THE HOLOCAUST: WE MUST REMEMBER
30-Hour Series of Interviews broadcast on the Roger Fredinburg Radio Program
11-19-1007 Fourth Program in Series Guest: Dr. Dorit Bader-Whiteman
The Uprooted: A Hitler Legacy: Voices of Those Who Escaped Before “The Final Solution”
ISBN-10: 0738205796 and ISBN-13: 978-0738205793
In this show Roger Fredinburg interviews Dr. Dorit Bader Whiteman about her book “The Uprooted – A Hitler Legacy” This interview includes a first hand account of the night that Austria was annexed by Germany.
Roger: Hello, everyone! I’m Roger Fredinburg, radio’s regular guy! This evening we celebrate Part 4 of our continuing series, The Holocaust: We Must Remember. We want to thank Chey Simonton and Kelleigh Nelson for all their labor and work in helping find the guests, getting the books to me and all the work they’ve done on the internet, the phone calls and the love they’ve put into this project. Thank you very much, ladies!
We’ve talked to Michael Berenbaum and got a wonderful overview of the Holocaust Museum and the things depicted there; we’ve had a couple of weeks talking with James Pool talking about who financed Hitler. The topic when you talk about the Hitler era always focuses on those who went through the camps and the hell of the Holocaust. A quite different approach to the whole subject of the war and the Hitler Legacy is found in a book , “The Uprooted: A Hitler Legacy” written by Dr. Dorit Bader-Whiteman. Dr. Whiteman is an escapee from Hitler. She arrived in with her family in New York via England in 1941. She earned a PhD in clinical psychology from New York University, has a private practice in New York and serves as editorial consultant for the Journal of Psychotherapy, was president of the Nassau Psychological Association and was until recently the Director of the Psychology Department at Flushing Hospital Mental Health Clinic which she started. She has more credentials than that; but, this book, “The Uprooted,” is what we’re going to talk about tonight! Welcome to the program, Dr. Whiteman! Hello!
Dr. Whiteman: Thank you! Hi!
Roger: It’s a pleasure to have you here! You take quite a different route in your historical documentary about what happened during Hitler’s reign.
Dr. Whiteman: Yes. I got interested in the escapees, the people who were able to leave the Nazi-occupied countries before The Final Solution started. That means they were never in death camps. They might have been in concentration camps where some of them could have died of starvation or beatings, etc.; but, they were never in the death camps where there was no hope to get out. That means they left before WW II started or very soon thereafter. They lived during the war years in no greater danger than their fellow citizens. For instance, if they were fortunate enough to come to England, they might have been bombed or had food rationed; but, they were no worse off than their fellow citizens and other English people who lived in Britain.
This is a group that has never really been talked about too much. They themselves haven’t talked about it until recently, and I can tell you why! Because they only lived under Hitler a shorter period of time and because they were able to escape, they felt kind too modest to say, ‘let me tell you about all the horrible things that happened….let me tell you about our tragedies…. let me tell you about the disasters that befell us.” No disaster could be as bad as those who perished in concentration camps and ghettos.
The reason I got interested in them is that I went visit my cousin. I, myself, was able to escape from Vienna. I went to see my cousin who lives in England. His parents, my aunt and uncle, died in concentration camps. His family, his wife and her whole family were also murdered in concentration camps. As I was sitting there talking to him, I said, “You know, we were very lucky that nothing happened to us.” I’d said that all my life, “Nothing happened”. Then I suddenly began to think about the horror we went through under Hitler; all the relatives we lost, the endless years trying to live an ordinary life, going from country to country to finally settle down.
I got interested in other people who are called “escapees” because they escaped before the death camps began to function. I sent out questionnaires to find people who might be interested. I called my questionnaire “What Happened To Those To Whom “NOTHING HAPPENED AT ALL”? Everybody who belonged to this group immediately understood! I didn’t have to explain! When this title they immediately became interested and wanted to participate because they really wanted to tell the story now! It’s late and many are very elderly. They think back about all the years they have missed and they want to leave that legacy to their children and to the world at large. That’s how this project got started!
Roger: That’s wonderful! I never had thought before reading your book, that people would be kind of humble about their experiences because of the dire tragedies that occurred to others!
Dr. Whiteman: In any other century, the fate of the escapees would have been talked about and written about long before I started to do that. But, as I said, there’s a kind of feeling that ‘at least we’re alive and we did not spend the war years in ghettos or in hiding.’
Roger: Their pain and suffering just wasn’t significant?
Dr. Whiteman: As compared to the others…. right!
Roger: But, you found that it was significant?
Dr. Whiteman: Oh, yes! Yes! I think that getting away didn’t mean that, ‘okay, today I am leaving. It’s not nice here anymore. I don’t like Nazis. I’ll pack my trunk and go!’ The difficulties were endless!
Roger: Let’s identify…. first of all, Jews were a very important part of the German culture!
Dr. Whiteman: Right!
Roger: For hundreds of years, their family lineages go way back in German history! They didn’t just come meandering into Germany six months before the war. I think a lot of people don’t realize that these were German citizens, people who were Germans for generations!
Dr. Whiteman: Yes! Dating back to 1600 and so on! In fact, the Jewish population identified themselves very much with their countries of birth, just like when you are an American; but, I’m also Jewish. The feeling was I am Austrian and German; but, I’m also Jewish. My father, for instance, fought in WW I and got a medal for bravery. There was a feeling, beginning in about 1848, Jews had total equality both in Germany and Austria. In fact, life was such that, compared to Poland and Russia where the Jews targets of pogroms and were heavily discriminated against, many Jews from other countries immigrated to Germany and Austria. Many of the Jews in Poland and Czechoslovakia sent their children to German-speaking schools because the culture at the time…. we think of the German culture during the time of WW II as one of dictatorship and autocracy and fascism; but, in centuries before that the German culture that includes Austria and Czechoslovakia was called “the poet and the philosopher” because the culture was at a very high level. The Jewish population identified itself with that culture!
