Hedy Epstein

Hedy Epstein
Nationality: German
Location: England • Freiburg • Ft. Wayne • Germany • Indiana • Kippenheim • Missouri • St. Louis • United States of America
Experience During Holocaust: Escaped the Holocaust • Family Died During the Holocaust • Family Died in Concentration Camp • Was on a Kindertransport

Mapping Hedy's Life

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“In my mother’s last letter written on September 1st, 1942, she closes the letter by saying, 'Don’t ever forget us.' And I take that the 'us' that she’s referring to is not just us the family, but all of the Jews that were persecuted by the Nazis. And it’s that last wish of my mother that has really become my mandate, to talk about my own experience, and what I know about their experience during the Nazi Holocaust.” - Hedy Epstein

Read Hedy's Oral History Transcripts

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Tape 1 - Side 1 (Eidelman)

Epstein: My name is Hedy Epstein. My maiden name was Wachenheimer. I was born on August 15, 1924 in Freiburg, Germany. That’s in the Black Forest, but I lived in Kippenheim which is probably about 40 kilometers north of Freiberg. I was the only child of Hugo and Ella Wachenheimer. My father worked in the family business which had been established in 1857 by my great-grandfather.
Edelman: What business was it?
Epstein: Oh, it was a dry goods business, and my father and his brother Oscar were both, owned the business together; they had inherited it from their father, Max Wachenheimer who died in 1925, and he in turn had inherited it from his father who started the business in 1857, and that is Heinrich Wachenheimer. What I’m going to talk about is really my experience during Nazi Germany and life afterwards.
My parents were fairly successful in protecting me from what was happening in Germany for a number of years. It’s true that sometimes in school I was called a dirty Jew or some other such choice expression, and I would come home and I was deeply disturbed by that. But my parents, particularly my father, who I think was quite a dreamer, would hold out some beautiful thing that would happen in the future that when I get older I will go to school in Switzerland…I will go to school in France…I will learn foreign languages.
Eidelman: Is this in Kippenheim that you’re talking about?
Epstein: Yes, yes. I lived in Kippenheim except for the first eight days of my life, which I spent in the hospital in Freiburg. And I wanted very much to believe what my father said, and maybe he really meant those things. Maybe those were his hopes and anticipations for me, but of course they never became reality. And the reality really was the next day when I had to return to school and I was confronted again with being called a dirty Jew, being very alone in school because a lot of the Jewish children with their families had left, or they start…the first family, in fact, had left for the United States in the fall of 1934, and then afterwards through the years many other families left. But by November 9, the day which is really known as Kristallnacht, or Crystal Night, my whole world as I knew it…protected by my parents from what was really going on, really collapsed for me, and there was nothing that my parents could do to protect me anymore. And I’d like to talk about that day at some length now.
I remember the evening before, I guess that must have been November 8—it was a Wednesday night. After my parents listened to the news, and after and just before I went to bed, I was told that if I heard some strange noises that night, I should immediately get up and go inside the hall closet, I mean inside the closet in the hall. And from there call my parents, but not try to get my parents, and to do that immediately. And when I asked why, “Don’t ask questions—just do as you’re told.” That was not the way I was brought up—I would ask questions and I would get an explanation. I was somewhat baffled by the fact that I wasn’t given an explanation, and that I was asked to do something as outlandish as go sit in the closet in the hall. Nothing happened that night. The next morning I left for school just like all other days, and I remember it was a crisp, early winter morning, the sun was shining.
And there was one other Jewish child in Kippenheim with whom I went to school. We really went to school, the Realgymnasium in nearby Ettenheim, which was about five, seven kilometers away. We went by bicycle. And as we approached the school, I saw a whole row of broken windows in a building, and I knew that there was a Jewish dentist living in that building, and he had his office there. And I somehow knew that those windows were broken because he was Jewish. I just made that assumption, and it turned out it was a correct assumption. And I was disturbed by that. I mean, I had never seen so many broken windows, and I was at a loss to explain why, and I was trying to find an explanation. But you know there was no one to ask. And as I entered the schoolyard, I could just sense an air of excitement. I, again, I didn’t know what it was, and I was afraid to ask, and I went into my classroom.
The other boy was in a grade below me, so he went to his classroom, and classes started the regular hour and by the half hour after classes started, the principal walked in, and, in fact, his daughter was in my class. And I remember him to be a very mild-mannered, soft-spoken, gentle, kind person. He gave a long talk about something that even later that day I couldn’t remember what it was. But at one point he stopped, and he pointed at me and he said, “Get out, you dirty Jew.” And I heard it, but I couldn’t believe it. And I asked him to repeat it, and he did, and as he was repeating it, he came over to me and grabbed my by my elbow and pushed me out the door. And there I stood, and I immediately tried to, you know, analyze the situation…try to understand. What did I do? Why was I kicked out? What am I going to tell my parents? And you know, I wasn’t the best kid in the world, but I really this time didn’t know that I had done anything wrong. And as all these thoughts were racing through my mind, the door opened and the kids came out, put on their coats, and they left. And some of them, you know, pushed me, and some called me dirty Jew, and so on, and I didn’t know…should I go with them or should I stay? Should I go back in the classroom? I finally decided that I would stay because I really didn’t know where they were going because there was no field trip planned for that day. And I went back in the classroom and sat at my desk and tried to study. And I don’t really know how I could because I was so afraid and trying to, you know, what am I going to tell my parents? I don’t know why.
Eidelman: What grade would that have been?
Epstien: Well, it was Unter Tertia, which would have been the equivalent of, I guess, the eighth grade. And shortly after that there was a very gentle knock on the door and I was afraid to say, “Come in,” and I was afraid not to say anything, and I looked, where can I hide? You cannot hide any place in a classroom. And the door opened, and this other Jewish boy came in. And I…he looked to me, I guess, for answers because I was a year older. And I told him to go back to his classroom and study. And he was really much wiser than I was. He said, “I can’t study, and I’m afraid, and I don’t know what we should do.” I said, “Well, I don’t know either, but I think we should study, and I’m going to study, and leave me alone.” And he said, “I’m going to stay here.” I said, “Well, you do what you want, but I’m studying, and don’t bother me.” And I pretended to be reading. I don’t think I really understood what I read. And, oh, maybe 45 minutes or-so later, he was standing by the window looking out, and the school faced upon the street. Or, no,  I mean my classroom faced upon the street.
He said, “Come here; look at this, what is this?” And he was really excited. And I went to the window, and we saw a group of men who were chained to each other—four in a row—and they were chained to each other, chained to the ones in front, chained to the ones in back. They were being marched down the street, and there were some SS men. We knew they were SS men because of the black uniform, and they had whips, and they were whipping them and saying, “Schneller, Schneller,” you know, faster, faster. And while we didn’t know who these men were, we couldn’t…the school was too far back from the street, we just intuitively knew these were Jews. And with that, we both decided we better call home and find out what to do. And I called home first. And the operator came on and said that the phone was disconnected, and then I called my father, well I tried again, and she told me the same thing again. And I called my father at his place of business, and the phone was disconnected. And I called my aunt, and the phone was disconnected. And then he called his parents, or his mother…his father was dead already, and I don’t know who all he called, but all those phones were disconnected too. Well, with that, we decided we better go home. Something is terribly wrong, and maybe we shouldn’t be where we are. We should be with our families.
And we were afraid because it was the middle of the day. You know, it was about 10:30 or so in the morning—we were going to be found truant or something. So we’re going to have to be careful. We took all the back alleys instead of going, you know, the way we would normally go. And you know, we were constantly looking, you know, who is going to see us because we’re truant—not because we’re Jews, but because we’re truant. And we went part of the way together, and then at some point, you know, he went off to his home and I went to mine. As I approached our house, I saw something that was very abnormal. When I left that morning, the shutters—we had green shutters on the house—they were open, and they were always open in the daytime. Sometimes in the depth of winter, if it was very windy or so my parents would close them at night, but never during the day time. And they were all closed, and they hadn’t been closed when I left that morning. And I ran to the door to get in, and it was locked. And I didn’t even know it could be locked, I don’t remember it ever being locked. And I went around the back, and that door was locked. And that door was sometimes locked, so that was not unusual. I came back around the front; maybe I didn’t turn the handle hard enough. But of course, it was locked. I could not get in. I rang the doorbell, and I could hear it. Nobody answered. And my mother should have been home. At least, I thought that she was normally home during the daytime. And I just kept on going back and front…back and front of the house, and I gotta get in the house. And finally, you know, I accepted that I can’t get in. What am I going to do?
And at that point, I saw a man walking down the street, and I knew him to be one of the town’s worst Nazis. And at any other time, I would have gone to the other side of the street rather than pass him on the same side of the street. But I went up to him, and I said to him; and it made no sense what I asked, but I did, but I asked him, “Where is my mother?” and he said, “I don’t know where the bitch is, but if she’s still alive and I find her, I’ll kill her.” Well with that, I decided, you know, forget about trying to get into this house, I’ll go to my father’s business, I’ll go to my aunt’s. I am going somewhere…somebody is going to have to explain this to me. And I, the shortest distance to my aunt’s house was, you know, just going right down into the main part of this little village that I lived in and forgetting about being truant or anything like that.
And as I entered what you could call the business district, there was a large Jewish hardware store there—it was the largest store in the village. And there were people breaking the windows and reaching in and taking stuff out. And it was almost like a carnival atmosphere. People were laughing, and it was like it was all a big joke. And I just hoped that nobody would recognize me…nobody would see me, and I just went on. And then I could see my aunt and my mother looking out of the second story window of the house where my aunt lived, and I thought, “Why are they looking at this, why would they want to see this?” They couldn’t actually see what I had just seen, but somehow things got jumbled in my mind. And my mother opened the door for me, and my mother was taller and thinner than my aunt, but she was wearing my aunt’s clothes. And so she looked somewhat grotesque.
And we exchanged, you know, what had happened to us at that point.  And my mother explained that about 10 minutes after I left for school that morning, some…I think they were SA men, but I’m not sure, that’s what I seem to remember—came to the house and arrested my father, and he was still in his pajamas. And they had not given him a chance to get dressed—not even to put a coat on—just in his pajamas and slippers, and they took him. And the last thing that my father said was to try to find Hedy and try to stay together. A couple of them apparently stayed behind and they broke  windows; that explained why the shutters were closed. They also broke some things in the house, you know, like…in Germany, we have these great big feather eiderdowns and feather ticks, and they slit those open, so there were feathers all over the place. And my mother was still in her nightclothes too, and apparently just the way she was, she ran out of the house after closing the shutters and locking the house, she ran out and went to my aunt’s house, and my aunt gave her her clothes.
