Austria finally united with the Reich amid the jubilant approval of practically the whole population. On his entrance into Austria, Hitler, the country's most famous son, could barely proceed through the throngs of flower-throwing people. These were the same people whose Socialist parliament had nineteen years earlier voted unanimously to join the Reich but were then prevented by the Allied powers to do so under the threat of refusing the signing of a peace treaty. After the Anschluss the Austrian Jews faired much worse than those in Germany because the local population harbored much stronger anti-Jewish sentiments than in Germany. This was largely due to the fact that in predominantly Catholic countries there is always more religious bias against Jews, but in addition great resentment was caused by the influx of more than one hundred thousand Galician Jews into the starving capital Vienna after the war and by the creation of an independent Poland. Yet, when the previously mentioned cousin of my mother left the country for Brazil, the SS officer who inspected his baggage at the Swiss border saw in the first trunk the uniform of the former officer of one of the emperor's exclusive guard regiments, he stepped back, gave the appropriate military salute and refrained from any further inspection.
Because of the great pressure exerted on the Austrian Jews President Roosevelt conceived the brilliant idea to convene an international conference at the lovely French resort at Evian (reads "naive" backwards) on the shores of Lake Geneva. The purpose of the meeting was to persuade every country present to lower its stringent immigration requirements and permit the remaining three hundred thousand Jews remaining in Germany to emigrate. It was July 1938, the weather in Evian was glorious and a good time was had by everybody. The results were according. Not one of the thirty three nations present, including the USA, was willing to change its immigration laws! Dr.Goebbels was in sheer ecstasy. The display of hypocrisy was plenty of water on his propaganda mills. ("Doesn't anyone want our geniuses?") One German newspaper commented: "We see that one likes to pity the Jews, as long as one can use this pity for a wicked agitation against Germany, but that no state is prepared to fight the 'cultural disgrace' of central Europe by accepting a few thousand Jews. Thus the conference serves to justify Germany's policy against Jewry."
During the fall of 1938 Hitler achieved one of his greatest political triumphs. The return of the predominantly German Sudetenland was achieved without war. The anxiety of the people in Berlin during the Munich Conference was extremely high because the arrival of the Czech air force was expected at any minute. Their flying time to Berlin was less than half an hour and Germany was, at that time, totally unprepared for any major military confrontation. I shall never forget the evening Hitler returned from Munich. The relief and jubilation were without bounds. The anti-aircraft batteries in and around Berlin, some eighty guns, had been lined up along Hitler's route from the railroad station to the chancellery and I was standing behind a good friend of mine who fired the electrically connected guns simultaneously with the push of one button. The roar of that salute was indescribable.
My stay in Germany came to an unexpectedly early end on November 5, 1938. I had received my diploma of engineering (MS) during April of that year but my efforts to obtain an adequate position in the German industry had been unsuccessful because of the ever-stricter application of the Nuremberg Laws. My father had a good and very influential friend, Dr.Hugo Eckener, who was president of the world famous Zeppelin and Maybach Motor Works. He was best known as the commander of the pioneering, world encircling flights of the Zeppelins during the Twenties and Thirties. He was also at the time the best known and most respected German in the United States. Upon his strong recommendation I decided to emigrate to the US, where he had influential connections and assured me that, despite an again deepening depression and rising unemployment, I should be able to find gainful employment. He arranged my personal introduction to the Consul General of the US, Mr. Raymond H. Geist. The latter was most cordial but regretted that he could not overule the existing restrictions on immigration into the US. This decision held even after I showed an affidavit of Eckener's representative in the US, a vice-president of his own company, which guaranteed that I would be supported indefinitedly after my arrival. The affidavit had to be ruled insufficient because the guarantor was no relative of mine. Even if adequate, it merely would put me on a waiting list for up to several years until my application could be acted upon. The only possible way to obtain an immigration visa in short order was to deposit a large sum into an American bank, which would enable me to immigrate as a capitalist. Dr. Eckener would have made the deposit for me, but under existing German laws one could not export more than ten marks ($4.00) at a time. This would have been the end of my efforts had not, by accident, a friend of Eckener, who was a vice-president of National City Bank of New York, been on a visit in Berlin. Upon my introduction to him he sat down and wrote a note to the Consul General in which he advised the Consulate that a sum of $10,000 (1938! when the price of a brand new Cadillac sedan was $1,650) has been deposited in my name at his bank in New York. With this note in my hands I returned to the US Consulate where I received my immigration visa in a couple of hours, accompanied by the personal good wishes of Mr. Geist.
