Cherie will be speaking at a synagogue next week and will be reading from her book. So I thought I would post an excerpt of the story of her childhood in Lithuania about the time Hitler decided to take Memel back into Germany. This excerpt skips pages in between, so I use ….. to denote that.
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The Germans started to take over. In 1937, Hitler said Memel belonged to Germany and he was going to unite it. There was not much the Lithuanian government could do. The whole town was German, even the Jews. My uncle Nonny, who fought for the Kaiser and earned the Iron Cross, said that they wouldn’t bother us and were only after the Ostjuden. Everybody seemed to agree, except my Papa.
He returned from England, after meeting Aunt Rachel from America, and announced papers were being prepared for us. In order to obtain permission to immigrate to the United States, an American citizen had to file an affidavit stating that they would be financially responsible for the immigrants. Further documents had to be processed by the American consulate in Lithuania. He explained we would take a long trip to see America until this blew over. Most people agreed that there was nothing to worry about and life went on. I began to notice grown-ups’ faces looking serious with a lot of whispering when children were around…..
In 1937, a law was passed forbidding Jews to work in professions. The Lithuania governor vetoed it. Suddenly our German friends turned into Nazis. Clashes between the Lithuanian government, the German population, and Jews increased. Synagogues were attacked. The Germans slowly started to take over and the Lithuanian government, being outnumbered by the German population, stood by helplessly. Memel was declared a “Frei Stadt,” or free city. That meant the Nazis could demonstrate openly and do as they pleased. Legally we were still under Lithuanian jurisdiction and our property could not be confiscated….
The next morning Fanny and I went to school as usual. The teacher entered the class with the Nazi salute, “Heil Hitler!”. The class jumped to their feet with arms raised and returned the salute. “Heil Hitler!” echoed through the school. The Jewish children trembled. Nothing further needed to be said nor was anything ever explained to us. We just knew, that we no longer belonged there. On the way home, I was attacked by several classmates. I was beaten and spit on. They called me “Dirty Jew,” but I was not seriously hurt.
Papa was home and we were told we would not be returning to school. Fanny and I would be going to Riga, Latvia to stay with Papa’s sister, Aunt Mary. He would take us soon. Then he would return to Memel to liquidate his assets. He needed to raise as much cash as he could and arrange for our journey. The whole family would join us in Riga and continue to America.
A few days later we all went to Kovno, the capital of Lithuania. We all had to appear at the U.S. Consulate in order to receive our immigration papers and visas. There was a problem with Gisa’s eyes. We were advised that she needed surgery and might not be permitted to enter the United States. One eye crossed and needed to be corrected. The United States had strict health laws.
Fanny and I went around to say goodbye to everybody. Aunt Henrie cried and said to tell Aunt Rachel to send them papers. But how could she when uncle Nonny was in jail. Uncle David had British passports because of his father. He was the oldest and born in Ireland. He, Aunt Rebecca, and his sons, Beno and Siegfried, moved to Dublin, Ireland soon after we left. His daughter, Betty was married and pregnant and couldn’t go with them. Uncle Leo, Aunt Resi, and our four cousins: Morris, Peeps, Edith, and Lacka, were to move to Rhodesia, South Africa, currently Zimbabwe. Aunt Resi had relatives there and they sent papers. They almost waited too long. March 23, 1939, as the Nazis entered the city, they quietly walked out the back door with nothing but the clothes on their backs. They walked all night and finally made their way to Warsaw, and on to South Africa. My grandmother had died the year before, so uncle Nathan was left with uncle Nonny and his family. He was sure nothing was going to happen. Mother’s sister, Lena, lived in Riga. She was married to a violinist, named Volia, and had a daughter, Marianne….
Jews with wealth started to leave Memel. Most went to Kovno; others deeper into Lithuania, taking their money, estimated at 100 million Lits, with them. In 1938 there had been 6000 Jews in Memel. When Hitler entered Memel on March 23 1939, less than half remained….
Note: Much of Cherie’s story is about her life in Lithuania before Hitler’s rise to power, but I wanted the readers to know the context in which her childhood takes place. ellensue