Liselotte Levy Weil
A Refugee Girl from Germany
“Our only hope will lie in the frail web of Understanding of one person for the pain of another.”
– John Dos Passos, December 1940
Life Before Hitler
During the eleven happy years of childhood before Hitler came to power in 1933, Liselotte often found herself mesmerized by the beauty of her native Rhineland. She did not understand why anyone would ever want to leave this place and go to America. By the time she was twelve years old, leaving this place and going to America meant the difference between life and death.
Briefly told, this is her story, and the story of a proud German-Jewish family that was betrayed by the homeland it served, admired, and loved.
Liselotte’s father Ferdinand Levy was born on October 10, 1886 (or 1887), in Anhausen, a village near Neuwied-on-the-Rhine. His father Wilhelm Levy was a soldier in the Prussian army during the war against France in 1870. The victory in that war led to the unification of Germany. Wilhelm married Rosette Greenwald of Rhein-Bollen, Prussia. She died giving birth to Ferdinand. Her two brothers immigrated to America in the 1870s and lived in a strange sounding place called Kosciusko, Mississippi.
Wilhelm wasted no time getting remarried. His second wife was named Jettchen. Their four daughters were Rosa, Selma, Lina, and Henny.
Two of the daughters, with their husbands and children, would be murdered in the Holocaust.
At the turn of the 19th Century, Wilhelm purchased (or rented) a three-story building at Engersstrasse 12 in Neuwied. He operated a butcher shop on the ground floor, and the family lived upstairs. Ferdinand assisted his father in the shop.
When the First World War began on August 1, 1914, Ferdinand was twenty-seven years old. He enlisted in the German army and served his Fatherland at Verdun and on the Russian front. For his bravery he was awarded the Iron Cross. Liselotte remembered him telling stories about the war, “and we never tired of listening to him.”
After the armistice was signed on November 11, 1918, Ferdinand returned home and renewed his courtship of Rosa Levy, a distant cousin. She was born on October 19, 1890, in Waldbreitbach, a small town nestled in the Westerwald Mountains, twelve miles by winding road from Neuwied. Her parents were Leopold Levy and Amalie Ehrenfeld. She was an only child.
Rosa attended a “business school” in Dusselberg before the First World War. During the war she held a responsible position at Krupp Steel Works in Essen. This sprawling industrial factory produced tanks and cannons for the German war effort. Like her future husband, Rosa did her part for the Fatherland.
Liselotte believed that her mother, or Mutti, would have been a very successful business woman in America – if she had made it there.
Ferdinand and Rosa were married in 1919. This was a time of misery, bitterness, revolution, and virulent anti-Semitism. The couple lived with Wilhelm and Jettchen at Engersstrasse 12.
On September 12, 1919, Hitler attended a meeting of the obscure German Workers Party. He joined it several days later. The name would be changed to National Socialist German Workers’ Party, or Nazi Party.
Liselotte was born on July 7, 1921, in Neuwied.
Nineteen days later, on July 26, 1921, Hitler seized control of the Nazi Party. He was now the “leader” of an insignificant right-wing, anti-Semitic party. There were many such political parties in Germany following the lost war and a harsh peace treaty.
Growing Up in Neuwied
Three hundred and forty Jews, or seventy-three families, lived in Neuwied. This was less than two percent of the city’s population.
Jewish life revolved around the synagogue, which was located around the corner from Engersstrasse 12. The choir consisted of men, women, and children. Liselotte grew up dreaming of the day when she would be permitted to sing solo in the choir, but that day never came. Instead, she sat upstairs in the balcony and admired her parents and relatives who were seated below and dressed “in their Sabbath finery.”
On November 9, 1923, Hitler attempted but failed to seize power in Munich.
Three months later, on February 2, 1924, Liselotte’s brother Leo was born.
Hitler, charged with treason stood before a military tribunal later that month. He was sentenced to seven years in prison (but served less than a year). The Nazi Party garnered a mere 3% of the vote in the Reichstag elections on December 7, 1924.
Mina, a young German girl, was the family’s beloved “child-maid.” On regular Saturday outings, she would take Liselotte and Leo to the promenade at the royal palace, which was a short walk down Engersstrasse. People strolling by often commented on Leo’s “beautiful curls,” but they paid no attention to Liselotte who, in her own words, was “a skinny little girl with very straight hair.”
Liselotte entered first grade at the Jewish Peoples School in the spring of 1927. The school, an imposing brick building, was adjacent to the synagogue. Her subjects were reading, writing, mathematics, German grammar, Bible, and Hebrew. During the recess periods she jumped in with the boys and played soccer. Liselotte had many friends, but her best friend was Ilse Stern. The two girls spent much of their childhood playing in her family’s garden, surrounded by beautiful flowers.
Liselotte’s sister Margot was born on August 16, 1927. Her blond hair set her apart. “She didn’t look anything like us,” Liselotte noted.
In Reichstag elections on May 20, 1928, the Nazis received 2.6% of the votes.
Leo entered first grade at the Jewish People’s School in 1930. His favorite subjects were “stories and arithmetic.” For the rest of her life, Liselotte would proudly tell people that Leo had been a brilliant student and always first in the class. As for sports, he took “a keen interest” in soccer and boxing.
In a photograph of the student body (and teacher David Jena) of the Jewish People’s School, Liselotte and Leo sit next to one another, her arm around his shoulder.
What happened to their classmates? Who emigrated before the war? Who did not? Who survived the Nazi camps? Who did not?
The world depression rescued Hitler from oblivion. Unemployment in Germany reached six million, and a disillusioned people turned to the Nazis. In the Reichstag elections on September 14, 1930, the NSDAP won 18.3% of the vote, becoming the second largest party in Germany (behind the Social Democrats). In the Reichstag elections on July 31, 1932, the Nazis got 37.4% of the vote. They were now the largest party in Germany.
Hitler Comes to Power
Hitler was appointed chancellor by the aged Hindenburg on January 30, 1933.
For synopsis, click on Hitler becomes chancellor, January 30, 1933
Like many German Jews, Ferdinand believed that the Nazis would leave him alone. His Iron Cross was proof that he belonged.
The Nazis launched a boycott of Jewish stores on April 1, 1933. More dangerous was the German bureaucracy. An onslaught of decrees stripped Jews of their citizenship and property. Mass theft preceded mass murder, and ordinary Germans grabbed what they could.
It did not take long for Ferdinand to realize there was no future for Jews in Germany. One night he walked over to the Rhine River and tossed his Iron Cross into the swift flowing waters.
Ferdinand and Mutti began the arduous process of getting the three children out of Germany. They contacted the American consulate in Stuttgart and registered them on the U. S. quota. They would later register themselves.
With high unemployment and intense anti-immigrant feelings in the United States, the State Department made sure that only forty percent of the annual quota was filled.
Ferdinand and Mutti next tried to contact relatives in America, asking if they would sponsor the children. This involved a grueling amount of paper-work. First there was the application to fill out. But the most important requirement was the affidavit of support. The sponsors had to demonstrate, by releasing tax returns, bank accounts, and a list of property holdings, that none of the children would become a “public charge.” How much money was necessary to qualify as a sponsor? There was no fixed, definite sum. The officials at the American consulate determined what was enough.