Within less than two weeks, on November 4, 1938 at about 10 pm, I boarded the evening express in Berlin and went to sleep in my first class compartment. The train was to arrive the next morning in Flushing, Holland, where the good ship Ilsenstein was to take me aboard at 9 am. The small freighter, which had comfortable accomodations for about two dozen passengers, belonged to the Jewish-owned Bernstein Line, but was flying the German swastika. Just before the train arrived at the Dutch border, at 3am, I was awakened by the appearance of three SS men in full regalia, who grabbed my voluminous baggage and ordered me off the train together with about a dozen of other emigrants. We were standing on an inhospitable railroad platform watching sadly the disappearing taillights of our comfortable express train. All I could think about at that moment was the part of my baggage which had been sent ahead to the steamer and was surely soon to disappear beyond the horizon. We were ordered into separate rooms for women and men, our baggage was thoroughly scrutinized and we had to take off our clothes, which were X-rayed to detect hidden documents. The SS men were in not too good a mood, which was understandable for men who had to get up at three o'clock in the morning to search the baggage of a bunch of emigrants. I was carrying my brand new expensive camera, my hundred year old violin, some of my mother's jewelry and, besides the suitcases with my clothing and personal belongings, a special case loaded with our family silver consisting of about hundred pieces in nearly new condition. In addition, I was carrying my 9mm Parabellum, which was ignored. My forebodings proved to be unfounded. We were ordered to dress, no questions were asked, our baggage was re-packed in good order and we could rejoin the ladies in the waiting room. One of the young Jewish ladies began to cry because of the nervous strain she had undergone. This changed the stern expression on the faces of the SS men into one of obvious concern and two of them tried to comfort her by buying her coffee and giving assurances that everything was going to be all right. Nothing was confiscated, nobody was detained! Two hours had passed and with it any hope that we were going to reach our ship before its departure. After boarding a slow train which carried us across the border, we were to make three changes to other slow trains before reaching Flushing with only minutes available for each change. The good Dutch must have been used to this routine and were well prepared. At each station a large crew of baggage carriers descended on us, grabbed all of our baggage and without saying a word dumped us on the next train. The last one arrived in the nick of time in Flushing and discharged us at the side of the steamer which was ready to leave shortly.
The crossing of the Atlantic began more like a pleasure cruise than a flight. The accomodations were good, the food was outstanding and so plentiful, that I gained ten pounds during the trip. The all-German crew made every effort to make our presence on board as pleasant as possible and some of the young officers had a very good time with two attractive ladies among the passengers. It seemed that six years of incessant "racist hate propaganda" had not quite taken hold in the minds of the young Germans. On the fifth day out, however, the news of the anti-Jewish riots in Germany were received and sombre thoughts about the future overshadowed the festive mood.
What had been the cause of the "Kristallnacht," which resulted in damage to or destruction of 180 synagogues among the existing 14,000 and an equal percentage of Jewish businesses? A seventeen year old Polish Jew, Hershel Gruenspan, residing in Paris, had become so upset about the fate of his father in Germany that he armed himself with a pistol, walked into the German embassy and, not being able to see the ambassador, shot the first secretary, Vom Rath. This being the third German official fatally assassinated by a Jew, the stormtroopers were supposedly ordered out to take revenge on the Jewish population. This story is about as ridiculous as the by now discredited myth about the six million gassed Jews or the one about the slaughter of the Polish officers in Katyn by the Germans. The troubles of Gruenspan Sr. did not originate in Germany but in his native Poland, where the rampant anti-Judaism had caused the flight of tens of thousands of Jews into neighboring countries, mainly Germany, where they were treated as foreign visitors. In the beginning of 1938 the Polish government suddenly declared that it was going to invalidate all passports of citizens residing abroad if they did not return home to have them renewed. About 70,000 Jews with Polish passports were at the time residing in Germany, and the German government became worried that it might eventually become stuck with them. It ordered them rounded up and transported to the Polish border in regular trains, not cattle cars as it was claimed, with all the necessary supplies including medical personal if needs should arise. Among them Gruenspan Sr. The Poles refused to accept the deportees and the planned deportations were stopped for the time. Gruenspan's son, Herschel, had been staying for two years with an uncle in Paris, who, after the Polish government's revocation of Herschel's passport and the French government's refusal to renew his residence permit, asked him to leave in order to avoid problems with the French authorities. The uncle also refused him any further support. The supposedly penniless Jewish boy moved into a decent hotel in February and on November 7th he purchased a gun for 250 francs in a regular gun shop, with which, an hour later, he murdered the first secretary of the German embassy.