Roger: I think that’s important because I’m not sure everybody understands that. I didn’t until I read your book, to be honest. I didn’t occur to me that these are people who have great family histories, incredible legacies of their own! Yet, because of this hatred that was fomented under Hitler, the fascism and anti-Semitism, because of your book we know some left Germany! People must have suspected that things were not going to stay the same!
Dr. Whiteman: Let me give you a picture about that, because actually it was very hard to gauge what was going to happen. Take, for instance, during the Cold War, particularly for those who lived in New York and Washington DC, there was always the threat there might be nuclear bombardment from Russia! But, nobody packed their trunks and left! Nobody said, ‘I’m going to move to Nebraska or someplace else.’ Everybody is entrenched and the feeling was that it’s not really going to happen.
You also have to consider the atmosphere before all this started. Let me make clear the difference between Germany and Austria. In Germany it started in 1933; but, in Austria it didn’t really start until 1938. There was a huge difference! Let me stay in Austria for a minute. The Jewish population was extremely involved in the theatre as producers, as actors. There was an enormous amount of physicians, lawyers, musicians, conductors, etc. They were an extremely active part of the Viennese cultural scene! In Germany before 1933 the same thing was true. When Hitler took over in 1933, there had been an awful lot of governments before. It had been extremely changeable. The last one before Hitler was the Weimar Republic. The different governments came and went, they fell and disappeared. Everybody thought this Hitler, this rabble-rouser, he isnt’ going to last! Anyway, the allies, England and France would never want to have somebody like that in their backyard! It couldn’t possibly last! The feeling was this was just a passing fancy, as the other governments had been.
In Germany, the feeling was, ‘where do we go?’ First, we don’t speak the language of any other country. No other country really wants immigration on a large-scale, particularly those who are professionals. Those who are plumbers and carpenters, who had skills, were welcome in Australia or Canada. But, the professional groups, nobody was particularly interested in having more doctors and more lawyers and more actors, etc. So, the feeling was, ‘ maybe we can survive.”
It started off with the burning of the books. In Germany, when the Nazis burned all the books they thought were unacceptable, all books by Jewish authors, they also had a boycott of all the Jewish business. Fear began to spread. The feeling was almost like,’ well, you know, these people were just rabble. This can’t possibly last. Somebody who burns books, the world is not going to accept.’
The next thing that happened was the Jews were not allowed to work in any government jobs. If they were doctors, if they were civil servants, if they were bureaucrats…. anything that had to do with the government, they were fired! But, the feeling was, ‘Maybe we can go into business for ourselves. Maybe if we are doctors we can go into private practice. Maybe we will re-establish ourselves on a narrower basis. I can’t get any worse than that! This is about the worst thing that’s happening in Europe; but, we will survive… make society a little narrower, just deal with each other, we will survive that way.’ Also striking, it was different in different parts of Germany, some parts of Germany were better than others. Strangely enough, Berlin was a little better. Nuremberg was terrible! So, people said, ‘There’s pockets. Maybe we can live in those pockets where it’s better!’ It even got better one particular year and they said, ‘You see, this can’t really last.’
Did you ever hear about the frog? If you put a frog in hot water and heat the water slowly the frog will never jump out and be boiled to death?
Roger: Gradualism or incrementalism.
Dr. Whiteman: Right! So, slowly the feeling was, ‘Okay, it’s pretty bad; but, we can survive.’ Now in Austria…. do you want me to go on and tell you about Austria?
Roger: Oh, yes! Absolutely!
Dr. Whiteman: In Austria it was a little different. I must say that as a child, I didn’t experience anti-Semitism in Austria. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t there; but, it was very well buried, just like anti-Semitism was in a lot of countries. But, you weren’t really so aware of it. As I said, the cultural aspect; the Jews were extremely active in it!
Roger: Well, we’re talking about two of the most civilized societies in the world at that time, too.
Dr. Whiteman: Right! So, if you lived in an area that was very removed, very rural, there were pockets of anti-semitism. But, 90% of the Jewish population lived in Vienna, not in the rural areas so it was really not something that you met with. You probably couldn’t get a job in government in a high position. You probably couldn’t be a top professor at the University of Vienna. But, there was that kind of discrimination at the time in most countries. If you were Jewish, you couldn’t get a job very easily at Harvard either! So there was a feeling, ‘okay, there’s a certain amount of anti-Semitism; but, really our lives are very comfortable and it’s not a major problem.’
Austria, before Germany, was autocratic; but, it was a benevolent autocracy and if you stayed out-of-the-way, you could lead your life very peacefully. But; in 1934 the Nazis came to Vienna and murdered the Chancellor, Engelbert Dollfuss, in the chancery. Hitler would have taken over at that time already if it hadn’t been for the fact that Mussolini in Italy was very much afraid of having Hitler so close because Austria is in between Germany and Italy. They threatened to march into Austria to oppose the Nazis. So after the Nazis killed Dollfuss they went back so Germany. They were not ready to strike.