The parents wrote letters (in German) to Ferdinand’s uncles in Kosciusko, Mississippi, but they had long since died. Their nephews Ike and Julian Greenwald had left Mississippi twenty years earlier. The letters went unanswered, but Ferdinand and Rosa didn’t give up. They kept writing letters to Kosciusko.
Liselotte, twelve years old, entered the Zinzendorf School in September 1933. The Moravian Brethren operated the school. The descendants of refugees, they were familiar with the stigma of being outcasts and for this reason stressed that “all were equal.” But many of the German students, poisoned by Nazi propaganda, made life miserable for Liselotte. She left the Zinzendorf School in the spring of 1935. Her “certificate of conduct” emphasized that she had “conducted herself VERY WELL during this time.”
In the spring of that year, Hitler introduced military conscription, violating the Versailles Treaty.
Liselotte turned fourteen on July 7, 1935. Her parents enrolled her in a “hand-work” school taught by nuns. Her course of study involved “sewing, mending, crocheting, and knitting.” She made aprons for the kitchen and slips and nightgowns for her trousseau. “This stuff was not very sexy,” she smiled, “and never worn.” Bored to no end, Liselotte persuaded her parents to let her quit the “hand-work” school. She said goodbye to the “good nuns” in the spring of 1936.
That same spring, Hitler remilitarized the Rhineland, again in defiance of the Versailles Treaty.
Before the year ended, Ferdinand’s sister Henny, her husband Julius Mattes, and their children Gisela (ten) and Willy (eight) immigrated to South Africa.
Liselotte Moves to Bingen
Liselotte had nothing to do. There was no possibility of work – except in a Jewish household. Fortunately, Mutti had relatives with two small children in Bingen-on-the-Rhine. For the next two years Liselotte worked as a maid/nannie for these relatives and was considered “an industrious, ambitious, well-behaved and honest girl.”
A New Postmaster in McCool
Ferdinand and Mutti continued to write letters to the Greenwald relatives in Kosciusko, but the letters continued to go unanswered.
But in 1935 a new postmaster was appointed in McCool, a town near Kosciusko. He heard about the letters from Germany, had one of them translated, and recognized the urgency of the situation.
The postmaster remembered Ike and Julian Greenwald. They had moved to Winnsboro, Louisiana, and owned a hardware/furniture store and a ‘dime’ store. The postmaster forwarded the Levy’s letter to them. When Ike read the letter, he decided to help, despite being sixty-two years old, in declining health, and childless. His wife Jetta apparently agreed with his decision. But his brother Julian, sixty years old, did not. He and his wife Leole did not have children and didn’t want any. His business caused him enough anxiety.
Ike’s two sisters Carrie Rosenbaum and Amelia Greenwald were sympathetic to the idea but reluctant to commit to such a heavy responsibility.
Aunt Carrie, as Liselotte would call her, was sixty-six years old and lived in Meridian, Mississippi. Her husband Moses Rosenbaum, a clothing merchant and son of a “pioneer” family, died in 1935. Her son Ellis was gravely ill, a victim of a gas attack during the First World War. She had to assist with his medical expenses.
Amelia, or Aunt Amelia, was fifty-six years old and unmarried. After a career in nursing, she was in the throes of opening a dress shop in Eunice, Louisiana, and had no time to spare.
Ike was undeterred. He wrote Ferdinand and Mutti and promised to provide the necessary “papers” for the three children to come over.
Liselotte remembered the day Ike’s letter arrived at Engersstrasse 12. There was “great rejoicing.” But eight-year old Margot did not rejoice. The thought of being separated from her parents gave her “weeping fits.” She begged not to go. Ferdinand and Mutti relented. Only Liselotte and Leo would go. They waited anxiously for their quota numbers to be called.
Death of Ike
Ike’s health worsened. The emigration of the children depended on him. If he didn’t attend to the matter, who would? Ike summoned his brother and two sisters to his bedside. He made them promise to rescue the Levy children. This was his “death bed wish.”
Ike died on December 4, 1937. He was buried at the Jewish cemetery in Meridian. By process of elimination, Amelia now assumed the responsibility of bringing over the Levy children. Who was she?
The Remarkable Amelia Greenwald
Amelia Greenwald was born on March 1, 1881, in Gainesville, Alabama (her date of birth varies). Her father Joseph Greenwald, along with his brother Jacob, immigrated from Rhein-Bollen, Prussia, in the 1850s and settled in Kosciusko. In 1861, Joseph enlisted in the 13th Mississippi Infantry of the Confederate army and fought in several of the bloody battles in Virginia. After the war, he became a grain merchant, and mayor, in Gainesville. His wife Elise Haas died in 1891, when Amelia was ten.
In May 1906, when she was twenty-five, Amelia left home without telling anyone and enrolled in the Training School for Nurses at Touro Infirmary in New Orleans, which, unlike other nursing schools, accepted Jewish women. Her family was furious. Nursing was beneath its dignity. One of her brothers went to New Orleans and urged her to come home but she refused “repatriation,” to quote her. Amelia graduated from Touro in the class of 1908.
During World War I, Amelia enlisted in the Army Nurses Corps. She went overseas in 1918 and did exceptional work as “chief nurse” of a “shell-shock unit” that was stationed behind the front at Verdun (and elsewhere). Her patients were horribly wounded in mind and body.
Amelia returned to the United States in 1919 and promptly joined the American Legion. She (eventually) received the Victory Medal with Battle Clasps (Meuse-Argonne Sector).
In 1922, at the behest of her friend Henrietta Szold, founder of Hadassah (Zionist Women Association), Amelia travelled to Vienna, Austria, and attended the International Conference of Women. In the former Hapsburg capital, she witnessed a violent anti-Semitic demonstration and was shaken to the core.
Later that year, the Hoover Commission (American Relief Administration) and JOINT (Jewish Joint Distribution Committee) hired Amelia to organize a nursing school in the Jewish hospital in Warsaw, capital of war ravaged and newly independent Poland. Jewish women did not have an opportunity to study nursing in Poland. Governed by Jim Crow laws of its own, the Polish Red Cross refused to accept Jews.
Amelia arrived in Warsaw in late 1922 and went to work at the Orthodox Jewish Hospital, located in the Czyste neighborhood (hence known as Czyste Hospital). With stupendous effort and ingenuity, she overcame one obstacle after another and got the school up and running.
The nursing school opened its doors on July 8, 1923. Amelia’s official title, which fit her personality, was “directress.” Many of the young women applying to the school came from impoverished families and arrived barefoot. Amelia fully appreciated what they had overcome: “Poland is very, very mean to the Jewish people who are citizens of Poland.”
Three years later, on the eve of her return to the United States, Amelia was awarded the Golden Cross of Merit by the Polish president Ignacy Moscicki.
Twenty years later, many of the Nursing School graduates fell victim to the Nazis. That knowledge was too painful for Amelia to contemplate. She never talked about them.
Amelia returned to the United States in early 1927. Her next foreign adventure came in 1932. Hadassah sent her to the British Mandate in Palestine to conduct a “survey” of the nurses training school at the Rothschild Hospital. Her mission was a dismal failure. She blamed others and their “chronic habit of delaying matters which resulted in the failure to accomplish anything of consequence.”
Uncertain of her future, Amelia left Palestine for home in November 1933.