The reason they were looking out the window is…somehow they had heard, and I don’t really know how they knew this, that the men had been taken to City Hall, and you could see City Hall not too far away from my aunt’s house, you know maybe a long block away. And they were looking out to see if these men were coming out. All the men, 16 and up, that they could find had been arrested—that is, only Jewish men. And we continued to look out the window, and around 11:30, which was, you know, maybe a half hour or so after I got there, we could see people coming out of City Hall, and being, they seemed to form a group or something. And then that group started to move and walk towards the direction of my aunt’s house, in fact, walked right past my aunt’s house. And again, it was the same thing that I had seen earlier. Men in chains, in various states of dress or undress, were being whipped by the Nazis who were marching along, and I don’t remember whether they were SS—I just know they were Nazis. At this point, I was looking for my father, and I was looking for my uncle, and they were in that group. And I remember my mother practically hung me outside that second-story window, hoping that my father would see me. And we really didn’t know whether he did because, you know, he would have had to look up. And we later found out that he did see me, but at the time we didn’t know, nor did we know where they were going or what was happening to them.
And there was no news from these men for two weeks. After two weeks, preprinted postcards arrived from Dachau saying, you know, do not send money…do not send packages…do not send newspapers. They had some other things that you’re not supposed to send pictures, do not send packages. And the only thing that was in handwriting was the name and address of the person who sent the postcard and the name and address of the person to whom it was sent. It was my father’s handwriting, and the other people started getting postcards that day, or the next day. Well, then in a couple of days, everybody who had somebody in Dachau who did not die, and I believe from our village nobody died, but I can’t be one hundred percent sure.
But to come back to that day—after we saw the men being marched down the street, we closed the windows, and we just sat there, you know, trying to make sense out of a whole lot of things that made no sense. And my mother had, by the way, tried to call the school, but the phones were disconnected, and so here, part of the reason she went to my aunt’s house and found that phone disconnected too. And as we’re sitting there trying to discuss and decide what to do and, you know,  try to understand, we suddenly heard loud banging downstairs on the door. And with that, we went up in the attic, and the three of us—my aunt, my mother, and I—sat in an old wardrobe that was up there that hadn’t been used in, I don’t know how many years, and the banging went on for a very short time. And then, it suddenly stopped. There was dead silence. And we really didn’t know whether they had gotten into the house, maybe they were tiptoeing around, you know, waiting for all we knew outside this wardrobe. I remember whispering to my mother while I was sitting in there, “I want to get out of here, and I’m not just taking about getting out of this wardrobe, I’m talking about getting out of Germany. I no longer want to stay here.” And, I don’t really know how long we were in there. It seemed like a lifetime, and maybe it was an hour, a half hour, three hours, I don’t know. But eventually, we came out and there was nobody in the house, they did not break down the door. There was big marks on the door where they had tried to get in, but hadn’t.
That we found out later on—and I don’t remember exactly when it was—sometime later on, but apparently, the whole thing, everything was called off at 12 noon. And it must have been close to 12:00 when they came to my aunt’s door and, you know, when it was called off, that was the end of it. The story was that these were they hoodlums from someplace else—these weren’t local people—who had come to destroy property…Jewish property…who burned, who attempted to burn the synagogue. They then decided against it because the adjoining buildings were occupied by Christians, and there was some possibility that maybe the fire would spread into those buildings. And so they destroyed the inside of the synagogue, broke the windows. And there were the two tablets of Moses were on the very top. It came to a point like this, and on top of that point rested the two tablets, and they were knocked off. I…we didn’t know that had happened right away, but you know, just filling in some things that had happened.
We stayed…we decided, my mother and I decided to stay at my aunt’s house rather than go back to our house because there were all the broken windows, and also, I guess we wanted to be together. And I was supposed to…my mother and aunt were going to sleep in my aunt’s bedroom and I was supposed to sleep in the spare bedroom, but I was so afraid, I wouldn’t. And so they moved, that evening, they moved a bed in there so the three of us slept in the same bedroom. In fact, I was so afraid to be by myself that when I went to the bathroom my aunt and my mother had to come with me. I would not go alone. If one of them left the room, you know, I would take the other one; we would have to be together. We were, the three of us, you know, never separated.
When those postcards arrived, or when we got our postcard saying where my father was, he was in Dachau, my mother then…for the first time…I permitted her to go away because she went to the Gestapo office which was in Karlsruhe, which is north, and everyday she went there. And I don’t really know what she did there…other than that she tried to get information about my father and how to get him out, how to bring him back. On the Monday of the fourth week after my father was gone, she came back, and she said that they had told her that my father would come back that week; however, if he does not return by Friday, he will never return because he would have died. By the way, to let my mother go was a really traumatic experience because I was so afraid that now she’s going to be gone too. But you know, when she came back the first day, the second day, you know, I guess I began to have some faith that she would be alright and she came back every day. So after she was told that my father would come back that week, the following morning, well, that morning, as a matter of fact, the first Jewish men arrived back. And they arrived on a train that came into the…that arrived at the railroad station at 7 o’clock that morning. And they were told that they had to walk to wherever they lived. They could not take any other mode of transportation. The railroad station was probably about a half hour, a good half hour’s walk away from the center of the village.
And, so knowing that these men had arrived…my mother and my aunt that evening went and visited whoever it was. And, of course, I went along too, but I was not allowed to be in the same room when they started talking. I was told to go to another room, so I don’t know what was exchanged. The only thing that I do know is that each and every man had his hair completely shaved off…and that I never seen men like that, and that is a sight that I don’t think I’ll ever forget. And so the next morning, you know, Tuesday morning, we went back to the house where we lived because that’s where my father would come, and he was not there. And well, he didn’t come back, and we went back there on Wednesday and Thursday, and he didn’t come. And on Friday morning, my mother just would not get out of bed. She said, “He’s dead…he’s not coming back anymore.” And I tried, and my aunt tried desperately to get her, you know, today is still, you know, he could come back, that he is probably coming back today. “No, he’s dead.” I mean she was just…probably temporarily insane. And while we were wrestling with her, literally, trying to get her because I wouldn’t go alone, and my aunt said she can’t leave my mother alone the way she is…and I said, “My father’s not going to know where to go.”
He would have known where to go, and he did know where to go because a little while later there was a knock on the door. And my mother when she heard that she said, “Let’s go back up in the attic. They’re coming to get us.” And I said, “No, no.” I said, “Maybe it’s my uncle, maybe it’s my father. Maybe it’s somebody.” Because it was about that time. And I broke away, and I think it was the first time that I broke away because there were my mother and my aunt in the bedroom, and I went to the living room window, and I opened and looked out, and I expected really my father to come back in pajamas because he left in pajamas and would come back in pajamas. And there was a man standing with a hat and a coat, and I could see his pants, and I somehow recognized it was my father, even though I didn’t see his face because it was hidden by his hat. And I clearly hollered out there, “It’s Daddy, it’s Daddy.” And my mother said, “No, it’s not. It’s a Nazi, he’s pretending; let’s go up in the attic.” And I went downstairs, and my mother was grabbing me, and I had scratch marks on my arms because she was trying to hold me back. And I broke away, and I went down, and I opened the door, and sure enough, it was my father.
And the first thing that he did was to take his hat off. And I said something that I shouldn’t have said, but it just came out. I said, “My God, they shaved your hair.” Because somehow I thought, you know, my father they’re not going to do this to him, he’s different. And he was so ashamed, and he took his hat and he practically pulled it down to his chin. And, you know, it took maybe a minute before my mother realized that this was my father. She was still yelling, you know, “Let’s get up in the attic—let’s get out.” But she must have seen him, but then, you know she came to herself. And we tried to get my father to take his coat off, and he didn’t want to. And he said he was cold, and so, you know, there…you had these wood or coal burning stove in the rooms there, and we put more coal on and heated up and made it hotter. But what it was finally…what it boiled down to, was he couldn’t take his coat off, and he was afraid to take it off. He was afraid that we might see the condition of his body because he had been beaten and his arms were all swollen. What we finally had to do was to cut the sleeves open so he could get out of the coat. I only saw his arms. I didn’t see the rest of his body, so I don’t really know. But I had seen his hands, of course, before he really took his coat—so they were…they had been frostbitten. And they had burns on them because his job there was to carry the soup, and which was hot when they picked it up, and then it would spill and it would spill on his hands and burn his hands, and it was so cold there, he had frostbite on his hands.
Later that morning, he was shaving, and he, I was not in the room when it happened, but I heard the thud, and he apparently had a mild heart attack. And, you know, Jewish doctors were not allowed to practice. There weren’t really any in town or the village where I come from, but there might have been one, you know, there were like in Lahr—there was a Jewish doctor. And the Christian doctors were not allowed to treat Jews, and you couldn’t go to the hospital if you were Jewish, so…But somehow, my mother must have gotten the message to the doctor who had been our family doctor for…well, it was before I was born…and he came every night during the night. And he took care of my father, and fortunately he [my father] had just a mild heart attack, and so he recovered.
Eidelman: This doctor was not Jewish?
Epstein: He was not Jewish.
Eidelman: Did he make any comments when he was there that you recollect about what happened to him?
Epstein: No, because I, you know, “Dr. Weber is coming and he’s going to take care of Daddy,” and, you know, “Don’t talk to him. Let him do what he has to do. Don’t ask any questions. Don’t say anything.” So, and he would talk to my mother and I would have to leave the room, or they would go in another room, so I don’t know. I mean, he would say, “Hello, Hedy; how are you?”…pinch my cheek or something like that, but that’s about the extent of it.
There were other things by the way that happened on or about the 9th of November. You know, like all Jewish businesses were permanently closed, and I mentioned already that the Jewish doctors weren’t allowed to practice or anybody that had a profession, whether that be a lawyer, doctor, dentist, or whatever…couldn’t practice. Money was confiscated, and we were allotted a certain amount each month, depending on your family’s size. Jewelry had to be turned in…your gold, silver, precious stones, cutlery, other silver, jewelry you had. Oh, all Jewish children were permanently kicked out of school. The day that I was thrown out was my last day of school in Germany. You could attend Jewish schools, but there weren’t any back in Kippenheim, and I did not go to school anymore in Germany after I was thrown out of the Realgymnasium.
I should say that maybe much earlier and I don’t really know how early, my parents desperately tried to get out of Germany. I know because my father had been doing some genealogical research as a hobby. I guess he also knew that there were certain family members that at certain times had left Germany and gone to different counties, and so he tried to find those people…tried to find anybody who would help us to get out, and…
Eidelman: At what point did he desperately want to get out? You had mentioned that over the years your friends had left. Do you recall the conversations, for instance around the dinner table, about leaving Germany? At what point did your family finally decide?
Epstein: There was not too much—there was not too much said to me because as I said earlier my parents tried to protect me. But, you know, here and there, I’d overhear a conversation, or I’d hear something here and then something another time, and put it together, and it may have made sense and it may not have made sense. And then, it seemed to sort of build up to, you know, the crescendo level got higher and higher, and I, for instance, we had a post office box and one of my duties very often was to go the post office box to pick up the mail. And, you know, I know that if there was a letter with a foreign stamp on it, that that was a highlight for my parents, so we were happy to look for that, and I would want to know what was in those letters.
