Helene Erman

Helene Erman
Nationality: Polish
Location: Atlanta • Connecticut • Dayton • Georgia • Germany • Israel • Lebanon • Lithuania • Missouri • New Haven • Ohio • Palestine • Poland • Russia • St. Louis • Syria • Turkey • United States of America
Experience During Holocaust: Escaped the Holocaust • Family Died During the Holocaust • Family Died in Concentration Camp • Family Survived

Mapping Helene's Life

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

“One morning there was a knock at our door... And we had to leave Germany, that we were to come tomorrow to the train station – bring whatever you have – come to the train station – you have to leave Germany. And you are going to be deported to Poland. We asked, 'Why?' 'Because you are Polish citizens.'” - Helene Erman

Read Helene's Oral History Transcripts

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Tape 1 - Side 1

RASKIN: Helen, why don’t you start at the beginning.
ERMAN: I was born Helene Rosa Laufer in Dortmund, Germany. I was the
youngest of five children…My father passed away when I was two and a half years old
and my mother was the main support of our family. And we had very normal upcoming
and happy family life. We went to school, really nothing out of the ordinary.
RASKIN: What kind of school?
ERMAN: I went to a Jewish day school and we had all Jewish teachers. All the
students were Jewish and later on when Hitler came to power, the school was enlarged.
Before this, it was only eight year day school and then it was enlarged and we had…we
had two, and I believe later on, four more years. So it became a junior high – not junior
high – like a…yeah eight…
RASKIN: Yeah, junior high.
ERMAN: Junior high, yeah.
RASKIN: Tell me a little bit about how the school was run. Was it German
language…?
ERMAN: Everything…everything was in German. All the subjects…actually
everything was in German…history, it was in fact, it was on a level, I would say, higher
than here the high schools. The German education was much higher than the regular high
schools here. And we had all subjects in German…everything…we had
labs…laboratories and I believe we had one or two hours of Hebrew.
RASKIN: This is at the upper levels you’re talking about?
ERMAN: Yeah. I think we had one or two hours of Hebrew – not modern Hebrew.
We learned how to use the prayer book. Modern Hebrew, I learned later on…we had in
Habonim. I was a member of the Habonim and there we had Hebrew lessons.
RASKIN: What kind of teachers did you have in the day school? Were they
religious teachers who taught you everything, or…?
ERMAN: They were not religious. No, in fact many were very liberal. We had
arithmetic…
RASKIN: Different teachers?
ERMAN: Oh yeah. The first – I would say the first four grades we had the same
teacher and then we had all different…all subjects with different teachers.
RASKIN: And what kind of Jewish education did you get there?
ERMAN: Very little. Two hours a week.
RASKIN: Just Hebrew, or…?
ERMAN: Jewish history. Jewish history…Bible stories. Very little. Emphasis was
not on…on religion. Not like they’re here. You see this was a different…I think the day
schools were formed because of necessity.
RASKIN: And what was that?
ERMAN: Necessity – that the Jews were not accepted in regular schools and the
Jews did not feel free. And these were not only Polish Jews, you know, German Jews
and Statenlos (Stateless)…whatever.
RASKIN: I think…I don’t think you mentioned this time that your parents were not
German citizens.
ERMAN: No. My parents came to Germany when they were very young. They left
Poland and their families and brothers and sisters. And later my mother’s brothers and
sisters came to Germany too. So my parents came…they were not married when they
came. They came as singles to search the world, you know, to see what’s available in
Germany. And they, at the time, they went to school…
RASKIN: How old were they?
ERMAN: Approximately 14, 15, 16, you know, in their teens.
RASKIN: And they came alone?
ERMAN: They came alone. They might have come with friends, you know,
different friends.
RASKIN: Yes.
ERMAN: But they…they didn’t see a future in – Poland so they tried to see what’s
available in different parts of the world. They were very ambitious, very bright, you
know. Because the people who were not ambitious and not bright, couldn’t do it.
RASKIN: But they remained Polish citizens?
ERMAN: They remained Polish citizens, yes, yes…all the time.
RASKIN: Was that a matter of choice?
ERMAN: We just talked about it today…I don’t think they could have become
German citizens. I don’t believe so. Maybe with a lot of money and a lot of doing, they
could have. But they decided that they wanted…my mother always used to say, I
remember, “If something should happen, the Poles will save us.”
RASKIN: Really?
ERMAN: Yeah. That’s the way she said. So she must have felt secure, to be a
Polish citizen. How long she was, that’s a different story.
RASKIN: Right. But…so she had good feelings about Poland?
ERMAN: She had good feelings about being a Polish citizen, yes. Now all the
children were born in…in Germany. And they all went to schools. We loved music, you
know. There was no difference between us and a German who grew up, or who was
German from generation and generation back.
RASKIN: So that you’re saying that you and your…
ERMAN: As a second generation, yes…
RASKIN: Yes, that you felt like a German Jew.
ERMAN: Definitely, yeah, yeah. Sure, I mean, and so we came…we went to visit
our grandparents but I never…we never learned the language, you know.
RASKIN: Your language was…
ERMAN: German.
RASKIN: No Yiddish?
ERMAN: No.
RASKIN: No Polish spoken in the house at all?
ERMAN: No. Very assimilated.
RASKIN: And even your parents, did they consider themselves…
ERMAN: It’s hard to say. It’s hard to say if they considered themselves German.
But they spoke German, you know. All their business acquaintances were
German…Gentile or non-Gentile.
RASKIN: Did you feel any kind of alienation in your household from the rest of the
Jewish community in Germany?
ERMAN: We didn’t because, you know, it might have been the previous
generation…for instance, my parents. But when I grew up, my friends were mixed. You
see, I had people from my Jewish friends were from German backgrounds. Some of
them were Russian backgrounds. Some of them were Lithuanian background, you know.
It was already a melting pot…in my time…when I grew up. So I did not feel anything.
But like I said, my parents might have. And as I remember most of their friends really
came from Poland, so…
RASKIN: So they did associate with you?
ERMAN: Yes, definitely. Their friends, like you have it here too, you know, the
people who came from Italy. They stay among themselves. The people who came from
Germany, at the beginning, they stay…and from Poland and then later on, you know, the
second generation – you don’t feel it any more the same that happened in Germany. So
there was, I think, at this point, there was not much difference.
Now I do remember, that the German Jews looked down on the Polish Jews. But it’s the
same here too, you know. The German Jews did not want any other people here in the
United States to come in. They might ruin their…their position, everything. Yeah, they
felt frightened.
RASKIN: Did you see that as a child? Or is it something you can remember…any
incident that made that clear to you?
ERMAN: Did I see it as a child? No. As a child, I did not. But I was told stories,
you know. Stories that happened, that they were not accepted there. Same as here in
country clubs – the Jews were not accepted. It’s the same as was in Germany too. Polish
Jews were not accepted, so they formed their own…their own circle and they were very
happy, you know.
RASKIN: Your father…
ERMAN: My father was a businessman and we had stores in Dortmund and during
the war he was…the first war…he was drafted. And he smelled some acids.
RASKIN: He was in the Army?
ERMAN: He was in the Army, yes. And during his stay in the Army, he
accidentally…he smelled some acid and he burned his lungs.
RASKIN: He came out of it?
ERMAN: Yeah, he came out of it. But he came out a sick person. So after the
war…the war was over in 1918…after the war he was, he went from one sanitorium to
another because he was a sick man. And when he went to visit his parents in 1923 – and
at this point – he died…in Poland.
RASKIN: In Poland?
ERMAN: In Poland, yeah.
RASKIN: While he was visiting his parents?
ERMAN: While he was visiting his parents, yes. So my mother who was with
children in Dortmund, sold her store and gave up her house…and went to Poland. And
first she thought she would establish her livelihood in Poland, and after a short while she
saw it was not profitable.