Amelia was now fifty-two years old. She wanted to write her memoirs but needed to make a living in the meantime. One of her brothers suggested that she put her savings to good use by opening a dress shop in the town of Eunice, in the Cajun region (Acadiana) of southwest Louisiana. With the discovery of oil nearby and the influx of workers, Eunice was riding a wave of prosperity, making the town something of an anomaly during the depression in Louisiana.
But there was a big problem: Amelia knew absolutely nothing about clothes or fashion. Nonetheless, on November 27, 1937, she opened her dress shop La Vogue, specializing in “Ladies Fine Apparel,” on Second Street in Eunice. Her brother Ike died eight days later, and Amelia, in addition to opening a new store, assumed the responsibility of rescuing three Jewish children from the Nazis.
Amelia had no idea what to do, but she did have an important connection. He was Ross Collins, a congressman from Mississippi and a longtime friend of the Greenwald and Rosenbaum families. Amelia wrote him on February 15, 1938, requesting his assistance. He promised to help “in every possible way” but warned Amelia that her goal was “almost impossible of accomplishment.”
Ross Collins knew what he was talking about. Southern politicians were among the most strident opponents of refugees. Senator John Rankin of Mississippi, for one, was an avowed anti-Semite.
The politicians reflected the attitude of their constituents. Four polls conducted in 1938 indicated between 71% and 85% of the American public opposed enlarging the quota to admit more refugees; 67% preferred that no refugees be admitted into the country.
Anschluss: Orgy of Sadism in Vienna
Hitler seized his native Austria on March 11, 1938, and declared the Anschluss, or union of Germany and Austria. German soldiers were greeted with flowers; the Jews were subjected to an “orgy of sadism.”
What did the Greenwald relatives know about the fate of the Jews in Austria? What information was published in their hometown newspapers?
Aunt Carrie was not left in doubt. Articles on the front page of The Meridian Star, a daily newspaper, were explicit:
The Meridian Star, March 12, 1938 – EUROPE FACES CRISIS AS NAZIS CONTROL AUSTRIA, Although Developments Bring War Scare, Belief Exists Actual Hostilities Are Far Remote, (UP) p. 1
The Meridian Star, March 14, 1938 – VIENNA JEWRY IN GRIP OF HYSTERIA, Make Rapid arrangements to leave Country As Fuehrer Arrives; Officials Are Arrested, (AP) p. 1
The Meridian Star, March 19, 1938 – ARREST THREE JEWS, Jail High Officials in Austrian Raid, (UP), p. 1
- The Meridian Star, March 19, 1938 – Preferred Death to Nazi Rule, (photograph)
The Meridian Star, March 20, 1938 – TWO KILLED IN POLISH RIOTING, p. 2
- Curiosity In Hilarious Chase Results In Capture Of Negress, p. 2
The Meridian Star, March 23, 1938 – DENIES AUSTRIAN MASS SUICIDES, p. 1
The Meridian Star, March 25, 1938 – REFUGEE AID PLAN IS UP TO GERMANY, Hull Proposes Neighboring Countries Provide Havens, (AP) p. 1
The Franklin Sun in Winnsboro, where Julian Greenwald lived, referred only in passing to the atrocities visited upon the Austrian Jews.
The Franklin Sun (Winnsboro), March 24, 1938 – AUSTRIA IS WIPED OUT, Made a State in German Reich After Armed Invasion Made by Hitler…The Fuehrer Enters Vienna in Triumph
The Franklin Sun (Winnsboro), April 7, 1938 – FAMOUS LAZY MOON MINSTREL RETURNS HERE, To Be Shown At Princess Friday Night, p. 1
- The Franklin Sun (Winnsboro), April 7, 1938 – Jews Must Quit Vienna
The newspaper Aunt Amelia read in Eunice, The New Era, didn’t mention the suffering of the Austrian Jews at all. Instead, it endorsed the union of Germany and Austria:
The New Era (Eunice), March 25, 1938 – Editorial, Germany And The World
The Jews in Austria were frantic. Long lines formed outside the U. S. consulate in Vienna. In response to this pressure, Secretary of State Cordell Hull announced that the combined German-Austrian quota, with 27,300 openings, would be made fully available. That change was crucial for Liselotte and Leo: it meant their quota numbers would be called later that year.
In the summer of 1938, Ferdinand’s sister Selma, her husband Sally Simon, and their son Arthur (eight years old) emigrated to the United States. They rented an apartment in Boston. Arthur had been viciously attacked by a Nazi thug in Germany and died of his injuries in late 1940.
In the summer of 1938, hopes were raised for a solution to the refugee crisis. A conference involving representatives from the United States and thirty-two nations met at Evian, France, beginning on July 6th. The result was disappointing: no country was willing to accept more refugees. The delegates agreed only to establish an Intergovernmental Committee on Refugees, which proved loathsomely ineffective.
For synopsis, click on The Refugee Conference at Evian
Meanwhile, Hitler took steps to destroy Czechoslovakia. Europe teetered on the brink of war. Would Liselotte and Leo get out in time?
Their quota numbers were called that summer. But the consulate had not received the sponsorship applications and the affidavits of support from the Greenwald relatives. Ferdinand wrote Aunt Amelia and pleaded with her: the situation in Germany was unbearable, “so I ask you urgently to help us.”
What was the delay? The affidavits, it turned out, had not been prepared. Uncle Julian refused to provide an affidavit. He didn’t want to open his financial records to the government. Aunt Amelia, on the other hand, wanted very much to provide an affidavit but did not have enough money to guarantee it. Fortunately, Aunt Carrie did have enough money. She provided affidavits for both Liselotte and Leo. It had been and ordeal to put together all of the paperwork, but the applications and affidavits were mailed in August to the consulate.
Yet the Levys heard nothing from the consulate. Had the affidavits been rejected? Aunt Carrie contacted Ross Collins, the congressman. He, in turn, contacted Samuel Honaker, the consul in Stuttgart. Honaker informed the congressman that the affidavit for Liselotte had not been received. The affidavit for Leo had been received. It was approved, Honaker said, but Leo had failed to answer the summons to the consulate.
Aunt Carrie was stunned, and bewildered. What happened? Was this incompetence on the part the consulate? Or was it deliberate obstruction? To be sure, “certain officials” in the State Department did not hesitate to use devious tactics. Breckinridge Long, who became Assistant Secretary of State in January 1940, would suggest that the State Department “delay and effectively stop” the flow of refugees into the country “by simply advising our consuls to put every obstacle in the way and to resort to various administrative advices which would postpone and postpone the granting of the visas.”
Whatever the origin of the problem, Ross Collins exerted his influence and solved it. The consulate managed to find Liselotte’s affidavit, which had apparently been in its possession all along. It was quickly approved. And Leo was returned to the quota. Everything fell into place, thanks to a family friend who happened to be a U.S. congressman.
Liselotte and Leo waited for the summons to the consulate. If they passed the mental and physical examinations, they would leave the consulate with visa stamps in their passports.
At the Munich Conference in late September, the British prime minister Chamberlain handed over the Sudetenland to Hitler and the outbreak of was averted for another eleven months.
Ironically, Liselotte and Leo were saved by abandonment of Czechoslovakia saved them.
The Eunice newspaper devoted an editorial to the fate of the Jews in the Sudetenland, who were brutally uprooted and expelled (along with the Czech population). It also changed its opinion on the Anschluss.