In 1938 the situation was different. At this point, the Allies had not opposed Germany when they walked into eastern France, so he felt extremely powerful. He decided he was going to test the waters and march into Austria. It was done under that guise that German is spoken in Austria, so we should be one German nation. He marched in at night. Before that there was supposed to be a vote taken; Austrian citizens should vote whether they want to accept the Nazis taking over Austria or whether they refuse to do so. There was a tremendous amount of effort to vote “NO” against Germany annexing Austria! Hitler was afraid that maybe the vote wouldn’t go his way, so he canceled the vote. You have to imagine…Hitler canceled the vote in Austria! It was not his government, but he had that kind of power!
I remember, I was a child at the time, during the day when the election was supposed to take place, trucks went up and down with leaflets — Vote Against Germany–Vote Against Germany! There was a tremendous wind that day and the leaflets flew up in the air and came down again, and went up again in the next wind. There was a tremendous sense of excitement; we’re going to beat this! We’re going to beat this! At that moment Hitler canceled the plebiscite. I remember the tremendous fear, an incredible fear that spread in that minute and never left again! My father, who was a physician, expected there might be some fighting that night. He told my sister and myself that the meat we had eaten for dinner was a little spoiled and we needed to take a pill. Actually, it was a sleeping pill because he was so afraid that there would be fighting and they didn’t want us to hear it. They turned on the radio and listened to Chancellor Schuschnigg who said to the country. ‘Don’t offer any resistance, God Bless Austria.”
Then there was a terrible noise as if somebody was pulling him away from the microphone and that was the end of Austria!
That night the troops marched in. Everybody was told to stay at home; but, my father had a dying patient and he felt he had to go visit the patient. He went out into the very dangerous night and reached the patient’s house. The patient took a long time in dying. He stood at the window and he saw troops in a truck driving to the store right across the street where he was standing at the window. In one second they smashed up the door, pulled out all the goods in the store, smashed up the next door and then they were gone! It was like a horrible symbol of what was about to take place! He said it happened in a fraction, it was over in a fraction; but, that night was a symbol of what was to follow!
Roger: Okay, Dr. Whiteman, we’ve got to take a break!
Roger: Alright, ladies and gentlemen! Welcome back! This is Part 4 of our ongoing series, The Holocaust: We Must Remember. Our guest this evening is Dr. Dorit Bader-Whiteman. Her book is, “The Uprooted: A Hitler Legacy,” about the people who escaped The Final Solution.
We’re back with Dr. Whiteman. It’s 1938. Her father is standing there in that window watching the Nazis cruise through and take the goods from stores. What’s going through he mind, Doctor?
Dr. Whiteman: I think the thing that went through he mind was, ‘How am I going to save my family?’ because the next morning the issue was quite clear.
Let me tell you a little what it’s like when a totalitarian government enters your country. It is very hard living in America to even have a picture of living like that. The next morning everything was changed 100%! The streets were filled with people, either in Nazi uniforms or with swastikas on their lapels. There had been a whole bunch of people who had illegally kept this in the closet, gambling that if Hitler took over they would be in the “in crowd”! They had collected lists of where Jewish people lived, particularly those who were wealthy. The also had lists of journalists, lists of anybody they felt would be anti-Nazi. Having the lists, they immediately swept into the apartments and businesses. The arrests started immediately the next morning. The takeover of Jewish businesses started the next morning! For instance, one man came into his office and found a man sitting behind his desk. He asked, “Who are you?” The man at his desk said, “I’m the new owner! Get out of here!” And that was the end of his business!
The round-up started on the streets immediately. Trucks cruised and picked up people right and left. Others were made to scrub the streets. They took a bunch of Jews and made them kneel down and scrub the streets with toothbrushes or other brushes. Very often they put acid in the water so when they dipped their hands in the water in order to scrub the streets, they would be horribly burned! People stood all around cheering, laughing, joking, etc.!
What also has to be thought about is much of this anti-Semitism was furthered by the desire to enrich themselves because they could take over their partner’s business if their business partner was Jewish, they could up the business next door if they wanted to get rid of a competitor. They could denounce their neighbor and claim he’s communist or claim he’s Jewish! Somebody would come and take them away, sometimes never to be heard of again!
The beatings were quite public. I remember coming home, going down the street and seeing a whole bunch of people. I realized they were standing around elderly Jewish people who were scrubbing the streets. I remember being very frightened and running into the house!
The question was, how do people go out in the street if they wanted to leave the country? They had to get some papers in order to be able to leave. Let me tell you about these because they were used as a torture method. In order to be able to leave the country, you had to pay a whole series of taxes. The biggest tax was called the —— (unfamiliar German word) which means a tax imposed because you desire to flee the country. This was such an enormous tax! It was 25% of everything you have ever earned or have ever owned! This is a colossal sum! The problem was, how are you going to raise the money for it? Your business is closed. You are now unemployed. You could not sell anything because anybody could walk into your house and take what they wanted so why would they bother to buy it from you? In addition, every difficulty was put in your way for obtaining, even if you had the money, obtaining the certificate that said you had paid it. There were innumerable taxes; the local tax, the water tax, you even had to pay a dog tax! If you didn’t have a dog, you had to prove you didn’t have a dog!
So, this was a very difficult business because when you stood in line to get into the governor’s offices to get the taxes paid or to get the forms, you might have to line up at 4:00 in the morning and at 10:00 they might just close the office for no reason other than just, you know, sadism! While you were in line, the SA which was a section of the Nazis (there was the SS unit and the SA unit), cruised all day to arrest people, beat them or torture them in other ways. If you stood in line, your chances of being arrested or beaten were enormous! Then, there was another thing! Each tax, each form had an expiration date. That meant that if you didn’t get the other taxes paid, the first one would expire and you’d have to start the whole process all over again, knowing that any day you may be arrested or worse might happen!