RASKIN: Why did she go back in the first place?
ERMAN: First she was…I was in Poland with my father, right?
RASKIN: Oh.
ERMAN: And then, I don’t know, somehow she felt maybe it would be a better idea
to be close to…to family…to her parents and to my father’s parents. And then she found
out, it’s much better to go back to Germany and so after a short while – I don’t know how
long it was – we all went back and she started to work again. We had a maid in our
household, a sleep-in maid, and she took care of us. And my mother was a very
ambitious person, and…
RASKIN: Did she immediately purchase this store when she went back to Germany,
or…?
ERMAN: She must have. She must have, and…
RASKIN: And then built up the business.
ERMAN: Built up the business and built up the business very well, because she
bought a large apartment house. It was like I said, she had to feed five children. She had
to clothe five children. She had to send five children to school.
RASKIN: But by the time the business came to an end, how big was it? How
many…was it one establishment then?
ERMAN: It was one, yeah, at this point…it was one establishment. It was a textile
store.
RASKIN: Retail?
ERMAN: Yes.
RASKIN: The name of it?
ERMAN: Jacob Laufer. Now when Hitler came to power like all the stores were
boycott, all the Jewish stores, and windows were smashed and SS and SA people were
put in front of the Jewish buildings.
RASKIN: When would you say this started happening?
ERMAN: It started about ’33…it started at the beginning really. At the beginning
he…attacked the Jews the first year. And then there was a very quiet – very tranquil
period – and then at the end, again. So I would say as far as I remember, the first two
years were harsh and rough on the Jews and then he had different problems so he let the
Jews alone for a while. And then at the end, it started again.
RASKIN: And do you remember anything specific in relation to the…to the stores,
in terms of…?
ERMAN: Oh yes. I remember that our windows were smashed and we had to
barricade it; things were stolen from the windows. And, (what else was there?)…and
people just did not come in to buy, you know. And we had very loyal customers who
came year after year…stopped coming in. And people who owed money did not pay
their…pay, because they say – nobody, you can’t do anything so why should we pay.
But there were some decent people like…like you always find decent people who did pay
whatever they owed and so later on, my mom said, “It doesn’t pay to keep the store
open,” and she sold whatever was available and at the end she lived from our building.
Now at this time, the kids…I was the only one who was still at home. All my other…my
sister was married and my one, my youngest brother right away fled because he belonged
to the Reichspanner.
RASKIN: What was that?
ERMAN: Reichspanner. This was a Communist organization, uh, not Communist,
but in between Communist and…so he belonged. And in fact before, right after he left,
they were searching our house because they wanted to arrest him. Everybody who
belonged to a different party – they came and…
RASKIN: Who came?
ERMAN: The SS came to our house and searched for my brother because they were
planning to arrest him.
RASKIN: And where was he?
ERMAN: He fled, he fled right away.
RASKIN: But the rest of you were there, or were you…?
ERMAN: Myself. No – my sister was already married.
RASKIN: You were there…
ERMAN: No. She was not married. I was there yes, I was there. My sister was in
Berlin. Yes, and my older brother was not home. My younger brother wasn’t home
either. So…
RASKIN: But you were there and do you remember what happened?
ERMAN: Yes. They knocked at the door and marched in to our house. “We’re
looking for your brother Leo Laufer.” “My brother is not here.” “Where he is?” We
said, “We don’t know.” And they looked every place. They looked for weapons. They
looked for money. They looked for foreign currencies. They looked for reading
material, you know, everything that might have been in connection with the
Reichspanner – everything. But of course they didn’t find anything. So they said, make
sure that everything stays the way it is. Don’t bring anything…any foreign reading
material in or…or against the Nazis, or something.
RASKIN: And when do you think that took place?
ERMAN: It took place – might be ’34 or ’35.
RASKIN: That early?
ERMAN: Yeah, very early, very early.
RASKIN: But they didn’t do any damage to your property at that time?
ERMAN: No, no, no, not at this…because they didn’t find anything. If they would
have found something…now I know that many of our friends or people…you just…Jews,
Gypsies and Communists. Communists who belonged to a party, but not only the…the
Reichspanner and the Communist party were arrested and some of them were tortured
and some of them they killed. This was…everything was at the beginning, like I said.
RASKIN: Is this something that…?
ERMAN: This has nothing to do with concentration camps.
RASKIN: I understand. Is this something that you were then aware was happening?
I mean – from your own experience that you…that you heard about it at the time?
ERMAN: Yes, yes. I was a youngster at time but I was aware of it and I, I…even
one of my uncles was arrested too and then he was let free.
RASKIN: For his political beliefs?
ERMAN: Yeah. At the time, yeah.
RASKIN: And what happened to those people then before the concentration camps?
The ones who were…
ERMAN: Some of them…some of them were killed. Some of them were let out
after a long period of time. If somebody could get an affidavit or a certification to go
either to the United States or to Israel (to Palestine at the time) they were let out so
everybody…it was always a struggle to go someplace – to get someplace – to get out of
it. But there, unfortunately, there was nowhere…anybody…nobody wanted the Jews.
There was no place to go.
RASKIN: Now, in that time you are…you started to make a plan to go to Palestine.
Why did that happen? Why did it happen that you…?
ERMAN: First, I belong to the Habonim. Second, there was no future in Germany.
RASKIN: Well tell me before you go further – how did you get involved with the
Habonim? And at what age? Or…
ERMAN: Very young. I was a leader. I belonged to the group and then I became a
fuhrer, you know, a bundesfuehrer. I had a group under…under me. I was in charge of
younger children and…
RASKIN: What was that then? What was the Habonim in Europe…in Dortmund?
ERMAN: Habonim was like Shomer Ha-Atzir. It was a political Bundesveramt,
and…
RASKIN: For young people?
ERMAN: For young people. We made tours on Sunday, yeah…Sunday. And we
learned Hebrew. We learned history. We were a group of youngsters who came together
– who had one aim – to go to Palestine – to build the country – to build up our homeland
and we started when we were young. And later on when we were older, we had one aim.
RASKIN: How did you get to join this when you were young? Is that…was that a
family tradition, uh, of Zionism or did you just…?
ERMAN: You had to belong…you had to belong to a group. Either you belonged to
a Zionist and at this…this time, everybody belonged to some kind of a group. You know,
the Jews…
RASKIN: In the school you mean?
ERMAN: In the school…in the city…and (PAUSE) You really had to belong. You
see, here you have the…the synagogues. You belong to a synagogue and there the
youths congregate. Right? Now in…in Dortmund, synagogues was really only for a
religious purpose. There was one liberal large synagogue and there was a few small
Orthodox synagogues. So this took care of your religious belief. But the…the youth had
to do something else. They had to…to be occupied. So the Habonim was established
and the Werkleute.
There were four groups – Zionist groups in Dortmund. One was the Shomer Ha-Atzir,
the Habonim, the Werkleute and the Mizrachim. The biggest group were the…Habonim.
And this was my group, right. My brothers and sisters belonged to it too. And now these
groups were, uh, founded from leaders really from all Germany. They had seminars in
the house where they sent people who…where they studied Zionism and they learned
how to…to form these groups and get the best result from it. And in – what we did – we
met twice a week and one, it was a social affair and it was a learning experience. We
danced the Hora and we sang songs – not Hebrew and German songs – and we went on
trips and we had Jewish history – and Hebrew we studied once a week. So – and one
time there…many of the groups who went on hikes on the weekend…some of them were
attacked…and with stones and with sticks, and some of them got hurt. So there was…a
decision had to be made – should we go, continue our trips, because there was some kind
of danger and parents did not want to let the kids go. So our group made up our mind
that we are going to be ready for them. At night, instead of going to bed, we had stones
and sticks under our beds and we were…
RASKIN: When you were out in the woods?