And I do, for instance, remember that my father found some relatives in Chicago. I don’t know…cousins ten times removed or something like that. And through them found some other relatives, and um, this one man wrote back, and this letter, for some reason, maybe it was read to me or I was in the room when my father translated it, maybe, because it was in English…I’m not sure just how that was. I remember the man wrote back that he was—it was during the Depression—and that he was lucky that he had a job as bookkeeper, and he was supporting his elderly mother, and he really could not help us. And apparently, my father had asked that if he couldn’t would he perhaps ask his employer, and if not his employer, maybe go to the Jewish community. And he said he would not dare go to his employer because he might lose his job, and he would not dare go to the Jewish community because he doesn’t want to be the laughing stock of the Jewish community, and so why don’t you wait and things will get better. And that somehow has really always stuck in my mind…wait, and things will get better! Whenever even today, when somebody says something that is totally unrelated to this, why don’t you wait and it’ll get better. You know, like I would say I have to work on this budget tonight and, you know, if somebody in my office would say, “Well, why don’t you wait until tomorrow, and you’ll be able to do it better,” I would just go into a rage because I…I just, you know, I’m not blaming this man for what happened, but you cannot always wait…and things don’t always get better. Or maybe before they get better they get a heck of a lot worse.
Eidelman: When you, were you…how were you impacted between 1933, let’s say, and 1938 as the various laws and so forth were passed, the Nuremberg laws and so forth, about going to public places and so forth?
Epstein: Okay. Well, the first thing that I remember was on April 1, 1933, which was a Saturday. There was the SA, were stationed in front, one SA man or two, depending on the size of the store, I think was placed standing in front of the Jewish places of business. It was a boycott of Jewish stores. I didn’t know that…what it was at the time. I just saw this man standing in front of our…my father’s business, and I asked, and I was told, you know, don’t worry about it—it’s nothing, and it’ll go away. And it did. I mean, the next day or the next week, you know, next month, that man never showed up again. He was just there that day. And, so that was perhaps the very first thing that I noticed or observed that was different. I…you know, well, there was a swimming pool on the outskirts of the village, and I could not go to that swimming pool. It was not open to Jews. At some point, and I don’t remember when that was, I could no longer go to the movie. There was no movie house in Kippenheim, but there was one in Lahr, and sometimes my parents would take me there, or else I would go to Freiburg, and, you know, I remember seeing some early Shirley Temple movies once. But at some point, and I don’t remember when that was, I could no longer go…
Eidelman: What about your friends? Did you have, when you were a student at Kippenheim, did you have Jewish girlfriends or Gentile girlfriends, and what was…was there any discussion about politics?
Epstein: Well, at first, no, not a discussion of politics. I mean, at first, when I went to the grade school for four years I went to the grade school in Kippenheim, you know, my friends were mixed. And I really—my upbringing was such that I really didn’t know too much about being Jewish. The Jewish people—the Jewish families in Kippenheim were probably ranging between Orthodox and Conservative, but my parents were the odd ones—we definitely didn’t observe anything. And so, being Jewish wasn’t something that was uppermost in my mind, and I really, I don’t think I always knew who was Jewish and who wasn’t. Then as families started to leave, then I became aware that these are all Jewish families, and one by one they would be leaving. And most of them went to the United States.
The first ones left in the fall on 1934; they were the poorest family in town. The father was a sort of peddler, but they always talked about their rich relatives in this country. They used to get packages. They had three daughters, and they wore these outlandish, or what seemed outlandish clothes. They were beautiful clothes in many ways, but they were just different than what you wore in Germany. They were almost like—they seemed like vintage clothes, and maybe they were. And, but when they left, I know, you just know, because they were so poor—somebody finally helped them. That’s great; it’s going to get better for them. And I don’t think I related it too much to being Jewish.
But as others started to leave, like for instance, when I went to the Realgymnasium, one of the things that I remember, my father went there with me to register me, and he wore in his lapel a little, a ribbon with some crossed swords or something which was something that was—that Hitler actually gave—maybe in 1936 or 1937, to all…maybe, I don’t know whether it was only to Jewish or whether it was to all soldiers or veterans of World War I, and I don’t know if it was to everyone who was a veteran, but I know my father very proudly wore that. And I remember when the principal said, you know, that he could not accept me in school unless my father was a veteran of World War I, and my father pointed to his lapel, saying, “Why do you think I’m wearing this?” And he always very proudly wore that, and so that, you know, said something to me—you’re Jewish, you can’t come in here unless your father was a veteran of World War I and can prove it. And so that said something to me.
And then, you know, there were probably about a dozen or so Jewish children from my village in that school. I don’t know how many from others because they drew from the surrounding neighborhood, surrounding villages. And one by one, you know, they would leave, and as I said, in November 1938, which was after I was there about three and a half years, there was only one other child and I left in that school…I mean Jewish child. Never mind about anybody from anywhere else. It just turned out that both of us came from Kippenheim.
Eidelman: Did you have any close girlfriends at that school?
Epstein: Well, I did when I first started. But by the time, you know, by probably by about the third year that I was there, there were no more Jewish chil–uh, girls there that I can remember. I think that last ones left during that third year there, and the others, it was almost like…I mean there was one girl in my…there were not many girls in that school for one thing. There were only three girls all told in my class, in the fourth year that I was there. We were more in the first year, but there was a lot of weeding out during that first year. And only sort of the cream of the crop survives. And so after that, I think we were only about three or four girls and I know in the fourth year that I was there—there were three of us, two Christian girls and I. It used to be an all boys school; in fact, my father went to it when he was a young man.
And the one girl was a very moody girl, and when she had good days, you know, she would talk to me. And the other girl who was the principal’s daughter was sort of taking the lead from the other girl, and they would both talk to me. And if she was in a bad mood, neither one of them talked to me. And I, you know, used to…I felt very dependent on her moods, you know, and it was a better day if she smiled at me or said something to me. I mean, even if they talked to me it wasn’t very much. It was, you know, but it was a better day. But if they totally ignored me or if they said nasty things to me, you know, pushed me, or knocked my books down or something. I know the breaks used to be the most agonizing period of the day because I would stand there leaning up against that same pillar, I’d swear there must be a dent in that pillar because I leaned up against it so hard. And all the kids would be out there. Well, the girls would be in the front of the school, and the boys in the back. And they’d be playing somewhere, and they talked not too far away, and I’d stand there all by myself. And nobody would talk to me…nobody would ask me to play with them, to talk with them. And it just seemed like it’s never going to end. It was maybe a ten minute break, but it was endless. And I, the Christian children I, well, there weren’t any Christian children from Kippenheim, boys or girls as a matter of fact, that went to the Realgymnasium. I don’t think even when I first started…I mean, maybe in some of the upper grades, and I didn’t know them, but not in my grade. And there was sort of a snob thing, you know. If you went to the Realgymnasium, you were different, and you didn’t talk to public school kids because they were dummies. So that may have had to do with some it, may be responsible for that that I didn’t have any Christian girlfriends after a while. When I was in public school, I mean, I don’t, I think I just mixed with everybody. I didn’t know who was what, and it didn’t matter…
Eidelman: Then after, so, after November the 9th…?
Epstein: Right.
Eidelman: …you didn’t go back to school?
Epstein: No, I couldn’t.
Eidelman: Then what did you do during the day, and what happened from then on?
Epstein: That’s a very good question, and I cannot really answer it. I don’t know how I spent my days. I do know that after a while, after my father came back from the concentration camp, and things began to quote-unquote “normalize” somewhat. I mean, it wasn’t normal because my father was home everyday and that was not normal; of course, before that, he had gone to work every day. He would give me an assignment, you know; he’d ask me to write an essay, or he’d give me some math problems. It was, that was not really that different from before because my father and I went, before that when I was still in school, we would go almost every Sunday morning, we would go for a walk together and sometimes go bike riding together. And I was given a topic, and let’s say it was Sunday: think about it, to research, to read, whatever I wanted to do, and the next Sunday we’ll discuss this topic. So that wasn’t that much different then, you know, and we’d always do this. And I looked forward to that, and I, you know, if I didn’t do my work, then you know, my father would say, “Well, we’ll have to do this again. You didn’t come up with all the answers.”
You know, he would ask me all kinds of questions. I remember my lesson in—I guess it was supposed to be sex education, it wasn’t called that, but I think that’s what it was. He asked me to discuss the immortality of the June bug, and I knew that that was supposed to be sex education. So why, that’s right, you know, I mean, why should I teach him something if he doesn’t know it and try to explain it to him. The only thing that I came up with the following Sunday was something like…I said, “Well, you know, there’s just nothing to discuss.” And he says, “Well, okay, let me ask you,” he says… “Why are they immortal?” And I said, “Well, they don’t die.” “Well, why don’t they die?” And I said, “Well, they die, but they have babies. The babies grow up and they have babies, and that’s it.” And he said, “Well, do you want to discuss it?” And I said, “There’s nothing further to discuss.” So then he left that topic, he left it alone. I guess he felt I knew enough. That was my…(LAUGHS) I think, that was my sex education. And because I was never told anything else later on, except not to go with strange men—that I was told just before I left Germany.
Eidelman: So then what happened to your family?
Epstein: Well, I started talking earlier that there were these efforts by my parents and I could see it was building up, you know, I referred to it, I think, as the crescendo was building up to try desperately to get out of Germany. And by the time my father came back from Dachau, I mean, you know, the push was really on. But there was also a separate push to get me out of Germany, and preferably the three of, but if not, to get me out of Germany. And I do remember that in 1936 sometime—I don’t know where I was supposed to go, but my parent’s approached me with the fact that if I wanted to, there was an opportunity for me to leave Germany and to go somewhere else in another country and to go to school there. And of course, I could come home and visit them and what a great opportunity this was for me. And I didn’t want to go, and they didn’t push it. They said, “If you don’t want to go, you don’t have to, but we think it would be great.” But I—and I don’t know whether they even mentioned the country, I don’t remember—but I didn’t go.
Then, you know, right after my father came back, and my mother had even initiated some things before he came back, but the effort was really on then to get all of us, but if not, to get me out of Germany. And my father had discovered  this cousin of my grandfather’s—my mother’s, on my mother’s side of the family, and she had come to England when she was, I think, six months old, and she was then a lady in her seventies. And she agreed to sponsor my coming to England. And I remember I got a permit to enter England on the 19th of January 1939. That day somehow sticks in my mind. And then I had to, of course, to get permission from Germany to leave and you had to get permission for everything that you took out, you had to apply whether you can take that with you. And I know one of the things that I desperately wanted to take was my bicycle, and I was not allowed to take my bicycle—it had to stay in Germany. And I almost didn’t want to go because my bicycle couldn’t go. And then my parents did not want me to travel alone, and so they arranged for me to join a children’s transport, and that left Germany on the 18th of May 1939—it was a Wednesday.
And we arrived, there were 500 children on that transport; the youngest were twins, six months old, and the upper limit, the upper age limit was 16. And I was 14 at the time. And I remember my parents putting me on the train and the thought that I had—like a day or two before that, that maybe I’m not my parents’ real child, or natural biological child. That this was just an opportunity for them to get rid of me; they don’t want me anymore. I even expressed that to them which must have been very painful for them, particularly since I remember people in Kippenheim saying that at times like this, the family stays together…

