want my children to be very independent, not like me. I mean (LAUGHTER) I have fears constantly of things. They are born in this country, and I ask my daughter, “Do you consider that you had a happy childhood?” She said, “Yes.” And, I don’t say I’m trying to give them everything; it’s impossible. I try to make them responsible, to share with me when I have problems and worries, and they know that. Well, I am trying to make them good human beings, which is very important. And my older daughter is very responsible and she is driving the car already and tries to please me. She’s a leader, sort of characteristics of a leader. The younger one is dreamy, romantic; she loves music. She composes music. And the other daughter – the older daughter – teases her, (LAUGHTER) that she’s such a saint and the saying to girls, get for their birthday; they get bored. She gave her a card. (LAUGHTER)
PRINCE: What are your fears?
WERTZ: My fears? Well, I don’t want to be alone. I want to find a friend. I would like to live in the same country where my brother is. Maybe we’ll both live in Israel, although I doubt it. I mean, the country changes so much there that I –
PRINCE: It’s so expensive to live there.
WERTZ: Well, it’s expensive to live everywhere. I mean…
PRINCE: Would you be afraid to live in Israel?
WERTZ: All I’m afraid is that – I think it’s a country for aggressive people, and I’m not an aggressive person enough to live there.
PRINCE: You’re a very strong person.
WERTZ: Strong doesn’t mean aggressive. Strong also means a person can take on yourself a lot and not collapse, but it doesn’t mean to be aggressive. Aggressive is a different, different attitude, right?
PRINCE: Right.
WERTZ: I think so. I think strong and aggressive doesn’t have, doesn’t have a lot in common.
PRINCE: Very true.
WERTZ: Aggressive is also – you know, you have monomaniac enthusiasm; that’s aggressive too.
PRINCE: What is that?
WERTZ: They have this expression, “monomaniac enthusiast.” There was this book about excellence, and you have to, you know, put in something – a goal in search of excellence, a goal in your mind. Mono – only one, and achieve.
PRINCE: And that’s not you?
WERTZ: No, I’m not aggressive enough to do things. Neither is my brother. I read somewhere – was it in Chaim Potok’s or in…was it in…no, in Dimont. There is this type of Jew who disappears, you know, a Jew who likes to read and happy with everything, and quiet, non-aggressive type. (LAUGHTER AND OVERTALK) Extinct, extinct, sort of species; I think I belong to that.
PRINCE: They will become extinct, or…?
WERTZ: Yeah, they are becoming extinct.
PRINCE: That kind of Jew.
WERTZ: That kind of Jew. (LAUGHTER) I probably – I find that I have less and less in common with Jewry here. I mean, it’s a feeling that I’m a failure because I – because of my income brackets; they make you feel that way, in a lot of ways. And that’s not good either so…I noticed recently that more of my friends are, are…Christians, Polish people, than Jewish people.
PRINCE: You’re more at home with Europeans.
WERTZ: Yeah, with my Polish friends.
PRINCE: Because of their priorities?
WERTZ: Because – priorities, they are not as materialistic. See, I know the whole Russian community here, and it became so boring. I have nothing to talk with them about. Whenever there is a birthday party or…birthday party mostly, they talk about money. And it’s just incredible, incredibly boring.
PRINCE: Is it because they’re new here and that’s…
WERTZ: No, they’ve probably always wanted it that way; that’s all America’s about for them. And, uh, it’s sad. There are several ones like this – music teacher, who is Russian too, and she knows how it feels. I saw lately (LAUGHTER) that she has…
PRINCE: America is about so many different things for so many different people.
WERTZ: Yeah, it’s true, but basically you have to be financially secure and then you can do your own different things. I – I think it’s important, it’s just minimum in a way that you have to be. And people – at this point, people are ashamed of not being rich. They think they’re failures. It wasn’t that before. I didn’t feel that before, even on campuses, professors feel more sorry for themselves, absolutely. When I worked my last year at UMSL everybody, you know, felt so down, and it’s very unhealthy feelings. And this feeling didn’t exist when I came here. I remember it wasn’t that way.
PRINCE: Why do you think it changed?
WERTZ: I guess the new administration, the – the mood in the country. There’s no idealism anywhere. I mean, it’s just – well, I came in the height of it, the 60s, sit-ins and everything, you know.
PRINCE: Speaking of idealism, we just passed the 200th – the Statue of Liberty – the celebration of the Statue of Liberty – 100th anniversary.
WERTZ: Yeah, right.
PRINCE: Did you watch it on television?
WERTZ: Yeah, I watched it. I watched – there was a Russian family who I know…
PRINCE: How did you feel about everything that you saw?
WERTZ: It’s great. It’s the greatest country in the world, anyway. It is, it’s ______. And things that they can provide here because it’s a lucky country; it’s a big, big territory, good climate, variety of things. It’s true. Nevertheless, yeah, it’s a good country. It – but it is – Americans are also very aggressive, enterprising people. These things prevail, just the ______, not flection – just go and get it, more and more and more. There is not this –
PRINCE: And you’re saying Israel is that way too.
WERTZ: Israel is that way too. Israel is imitation of America, in many ways. Besides, probably there is this experience in the area, you know, to live, because you can die tomorrow. So…
PRINCE: If you move to Israel, would you ever think of living on a kibbutz because – because that would be similar to living in an orphanage?
WERTZ: It could be, in a collective way, right.
PRINCE: Where you’re taken – you’re doing your work, but you’re also being taken care of. Would that appeal to you?
WERTZ: Could be, yeah, I guess I wouldn’t mind. I don’t know. (PAUSES) It’s hard coming from America to a different country. Young people, they have extreme like that. You came from America; you have to be rich. You know, it’s…
PRINCE: I’ve now listened for a few hours to you and I would just like to say that I think you’ve done a magnificent job of coming from being virtually alone. You’re an intelligent – highly intelligent person with – it seems like a good sense of priorities. And noone’s life runs smoothly, but I certainly I commend you from where I’ve heard, from Wyszkow to Russia to, back to Poland, and to America, and I thank you for telling me all about it.
WERTZ: Thank you.

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