ERMAN: Yes…when we were out hiking in the Herfbergen…in some kind of a tent
and we were ready for our attackers to come. And they came like expected but instead of
finding a sleeping group there, they found people ready to fight back and some of them
were really wounded. And the next day it was in the paper that the dirty Jews attacked
our German Nazi people, SS and SA so…and then…afterwards we felt great because you
know, at least we accomplished something. But from this day on, we…our hikes stopped
because we…we really were afraid that something more serious might happen.
RASKIN: So this was really young people attacking adult…
ERMAN: No…young people attacking young people. Some – maybe a few years
older. Maybe 20 years old attacking 16 and 15 years old. Hitler Youth.
RASKIN: In which way? Who was 20?
ERMAN: The Germans…the Nazis were in their 20’s and we were, you know, from
16 to 18 and 20, we might have been. Or there might have been some older people
among us too.
RASKIN: That was a pretty brave thing to be doing though.
ERMAN: Yeah. We felt great.
RASKIN: Yes, yes.
ERMAN: I still remember like it happened today.
RASKIN: Really? How many of you were there that day…that night?
ERMAN: We might have been 40 people.
RASKIN: And you were how far from Dortmund?
ERMAN: Usually around 10-15 miles. We had to walk…we had to hike, you know.
RASKIN: So you were in the mountains?
ERMAN: Yes.
RASKIN: And you just lay there waiting for somebody to come?
ERMAN: Uh huh, uh huh – and they came – like expected.
RASKIN: And what…what were you aware of at the time?
ERMAN: That they hated the Jews. (LAUGHTER)
RASKIN: But didn’t you…?
ERMAN: If we just came out, you know, we came out always be attacked we have
to…to do something about it in our own way. So this was the first and the last time.
RASKIN: It sounds to me though that you weren’t scared…you were almost…
ERMAN: Yes we were scared.
RASKIN: You were scared?
ERMAN: Sure we were scared because you never know what the outcome might
be…or not. We were scared.
RASKIN: And afterward you felt…
ERMAN: We felt good that we did it but we said, “Okay, we did what we had to do
and that’s enough.” And our parents said… “No more hiking.”
RASKIN: But the group itself was allowed to continue?
ERMAN: In…yes…in our…in our “Heim.” You know, we had one building, the
Judisches Kultur building. And there where we met. And we did meet in smaller groups
in homes too.
RASKIN: You didn’t have any intrusion from the German…?
ERMAN: No – this was…
RASKIN: That was permitted activity?
ERMAN: Uh huh.
RASKIN: So you didn’t have to be secretive about…
ERMAN: Because you see we were not a political organization. It was not
considered like the Reichspanner or the Communists. Our goal was to go to Palestine.
And Hitler at the time, let everybody out.
RASKIN: Oh really. So what kept…what kept people from going to Palestine?
ERMAN: What kept people? Some people felt, uh, Hitler is just somebody who is
here – gone tomorrow. These were some of the people that…and other people did not
have any place to go. To go to Palestine at the time – either you needed to be prepared to
Hachshara. And Hachshara meant two years or three years going either to learn –
agricultural, farming or to have a profession like carpentry or carpenters, or plumbers, or
you had to have money. I think at the time it was 1000…10,000 mark. I’m not sure. Or
you had to go to the United States – you needed an affidavit and…and it was hard to get
an affidavit.
RASKIN: To go to Palestine, did you need any kind of an affidavit?
ERMAN: Yes. You needed a Zertifikat.
RASKIN: Yes – from whom? From a private person or from…?
ERMAN: Like I said, you got…you were entitled to get a Zertifikat if you
had…either you went to Hachshara or you had a profession, or you had a certain amount
of money.
RASKIN: Do you know who set up those rules? Would that have been the British,
or…
ERMAN: Yeah. The British mandate.
RASKIN: I see. Okay – so you were…you were involved in the Hachshara as part
of that, and fully planned to go to Palestine even if nothing had happened.
ERMAN: You mean if Hitler would not have…
RASKIN: Well no, I mean, if the events that occurred in 1938 had not happened.
ERMAN: Oh yeah, oh yeah, sure…sure.
RASKIN: You were planning to go?
ERMAN: Yeah. But this was the result of Hitler, you know. If everything would
have been like it was before – we were very happy and satisfied living in Germany. And
so, in 1937, I went to Cologne and…
RASKIN: For what purpose?
ERMAN: Hachshara…Hachshara…to stay there for two years and to get my
certification to go to Palestine. And then in…
RASKIN: Tell us about the Hachshara.
ERMAN: The Hachshara?
RASKIN: What was it?
ERMAN: Hachshara was a group in Cologne. We were a group, I would say, about
40 people. We had…
RASKIN: All young?
ERMAN: Yeah…almost same age. Between 17 and 22. Children who finished
elementary or part of them…or some of them high school and we…the boys learned…the
boys and the girls too – they tried to learn a profession and we – we had to take care of
the…the girls took care of the house and the cooking and the cleaning. And we learned a
profession and – and we learned Jewish history again, and Hebrew.
RASKIN: So what was the setup there? Was it just a building, a school building?
ERMAN: It was a building where a group of 40 people were housed and the street
was – I forgot (SPEAKS QUIETLY)…Isn’t that something – you forget.
RASKIN: …and you learned – what? You…yourself.
ERMAN: I, myself, what I did – I learned the sewing. I was in the sewing
department. So I learned…I wasn’t too good of a student because I never liked it.
(LAUGHTER)
RASKIN: They chose that for you?
ERMAN: Yeah. No – I don’t know if they chose it for me, but you know,
these…this was necessary at the time…had to be done. So that’s what I was put in.
RASKIN: It was a necessary skill in Palestine.
ERMAN: In Palestine and…

Tape 1 - Side 2

No we didn’t make…we fix clothes and we, you know, we…but we had to, to work with
patterns too. Something I still don’t like, so…(LAUGHTER)
RASKIN: Agricultural skills – did you learn?
ERMAN: No, no, not in Cologne. No, not in Cologne.
RASKIN: What did…what did other people learn who…?
ERMAN: The boys were sent to…carpentry and some of them to plumbers and some
of them worked outside in the woods, put trees down. Different…different skills. And
some of them, we had some who were nurses, who went next door was hospital, some of
them were nurses. (What else?) Really, everything that was available.
RASKIN: But you were well fed…?
ERMAN: Oh yeah, sure.
RASKIN: And you had time for a social life?
ERMAN: Yes. Very nice – we had a very nice group of people and social
life…operas and concerts.
RASKIN: In the community?
ERMAN: In the community – in Cologne, yeah.
RASKIN: So in a way, it was just like going away to school?
ERMAN: It was a school and like in going to a dormitory.
RASKIN: And you went…you started there in…
ERMAN: 1937.
RASKIN: And it was a two year program and how long?
ERMAN: It was supposed to be a two year program and…
RASKIN: And what happened?
ERMAN: Then in August 1938, the German Polish Jews were supposed to leave the
country and go to Poland.
RASKIN: Why is that?
ERMAN: Because the Jews in Germany who were…the Polish Jews in Germany
were supposed to leave the country. The Germans didn’t – there was some kind of a pact
between Poland and Germany. The Germans didn’t want the Polish Jews and the Poles
didn’t want them in. So our place was Zbaszyn where we congregated…
RASKIN: Well, how did you get there? (OVERTALK) What happened? How did
you find out about it?