Tape 1 - Side 2 (Eidelman)

…for my parents to send me away, but you know, the people in the community saying, “You don’t do that.” And then my coming out with…I’m not your real child.
Eidelman: When you say people in the community, did someone say that to you?
Epstein: No, but I heard people say it to my parents. You know, they’d say, “You’re not really going to do that?”
Eidelman: Jewish people or Christians?
Epstein: Yeah, both. “You’re not really going to let her go. I mean, that’s foolish to do that. It’s not wise, you know. Times are difficult, and you don’t know what will happen and it’s best if you stay together, and…” I didn’t have any understanding at that point of how difficult it must have been for my parents to have just made that decision and to carry it out and then have to deal with all this other stuff that other people were saying…that I was saying. But when they put me on the train, and as that train pulled out of the station, I was looking out of the window, and my…they ran to the end of the platform, and I could see them getting smaller and smaller and smaller, and finally, they were two dots and then they were gone. And the minute that happened, you know, and I’d saw as the train was pulling out of the station the tears they were trying to suppress and the expression on their faces, “My God, those people really love me. That’s why they sent me away.” And I immediately sat down and started to write. And I’m really glad that I did that and they did get that letter. I know they did because they confirmed that they did, and I told them, you know, that I…I apologized and that. I said maybe it was my own hurt that I didn’t understand., but all of a sudden I think I matured. By the time, you know, my parents…I could no longer see them, I think I instantly aged and had a maturity about me that was nowhere near the day before, or an hour before. And then I knew that they did this out of an act of great love and sacrifice, and you know, maybe what they were doing was, you know, saving me from a lot of unpleasant things, and I didn’t know what they were at that time for sure.
Eidelman: At first, you said that they said you didn’t have to go to the school out of the country unless you wanted to.
Epstein: That was in 1936.
Eidelman: I see. And then, how did they—how did they tell you and what was your reaction when they first told you that now you would go?
Epstein: Well, you remember when I was sitting up in that wardrobe with my mother, and I said I want to get out of here—not just out of here, but out of Germany—that was really the beginning, and, you know, that was carried forward, and I knew, you know, that things were in motion, and I was very much aware of what, you know, each step of the way, not this, and now we have to write another letter, we have to do this, we have to do that.
Eidelman: I see.
Epstein: And I did not object. That’s what I wanted. And, I, it was only, you know, as I said, a couple of days before that all of a sudden, and it was probably because, you know, I didn’t even know how to cope with my feelings and how to express them, and I am sure I had some. There was a lot of excitement and new things, you know, I’m going to another country, and I’m going to be speaking English and all this…going to London, to a big city, from little village of a thousand to a big metropolis, so there was a lot of that. But actually, there was a lot of fear and apprehension also. And I didn’t know what those feelings were and so, you know, rather than maybe try to, I didn’t have the wherewithal, I guess, to deal with them and to understand. I blamed my parents for wanting to get rid of me. You know, it wasn’t my fault what I was feeling—that it was their fault. And, but then, I’m glad that I had that insight and that I had it so quickly. I, you know, and I was able to share that with my parents and thank them for what they were doing for me, and that I understood the great pain this must have been for them.
And I became, in fact, very protective of my parents after that because there were some things happening in England that weren’t so good. And I did not share it with them because I felt at this distance they probably could do nothing about it. They’d worry about it, and I didn’t want to contribute to their concerns. So, all was well. I never told them of my problems, except that at some point I had to because there was a change of address because of the problems, and so then they wanted to know why, you know, if all was so well, why did I leave? Because the family I was with—I was placed with a family that…I didn’t know this cousin of my grandfather who sponsored my coming to England contacted a Rabbi and he [the Rabbi], in turn, found a Jewish family, and I was placed with that family. And my grandfather’s cousin paid for my board and lodging there.
But for this family who was, I would say, at least middle class just judging by the house they lived in and their lifestyle, they, I think, it was a money-making proposition for them. You know, the living there, sharing, I mean sharing the bedroom with one of their daughters—I don’t think I cost any more money except washing the sheets, I guess, but the way they saved the money was on food. I was given…I was told that in Germany I was hungry—and I never was hungry in Germany. The only thing that I remember was that butter was rationed, but you could eat well without butter. And that now that I saw that food was plentiful, I needed to start, you know, I wanted everything. But I needed to start slowly, get accustomed to eating, and really what happened was I immediately had to get used to not eating. My diet consisted of a piece of toast and tea for breakfast, and two pieces of toast and tea for lunch, and two pieces of toast and tea for supper. And on Sundays, I got another treat…a treat—I got a cookie in addition to my piece of toast at breakfast. I was afraid, and the only ones I would have wanted to tell were my parents, but I didn’t want to tell because it might worry them. And, but I was afraid to tell anyone else.
Also, there was a language handicap, and I didn’t really know anybody. I didn’t know what the resources were. The cousin of my grandfather went to France for her vacation with her daughter and her family two days or three days after I arrived in London, and they weren’t going to come back until late in the summer, and so I couldn’t tell them, and children, you know, in school. I started school almost immediately; I think I arrived in England on Thursday, and the following Monday I started school. And there were some German or Austrian refugee children in school, but everybody tried to speak English, but they had two days longer in school…two days better. (LAUGHS). And so, and since I was the newest one, you know, I knew nothing or very little. And, also, I was afraid, you know, or ashamed to say how bad things were. And kids would bring candy and cookies to school and offered some to me, but I wouldn’t take any. I was dying to have it because I had never…I would never have anything to give them. The best I could bring was a piece of toast; I knew they wouldn’t want that.
And it was probably almost two months after I got there—got to England and stayed with this family, in fact, this cousin of my grandfather’s and her daughter, and her daughter sort of became a liaison person actually, came back from France—they came back earlier because of the possible threat of war. This was in July when they came back. I remember they called me late in the afternoon and asked me how I’m doing. That was the first time that I spoke up. They said, “How are you?” And I said, “Hungry.” That was uppermost in my mind. That’s all I ever thought of was that I’m hungry. And she said, “Well, when do you eat dinner?” And I guess it was somewhere near 4:30, and I said, “Well, it’s not going to make any difference.” She said, “Why? You don’t like what’s for dinner tonight?” And I said, “No, that’s not it,” and I said, “Well, I just, I can’t talk.” I guess we were talking in English and the woman was, you know, not too far away, and I was afraid to really say anything. So she said, “Well, why don’t you come on Saturday to visit us for lunch and then we’ll talk?” And I said, “I can’t come.” And she said, “What are you doing on Saturday? You want to come the following Saturday?” And I said, “I can’t come then either.” She said, “Well, what’s going on? Why are you so busy? What are you doing?” And I said, “It’s not that I’m so busy, but I don’t have carfare.” And you needed to take the subway to get there. And so she said, “Well, have you spent your allowance already?” And I said, “Allowance?” That’s the first time I knew I was supposed to have an allowance. And so she said, “Is Mrs. Rose there?” That’s the family I lived with. She said, “Let me talk to her.” So I called her to the phone and they had a conversation. Then I was put back on the phone, and she said, “Well, Mrs. Rose is going to give you carfare and you can come to us on Saturday. She will tell you how to go.” Because I had not been on the subway since the day that I arrived and I was picked up, you know, so I really didn’t know how to do that.
And when I got there, I immediately started eating, and I ate all day long. I didn’t stop eating. (LAUGHS). And they said, you know, “It’s there, and you can have it, but you know, you are going to get sick.” And I said, “I don’t care.” (LAUGHS) And, they just really didn’t want to believe at first that things were really so bad, except they could tell. You know, the clothes that I had on were just hanging on me like a bag. I had lost a lot of weight. I was skinny before, but I lost a lot more weight. And they gave me some money so I could buy myself food on the way to school or from school; they asked me to stay there about another two weeks or so since school was going to be out for the summer. They said, “We’re going to try to find another family, and we’ll try and find one where you can continue going back to the same school in the fall, but that may not be possible, so why don’t you at least finish the school year there.” And well, and they said, “We will explain to the family. You don’t have to explain anything. Don’t ask—if they ask questions, you just tell them to talk to us, and you’re going to come and stay with us and that’s all you’re going to tell them.”
Eidelman: Was the family you were staying with Jewish?
Epstein: Yes, and, because the Rabbi found the family. And so I very briefly stayed with the daughter of my grandfather’s cousin, and then she found me another family for me. And I guess they must have been told how hungry I was, and so they couldn’t ever feed me enough. I would say I’ve had enough, I can’t eat anymore, you know. After a while, I realized, you know, I don’t have to eat ahead. And, they were extremely poor, and probably the money that they got really probably helped them in their budget. But I was never short-changed. I think, if anything, they would probably taken something out of their own mouth or out of their own children’s mouth rather than let me go short on something.
And I stayed with them until just before my sixteenth birthday. Because then the cousin of my grandfather told me that “In England you only have to go to school until you’re sixteen, and you’re going to be sixteen next month, and so when school is out in July, you’re going to have to go to work.” And I was just absolutely flabbergasted. Because first of all, I had not finished high school, you know, and I was going to go on to university and this and that, you know, I was going to go to school in France and Switzerland, and all these things came back. And now I’m supposed to go to work? And what, I didn’t have a trade. I don’t know how to do anything. And I hadn’t even thought about what I want to be when I grow up, you know, like this, that, or the other, but I didn’t know if any of those things, you know, would ever be real.
And I just really panicked, and so they helped me find a job. It was a live-in job with a cantor who was either divorced or separated. I don’t know which, but his wife was not in the house, and he had a 14 year old daughter, and I was to be a companion to his daughter. And she was kind of a weird kid. She had no friends, so I was to pick her up at school…take her to school…play with her…dust the house—it was a huge house that they lived in. Really, the job was a nothing job, but it provided me a roof over my head and some food and loads of money, I made so much money that I thought I was well on my way to being a millionaire, but I wasn’t. But to me it seemed like a lot of money all of a sudden because I had, you know, no needs. Everything was taken care of; I mean, even if I needed toothpaste, they bought that for me. You know, it was all mine to spend, to save, whichever.
I want to stop talking about what happened to me; I’d rather go back to my parents again. From the time that I left Germany, until they were sent to Auschwitz, I stayed in written contact with my parents. At first, of course, we could write directly.  When the war broke out, we could not because England and Germany were at war with each other. We could not write directly, so there were some Red Cross messages, not many. They were brief—you could only write 25 words, and I believe that even included the address. But my parents know some people in France, in Holland, and in Switzerland. In fact, actually I think, the family—one of the families in Switzerland was…somebody was, I think it was the wife came from Kippenheim and married somebody who was Swiss, I think. And they would once in a while come to visit in Kippenheim. They had a daughter—they had two daughters, but one of them was my age, and we used to play together. So that was one of the contacts. Because we also would write to each other when I was still in Germany, so that was one of the contacts. And my parents would, you know, write a letter, and…I mean…it would be written to me, and they’d put it in an envelope and send it to these people in Switzerland or France or Holland, and then they [the contact] would put it in another envelope and mail it to me. And I would do the same. I would write, address it to my parents, I mean, the letter would be, you know, “Dear Mother and Father,” and then they [the contact] would send it on to my parents. And it took longer that way, but you know, we stayed in touch with each other, and sometimes, you know, they, [we] had to be careful what we would say because, you know, some of the letters were opened by censor, or you didn’t know which one would be.
In October 1940, on October 22, 1940, all the Jews from Bäden—Bäden is the section of Germany where I come from, and Württemberg also, were sent to camps in France. They were given very short notice and they were allowed to carry with them a hundred kilograms—no fifty kilograms, a hundred pounds. And they could take a certain amount of money, I don’t remember how much, maybe I never did. They could take some money with them; and a lot of those things I understood later on, not from my parents, but I learned later on, a lot of those things were taken from them before they ever even got there. And some of them were taken from them when they were there because when they got out of whatever mode of transportation, by truck ultimately I guess they got there, they were told, you know, just dump your luggage in this one heap and you will get to it later. And you know, some was there and some wasn’t there.
The camp that my parents were sent to, and really all the people from Kippenheim, all the people I think at that time, or if not all the majority, the vast majority of them were sent to a camp called Camp de Gurs, which is in the French Pyrenean Mountains, no the foothills of the Pyrenean Mountains, and it was a camp that had been built during the Spanish Civil War to accommodate refugees from the Spanish Civil War that came across the Pyrenean Mountains. And in fact some of them were still in the camp. And this was in Vichy France—in unoccupied France—and the guards were French, but it was under German supervision. And the camp was separated by, there were sections of the camp, and they were separated, as I understand, by barbed wire and there was a gate. And you had to have permission to go from one section to another; and men and women of course were separated. Now I didn’t know any of this from my parents. This is stuff that I found out later because my parents just didn’t want me to know what was going on there.
I mean, the first letter that I got from my parents, I think some of it was probably because they didn’t know what they could write, and my father said—they were rather cautious words—he was saying, as you will note at the top of the letter is the new address, which is, as you will notice, we have changed our address. And apparently they—and this is another thing that I found out later on—they could get…request a pass to be together for one hour every month, I think. And, but there must—there certainly also was some, you know, the people would go to the barbed wire, and they’d see each other and so on, or they’d—or maybe you would…maybe go and see your wife and then, you know, my mother might be there, and she would give you something to give to my father because you knew him…that sort of thing.
The conditions there apparently were just awful. It was just a sea of mud in the winter. It’s very, very cold there. There was a cemetery there that was started there by the people, the Jewish people there, and the people who died there were actually buried, and they were buried in the order in which they died. So the one who died first is in the far right corner of that cemetery, and you know, going that row and the next row. And I was, you know, I was there in 1980, and I looked. The tombstones have in Hebrew, well, the tombstones that are there now were put there after the war. There were some very primitive markers there before. And each tombstone is a rectangular tombstone, and it says in Hebrew the equivalent of “Here lies,” and then the name of the person, and the year of their birth, the year of their death, and the town or village that they came from. And, there are about 1,250 graves there, and I visited each grave. The first one I went to was my grandfather’s because my grandfather died there two months after he got there. And I knew that he died there because my mother told me. And he probably died because of the diet—he had to keep a very strict diet; he had some problem with his stomach, and you know there was no way of keeping a diet there.
But I visited each grave, and the thing that impressed me was in the first two months or so the vast majority of the people that are buried there, died when they were either old or very, very young like, you know, three years old…two years old…one year old. It is hard to believe less because, you know, it might have said 1940 year of birth, 1940 year of death. There were a few people, you know, I’d say in their thirties, or forties, or twenties, but most of them were very, very young or the older people in their seventies or so.
In the spring of 1940, my father requested to be transferred to a camp near Marseilles because there was an American consulate still functioning in Marseilles, and he wanted to register with the American consulate. Let me backtrack—I forgot to say something earlier. My parents had been registered in Germany with the American consulate, and they had been…had been able to get an affidavit from my mother’s brother and his wife and the woman that my aunt worked for. They—my uncle and aunt had come to this country in 1938, and they were able to give an affidavit after I left Germany for my parents. And they [my parents] were registered with the American consulate, and they were supposed to go to the American consulate shortly after they were deported to France, so they missed that. And my—and I don’t really know whether they would have been able to get out of Germany at that date. And then my father requested that transfer, and they…I mean, it doesn’t make sense that you can ask for a transfer from one camp to another, but he was sent to that camp. And he did somehow or other register at that American consulate—I don’t know how he did that, all he said was he did it.