The New Era (Eunice), October 7, 1938 – Editorial, “Nazis Open Drive On Czech Jews”
The New Era (Eunice), October 21, 1938 – Editorial, Hoodlums in Vienna
The Winnsboro newspaper covered the Munich Conference but not the Jewish question.
The Franklin Sun (Winnsboro), September 29, 1938 – ‘Sell-Out’ of Czechoslovakia Fails to Erase War Dangers
The Franklin Sun (Winnsboro), October 13, 1938 – Hitler, Germany’s Man of Mystery, Founded His Success on Psychology
The Franklin Sun (Winnsboro), October 20, 1938 – Theodore Cardinal Innitzer, After Naziism, he changed his mind
Out’ of Czechoslovakia Fails to Erase War Dangers
On November 9, 1938, only hours before the outbreak of Kristallnacht, the long-awaited summons from the consulate arrived at Engersstrasse 12. Mutti immediately telephoned Liselotte in Bingen and told her to come home. The “papers” from America had been approved.
Liselotte boarded the train for Neuwied the next morning, oblivious of the violence that had swept Germany while she slept.
Her father was not at the train station to greet her. This was the first ominous sign. On her way home, the city appeared normal until she turned a corner and walked into a pogrom: SA men, Hitler Youth, and ordinary civilians were in a mad frenzy ransacking Jewish homes and stores, smashing windows, and tossing furniture out of windows.
When Liselotte reached Engersstrasse 12, she learned her family was in jail. She walked to the jail and was put into a cell with Mutti and Margot. Her father had been terribly beaten. Leo had tried to defend him and got two black eyes.
Mutti and her daughters were released from jail the next day. Leo was also released. The letter from the American consulate indicated he had been approved for emigration. That was good enough for the Nazis. Ferdinand, writhing in pain, remained in jail for two more days.
On Friday night, the SA returned to the synagogue and completed its destruction. Liselotte watched from her window. She lost faith in God that night, “and I stopped saying my evening prayers.”
The Jewish men were transported to Dachau. The Gestapo released Ferdinand because he obviously did not have long to live. Mutti took him to the Catholic Hospital. The nuns put him in a private room and took care of him until he died on December 1, 1938. Under the cover of darkness, he was buried in the Jewish cemetery in nearby Niederbieber. The cemetery was a scene of devastation: nearly half of the six hundred gravestones had been smashed.
Mutti and the girls did not go to the cemetery that night. It was too dangerous.
Liselotte's Cousin Hedwig
Following Kristallnacht, Liselotte’s cousin Hedwig, with her baby girl Ruth, took the train to be with her husband Albert Gutreich. A Polish born Jew, he was among the fifteen thousand Polish Jews living in Germany who were arrested and deported to Poland in late October 1938. Hedwig, Albert, and Ruth ended up in the Lodz ghetto. Her letters home described (in disguised language) the filth and hunger in the ghetto. The relatives in Germany, including Mutti, had no illusions about what to expect in “the east.”
The American relatives could not avoid reading about Kristallnacht. It was front page news for several days. The newspaper in Meridian covered the catastrophe in detail.
The Meridian Star, November 10, 1938 – ATTACK PROPERTY OF GERMAN JEWS, Smash Store Fronts and Ignite Synagogues in Berlin and Munich, (AP) p. 1
The Meridian Star, November 11, 1938 – RESTORE GHETTO FOR GERMAN JEWS, Require Residence and Business Within Limited Territory, (AP) p. 1
The Meridian Star, November 12, 1938 – CARDINAL HOME IS STORMED BY BAVARIAN GROUP, Attack Follows Remarks by District Leader In Which He Hits Catholic Plea For Protection, (AP) p. 1
The Meridian Star, November 13, 1938 – HALF MILLION JEWS ARE FINED IN PARIS DEATH, Numerous Crushing Orders Against Jewry Are Issued by Officials in Germany, (INS) p. 1
The Meridian Star, November 14, 1938 – ANOTHER HUGE BILL FOR GERMAN JEWS, (AP) p. 1
The Meridian Star, November 15, 1938 – FEARS OF WARS, PLIGHT OF JEWS, TROUBLE WORLD, Blame Nazi Campaign Against Jewry For Recall Of Ambassador Wilson to U. S. For Conference, (AP) p. 1
- The Meridian Star, November 15, 1938 – Nazis Leave Their Mark On Jewish Property, (photograph) p. 1
The Meridian Star, November 16, 1938 – JEWS IN HIDING UNTIL OFFICIAL OF NAZI BURIED, Fear Worst Of Persecution in Germany Yet To Come; Ban Jewish Papers; Guard Community Building, (AP) p. 1
- The Meridian Star, November 16, 1938 – MASS MIGATION OF JEWRY PLAN OF BRITAIN, Propose Moving Refugees To North And South America And Parts of British Empire; suggestions of American, (AP) p. 1
- The Meridian Star, November 16, 1938 – FDR Hits Nazi Attacks; Urges New World Re-Arm, (AP) p. 1
- The Meridian Star, November 16, 1938 – BAPTISTS URGE PROTECT JEWRY, 1
The newspaper in Winnsboro published a single article on Kristallnacht in addition to an opinion piece by the syndicated columnist William Bruckhart. His overriding concern was that Kristallnacht would result in a “Jewish problem” in the United States, and that the country would be drawn into a war with Germany.
The Franklin Sun (Winnsboro), November 24, 1938 – “Latest Nazi Anti-Jewish Drives Give Restless Reich a ‘Cause.’”
The Franklin Sun (Winnsboro), December 1, 1938 – Danger of ‘Jewish Problem’ for United States in German ‘Purge,’ Resentment of American People Aroused by Hitler’s Harshness; Opening of Gates to Refugees Might Introduce Disturbing Influence.
The newspaper in Eunice, a weekly, did not print a single word on Kristallnacht.
Liselotte and Leo received their German passports on December 6th and travelled to the consulate in Stuttgart two days later. They passed the mental and physical exams and received the coveted prize: a visa stamp in their passports.
The writer and activist Dorothy Thompson wrote, “It is a fantastic commentary on the inhumanity of our times that for thousands and thousands of people a piece of paper with a stamp on it is the difference between life and death.”
Leaving Neuwied on January 15, 1939
With tears flowing, Liselotte and Leo said goodbye to Mutti and Margot and departed Neuwied by train on January 15, 1939. In Hamburg, they boarded the SS Manhattan for the ten-day voyage to America.
Liselotte cried the entire trip, and the rough seas did nothing to assuage her misery. She was seasick for several days. “I thought my guts were coming out of me,” she wrote Mutti and Margot. The SS Manhattan docked in New York City on January 26, 1939. It was extremely cold. Carole (Aunt Carrie’s daughter) and her (then) husband Roy Chartier greeted the two refugees at the disembarkation wharf. Liselotte said that she stopped crying the moment they embraced her. She and Leo spent three exciting days in the city. They went to the movies, to the theater, to Radio City Music Hall, and to Schrafft’s ice cream parlor. Liselotte thought she was in a dream.
On the morning of January 29th, Liselotte and Leo boarded a bus for the two-day trip to Meridian, Mississippi.
