A Youth

Hedy Wachenheimer, late teens

 

The Daily Mail
by Hedy Epstein

In those first years of the Nazi regime, it was hard for me to grasp the import of politics writ large. However, I would soon come face to face with discrimination on a regular basis. Whereas I once enjoyed walking to the post office to pick up our mail, it soon became a repetitive nightmare. Mr. Link, the father of one of my classmates, was the postmaster and he came regularly dressed to work in a Nazi uniform. He began to refuse me the use of the office stepladder, which made it very difficult to reach the slot where the mail was. To make me work even harder, he pushed the mail as far back in the compartment as possible. One day he even chased me out of the building with his dog. I ran to the nearby home of a Jewish family, where I slowly regained my composure.

I complained about all this to my parents, “I’m not tall enough, it’s hard to get to, and he’s putting it all the way in the back.” My father said, “You have to figure out a way to deal with this.” He wasn’t going to relieve me of that responsibility.

My solution: Each time I went, I brought a little footstool.

At the time, I thought my father should make life easy for me, which he wasn’t doing, and I resented it. Instead, he saw that I had this obstacle, and I would have to find a way to address it. He wasn’t going to tell me how to do it. And he wasn’t going to accompany me, either.

Later, when I was separated from my parents, I finally understood what he had been trying to teach me then, and I had to agree with him, because many of these everyday struggles helped me later to survive.

 

Leaving
by Hedy Epstein

We left Kippenheim for Frankfurt where I was to join the Kindertransport. My mother’s younger brother had just gotten married, and he and his bride lived near there and we visited them so that I could say goodbye to them. My Uncle said he wanted to buy me a going-away present, so we went shopping and I bought this beautiful suit, I remember it was yellow.

And then the 18th of May, the day that I was leaving, finally arrived. Early in the morning my parents took me to the railroad station in Frankfurt so that I could join the Kindertransport and there were approximately 500 children, the youngest were twins six months old, the oldest was 17 and I was 14.
In my mind’s eye, I still see how the parents of those twins were reaching, handing over those two babies, six months old, to somebody on the train and all I could see were two hands and arms taking those babies because it was very close to where I was. I also heard the parents of these babies saying to whomever on the train, “Please take good care of our babies.”

My parents, like all parents, gave me the last-minute admonitions to be good, to be honest, and they were still smiling while they were standing on the platform.

There was a whistle and the train slowly moved out of the station. And the noise that the train makes, as it moves, the wheels seemed like they were saying to me: “You’re going away, you’re going away, you’re going away.”

My parents ran along the moving train till they came to the end of the platform and tears were streaming down their faces, and I was looking out and they became smaller and smaller and finally they were just two dots and then they were gone.

Many years later, I finally realized that by sending me away they literally gave me life a second time.

 

Last Letter
by Hedy Epstein

I no longer have my father’s last letter of 9 August 1942, but clearly remember him telling me that he will be deported to an unknown destination and that it may be a long time before we will hear from each other again. I do, however, have my Mother’s last tear-stained letter, dated 1 September 1942, in which she writes as follows:

Camp de Rivesaltes
September 1, 1942
My dear good Hedi child,

It is very difficult for me to write to you today, but there is no use, it has to be done. Your last letter, dated June 20, still reached me in Gurs. Since I left there, and that was on July 3, I have not heard any more from you, and hope that you are well, which I can say for myself also as far as my health is concerned. The last few weeks have been very upsetting for all of us, but especially for me. Your dear Papa was deported from Camp les Milles on August 12, and unfortunately I do not know where to he was sent. The last mail I had from him was dated August 9, in which he expressed the hope that somewhere en route we would meet, because a transport from here left at the same time for an unknown destination. I remained here because dear Papa lately was a prestataire (forced laborer). But now there is another transport leaving from here, and this time I am leaving on it. My only hope is that I will still meet dear Papa somewhere, and then we will carry our lot, no matter how difficult it may be, with dignity and courage. My dear good child, I will try in every way possible to remain in contact with you, but it will probably be a long time before we hear from each other again. I am asking you to please write to Manfred and Max about this. I am just not able to write another letter to the dear uncles. Give them my heartfelt greetings. I will never forget what they have done for us poor ones. I also want to thank you, my dear child, with all my heart for all that you have done for us lately. Continue to be always good and honest, carry your head high and never lose your courage. Don’t forget your dear parents. We shall continue to hope that one day we will see each other again, even if it takes a long time. Please give my regards also to Anna and Bea.

My dear good child, let me greet you heartily.

I will never forget you & deeply love you.

Mutti

 

Hatred/1
by Hedy Epstein

Before starting my work for the U.S. Civil Censorship Division in Germany, I was to spend two weeks in training in Poissy, located just outside Paris. I was joined by other young German and Austrian refugees, who had spent the war years in England. We were hired primarily because of our knowledge of the German language.

The first time the train stopped in Germany, we saw raggedy children, all ages, on the platform, begging for candy, cookies, and cigarettes. Some of the people in my carriage, all of them like me, Jewish refugees from Nazi oppression, who lived in England during the war, gave the children whatever they had with them. Enraged, I asked: “How can you do that? These are Nazis!” Some of these so-called Nazis were perhaps only four or five-years old. Until that moment, I was totally unaware of my feelings, my deep hatred for Germans, even for little innocent children.

This hatred, across the board, for all Germans, stayed with me all too long. Germany was in very difficult straits, thus the begging by children was an on-going occurrence for quite a long time. Eventually, I was able to give the children candy or cookies, but they had to eat what I gave them, right in front of me because I could not be sure who was at home, maybe a Nazi. Cigarettes, which they also asked for, I refused to give them, telling them they were still too young to smoke. Cigarettes, at that time, had greater barter value than money.

These unabated feelings of hatred presented a problem. What about my plans to live in Germany? How could I live in a country where I hated everyone?


The Real United States
by Hedy Epstein

Not long after I came to the United States in 1948, I began to work for the New York Association for New Americans (NYANA) near New York’s City Hall and later in the agency’s shelter on West 103rd Street. The agency brought to the U. S. displaced persons who had been living in displaced persons camps in Germany since the end of World War II. I had daily contact with these persons. With every new boatload of people arriving, I scanned their faces, hoping to find my parents among them. I inquired of them where, in what camp, they had been during the war, hoping someone would be able to provide some information about my parents. None could.

Ethel instructed me in my duties. Her response to my repeated suggestion that we go to lunch together was always, “No.” Summoning up a lot of courage, I asked her why she did not want to go out to lunch with me. “Don’t you know we cannot go to lunch together?” “Why not?” I asked. She replied: “I cannot eat in the places where you can and I am sure you would not want to eat where I eat.” I failed to understand until she explained: “Negroes are not allowed to eat in restaurants frequented by whites.” I was shocked, incredulous. After all, President Lincoln had freed the slaves. That is what I read in history books. I thought therefore there was no more discrimination. This incident served as the catalyst for my involvement in the civil rights movement, always as a protestor and later, also, professionally.

 

 

This page is part of a book-in-progress, Dear Love of Comrades, which you can read here.

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