And they [my parents], again, had an appointment with the American consulate in October 1942, but again, they did not make that because on the 19th of August 1942, and that was not something I knew then, it’s something I learned much more recently, my father was sent from Camp Les Milles, which was the camp near Marseilles, to Drancy, which was a camp just outside Paris. It was a collection center for…where Jewish from all over France in camps, or if they lived, you know, out in the community, were sent to Drancy. Well, no, he was sent there before the 19th of August. I don’t know exactly when, but my mother wrote me later that the last time she had heard from my father was probably the 12th of August, and that he was saying that he was being deported, so it was probably, maybe the 13th or 14th of August that he might have been deported to Drancy. And then from Drancy on the 19th of August 1942, he was sent to Auschwitz. Whether he arrived in Auschwitz alive or whether he died on the way or whether he went straight to the gas chamber, I don’t know. I don’t think he was sent to work, because he would have had a number and there would be some record of him. So I don’t think he ever went to work; he may not have been alive when he got there.
He wrote to me shortly before he was deported. He said, “I’m going to be deported tomorrow.” And it was actually the day before he was deported. “I’m going to be deported to an unknown destination, and it may be a very long time before you hear from me, but I will try to stay in touch. So don’t worry about me.” My mother wrote to me on the 1st of September saying, “Tomorrow I’m going to be deported.” And in fact, it was the first time that my mother ever complained. My father never complained. And that’s the first time my mother complained, and, I mean, you can hardly call it a complaint to say, you know, the last few weeks have been very difficult for us, and she said the last time she heard from my father was on the 12th of August. And she said a lot of people have been sent away, and she said that tomorrow is my turn. And then, she also said that it may be a very long time before, you know, I’ll hear from her again and she’s asking me to be brave, to carry my head high, and to be good—you know, all those kinds of admonitions that a parent would give his or her child. And, uh…she’s saying that she’s hoping to meet my father somewhere because then they can carry their lot together with dignity.
Uh…there was one more postcard from her which was dated. She dates it, and it was postmarked the 4th of September 1942, and she is saying, I mean, she must have known something, and I don’t know what she knew. She was on her way to Drancy, and she’s mailing it in Montauban which is immediately north of the camp that she was in. And she is saying, it’s hard, there’s no way of saying it in English, but it’s a very final good-bye. And she is saying, “Traveling to the east and sending you these final good-bye greetings from Montauban.” And that’s all she said, signing her name. And she was supposed to, scheduled to go to Auschwitz on the 11th of September 1942. And again, I don’t know if she arrived there alive or if she went straight to the gas chamber. There’s also no record of her there beyond that. So if she had a number, I think, she would have probably gone to work. Judging by information that I have about other family members, my mother would have been the very last one to go because others went earlier, died in France, or were sent to Auschwitz or other camps; um…my mother was the very last one.
I also forgot to say before, in July 1942 my mother was sent from Camp de Gurs where she had been with my father and then my father left. She was sent to another camp, to Camp de Rivesaltes. And she was saying that all unattached women were sent to Camp de Rivesaltes. And I remember the feelings I had, the thoughts that I had when I got that letter which was written after she arrived in Rivesaltes, and I wanted, I took something out it that, I guess, my mother wanted me to feel that way, and she succeeded. It’s only later, you know, like when I read the letter now it says some other things to me, but she’s describing what she’s seen on this trip. And one of the things that she saw from there is the…this um, what is it in Lourdes? The uh…
Eidelman: The shrine?
Epstein: The shrine in Lourdes. And she’s saying, you know, it’s so indescribably beautiful that words are not adequate to describe it. And she said how great it is to see something like that, you know, to know that there is something else to life besides the everyday humdrum of camp life. And she’s describing the tropical trees that she’s seeing as they’re approaching the Mediterranean, and, you know, she gets a glimpse of the Mediterranean. And so, my mother had a nice trip. I wish I could have gone on that trip with her. That’s what I took from that letter at that time.
Not the other things which she’s also writing like, for instance that they were met at some point by some nuns who gave them bouillon which was probably one of the most nourishing things that they had in a long time. And how when they finally got to their destination, they had to walk with their luggage, whatever they had, their little packages, on a very, on a stony, hot, dusty road for about an hour. That was not important, that was not what I wanted to hear. I only wanted to hear the good things, and I guess I needed to believe that, that that was one way for me to survive then, I could not deal with any…had I been older, maybe I would have, you know, I could have been able to read between the lines and asked a lot of questions, but I…whatever they told me…I wanted, you know, that’s what I believed. Or you know, maybe I would write to them, if I had a boyfriend, had a problem with a boyfriend, and, you know, my father was quoting Schiller and Goethe and talked about the storm and stress years—that sort of thing. So, you know, what’s different is how it used to be at home, you know, and I wanted to believe that.
And when they [my parents] said it’s going to be a long time before I will hear from them, well, they said so—and how long is a long time? And so it was 1943, and it’s 1944, and that’s a long time, but they said it’s going to be a long time. Maybe it’s really a very long time, and maybe I have to wait until the war’s over. And so I pinned all my hopes on that. And then the war was over. And well, you know, it’s going to take a while before—and, of course, they might have lost their address book. And even if they have it, I have moved several times since then. So maybe the mail isn’t being forwarded. And, you know, I made one excuse after another. Maybe they’re suffering from amnesia, and who knows where they are.
And I went back to Germany in the summer of 1945. I had a job because I could not afford to go back to Germany on my own, and I mean, I had no money—let’s put it this way. And part of the reason was to be in Germany, to maybe go back to Kippenheim to see if they’re there or to be closer to where they might be—where I might find them. It was not until the summer of 1947 that I was able to go back to Kippenheim. I tried, and one time I even went as far as one stop on the train and turned around and went back…because I was afraid. And I think what I was afraid of—I really knew if I go back there, they’re not going to be there. But if I don’t go there, and I’ve not written to anybody there and asked whether they’re there, then I can still believe that maybe they’re there.
But finally, in the summer of ’47, you know, I said I’m not going to be, I’m not going to be here that much longer, and I may never be able to come back, so you know, if you want to go, then go, and never mind all those feelings, just go. And I literally forced myself and talked myself into going, and I went. And I was, you know, I realized when I went there that, you know, that door is now forever closed. They’re not there, and I can’t tell myself they’re there. But you know, they may be elsewhere. And it was not until I stood on the ramp in Auschwitz in September 1980 that I finally accepted the fact that they are indeed dead. So that’s a very long time to carry that hope. But I…you know…the thing is I’ve not seen their bodies. I’ve…there is no record of their deaths. Nobody knows that they have died, or if there is somebody that knows, I don’t know who that person is. And…so—I don’t want to believe it.
Eidelman: What happened when you went back to your house in Kippenheim?
Epstein: Well, I walked from the railroad station into the village and I had to actually walk right…I didn’t have to…I could have gone another way, but the way to go because I decided I wanted to go to City Hall, and so the way to go is to actually go right past the house. And I almost didn’t quite dare to look at it because I was afraid. I mean, I had the fear of November 1938 that the Nazis are all around me, and they recognize me, and they know I got a big “Jude” on me or something like that. They know that I’m Jewish. And so I kind of glanced out the corner of my eye; I didn’t quite dare look at it. And I went to City Hall and I asked to speak to the mayor, and I explained who I am and why I’m there. And um, asked that he…I said, “I want to go to the house, and I want to go to my grandmother’s house, and my aunt’s house and my uncle’s house. And I want to do all those things. But I don’t want to go alone, and please, can you go with me, or have somebody go with me because I am just afraid.” And he said, “I will go with you.”
And on the way there, he said to me, “You know, how during the war, they [the houses] changed, they made efficiency apartments out of the house, and so things are different, and I know some of the families that live there, and I’m sure they would be very glad to let you in and show it to you, and I think you will want to see it.” And I said I did—until I got there, and then I said, “No. I don’t want to go inside, because it’s not going to look anything like I remember. And I want to remember it the way it was. I don’t want to disturb that memory with or superimpose something else on it.” The outside of the house, I mean, it looked dilapidated. You know, there were…there must have been some shrapnel or something, or some shots that went through the house. There were holes in it, and it’s, you know, like the shutters hadn’t been painted, they were peeling. It looked very rundown, but, you know, very recognizable. The streets, sidewalks, the street had been widened. And so some of the front yard that we had was gone, and so it looked a little bit different. There was a big tree on the side of the house that was no longer there. And, um, but I did not want to go inside.
And in fact, I went back there again in 1970 with my husband and my son because, especially, I wanted my son to see this is where I come from, roots—roots before Roots. And I remember my husband saying to me, “Now, go inside.” And I said, “No, I don’t want to go inside.” And he said, “Look, you come all the way from the United States, and you’re going to go back, and then when you’re back, you’re going to say, ‘Oh, I wish I’d gone inside,’ ” and he says, “You know, you’re not going to be able to come back—just to go inside the house—so go inside.” And it was almost like an argument because he was pushing me to go in, and I did not want to go in. And I didn’t, and I…I’m still…I have no regrets. I don’t want to go in unless it were the way it…you know. I mean, it might not be the way it was then anyway, but you know, the walls…there are going to be walls where there were no walls. It’s not going to be my house, or my parents’ house.
The interesting thing was, you know, in 1947, when I was there, and in 1970, both times, I wanted to go to the cemetery which was in another village, in Schmieheim because family members were buried there. And I just wanted to see whether those graves are well taken care of. And if not, I wanted to do something about it. And I, both times, I forgot to go. And it’s interesting because probably the parent in me saying that I’m still a child, and I can’t go because as a child, when there was a funeral, I was never allowed to go to the funeral. I was never allowed to go to the cemetery. My mother would say, “That’s not for children.” And so in 1947, I’m an adult…I am back there, and I wanted…and I said these are some of the things I want to do, but I forget to go to the cemetery. In 1970, I go back, and I want to go to the cemetery this time because I forgot the last time, and this may really be my last time here. I really want to go, and we were back in Switzerland when I remembered I didn’t go to the cemetery. So I guess I reverted back to being a child, and my mother said, “You can’t go,” so I can’t go. (SIGHS). And I think I’m going to have to take a trip and go there one of these days. Just maybe that will be the only reason I’m going is to go to the cemetery.
Eidelman: After, going back to Kristallnacht for a second…did…were you aware that they had done damage to the graves in the cemetery at that time?
Epstein: I don’t know whether they did… I really don’t know… If my parents found out, and I’m sure they did, I’m sure they went, but they didn’t say anything to me… So I don’t know… And the cemetery is there, I know, and I don’t know just in what condition it is… What the graves look like, you know, my family’s graves looked….(LONG PAUSE).
Eidelman: When we spoke on the phone, you mentioned about something, that you found out something.
Epstein: Well, you know, I don’t remember what specifically I told you then. But you know, just last week I found—I got something from Aroldsen, the international tracing service. And they gave me my father’s prisoner number in Dachau, which I didn’t know. And they gave me the transport number of my mother, the transport that took my mother from Camp de Rivesaltes to Drancy. I didn’t know that. There was some other information about other family members that I got that I didn’t have, but I had not done as thorough a search on that before. It was, you know, mainly concentrated on my parents and trying to piece together all of, I mean, I feel like there’s this giant puzzle and I’ll never be able to put, to find all of the pieces. But every once in a while, there is a little piece, and, no…when I went in 1980 to France to visit Camp de Gurs, and then I went to Dachau and went to Auschwitz, I was, you know, I don’t know how much I found there, but I got more understanding and a feeling for what the area was like, you know. What, you know, I mean, Auschwitz, I’d heard of it, but you have to see it. And to see Birkenau, which was really, you know, the sister camp. I stood in the middle of the camp, and, you know, when you look off in the distance, it seems like the horizon comes down and meets the earth. Well, the camp goes beyond where you can see. You know, you have to see this to comprehend it.
Well, for instance, when I went to Dachau, I had…to me…Dachau has always been a concentration camp. Well not always, but say since 1938, since Kristallnacht, it’s been a concentration, and only a concentration camp. And I remember, when I got to Munich, and I asked how to get to Dachau, and people would very matter-of-factly tell me…well, you take the so-and-so train, and it takes about an hour. And I expected them to be absolutely horrified when I asked to go to Dachau. You know, or they’d think, “Why would she want to go to Dachau?” And you know, very matter-of-factly, like if I had asked somebody how to go to Chicago, they wouldn’t be horrified, they’d tell me how to go. And when I got—when I came to the end of the train ride, and got out, there was this quaint little beautiful, little town—it was Dachau. And I realized, you know, that’s why these people weren’t shocked. They thought I was going to a town and not to a concentration camp. And I knew that the camp was named after the community that it was in, but to me Dachau was just a concentration camp.
And the other thing that I remembered was the barracks number that my father was in…was barracks number twenty. There are only a couple of the barracks left, and number twenty isn’t left anymore. But there is a marker there where number twenty is, and I found it, you know. And, you know, like I’m a very tactile person, and so…there is like a cement base is there…you’ve been to Dachau?
Eidelman: Yes.
Epstein: But you know, I walked all around, and I touched it, and I, uh, took a stone, you know…the stones, and I took a stone from there and, uh, I took that stone really because I knew I was going to Israel the following year for the Gathering of Holocaust Survivors, and I already knew at that time that they, that they recommended you bring a stone to Israel with the name of your loved ones engraved on it so it could be used for the construction of the monument to those who didn’t survive, and so I was going to take a stone from there, and it was going to be for my father, and you know, but…what more appropriate stone than from there? I mean, I had some feelings about taking something away from there, but then I thought, and I’d say…no…my stone alone isn’t going to make any difference, but what if everybody should say that? There wouldn’t be any stones there, but I still took the stone. I had to. And I did the same in Auschwitz. I took the stone from there, and um, that was for my mother because there was no stone that I…well, I had a stone that I picked up in France, that’s really what started it.
And I think in the back of my mind, it must have been the stones in Israel and the memorial. But as I walked away from the Camp de Gurs, I was feeling very, very sad, and I was looking down at the ground as I was walking along this road. And all of a sudden, I had this really strong feeling that this one stone said to me, “Pick me up. Take me with you.” And you know, I didn’t hear any voices, but it was just that strong feeling, and so I bent down and picked up this stone. And there were a number of stones, you know, like on the side of the road there are always stones or rocks. And I…it was dusty…and I wiped it off, and I looked at it, and it was a pretty stone. And I didn’t think much about the stone, I mean, much more about it other than, you know, yes…I’m going to take this to Israel. And I will pick up stones in the other camps also.
And it wasn’t until ten weeks after I was back in the United States, and I had shown that stone and the other stones, you know, to people, that somebody said to me, “Do you realize what is on that stone?” And I said, “No, what is on it?” “There is a Mogen David on that stone, and it’s not perfect, but it’s there.” And I took it to a geologist because I needed to know if it’s man-made or nature-made—either way it’s a phenomenon, but it’s more so if it’s nature-made, and it’s nature-made. If you’re interested, I have that stone. I will show it to you later on. I was not able to leave that stone in Israel. I took it with me, and then I couldn’t leave it there because there was just a very special stone. And you know, I’m a person who’s very…who’s got her feet on the ground, who’s not off in the clouds somewhere, but this is really a mystical experience, I think.
Eidelman: When you went back to Kippenheim, did you feel…what about this house? What did it, you know, what its value is, and did you receive any reparations for it or ask any reparations for it?
Epstein: No, no. Because when I…this was when I went in ’47 to see the mayor, there was some difficulty there at first when I said who I was. He looked up in some books…something…and he said that “Hedy Wachenheimer is no longer alive. She died in an air raid in London.” And I said, “I’m Hedy Wachenheimer, and I lived in London, and there were air raids, but I was never even hurt, much less died. I mean, I have some identification that I can show you.” And apparently my father’s sister’s daughter, one of her daughters went to Germany soon after the war was over, and, uh, was a…

