Heiman Herbert Bremler

Heiman Herbert Bremler
Nationality: German
Location: Berlin • Germany • Italy • Missouri • New York • St. Louis • United States of America
Experience During Holocaust: Escaped the Holocaust • Family Died During the Holocaust • Family Died in Concentration Camp

Mapping Heiman's Life

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“When I came back [from military service], I was very lonely because in the meantime I found out that my parents had been killed by the Nazis during the Holocaust. Since I was an only child, I really had no relatives except some cousins who lived in various countries. But here I didn’t have anybody.” - Heiman Herbert Bremler

Read Heiman's Oral History Transcripts

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Tape 1 - Side 1

YOUNG: This is Evelyn Young interviewing Mr. Bremler for the Oral History Project, December 18, 1986. Okay, Mr. Bremler, if you just want to tell me a little bit about yourself.
BREMLER: I was born in 1910 and I’m 76 years old and I have lived through many experiences. My early childhood was in World War I and I saw the rise of Hitler and I lived under Hitler for five years before I immigrated to the United States. I came here to this country in June, 1938 and I was not a citizen yet when I was inducted into the United States army in November, 1942. I served in the army of the United States until November, 1945. That’s when I came back. I was overseas for two and one-half years in North Africa and in Italy.
When I came back, I was very lonely because in the meantime I found out that my parents had been killed by the Nazis during the Holocaust. Since I was an only child, I really had no relatives except some cousins who lived in various countries. Everybody had gone to the four corners of the earth, ____ and Portugal. I had cousins were in Cuba at that time, cousins in South America, Bolivia, Argentina and in Israel. But here I didn’t have anybody.
YOUNG: I would like you to tell me a little bit about your childhood, growing up. Were you born in Berlin?
BREMLER: I was born in Berlin and I stayed in Berlin until I immigrated. My father served in the First World War on the German side.
YOUNG: You were a small boy. Do you remember that time?
BREMLER: Yes, but I do remember. I especially remember 1918 because that was the so-called “hunger year” due to the British blockades. There wasn’t much food available and we were really hungry at that time. That you don’t forget. So, I remember these things still from World War I. I also remember the revolution when the Kaiser abdicated because the Communists at that time occupied that part of Berlin where I lived and there were guns shooting. I remember that.
I remember the early beginnings of real anti-Semitism when I was a school child. I was sometimes the only Jewish boy in the class.
YOUNG: You went to a public school?
BREMLER: Yes.
YOUNG: Did you live in a Jewish neighborhood?
BREMLER: Well, it was a minority. Certainly where I lived there were Jewish businessmen and a few Jewish doctors but it was not really a Jewish neighborhood. The Jews lived more in the west of Berlin and we lived in the east. But businesses were often in Jewish hands. But in the school there were very few Jewish boys. And, unforgettable for me is the 24th of June, 1922 because on that day the German foreign minister, who was a Jew, was murdered and that was a big anti-Semitic wave. Some boys came into the classroom and shouted, “Now the Jew is dead, now the Jew is dead!” And I was the only Jewish boy there with everybody looking at me. “Down with the Jews.” So, these were my first experiences.
YOUNG: Were you physically attacked?
BREMLER: Not at that time. It was still a German Republic, you know. It wasn’t that bad yet. As a matter of fact, for a while anti-Semitism decreased. Somehow the economic situation improved a little and much depends on economics in such European countries. It increased again when the economical situation became bad. The Depression in 1929 was here in the United States and also came to Europe, and that was the chance for Hitler who traveled around the country and stirred up the people until he finally was appointed Chancellor on January 30, 1933. That I remember because on that night they were marching through Friedrichstrasse, Unter den Linden, with the torches – a victory parade.
YOUNG: How did your parents react to the rise of Hitler and the anti-Semitism?
BREMLER: My father, may he rest in peace, always thought it would not become really bad. He had seen the good times. I only had seen the bad times in Germany, but he had lived before World War I when the Germans and Jews were in good shape and when there was rather little anti-Semitism, I understand. It was there, under the Kaiser, but not much, and he only remembered the good times. He thought it was impossible that it could get very bad because German culture was something great and that wouldn’t happen.
YOUNG: So your parents identified this very Germanic with the German culture.
BREMLER: I would say so, yes. So what can one soldier do?
YOUNG: How was your Jewish affiliation growing up?
BREMLER: I had a religious education. I became a Bar Mitzvah and I went to religious school and I think my education was better than most boys here. I was president here of the Nusach Hari – B’nai Zion Congregation. So they thought I had a pretty good education in Judaism.
YOUNG: Would you have labeled your family as orthodox?
BREMLER: No, conservative. Sure, the congregation to which I belong is orthodox but it is mostly because I live close to it and I feel quite comfortable. I married into an orthodox Jewish family. My wife is the daughter of a shochet and I feel quite comfortable. But, my parents were really conservative.
YOUNG: Did they speak Yiddish?
BREMLER: Yiddish was not really spoken in Germany because the German Jews were German and I got a Hebrew education but Yiddish was not spoken.
YOUNG: Was it mostly the East European?
BREMLER: Yes. The only thing I read in Yiddish was a little Sholom Aleichem but that is about the extent. We didn’t speak Yiddish.
YOUNG: Did you keep a kosher home? How did you celebrate the holidays?
BREMLER: We did celebrate the holidays and my parents did have a kosher home. It was a typical conservative Jewish family.
YOUNG: And you had quite a few cousins – so did you have a large clan of relatives around you?
BREMLER: Cousins, yes, but I was an only child. It was a large family though. My mother had two sisters and two brothers. My father also had brothers and sisters. So, there were quite a few cousins.
YOUNG: Can you describe your education after elementary school? Did you continue on?
BREMLER: Yes, I graduated from high school became – my father had a mens’ clothing store, so I was an apprentice, as they did in Germany, in a mens’ clothing firm for three years. And later I worked in my father’s store. When I came here, I was really in bad shape, I would say. In the first place, I couldn’t take anything with me. But on the boat I was the man with the most money because I had $85.00. The others only had $50.00. Somehow, the official let me take $85.00. But we had to leave everything there. So I came here with practically nothing and my uncle had given me an affidavit – he was my father’s brother.
YOUNG: He lived in St. Louis?
BREMLER: No, in New York and he actually was a poor man. I think the affidavit was a build up, you know. He couldn’t do anything for me. And, at that time there were really thousands of German-Austrian Jews – Austrian Jews because Hitler had just taken over Austria. They had come from Vienna and New York was full of them.
YOUNG: I’d like to backtrack a little about how it felt for you in the ’20s living in Berlin with the rise of Hitler and living through those early years before you emigrated. From what I know of Berlin, they were not as pro-Nazi as the rest of Germany. Is that true?
BREMLER: That is true. Berlin was rather democratic and Hitler was worried about Berlin. He sent his best propaganda, Dr. Goebbels, to Berlin to make enormous speeches, (NOT CLEAR) and he stirred up the people. He was a master of propaganda and stirred up the people in Berlin so that finally many joined the Nazis. But there was resistance for a long time in Berlin. I guess that’s why my father could still keep his mens’ clothing store for a relatively long time. As a matter of fact, he still had it when I emigrated. He kept it until 1939 and then they forced him to close. But, Berlin was rather mild in comparison to the rest of the country.
YOUNG: Did it affect your daily life or was it mainly like reading the newspaper about political rallies?
BREMLER: It did affect daily life. We already had to be very careful. When they came marching through the streets with the swastika flag, it was better if one went in the house because if you greeted it, somebody might see that you were a Jew and a Jew wasn’t supposed to greet the flag, it was a defamation of the flag. But, if you didn’t greet it, they might not think at the moment that that time you couldn’t see it, they didn’t have any signs yet, that you are Jewish and they might beat you up. So, the best thing was to go into the house until they went away with that Nazi flag. Then, don’t forget, sometimes they would boycott and they would put Brown Shirts in front of the store and not let anybody in.
YOUNG: Did this happen to your father’s business?
BREMLER: Oh yes, four times. Then it abated again; it decreased. It went up and down. Think about 1936, for instance, when I was still there. That was a rather favorable year because that’s when they had the Olympic Games in Berlin, so they wanted to put on a good face. “No boycotts.” But, then again, when it was over, they started again occasionally with a boycott. Before I immigrated they made frequent boycotts.
YOUNG: Did that affect your family’s business to the point where it was very poor, or…?
BREMLER: Well, let’s say it decreased, of course. But we had a rather loyal clientele, many people who were not Nazis yet. It was a district in the east where there were mostly workers who had been Socialists and had supported Social Democrats. And they continued to buy. So I would say we still made a fairly good living until the beginning of 1938. When I emigrated, it was already bad.
YOUNG: But you continued to work in your father’s business?
BREMLER: Yes, until I emigrated. As I told you, he had the store another year. It became real bad then and in 1939 he couldn’t make a living anymore and then they closed him up anyway. There was a decree that they had to go out of business in the middle of 1939.
YOUNG: But until then, outside of the boycotts, there was nothing preventing customers from entering your shop?
BREMLER: No, no violence yet.
YOUNG: What kinds of discrimination did you experience during the Nazi period? Were there certain places you couldn’t go?
BREMLER: Yes, there were already places where you couldn’t go. In the first years you could go to the state opera and so forth. The city had much music – opera music. The first years you could still go, but not later – you’d better not show your face.
YOUNG: How did they recognize you, the Jews?
BREMLER: Well, I guess you could go if you were sure that you wouldn’t be recognized. But suppose somebody there would know you? You didn’t get a sign yet but there were people who watched you everywhere. There were these coffee houses where you could have coffee and cake and so on. If you talked to somebody, you looked around to see if there was somebody who watched you. So you were very careful. Sure, you could go to some places at that time and still get by with it, but you had to be very careful and be sure that there is nobody to denounce you.
YOUNG: Were most of your friends other Jews?
BREMLER: Mostly, but I had gentile friends. A few remained loyal. In fact, even after World War II, some still were my friends. But, of course, most of them did not because they were afraid too. Not that they suddenly hated me, but they were afraid also of being denounced. There were so many people who watched and made it a business report.
YOUNG: Did you have friends who were arrested?
BREMLER: Yes. You see, within the Jewish organizations it was dangerous. We had youth organizations and there the Nazis came and often arrested people.
YOUNG: You belonged to these groups?
BREMLER: Yes. I remember in 1934, you know – that is something I don’t forget – I belonged to a Jewish youth organization and they had a convention and we came all together there and it was just after President Hindenburg died. As long as he lived, Hitler didn’t have unlimited power because Hindenburg was still the president. And therefore, until he died it was still pretty good. But when we came to the convention, there they were, sitting in the back, and the president said, “Welcome men of the Gestapo.” The Gestapo was in the back watching everybody sing songs and you really felt you were in danger. Nothing happened when I was there. But it was the beginning of the fear that when you went to such an affair of the Jewish youth organizations, that the Gestapo would be there and watching you – watching everything you said.
YOUNG: But they didn’t have enough power to ban those organizations?
BREMLER: Not yet. But at the end – I think in August of 1934 – President Hindenburg died and Hitler became unlimited Fuhrer, the Reichsfuhrer of the German nation. Then it became dangerous and many of these leaders of the Jewish youth organizations were arrested.
YOUNG: What did you do during this period, between ’34 and the time you emigrated, on a daily basis? You went to work? Did you meet with friends secretly or…?
BREMLER: Well, I would say so – yes. Until President Hindenburg died, we could still openly go to the Jewish youth organizations. Afterwards, we came together privately. They came to our home, we went to their homes and so on. We didn’t go public anymore. So, that’s what we did and, as I told you, to some places we could still go, such as those coffee houses. And we could go to many places which were still open, so to speak, until 1937 or 1938. It got worse as time went on.
YOUNG: At what point did you decide that you had to leave Germany?
BREMLER: I wanted to leave already in 1937, I remember, because then I noticed already increased boycotts and on a journey I made to Silesia at that time – it was a vacation, you know – I noticed also how bad it was already in the hinterland. It was really bad. It was much worse in the hinterland, compared to Berlin.
YOUNG: In what ways?
BREMLER: Well, there you really couldn’t go anywhere anymore. You had to stay where you were and you saw the flags everywhere and the Nazis. You were surrounded by Nazism, so to speak. You really felt uncomfortable, under a siege. So, I wondered in 1937 already but there was a question of where to go. That was not so easy.
YOUNG: Were your parents encouraging you to leave?
BREMLER: No, my parents wanted me to stay. I was the only child and, as I told you, they didn’t think it would get so bad and somehow we would manage. We still made a living and somehow things would get better.
YOUNG: You were still single at that time?
BREMLER: I was single. I married here into an orthodox Jewish family and at that time they thought it was a kind of intermarriage, the Deutsche Yid and the Russishe Yid. (LAUGHTER BY BOTH) My wife came over as a child. She came from the Ukraine. So I came over as a bachelor.
YOUNG: How difficult, or what was the process for you to leave Germany? How long did it take to get the necessary papers?
BREMLER: It didn’t take too long at that time. My uncle wrote it in the beginning of January that he would send an affidavit. He sent it about the end of March and I went to the American Consul immediately. He postponed me until May when he would make his final decision. He said an affidavit was not actually sufficient and he asked if I could take something out. I said I’d try. So, in May I came back and he said, “Well, all right.” I told him I couldn’t take anything out. They would give me $85.00. I said I couldn’t help it and would take my clothes and so on which they would let me do, but they wouldn’t let me take out anything else. I got a physical examination and I was allright, and he signed the visa. That was in May and I left in June. So, it was relatively easy because the quota was not filled. It was in the beginning of 1938 that I initiated all this and the quota was not filled yet and I got out. A few months later it would have been difficult because with increasing from Germany and from Austria, the quota in 1938 was filled quickly. There was also the question before that they were awfully strict with immigration. They had to be sure that it was a close relative who would take care. They were a little milder because there had been complaints at that time that they were too strict and there should be a little more lenience, so ’38 was more lenient – and I got out.
YOUNG: How was it for you leaving your parents and Germany? Did you have other relatives who stayed behind?
BREMLER: Yes, they all stayed. Actually, I was the first one who – no, the second one. I was the second one of the family who immigrated. One girl cousin immigrated before me, a year before me. The others followed. But the older generation stayed behind. The cousins followed. But the older generation, like my parents, thought it wouldn’t be so bad and they were already older people and they thought they would leave the old people alone and it was very hard anyway – emigration, what would they do in foreign countries starting off from scratch. It would be difficult.
YOUNG: So they were more optimistic that this would pass and they would stay put.
BREMLER: Yes, and also afraid that they would not be able to make a living in a foreign country. It was not so easy for older people. It was hard for the young people. So all that contributed to their staying behind, and most of that old generation were killed. There were only a few who, at the last moment, went to Shanghai. That was a place where you still could go. An uncle of mine went to Shanghai. But, after all, the gates were closed.
YOUNG: By the end of 1938, would you say it was very difficult for most people, even if they wanted to leave?
BREMLER: Yes. There were only a very few places you could go. One uncle went to Bolivia. That was another country which took a few Jews at that time. But there were just a few places where you still could go.
YOUNG: Okay. So, you left Berlin in June of 1938 with $85.00?
BREMLER: Right.
YOUNG: And you took a train to Hamburg?
BREMLER: Yes and from there I took a ship. It was an American ship, the S.S. Washington, and I went to New York. There my uncle was and he met me there.
YOUNG: Had your uncle emigrated many years before?
BREMLER: My uncle went to America – it must have been in 1890, so he was an old emigrant.
YOUNG: He left as a young man from Germany then. So was this an uncle you had never met before?
BREMLER: No.