When the bus crossed the state line into Virginia, the young refugees got their first glimpse of Jim Crow segregation. The “white only” signs were uncomfortable reminders of the “Jews forbidden!” signs that they had known so well in Germany. This was a big surprise. No one had bothered to explain the race question to them. Liselotte recognized the bitter irony of her situation: she could do anything and go anywhere, but black people, born in the United States, were not allowed “to have a normal life.”
On Monday, January 30th, while the two siblings peered out the window at the segregated South, Hitler addressed the Reichstag in Berlin:
“If international finance Jewry within Europe and abroad should succeed once more in plunging the peoples into a world war, then the consequence will be not the Bolshevization of the world and there-with a victory of Jewry, but, on the contrary, the destruction of the Jewish race in Europe.”
The Meridian paper did not mention Hitler’s threat. It expressed quite a different opinion: Europe was “relieved” by his speech.
The Meridian Star, January 30, 1939 – HITLER WARNING TO DEMOCRACIES IN ‘INTERFERENCE,’ Cautions Against Acting in ‘Matters Concerning Us Alone Intending To Prevent ‘Solutions,’ (AP) p. 1
The Meridian Star, January 31, 1939 – EUROPE, RELIEVED BY HITLER TALK, AWAITS ANOTHER, Attack in Commons On Chamberlain “Appeasement” Policy, Mussolini Speaks in Rome Wednesday, (AP) p. 1
The morning after Hitler’s speech, Liselotte and Leo stepped off the bus in Meridian and into Aunt Carrie’s arms. She quickly hustled Liselotte off to the beauty parlor and then outfitted her with a new set of clothes. Liselotte was on her way to becoming an American girl.
Uncle Julian arrived the next day and took Leo with him back to Winnsboro. Leo celebrated his 15th birthday the next day. A week later he entered seventh grade at the local school. He quickly mastered English, made high marks, and was popular. A year later he would be elected class president. After school and on weekends, he worked in Uncle Julian’s ‘dime’ store and in his hardware/furniture store. It was soon apparent that Leo was very capable. Uncle Julian, who didn’t want Leo in the first place, began to rely on him.
Liselotte remained in Meridian for two weeks. She wrote Mutti and Margot and described “a wonderful life” of eating, sleeping, driving in the car, and going to the movies.
A parade of visitors came by to say hello. One of them was a young man named Bill Lerner, the son of a local jeweler. Mutti heard all about Bill in Liselotte’s letters and soon referred to him as Liselotte’s “admirer.”
Aunt Carrie wanted Liselotte to live with her. Meridian was a city with a Jewish community. After all, Eunice was a town on the remote Cajun prairie with no eligible Jewish men in sight. Liselotte decided in favor of Eunice. She felt obligated to Aunt Amelia, who had done so much to bring her over. Loyalty was one of Liselotte’s virtues.
Life in Eunice
Liselotte and Aunt Amelia met for the first time on February 12, 1939, and thus began a complicated relationship that would be stirred by love and jealousy, devotion and resentment, until the day Amelia died in January 1966.
Liselotte went to work at La Vogue on her first day in Eunice. It seemed like the whole town came by the shop to greet her. She was astonished by the warmth and friendliness of people in Cajun country. In Neuwied, she had been scorned and humiliated. In Eunice, people she didn’t know gave her a warm hug and a kiss on the cheek.
Claude Keller, the owner of the Liberty Theater, was particularly thoughtful. He gave Liselotte a roll of tickets, and for a year she went to the movies without paying admission. He was one of the civic leaders who had organized “A Campaign for Humanity” in Eunice only two weeks before Liselotte arrived. The campaign called for donations to assist the “unfortunates” in Europe.
The Eunice newspaper gave wide publicity to the campaign:
The New Era (Eunice), January 20, 1939 – Liberty Theatre To Give Proceeds Of Jan. 26 For Relief, Movie House Co-operating In Drive To Aid Europe’s Oppressed, p. 4
The New Era (Eunice), January 24, 1939 – CAMPAIGN FOR HUMANITY STARTS, p. 1
- The New Era (Eunice), January 24, 1939 – HELP the HELPLESS, A CAMPAIGN for HUMANITY, Do Your Part NOW
- The New Era (Eunice), January 24, 1939 – Editorial, Catholic Cardinal and Grand Wizard
The New Era (Eunice), January 27, 1939 – Editorial, Eunice’s Response To The “Campaign For Humanity”
The New Era (Eunice), January 31, 1939 – $231.05 RAISED IN EUNICE; CAMPAIGN FOR HUMANITY, Mrs. Louis Wright, Chairman, Thanks All Who So Generously Contributed
Aunt Amelia, who a month shy of fifty-eight when Liselotte arrived, was still very much the “directress.” She was demanding and treated Liselotte like one of her nursing students in Warsaw. Having never been married, she had no idea how to handle a teenager, least of all a teenager as traumatized as Liselotte. She told her simply “to live in the present and to forget the past,” as if that was possible.
Fortunately for Liselotte, the one Jewish family in Eunice embraced her wholeheartedly. Louis and Sadie Wright treated her like one of their own six children. They included her in everything, from picnics to Sabbath dinner. Their daughter Sylvia, a senior in high school in 1939, became Liselotte’s best friend. When Sylvia married and moved New Orleans, her sister Sophie took over as Liselotte’s best friend. For the rest of her life, Liselotte would joke that the Wright family had been the “right” family for her.
Liselotte started out as a “sales girl” at La Vogue. Her English improved very quickly, and her quiet, genial manner drew customers to her. She accompanied Aunt Amelia on buying trips to Dallas and St. Louis. Unlike Aunt Amelia, Liselotte had an eye for fashion. She also had a talent for knowing what dress would look on a customer. Aunt Amelia became dependent on Liselotte. When Sadie Wright argued that Liselotte should attend high school, Aunt Amelia refused to allow it. “I need her in the store,” she declared.
Liselotte turned eighteen in July. She often visited Aunt Carrie in Meridian, and her relationship with Bill Lerner developed along romantic lines. In a letter to a friend, she described going to a “great party” that summer and thought it “the best day of my life.”
Mutti and Margot in Judenhaus
Mutti and Margot, in contrast, led quite a different life. They were forced out of Engersstrasse 12 and lived in a single room in the building next door. This was a Judenhaus (Jew House) where mostly older Jews, evicted from their homes, lived in miserable conditions. Mutti and Margot spent their days waiting on their quota numbers to be called. Their only joy was a letter from Leo or Liselotte. When those letters began to arrive less frequently, Mutti and Margot felt neglected. They directed their ire at Liselotte. She did not “show an understanding for our fate,” Mutti wrote pointedly. Was she enjoying her new life in America too much? And at their expense? Margot’s hurt feelings turned to anger. “I’m very upset with you Lotte,” she wrote, using Liselotte’s pet name. “You don’t think of me at all.”
Liselotte was stunned by the criticism and apologized profusely. “We were happy about your letter,” Mutti replied, because she sensed “for the first time” that Liselotte was concerned with their troubles. “I almost doubted this most of the time.”
The Voyage of the St. Louis
Liselotte read the New Orleans newspaper The Times-Picayune. On its page she followed the course of events in Europe. In June 1939, the newspaper published eight articles on the tortured voyage of the St. Louis. The ocean liner from Hamburg, with 930 Jewish passengers, was denied landing rights in Havana, Cuba, and sailed along the coast of Florida (“Off Miami Light”) before it was forced to return to Europe.