Tape 2 - Side 1 (Eidelman)

…Um, I would like to add to something that I talked about earlier. In my mother’s last letter written on September 1st, 1942, she closes the letter by saying, “Don’t ever forget us.” And I take that the “us” that she’s referring to is not just us the family, but all of the Jews that were persecuted by the Nazis. And it’s that last wish of my mother that has really become my mandate, to talk about my own experience, and what I know about their experience during the Nazi Holocaust. Uh…and it’s, and I guess by carrying out my mother’s wish, I became the little child who is the obedient child, doing what she’s told to do, but also I think it’s terribly important to remember and to record what has happened because there are going to be fewer and fewer of us alive who can give first-hand accounts and then there will only be those who can say, “I know somebody who told me,” and so on down the line. And I think it’s in the best of Jewish tradition to carry on like we do in, for instance at Passover, we talk about the Exodus from Egypt and by talking about the Holocaust I think that’s perpetuating that part of Jewish history in the same way as we remember the Exodus from Egypt.
Oh, the other thing that I want to add: in April 1983, I attended the Holocaust Gathering, or the First American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors in Washington, D.C. And while I was there, I received a message that my father gave to a fellow inmate when that inmate was leaving the camp, and it was a message given in the spring of 1941. It was a very simple message. Uh, the man that was leaving was given my name and my address at that time, and my father was saying that they…both he and my mother are well…and I should not worry about them. Uh…I was really touched by the content of it, you know. Here he [my father] was trying to assure me when maybe he himself needed more assurance. Uh…the other thing was I felt after four decades, more than four decades, I really felt my father’s presence there. In fact, at the time I was given the message, I was, we were sitting at a round table and somebody who was not with the person who gave me this message asked me whether I wanted something, and I asked him, “Why?” and apparently I reached my arm and my hand across the table, and uh, because I think, I sort of felt if I reached far enough, I could touch my father at the other end. I really, it was, he was really in that room with us at the time. I was much aware of his presence….
Eidelman: One other thing that I thought it worth noting: Can you tell me again about what ultimately happened to your belongings when you went back to Kippenheim in 1947?
Epstein: Okay. Do you mean the house, or the other things that were auctioned?
Eidelman: Uh, right, the auction.
Epstein: In 1947, August 1947, was the first time that I went back to Kippenheim. And while I was there, I was approached by a woman who remembered me, though I did not remember her. And she told me when the Jews were deported to France in October 1940, shortly after that deportation, there was an auction held of all the furniture and other belongings that families had to leave behind. And there was a notary public present who had kept a record of who purchased what, and for how much, and to whom it belonged. And she had been in contact with that notary public, and he lived in a nearby community and still had those records. And she urged me to go and get those records so that I might be able to recuperate…recover, I’m sorry…recover some of those things that had belonged to my parents.
And we intended to go the following morning, and the next morning I was just totally unable to go. I was afraid to find out where those things are because then I would have to probably go and look up these people and confront these pieces which were part of my own history and part of my family’s belongings. But I…I just was not able to. I think what I wanted was my parents, and since I could not have my parents, I didn’t want to have the things that belonged to them. There was a time, many years later, in 19…some time in the middle 1960s when I suddenly felt a great urge that I wanted to know where those things are and wanted some of those things. And particularly, I wanted the, uh…a sculpture, not a sculpture…what do you call it?
Eidelman: A bust?
Epstein: A bust of Dante that I remembered, a bronze bust of Dante that used to sit on top of our bookcase. And I wrote to the—I still had the man’s card—and I wrote to him, and I, his wife answered me shortly afterwards and said that he had died recently, and she had to sell the house and so, therefore, she had to get rid of all the things that were in the house including those records. And I really, I think it’s probably just as well, uh…because it would have been too painful to maybe try and locate those things and then maybe not find them. And it would be like looking for my parents and not finding them, and that has been very painful, and I don’t really need to look for…another…painful experience.

Tape 7 - Side 1 (Prince)