Tape 1 - Side 2

YOUNG: So he met you at the boat?
BREMLER: Yes.
YOUNG: How did you feel coming to America?
BREMLER: Well, I was glad to get out of the German hell because I expected bad things. I didn’t foresee the Holocaust either. I too thought Germany was a cultured country, and I didn’t think such a thing would happen. But when the family came together before my immigration in May and they wanted hear why I made up my mind and why it was necessary. I predicted that there would be war. And in case of war, only two things could happen to a Jewish young man: either he would be drafted for the German army by the Nazis and he would be used as cannon fodder, or he would be declared as unworthy to bear German arms and could be thrown into a German concentration camp and under starvation and die there. So, therefore, for a Jewish young man there was no future in Germany and I had to get out. And somehow they did realize it. Even my parents slowly began to realize it, that that would be the case. They didn’t think that war would come. I remember one of my uncles saying, “Well war might come, maybe in 10 years.” I said there would be a war within two years. And that I foresaw. I did not foresee the Holocaust.
YOUNG: Do you know of other of your friends that weren’t able to leave or who had difficulties?
BREMLER: Yes, there were quite a few. Quite a few died. Quite a few were taken and there were even some tragedies. Some did get out – to Holland or Belgium or France and they were caught again. You know the Nazis invaded Holland, Belgium and France, and they were caught again and they were later killed. There were quite a few tragedies.
YOUNG: So you felt that you had accomplished what you had to do in order to leave Germany?
BREMLER: Yes.
YOUNG: What kind of reception did you get from your relatives in New York, from your uncle and his family?
BREMLER: Well, it was not so good. I have to talk frankly. My uncle was a good man. After all, he brought me over and I was grateful to him. He just was a poor man. He hadn’t “made it,” so to speak. He had failed somehow. He was a poor man who had only a furnished room. I came here and was with him in that furnished room and after a few days I left. But he had – all that he had. He had been divorced. I never met his wife who lived in a different part of the city and I guess she wasn’t interested in me. I was never invited to her house.
YOUNG: How old was your uncle at that time?
BREMLER: He was 67.
YOUNG: So he was retired and living…
BREMLER: Not completely retired – semi-retired. He still worked a little selling mens’ clothes, a wholesale salesman. But he made very little. There was a daughter, my cousin Dorothy, with whom I am still in contact, and she was quite nice. But she was just a working girl and she couldn’t do anything for me and I was with my uncle. And I went to the Council of Jewish Women and they had no jobs. They didn’t even have a job as a dishwasher.
YOUNG: For you to come here, didn’t the sponsorship include a job or was it enough that your uncle vouched for you?
BREMLER: Yes, he vouched for me. It was something he couldn’t fulfill; he couldn’t give me a job or anything like that. And at that time, as I told you, they weren’t waiting for me. There were thousands of refugees and there were no jobs.
YOUNG: Did you learn any English in Germany? Were you fairly fluent when you came to America?
BREMLER: I was very fluent.
YOUNG: So you stayed with your uncle for a few days and then how did you manage?
BREMLER: I stayed with him for six weeks. The $85.00 I had at that time was still a little money. And before I left Berlin, I took all the recommendations I could get. So if somebody knew somebody there, I had letters of recommendation. But that did not help. But, one letter of recommendation was from the Jewish War Veterans in Germany. My father had been a war veteran. I took this letter from the Jewish War Veterans to the Jewish War Veterans in New York. I did that really as a last resort and I didn’t think it was worth much, but I thought I’d try anyway. So, I showed them the letter and said I would like to get a job. They said, “Well, you shouldn’t stay here. After all, New York is overrun with refugees and there are no jobs. You should go out of town, deeper into the country. If you want to do that, we’ll give you a letter of recommendation to the Jewish War Veterans in another city. But leave here, we can’t help you here.”
So, to me one city was like any other city. I didn’t have anybody anywhere. So they suggested St. Louis because it wasn’t so overrun. Chicago was also overrun but they said St. Louis is not. So I took their letter of recommendation and I really didn’t have anything to lose. I said to my uncle, “I’m going to St. Louis and I’ll try.” He really was against it, but I did go. I took the bus. I still remember the bus fare was $13.50 (LAUGHTER BY BOTH) from New York. It took one and a half days then, and I came here.
Before I left, my uncle did know somebody who lived here in St. Louis, not that he knew them personally, but a young man in his business had a cousin who lived here. He took that address and gave it to me. That address was on Hamilton and I went there and saw the young man who isn’t living anymore. Hans was his name, and he knew a lady who had a boarding house close by and that was where I got room and board. Then I went to the Jewish War Veterans in St. Louis and showed them the letter of recommendation and they gave me the same answer as they gave me in New York, “We don’t have any jobs here. There is a depression and we cannot help you.” The leader of the Jewish War Veterans said, “You can come to a meeting if you want to. Maybe there will be somebody there who can help you.” So, a few days later, I went to the meeting of the Jewish War Veterans and the President said to me, “Well, you speak English. Give a little talk. Tell the people about the situation in Germany. Tell them about your experiences.” So, that’s how I gave my first speech in English. (LAUGHTER) I was a little scared, naturally, but I spoke and there was a manager of Union May Stern Company which was at that time a furniture business and had several furniture stores here in St. Louis. The main store was downtown on Olive and 12th where there is now a post office. And they hired me. That’s how I got my first job.
YOUNG: Well, that was certainly very good luck for you. One speech and you got a job. (LAUGHTER BY BOTH)
How did you feel as an outsider? Did you make friends very quickly in the Jewish community through the War Veterans or was it a slow process for you?
BREMLER: In the beginning it was slow. Some people at the firm were friendly, not all of them, but some were. And Friday nights I went to services, either Temple Israel or Shaare Emeth and they got interested in me. Rabbi Thurmond liked me and invited me to his house and they were anxious to know about what happened in Germany. And since I could talk, I sometimes talked at the Oneg Shabbats, so many more people began to know me. So gradually, I found friends.
YOUNG: Did you meet other German refugees in St. Louis?
BREMLER: Yes. There was a Self-Aid at that time. They came together sometimes and Jewish refugees came together.
YOUNG: I think one of the people at my office – I don’t know if you would know her – Lois Weikert – her parents, the Froelichs, were with that Self-Aid Society.
BREMLER: Yes, right. I know them. Self-Aid – that helped a little when we got together.
YOUNG: Was it a large group of people? How many people are we talking about, refugees from Germany at that time? 50? 100?
BREMLER: No, I would say there were more. I would estimate there were about 700 to 800 refugees.
YOUNG: Do you know anything about the history of the – I know there is a Chevra Kadisha with German Jewish –
BREMLER: The cemetery.
YOUNG: Yes, the cemetery. Were you involved with them at all at some point?
BREMLER: I was not involved. I still am not. But I remember the cemetery. Well, they felt these older people should have a cemetery and I understand their feelings, but I, myself, didn’t feel that way. As far as we are concerned, I bought a plot here at Hesed Shel Emeth where most of my wife’s family are. I hope I can prevent going there too soon (LAUGHTER) – I’m not in a hurry.
YOUNG: So it sounds as though you have mostly fit into the American Jewish community fairly quickly rather than being grouped with the other German refugees.
BREMLER: Comparatively.
YOUNG: Would you attribute that to the fact that you were younger and single rather than coming here with a family?
BREMLER: Maybe that’s it. I was a young man and I was single. I spoke English from the very beginning. I guess that helped.
YOUNG: Did you meet your wife…?
BREMLER: After the war. Before the war, it was a struggle. It wasn’t easy – I mean, they didn’t pay much in those days. It was still the Depression and I stayed with Union May Stern for three years but then I changed. I went to National Clothing Company. At that time there were quite a few Jews there. At that time it was Easton Avenue but now it is Martin Luther King Drive. I worked there and the hours were very bad. I worked from morning to night and I never saw the daylight. I worked for a full year in St. Charles at a furniture firm and the hours were better. And after I came back to St. Louis from St. Charles, strange things happened. Suddenly they decided that Jewish refugees should also be registered for the army.
YOUNG: Which year was this?
BREMLER: That was – the United States entered the war December 7, 1941, right?
YOUNG: Yes.
BREMLER: So it was about February of 1942 when I had to register. But, on the other hand they hesitated to take us; we were really not citizens yet. Nevertheless, I was classified 1-A and the boss in St. Charles thought I would be drafted immediately, and he didn’t say so, but he made it so that I had to leave. He cut me down in salary and I had to go back to St. Louis. So, I got a job again in St. Louis. And then, in November, they called me and told me I had a choice: “You are not a citizen yet. You don’t have to go into the army. But, if you don’t want to go, we can declare you an enemy alien and you would then have the status of an enemy alien.” Naturally, I didn’t want to be an enemy alien so I said, “I’ll go.” That’s how I was inducted into the army of the United States, in November. And in April – I was at that time stationed in Camp Ritchie, Maryland and then they took us to Hagerstown, Maryland where I got my American citizenship – I became a citizen in the army.
YOUNG: In the army. But you had only been in the States for four years?
BREMLER: Four years only.
YOUNG: But they made an exception because you were in the army?
BREMLER: Yes, I was in the army and then they gave me citizenship because I served in the army.
YOUNG: How did you feel?
BREMLER: Well, I felt good at that time – purely humanly speaking, of course I felt good. But purely humanly speaking, I also had a little fear. It’s only human because you know what happened as soon as you became a citizen, you went overseas. In the beginning of June, I went overseas.
YOUNG: Were you kept in a platoon that was all inductees in the same situation as you, who were not citizens?
BREMLER: No.
YOUNG: You were with Americans? And you were treated the same as the other inductees?
BREMLER: Yes.
YOUNG: How were you treated by the other men and your superior officers? They knew you were Jewish?
BREMLER: Oh yes, they knew I was Jewish. I cannot say that I felt any anti-Semitism. They treated me fairly at Camp Ritchie, Maryland. I had my basic training at Fort Leonard Wood. I didn’t feel any anti-Semitism there. At Camp Ritchie, Maryland there were more Jews, of course. It was a language school and we were trained as interpreters. Of course, there were other languages too. You had all kinds of nationalities there at that time. But there were more Jews there because of the language. Jews often knew several languages. There were several like me who had come from Germany or Austria. There you certainly didn’t feel anti-Semitism. As a matter of fact, I cannot complain about anti-Semitism as a soldier. I was treated fairly well. They made me a corporal and overseas they made me a sergeant. So, I have no complaints about anti-Semitism in the army.
YOUNG: Let me backtrack just a little bit, because with the war starting, how was the communication with your parents? Were you able to write to them? I assume in 1938 when you came, you were still able to write letters and get information. But, when did that stop?
BREMLER: Oh – I can’t tell you exactly when it stopped. It began when the United States entered the war.
YOUNG: In 1941?
BREMLER: In December, 1941.
YOUNG: So from 1938 to 1941 you were still able to receive letters?
BREMLER: Yes.
YOUNG: What were your parents writing to you?
BREMLER: Well, it depends when. It was bad, you know, the Kristallnacht, Kristallnacht – that was a bad experience. But they didn’t take my parents, thank God. But, of course, it was a terrible time. At that time they wrote terrible letters.
YOUNG: When was Kristallnacht?
BREMLER: The ninth of November, 1938.
YOUNG: So you were already out of the country for five months?
BREMLER: Yes.
YOUNG: What did your parents write about it, about Kristallnacht?
BREMLER: Well, you know what they did. They smashed the windows of and so on, and many thousands of Jews were taken, but they were not taken because they were older. But thousands were taken and they would tell how they beat them up and some were killed. Of course, that they didn’t write. They had to be careful too because of the censors.
YOUNG: They were censoring their letters?
BREMLER: Yes, so they had to be careful about what they would write, but I could gather my insinuation what was going on there.
YOUNG: How old were your parents then?
BREMLER: My father was 67 and my mother was younger – 58. Well, my father told me how he had to give up his business in 1939.
YOUNG: How did they manage?
BREMLER: Well, he had money but, of course, that money gradually decreased because there was a decree that the Jews had to pay for the damages caused by the Nazis. It was fantastic what they did. So, naturally, the fortune decreased. But they seem to have been able to get along until December of 1941 and then I didn’t have any mail anymore and got indirectly the news that they were taken in 19 – April, 1942 – they were taken to Warsaw.
YOUNG: How did you get this news?
BREMLER: Indirectly. I think they wrote to my uncle in Portugal which was neutral and he wrote to me. They could write to Portugal because Portugal was neutral.
YOUNG: And they were deported to Warsaw?
BREMLER: Deported to Warsaw, yes.
YOUNG: And from there, did you get any information?
BREMLER: From there I don’t know really what happened, how long they lived or when they died. I really don’t know. Also indirect, and I don’t know whether it is correct – you have to take it with a grain of salt, you know – I got the information from a cousin in Palestine who was in Poland at that time and he managed to escape. He told me they were taken from Warsaw to Treblinka and there they were killed. But even he couldn’t really say that 100%. I don’t even know how he got this information. But that’s all I heard and it’s hearsay, so to speak. I don’t know it. But the date, April, 1942 has been confirmed because gentile friend who was close to us, wrote me afterward that they were taken in April of 1942 to Warsaw, confirming what my uncle had written. So that is a fact, but what happened afterward, I don’t really know. It’s hearsay; it might be true and it might not be true. They might have died in Warsaw.
YOUNG: Was there any way after the war that the Red Cross could have found them?
BREMLER: Yes, I contacted the Red Cross and they notified me that they had been killed because they had not returned. If they had not returned, they had been killed. They did not know whether they died in Warsaw or whether they died in Treblinka. All they know is that they died.
YOUNG: How did it feel for you to suddenly not know what was happening for sure? You were in the army at the time and being readied to go overseas.
BREMLER: It was a bad time. I felt miserable, but somehow when I went overseas I made up my mind that if I wanted to cope with this war, I could not go with my head down. I just forced myself to go on and fight it out. After all, it was a war, but it was really hard for me.
YOUNG: Being in the army and being trained as an interpreter, did you anticipate going back to Germany after the war? Was that something you were thinking about in 1942?
BREMLER: I didn’t think they would send me back to Germany and they didn’t. But, of course, some of my comrades did go. They were sent. It just didn’t happen to me. As a matter of fact, I’ll tell you frankly, I feared more being caught by the Germans than being wounded or killed because I thought if they were to catch me again, they would torture me or something like that, before they’d kill me, so I dreaded being caught by them. But it never came to pass. I was never taken prisoner.
YOUNG: Where were you sent overseas, your first post?
BREMLER: I was first sent to North Africa, first to Casablanca in June and from there in August I was sent Boussaria which was really an Arab village, close to Algiers.
YOUNG: What were your functions there as an interpreter?
BREMLER: There I was a radio monitor. I listened in and recorded what they said and translated it.
YOUNG: That was a very important function.
BREMLER: Yes, it was an important function and it was an interesting job.
YOUNG: But you were away from the fighting or were you close to it?
BREMLER: Well, it depends on how you feel about it. I was in the fighting infantry but at that time the Germans bombed Boussaria. It was close to Algiers – they bombed Algiers and Boussaria. There were quite heavy air attacks. So, therefore, it was often dangerous. Of course, I did not have to fight with a rifle in the infantry or anything like that.
YOUNG: This was like army intelligence?
BREMLER: Yes, it was comparable to intelligence. Now in Italy, it was different. It was a real combat area.
YOUNG: When were you transferred to Italy?
BREMLER: I was transferred to Italy in the beginning of July, 1944. We crossed the Mediterranean and came to Naples where I didn’t stay long. They sent me to Rome. In Rome they decided that the British Eighth Army needed an interpreter, a translator, and they attached me to the British Eighth Army and I remained with them for a whole year. Then I came back to the American Fifth Army.