ERMAN: One morning there was a knock at our door and they came and there were
two Polish people among…in our group…among our 40 people, myself and another
friend…a boy. And we had to leave Germany, that we were to come tomorrow to the
train station – bring whatever you have – come to the train station – you have to leave
Germany. And you are going to be deported to Poland. We asked, “Why?” “Because
you are Polish citizens.” And no question asked – be sure – make sure you are there,
otherwise you are going to be arrested. Of course our leaders and our people said this
would be the best thing. Let’s see what can be done. I tried to reach my mother. We did
not have a phone at home and my mother could not be reached. I tried to reach my sister
in Berlin and I reached her and she said, “Do as you are told. In the meantime I’m going
to see if I can get a message to our mother.” And it was all over – all over Germany, I
mean, everybody knew about it and then my mother tried to reach us too…to reach me
too…and she couldn’t come to either because she too was told to be at the train station.
And in fact, she was…left earlier than I. She was already in Zbaszyn when I came to
Zbaszyn.
Okay, now let me go back. The…so then I came to the train station, there were
(OVERTALK)…in Cologne – this was Cologne – there were hundreds…hundreds of
people gathered and very down, you know…very depressed. And worried what’s going
to happen because there were elderly people – there were babies – there were young
children – there were people my age – everybody who, who was supposed to leave was
there at the train station. Now the German committee…the Jews came and brought us
food…sandwiches and they…they tried to give us hope. And then the next morning the
train started to. We arrived…
RASKIN: Did you, you were “herded” on to the trains?
ERMAN: Yes, yes.
RASKIN: Was there any show of force? Or just…
ERMAN: No – “GO, GO, GO, GO,” you know.
RASKIN: Follow orders…
ERMAN: Sure – follow orders and go like a herd of sheep. And so we entered the
train, and in the train not everybody has a seat. So we let the elderly people seat…sit first
and then the children were taken care of. And there was a lot of crying and babies, you
know. Everything was in an uproar – nothing was in order. So, and then finally we came
to Zbaszyn and there my mother was. One train came in after another, you know, from all
over Germany. And then our train came…my mother was searching…she was calling.
RASKIN: She was on the platform?
ERMAN: She was on the platform calling and searching if I finally arrived and she
called my name and then I came…then she’s…so she called, “Where is my…my child –
where is my child?” And everybody thought, you know, a little…a little child would
come…five, six or seven years old and here came a tall…a tall, a…
RASKIN: Young woman.
ERMAN: Young woman, right. So we hugged and we kissed and we cried and it
was quite emotional…
RASKIN: Now she had come first – earlier?
ERMAN: Yeah earlier. It just so happened that her train came earlier than ours.
RASKIN: There was no confinement once you came to Zbaszyn? You were just
dumped out of the train and left…
ERMAN: The confinement was that we could not leave the city. This was the
confinement. We could not go into Poland and we could not go into…go back to
Germany. So that means our confinement – confined to one city – Zbaszyn. There were
two places – one was Zbaszyn and one was Benschen. This was a little further out.
RASKIN: Another border town?
ERMAN: Another border town, yes.
RASKIN: How was that enforced? Were you given any kind of papers to indicate
that? Or was it just the fact that you didn’t have legitimate papers?
ERMAN: You mean how did we…?
RASKIN: How…how were you kept in Zbaszyn?
ERMAN: In Zbaszyn, we were kept – I assume that around the border soldiers were
standing…soldiers…and with their rifles and bayonets and we never tried – and I think
they put a wire around it too. But you know, at the beginning, some people left the first
day…some people left to go into Poland. But…
RASKIN: Illegally?
ERMAN: Illegally, yes, illegally. Now after – after a while – my mother went back
after…I would say…a half a year and she liquidated our belongings in Germany.
RASKIN: So she was able to get out then?
ERMAN: Then she…
RASKIN: Had the rules changed?
ERMAN: No, no, these were the rules. Probably among Poland…and…and in
Germany. You know they, you could not keep a big group of thousands of people for
unlimited time in a small area. You know, we lived six and eight and 10 people in one
room on mattresses.
RASKIN: Now did they have any housing prepared for you?
ERMAN: No, no, no.
RASKIN: What was it then? Where did you…?
ERMAN: At the beginning we were living in barracks and in schools in storage
rooms. Now later on, some of the people, the Polish people who lived in Zbaszyn rented
rooms – made a living out of it. So, for instance, my relatives took a room and then my
mother and I – we took a room with eight of her friends.
RASKIN: For which you paid?
ERMAN: We paid for it – yes.
RASKIN: If you had assets, then…
ERMAN: Oh absolutely, yes, we paid for it. Yes, sure, if you had assets – you could
make your life more comfortable. If you didn’t those…you had to stay in the school
building or the barracks, or whatever was available that the government gave you.
RASKIN: Do you have any idea how many Polish Jews were…?
ERMAN: Involved there?
RASKIN: Yes. That were sent to this one small little town.
ERMAN: In the thousands. I really don’t know exactly the amount. I don’t know.
RASKIN: And that small town was supposed to absorb all these extra people?
ERMAN: Yes.
RASKIN: So there wasn’t any work.
ERMAN: No. There was no work. I mean the work we did later on was…we had to
organize the country, this little town, you know. We had to see that there was – taking
care of the sick people – we had to take care that the children had something to do. So
we organized classes and at the beginning food had to be contributed to everybody. So
this was taken care of…doctors from Poland – Jewish doctors who came from Poland and
nurses who organized the – the city. And then we took care of the rest.
RASKIN: So in effect, you had a second layer of government in that one small town.
You had a separate little government for the displaced Jews.
ERMAN: Right.
RASKIN: It had nothing to do with the government of Zbaszyn?
ERMAN: No – it had nothing to do with the government of Zbaszyn. The only thing
that we were restricted to the place – not to leave. Otherwise we had to govern ourselves.
RASKIN: Right.
ERMAN: In fact, we…we organized a play, you know and later on, you have to do
something. You can’t just rot. So we organized the play, we organized the musical and
we…we showed it to the public…these things.
RASKIN: And what was your role in this?
ERMAN: I was singing and I helped…I helped with the kids in schools.
RASKIN: You helped with day care and…?
ERMAN: Yes, day care, day care and teaching…both.
RASKIN: Small children, or…?
ERMAN: Small children.
RASKIN: Did you actually have classes for the children?
ERMAN: We did have small classes – as much as possible – we did have…
RASKIN: And how was…?
ERMAN: And don’t forget, parents were free so the parents could…could devote
time to their children. More time than if they were to have, you know, if they were to
have their nine to five job, or something.
RASKIN: So what were living conditions in general like, aside from being,
crowded?
ERMAN: Primitive…primitive.
RASKIN: But were people starving?
ERMAN: No, no, no, no, no nobody was starving. The committees, the Jewish
committees from Poland took care of it.
RASKIN: Provided food?
ERMAN: Definitely. There was no starvation in Zbaszyn.
RASKIN: And sickness – were…
ERMAN: Yeah. There were some sick people, you know, like you always have if
you…a, a thousand of people together – old and young – you have sick people. But not
an epidemic, something like that. No, nothing like it.
RASKIN: And how did you take care of the sick people?
ERMAN: Like I said, doctors were there. Doctors from Poland came and we had a
small hospital and nurses from Poland came in and we had among our people – we had
doctors and nurses too, you know. You have a…we had a lot of professional people who
helped…who worked without pay, but they worked, you know.
RASKIN: And money. People were able to bring in money?
ERMAN: Whatever they brought at the time, you know, when they left Germany –
they had – they could bring it in. But for instance, my mother was…was caught – almost
without money. So my sister helped. My sister sent in…and then afterwards she was
allowed to go back to German and liquidate our belongings. And at the time she had a
choice…
RASKIN: Who was taking care of your…her business at that time?
ERMAN: The building? Nobody did. Business – we didn’t have any more.
RASKIN: Oh, the business was gone? It was just the building?