Interestingly enough, the hotel in which Herschel resided for over nine months without any visible means of support was situated right around the corner from LICA (International League Against Anti-Semitism, today called LICRA), whose legal representative was one of France's most famous lawyers, Moro Giafferi. In 1936 he had defended David Frankfurter, the murderer of Wilhelm Gustloff, in Switzerland. That crime had obviously been engineered by LICA. Only a few hours after Gruenspan's arrest at the German embassy, Ernst vom Rath was still alive and no news of the shooting could have been made public. Giafferi appeared at the police station which held Gruenspan and anounced that he was representing the assassin. Who paid him? Why his interest in an unknown foreign criminal who was illegally residing in France?
Nothing ever happened to Gruenspan. After the fall of France the French authorities handed him over to the Gestapo, which detained him hale and healthy during the whole war without bringing him to trial. After the war he was not tried by the French but was permitted to emigrate to Palestine, where he was reunited with his family. They had been deported from Germany to Poland whence they emigrated to Palestine. Where did Gruenspan Sr., a poor tailor, obtain the four thousand pounds sterling required by the British to permit his family of four entrance into Palestine? The solution to these puzzling questions is revealed in Flashpoint, a book by Ingrid Weckert. On the fateful day of November 9th the whole hierarchy of the National Socialist party was assembled in Munich to commemorate the fallen of the Hitler putsch on the same day in 1923. When the first news of the riots hit the assembly, everybody was aghast and immediate orders went out to the SA and SS to suppress all attempts of doing damage to Jewish properties. The German government was extremely concerned about its image abroad which was constantly smeared by hostile propaganda and it is inconceivable that the riots were ordered at a high level. It has been established that any orders given were issued by telephone through agents provocateur, who followed a well thought-out plan doing the maximum damage to the German government and people. Through personal contacts I was well aware fifty-five years ago that the version of the whole affair,as given by the foreign press,was obviously wrong. The president of the company I eventually worked for happened to be a Herr vom Rath, the uncle of the murdered embassy secretary, from whom I got a more detailed description of what went on in Paris after the assasssination. Dr. Eckener was in constant personal contact with Hermann Göring concerning air force matters and the building of a new airship, and he wrote to me that the airmarshal was in a state of shock because of the irreparable damage done to the German reputation abroad.
Our journey continued through very stormy weather and on the 16th of November we disembarked in Hoboken. The reception was not too friendly because the customs inspection lasted for hours and turned out to be a disaster for a few. Some young Polish Jews were hit especially hard. They were trained craftsmen and not being able to export any sizable amount of money from either Germany or Poland, they had invested all they had in tools of their trade. They had no money to pay the required duty for their brand new equipment, which was simply confiscated. I wonder if they remembered their treatment at the Dutch border, where nothing was taken from the harshly persecuted ones. When the surly customs inspector laid eyes on my brand new camera, my sterling silver flatware and my thirty year old, but still like-new looking microscope (but not my disassembled and concealed Luger) he literally began to salivate and declared everything for brand new and subject to duty payments. He had, however, not reckoned with the presence of my sponsor, Mr. Wilhelm von Meister, an imposing figure of nearly seven feet in height and capable of an impressive and demanding bearing. Already annoyed for having to come to Hoboken instead to one of the fancier shipping lines docking on the New York side, to which he was accustomed, he was visibly irritated by the slowness of the proceedings. He told the customs inspector in an inimitable British accent to repack everything because his time was too valuable to be wasted on such trivia. He further demanded that everything was to be kept under lock until the arrival of his lawyer, who would take care of the necessary formalities. The starteled inspector retreated immediately to the office of his superior and reappeared shortly to tell us that everything was okay and that we could leave with all of my belongings. This showed me for the first time that even in a much-vaunted democracy some people are more equal than others.