Tape 2 - Side 1

YOUNG: This is Evelyn Young interviewing Mr. Bremler on December 23, 1986 for the Oral History Project.
If you want to continue from last week where we left off. Do you have anything to add to what you have previously said about Berlin or…?
BREMLER: Well, I would like to add something about my parents. When I came here and I got my first job at Union May Stern Furniture Company, there were a few gentlemen who were willing to help me to bring my parents over. And they gave an affidavit. Unfortunately, they had bad luck. My father was born in the eastern part of Germany, in the province, Posen. The province Posen had been German when he was born, before World War I. But Germany lost the province, Posen, by the Treaty of Versailles and after World War I, the province, Posen, became Polish. According to the emigration regulations here, they did not go by the time when he was born, but by the present conditions, by the present state, so he fell under the Polish quota which was always filled. There were over three million Jews in Poland and many who wanted to emigrate and the quota was always filled. So, unfortunately, the affidavit did not help them because of the peculiar regulations here in the United States at that time.
YOUNG: It was based on not your nationality, but where you were born and what country it was at the present time?
BREMLER: Right. And it was at the present time Polish, so he fell under the Polish quota. I had been born in Berlin which was German, so I fell under the German quota, but my father was considered to belong under the Polish quota and that was very unfortunate.
YOUNG: Then your parents were considering emigration by that time?
BREMLER: Yes, by then they were ready. The situation had gotten very bad. They forced them to give up the business in 1939 and things became worse and worse, and they were ready to emigrate, but unfortunately it was too late, and my father was under the Polish quota which was always crowded. I thought I should add this. There were efforts to bring them here, but the regulations prevented that at that time.
YOUNG: I think we left off when you were fighting in Italy, or was it in North Africa?
BREMLER: I was in North Africa for one whole year, from June, 1943 to June, 1944. First I was in Casablanca and then to Algiers and to a small Arab village, Boussaria, which I mentioned to you already. We went on a cattle train. It was a French cattle train which could carry either 20 men or eight horses. (LAUGHTER) We were five days on the cattle train from Casablanca to Boussaria. It was a half wilderness there, bordering the desert. It was very hot. The Nazis had been in North Africa, but by the time I came, they had already been defeated in North Africa and they had to flee. As I mentioned to you, there were frequent air attacks in Algiers and Boussaria which were often very bad, and there were casualties. But there was no real ground fighting anymore because they had already retreated to Italy.
In June, 1944, I crossed the Mediterranean and came first to Naples, Italy. From there I went to Rome where I only stayed for a few days and then they sent me to the British Eighth Army. To the British Eighth Army, I went across the Appenines to the Adriatic coastal sector. But before I went I was at Castiglione del Lago at Lake Casemeno. That is a rather famous place. It was there, at Lake Casemeno, if you remember Roman history, Hannibal defeated the Romans. And there I heard that there was a place very close in which many Jews had been saved. The news I got first in Italy was very bad because they told me when I came to Rome that the Nazis had picked up quite a few Jews there and had taken them to Auschwitz.
YOUNG: You were aware of the concentration camps and the extermination camps at that time?
BREMLER: I knew that the concentration camps existed. It was well known already. It was not so well known how drastic they were. I mean, we didn’t know anything about the gas ovens yet. These things came out a little later. But we knew already that they were in concentration camps and it was believed that many died from starvation. That was the belief at that time. But when I came to Castiglione del Lago, I heard that there was a place where many Jews had been saved, Assisi. Assisi is not far from Casemeno and there many Jews were saved by cloisters and…
YOUNG: Were these Italian Jews?
BREMLER: These were mostly Italian Jews who had been saved there. I heard also that in Rome the Church had helped Jews too and had hidden them in cloisters, and that Italians themselves were really not anti-Semitic, not as far as I could see. Many Italian laymen did help the Jews and were hiding them.
I stayed with the British Eighth Army for almost a year. I had some strange experiences (LAUGHTER) as a radio monitor and translator. I stayed up on New Year’s night, from 1944 to 1945 all night because Hitler decided to make a speech on that New Year’s night. And we recorded it and I translated it. At any rate, in April of 1945 they took me back to the American army. I came back to Florence and then they sent me up to Genoa and in Genoa the Nazi army capitulated. It was the end of the war as far as Italy was concerned. A few days later, they capitulated in Germany.
Now in Genoa, at Shavuoth, they rededicated the synagogue in Genoa. It had been desecrated by the Nazis and there you really could experience – I have never seen such grateful people. I talked to many Italian Jews there who had been hidden in the mountain places and various villages, and they had come back now and were glad that they had been saved. They were quite grateful to the Italian people, “Grazie, grazie.” It was quite touching that here, after all, the Italian Jewry was partly saved and that there was a rededication of Judaism. The Nazis had not been able to eliminate it in Italy.
I stayed in Italy because the war with Japan was still on but they didn’t send me to Japan. They sent me to a prisoner-of-war camp – German prisoners-of-war up in North Italy near Bressia, Camp Gedi. There they – the test to give out a small paper for the re-education of the Nazis. I couldn’t do that by myself. I was really not qualified to write a paper. I could write something but I was unable to really give out a paper. I needed help and I got help from improbable sources. I found a German writer who had been an anti-Nazi and who was going to write and take care of this little paper. His name was Erich Luth and he played a certain role later. He was very friendly and we worked very well together. If you like, I can show you later on the remnant of the paper. And when I left Italy…
YOUNG: How long were you at this camp?
BREMLER: I was there from the beginning of July ’til the end of September. There were about 100,000 prisoners-of-war there.
YOUNG: Were they mainly ordinary soldiers or were there Nazis – cause after the war we heard so much about Nazis who were able to escape prosecution because they faked IDs and sort of mingled with ordinary soldiers.
BREMLER: These men were really not there in Italy. These were mostly ordinary soldiers. Of course, there were Nazis among them but not those kinds of Nazi leaders you spoke of because they were not stationed in Italy. But there were recalcitrants, as we call them, with whom we couldn’t do anything. And they were really not taken to Camp Gedi. They were taken where I met them when I left Camp Gedi in Bressia, and I went to Naples in October. There, close to Naples, there was a camp for recalcitrants, real Nazis who had been SS officers. And I tell you, I didn’t give out the paper there anymore. In the first place, we considered it worthless there. In the second place, I was over 35 years old then and I was qualified to go home. I had enough points. I had two and one-half years service. I was over 35 years old and I could go home. So they transferred me to a placement depot in Naples and from there I came home in November.
YOUNG: Let me just back track a little. When you were working in this camp, how did you feel as a Jew confronting these Germans, knowing what they had done to your family?
BREMLER: Well, I didn’t feel too well about it, but I tried to be fair because the people who worked for me – the printers too – they were really people who were willing to cooperate with the Americans and therefore I tried to be fair and they must have known that I was of German-Jewish descent. We never mentioned that, but they respected me, after all, I was a sergeant, you know – an American sergeant. It was as if I was a German colonel in that situation. After all, they were prisoners-of-war.
I was sent for a few days up to the border territory there, to the Alps, on the border of Austria. That’s as far as I got – Belzano and Merano. In Merano there was a German military hospital. There I saw all these invalids and I had the feeling that they had been punished enough. We had them too, invalids, but not to such an extent. There I really saw misery and I thought deep in my heart that they had gotten their punishment when I saw them in Merano.
YOUNG: Was it possible for you to go to Berlin or did you not want to go back and see.
BREMLER: I didn’t want to go back. It wouldn’t have been possible for me either. A soldier has to go where he is sent and it was still wartime until August when the Japanese surrendered. So, they wouldn’t have sent me to Berlin even if I had wanted to go, but I was not anxious to go there, not at all. But that Erich Luth played a role later in history, you may say. When I parted from him and he was very much touched because he thought I had influenced him. I don’t know in what way. But, at any rate, he said to me, “When I return to civilian life, I am going to do something for the Jewish people.” The man was a sincere man. I didn’t say anything but I knew he was a sincere man. However, I thought, “What can he do?” Even if he wanted to, what could this man do? So I didn’t take it seriously. But he did play a part. He later became the Chief of the Press in the city of Hamburg and an outstanding journalist in the Federal Republic of Germany, in West Germany.
And you will remember that Chancellor Adenauer wanted to come to an agreement with the United States and be again on good terms with the other Western nations. And it was, I think, about 1952 that Ben Gurion of Israel said, “Well, the Germans want to get along with the other nations but they haven’t done a thing about their crimes against the Jews.” It was at that time that Luth actually organized a campaign in Germany. In all of his pamphlets and his speeches: “Cain, where is your brother, Abel?” So to speak, indicating they have killed so many Jews. And he traveled around in West Germany and made speeches about Germany having something to do. And he wrote to Adenauer a public letter at that time that he should come to an agreement with Israel and the Jewish people. And I don’t know if Adenauer only followed him, although he wrote him a letter that he was very useful and helpful in advancing negotiations. At any rate, Adenauer really made negotiations with Israel and with leading Jewish authorities from the United States. And the Federal Republic of Germany paid compensation to Israel for – not for those they had killed. They could not make good for what they had done, but for all the people who had to be resettled in Israel and also to pay compensation for refugees who had lost all their properties there. Now, that compensation was not always what it should have been, but it was a step in the right direction. It was a small endeavor by the Federal Republic of Germany to give compensation to Israel and the Jewish people. And Luth was instrumental in that. He sent me books and everything. I’ll show them to you, if you wish. Do you know a little German?
YOUNG: Yes.
BREMLER: Then I will show you them after our interview.
YOUNG: That sounds interesting. So, you were demobilized then? Is that the right word?
BREMLER: Yes. I left on the 24th of October, 1945, from Naples. It was nice. I crossed the Mediterranean and I still like the Mediterranean trip, but the Atlantic wasn’t so wonderful on that trip. It was just a Liberty ship, you know. And we got into a storm and that ship was just a toy on the waves. We were in that storm for five days. It took us 18 days to return back to Boston. I was one of the few who didn’t get seasick. (LAUGHTER) But we finally got out of that storm and arrived in Boston. I didn’t stay long in Boston but came back to St. Louis. I was discharged on the 14th of November, 1945, and returned to civilian life. (LAUGHTER)
YOUNG: Did you ever think about returning to post-war Germany, or had you already broken all your ties there?
BREMLER: I never thought about returning and I never did return. It’s still possible because the city of Berlin now invites people to come and to see their hometown again. Of course, there are quite a few who came from Berlin, so even at the best case it would take (LAUGHTER) at least two years before they would invite me, I guess. But, there is now this gesture of the city of Berlin inviting residents to see the place as it is now. I am not too anxious. I wouldn’t even want to see the place – in the first place, I have been notified that the house we lived in doesn’t exist anymore. The entire street is now changed, even its name. I would have to go to the East of Berlin which I don’t care to do. (LAUGHTER) You know how it is now, a divided city. So, I’m really not anxious. Of course, if they should give it to me for nothing, (LAUGHTER) I guess I would take a trip if we both are still well and can do it. I am already 76 years old, so I don’t know. But I have never gone back. The only thing I did once was to take a trip to Israel for a wedding, one reason we went to Israel. But, I never went back to Germany.
YOUNG: So what was your life after you returned to St. Louis?
BREMLER: First I went back to my old firm, Union May Stern and Company, but I lost that job later. Then they opened up here – Truman was president at that time – and I guess it was his doing that they brought records from World War II to St. Louis from the whole country. And it was then on Goodfellow. So, since I’d lost my other job and didn’t really like the furniture business, I applied there and passed the examination and then entered civil service. I stayed in civil service for 33 years and then retired. They used me also as a records analyst but also as a translator of German and French correspondence.
YOUNG: So you enjoyed that?
BREMLER: Yes, and I continued it to a certain extent. And in private life, I found happiness. I found my wife. (HEARTY LAUGHTER) I got married and she is not from Germany, as you know. After all the troubles I had, it was a great consolation from the war. I think it’s in the Torah that Isaac was comforted by marrying Rebecca over the loss of his mother. This happened to me, to a certain extent. It was the best thing that happened to me, after the war. (LAUGHTER) And to a certain extent, I gained roots here, as I told you. In Jewish life, I was even president of this congregation and I’m still trustee of the congregation and chairman of adult education and still vice president of Ebenezer Lodge of B’nai B’rith and president of the Jewish Community Center Association in the Men’s Club.
YOUNG: So you’re very active?
BREMLER: Yes. Show her that thing, honey. (SPEAKING TO WIFE)
YOUNG: A service award?
BREMLER: Yes, they gave me a service award.
YOUNG: (READING) A service award presented to Heiman Bremler in honor and with deep appreciation of the faithful, devoted and valuable service given to the J.C.C.A. Monday Men’s Discussion Club, 1984.
BREMLER: And these are my parents, my father and mother. These are my wife’s parents. My wife’s father was a shochet. They came from the Ukraine.
YOUNG: So it was a “mixed marriage.”
MRS. BREMLER: Yes, at that time they thought it was a kind of intermarriage.
BREMLER: The rabbi who married us – he is not living anymore, Rabbi Grodsky. He said, “It’s a melting pot, it’s a melting pot! A Deutsche Yid and a Russishe Yid.” (LAUGHTER BY ALL)
YOUNG: Well, you said in the first tape that you really tried to associate more…