ERMAN: The business was gone – only the building.
RASKIN: What happened to the business? I’m not sure I…
ERMAN: My mother gave up the business because she just felt she was taken
advantage of and it was not worth while keeping.
RASKIN: When was that?
ERMAN: This must have been 1935-’36.
RASKIN: And she was able…?
ERMAN: ’35-’36, yeah.
RASKIN: Did she get a fair price for her business?
ERMAN: No, no, definitely not…definitely not. And so the building – the people
just didn’t pay the rent.
RASKIN: That was an apartment building?
ERMAN: It was an apartment building, a large apartment building. So they didn’t
pay the rent and then my mother…(OVERTALK) could go back to…
RASKIN: So she wanted to sell that too?
ERMAN: Yes – so my mother could go back to Germany and liquidate and sell the
building…
RASKIN: Did she get a fair price for that?
ERMAN: No. She sold the building but she didn’t get a fair price, but she
could…she bought things that we might use and she sent part of it to Palestine where my
brothers were and she sent part of it to Poland. And at the time she had…she could have
gone to Palestine because she had money and because I was in Poland. She decided she
didn’t want to leave me by myself so she came to Poland. And she could go – now she
could go into – to her hometown. In fact, she went into her hometown…
RASKIN: Which was?
ERMAN: Which was Bochnia in Galicia…Bochnia and where her father lived, and
they decided I should go to Vilna because Bochnia was a very small town and there were
not too many Jewish people around and not my age. And in Vilna there was a school…
RASKIN: Now when was this?
ERMAN: This was shortly before the war broke out. This was, after she came back
from Germany – after she liquidated her belongings. In 1938.
RASKIN: No – you…
ERMAN: ’39.
RASKIN: 1939. Now you’re saying it was decided that you should go to Vilna.
Were you free then to go?
ERMAN: After she came back – after she liquidated – she could go into Poland,
yeah. When she came with money…
RASKIN: Oh, the money made it possible?
ERMAN: The money, yeah, the money. You see the Polish government was afraid
that they – that we might be a burden to them. So after she came back with money that
she liquidated from Germany, she could go back. She could go into Poland.
RASKIN: I see. So the people who were…who stayed in Zbaszyn stayed there only
until they had their hand on enough money…?
ERMAN: Until they had…
RASKIN: To buy their freedom – so to speak.
ERMAN: Yes – buy their freedom – right. So my mom decided I should go to
Vilna, but then the war broke out. But she went to Bochnia and I did go to Vilna. But
the war broke out and I did not have a straight line to Vilna like we…like we were
planning to, I…
RASKIN: Okay. When was this now that you left Zbaszyn for Vilna?
ERMAN: I left Zbaszyn for Vilna – the war broke out in September ’39, right? So
this was shortly before the war broke out…in July maybe.
RASKIN: Okay. And tell me about that trip.
ERMAN: Yeah – this was a joy trip…this, uh…
RASKIN: It was an adventure?
ERMAN: Yeah, quite an adventure. We were a group of – we started out a group of
eight people and when Hitler came in and bombed the towns of Poland, we were always
one step ahead of the bombs and we…
RASKIN: How long a trip was it to Vilna? How long…
ERMAN: It’s – from Zbaszyn to Vilna – maybe, could be…I don’t know how many
miles.
RASKIN: How long should it have taken you?
ERMAN: Oh, it should – normally – it could have been…it could have taken, 20
hours by train.
RASKIN: But you didn’t go by train?
ERMAN: No, no, no…not at this point because the bombs were falling and so we
went by foot and we stayed in…in small villages, and…
RASKIN: How long did the trip take you?
ERMAN: The trip took us almost two years.
RASKIN: And what happened along the way?
ERMAN: Along the way – we had to survive. We sometimes we worked.
Sometimes we stole food. Sometimes we…we stayed in shelters. Sometimes we slept in
barns. Sometimes we froze. Sometimes we didn’t have enough to eat. So it was – it was
quite…
RASKIN: All this time you were in hiding?
ERMAN: All the time we were in hiding, yes. In hiding from one place to another.
Sometimes we stayed in one place a few weeks, depends…how the situation was. And
afterwards, you know Poland lost the war and the Germans stayed in Poland and started
to attack different countries. So then when the Germans left Poland, we stayed for longer
periods of time…
RASKIN: In the same…
ERMAN: In occupied country. The Germans they’re not always around every town.
They had to fight different wars. They had to go into different countries. So they left
small group of soldiers and the Poles helped them and we could stay sometimes for
weeks in a small town…not being recognized. And then we felt some danger might
come, we left at night.
RASKIN: Did you speak the language? You didn’t speak the language.
ERMAN: No – we didn’t speak the language but we had a few who did speak Polish,
and more people came to our group.
RASKIN: Oh, I see.
ERMAN: Later on – later on, more people came to our group…
RASKIN: Joined you?
ERMAN: Joined us. Our group growed and we heard from other people who…we
made it to Vilna. And now in the beginning of ’41, we arrived to Vilna.
RASKIN: All of the original eight day schools?
ERMAN: All of the original eight day schools, and a few more. And in Vilna there
were hundreds – thousands of groups who came and were waiting to go to Palestine from
Vilna.
RASKIN: When you arrived in Vilna, who did you look for?
ERMAN: We looked again for, you see, whenever we had a chance, we talked to
people who knew what was going on in different cities – Jewish people.
RASKIN: Yes. How would you know the Jews?
ERMAN: We always got lists from one…one place to another. We always
every…you know, a lot of things were organized. It was pretty organized. And we were
guided.
RASKIN: Along the way?
ERMAN: Along the way…we were…we were guided and organized and we knew
whom to reach – to whom to talk to. And one person gave us, like, a relay from…from
one place to another. So it was…
RASKIN: So this was the Jewish underground?
ERMAN: Underground was…yeah…very, very organized.
RASKIN: Did they…they provide you with any material?
ERMAN: Yes. Sometimes they did, but you know there were pauses in between so
they couldn’t. And then we had to support ourselves as much as possible.
RASKIN: And so they also directed you where to go when you got to Vilna?
ERMAN: And to…to let us know where there’s danger. Don’t go this place. Don’t
go there. Go straight, and you know, they…we always were…we always knew
approximately what was going on.
RASKIN: So that probably saved your lives.
ERMAN: Oh definitely.
RASKIN: You must have had some pretty harrowing moments. You survived the
winters.
ERMAN: Yeah.
RASKIN: Two winters.
ERMAN: Two winters…two winters.
RASKIN: How did you do that?
ERMAN: And two hard winters. In barns…we slept in barns…straw and blankets.
In fact, we stayed in one farm house. The farmer knew that we…that the group was there
and he gave us blankets and he gave us potatoes at night. And this was a Polish…
RASKIN: A non-Jewish…
ERMAN: Non-Jewish.
RASKIN: So there were people who…?
ERMAN: Oh yeah – there were some. Some you could trust, but very few
unfortunately. And I don’t think it’s coincident that Hitler made these concentration
camps in Poland.
RASKIN: Why?
ERMAN: No, I think because he knew he would have the best support from the
Polish people. They were big antisemitism.
RASKIN: Did you have any experiences of the Polish antisemitism?
ERMAN: No…no…no.
RASKIN: You knew it to be true.
ERMAN: Because you know they didn’t know us and we didn’t make any attempt
to…to get into contact with them. And underground was…they didn’t mind who was
Jewish or non-Jewish. They were against the Germans, you know.
RASKIN: So that – are you saying that the people who assisted you along the way,
who were underground, were not necessarily Jews.
ERMAN: Most of them were, but there were some non-Jews in the group, definitely.
Yeah, there were some non-Jews.
RASKIN: So you were on the road…
ERMAN: For almost two years, until we reached our destination. And then we went
to…
RASKIN: What happened when you got to Vilna?