For synopsis, click on The Voyage of the St. Louis, May-June 1939
The Times-Picayune, June 2, 1939 – CUBA ORDERS NAZI VESSEL OUT WITH JEWISH REFUGEES, Marines Stand by; Cruiser Told to Tow Ship to Sea; Start Delayed, (AP) p. 6
The Times-Picayune, June 3, 1939 – SHIP SAILS FROM HAVANA WITH 907 JEWISH REFUGEES, Germany-Bound Passengers, to Prevent Mass Suicides, Told They May be Landed in New York, (AP) p. 1
The Times-Picayune, June 4, 1939 – JEWISH REFUGEES MAY BE ALLOWED TO LAND IN CUBA, Havana Considers Plan to Permit Three-Month Stay, (AP), p. 1
- The Times-Picayune, June 4, 1939 – JEWISH REFUGEES, 4
The Times-Picayune, June 5, 1939 – JEWISH REFUGEE VESSEL ANCHORS OFF MIAMI LIGHT, Watched by Coast Guard, Later Leaves, Headed Toward Cuba, (AP) p. 1
- The Times-Picayune, June 5, 1939 – Refugees Turned Back at Cuba…But Children Find Haven Here, (AP) p. 1
The Times-Picayune, June 6, 1939 – JEWISH REFUGEES ALLOWED TO LAND ON ISLE OF PINES, Cuba Insists on Concentration Camp for Temporary Stay, (AP) p. 1
The Times-Picayune, June 7, 1939 – SHIP BEARING 907 REFUGEES TURNS BACK TO EUROPE, Starts Return Trip After Cuba Again Refuses to Permit Entry, (AP) p. 2
The Times-Picayune, June 8, 1939 – APPEAL TO CUBA TO LET REFUGEES LAND SENT AGAIN, $500 Bond Offered for Each of 907 Jews on Liner, (AP) p. 6
The Times-Picayune, July 3, 1939 – BRITISH MARINES SPEED TO BATTLE AGAINST RIOTERS, Martial Law Believed Imminent in Haifa Area of Palestine, (AP) p. 2
Victory in Poland, Victory in France
Hitler attacked and overwhelmed Poland, with Stalin’s participation, in September 1939. England and France, reluctantly honoring their obligation to Poland, declared war on Germany and established a blockade.
The outbreak of war impacted Mutti and Margot in a big way. Sailing from a German port to the United States was no longer possible. After Hitler conquered the Low Countries and France in the spring and early summer of 1940, Lisbon became the only port of embarkation for refugees. But travelling from Germany to Lisbon, by flying or taking a train across occupied France and fascist Spain, was complicated and very expensive. In addition, with German U-boats prowling the Atlantic, passage to the United States became dangerous and the cost of an ocean liner ticket increased substantially.
Leo’s in Winnsboro
By this time Leo was very unhappy in Winnsboro. He now worked in the ‘five and dime’ store at night. He didn’t have time to do his homework. He awoke early in morning to do his homework but was too tired to concentrate. And then Uncle Julian took Leo out of school so he could work full-time in the store. Leo did not complain. There was too much was at stake: namely, Mutti and Margot. If they were to make it to America, Uncle Julian would be called on to purchase one or both tickets on the ocean liner.
Only with Liselotte did Leo share his bitterness. He said Uncle Julian was “the old con man,” Leole “the old witch,” and they both “worshiped money.” They treated him unfairly because he was “the immigrant” and not owed anything. He owed them.
In early 1941, Mutti and Margot learned that the consulate would soon call their quota numbers. It was now imperative for the American relatives to mail the sponsorship applications and the affidavits of support (which had to renewed) to the consulate in Stuttgart. In addition, they had to purchase two tickets on the ocean liner that would bring Mutti and Margot to America. The consulate demanded proof of purchase before it would issue the visas.
Mutti informed Liselotte and Leo that the cost of the tickets for herself and Margot was $800. This amount was almost four times the cost of the tickets in 1939, when the children had come to the United States. Mutti was worried that the American relatives would balk at spending so much money. Her worries were justified.
It was Leo’s unpleasant task to tell Uncle Julian how much the tickets would cost. He reacted angrily That amount of money was “entirely too much” to spend. He refused to help, telling Aunt Amelia he was “sorry for the Mother child” but “we have done more than our part already…”
Aunt Amelia didn’t know what to do. She didn’t have that kind of money. Her every penny was invested in La Vogue. Not knowing what to do, she did nothing. When Liselotte tried to discuss the issue, she turned away.
It did not help that Aunt Amelia and Liselotte were in the midst of an angry dispute about Bill Lerner, Liselotte’s “admirer” in Meridian. He had asked Liselotte to marry him, and she had apparently agreed. But Aunt Amelia refused to give her permission. She insisted that Liselotte, who was almost twenty, was too young to get married. There may have been another reason: Aunt Amelia’s apprehension over losing an invaluable (and inexpensive) employee at La Vogue. Liselotte said that Aunt Amelia “was very selfish when it came to me,” and “jealous of me – the idea of losing me.”
Liselotte had to tell Mutti that the American relatives would not help. It was too expensive.
Invasion of Russia
March 22, 1942: ‘Resettlement’ in the ‘East’
On March 22, 1942, the first contingent of Jews in Neuwied, including Mutti and Margot, was loaded on a train and deported to a ghetto in the Polish town of Izbica, near the Belzec death camp.
Another transport of Jews departed the Rhineland for the Izbica ghetto a month later. On this transport were Ferdinand’s sister Lina, her husband Isidor, and the three children Manfred (seventeen), Willi (thirteen), and Jessica (eleven).
Did Mutti and Margot survive long enough in the ghetto to be reunited with their relatives? Or had they already been gassed at Belzec?
That summer the State Department received a cable from the American consulate in Bern, Switzerland. The cable provided information (based on Riegner’s telegram) that Hitler had ordered “all Jews” deported and concentrated “in the east be exterminated at one blow to resolve once for all the Jewish question.” The State Department suppressed this information, arguing that it was unconfirmed. To stifle further publicity about the Jewish catastrophe, the consulate in Bern was instructed (Cable 354) to desist from sending “private messages” to Washington.
But it was no longer possible to suppress “the terrible secret.” On November 24, 1942, Sumner Welles informed Rabbi Stephen Wise and his son: “Gentleman, I hold in my hands documents that have come to me from our legation in Berne. I regret to tell you, Dr. Wise, these confirm and justify your deepest fears.”
Dr. Wise held a press conference that night. Two days later an article on page two in The Times Picayune confirmed Liselotte’s worst fears:
The Times-Picayune, November 26, 1942 – GERMANS KILLING 5,000,000 JEWS IN EUROPE, IS CLAIM, Dr. Wise Orders Mourning Period December 13 Over Slaughter, (AP) p. 2
For synopsis, click on State Department Confirms the Holocaust, November 24, 1942
On December 17, 1942, the United Nations announced a Declaration on War Crimes, pledging to bring to justice those involved in the murder of the Jewish people. The next day an article on the U. N. Declaration was published in The Times-Picayune. Liselotte would have found it on page fourteen:
The Times-Picayune, December 18, 1942 – ALLIES TO PUNISH SLAYERS OF JEWS AT END OF WAR, Practical Steps Being Taken to Catalogue Guilty, Says Hull, (AP) p. 14
For synopsis, click on United Nations Declaration on War Crimes, December 17, 1942
On June 22, 1941, Hitler unleashed his armies against Russia, beginning the systematic murder of the Jews.