Tape 2 - Side 2

BREMLER: …those who came from Berlin, most of them who came from Berlin I did know and came together with them. I still come together with some of them, the old German Jewish families. And at least two of them served with me in the army.
YOUNG: Oh, you were together?
BREMLER: Yes, not the entire period of three years, but they were trained since they also spoke German and English perfectly. They were trained in Camp Ritchie, Maryland, and we were together there. It was a military intelligence school. So it was not that I didn’t have any connections, but thanks to my fate, so to speak, I came together with quite a few of the American Jewish families.
YOUNG: So you found yourself a niche here with the Jewish community and marrying your wife. Do you have any regrets about your life in terms of not being able to…
BREMLER: Regrets, Mrs. Young? I think I did things right. I only made one mistake which I regret. I should have left Germany when Hitler came to power. That’s when I should have left Germany. Then I would have established myself here and would have not had that trouble about bringing my parents over when it was too late and when they were under such regulations and all those things. I regret that I wasn’t farsighted enough to go immediately. But you must admit many, many made that mistake who were older and wiser than I. I was just a young fellow then. I wasn’t that farsighted and I didn’t think it would become so bad. In fact, I thought Hitler wouldn’t last at that time. Hindenburg was the president and I thought Hitler would be dismissed after a while.
YOUNG: What made people leave very early? There were German Jews who did leave very fast. What was their circumstance?
BREMLER: You have to realize, Mrs. Young, that the Jews that were involved in politics, the political field, that they had to leave immediately. We were not involved in politics but other Jews were involved. They had to leave if they didn’t want to be taken to a concentration camp and eventually killed. So these Jews left whenever they could. Then you have to consider writers who had written something or certain occupations which were on the Nazi “hit list.” They had to leave. Then there were, of course, some farsighted Jews and there was an agreement that Jews could take some money to Israel at that time. Some kind of agreement was made with an exchange of goods or something like that. So those Jews who emigrated to Israel in 1933 could take money out to Israel. Farsighted Jews who were willing to do that and lose something in Germany but still take something with them, those Jews left. But, I didn’t belong to them.
YOUNG: Would you say the majority of the Jews really waited to see what would happen and it wasn’t until life became unbearable that they made that decision, like you? It was already 1938 and very difficult to leave.
BREMLER: I also would say that small town Jews were more inclined to leave earlier because anti-Semitism in small places was much worse than in large cities like Berlin or Hamburg. They often couldn’t make a living anymore. They boycotted them completely, not only a few days as I have described to you. They were after them constantly and they couldn’t make a living anymore. So they were inclined to go. And then, of course, there were the connections which you had. Thank God, I had a connection here in the United States. But if you didn’t have connections to open the gates, then the gates were closed.
YOUNG: What was the official Jewish community support for people at that time? What were the rabbis telling their congregations about the Nazis? Were they saying to wait and it would be over, don’t panic, or were they saying anything?
BREMLER: Oh yes, they talked but they didn’t all say the same things. There were rabbis like Rabbi Prinz who was a Zionist, and he was for emigration to Israel and when Israel could only take a limited amount, he was for immigration which he did to the United States. Some rabbis were for immigration either to Israel or to other countries. But there were also rabbis who thought we should stay in the country, “It will be all right.” They were more optimistic. So, the rabbis were just like the laymen. They were divided. Some were farsighted and some were not and did not understand all the things. Some rabbis were more outspoken. They talked about how the situation really was and said something about the terrible character and the terrible treatment the Nazis gave. Now these men mostly immigrated themselves. They had to because the Gestapo did come to the synagogue when they heard some remark about the Nazis which didn’t suit them. Then they either arrested them or told them to either leave the country or go to concentration camps.
YOUNG: Did you still practice as a Jew your religion in 1938, about the time you left? Or were people afraid to attend synagogue services?
BREMLER: Well, some were afraid. And I’m not a hero but I wasn’t afraid. Things didn’t really happen in my lifetime then and I have always been able to go to the synagogue. Some people were scared that something might happen, but I haven’t really heard anything, with one exception. Something did happen at the synagogue in Anschlasin but it was a one time occurrence. Someone beat up a few Jews there. So, generally speaking, you could still go to services while I was there. It was not that bad then. But, of course, rabbis had to be careful about their speeches. I think that they watched themselves. Some didn’t watch themselves and they had to leave and maybe they wanted to leave too, because – they couldn’t speak as they wanted. It depends on how these men felt. Just like the laymen, they were divided. Some were farsighted and some were not. Some immigrated themselves and some stayed. I understand that almost all of them immigrated after Kristallnacht. It was comparatively easy for a rabbi to come here to the United States because clergymen of all faiths got some preferential treatment and that’s why quite a few came here.
YOUNG: They didn’t have to go through the regular procedures?
BREMLER: Well, they had to go through procedures, but if a congregation signed an affidavit saying, “We want him as a rabbi,” it was easy – easier than for others. Of course, they too had to have connections. England took quite a few. England had a bad conscience somehow because they blocked Palestine. But they took quite a few Jews to England itself and, especially children. They saved many Jewish children. So quite a few Jews were able to go to England, especially children. Otherwise, France, in the beginning took quite a few, but I think France was a difficulty because you couldn’t work there. You couldn’t get a permit to work in France. But here in the United States you could at least work. Well, it was rough, without a doubt.
YOUNG: Is there anything else you would like to say that I haven’t asked you?
BREMLER: Well, a rabbi who taught me became quite – almost – a martyr. Rabbi Leo Baeck. He could have come to the United States. In fact, Temple Israel offered him an affidavit and a chance to come here. But he was really the leader. He was the president of the Jewish community. He said that the captain could not leave the ship; he has to stay until the end. He felt that as long as there was a Jewish community, he had to lead. So, he didn’t leave. So, in the beginning of 1943, they took him also to a concentration camp, to Theresienstadt.
But, you know, in all these things you have to have a little luck too, such as in the army, in war. In everything you have to have a little luck. And he had it. Somehow, the Nazis had a Rabbi Leo Baeck who had died in the concentration camp, but it wasn’t he. But the Nazis said, “Rabbi Leo Baeck is dead.” And it was only at the end of the war in Germany that Eichmann came to the concentration camp who knew Rabbi Leo Baeck. And he saw him and said, “I thought you were dead.” Perhaps he was speaking about an event which would happen later. At any rate, Rabbi Leo Baeck thought his time had come, but Eichmann had other things on his mind. He was in flight and didn’t want to be caught by American troops. And he left the camp before doing anything, and so Rabbi Leo Baeck survived. In fact, he came once to St. Louis where I saw him again.
YOUNG: It’s fascinating that he could survive like that.
BREMLER: But, of course, unfortunately these are exceptions.
YOUNG: Thank you. I really appreciate your being able to tell us all these recollections. I’ll stop this tape now.