ERMAN: We found again a great amount – a large amount of people.
RASKIN: Was there any joy?
ERMAN: Oh, sure there was joy. Everytime a group came, you know, it meant to
give up another bed, and to feed more and more people. But there was joy – somebody
survived – and somebody made it. And there was a lot of joy and…
RASKIN: You must have all been…
ERMAN: We slept in three shifts.
RASKIN: Really?
ERMAN: In Vilna we slept in the beds – three shifts – everybody eight hours…not
even eight. And two and three people in one bed.
RASKIN: In what? Was this a building? A private house?
ERMAN: This was a Army barrack, big Army barrack. And then later on the…the
different groups separated. Kibbutz Hamer Ochad stayed in one…in one place, and the
Shomer Ha-Atzir went to another one and Kibbutzim Artzi went to another one. They
went to different group. Mizrachim went to another one.
RASKIN: And you, at that time, were all the people that traveled with you
(OVERTALK) you were all…you were all from what group?
ERMAN: No, no, it wasn’t one group. No it was not one group. But we did stay
together. You know, we went through so much and we had so much in common and so
we…we did stay together. Everybody did not go to Palestine…That’s a different story…
RASKIN: Oh really.
ERMAN: No.
RASKIN: Why’s that? That was the original plan.
ERMAN: Yeah. You know, when we came to Vilna all our papers later on were
forged, they’re forged and so they could not get too many people out before the war
reached Vilna too.
RASKIN: You mean to say that all of them wanted to go to Palestine?
ERMAN: No.
RASKIN: Why’s that? That was the original plan.
ERMAN: Yeah. You know, when we came to Vilna all our papers later on were
forged, they’re forged and so they could not get too many people out before the war
reached Vilna too.
RASKIN: You mean to say that all of them wanted to go to Palestine?
ERMAN: Oh sure.
RASKIN: That hadn’t changed?
ERMAN: And more, and more and more, but not everybody could make it, so only
the lucky ones who got certifications and…
RASKIN: Forged passports.
ERMAN: Forged passports and so some of them went via Japan and our
group…groups…really, one group after another…our group went via Russia from
Moscow, Odessa, Turkey, Syria and Lebanon and then to Palestine.
RASKIN: Okay – let’s back up just a little. How long were you in Vilna?
ERMAN: In Vilna we were three-four months.
RASKIN: And were you able to live out in the open?
ERMAN: Oh yeah, yeah, sure…sure. I mean, you know there were times
when…Vilna was given to the Germans and then the Germans gave it to Russia and then
Russia gave it to Lithuania. When we came it was in the hands of Lithuania. And it was
very well organized. So we were lucky, we by-passed the bad times. But when it was in
the hands of the Germans and the Russians, there were pogroms and there were attacks
on the Jews so we were, at this time we were wandering towards Vilna, so that means we
by-passed this bad times. But when we came, it was very well organized and with
passports, we could leave Vilna and go wherever we were supposed to go. So this, and
our people made great effort and forged these passports for people who…And there was a
lot of money involved too. You see we…to get a person out cost a lot of money, so…
RASKIN: To pay for the forgery?
ERMAN: No. The forgery was done by two of our artists.
RASKIN: I see.
ERMAN: But to pay plane ticket and train ticket and to pay for the smugglers who
brought us into Palestine – to stay in hotels, there…there was a lot of money.
RASKIN: Where did that money come from?
ERMAN: I think it came from WIZO and HIAS. And it must have been
from…from the United States too. But I’m not sure where the money came from…I’m
not sure.
RASKIN: So, how was the selection made of the people who got passports or…was
it just luck? You don’t know?
ERMAN: Yeah it’s…now for instance, they…they made me two years younger. I
was supposed to go with Youth Aliyah to Palestine. So who looked young, they could
make it, and my girlfriend…
RASKIN: What was the age limit for that?
ERMAN: 18, I think. (LONG PAUSE) No, it must have been 16.
RASKIN: And you were…?
ERMAN: At the time…of ’40, I was 20 already…’41. I was 20 already. I was born
in 1921, I was, you know…so…

Tape 2 - Side 1

RASKIN: Well did they use your name on the passport?
ERMAN: Oh yeah, oh yeah.
RASKIN: And then what happened? Describe that trip from Vilna.
ERMAN: From Vilna. A group of (how many people were we?) I think 12…12 at this group. You know they went by…in small groups. So like I said, the lucky ones – they are given a passport. My friends bought me a pair of gloves as a “go away” present and this was like…like something, you know, really like a diamond now…a big, big diamond. You know it was their little savings they had…they bought me a present. So I was very pleased with it. And when we came in the train going towards…towards Moscow, I hang my coat up and my gloves were stolen (SPEAKS WITH FEELING)…Oh I felt so bad and I said, “Okay.” And in Moscow when we came…
RASKIN: What time of year was this?
ERMAN: Oh, February. I arrived to Palestine in March, so it was February. And we…in Moscow, we stayed in a beautiful hotel. We stayed there for a few days. At night we saw…for the first time we had really good food, and I mean “real”…like gourmet cooking in very good restaurant in very beautiful restaurants. And so we slept in a beautiful room – in our own beds. But you know, when we went sightseeing, we always had the feeling that – not the feeling – we always felt “watched.” Because it was during the war.
RASKIN: By whom?
ERMAN: By the Russian people. Because it was during the war and everybody was – they might have…we might have been spies. And so every step we made and then let’s say we went on the train…on the subway…there was one guide watching us. And then we…we went down…somebody else was watching us. So, but we knew exactly what was going on.
Now it just so happened, in Moscow, I had a toothache and I took my girlfriend who spoke Polish and another friend…another German girlfriend and we went to a dentist and I explained – I was trying to explain to him that I have…that we have a toothache. And we asked him if he speaks Polish. So he said, no he doesn’t. So we asked him if he speaks Yiddish. So he said, no he doesn’t. And then I asked him if he speaks German. So he said, yes, he does. But it just so happened that his German was like Yiddish. He looked Jewish but he was afraid to admit that he was a Jew. So he felt threatened as a Jew at this time, already, 1941. And here…so he did what he had to do and I…I thought it was really…why should a Jew feel threatened by another group of Jewish people? But he must not have been sure of himself. He might have been, afraid that we might be spies too…you never know.
RASKIN: But you were able to communicate with him in any case.
ERMAN: In Yiddish, yeah. I mean, he spoke Yiddish – I spoke German.
And then from Moscow, we went to Odessa where we had…this is the most beautiful city. If you want to visit a beautiful city – visit Odessa. It’s gorgeous. It’s very pretty and again we stayed in a very nice hotel and from there we went to Turkey and in there…we spend on the border of Turkey and Russia…we spent two weeks until our turn came. Again, there was a large group who came one after another.
RASKIN: You all followed the same route more or less?
ERMAN: Yes, yes. One group after another came and we all met in…in…Turkey (I forgot the city) and there we spent two beautiful weeks again.
RASKIN: Two weeks in Turkey?
ERMAN: Maybe even more.
RASKIN: Why was that?
ERMAN: You see now from Turkey to Palestine we went only by car in small…in real small groups.
RASKIN: I see. So how many people were in Turkey? (OVERTALK) I mean…
ERMAN: At the same time – hundreds, really hundreds, more than hundred people.
RASKIN: Then where did you all stay?
ERMAN: In beautiful hotels…beautiful hotels. (SPEAKS WITH FEELING) That’s what I’m telling you…this trip was…
RASKIN: It was different than the other trips?
ERMAN: Oh fantastic, fantastic. We would have liked to stayed there longer. It was vacation…
RASKIN: This entire time you stayed in a resort hotel?
