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.

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Ruth and Hilda Simon: Last letter from Mom and Sister

This is the very last correspondence from Ruth Heinemann (Simon)’s mother Selma, and sister Ilse. If you haven’t read the story of Ruth Heinemann yet, click on her story and read it first before you read any further.The original letter was in German, the following has been translated by Ruth.

The original letter sent to Ruth and Hilde from their Mom and sister Ilse. Click on picture to enlarge.

Dear Children,

It was a joy to receive greetings from you through a friend! We are here together with all our relatives and always look forward to receive news from you. We also received news from Edith that she is attending a Bar Mitzvah on May 2nd. Dear Hilde, you will celebrate your 17th birthday! Our good wishes are always with you both. Stay well and don’t worry about us. Our dear God will watch over us always. Be strong and work efficiently. You are in touch with Hermans Betty’s Mother-in Law. Do you get together with young people your age? We have not heard from your grandmother. Be well and happy! With Love and best regards.

Your parents

(Ilse’s writing)

My Dear Sisters,

At house and thanks for your writings too! Send us a little picture of yourselves. I am as tall as mother! Best wishes to the birthday Hilde! How many years are you in training? Greetings. Kisses!!

Love, Ilsa

Front row: Ruth Simon, Hilda Simon, Ilse Simon; The father is in the center and mother, Selma, is on the far right

From this picture, only Ruth and Hilda would survive the war.

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Ruth Heiniman

by Ruth Heiniman

I was born the second oldest daughter. Edith, the oldest, Hilde, 15 months younger than I and Ilse, three years younger. The daughters of Karl and Selma Simon in Cloppenburg, Germany, about 150 miles miles Northwest from the Dutch border. We had among the nine Jewish families our own synagogue and cemetery.

Ruth and Hilde Simon

In 1936 it was no longer permitted for Jewish students to attend local schools. That meant that the nearest Jewish school was a two-hour commute. Meanwhile my mother’s sister obtained affidavits for each one of her oldest siblings to immigrate to America and a family portrait was taken.

November 10, 1938

Due to my sister Hilde recuperating from surgery I took the train myself to class. As I approached the school adjacent to the synagogue, I noticed they were both in flames.

What to do?

I rang the doorbell of the nearby rabbi’s residence and was told they were all gone. I was told to go home and “hope you find your family”. On the train home the Gestapo were celebrating their accomplishment.

At home all was dark. The house was plastered with swastikas. My sisters were in tears as was my mother as they told me our father was taken away. The next day my mother got word that my dad might have been left behind in a hospital and I was sent to check the hospitals in the area… to no avail.

When my mother got word she could send two of her children to England in a transport, Hilde and I, the two middle girls, were the ones to leave with one thousand children in early December. Later that month my father was released. Meanwhile in England we had a rough crossing and arrived in Harwich, a holding camp for summer campers.

As many Jewish and English came forward to offer their homes, Hilde and I chose to go with a Jewish group of congregants offering twenty-five girls to care for in a hostel in Harrogate Yorkshire for religious girls. We were fortunate with the care and education we received, and later even learned a trade to help support the younger girls.

Death Certificate of Ruth's family - Click on picture to enlarge ca. 1950

In May 1939, my parents boarded the fateful trip on the St. Louis to Cuba only to be turned away. Coasting around the Caribbean and south Florida, the ship was turned away back to Europe. England, Belgium, France and Holland offered refuge to more than nine hundred passengers. My parents went to Holland. When Hitler invaded they were sent to Westerbork, and in May of 1943, succumbed in the Sobibor Concentration Camp. We learned this after the war!

Meanwhile my sister Edith had left Holland for America. We arrived in the USA in January, 1945.

Recent Visit

Ruth and Hilde at Cloppenburg cemetary - October, 2007

A while back, a cousin’s daughter who had, with her siblings, escorted their late father back to his hometown offered to escort Hilde and I. We were receptive. My daughter Susan and Hilde’s daughter Sharon set out in early October for Amsterdam. We rented a van. After seeing the Anne Frank house we took the three hour trip to Coppenburg. This was the first time I had been back in sixty-nine years.

We met the following morning at the well cared for Cloppenburg Jewish Cemetary. We recognized the names of those that were buried – all prior to 1938. Our house was unrecognizable because it had been

rebuilt. The first floor remains of the old synagogue but it is now used as a morgue by the hospital who takes care of the cemetery in return.