“SISTER”: Today is December 6, 2010, I am Vida “Sister” Prince, and i am with Hedy Epstein. Hedy is going to talk for the Oral History Project, at the St Louis Holocaust Museum and Learning Center. I am with Hedy Epstein who is going to talk about her experiences at the Doctors Trial at the Nuremberg Trials.
HEDY: This is Hedy Epstein. I was born on August 15th, 1924 in Freiberg, Germany. I lived in a village called Kippenheim, approximately 30 kilometers north of Freiberg. After Kristallnight, November 9th & 10th 1936, my parents’ efforts to leave Germany were accelerated. They had really been trying to leave since soon after Hitler came to power. But after Kristallnight the focus of our lives changed a bit. Until then we had hoped to leave as a family unit, it was now decided if one of us has the opportunity to leave then that person will leave.
And the opportunity came for me to leave Germany on May 18, 1939, on a Kindertransport, or a children’s transport. The particular transport that I was on had approximately 500 children ranging in age from twins, 6 months old, to the oldest being 17. I was 14 ½. We all went to England. England took in almost 10,000, mostly Jewish children, in the 9 months preceding WWII and would have taken more except the war broke out. My parents were not as fortunate, they did not get out of Germany.
They, as well as Jews from Baden and Nuremburg, the section that I come from in Germany, were deported on October 22nd, 1940, (CLEARS THROAT), “excuse me”, to a camp called Contagurs, (SPELLING- G-U-R-S) located in what was then called Vichy, France. Subsequently they were deported to Auschwitz; my father- on August 19, 194, my mother- on September 11th, 1942. Other family members who survived the camps in France also were deported to Auschwitz in the summer of 1942. None of them have ever been heard from again. (PAUSE)
After the war, I will, returned to Germany. I left England on July 26th, 1945 and I had a 1 year contract to work for the American Government in the US Civil Censorship Division , censoring incoming and outgoing German mail. Before that contract expired, I decided to remain in Germany and work for the American government longer, but I no longer wanted to continue to work for the US Civil Censorship Division.
I had learned that Nuremburg was looking for…to hire people at the ….to work at the ….what was called the Subsequent Proceedings, which were 12 trials conducted by the American Government in the same palace of justice in Nuremburg where the International Trial of Justice was going on at the time.
The international Trial tried the Nazi ‘big shots’ such as Goering, Rudolf Hess, and others and that trial was conducted by the United States, France, Great Britain, and the former Soviet Union. I began my work at the… in Nuremburg at the end of July, 1946. And I was assigned to the trial of the Nazi doctors who performed medical experiments on concentration camp inmates. My title was ‘Research Analyst’. That meant that I was charged with the responsibility of looking for documentary evidence to be used by the prosecution in the trial of the Nazi doctors. (TAPE TURNED OFF)
Much of my work, actually, was not in Nuremburg, but rather in Berlin, or the suburb of Berlin called Dahlen, (SPELLS)… where there was a former Nazi documents center. This document center was deep under the ground, and when we arrived there, the documents were no longer in their file folders, but rather in cardboard boxes on the floor. I don’t know whether the Nazis were going to evacuate the documents for safety or whether they were going to destroy them. GI’s or American soldiers were instructed to remove the documents from the cardboard boxes, put them in file folders, and put the file folders on the shelves. The soldiers probably spoke no German and so they just picked up arms full or hands full of documents, put them in a file folder, when the folder was full, placed it on the shelf. So the documents were in no particular order. It was not unusual to find; let’s say, pages 2 and 3, and then wondering where is page 1. Sometimes we found it, and other times we didn’t. So that meant that we had to painstakingly go through each page in each folder because you never knew what was going to be on that page, or the next page, or the page thereafter.
As I mentioned earlier, there were 12 trials, and in addition to the medical  trial, or the trial of the  Nazi doctors, there was the trial of the German Judges, the trial of the Einsatzgruppen conducted by Benjamin Ferencz, and others and so the various cases were color coded and  if one of us found a case…document that pertained to one of the other cases, we’d attach the appropriate colored coded  piece of paper to it, which then alerted the person who was looking for documents in that case, and this may be something of interest.
“SISTER”: Hedy, let me ask you something. How many people were there like yourself?
HEDY: We were probably, I can’t give you an exact number, but I am guessing we were not more than 8 or 10 of us.
“SISTER”: And how were you trained?
HEDY: We received no training, I was, in fact, I was not at all prepared for what I was about to find, I did not know that the Nazis conducted medical experiments on concentration camp inmates, and I was confronted with these documents, that in great detail, described step b step, how this ever particular experiment was conducted, what the response or reaction was of the person who was being experimented on. (PAUSE) And often there were photographs and they were gruesome.
“SISTER”: Well when you applied for this job… for working.
HEDY: I applied for ‘a’ job.
“SISTER”: ‘A’ job….right.
HEDY: ‘A’ job, and I was assigned, I had to take a history…a German history test. I had not had German history when I was in school in Germany; I’d had only Greek and Roman history.
“SISTER”: Ok.
HEDY: German history was going to come somewhere down the line, but I was no longer there when that happened.
“SISTER”: And what year were you finished with school?
HEDY: I was not finished with school.
“SISTER”: Forced to be finished?
HEDY: And during Kristallnacht November 10, 1939. I’m sorry, 1938.
“SISTER”: You were…
HEDY: I was unceremoniously kicked out of school by the principal.
“SISTER”: But how old were you?
HEDY: I was 14.
“SISTER”: 14. Okay.
HEDY: And that was my last day of school in Germany and I did not go back to school until the end of May, 1939, in England.
“SISTER”: Fast forward to where we…back to where we were…so you were not trained.
HEDY: No. The only thing we were given is a list of euphemisms that the Nazi’s used, and what they actually meant. For instance, ‘special treatment’, meant that you were going to the gas chamber. ’Resettlement’ meant that you were being deported. And so we had a list of these terms, so that when we came across them…for instance had I not had that…if I saw that someone received special treatment, I would have thought that it was something very good.
“SISTER”: So you were looking for incriminating…
HEDY: Incriminating evidence.
“SISTER”: They gave you this list…of which to go by.
HEDY: Right, well these were just lists of terminology.
“SISTER”: Terminology.
HEDY: And we knew who the defendants were going to be, or were hopefully, going to be.
“SISTER”: So you also had a list of names so everybody was kind of working on the same thing?
HEDY: No, no. There were 12 trials, and so see, if people would’ve worked on different trials, some of the trials were consecutive; some of them were at the same time as other trials.
“SISTER”: So, just by chance you got the Medical.
HEDY: Right, and I, in the trial of the Nazi doctors was the first of the 12 trials. And there was a real urgency to find material because the trials were going to start very soon. And as I mentioned, you know I was not prepared for what I was going to find, and it was not unusual for me to literally, physically become ill and run out to the bathroom because I needed to vomit. Or I’d gag, I had nightmares, even today, once in a while, maybe 2 or 3 times a year, I still have a nightmare about an experiment, and in my nightmare those experiments are done on my parents, primarily to my mother.
“SISTER”: Did you ever think…”I don’t think I’ll do this anymore”?
HEDY: Did I…
“SISTER”: Did you ever stop and think…”I don’t want to do this anymore”?
HEDY: No, no. I that…because one of the other things for me was not only looking for evidence to be used in the trial of the Nazi doctors, but what information can I find about my parents. And so this was maybe my ulterior motive which didn’t interfere with looking for the evidence that I was charged with.
“SISTER”:  But maybe…is it possible you also wanted to help convict them?
HEDY: Yeah I am sure that was…it wasn’t uppermost in my mind. What was uppermost in my mind is to find documentary evidence that could be used in the trial of the doctors.
“SISTER”: You did not think that you might see your parent’s names on anything you did?
HEDY: Well I was hoping to see, not necessarily as someone who is being experimented on… because the documents were in such disorder.
“SISTER”: You might run across…
HEDY: I might…and in fact I did at one point, I think, it was in early 1947…I found a list of names of people who were going to be deported to Auschwitz. And that document was dated, January- 1942.And I found my father’s name on that list. But I immediately discounted it because I still had received letters from my father from the camps in France; Vichy, France as late as August- 1942.That is, I didn’t receive it on that date…that’s the date my father wrote the letter that was his very last letter to me, August 9th, 1942. So I discounted the information that was on that list. Now was there a connection between that list and what subsequently happened to my father? I don’t really know. And I probably will never know that. And that was the only time that I found something that pertained to my parents or other family members.
“SISTER”: So how long were you in…did you say you were in Berlin? This was in Berlin.
HEDY: The document center…the Nazi…former Nazi document center was in Berlin…in a suburb of Berlin called Dahlen. I was…I meant there were times when I was back in Nuremberg, especially after the trials started and on occasion I sat in on the trial and watched and observed what was taking place. And near the end…I was…of my stay at Nuremburg or in Berlin, I was helping out on some of the other cases that were about to be tried. Because the medical trial was nearing its end and had already…finally came to its end.
“SISTER”: I just wonder how it was for you, I mean, did you have a friend…did you make a friend, so that while I know you were going through this, and maybe they were going through the same thing?
HEDY: Well, as I said, different people worked on different cases. And I, from the time that I worked for the USCC division, I had a friend…Doris Margen (SPELLS M.A.R.G.E.N) We were roommates when we were in Nuremberg. We were roommates when we were in Berlin. We were even roommates after we returned to England.
“SISTER”: Was..were there..was there anybody else that you knew that had similar experiences…growing up and losing their parents like you did and working there?
HEDY: I did not know at that time, that my parents did not survive. I think maybe in my head, cerebrally, I knew that my parents did not survive but in my heart and in my soul I could not accept it…and did not accept that until Sept. 1980 when I returned to Europe to visit the various camps where my parents had been.
And when I was in Auschwitz, which was the last camp I visited and stood on the spot where , what was then called the ramp, was where cattle cars arrived, people were forced to get off and the infamous Dr. Mengele and his cohorts made a selection as to who will live and who will die. When I stood on that spot in September 1980, I was finally able to say there’s no way that my parents and other family members survived that time. And I said it loud, and again…and again…to make sure that I heard it…that I understood it.
That was a long time to play psychological games with myself. And I found all kinds of reasons and excuses, why I hadn’t heard from my parents before that. I just…there was self preservation…a survival mechanism on my parent…I was not yet ready to say it and accept it.
“SISTER”: You were protecting yourself?
HEDY: Right.
“SISTER”: But was there anyone similar to you working on these research…whichever trial it was…that were…had parents that they had parents that they were not sure of where they were?
HEDY: I’m sure there were some of us, but others were…there was a couple and they were from Switzerland, and I’m sure their story is probably a normal lifetime story. There were others, I’m sure, who perhaps were in similar situations I was.
“SISTER”: So you got to be in the courtroom?
HEDY: On occasion I sat in on court sessions. And I particularly remember a session of where there were 23 defendants in the Medical Trial, and one of them, only one of them, was a woman, Dr. Herta Oberheuser. Maybe because she’s a women and I’m a woman, I had a special kind of feeling shall we say, I guess. I’m not sure if that is the right description because it was women to women… And a witness, this woman was no longer able to walk and she had to be carried in, and when she was on the witness stand, she was asked, “Do you recognize anyone in the courtroom who did…who experimented on you?” And she pointed to Herta Oberheuser . Her (Herta) facial expression did not change one iota, as though it had nothing to do with her…what was just said. Later on when Herta Oberheuser  was on the witness stand and she was asked, “Why did you perform this particular experiment on concentration camp inmates?” Her response was  “Well, they were just Polish women…they were going to die anyway.” As though Polish women are women of lesser worth than other women? That’s my question mark. Herta Oberheuser received a twenty year sentence…jail sentence, and just like the others who received prison sentences, raring from 10 years to life in jail, were released after about 5 years. Why? Because of the Cold War, maybe they had some knowledge that was useful, that could be used in fighting the former Soviet Union. And Herta Oberheuser practiced as a pediatrician. In 1960 her license to practice was revoked.
“SISTER”: Where was she practicing?
HEDY: In somewhere in Northern Germany, in a small community, whose name of which I don’t remember now. Her license was revoked in 1960 because some women that she experimented on, who survived, put pressure on the German Medical Association that her license be revoked. And it was. She then worked in a hospital in the kitchen.
“SISTER”:  Hedy, as I told you when I first came in, that you had told someone that the Germans in Berlin, when you were doing your research, were not helpful to you.
HEDY: No, that‘s not correct.
“SISTER”: Okay, tell me what is correct.
HEDY: The document center in Berlin … the person in charge of the document center in Berlin was Colonel Helms. (SPELLS: H.E.L.M.S) He was born in Germany and came to the United States sometime in the early 1920’s. His brother was a high ranking officer in the German army during World War II and Col. Helms’ sympathies were not with us. I think they were more with the Nazi’s, and he made life difficult for us. For instance, when we arrived in Berlin, at this document center, there were two ways of getting in and out.
“SISTER”:  He was German?
HEDY: No, he was an American.
“SISTER”:  He was an American and his brother was German.
HEDY: He was in charge of the Document Center. Colonel Helms was born in Germany and he came to the United States in the early 1920’s and was in the American army.
“SISTER”: …and still had allegiance.
HEDY: Well his brother was an officer, a high ranking officer in the German Army during World War II.
“SISTER”: Yeah, but had nothing to do with this.
HEDY: You know we complained to Nuremberg about the difficulty we had and Nuremberg said, “Well we are part of the War Department and Col. Helms is part of the Army and the War Department can’t dictate to the Army what to do or not to do. So do the best you can.”
“SISTER”: So what do you think he stopped people from getting?
HEDY: Well, this is what I started to say: when we arrived at the document center there were two ways of getting in and out. It was located deep underground. It was located deep underground. There were stairs and there was no elevator. Soon after we arrived he had the stair well bricked shut. So there was only the elevator and the electricity was controlled someplace above ground. And every so often it was shut off so we couldn’t get in or out. We had no lights. There was a ventilation system that didn’t function. We didn’t need a canary, fortunately, because the area underground was so large it would have taken a long time before there wasn’t sufficient oxygen there. And I’m sure the electricity was shut or turned off to prevent us from doing our work. And so we brought candles and we worked by candle light, it wasn’t romantic, but it did not stop us, except initially, from doing what we needed to do.
“SISTER”: Okay, sorry I got the wrong information. So where would you like to go from here? What more is there that you could tell me that would be important for people to know about the trials; what it was like to sit and look at all of those people. You’ve got magnificent pictures here that you have shown me. And just like…so just tell me how was that for you? …as the person that you are…were.
HEDY: …or it’s the person that I was…well…. I mean, I was very young. I was 21 when I started working at Nuremberg. I was almost 22, but still I was young. I was not aware, as I mentioned earlier, that…I didn’t know that medical experiments had been conducted on concentration camp inmates. It was just…I mean, I was in shock. And as I said, you know, I had nightmares. I became physically ill but I continued doing it because I felt it was important. I was charged with that responsibility and I was going to carry it out, as difficult as it was.
“SISTER”: You know Hedy, is there any connection between that and just…people coming to our Holocaust center…survivors? People whose parents…second generation…it’s like trying to get as close to it as you can.
HEDY: Well, I think, as I mentioned before, behind it all I was looking for information about my parents, about other family members. And this was one place, in one way, where maybe I might find something.
“SISTER”: All right now.
HEDY: Let me just add this. I wasn’t aware of it, at the time, that that was really my motive behind all this…but when I, sometime ago, when I looked at the kind of work that I did, after Nuremberg, it was always where there were, where I was going to be in touch with displaced persons…people who survived the Holocaust and hoping, you know maybe, one of them is going to be my mother…my father…an uncle…an aunt…a cousin.
“SISTER”: What was that work?
HEDY: When I first came to the United States, which was shortly after I left working for Nuremberg, I worked for an agency in New York. And I am trying to think of the name…well it was…I can’t think of the name. No, no, it was an agency that was bringing over displaced persons to the United States and helping them to relocate in other cities across the United States.
“SISTER”: The Joint Distribution…?
HEDY: No, no I’ll come to it.
“SISTER”: Okay, I won’t help
HEDY: That put me in touch with the people that were arriving in this country. They were met at the pier when they…when their boats arrived. And then they were brought to a shelter and I worked in that shelter. So I was the next person that they would see and have contact with for the next several days until they would leave to go to wherever they were assigned to, in the United States. And still later I worked for the United Restitution Organization in New York. And again people that were our clients were survivors of the Holocaust who were filing personal property claims against the German government. And I don’t think it was purely coincidental, though at the time I was not aware, that there is a pattern here…why I was doing that.