ERMAN: Resort hotel – beautiful places, and…
RASKIN: There…were adults there too, guiding you, or was there…?
ERMAN: Yeah. There was always some form of different committees who took care of us.
RASKIN: The Jewish committees.
ERMAN: Zionist committees.
RASKIN: Local people?
ERMAN: No.
RASKIN: People who accompanied you? Or you just…?
ERMAN: No, no, people who came there for one purpose to…to get everything organized and going.
RASKIN: And the cars then were provided?
ERMAN: And then again, organized, you see. Everything was organized in small groups. I think we let eight people in one car.
RASKIN: And then where did the smuggling start? This was all legal up to this point.
ERMAN: Right.
RASKIN: I mean, you weren’t in hiding anywhere.
ERMAN: No. The smuggling started when we left Turkey – when we went into Syria. And there we were brought in at night. We stayed in a hotel at night uh, we could not ask for food. And we were not supposed to talk, and the lights were supposed to be off. And we left at night again to go to Lebanon. And there we made a stop and went into Palestine.
RASKIN: You didn’t stay in a hotel in Lebanon?
ERMAN: Yes. I think we did…
RASKIN: You did, but quietly.
ERMAN: Yeah. Everything…everything was done “hush, hush, hush.” Don’t…make sure that you not be heard, and not be seen. And there was a smuggler who was paid and who took care of us.
RASKIN: And how did he transport you?
ERMAN: Everything by car. Over the border…we walked. We walked over the border.
RASKIN: At what kind of a place? What kind of a…?
ERMAN: In to…to…
RASKIN: Through open country, or…?
ERMAN: Open country, yeah, open country. And then we…we went to the first stop where we were greeted by our people. And you know, you can imagine our…our joy and our…We were falling on the ground and crying and kissing and hugging. And then when we were brought to Haifa, we were checked and we got shots, all different shots that we needed and we had a complete checkup – if we were healthy or what. Some people who were not healthy, got help. And then we were placed in to…to schools.
RASKIN: Now, how many of the eight people that started out to Vilna…
ERMAN: Made it to Palestine…to Israel? In my group, only two.
RASKIN: And did others make it later?
ERMAN: And later…and later on, there…there was another…one more person and five did not make it.
RASKIN: So what happened to you when you settled in Palestine?
ERMAN: So at first I met my brothers who…who lived in Rishon LeZion. And one of my brothers had a baby in the meantime and…
RASKIN: And what kind of a community was Rishon LeZion?
ERMAN: Rishon LeZion was, you know, the wine comes from Rishon LeZion. It’s – a city. It’s considered one of the cities…
RASKIN: At that time it was not a…
ERMAN: Oh yeah. It was a city at this time too. And I went to school close to Rishon LeZion because I wanted to be close to my family…to my brothers. And this place was called Nachlat Yehuda and I stayed there for two years. It was…
RASKIN: What was Nachlat Yehuda?
ERMAN: Nachlat Yehuda was a agricultural high school. Agricultural high school where we worked a half a day and we studied another half a day. We supported ourselves and we were supported by…some of…I mean…I don’t know if we supported 100 percent ourselves, but we did have to support, to help, you know. And we had teachers and we had professionals who came in from the outside we had some who stayed on the campus. But this was a very nice school. And in the school, I met my husband. Not in the school, he came to visit our school and that’s where I met him. He was a teacher in the same town for boys. And…
RASKIN: Were you using…what name were you using in Palestine?
ERMAN: In Palestine? Leah.
RASKIN: And his name was? Is…?
ERMAN: Shlomo. His name is Hans Erman.
RASKIN: But you said Shlomo.
ERMAN: Yeah, his Hebrew name was Shlomo.
RASKIN: And at that time, he was a student?
ERMAN: No. He was a teacher.
RASKIN: He was a teacher?
ERMAN: He already was a teacher. He was a teacher in Nachlat Yehuda and a principal too. Nachlat Yehuda is a city. Now our school was a town, was a small town. And in this town, there was our school and…
RASKIN: Which was for girls.
ERMAN: It was for girls, right. And there…there was another school for boys that he was teaching.
RASKIN: And were the schools similar?
ERMAN: No, no, no.
RASKIN: It was different?
ERMAN: No – it was different. (OVERTALK)
RASKIN: Was it also an agricultural school?
ERMAN: No, no, it was…it was a reform school. It’s…there were criminals there.
RASKIN: Oh really?
ERMAN: Yeah – in his school for boys…only for boys. No, it was entirely different.
RASKIN: That’s interesting. Criminal youth – delinquent – is that what you said?
ERMAN: Yeah – delinquent.
RASKIN: Jewish?
ERMAN: Sure. All of them Jewish.
RASKIN: And he taught what?
ERMAN: He taught them what was subject…everything, you know, you know.
RASKIN: And so he came over to…to your…
ERMAN: He came over to visit…to visit our place. And our principal said, “Leah, why don’t you show…show Mr. Erman around.” And I did show him around and so he did, you know…but we married two years afterward. Maybe it’s ’45 – this was ’40 – we married in 1945.
RASKIN: In the mean…so you…you were in the school how long? In that school?
ERMAN: Two years.
RASKIN: Two years. Did you stay there until you were married?
ERMAN: No, no. I stayed until I finished and I…
RASKIN: A regular course? You earned a certificate or something?
ERMAN: Oh yeah.
RASKIN: Yes.
ERMAN: Yeah – like a high school diploma. And then I started to work in Tel Aviv.
RASKIN: Doing what?
ERMAN: I worked in a store…
RASKIN: As a sales person?
ERMAN: As a cashier. As a cashier in the store. And then I went…I continued my education in Jerusalem. I went to Beth Strauss…this was a…and I got a degree in…
RASKIN: What was Beth Strauss?
ERMAN: Beth Strauss was a college – a junior college where (PAUSES) It’s hard to explain what was Beth Strauss. Beth Strauss was like…like WIZO, like…like…Hadassah.
RASKIN: A Zionist educational institution?
ERMAN: Educational institution, yeah.
RASKIN: And what did you study there?
ERMAN: I studied economics…to teach youngsters how to cook.
RASKIN: Oh – home economics.
ERMAN: Home economics. How to cook and the values of food. At the time, I think it still is, we had many parents who worked…many mothers. And we gave the students a meal, balanced meal. And so, in addition to providing them a balanced meal, they had to know the value of protein and fat and carbohydrate and so on. What comes into a meal, that’s what we did. I studied…
RASKIN: So all this time what had happened to the rest of your family? When did you last communicate with your mother?
ERMAN: Until 1944. I had letters from the Red Cross, you know, wherever she was. I sent letters to her and I got letters back.
RASKIN: And where was she at that time, in Poland?
ERMAN: At the time – the last letters I received from my mother was in a concentration camp in Cracow. This was close to her hometown.
RASKIN: And when had she been deported to a concentration camp?
ERMAN: In ’43…’44. And, but this was the last time I heard from her…in 1944.
RASKIN: And you never received any…?
ERMAN: We tried to…to locate, after the war, we tried to. We wrote, we called, and we tried to locate anybody who heard or knew anything about her but everything was in vain. We put ads in the paper…in different papers, but…Not only my mother – my uncles and my nephews and my nieces…everybody (SPEAKS QUIETLY)…we haven’t heard anything.
RASKIN: And you never contacted or had any contact with anyone who was in that camp, and survived?
ERMAN: No, no, no.
RASKIN: Was it an extermination camp?
ERMAN: Yeah at Cracow. This was not one of the big ones, you know, one of the small ones, but (PAUSES)
RASKIN: But what happened to the rest of your family?
ERMAN: I had two brothers in Israel. And one brother was in Russia…he was in Siberia. He survived Siberia.
RASKIN: How did he get to Siberia?