There was a kind of emphasis on doing things correctly. For instance, a family had a son go out to try to get some of these papers. He was about 18 years old and he disappeared! This was a very common occurrence. Two or three weeks later, a coffin came back. It was nailed down because you weren’t allowed to see what the dead person looked like, horribly beaten. With it came a statement that you were to pay for the coffin because, whoever the person was who had just been murdered, was caught while trying to escape! But, you had to sign this! If they took away your apartment, you had to sign that you released it of your own will. Eichmann, the famous Eichmann, came to a particular apartment and said, ‘ I want this apartment.’ The people had to sign that they were willing to give it up! It was very striking, this need to have everything done seemingly legally.
Roger: There’s one little paragraph in your book I’d like to read. It’s where I ended up in the book that just shocked me! It’s on Page 91. I’ll just read two quick paragraphs.
” One morning my father called me into his study. From the tense look on his face I knew something important was about to happen. He started by saying he thought it would never be necessary to bring up the subject but circumstances now made it essential. “You were given birth by an American mother in Vienna and we adopted you when you were six weeks old.” Slowly he added, “We don’t know what may happen to mother and myself; but, we can save you. I’ve been told by the United States Embassy that you will soon be issued an American passport.” He paused and studied the effect of this startling news. I was and American citizen! That made me feel more secure. That I was adopted did not have much impact on be. As far as I was concerned, I had a loving father and mother!
The first time the Brownshirts came, it was evening. They came like locusts! While we watched helplessly, they tore the fixtures from the wall, the mantlepiece from the fireplace and stripped the apartment bare! Before they left, they gave us a receipt for everything taken. That made everything legal.”
That shocked me when I read that! I thought, boy, I can cite instances of modern society in America where they do this kind of thing in smaller proportions; but, that must be frightening!
Dr. Whiteman: Well, in the beginning, when you could still get of out the concentration camps, you had to sign that you were treated well in the concentration camp and you had no complaints.
I was once in Yugoslavia and I passed by what was formerly a jail where the Nazis imprisoned the Yugoslavs. It was interesting that the prison was quite on the main highway; therefore, when the prisoners were tortured you could hear their screams. It was undoubtedly done as a warning. When I was there after WW II, there were pictures of the prisoners; children, women and men. The pictures of the children who had been imprisoned were taken by the Germans! This was a kind of triumph to show what they had done! It was in order to show off how efficient they had been. There was a big book, the kind of huge book that accountants in Dickens’ time had, with a hard cover and very, very large! In it they wrote all the names of the prisoners that had come in….
Roger: I hate to cut in, but we have to take a break. “The Uprooted: A Hitler Legacy” by Dr. Dorit Bader-Whiteman, an incredible combination of stories from 190 people who escaped The Final Solution and the trauma they incurred during and after the war. …. Relax, folks, we’ll be right back!
INTERVIEW IN PROGRESS…
Roger: …made your escape. is that right?
Dr. Whiteman: It made it possible for us to leave, yes.
Roger: So, what was the process like?
Dr. Whiteman: The process was very harrowing because, as I explained before, you needed a great many papers, permits, etc. to leave.
It was very difficult to get into any country at all. In fact, some people…. There was only one place in the world where you did not need a visa, actually two places! One was Tibet; but, you couldn’t get there. The other was Shanghai. You have to remember that Shanghai seemed like Mars does to us now. After all, people didn’t go by plane; they had to cross Russia, go through Mongolia, take a ship to Japan and then go back to Shanghai. That was the only place where you didn’t need a visa. People went there although they were poverty-stricken once they got there because they couldn’t work in Shanghai.
All I’m saying is you went anywhere you could! So, we felt extremely lucky to get a visa to England and being a maid didn’t matter at all! It didn’t matter to my parents that we lost everything. Actually, the only thing we were allowed to take was the equivalent of $5.00 and a tiny overnight case with a few items. We thought ourselves extremely lucky, particularly since, for many reasons, we nearly didn’t make it. I’ll give you two examples; one was that many things you couldn’t get and had to go on the black market because they simply were not available and if you didn’t get them you’d die! You needed certain stamps in the passport. My parents gave it to the unusual source, somebody everyone knew had connections on the black market. The fear was that those people would take your money but might not do what they promised. My parents gave them four passports for my mother, my father, my sister and myself. My mother woke up in the middle of the night and said, “Oh, my God, he’s going to sell the passports!” because those passports would be worth a lot on the black market. So, there was a terrible dilemma; do we let him have the passports and get those stamps which we need to leave or do we take back the passports and be able to get the stamps? Finally, my parents decided they wanted to get the passports back. My father started to search for the man in coffee houses. He was told to go to a house of prostitution where this man tended to spend his time. Finally, he did find the man and did get the passports back. How they got the stamps on another occasion, I really don’t know. We lived like that daily.
The other dilemma was that fact that we had a quota number from the United States; but, the number never came up! People who had a higher number than our number passed us by, people who had registered much later than us! Everyday my father went to the consulate and asked, “please, what’s happened? Can you check? Our file must be misplaced!” He was always told he was just impatient and to wait our turn. But, we knew we wouldn’t survive if our number didn’t come up very soon.
Roger: All right. I don’t want to pass over this point without asking you, when you say you knew you wouldn’t survive, you were afraid you were going to be killed. Is that what you’re saying?
Dr. Whiteman: Right.
Roger: This is long before the holocaust, really.
Dr. Whiteman: Right. My father might just be going down the street, be arrested and never come back! Or, be beaten to death! By good luck, my father had a patient who worked at the consulate. The patient looked for our family’s file and found it in the wrong filing cabinet! He took it from the wrong cabinet and put it into the right cabinet, and then we were called. It was on little things like that your life depended on. It was just a lot of good fortune! Other people tried just as hard but didn’t have the good fortune.