Tape 7 - Side 2 (Prince)

HEDY: …actually entailed in addition to finding a document. What did I do once I found a document? I would write, the documents all were in German, of course, and the main prosecutor, as well as his assistant in the Trial of the Nazi doctors, did not speak German. They were both Americans. Maybe they knew some German but certainly not well enough to be able to understand the content of the documents and so my…if I did find a document that I thought was of importance in this trial I would write a summary in English and send the document, together with my English summary, to Nuremburg. If the attorney and the chief attorney, in this case was James McHaney from Arkansas, I believe, if he found that the document really was of importance, he would send it to the translation division in Nuremberg and they would translate it for court and some of them were used, others were not used….depending on what was contained in the document or what the attorney deemed as important.
We were 23 defendants in the Trail of the Nazi Doctors. Many of them were not actually doctors. One of the, for instance, Wolfram Sievers was a book seller. And yet he conducted…he was responsible for experiments. And those who were doctors had all taken, at one time, the Hippocratic Oath. And the Hippocratic Oath says that you are responsible to heal and not to harm. And what these doctors, or those who were doctors, were doing…they were not healing. They were consciously, knowingly harming individuals, many of whom died; all of them must have suffered greatly, some more probably than others. If they didn’t die fast enough, for instance, for Herta Oberheuser, whom I mentioned earlier, she would take a very large syringe…fill it with gasoline and inject the gasoline into a vein in the arm in the patient. Or the test person would rear up and within 5 minutes, they were dead. Is that the responsibility of a doctor who has taken the Hippocratic Oath?
“SISTER”: Sometimes it’s hard to believe that we are sitting here talking about this.
HEDY: It’s really difficult for me to talk about it. I’ve just come back from Nuremberg a couple of weeks ago where there was the 65th anniversary of the beginning of the International Trial followed by the Subsequent Proceedings of which the Medical Trial was one of twelve. And I spoke at 3 different schools about the medical experiments that the Nazis conduct. It’s a talk that I don’t like to give entitled ______. But given what was happening at Nuremberg at that time and being there, it was appropriate for me to talk about this, as difficult as it was…as difficult as it is right now to talk about. I can’t even look at you when I talk. I have not been able to look at you, “Sister” Prince…eye to eye.
“SISTER”: I’m not a nun.
HEDY: I know that but I’ve had to avert my eyes as though I’m ashamed. I haven’t done anything as far as these experiments are concerned. I’m only talking about them.
“SISTER”: Hedy, why would …I am so interested in what you just said…why would that come into your head? Why are you…you’re not part of that.
HEDY: I know and as I was talking I noticed…I keep on staring at the table or whatever is in front of me. And I’m not looking at you and I can’t look at you. Maybe I’m feeling strain that these factors…these events were never felt.
“SISTER”: Well, that is possible. I noticed that you were not looking at me but I thought…well time has passed. We’ve talked before, it never happened but that wasn’t important. But now it’s become important only because you…not because of me…because of you and what you feel. So now I feel like I’ve put you through something that probably I didn’t have to do but…
HEDY: I agreed to do it… if you’re asking…
“SISTER”: …and I wanted it very badly because of something we haven’t discussed yet which was the interview you did for me for Ludwig Scheinbrum…3 or 4 years ago.
HEDY: In 1985
“SISTER”: And that’s how this came about so we will get into that in a minute but if you have more to say about feeling the shame that they didn’t feel…that is…I don’t know where that’s coming from.
HEDY: I’m not sure either. But I just noticed…I kept on saying to myself as I was talking, “I need to look at you”, as I was talking and I couldn’t.
“SISTER”: I thought maybe it was because you were concentrating on not crying or something like that.
HEDY: No, I just couldn’t look at you.
“SISTER”: Were you concerned that I couldn’t take it because that’s part of interviews like this.
HEDY: No, no, no, I couldn’t stand to look at…it has nothing to do with you. It wouldn’t matter who was here.
“SISTER”: I know that.
HEDY: I couldn’t look at that person because the only way…maybe the reason is because I feel ashamed for what these doctors did.
“SISTER”: Not a personal shame.
HEDY: No, I mean I was not involved in it…I had no responsibilities for it. But I’m talking about these awful, awful things that these doctors did…they had no shame… got no___, no remorse. None of them said, “I’m sorry”. They all said, “I’m not guilty”.
“SISTER”: You have just said that you just came back from Nuremberg and you went and talked in schools. Was that different than this?
HEDY: I noticed when I was in…now, coming back…thinking back, I was not looking at the audience, I was looking above the audience at some spot on the wall or something.
“SISTER”: So Hedy, what comes to my mind right now, is that this thing that you had to go through all your life after you lost your parents, or you lived or…you lived the kind of life that you would not have lived had you a loving parents…a dignified life. But it comes in episodes. You’re mourning or you’re trying to make sense which…however…you’re coping comes in different sets of feelings at different times and it’s always like anew or something comes out of it. You live near railroad tracks, I know, for awhile like the trains going, there’s a connection. For somebody like myself who only listens and feels but never could feel what anybody like you is feeling…it’s only to wonder. It’s only to try to be aware of your feelings as I do something like this and try and do it as correctly or…
HEDY: You do it very sensitively and you always have done it with a great deal of sensitivity and concern for the pre_________   but it has to be done…and it has to be documented.
“SISTER”: So I’ve come across today something that is different than anyone has ever said…and  though I don’t want to probe anywhere past what we’ve said if you have something more you want to say about it…the feelings that you have right now, I’d like to listen…
HEDY: Well I have…I used to give this talk whenever I was asked to do it…both here… in St. Louis or in other places in the United States, as well as, in Germany. And several years ago when I gave this talk in Germany, in German, all of a sudden I was in the room where this experiment, that I was talking about, was taking place…right there and I forgot… ’I’m not there where I think I am, I’m here in a room with friendly people’, and I couldn’t go on…because I was seeing what they were doing in this particular experiment. There was a young doctor in the audience who was familiar with some of these experiments and because I could not go on she talked as best as she could about what she knew and I decided then I am not ever going to give this talk anymore. And I used to go into great details about each of these…not each of them but many of the experiments and I decided…I’m not going to do any of this anymore. And for a long time when somebody asked me to give this talk, I’d say ‘No, I can’t to it.”  And then I finally decided, ‘Yes I can do it’ on a limited basis…not going into great details about each experiment…just saying, you know…they did this or that experiment and they did it many times and people suffered…many lost their lives…but not go into details. And so that’s… so I very seldom that I give this talk. I don’t…it’s not even something that I say, “I can talk about such and such”. I don’t volunteer that. Some people know for a variety of reasons and I will give…I mean…proceeding this talk in Nuremberg, now just last month was the first time in probably 2 years that I’ve given this talk. But I felt that it was important. In Nuremberg there are all these events pertaining to the Nuremberg trials and everybody in the city knows about it…all the schools are aware of it and they ask me to talk about it…so I did it three times in 3 consecutive days…3 horrible days.
“SISTER”: And you just came back and it’s not been that far so maybe it’s overload so…
HEDY: I came back on 25th of November and I had given the talks on the 22nd, the 23rd, and 24th of November
“SISTER”: Okay…alright…let’s rest for a minute…shall we? (TAPE TURNED OFF)
This is “Sister” Prince and I want to correct a wrong that I said that this interview that Hedy did of Ludwig Scheinbrum was 63 years ago …it was not…I made an error…it was done in 1985… so it was 25 years ago…correction made. While we are on the subject of that…that is how we happen to be doing this today. Hedy did a very beautifully done, in depth interview of an Austrian survivor, who was in Buchenwald for 6 years…5 years and was actually a political prisoner in the very beginning…but Hedy…he became a stretcher bearer…worked in the hospital at Buchenwald. And Hedy did such a wonderful job of the interview, that …oh maybe a month ago, or so I called her up to thank her for treating this gentleman in the way that she did… and being as in depth as she could be. And it was about some really terrible things that happened in that interview, which are in our archives for whoever is listening to this tape may read and listen to. (TAPE TURNED OFF)
…Not terrible things that happened in the interview: terrible things that happened in the hospital where Ludwig worked as a slave laborer. But they are on the tape, they are told on the tape. Now, when I spoke with Hedy about this interview and I mentioned the doctor, Dr. Hoven, who was a Nazi doctor who Ludwig Scheinbrum worked for, she quietly said to me, “Would you like to know his first name?” This was on a telephone call, and I said, “Yes, I would”, and she said, “Valdemar, Valdemar is his name.” Now Hedy hasn’t thought of that in 63 years…that’s the 63…But it was remarkable so that is how it happened…we happened to be doing this interview. Now Hedy also has a tremendous amount of photographs of these… supposedly doctors in… photographs and explanations… from the …
HEDY: … the defendants in the medical trial?
“SISTER”:… in the medical trial and has a picture of Dr. Hoven which we will incorporate in our photography part of our Oral History Project. Now I would like Hedy to read something that she has in script that she makes a talk on about something about Dr. Hoven.
HEDY: Valdemar Hoven (SPELLS H.O.V.E.N) was a camp physician in the Buchenwald concentration camp. He was also a captain in the S.S. It is said that whenever he infected a few dozen concentration camp inmates with spotted fever, he walked out of the operating room, cigarette in hand, whistling the melody of a German song, the words of which are, “And Once Again A Great Day Has Gone By”.
Valdemar Hoven was tried in Nuremberg as part of the medical…the trial of the Nazi doctors, and he received the death sentence.
“SISTER”: And he was chief…I’m reading on here…on this photograph…he was chief doctor of the Buchenwald concentration camp. And didn’t you tell me he wasn’t really…was he really a doctor?
HEDY: Yes he was
“SISTER”: He was. Okay he was on counts 1, 3…4 and 4…and count 2 war crimes and its spotted fever experiments and euthanasia…unbelievable…alright Hedy, have we done it?
HEDY: I guess.
“SISTER”: Alright, well, I would like to say just one more thing about Hedy…is that you have…(TAPE OFF)
“SISTER”: Hedy, I want to thank you very much for doing this…you’ve been…
HEDDY: I don’t want you to feel bad because of what I just went through, but..
“SISTER”: I don’t feel bad about it…I feel bad about the whole thing (LAUGHS)… everything, for all the…but I’m grateful to you…and I feel bad that you have to feel bad. But I’m grateful to you…
HEDDY: It’s important and you know, when I am gone…it’s gone.
“SISTER”: That’s right, that’s right and I can’t tell you how much…how grateful I am to you for doing it. But I do want to say that I’m very well aware of all of the things that you have done for us but I am also aware that you have devoted your life to speaking out on behalf of all of those who you feel are being persecuted. You know…I thank you, alright, God bless.

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