Thereafter I was driven to New York City and installed at a very comfortable hotel in downtown Manhattan. This was followed by a sumptious lunch at an exclusive club. Things were beginning to look up. My sponsor gave me $25 every week, which I was to repay after having obtained a job and getting settled. The weekly bill at the hotel amounted to $12 and a good dinner at that time was obtainable for less than $1.00. After three days at the hotel I got bored and called an acquaintance of mine who was residing at the International House of Columbia University. He immediately arranged for me to move uptown into a room at the House with a splendid view of the Hudson river and the George Washington bridge. The weekly cost of my new accomodation came to $9.00 and the food at the in-house cafeteria was even cheaper than in the downtown restaurants. I was beginning to feel affluent. The atmosphere at the house was most encouraging for a lonely stranger in a new country with a very limited knowledge of the then still prevailing language. The best I could do in English was to recite Marc Antonio's funeral oration from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, which together with Hamlet's "To be or not to be," had to be learned by heart during my high school years in Berlin. This did not get me very far when trying to order a hot dog, a cheeseburger or asking a gruff- looking policemen for some direction in downtown Manhattan. His curt but easily understandable answer: "Why the hell don't you learn first some English before asking stupid questions?" I must confess to some nostalgic thoughts at the time about the policemen in Berlin, placed at major intersections and carrying armbands designating the foreign languages they were speaking, who would accompany a stranger to the place he wanted to go, if they felt he didn't understand their verbal directions.
At the House things were very different because quite a few people did speak German, including a number of acquaintances from Berlin and Vienna, whom I had not seen in years and who had arrived earlier. There was also a great number of very attractive girl students who, after proper introduction, were kind enough to help me in improving my knowledge of basic English. After celebrating my first Thanksgiving among the students of the House I had to give some serious thoughts to the finding of a job. I had good credentials and personal recommendations to top executives at General Electric, Allied Chemical, Hanovia and RCA, whose world famous director of research, Vladimir Zworykin, was a good friend of my thesis-father in Berlin, Max Knoll, the original inventor of the magnetic electon microscope. In the latter's laboratory I had studied the then still very new and advanced field of electron-optics which became of fundamental importance to the development of TV picture- and camera-tubes. The course and the results of all these interviews with bigwigs of the American industry were of discouraging sameness. Before each meeting I was picked up by a chauffered limousine and a company representative who took me to lunch at an exclusive restaurant and, after consuming some fine food and a couple of soothing drinks, I was driven to a grimy looking factory in New Jersey where I was introduced to the top executive to whom I was reommended. After listening to a friendly and reassuring peptalk I was interviewed by several department heads, each of them offering me his best wishes for a successful future but regretting that at the time there were no openings in their departments. Thereafter I was driven to my temporary abode at the International House, again by chauffered limousine but this time without accompanying company representative.
Christmas was approaching and I became increasingly pessimistic about my chances of finding employment in my chosen field or otherwise. The country was in a deepening recession and the glowing stories which I had heard during the listening to foreign broadcasts while still in Berlin, of how the friendly genius Roosevelt was leading his country to new economic heights, lost some of their luster. I was walking up and down the endless avenues of New York to catch the flavor of The City but only developed a bitter taste, which has remained ever since. Yet, I do not want to be totally negative, because if I compare the New York of 1938 with the one I last visited in 1982, it seemed like paradise lost! To someone having been primarily raised in the two cleanest places of the world south of Scandinavia, namely Berlin and Switzerland, the first impressions were devastating. The streets were far from clean and the winterly winds blew the dust through the canyons between the skyscrapers resulting in sore eyes. The subways were incredibly noisy and grimy. Millions of peoples with strangely expressionless faces were constantly rushing around, seemingly from nowhere to nowhere. The show windows appeared dull and their displays were lacking taste but sometimes showed refreshing humor. I fondly remember a department store displaying ladies' unmentionables with a sign from a service station among them announcing: "We Are Fixing Flats." The best and cheapest diversions were a ride on the Staten Island ferry, which cost only one nickel, and a visit to gorgeous Radio City Music Hall which cost only 44 cents, if you were in time for the first show which started at 11am and lasted four hours.Even in those days, there was a noticeable hostility among all those different kinds of people who were thrown together into this gigantic heap which belonged to nobody and did not did not own anybody but only consumed its inhabitants. Most of the once stately mid-town brownstones had been converted into multiple appartments consisting of a rather small living room an even smaller bedroom and an improvised kitchenette-bathroom arrangement separated by a thin wall which only reached halfway to the ceiling. Many of the recently arrived immigrants wound up in these depressing places but soon moved up to Washington Heights located at the northern tip of Manhattan Island. There the appartments ranged from adequately roomy and airy to exclusively modern and beautiful with views of the Hudson River. A couple of years later this area was to be known as "Prussian Palestine," where the obligatory Dachshounds spoke German only.