Roger: Do you know how many people, about this time, were able to get out of the countries of Germany and …
Dr. Whiteman: I don’t know the numbers about Germany; but, in Austria about 100,000 made it and about 100,000 did not.
Roger: About half of the people?
Dr. Whiteman: About half, yes.
Roger: And in Germany we have no idea?
Dr. Whiteman: No.
Roger: Now when you were doing all these interviews, it must have taken a whole lot of time with 190 stories to tell, did the majority of those folks come out of Austria or Germany?
Dr. Whiteman: They came out of Austria, Germany and Czechoslovakia.
Roger: You’re talking about being in Austria. What must this have been like in Nuremburg or Berlin?
Dr. Whiteman: After Kristallnacht, it was the same everywhere. Kristallnacht was a night in which the Nazis decided to burn all the synagogues. It was also a night in which they killed a lot of Jews, arrested a lot of Jews and sent them off to concentration camps. They claimed it was a spontaneous outburst of the population, that they were just angry at the Jews and, therefore, burned down their temples, burned down their houses, went into everybody’s apartments and smashed them up. Kristallnacht means “the night of the broken crystal”.
Actually, one of the people I interviewed for the book who was already at a concentration camp at the time, at Buchenwald said that for several weeks before hand they prepared for the arrival of 20,000 new inmates. So, it was not at all spontaneous! It was done, in great part, to enrich themselves at the cost of the Jews. For instance, after Kristallnacht, Goering was very angry. He said, “You smashed up all the stores and apartments. You should have killed the Jews! I want their things! I could use what was in their apartments and I could use what was in the stores! It would be much easier just to kill them! Why did you bother to smash everything up?” In Vienna alone, 70,000 apartments were immediately given to Nazi members. So, that was the atmosphere that prevailed.
I don’t know whether you want to hear about the Kindertransport?
Dr. Whiteman: In 1939 it became evident that war would break out. It became evident to the English. They knew that whoever wasn’t out by that time would definitely die. They decided to send for 10,000 children, without their parents, and let them come to England. Now, you have to picture that in Vienna alone there were 35,000 children who were still there, not counting all the ones in Germany and Czechoslovakia and other places. So, it was very difficult to select children. How did you know which ones to take? It was simply done. They tried to get children from different towns; but, it really could not be done in any systematic manner.
Eichmann had to be approached to give permission for the children to go. The way he was persuaded was, ‘you don’t like the Jews, let the children go.’ He decided that on the first transport he’d let 600 children go; but, it had to be arranged within four days and they’d have to leave on Saturday because he knew some of them were religious and parents would have qualms about letting them travel on Saturday.
Picture this situation. The children on these trains were anywhere from six months old to seventeen years. The parents had no idea where these children were going. They knew they were going to England; but, they did not know who would be receiving them on the other side! They knew they would never see their children again!
The train left at midnight. The parents brought their children to the train, some of them in little wicker baskets because they were only 6, 7, 8, 9 months old! The trains were so crowded that some children sat on the seats, some sat at their feet and some were placed on the luggage racks above their heads because they wanted to get out as many children as they could possibly save! There were hardly any adults on the train because the SS didn’t permit any adults on the train. So, there were hundreds of children at midnight being loaded into trains…. on some trains parents were allowed to say goodbye, one some trains they were not allowed to say goodbye.
The children, many of them who were small, did not know what was happening! Sometimes the parents had been able to prepare them for a few days. There was one father took his little girl and explained that England was a democracy and, ‘you’ll be happy there and if something happens to us, do not grieve for us because you’ll have a happy life.’ One mother took her little girl and explained the facts of life because she was so afraid that maybe nobody would tell her in the future.
But, more children, you could not explain anything to! They brought them to the trains and looked at girls, ages 11, 12 and 13…. they handed their babies over to children who were hardly more than babies!
Those trains took off in the middle of the night with the parents standing there. Sometimes the older children suddenly realized, “We’ll never see our parents again! This is the end!”
And that’s how the trains pulled out. They went through Holland and there they went by ship to England. Most of them did not see their parents again. Most of the parents died.
Roger: I can’t even imagine handing over any one of my children!
Dr. Whiteman: Can you imagine the decision? Many of these children, when they grew up, were eternally grateful to their parents because they said, “what a sacrifice!” Now that they had children of their own, they tried to picture a 2-year-old and a 4-year-old delivered onto a train in the middle of the night, that the parents could make themselves do that! They stood on the platform, those that were allowed. The fathers blessed their children. The mothers cried. One boy described that his father climbed up on the side of the train to kiss him through the window. He remembers his father’s face through the window. That was the last time he ever saw his father!
These children had very mixed fates when they came to England. Some came to excellent homes. Some came into terrible homes. And, some came into homes where the people tried; but, you know, they were not their children.
It was wartime. Many of the families who took the children thought they would stay with them a few weeks then the war broke out! Suddenly they found they had adopted children they had never planned to adopt. Sometimes, for instance, a couple brought a child over and their own sibling got jealous! They were in a quandary, “What do we do with this child?”
There were some families in which they were absolutely cruel to the children, sometimes because they did not know any better, sometimes because they were just not nice people. Just because you take a child does not necessarily know what to do with him! Since it was wartime, there were no social workers who could check into it, nobody could travel or check on these children. Everybody was just trying to survive in England. So the fate some of the children met was very mixed.