Three months later, the Jews in Germany were ordered to wear the Star of David patch, “equivalent in size to the palm of the hand.” The next step was physical destruction. As historian Raul Hilberg wrote, “The Nazis did not discard the past, they built upon it. They did not begin a development, they completed.”
The mass deportation of the German Jews to “the east,” under the guise of “resettlement” for “work,” began on October 15, 1941. Two weeks later, Ferdinand’s sister Rosa Gans and her husband Max, who lived in Elberfeld, were transported to the Lodz ghetto in occupied Poland. Here they were reunited with their daughter Hedwig and her family. All of them would perish in the ghetto or in gas vans at the Chelmno death camp.
Mutti expected that Jews in Neuwied be deported next. Shei wrote the children, “We are very much worried and in distress.” This news finally stirred Aunt Amelia. She rushed to the Cuban consulate in New Orleans hoping to obtain transit certificates for Mutti and Margot. She expressed a willing to take out a loan to pay for the transit certificates and the cost of boat tickets from Lisbon to Havana. But it was too late. The Germans halted emigration from the Reich in mid-October. With no place to run, Mutti and Margot awaited their fate.
On December 11, 1941, four days after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Hitler declared war on the United States. Liselotte’s last letter to Mutti and Margot, mailed on December 4th, was returned.
For synopsis, click on War with Germany, December 1941
Leo Goes Off to War
In late 1942, Leo ran away from Winnsboro and joined the army. Uncle Julian was furious. Who would run his store? He accused Leo of being ungrateful.
Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and the Bermuda Conference
On April 19, 1943, the last fighters in the Warsaw ghetto rose up in revolt against the SS murderers and their retinue of collaborators. That same day, American and British delegates met on Bermuda to discuss the refugee crisis (and stave off pressure to do something) After nine days, the delegates managed “to agree on a number of concrete recommendations” that “will lead to the relief of a substantial number of refugees of all races and nationals.” Jews were not mentioned.
For synopsis, click on Bermuda Conference on Refugees, April 1943.
Liselotte followed the deliberations in The Times-Picayune, which published six articles on the conference:
The Times-Picayune, March 3, 1943 – HAVEN IS ASKED FOR NAZI VICTIMS, American Groups Join in Sanctuary Plea, (AP) p. 11
The Times-Picayune, April 18, 1943 – TO SEEK REFUGE FOR PERSECUTED, U. S. Delegates at Bermuda Set Out Policy, (AP) p. 22
- The Times-Picayune, April 18, 1943 – PASSOVER RITES TO BE OBSERVED, Jews to Mark Delivery from Egyptian Slavery, p. 20
The Times-Picayune, April 19, 1943 – BRITON STRESSES AID FOR REFUGEES, Law Denies England Seeks to Bargain at Parley, (AP) p. 1
- The Times-Picayune, April 19, 1943 – AID FOR REFUGEES, p. 2
- The Times-Picayune, April 19, 1943 – HITLER BIRTHDAY TO BE DIFFERENT, Americans Will Celebrate by Buying Bonds, (AP) p. 3
- The Times-Picayune, April 19, 1943 – PLAN TO RESCUE JEWS IS OFFERED, Program Submitted for Bermuda Meeting, (AP) p. 3
- The Times-Picayune, April 19, 1943 – HITLER, HORTHY END CONFERENCE, Nazis Believed Raising Military demands on Ally, (AP) p. 4
The Times-Picayune, April 26, 1943 – Murder of Jews in Europe Bared, (AP) p. 1
The Times-Picayune, April 28, 1943 – DELEGATES DEFER REFUGEE PROBLEM, Failure to Agree on Relocation Surmised, (AP) p. 13
Six months after the Bermuda Conference, Himmler addressed a group of SS officers in Posen, Germany: “We have the moral right, we had the duty to our people to do it, to kill this people who wanted to kill us. But we do not have the right to enrich ourselves, with even one fur, with on Mark, with one cigarette, with one watch, with anything.”
On November 1, 1943, representatives of the three major Allied nations, having met in Moscow, signed the Moscow Declarations, which included The Declaration on German Atrocities. It stated (once again) that Germans guilty of war crimes would be punished. A list of Nazi victims included Italian army officers and “Cretan peasants” (peasants on the island of Crete) but not the Jews.
For synopsis, click on Declaration of German Atrocities
The Times-Picayune published an editorial, two political satire cartoons, and several articles on the Moscow Conference, including one with the headline “JEWS NEGLECTED.”
The Times-Picayune, November 1, 1943 - Cartoon, We Await a Boom from the Second Moscow Cannon, p. 6
The Times-Picayune, November 2, 1943 – Allies Pledge Unity in War, Peace; Capital Hails Pact, Rival Senate Groups Both for Conference Ideas, (AP) p. 1
- The Times-Picayune, November 2, 1943 – LONDON ACCLAIMS VOWS OF NATIONS, Complicated Problems Are Cause for Speculation, (AP) p. 2
- The Times-Picayune, November 2, 1943 – Texts of Four Declarations Signed at Moscow Parley, Unity, Punishment of War Criminals Stressed, (AP) p. 3
- The Times-Picayune, November 2, 1943 – Lists will be compiled, p. 3
- The Times-Picayune, November 2, 1943 – Thus Germans who take part, p. 3
- The Times-Picayune, November 2, 1943 – HULL, EDEN LAUD PARLEY RESULTS, Expectations Exceeded, Say U. S. British Envoys,” (AP) p. 3
- The Times-Picayune, November 2, 1943 – AUSTRIA BREAK MAY BE NEARING, Moscow Declaration Reference Is Noted, (AP) p. 3
- The Times-Picayune, November 2, 1943 – Editorial, THE MOSCOW DECLARATIONS, 8
- The Times-Picayune, November 2, 1943 – Cartoon, Block-Buster on the Political Front! 8
- The Times-Picayune, November 2, 1943 – JEWS NEGLECTED, SAYS HENDERSON, Former OPA Chief Charges Allies With Cowardice, (AP) p. 6
In the same month as the Moscow Conference, Leo received his American citizenship. At the time he was an army soldier stationed in Oran, Algeria.
On January 3, 1944, Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau released his searing report on “the acquiescence of this government in the murder of the Jews.” He accused “certain officials” in the State Department of “not only of gross procrastination and willful failure to act, but even of willful attempts to prevent action from being taken to rescue Jews from Hitler.” The U. S. government “will have to share for all time responsibility for this extermination.”
No wonder Goebbels had written in his diary, “At bottom, however, I believe both the English and the Americans are happy that we are exterminating the Jewish riffraff.”’
Between May 15th and July 8, 1944, the nearly 400,000 Jews of Hungary were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau. The transports of human cargo took precedence over military traffic.
For synopsis, click on Destruction of Hungarian Jews
On July 4, 1944, a detailed article on the destruction of the Hungarian Jews in the gas chambers at “Auschwitz and Birkenau” was published in The Times-Picayune. It was on page two.