Tape 3 - Side 1

PRINCE: My name is Vida “Sister” Prince and today is Friday, June 14th, the year 2002, and I am interviewing Heiman Bremler for the Oral History Project of the Holocaust Museum and Learning Center. We will mainly be discussing the Olympics in 1936 held in Berlin, and how this – how this affected the Jewish community and the Jews in Germany which were already under stress and discrimination from the Nazis. Mr. Bremler was living in Berlin at the time. He has already been involved in an oral history interview at great length done by Evelyn Young in the 1980s and it was a very detailed description of his life. And this is just an addition to that interview. (TAPE STOPS)Mr. Bremler, your interview with Evelyn Young was done December 18, 1986 and it was excellent – excellent interview, and which will be a wonderful teaching tool for educational purposes. And we thank you for that, and I looked forward to talking with you today. (TAPE STOPS)Mr. Bremler, using some quotes from The World Must Know from the Holocaust – U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, this is – this is what they said about this time. It has been noted that, “the most impressive achievement of Nazi propaganda was the international public relations effort that surrounded the 1936 Berlin Olympics…and that stories of anti-Semitism and the suspension of political freedom had been overstated by journalists and diplomats alike…Tourists returned from Berlin had reported to Roosevelt that ‘The synagogues were crowded and apparently there is nothing very wrong.’” That was their quote. Mr. Bremler, talk to me about how it was for you and your family and Jews in Berlin, and maybe all over Germany – how it was right before the Olympics and then what the changes were during the Olympics and then afterwards. Okay.
BREMLER: (PAUSE) Well, in September, 19 hundred and 35 they brought the Nuremberg Laws, and we were worried because according to these laws we were deprived of citizenship. We no longer were Reichsburger, German citizens; we were now only Staatsangehoerige, subjects to the state. So we were very worried about this new development and we really…we really thought about what we could do if we should perhaps really work hard to emigrate or something. We were really worried. Then 19 hundred and 36 came. Things changed somehow because all the things which had been done before were somehow suspended. Nothing was done. For instance, we had occasionally boycotts in 1935 – my father had a mens’ clothing store. So sometimes occasionally there was a boycott. 1936, no boycott, and nothing was done against the Jews – whatever inscriptions they had, or whatever…that all was taken off. There were some inscriptions already against the Jews so…but all these things were taken off. And a person who came to Berlin might have thought that everything was normal. In a way it was not so good, in retrospect, because it gave us a false sense of security, that everything would be all right, that everything would straighten out. Yes, the synagogues were crowded. I remember one service for the Jewish war veterans in which the whole synagogue on Oranienburger Strasser, where I had been Bar Mitzvah, was crowded to the last with all the Jewish war veterans as a sign that they really believed the country would still be their country. And I still remember the sermon – Rabbi Doctor Salomonsky, “Stay in the country and make a decent living. Bleibe im lande und haehredich redlich.” It gave us actually a false sense of security. It was a good year, but it was not so good because we felt too secure.
PRINCE: Sort of like a wasted year –
BREMLER: Yeah.
PRINCE: – for action, to do something. That’s very interesting. Did you – did you understand why it was being done that way? Did you connect it with the Olympics? Did you realize that?
BREMLER: Yes, I realized it was the Olympics. The Olympics was big business. I mean, they came from all over the world for the Olympics and it was enormous income for – for Germany which needed money. And Hitler, for purposes which were not so well-known, but he used it for…re-armament at that time. He planned re-armament and he started 1936, and money; he wanted money to – to rebuild the German armed forces and so on and so forth. So that was big business and they wanted it, and that’s why they did it.
PRINCE: Did…did you know anybody – yourself or any of your friends that knew people that were coming from other countries so that – that would be interested in your situation.
BREMLER: Well, no. I, I do not think we had any – any contact with these people at that time, but we had of course the feeling that they did not know what really was going on. And they should have known because, after all, even if everything looked superficially all right, it wasn’t all right. Jews could not take part in the Olympics, hmm?
PRINCE: Right.
BREMLER: Daniel Prenn was considered one of the best tennis players or so; he was not permitted. There was, let’s see…Gretl Bergman. Gretl Bergman who was outstanding in jumping, and (PAUSE) was from Wuerttemberg, from South Germany, was not permitted. There was no Jews permitted in the Olympic Games. So it isn’t so that they did not know anything about it and I think they let themselves be fooled because even if it looked on the surface that it was all right, they only had to look a little deeper. It was not all right.
PRINCE: Yes, I wonder why they didn’t.
BREMLER: I think that there were people who – who didn’t care, you know, who didn’t care. And I understand that…here it was suggested in the United States not to take part but that while there were anti-Semites, there were also people who said, “We have to be – our people have a right to become heroes in the Olympics,” and so on. So there were strong forces, I think, who…who wanted to take part in the Olympics. Although there were some people I think, in the United States especially, who were against participation. But they were the minority.
PRINCE: Yes…and there were Jewish athletes, obviously, that did not take part in it.
BREMLER: Right.
PRINCE: I think, uh…Let me ask you this. What were some of the things that you could do in that particular year that you weren’t able to do? And how did you learn that it was different, besides the boycotts?
BREMLER: Well, I lived in Berlin, you know, and Berlin was still not too pro-Nazi. There was still an opposition in Berlin, especially where I lived. I lived in Berlin Lichtenberg and that was east of Berlin and there was still many Socialists, even Communists, and quite a few Democrats. In other words, there was still quite a few non-Nazis. That’s why we still made a living, not really a good living, but still – we made a living still. If they made an occasional boycott, they were not really so successful. They were not supposed to do too much. They could only stand in front of the store and say, “Jewish business, Juedisches Geschaeft.” They could not force the people not to come in, and many went in. Let them stand. So it was not so successful yet. So…and in ’36 there were no boycotts at all. Right? So, as I say, that year was a false sense of security.
PRINCE: But could you go to dinner? Could you go to restaurants? Could you go to libraries still? Could you sit on park benches still? Could you do those – move around like you always did?
BREMLER: No, well you couldn’t go to certain places, couldn’t go to…
PRINCE: And did that change in that year? And how did you know?
BREMLER: Well, well in that year they played that down, but it was not completely eliminated. As I say, if they would have looked deeper, they would have found. It was still some places where Jews could not go. I think they were absorbed by the Olympic Games, and well, the Jews, that was something on the sideline, you know, so…
PRINCE: Well who could imagine…
BREMLER: Yeah, you know, yeah, who could imagine what would come.
PRINCE: Right. And then, did any Jewish people go to the Olympics?
BREMLER: I think most of them did not. I remember that the Maccabee, which was a Jewish club, a Jewish…sport organization, refused to go. That was the largest one we had. Because it was – one thing was known, Jewish athletes were not permitted, and since Jewish athletes were not permitted, the Maccabee Club refused to go. So I think that Jews truly did not go to the Olympic games because that was the largest one. And they gave a statement that they refused to go because Jewish athletes really were not admitted. As I told you, if they would have looked deeper (EMPHATICALLY) they would have found that the whole thing was not good. But they didn’t really want to look deeper. They were…
PRINCE: So then, when it was over…
BREMLER: Well, (PAUSE) 1937 they resumed again with the boycotts gradually. But, I would say they was still rather careful in 1937. See, in such a Fascist state, in such a National-Socialist state, you only read what the paper says. And the paper was under propaganda minister –
PRINCE: Goebbels.
BREMLER: Goebbels. So they only tell you – told you what…the result of such a thing is that since you don’t read anything in the paper, you have rumors, rumors. You have a whole – people to people – this is taking place, this is taking place. You don’t know if these rumors are right, or if they’re wrong. You hear them, and you have to make your own judgement. Now, 1937 was a year of rumors. It came out, somehow, there were scandals, you know, Hitler had gotten rid of the leaders of – two leaders of the German army, Fritsch and Blomberg. That was in the paper, but it said of course in the paper only because of health reasons. Right? But it was not so. These people opposed him because he had made a speech to the leaders that he plans war.