To give you one example; one man said to me that he was in a very good home, an excellent home where he was treated almost like one of the family. It was hard to get used to because English habits were very different. Austrians were more friendly and affectionate, a bit more Mediterranean than the English who were more restrained. The children had to get used to a new pattern. He got used to it and he felt very much at home. Then he became an officer in the English army during the war. When the ware was over he was about to be discharged. He went to the place where all the soldiers were being discharged. All the soldiers were dying to get home! They couldn’t stand one more minute than they had to! He realized that his foster family was in Oxford and that he would get to Oxford at 2:00 a.m. He felt he really couldn’t disturb them so late at night. From that he realized that the home was not really a “home” as much as he thought of it as a home. If it’s your “home” you’d come in at 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning without any hesitation. He became aware of the fact that even though he was treated like a son, he would have to build a home of his own. I think many of the children experienced something of that nature.
Roger: As you tracked down all these folks. You have some amazing stories in the book, doctor. These folks, did they suffer from guilt because they survived this? Is that ……
Dr. Whiteman: You know, it’s kind of interesting that when I started working on the book, people were always saying….when they asked me what I was writing about and I’d say…. they’d say, ‘I know what you’re going to find. You are going to find that all those who survived have”survivor’s syndrome.” You know, having feelings of guilt for surviving.
I think that when you work on something you must have an open mind and never make up your mind before hand what you will find. So, I asked and searched with many questions whether this particular group, these survivors— these escapees, whether they felt guilt? I was very surprised to find that the great majority did not, even though most people, including myself, thought that would probably be the result.
They felt… I don’t want to confuse guilt with sadness….they were extremely sad that many of them lost five members of their family, ten members of their family; uncles, aunts, cousins, etc! So, it was a feeling of sadness and desolation that you can never shake in your whole life; but, there is a difference between being sad and feeling guilt! What they felt at the time was that they did everything that they could. They were young themselves! They had no connections. They had no language. They had no money. They had no way of being able to provide people with entrance into whatever country they were in. So, the feeling is more…. I don’t feel guilty…. those that didn’t help should feel guilty! The Nazis should feel guilty! I feel devastated; but, I don’t feel guilty!
What they do feel; however, is they have to … one a woman said to me, “I have to make it worthwhile for my mother’s sacrifice. I have to live a life which will mean that she made that sacrifice sending me away, was not in vain.”
Roger: It meant something!
Dr. Whiteman: Yes! It meant an enormous amount! It means that practically all of the ones that I interviewed are extremely involved in altruistic causes. They tend to give money to charities. They tend to give their time to volunteer work. They tend to be very conscientious about voting. They tend to feel that whenever there is some kind of disaster, they must contribute in some way. They feel that, “life was good to me and I survived. I owe it to the rest of the world who was not a lucky, to be able to pay back.” I think that is one reason they don’t feel guilty.
I think that’s one difference between the escapees and people who were in concentration camps for several years because they were really removed in space. They were in England or the United States or Australia or New Zealand. So, they couldn’t do a daily good deed. I guess if you were in a concentration camp, there must have been horrible decisions all the time…. I have one piece of bread left, do I give it to you or do I take it for myself? I guess the decisions you make are more frequent and open opportunities for guilt.
Roger: How about rejection, isolation?
Dr. Whiteman: Isolation?
Roger: Did they feel isolated? Did they feel rejected when they went to these new countries?
Dr. Whiteman. Not so much rejected; but, there is a feeling of being different. If you come to a new country where you don’t know the language or the habits…. For instance, when I came to England I got a scholarship in a boarding school. I didn’t know one word of English and nobody knew one word of German. I was at the dinner table and there was a girl sitting across from me. She must have felt sorry for me and so she winked at me! You know, with one closed, she gave me a friendly wink! But, I had never seen anybody wink before because nobody did this in Austria!
Roger: Ha, ha, ha! (chuckles in amusement)
Dr. Whiteman: I thought she had a nervous tic so I tactfully looked away. I often wonder if she thought I was being unfriendly. You have such different habits that you’re not like everybody else.
Roger: Totally different cultures. Doctor, we’ve got to take a break and then I want to open up the phone line for the listeners questions.
Roger: Welcome back, ladies and gentlemen! We’re back with Dr. Whiteman! Hello, Dorit!
Dr. Whiteman: Hi, there!
Roger: Are you ready?
Dr. Whiteman: Yes, I am!
Roger: Here it comes! We’re going to start with Laura out in St. Louis, Missouri. Hello, Laura!
Caller-Laura: Roger, I love your show! This particular one is really heartwarming! Dr. Whiteman, this is just bringing back a flood of memories! I grew up in South Africa. I wonder if you know what a profound effect the German Jewish immigrants had in South Africa, in the countries of South Africa and Rhodesia? I wish somebody would write a history about that. They contributed enormously to the musical and art life in both countries. I’m reminded of a friend whose mother was actually what you could consider a mail-order bride. She was saved from Auschwitz! She was brought out to Rhodesia by a man she never knew, never had met. They married and are now celebrating their fiftieth wedding anniversary and have three wonderful children. I just wish you could persuade someone to write a history about the German Jews who went to southern Africa because I think it’s a fascinating as those came to this country.
Dr. Whiteman: It sounds like a good idea and I’ll certainly give it some thought.
Caller-Laura: I know some Whitemans in South Africa and I wonder if you’re related? They’re musicians!
Dr. Whiteman: I don’t think so because my husband was born in New York and my name, Whiteman, comes from the American side.
Caller-Laura: Well, it’s just wonderful listening to you. I’ll hang up so you can talk lots more!
Roger: Thank you, Laura. Gene in Eugene, Oregon is on the line.