The Times-Picayune, July 4, 1944 – 1,715,000 JEWS DIE IN NAZI GASSING, Two-Year Murder Record at Camps Given, (AP) p. 2
That same day (July 4, 1944), John McCloy, Assistant-Secretary of the War Department rejected a request to bomb the railroad tracks leading from Hungary to Auschwitz. The effort would be “impracticable” and of “doubtful efficacy.” Relevant here is historian David Wyman’s assessment: “To kill the Jews, the Nazis were willing to weaken their capacity to fight the war. The United States and its allies, however, were willing to attempt almost nothing to save them.”
On July 8, 1944, an editorial in The Times-Picayune addressed the tragedy in Hungary:
The Times-Picayune, July 8, 1944 – Editorial, “Horror in Hungary,” p. 4
In August of 1944, Leo landed with the 7th Army in the south of France. The Americans pursued the Germans up the Rhone Valley, reaching the Vosges Mountains in mid-September.
There was intense fighting in the Saar region that winter. Leo did not emerge intact. He wrote to Liselotte and Aunt Amelia that the war “has made a nervous wreck out of many a guy and it certainly has not helped mine.”
On March 15, 1945, the 7th Army crossed the Rhine River into southern Germany and captured Munich and Nuremberg. The Germans surrendered to the Americans at Reims, France, on May 8, 1945, and to the Russians in Berlin the next day.
For synopsis, click on Unconditional Surrender, May 1945
Leo had gone a full circle, and Liselotte followed his journey in The Times-Picayune:
The Times-Picayune, April 30, 1945 – 7th ARMY CAPTURES MUNICH; VENICE, MILAN, GENOA FALL, March Into Nazi Shrine Almost Unopposed, (AP) p. 1
- The Times-Picayune, April 30, 1945 – VENICE, MILAN AND GENOA FALL, 2
- The Times-Picayune, April 30, 1945 – MUNICH ENTERED, p. 2
The Times-Picayune, May 1, 1945 – GERMAN SS WOMEN BURY THEIR VICTIMS AT BELSEN under guard of armed British Tommies. The bodies of hundreds of former prisoners at the concentration camp who were killed by prolonged and brutal mass mistreatment and neglect were buried in a common grave, (photograph) p. 3
The Times-Picayune, May 2, 1945 – ADOLF HITLER DEAD, NAZIS CLAIM, Admiral Doenitz Declared Successor; Reds Team Report ‘Fascist Trick,’ (AP) p. 1
- The Times-Picayune, May 2, 1945 – AVER HITLER DEAD, 3
The Times-Picayune, May 9, 1945 – RUSSIA PROCLAIM TO WORLD BEATEN GERMANY’S UNCONDITIONAL SURRENDER, Final Capitulation Signed in Ruined Berlin; Cities of Europe are Silent, (AP) p. 1
- The Times-Picayune, May 9, 1945 – Nicholson Urges Reich Division, 2
For several months after the surrender, Leo was stationed in Frankfurt, Germany. He encountered many Germans who insisted they had never been Nazis. He didn’t believe a word of it: “There is too many of that kind and I know better.”
Leo heard that Mutti and Margot had survived the war and returned to Neuwied. He was convinced this was true and shared the good news with Aunt Amelia and Liselotte. Their hopes soared as they awaited Leo’s next report. He caught a ride to Neuwied only to discover that Mutti and Margot had not survived after all.
Leo was heart-broken. He sent a telegram to Eunice. This was how Liselotte and Aunt Amelia learned the bitter truth. They never discussed it.
Of Liselotte’s relatives still in Germany when the war began, only her cousins Linny Gans and Hanna Levy survived. Linny was married to a German. As a result, her deportation to the “east” did not come until late in the war. She escaped from the transport and found shelter in the countryside with a German woman. Hanna, who was a year older than Margot, survived Auschwitz. She went to Palestine, which became the state of Israel in May 1948.
When Leo returned to the United States, he went straight to Eunice and visited Liselotte. They did not talk about their murdered loved ones. The subject was too raw, too painful. That conversation would come forty years later.
Leo attended Boston University on the GI Bill. He graduated and went to work as a psychiatric counselor at the State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, at Bridgewater, Massachusetts. He concentrated on the pain of others in order to avoid concentrating on his own pain. As one inmate wrote him, “Thanks for forbearance and genuine feeling – though it’s with screw balls and misfits that often you’re dealing.”
Marriage to Leo Weil
Aunt Amelia adopted Liselotte in 1953. That same year they moved into a house on Walnut Street in Eunice.
Liselotte married Leo Weil, a fellow German refugee, on June 1, 1959. Born in Steinsfurt (near Heidelberg), he immigrated to the United States in 1936. His uncle and aunt Sam and Verline Weil of Port Gibson, Mississippi, sponsored him and some thirty other relatives. Thirteen members of Leo’s family remained in Germany and did not survive the war. They did not talk about the war. Each kept their sorrows inside themselves.
The married couple lived with Aunt Amelia on Walnut Street. Liselotte quipped that it was “three characters” under one roof. Her years with Leo Weil were the happiest of her life.
Death of Aunt Amelia
Liselotte took care of Aunt Amelia in her long twilight. When she died on January 1, 1966, Liselotte, loyal to the end, was at her side.
Aunt Amelia was buried at Beth Israel Cemetery in Meridian, next to her brother Ike whose “deathbed wish” in 1937 had made it possible for Liselotte and her brother Leo to escape Germany.
Leo Weil retired from his job as a traveling salesman in 1970. He and Liselotte returned to Germany the following year. Their first stop was in Neuwied. No trace of the synagogue remained. Liselotte wrote her employees at La Vogue that the memory of the synagogue remained in her heart because “nobody can burn memories.”
Liselotte and Leo returned to Neuwied in 1981. The Israeli-German Friendship Association honored her in a ceremony at the city hall. The building at Engersstrasse 12, where her family had lived for three generations, had been replaced by a nondescript building. Liselotte wrote the “dear folks” at La Vogue that “there is absolutely nothing left and there’s really no point to return.”
A child of the diaspora, Liselotte had always wanted to visit Israel. Her opportunity came in 1973. She was overwhelmed by emotion and pride. “What they’ve done here in this country with all the difficulties – it’s really sheer guts,” she wrote.
After a long illness, Leo Weil died on February 6, 1983. He was buried under the oaks at the old Jewish cemetery in Lafayette, Louisiana.
Liselotte’s brother Leo retired to Rockland, Maine, in 1984. He began to write poetry and “electrified” audiences with his recitations. Surrounded by natural beauty and devoted friends, he found moments of happiness for the first time since November 10, 1938.
Liselotte moved to New Orleans in 1986, and quickly made a new set of devoted friends.
She visited Leo during the summers. They were finally able to unlock the door to the past and, as Liselotte said, “talk about things. Evolved, you know.”
Leo died of a brain hemorrhage on August 17, 1998 (one day after Margot’s birthday). He was seventy-four. His ashes were sprinkled across Penobscot Bay, as he requested. In November of that year, on the 60th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the Israeli-German Friendship Society unveiled a plaque in honor of Ferdinand Levy at Engersstrasse 12. It was soon defiled by human spit that has proved impossible to remove.
Liselotte died on October 11, 2013. She was buried next to her husband in Cajun country, whose people had so graciously welcomed her in 1939.