PRINCE: The Reichstag?
BREMLER: Yeah, 1937 he began to plan war. These people did not want to cooperate with him; therefore, they were discharged. Under peculiar circumstances, Fritsch was accused of homosexuality, and Blomberg, that he had married a prostitute. It was a year – it was rumors and scandals. But, now we know what was going on; at that time we only heard the rumors, you know? The rumors. So, I would say that life went on and my father still made a living with his mens’ clothing store. But the rumors made us more nervous. And at the end of ’37, my father, may he rest in peace, wrote to my uncle in America, in New York, whether I could come perhaps there because, well, we figured at that time whatever comes, they will leave the old people alone. He was already 66, and my mother, I think 60 or so. But with the young people, you already were suspicious that something might happen. And he wrote to my uncle and my uncle, in ’38 he sent affidavit. And therefore, just today, 14th of June (SLIGHT LAUGHTER) 64 years ago, 14th of June ’38, I left Berlin.
PRINCE: Oh my…isn’t that interesting, Mr. Bremler. Oh heavens, gosh…
BREMLER: (LAUGHTER)
PRINCE: What a very, very nervous, unnerving, stressful thing that people went through to see what was happening, and feel it, and worry and, it’s…trying to decide what to do, and…
BREMLER: So…they had some (PAUSE) afterwards, you know, lately they tried to make some gestures, you know. They had my wife and me in Berlin, 1988.
PRINCE: Oh.
BREMLER: Yeah, for a visit. They paid for the whole visit. It was a whole week in Berlin.
PRINCE: Tell me about that. You got a letter and…
BREMLER: Yeah, at that time…They published a book, “Juden Lichtenberg” the Jews of Lichtenberg, the suburb of Berlin where we lived. And they let me write an article in it.
PRINCE: Oh.
BREMLER: My parents…(SHOWING BOOK)
PRINCE: Oh.
BREMLER: It’s written by me, of course in German. See…
PRINCE: Uh huh, yes, how interesting…how did you feel when you got the letter?
BREMLER: Well, I was wavering, you know, what, you make such a visit with mixed feelings, remembrances, you know. But I decided, well, to go and see the old places again, and I went – well, there was a Jewish community, a Jewish congregation, yeah and…
PRINCE: People who had stayed or moved there…
BREMLER: Yeah. They were mostly not descendants of German Jews. They were actually mostly Russian Jews who had immigrated to Germany.
PRINCE: Oh…and that’s kind of amazing, isn’t it? That they should go to Germany…BREMLER: Yeah, well they were – the new Germany they thought comparatively safe, which it was. Although I think today it’s again getting bad. But in comparison to Russia, this new Germany was much better, you know. And, the Germans somehow felt obliged to do something.
PRINCE: Were you glad you went?
BREMLER: Yes, I was glad. I went to the synagogue too there. And they called me to the Torah there. And afterwards I spoke there to the…I spoke to them there too.
PRINCE: And that was where you’d been Bar Mitzvahed?
BREMLER: Yeah, it was not the same synagogue.
PRINCE: Oh, it wasn’t.
BREMLER: No, no.
PRINCE: Did yours, was yours – had been destroyed?
BREMLER: Yeah, but there – to say the truth (LAUGHTER) it was once, yeah, I think a man who wanted to record myself, and then he didn’t want to do it. Actually, this was the only synagogue which was not destroyed in Kristallnacht. All the Jews – all the synagogues in Kristallnacht were destroyed. But there, there was a police captain there, that this is on government protection according to a law – it was a beautiful building, you know, and it was under a law of government protection, and he did not permit to – to burn this synagogue. So it was actually not burned –
PRINCE: Like an historical landmark.
BREMLER: Yeah, landmark. But what happened is, during the war the Allies bombed Berlin and the synagogue was bombed by the Allies. (LAUGHTER) So, they rebuilt it – not completely, but the front they rebuilt…
PRINCE: So, what did you say about somebody was recording and didn’t want to be recorded…?
BREMLER: Well, they wanted to bring it here I think somehow, but the synagogue was, uh, a lady then in the Federation building who had some kind of contact that was to come here on television. And then he didn’t do it because he didn’t want to…(LAUGHTER) I couldn’t lie; it was at that time, it wasn’t – it was bombed by the Allies.
PRINCE: Oh, I see. He wanted to say it was destroyed by the Germans on Crystal Night and then it was that – the Allies…
BREMLER: If I say a lie, it’s next time in the paper that Jews say lies, right?
PRINCE: Right. (LAUGHTER) Well, it’s hard to sleep at night when you lie anyway. (LAUGHTER)
BREMLER: Yeah.
PRINCE: So, what did they have you do there? Were you with a group – with other people that had lived there? Is that what they did? Invite you with other people?
BREMLER: Oh, you mean on the visit? Yeah, well, the Jews greeted us too, you know, and they said we should come to the synagogue service. And that’s why I went with my wife to the synagogue service, as I told you. Otherwise, they had a – an own program for us. They showed us Berlin, how it is now, after all has been rebuilt, you know. Of course I have so many – I saw actually only the West – at that time the wall was still standing. They took us also to the – to see the wall. And we were able – I had acquaintances who took us to East Berlin. You could go to East Berlin; you had to have a certificate. So I saw the East Berlin where my parents’ store was. The store was still there, but the house where we lived was not – was bombed out. But the store was there. It was at that time, the East side was Communist, and it was actually government owned at that time. It was not a mens’ clothing store; I don’t know what it was, some kind of other merchandise I think…
PRINCE: Did you feel like you were dreaming?
BREMLER: Sometimes. Sometimes it looked all so unreal. (LAUGHTER)
PRINCE: Yeah.
BREMLER: (LAUGHTER) It looked so unreal sometimes.
PRINCE: Well, this is – this is – (LOOKING AT BOOK)
BREMLER: These are my parents, yeah.
PRINCE: Did anybody – they’re handsome people; they look like they could live right now. They’re not old-fashioned looking or anything really. They’re beautiful people. (PAUSE) Do you have a translation of this?
BREMLER: No I don’t…Oh, Spiel – Spielberg? I think he – he sent somebody here to interview me. (SHUFFLING PAPERS)
PRINCE: Now what is this? (READING) “Survivor of the Shoah.” Oh, you did one for them too.
BREMLER: Yes.
PRINCE: I see.
BREMLER: Not he himself; he sent somebody, uh…
PRINCE: Steven Spielberg didn’t interview you, right? (LAUGHTER)
BREMLER: Not – he himself didn’t come, but he did send somebody.
PRINCE: Uh huh, all right. Did you enjoy doing that?
BREMLER: Yeah, it was all right.
PRINCE: Okay, well that’s good. It’s important. So I wonder sometimes do you think that – because things, in the world is such a mess, that these interviews will do any good. I mean, will change somebody or feel that –
BREMLER: Yes, I think they will do good here because if you – if people – if you don’t say anything, well, it will be forgotten. But if you do, people do listen, and learn, you know, and it changes the picture. I have read a history that – in Israel, yeah, before the Eichmann trial, nobody real – the youth actually didn’t know anything and didn’t care. Well then the Eichmann trial came; it came to them what really happened. And so in the same sense, I think also here, the interviews here, are good and so that the youth which doesn’t know anything at least learns what happened.
PRINCE: Yeah, I think… I think examining just what, well, like you said today, that that year, ’36, let you all kind of let everything down. I mean you thought that things were kind of maybe going to be okay. And that’s very, you know, that’s really kind of – trying to get inside of what was going on and the mentality that you all had and what you were going through was like a see-saw kind of existence.
BREMLER: Yeah, right, right.
PRINCE: Do you have anything more you want to tell me about that time we were talking about, or the trip? And then I would like to examine another subject.
BREMLER: No, I think I told you everything I remember. I told you that I finally made it, and after…
PRINCE: Okay…Your date of birth was 19…
BREMLER: 10.
PRINCE: 10, okay. So when you left you were, when you left…
BREMLER: 28.
PRINCE: You were 28. Well, you were a grown person, weren’t you?
BREMLER: Yes, yeah…
PRINCE: But that didn’t make it any easier to be leaving your parents under such tragic…
BREMLER: No, it was very hard. Some things were good, that I had learned English. So I spoke English which helped me…
PRINCE: Did you take that in school? Was that –
BREMLER: Yeah, as a matter of fact, in pre-Hitler schools I had to learn three languages. I had to learn – in high school I had to learn Latin, French and English.
PRINCE: You had to learn English.
BREMLER: That’s pre-Hitler.
PRINCE: Was that a choice you made?
BREMLER: No.
PRINCE: No, that was…interesting…All right, well then, for the people who are listening to this tape right now – as I said before, will go – probably have already listened to the first tapes that Mr. Bremler did with Evelyn Young. So I would like to just get – you mentioned in the interview, I think something about the Self-Aid Society –