ERMAN: He was sent…from Germany…from Poland, to Siberia.
RASKIN: He was deported to Siberia, to a labor camp?
ERMAN: To a labor camp and he got very sick there and he developed heart trouble and lung trouble. And then he went back to Poland after the war and from Poland he wrote us – at the time we were in Israel – he wrote us to Israel and we told him he should go back to Germany where he could collect restitution money. And he did so – he and his family. In the meantime, he married and he had two children and they both went back to Germany. He was too sick to come to Israel. The doctors didn’t let him go and he lived in…in Dusseldorf, close to Dusseldorf for…we visit him there, for (when did he die?) he died in…he lived there for, I would say, five-six years.
RASKIN: When? When was this that he went back?
ERMAN: He went back to Germany in ’50.
RASKIN: Oh that late?
ERMAN: ’55…1955…1954.
RASKIN: Where had he been all this time prior?
ERMAN: He was in Siberia. And then he went back to Poland. He married a Polish woman…went back to Poland and from Poland, he returned to Germany. And he lived in Germany. At the beginning he could work a little bit. And then his sickness got severe…was severe and he…he got some restitution money from Germany because he was a German person and then I think he died in 1965.
RASKIN: Everyone except your mother survived the camps…
ERMAN: Everyone.
RASKIN: Everyone survived.
ERMAN: My brothers and sisters, yes…
RASKIN: Your close, your immediate family. Right?
ERMAN: Yes. But uncles and aunts and nephews did not.
RASKIN: Were lost?
(LONG PAUSE – LAUGHTER ABOUT SOMETHING – COULD NOT HEAR)
RASKIN: Okay. So here we are back in Palestine and you…you got married in 1945 and you stayed there…
ERMAN: Till 1954.
RASKIN: Living a happy married life.
ERMAN: Right. Our two children were born in Israel.
RASKIN: Where were you living?
ERMAN: In Tel Aviv. My husband was working and until our children were born, I was working and then in 1954 my husband decided he wanted to continue his studies and we went to the United States.
RASKIN: Now how far had he gone in Israel then?
ERMAN: In Israel he went to the University in Jerusalem but being occupied with working, you know, concentrate, he had a job and a half in order to support the family, and he taught during the day and in the evening he went to adult classes to teach. So he was very busy. And he never had the opportunity to, really to continue his studies. So he decided…we decided that he wanted to go to complete his education so we went to the United States.
RASKIN: This time it was easy to go to the United States, wasn’t it?
ERMAN: Oh yeah, sure. I mean it was hard to leave but we thought it only would be enough a short while…and we come to the United States and he makes his degrees and then we would go back. In fact, he got a leave of absence from his work – from his schools.
RASKIN: And where did you go?
ERMAN: We came to Chicago and he worked at Anshe Emeth for, and went to…first to Roosevelt…
RASKIN: Anshe Emeth?
ERMAN: Anshe Emeth, yeah, it’s a synagogue…in this school and he worked at Anshe Emeth in Chicago. And at the same time he went to school. He finished his bachelor’s degree…he had two…he had a bachelor’s degree in Germany, but in order to continue for master’s degree, or for Ph.D., you needed some education courses here. And so he went to Roosevelt and then he went to Northwestern and he made his master’s degree at Northwestern. And from there on, he traveled around…different cities…
RASKIN: And you came to St. Louis…
ERMAN: We came to – no, first we – he was Executive Director in Atlanta of the Bureau of Jewish Education and then in New Haven and then in Dayton, and then we came here to retire. So, we are retired people. But my husband feels that he wants to do something, so he’s teaching a little bit at Washington University.
RASKIN: Is there anything we haven’t said about…?
ERMAN: During all these years, I taught Hebrew school for 20 years in the United States in every community that we lived. I taught Hebrew school in every community.
RASKIN: So do you…do you have any philosophical reflections on your Holocaust experiences? Did it have any affect on your Jewishness or your beliefs?
ERMAN: My belief is that we do have to be aware, something that happened in Germany could happen again and we should be alert. We should have an open mind to it because we are never sure what can happen.
RASKIN: Why do you think it happened in Germany? What allowed it to happen to the Jews in Germany?
ERMAN: I’m really not a politician, but I believe the economy in Germany helped along. The economy was low. There was a lot of unemployment and – the Jews were just a scapegoat. If…you know…if everything goes smooth – you…so it goes…you go in the stream. But if something goes bad – something has to be blamed. And in Germany, I think, that’s why the Jews were blamed.
RASKIN: Now your family was evidently living a very comfortable middle-class life.
ERMAN: Yes.
RASKIN: And would have been happy to continue doing that.
ERMAN: Oh definitely, definitely. But this is…these are the breaks, you know, that you get. You have to go with the punches.
RASKIN: Evidently you did a real good job…going with the punches. Thank you very much. I just want to get some definitions – just for clarification, in case we need it. The Werkleute – as I understand it, now had its origin primarily in German Jews. Who separated them out, or who set it up that way? You don’t know, but that was just how it started. Right?
ERMAN: Right. Yeah, yeah, the German Jews at the beginning were among themselves and but later on, other people like Polish Jews and Russian Jews could join the Werkleute.
RASKIN: And the other groups?
ERMAN: The other groups were the…
RASKIN: Started out…differently?
ERMAN: Mixed…mixed.
RASKIN: With all kinds of art.
ERMAN: Now the Werkleute was a very small group. At the beginning, they thought they might be the “elite,” you know, the German elite, but the…
RASKIN: But the purpose…?
ERMAN: The purpose was they were Zionists too. They were Zionists in…in a more elite way. I would say they’re – most of them went to high schools and they were maybe…maybe their parents were more educated. Some were lawyers and doctors and these things. But later on, it really, it became more a melting pot.
RASKIN: Okay. And the Reichspanner…?
ERMAN: The Reichspanner was a political organizations…organization like, not like – but like the Communist organization and political…
RASKIN: A national group that was not a Jewish group.
ERMAN: No. It had nothing to do with the Jews. No. Many Jews joined before Hitler but it ‘twas not a Jewish group. It was a philosophy.
RASKIN: You were going to give me some distinctions among the various groups. I can’t remember the…Kibbutzim Artzi is that – was that the name?
ERMAN: Kibbutzim Artzi – Kibbutz Shomer Echad.
RASKIN: Oh yes, alright.
ERMAN: These were, or still Kibbutzim in Israel who, for instance, the Kibbutzim Artzi is…at the beginning they did not want to involve Arabic help. And they just want to depend on their own people and Kibbutz Artzi was more left than Kibbutz Shomer Echad.
RASKIN: And what was your connection with those two movements?
ERMAN: These people came…Habonim belonged to Kibbutz Shomer Echad. Our, our group of the Habonim belonged to the group of Kibbutzim Artzi. Shomer HaZoir belonged to Kibbutzim Artzi. Shomer HaZori in Germany belonged to Kibbutzim Artzi.
RASKIN: I see. So it was like a chapter of a world-wide or…(OVERTALK)
ERMAN: Right. A little bit different philosophy.
RASKIN: But your group in Germany? When you joined the Habonim…it was connected to this…?
ERMAN: Kibbutz Shomer Echad.
RASKIN: Which was based in Palestine?
ERMAN: Based in Palestine.
RASKIN: And continues to this day?
ERMAN: Yeah. Kibbutz Shomer Echad is still in existence.
RASKIN: And does it have a physical center, or is it just a philosophy?
ERMAN: Both – has a physical center and is a philosophy.
RASKIN: When you came to Palestine did the place you go depend on the…the center of the movement you were in?
ERMAN: No, no, no.
RASKIN: Were you still connected with the Habonim then?
ERMAN: Oh no, no, really…not. This chapter was over.
RASKIN: Okay. This concludes the interview and the postscript.

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