Anita Hoffer

by Anita Hoffer

I was born in Berlin Germany on June 3, 1933. When I was 3 years old my parents divorced, which was rather unusual in those days.

Mother and I went to live with her parents and my father returned to his parents home.

The divorce did not affect me too much, since my whole family treated me as if I was special. They heaped love and affection on me and if I did not get enough from my family I had a full time nanny, who was loving and caring.

Anita Hoffer

My family tried to protect me from knowing anything about the terrible things that were happening around us. However, with my weekly visits to my father and his family, which included young cousins, kept me abreast of what was going on. My cousins were always upset. They had to leave their schools because they were Jews and suddenly their best friends didn’t speak to them. They also told me about Kristallnacht and how all the Jewish businesses had been either closed or almost out of business, since they lost their non-Jewish employees and customers. Some of their friends, parents, and even some children had suddenly disappeared and they had seen Jews being taken away by the Gestapo.

My nanny had already left, leaving my mother and I in tears, she had been a friend to both to us. My cousins were afraid for all of us. They knew our lives would never be the same carefree lives we had led. We did not know some of us would not survive and we would all be separated shortly.

June 1939 changed my life completely.

I was attending a Jewish day school. I took the trolley home each day and Oma took me and picked me up from the trolley stop.

One day, when we arrived at our building we waited for the elevator with a group of our neighbors. As soon as the doors of the elevator closed I looked up at Oma and asked “Oma, why do you hate Mr. Hitler?”

The elevator became very still as Oma answered she did not hate Mr. Hitler. If anyone on the elevator reported this comment to the authorities my whole family would have been killed.

We arrived at our floor and Oma grabbed my hand as soon as the door opened and dragged me to out apartment. She slammed the door and yelled for Opa, who came running. He took one look at Oma and threw me into my room, again slamming the door.

I had always been treated so softly. I knew I must have done something terrible, but had no idea what it was.

I listened at the door trying to find out what my misdeed had been. I heard my Oma repeating over and over again “ we have to get rid of her, or we will all be killed.”

I started to cry… they wanted to get rid of me! I finally fell asleep, exhausted. When I awoke Oma and my mother were there and I immediately told them that I would never repeat my terrible offense… but please don’t send me away.

Anita tells Jeff Williams her story

They said I must have misheard they would never do that and they hugged and kissed me. They did say I was never, ever allowed to speak among strangers, again. I would not be going to school anymore. All my questions went unanswered.

The next few weeks I enjoyed being the center of attention of my family. They took me to all the favorite places where we still were allowed to go and we visited all the relatives, where I was always the center of attention.

On June 23, 1939 my mother woke me up and told me to get dressed. I protested because it was so early in the morning. Mommy said just go to the bathroom she had packed my suitcase I ordinarily used to visit my father. I said it wasn’t the weekend, why was I visiting today? My mother didn’t answer, just rushed me into the kitchen. Oma and Opa were there… I was the only one who ate breakfast. Finally Oma said “Du must yets gehen.” I asked where we were going, but received no answer.

The next thing I remembered was arriving at a train station with my mother. There were a lot of unhappy looking people there, many children. The train arrives and we get on. (Later I found out my mother was not really allowed to take me onto the train)

I sat down and as I got comfortable, I turned around and my mother had disappeared! Here I was on a train to I knew not where, with a car full of strangers. Where was I going? Who was going to take care of me? I was six years old, had never been anywhere alone. I began to cry, apparently loud enough that a women came running and dragged me down the train. She pushed me into a car. No-one was in it…it must have been a kitchen, I remember chrome counters with pots hanging from the ceiling. She said stay here and she left. I began to cry again…until I finally got so angry I climbed on the counter and banged on the pots. No-one came. I fell asleep.

The jolt of the train stopping me woke me up. The woman returned carrying my suitcase.

She grabbed my hand and led me off the train. We got off the train. I looked around and she was gone. I was surrounded by other children and some friendly looking women offering hot chocolate, cookies and sympathy. Was told we were at the Hook of Holland and the children said we were going to England. They said we would be safe in England. I had no idea what England was?

We were put onto a ferry that took us to Dover, England. From Dover we were taken to Victoria train station. There we were put into separate groups, I assume designated by the sign that had somehow appeared around my neck.

After we had sat on the floor awhile, most of us just sat quietly, not speaking. I was in such a daze at that point I never said a word. Suddenly, a woman looked at my sign and pointed for me to follow her. When I got up to do just that I asked her if she knew my mother and father and where we were going? She did not even look at me.

We arrived at her apartment. She had not spoken one word to me during our journey. When we met the man and two teenagers in her apartment I assumed they were her, they all just looked at me not directing a word to me. I finally figured out they did not speak German nor English. They were Russians and all our communications were hand signals.

I had a corner in the girl’s bedroom; a cot and a little bureau. I lay on the cot and cried. In retrospect I can understand that the girls didn’t want me anymore than I wanted to be there.

I heard children playing on the street, so I went down to see if I could play with them. There I was in London. I was the enemy. The children found out quickly that I was a hated German! Not only would they not play with me they beat me up. The Germans were going to bomb their homes and I was one of them.

Anita's Kindergarten report card - click to enlarge

The Rosinsky family (the Russians) fed me and registered me in the school. They never mistreated me they just ignored me. I started school and quickly learned English. I never made any friends in that school, but I caught on quickly and received a very good report at the end of the semester. I still have it.

I lived with Rosinsky for about 5 months when my mother arrived. I was ambivalent when I saw her. On one hand I was overwhelmed with joy but on the other I had not gotten over her sending me away.

She had come to the UK thru a work visa. She was to be a maid at the home of a British family that would allow me to live with her.

As soon as I saw her I asked her where my father, my grandparents and my cousins were. She said I would see them soon. It took me 45 years to see my father and cousins and some of the family I never saw again.

My mother was fired one week into the job. She now had to return to London to find work but was unable to take me because all children had been evacuated from London. The British were girding for imminent German attack. My mother put me in an orphanage and went on to London.

I remained in the orphanage a short time. I met my first boyfriend there. He was 7 and wanted to teach me the “facts of life.” A volunteer at the agency, Ms. A.D. Scott, approached me one day, a few months after arriving at the orphanage and asked whether I would like to live with her. I said “yes.”

I lived with M. Scott for 1 ½ years. She was a member of the Church of England. She never pushed me to go to church; sometimes I went just to be with my friends. My best friend, Ethel, and I went just about everywhere together.

I never spoke or saw my mother during the 1 ½ years. Because the phones hardly worked in wartime England, and as an “enemy alien” she could not visit; but I did receive letters from her. Ms Scott made me answer them.

I’ll just quickly summarize the rest:

Mother came in 1941 and said we are going to USA. I refused to go but at 8 years old I had no choice.

Arrived in N.Y. Mother gave me to her parents to raise in Vineland, N.J. She went to N.Y. to make a living I stayed with Oma and Opa till I graduated Vineland High.

Went to N.Y. Couldn’t afford college started a 2 year school, worked at Bloomingdales at night and Saturdays.

Quit school after one year. Went full time to Bloomingdales…had decided I would not allow Hitler to ruin my life and I would make a success of it.

I spent 26 years with Bloomingdales. I worked myself up from salesgirl to merchandise manager.

Got married at 34 and have a great husband, two wonderful children and grandchildren.

Went back to school, hope to graduate one day from FAU.

In 1974 was reunited with my father and cousins.

Both comments and pings are currently closed.