Tape 3 - Side 2

PRINCE: Mr. Bremler just is showing – oh my – an award, he was sent from the state of Missouri, “World War II Veteran Award for Patriotic Service to Sergeant Heiman H. Bremler, United States Army, awarded in recognition of your bravery and selfless sacrifice.” (PHONE RINGS, TAPE STOPS) I’ll start over – “awarded in recognition of your bravery and selfless sacrifice to the state of Missouri and the United States of America during World War II. Thanks to you, Americans today enjoy unprecedented freedom and prosperity.” And I thank you too. And here’s a medal. Isn’t that – well that – when did you get this?
BREMLER: Just about a month ago.
PRINCE: Isn’t that wonderful.
BREMLER: Yeah, yeah…
PRINCE: That was a surprise, huh? (LAUGHTER)
BREMLER: Yeah, yeah.
PRINCE: Well it’s nice to be remembered, isn’t it.
BREMLER: Yeah, yeah. There are others, I mean – of course there are others who were in…my translator friend says he knows you too, Eric Oppenheimer.
PRINCE: Oh yes, yes.
BREMLER: Yeah…
PRINCE: Right.
BREMLER: Yeah, he got it too.
PRINCE: Oh, well good. Would you tell Mr. Oppenheimer hello?
BREMLER: Yes, thank you.
PRINCE: I haven’t seen – some people I haven’t seen in a long time, but I do – I’m so grateful to everybody. They have responded so wonderfully to – I didn’t interview him. I think Hedy Epstein did, but…I think I might have. All right, what were we – we were talking about…(TAPE STOPS) Self-Aid.
BREMLER: Oh, Self-Aid, yeah.
PRINCE: (OVERTALK) Before you came…
BREMLER: The Self-Aid was already here when I came, yeah.
PRINCE: And, oh yes, you – you’re on the honor roll here. So this is like a bulletin, it says. I’m looking at this, and it’s signed by Julia Gruenfeld. And for the most part it’s saying that you’re here now and it must be good to learn the language and the culture and be part of America and be good citizens and fight for peace. How did you – how did you – you didn’t join Chevra Kadisha, but you were part of this. Could you tell me what this Self-Aid did and…
BREMLER: Well, the Self-Aid was somehow a good thing, you know. I came here and I didn’t know a soul. I didn’t know a soul. And, well, I got in touch with them. I came together with them. And I had some people to come together. And sometimes it helped also with getting a job, you know, somebody knew some opening or so. And, well, as the name says, people tried to help themselves. We were a group who tried to help one another in this situation to get adjusted and…
PRINCE: And you talked about your homes, your home life.
BREMLER: Yeah.
PRINCE: And did you share information about who got a letter from who, and what was happening in…
BREMLER: Yeah, yeah, yes.(PAUSE) Yeah, there were some Americans who were somehow kind of supervises us. I still remember the one lady there, was asked how is Missouri pronounced. Should one pronounce it “Missouri,” or should one pronounce it “Missourah.” And then the American said, “It doesn’t matter how you pronounce it, if you love it, that’s all right.” (LAUGHTER BY BOTH) So –
PRINCE: Do you remember who she was?
BREMLER: I don’t remember…
PRINCE: (LAUGHTER)
BREMLER: But this was a lady I think who – who guided –
PRINCE: Julia Gruenfeld?
BREMLER: Yeah. She –
PRINCE: Do you know that I went to school with – did you know her son Ernie, Ernest?
BREMLER: No.
PRINCE: Well, he was in my class in high school, at John Burroughs. And do you know, I never did know that he – I think it was her nephew actually – I never, but I did not know that he came from another place. I did not know that anything different about him, I thought he was from here, and most people did. He had no trace of an accent that I could think of.
BREMLER: Yeah, Self-Aid, they had some kind of a group too which took, you know, which hiked – hiked around and I remember one of my – there was a fell – one of my friends…fellows belonged to it. He was later with me in the army; Aach was his name. So they had – they helped one another. As the name says, they tried to help one another.
PRINCE: But how does it differ from the Chevra Kadisha?
BREMLER: Oh, the Chevra Kadisha is more or less also connected with the cemetery, isn’t it?
PRINCE: Yes, and that’s –
BREMLER: (OVERTALK) Self-Aid never had, did not have, when I joined…
PRINCE: Okay…well, I’ve enjoyed talking with you. And, is there anything that you want to –
BREMLER: I think there is still that cemetery there. It’s just mostly German Jews there and 7400 North and South, there. It’s a smaller cemetery, but it’s mostly German Jews there.
PRINCE: But Eastern European Jews have their group.
BREMLER: Yeah, well (LAUGHTER) there was still, you know, between the Jews were also some prejudice at that time, Deutsche Yid, German Jew. And, well I married after I came back from the war, and there was still talk. My wife was – came from, was born in Russia, was still taught that a Deutsche Yid and a Russishe Yid (LAUGHTER) It was still a prejudice, a little prejudice between the Jewish groups. But, thank God that we – it is something which has disappeared…
PRINCE: I hope so. Isn’t it a waste of breath…
BREMLER: Yeah, I remember at that time Rabbi Thurman from United Hebrew, you know, he said, “I don’t know how you will be able to marry into such a family, how you will fit in the picture.” But it worked out…
PRINCE: Everything works if you want it to, doesn’t it. (LAUGHTER)
BREMLER: She was a very, very good woman. And it’s a very hard loss for me.
PRINCE: Was she sick for very long?
BREMLER: For about a year, yes, she had osteoporosis; she had several things.
PRINCE: And how old was she?
BREMLER: She was 91. I am 92.
PRINCE: And how long had she been in this country before…
BREMLER: She came 1926.
PRINCE: Oh, she was an old-timer.
BREMLER: She was an old-timer, so to speak. But, but she became really a citizen so it would be – they hadn’t bothered to become citizens; I don’t know. But for me she became a citizen. But they came 1926, yeah.
PRINCE: And you became a citizen when you went in the army.
BREMLER: I became a citizen in the army.
PRINCE: Yeah.
BREMLER: Yeah, they called me at that time and actually told me, “You don’t have to go, but of course if you don’t go you might be declared an enemy alien.” I’m going. (LAUGHTER BY BOTH)
PRINCE: Where’s my hat…
BREMLER: I don’t want to be an enemy alien.
PRINCE: Oh, Mr. Bremler, I think you’re wonderful. You’re 92, you’re laughing, you’ve had such a time, and you’ve made the best of it. And…it takes a lot of courage, and I appreciate your sitting here with me today.
BREMLER: Well that’s all right…(TAPE STOPS)
PRINCE: Mr. Bremler, there are so many times when…well, the Holocaust Center feels that everybody who is here and their life was in any way disrupted by the Holocaust, is a survivor. And yet we know that some people do not think of themselves as that or other people don’t if they came early…and I would like to know your feelings on how you feel.
BREMLER: Well, I feel that I’m a survivor because the year 1938 – I was, the first half of the year 1938, I was still in Germany and that was already a dangerous year. People were already arrested. And I was already, so to speak, in a certain danger, so I think of myself as a survivor.
PRINCE: Okay, thank you, and so do I. (TAPE STOPS) I would like to add an editor’s note, or rather an interviewer’s note. Mr. Bremler told me that 64 years ago today is when he sailed to come to America, and he left Germany. It’s rather a coincidence that this should be happening on this day, this interview.