Caller-Gene: I’d like to ask Dr. Whiteman and take my answer off the air. Doctor, do you see anything in our society now that would raise flags? Do you ever look around…. you know how people say that it couldn’t happen here? Can you look around and see that it may be starting to happen here, especially with Christians and so forth? I’ll take my answer off the air. Thank you.
Roger: All right, Gene. Go ahead Dr. Whiteman:
Dr. Whiteman: Let me put it this way, personally, I don’t think it will ever happen here because there is a free press and a democratic tradition so when something goes too far down a negative route, there is always the ability to call it back because of the democratic tradition. I think it means we have to be alert at all times, that when we look at the skin heads, for instance, we can’t just say, ‘oh well, forget about them because they’re just rabble-rousers.’ One always has to be alert. One can never drop one’s vigilance; but, personally, I have too much faith in the democratic system to think it would really happen.
Roger: We see little tentacles in our society. Do you know what civil forfeiture is, Dr. Whiteman?
Dr. Whiteman: What?
Roger: Are you aware of civil forfeiture laws? The government now has what they call civil forfeiture laws where they can come in and take everything you own. Then you have to sue them to get it back. And, they don’t have to have a reason! Then you have the IRS who come in with all these guys in ninja suits and take everything without ever having due process or going to court; but, they give you a receipt! So, I see these things and think, ‘you don’t think it can happen’; but, in small-scale these tendencies of government to absorb power and authority, you always have to be alert! You’re right!
Dr. Whiteman: Yes, you always have to be alert! Fortunately, we can write letters to the editor, we can complain and make ourselves heard.
Roger: But, your message of hope is so powerful because we do live in a different kind of country where if the people don’t like what’s happening, they can fix it. That’s really the difference.
David in Grants Pass, Oregon, hello David!
Caller-David: Hello, Dr. Whiteman and Roger! I’m enjoying the show a lot. I have a question. I’ve always wondered…. I’ve heard a lot of the Jewish people got the heck out of Germany at the time they saw things were going to happen and a lot of them didn’t seem to have the wisdom to leave. Was that really the case? Was it that obvious that it was time to leave or were that many people walking around in ignorance?
Dr. Whiteman: I think that for a long time it was not obvious that it was going to last and develop. Once it became obvious, it was extremely difficult to leave. As I mentioned before, it was possible to get out and even if you could get out, you couldn’t get in anywhere because most borders were closed and other countries simply didn’t accept immigrants.
I think that there is also something of a different feeling now. Countries do seem to feel responsible if something ghastly is going on some place else. At that time, the idea that you care about what goes on in another country and that you should really extend yourself, really was not even thought about. By the time it was obvious, most people were unable to get out. Most of those who died tried the same things as those who got out; but, they just weren’t lucky.
Caller-David: I see. Thank you very much!
Roger: Thank you, David! People need to realize that one day you were going to vote in Austria, the next day the vote was canceled and the next day the troops were there! You didn’t have a lot of time to think it through! Let’s go to Rita in Weed, California. Hello, Rita!
Caller-Rita: Hi! I’m enjoying the show very much! I have a question. I didn’t quite understand… the people who lived there for generations and thought of themselves as Germans, not Jews? Am I understanding that correctly? Like I am an American; but, my heritage is Italian so I would be considered an Italian? Is that what you meant?
Dr. Whiteman: Well, I meant that you, an American and, I don’t know how you personally feel…..
Caller-Rita: No, I mean what the Jewish people, at that time, in Nazi Germany, felt.
Dr. Whiteman: Before Nazi Germany came, before the Nazis took over, the middle European Jews felt as patriotic about their country as we feel about America now, living here. The feeling was, ‘yes, I know I’m Jewish.’ Some were more observant, some were less observant. There’s always a range in the extent to which people are religious. It didn’t mean you denied being Jewish or followed your traditions; but, you felt you were a German citizen or an Austrian citizen and you were as involved in the fate of your country as we are involved in America….. until Hitler came.
Caller-Rita: So, you never felt threatened?
Dr. Whiteman: No, not threatened at all, not feeling that something terrible would happen to you.
Roger: These were patriotic German citizens for generations and generations! Just like we are here in America.
Caller-Rita: Right! Oh, this is fascinating! Thank you very much!
Roger: We’ve got another caller, Kurt in Springfield, Illinois. How are you?
Caller-Kurt: I’m fine Roger! It’s an excellent program. Dr. Whiteman, I couldn’t help but get emotional listening to you tell the story of the parents giving up their children. I was wondering if you would explain, how were with Germans, the Nazis I should say, able to demonize Jewish people in Austria and Germany? How were they able to do that and get such willing compliance, if not compliance, at least no resistance on the part of the ethnic Germans… to rescue and save or assist Jews when they were being mistreated in such a way after they had given so much to those countries in terms of intelligence, intellect and talent? Could you explain that to me please? The other listeners and I would be fascinated with you answer. And, God bless you for the work that you have done in keeping the holocaust memory alive in the hearts and minds of people!
Roger: Thank you, Kurt!
Dr. Whiteman: Thank you! It’s an excellent question. I think it’s a question I cannot entirely answer. Just to give you a picture, the day after Hitler came to Vienna, I was in elementary school and I had a teacher that I particularly loved. We had a great deal of respect for our teachers. These teachers had been with us year after year. He came back to school…. now, were just children… the teachers were wearing swastikas and treated us with such hatred and contempt! It was totally astounding! We couldn’t understand how they could possibly have been our friends, our examples, and then treated us in this terrible way. That was the astounding thing! The very people on the block, in the stores you had gone into for years, would put up signs saying “No Jews Allowed” and would not serve you any longer.