The first morning Hilde surprised me me telling me she had sought permission to set a memorial for our late parents and sister Ilse. As we set out for City Hall we saw a sign posted for a speaker that afternoon from Israel, a Holocaust survivor. We attended the program sponsored by Jewish-Christian education. It was well attended by the public and the press. When we introduced ourselves guests came forward to welcome us and the press requested an interview from us.

Memorial for Karl, Selma and Ilse Simon - Cloppenburg, Germany

As a result of the newspaper interview, former classmates and families visited with us and brought pictures albums of our earlier years. In an interview in German I was told that I was the first survivor returning as a witness of the burning synagogue.

On Friday night we attended services in a synagogue in Osnabruk that was built after the war. It was a Orthodox synagogue with many Russian congregants. The President was the son of a survivor. It was very moving to attend services the first time I was back in Germany and to be praying with families for a better future for all.

On the Shabbat before we set out for our return home we dedicated the memorial stone in a  setting with good local attendance. We set it at the foot of a 150 year old oak tree. As we recited the Kaddish, I noted to those in attendance – the press and many local people – that I was reading from the German-Hebrew prayer book book that belonged to my late mother and that was found among my late sister Edith’s belongings. She had taken this prayer book from Germany to America, and we were fortunate to be able to have brought it back to Germany for this occasion.

In March, 2008 I visited Israel with a delegation from Temple Beth Kodesh from Boynton Beach, Florida under the leadership of Rabbi Michael Simon, and deposited, at Yad Vashem Jerusalem in their archives, that above mentioned prayer book!

Anita Payson: Firmness and Valor

by Anita Frank Payson

I have already lived longer than either of my parents, but my admiration for them continues to grow with every passing year. When new friends learn that I was saved by Kindertransport, they usually say: “Oh, you must have been so brave.” I answer “Not I, but I accept the compliment for my parents.” I say that because I realize that they are the true heroes; they fit the dictionary definition of courage: that quality of mind which enables one to meet danger and difficulties with firmness and valor.

I was born in August 1926 in Berlin into an assimilated German-Jewish family of middle class means. My father had served in the army during World War One and owned a clothing business. My mother, like all her friends, stayed home and looked after the household and me. By 1938, life in Germany had become difficult for Jewish people, but they hoped that things would improve. Wen I was no longer permitted to go to the public school, my parents enrolled me at the private Jewish Theodor Herzl school. There I made friends, went ice skating, played with my dolls and enjoyed being the center of my parent’s love.

I had my own room, filled with books and toys and a desk covered with pictures of Shirley Temple. Many a evening my father would come into my room when he thought I was asleep and leave a marzipan candy on my night table which I devoured as soon as he closed the door. I liked to read in bed and after my mother put my light out, I took the battery operated lights from my doll house and read under the covers.

Then came Kristallnacht.

My school was among the Jewish institutions to be destroyed, and now the German Jews were frantic to leave. But visas were very scarce. My parents heard about a British effort to rescue Jewish children under the age of seventeen. They investigated and resolved to have me join the Kindertransport. I have tried to remember, but I cannot recall if there were any discussions with me concerning this decision.

Valor and firmness! My parents had the courage to send me, their only child, twelve years old, to another country, not knowing if they would ever see me again. I left on a  cold and cloudy day in January, 1939; the weather was in tune with the heavy hearts of the people on the train station. We met some of the other parents and children, many, like me, were crying. I was dressed in a blue ski suit and held onto the small suitcase and my favorite doll. That was all I was allowed to bring. I saw babies held in the arms of older siblings and then the train pulled in. My parents kissed me and handed me to one of the counselors who were accompanying the children. Moments later I was looking out the window at all the white handkerchiefs waving goodbye.

I have no clear recollection of the voyage from Berlin to the coast of France, from there unto a ship that landed in Southhampton. Kind women, strangers to me, took me in hand for the next par tof my voyage, to Scotland. How very fortunate I was to be taken to the home of a wonderful family in Glasgow. They had volunteered to care for me as long as it was needed.

I felt secure and loved in my Scottish home. Returning to school, I learned English in just a few weeks and although I missed my parents, I was a happy child. I remained in Glasgow for two years. My parents had been able to leave before the Nazis closed all exits and we had a joyful reunion. Ten thousand children were saved through the Kindertransports, however only nine hundred were as fortunate as I and were reunited with their parents; the rest, never saw their parents again.

As I have reared my own children, been blessed with grandchildren and now great-grandchildren, I have wondered if I could have done what my parents did for me. I can’t imagine the pain they must have suffered as that train left the station in Berlin. Valor and firmness. My parents had that and they put my safety first.

They are my heroes.

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