Tape 4 - Side 1

PRINCE: Mr. Bremler just told me today is Monday, August 5, 2002. (LAUGHTER BY BOTH) Mr. Bremler is 92, and, well, I am 69 and he is a very helpful man. We’re together again and Mr. Bremler is just going to give me – tell me what he knows, knew about Rabbi Leo Baeck.
BREMLER: Rabbi Leo Baeck was over in Berlin and he was considered as the most outstanding rabbi we had. He was very pessimistic when the Nazis came to power. He said at that time, “This will be the end of the history of the German Jews who lived in Germany over a thousand years.” But he continued in office – and as a matter of fact, the great thing about him was he was not leaving. He got an offer at that time here; Rabbi Isserman, when I was here in St. Louis, told me he made him an offer to come here to St. Louis but he said, “The captain may not leave the ship.” And he stayed there and he was there. In 1943 he was taken to Theresienstadt, the concentration camp, and strange enough, he was found to be a pretty strong man, and he survived. And he came later here to the United States too on a journey where I met him again. I met him first as a young fellow; I was then perhaps 20 years old. I belonged then to a Jewish religious organization and Rabbi Baeck came several times to us and spoke to us and taught us. So I learned something from him in my youth. He was, uh, a man with great courage. And there were strange things – the famous Eichmann came to that concentration camp where he was just shortly before the end of World War II, and he had thought that Rabbi Baeck had died. That was, anyway, an announcement that he had died, but it was not he; it was another rabbi, also Baeck, but spelled differently, who had died. It become known here too that he had died, but he hadn’t died, he had survived. And when Eichmann saw him there he said, “I thought you were dead. Well, you are apparently talking about a later event. (UNCLEAR)” But he prayed during the night. Of course he thought, you know, Eichmann would order his death. But next day, nothing happened because Eichmann was then already very afraid that the Allied Forces would catch him. And he fled and disappeared. So Rabbi Baeck was saved and he survived, and later on went – he had a daughter in England – and he went to England. And later he came also, as I told you, here to the United States. They had him here traveling around and I still remember him give here a sermon at United Hebrew Temple about the Shema.
PRINCE: The Shema…
BREMLER: Shema Yisrael…
PRINCE: About the Shema?
BREMLER: About the Shema.
PRINCE: What about the Shema?
BREMLER: Well, he explained the meaning of the Shema, what does Shema mean. Hear that, listen, the act of listening, that is Jewish history. Yisrael, of course, He speaks to all people, but we were the first one to have a special obligation. Shema Yisrael Adonai, the Eternal One who is always, is eternal; Eloheinu, He is our God, He is high above us. Nevertheless, He is also Eloheinu, our God, the God who is the God of our lives, within us in our conscience. Adonai is repeated, Eternal One. Echad, He is one, not many, and He is more than one; He is unique. And His uniqueness is with us our whole lives.
PRINCE: Thank you; that’s nice. Do I remember, “There is none else,”or…at the end of when we would say it, “There is none else?”
BREMLER: That is in the Aleinu L’shabeiach. You know, the Adoration? At the end of the service we say the Aleinu L’shabeiach, the Adoration. There it says, “There is none else.” But of course, the meaning of one, is there is nobody else, so I guess…But the words that “there is none else” is in the Aleinu L’shabeiach, in the Adoration.
PRINCE: Okay, thank you. So you met him again here?
BREMLER: I met him again here.
PRINCE: Had he aged a lot?
BREMLER: Yes, everybody had.
PRINCE: Yes…but he had been in a camp.
BREMLER: Yeah, well it’s a miracle that he survived, of course. Others did not. This man whom you hear, Dr. Salumonsky (SP?), he was also taken to a Nazi – to Theresienstadt, but he died.
PRINCE: He died, yeah. All right, well thank you very much. And now if you would, would you play something?
BREMLER: Well, this is a love song. “You, you are in my Heart.”
PRINCE: Okay.
BREMLER: (ADJUSTS PIANO BENCH; WORDS UNCLEAR) (TAPE STOPS)
PRINCE: Earlier Mr. Bremler and I were talking about the sound of the German language and that maybe people of a certain age in America know only a more harsh tone. And so we’re going to find a softer tone of the German language.
BREMLER: (LAUGHTER)
PRINCE: And Mr. Bremler is going to help us. And the title is –
BREMLER: (SINGS) Du du liegst mir im Herzen –
PRINCE: Oh yes.
BREMLER: Du du liegst mir im Herzen…(SINGS AND PLAYS ON PIANO)
PRINCE: Oh that was lovely. Thank you so much.
BREMLER: (LAUGHTER) You’re welcome.
PRINCE: Did your wife play?
BREMLER: No, but she was my best listener. She just loved to listen.
PRINCE: I’ll bet she did.
BREMLER: So, after she died I felt really a little sad, you know, because my best listener…but there was some consolation. I started to play again. I thought it’s better if I can – I must not constantly think of death, right?
PRINCE: Right.
BREMLER: So I started to play again; that was some consolation. My neighbor, on my way in from outside came and thanked me for playing the piano. (LAUGHTER BY BOTH)
PRINCE: How nice of him. (TAPE STOPS) You and…I hope if I can come back you can tell me about being in the army in Italy, thank you. (TAPE STOPS) Mr. Bremler is going to say part of a poem for me that he included in what he wrote in the Jews – in the book, The Jews of Lichtenberg, at the end of what he wrote about his family. All right.
BREMLER: (READS POEM IN GERMAN) Translation?
PRINCE: Translation.
BREMLER: That what was does not return. But if it went down shining, then it will shine back for a long time.
PRINCE: And that is from?
BREMLER: Schiller.
PRINCE: Schiller. Thank you so much. (TAPE STOPS) Today is September –
BREMLER: The third. Yesterday was –
PRINCE: 2002. And I’m back with Mr. Bremler. And I just asked him if he was aware when it was September first, on Sunday, that – did that remind him that Germany had invaded Poland on September 1, 1939? And his response was –
BREMLER: (UNCLEAR)
PRINCE: But you said that Sunday –
BREMLER: Well, yesterday was the second of September, which was the end of World War II, _______ Day.
PRINCE: And that you – was memorable to you.
BREMLER: Yeah, yeah.
PRINCE: Okay. All right, we’re here to talk about when you were in Italy, in the army and – do you want to pick up on it? Because you were going to tell me a story about the Palestinian Jewish Brigade, as it is called, or just the Jewish Brigade.
BREMLER: There is a certain difference between the two units. One was the Jewish Brigade, which was a combat unit. The other one was a Palestinian Transportation Company. When I came, we crossed the Apennines Mountains in September ’44, and came to the Adriatic coastal sector, so close to Pisaro(?) and then advanced to _______. Now it is there that actually a part of the British Eighth Army came from the south, came from the south near where I had – we had crossed – a part of the British Eighth Army crossed here the Appennines Moutains to the Adriatic Sea. A part of the British Eighth Army came here from the south here.
PRINCE: That’s quite a distance.
BREMLER: Yeah. And they all met here, and, uh, in December on Hanukkah, I met – there was a Hanukkah service; the British chaplain came there. And there was the, members, soldiers, of the Palestinian Transportation Company. And they were quite glad; we had a nice Hanukkah service there, and the captain there made a speech in Hebrew. And my Hebrew is really not so good, but I understood him because he had based his report on a chapter in the Torah where it is said, “And the children of Israel journeyed and then they pitched tents.” Journey, give the place, and pitch tents in the other place. Instead of this, the biblical names, the captain had put the Italian names where the company had marched and they had gradually advanced from place to place. So since this was based on the Torah I understood what he said; otherwise I wouldn’t have understood it. That was Hanukkah.
PRINCE: You told me that there were people, Jews, from all over the – is that the service?
BREMLER: That is later.
PRINCE: Oh, that’s later. I’m sorry.
BREMLER: Yeah, yeah. Then later, a few months later, in the end of March was Passover. And there we had advanced to Forli. The Hanukkah service was in Cesena. We had advanced from Cesena to Forli, which is not very much, but the advance there was very slow because the enemy had – was in the mountains and it was difficult to advance. By the end of March we were in Forli and there a seder was given by the British Chief Chaplain and there was an enormous crowd. There were first the Jewish soldiers from the British Commonwealth; there were soldiers from England, from Canada, from Australia, from South Africa, from – really from all parts of the British Commonwealth. And in addition to that I met the men of the Jewish Brigade, which had been formed in September of ’44 with the permission of Churchill, that the Jews should have their own fighting unit and participate in the defeat of the Nazi enemies.
PRINCE: This was only 1944 that they were formed?
BREMLER: September ’44 they were formed.
PRINCE: Now what was the difference between the Palestinian Company, or whatever they –
BREMLER: The Jewish Brigade was a combat unit. The Palestinian Transportation Company was for transportation. They did not really do the fighting.
PRINCE: But it was the Palestinian Jewish –
BREMLER: It was Jewish; it was Jewish. The Palestinian Transportation Company was Jewish. Arabs did not take part. They did not want to support the British.
PRINCE: It was called Palestinian because there was no Israel at that time.
BREMLER: It was not Israel at that time, yeah.
PRINCE: So it was called Palestine.
BREMLER: And the brigade was called Jewish because Israel did not exist either yet. Israel did not come into being before 1948.
PRINCE: Right.
BREMLER: This was ’45. Many of these soldiers of the Jewish Brigades were later the great fighters in the Israel Independence War in 1948. They had the experiences in World War II and that gave them in good stead.
PRINCE: And they helped, they helped…transfer arms?
BREMLER: Well, they transferred arms, but that’s not the only thing they did. I mean, they were a fighting unit. They – as I say – they were at the seder. They were – I met these men of the Jewish Brigade.
PRINCE: What did they, what were they – what were they like? Did you have personal conversations?
BREMLER: Yeah, well many could speak English. My Hebrew is not good enough, but many could speak English. And don’t forget that some of these men of the Jewish Brigade were also once upon a time refugees from Germany or Poland or so on, who had become soldiers. And there was the British Chief Chaplain, Brodie – I have it for you. Where’s the book?
PRINCE: Oh, I think I set the recorder on it. Here…
BREMLER: And he gave a speech to us and to the Jewish Brigade that we had had hard times but now this spring, the Nazi empire would be destroyed. This spring would bring victory. It was here a pep talk to give us hope and, uh, he was talking that we are all together here. It was like an ingathering of all the exiles from all the corners, all the four corners of the Earth. This (PAUSE) Rabbi Brodie later became, after the war, the Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth. Rabbi – became then Sir Israel Brodie. He was at first minister in Melbourne, in Australia, then senior chaplain to the British forces, where I met –
PRINCE: Where you met him –
BREMLER: In World War II. And he became later Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth from 1948-1965.
PRINCE: Wow, what an extraordinary experience that was.
BREMLER: Yeah, it was, yeah. Now these, the Jewish Brigade, helped them – the British Eighth Army in the spring events which took place after this seder. Shortly after this seder, the spring offensive began which really led to the defeat of Nazi Germany, the spring events of April and the Nazi Empire was really crumbling and in May – in May the Nazis surrendered. As a matter of fact, I was by then with the American forces, and I was the one who was the first one who he heard over the radio and recorded it that the Nazis would surrender. I got the news on the sixth of May and…went immediately to the high officers and told them that I had heard the news that the Nazis would surrender on the seventh of May in Rouen.
PRINCE: In where?
BREMLER: Rouen – R O U E N –
PRINCE: Oh, Rouen.
BREMLER: And then they did and on the eighth of May President Truman proclaimed VE Day, victory in Europe. The Jewish Brigade was afterwards still active to help. They had liberated the Jews in the Puhr (?) Valley where most of the Jews lived there. They had liberated quite a few there. And they also saw later –
PRINCE: Lived there, or were held captive there?
BREMLER: No, no, they were, they were hidden there.
PRINCE: Hidden?
BREMLER: Yeah, the Italians had hidden them and of course then the Jews – the Jewish Brigade came and liberated them. Some of them went to Israel later. And quite a bit was done by the Jewish Brigade for, for the Jews there after the Nazi empire collapsed.
PRINCE: Umhmm. You were telling me, I think, that when they were formed, so many people were against it? They didn’t want it?
BREMLER: Yes, in the beginning of the war the British really did not want to take Israel – Jews from Israel – because they feared that the Arabs would resent it, and they resisted any Jewish formation, any formation of any Jewish units. But then came El Alamein. General Rommel had come with the forces and they stood there in Egypt, and the British really were afraid and they had to stop the Nazis at El Alamein. Under General Montgomery they formed the first Jewish units, that was Jewish batallions. The Arabs didn’t want to take part anyway, and the British really needed soldiers to stop the Nazis there. And they finally – there were the first Jewish batallions. And Rommel was stopped at El Alamein and driven back, and later on the whole Nazi forces in North Africa surrendered. The army, German army surrendered at Tunisia. They were the first German army which surrendered, in North Africa. And that was, of course, very good for the Jews because the Jews in North Africa – there were at that time many. They were in Morocco, where I had been in Casablanca, and in Algeria, where I had been, and in Tunisia. There were over 300,000 Jews which were saved because the Nazis did not have time to persecute them. They were driven, driven out of North Africa.
PRINCE: Wow, thank you. So the two – the two groups of Jewish people that were able to fight back at all was the Jewish Brigade and the people in the Warsaw ghetto, but they were not recognized as a unit. They were just fighting…
BREMLER: No, no. These Jewish batallions, they were then the foundation for the Jewish Brigade which was formed in September and started here at the Italian camp – took part in the Italian campaign.
PRINCE: And then later became a basis for the Haganah.
BREMLER: Yeah, well many of these soldiers joined later the Haganah and fought in the Israeli Independence War in 1948.
PRINCE: Right. And we read in one of those books that they also, in Italy, they were able to give them arms.
BREMLER: Yeah, they managed to bring arms, although, strange enough, most of the arms which the State of Israel received at that time came from Czechoslovakia.
PRINCE: Were they?
BREMLER: Strange enough, yeah. Russia – and the Soviet Union permitted Czechoslovakia, which was somehow a satellite, to send arms. And Czechoslovakia sent – most of the arms came from Czechoslovakia. Actually, the United States, although it recognized the State of Israel, but it did not send arms. Of course, some were smuggled from here too, but most of the arms came from Czechoslovakia.
PRINCE: Well, it took money – it took money to buy old World War II things that were available. All right, well once again, Mr. Bremler, I appreciate your help.
BREMLER: You’re welcome.
PRINCE: I think it’s very important for people to know that when they could, Jews did fight back.
BREMLER: Yeah.
PRINCE: And even though they weren’t – there were political things that kept them from doing it, like the Arabs, but you said Churchill was very strong about it.
BREMLER: Yes, uh, Churchill –
PRINCE: Why do you think he was?
BREMLER: He was pro-Jewish. Thank God there are people who like Jews. He himself said, Churchill said himself, “There are people who like Jews, and there are people who don’t like Jews. I like Jews.”
PRINCE: He said that? I never heard that – great. This is a nice place to end. I like him too. (LAUGHTER BY BOTH) And I like you; thank you.

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