Part of the motivation, I’m afraid, was a very strong financial one because they could go in (to a Jewish home or business) and steal whatever they wanted, they could get rid of their competitor and enrich themselves in any way. You know, there were those who did nothing, neither pro or con Jews, who just lived their lives. I don’t expect people to be heroes, Maybe if you lose your job if you help somebody who is Jewish, I don’t expect people to lose their jobs, to sacrifice themselves.
The astounding thing was that so much was believed about the Jews. For instance, on both street corners there were Nazi newspapers that pictured the Jews as being rapists, greedy, having long noses and looking just horrible! I’m blond and blue-eyed. Everybody knew I was blond and blue-eyed so how could they possible believe that all Jews looked like that?
Roger: Well, it was great propaganda. Hold on just a moment, doctor. We’ve got to take a break and we’ll be right back!
Roger: We’re back, ladies and gentlemen! Dr. Dorit Bader-Whiteman is our guest this evening! We’re going to take a call from Jerry in Santa Maria, California. Hello, Jerry!
Caller-Jerry: Hello! First of all let me say, Dr. Whiteman, that what happened in the holocaust was a true tragedy. I was wondering if you’ve ever read books by Saul Bellow or Phillip Roth? Phillip Roth’s “Goodbye Columbus”, in particular? He basically says that in a sense a lot of Jews bring problems upon themselves because they think of themselves as Jews first and Americans second. You can kind of see how a lot of main stream America is getting a short fuse with black Americans in the same manner because a lot of African-Americans think of themselves as blacks first and Americans second. If this separatism continues, a lot of people say the spirit of assimilation is lost. What are your thoughts on this?
Dr. Whiteman: I feel very strongly that the group that I am talking about, the escapees, feel very strongly to be American above all! My parents and I, the moment we learned to speak English, we spoke English in the house and we did not speak German anymore. The first year we learned about Thanksgiving, we celebrated Thanksgiving. When we became citizens it was one of the best days of our lives! We all got dressed up and went down to be sworn in and celebrate it! I don’t have the feeling that I’m Austrian or I’m Jewish. I’m American! I’m also Jewish; but, basically I feel the melting pot was a wonderful idea! When I first came here I had to take American history. It was an eye-opener for me. I think it should be required for every new American because it’s about democracy. I didn’t learn about kings and when they had reigned, I learned about democracy! I learned about the whole American system. My feeling was just the way you are describing it, my identification was with my new country and I couldn’t have been prouder of it. All people I knew felt the same way because being an American was just about the best….
Roger: And this is why Dr. Whiteman, I wanted to make the point earlier, the folks in Germany and Austria did not think of themselves as Jews, they thought of themselves as Germans and Austrians. That’s what is so bizarre about this very complex issue. Doc in Roseburg, Oregon, you’re on the radio!
Caller-Doc: I take very strong exception to this caller who thinks Jewish Americans don’t think of themselves as Americans first! My uncle flew 54 missions in a B-24 in WW II! I would like to take a strong exception to Dr. Bader-Whiteman’s presentation that it can’t happen here. My uncle and my aunt, and my aunt held every single elected office in Hadassah except for one, said that absolutely it can happen in America! America has a very violent history from the Revolutionary War to the Civil War to the Jayhawkers and to the constant riots in the cities to this day. It was definitely, definitely taught to me that it can happen here! There’s no doubt about it, that many Americans are possibly at risk in this country. I was taught this as a child in the 1950s.
Roger: It might happen to a different group.
Caller-Doc: Of course! This country has a very violent past. Look at what’s happening in the cities! Look at the terrible separation of all the groups. I was always taught it could happen here. Thank you very much!
Dr. Whiteman: I’d like to say this. There are always a lot of groups and a lot of individuals. I can’t guarantee that it won’t happen here. I hope I turn out to be right. My feeling is…. the big difference in Austria and Germany was the government was totally intent on repressing groups. There was no way to talk back. There was no newspaper. There was no free speech, etc. My feeling is that as long as we have free speech, somebody may try to do similar things but they’re much less likely to succeed.
Roger: It’s not going to be an easy task, that’s for sure! William in Red Bluff, California, you’re on the radio! Hello!
Caller-William: Roger, I’m a veteran of WW II. I have a question that’s bothered me ever since the war which I haven’t had a satisfactory answer on.
Roger: Let’s hear your question, William.
Caller-William: When the war started, Britain and France declared war on Hitler. Two weeks later when Poland was almost finished, Russia moved in and claimed half of Poland. Why didn’t France and Britain declare war on Russia then?
Roger: Boy, that’s a good question, William! I don’t anybody that could answer that!
Dr. Whiteman: The only thing I could say is that I was in England at the time, and England was totally unarmed. I remember seeing the soldiers in Hyde Park walking around with sticks, practicing with sticks because there were no guns in the country. I don’t that they were in a position to declare war on anyone.
Roger: That may very well be true…..
Dr. Whiteman: …if Hitler had tried to cross the channel at that point, he would have had no trouble getting in because England had nothing to defend itself with.
Roger: Dr. Whiteman, we’ve run out of time. I just want to thank you very, very much for being here! Your book is an absolute creation inspired, I think, by The Creator Himself! God Bless you so much! I hope you continue your work. Ladies and gentlemen, we’ll be back tomorrow evening! God bless you all, God bless America! Good night America!
Transcription is from MP3 file converted from original cassette with minimal editing by Chey Simonton.
Errors, if any, may be due to unintelligible sections of original 1997 audio technology. Unknown/unintelligible words are spelled phonetically.)