The Autobiography of Dr. Emanuel Merdinger


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The Autobiography of Dr. Emanuel Merdinger Former Professor Emeritus of Biochemistry at the University of Florida
Physical Description:
Soft bound, typed manuscript; 281pp.
Merdinger, Emanuel
Stephen M. and Renee A. Sperling and Family, and Dr. Craig Henderson ( donor )
Copyright Date:


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General Note:
Dr. Merdinger was a Holocaust survivor. This is the only known copy of his memoir. It was edited and typed by Dr. Craig Henderson of Williston, Fl
General Note:

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Source Institution:
University of Florida
Holding Location:
University of Florida
Rights Management:
All rights reserved by the source institution.
Resource Identifier:
sobekcm - AA00004966_00001
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Former Professor Emeritus of Biochemistry at the
University of Florida

I first met Dr. Emanuel Merdinger when a mutual friend asked me to give him a ride so
he could visit his wife in a nursing home in Gainesville, Florida. It was a day of very heavy rain
in the spring of 1997. When I got to his house I found a frail, blind, stooped over man who still
displayed an inquisitive, rich and active mind. He asked me many questions about my life and
children, and remembered details of them. Later, when we were in his wife's room at the nursing
home, he recounted their ages and names for her. I thought this was quite a mental feat for a
holocaust survivor who was in his nineties.
Since that first day I have spent many hours with him, talking about his experiences. I
told him that he was living history, much more interesting than written history. I know that Dr.
Merdinger has had a burden to see his story be published both for historical record and to warn
and elighten those who will follow. When I first heard him tell about his manuscript I enquired
about it and was shown a lone copy, partially edited, on paper only, with no computer disk
backup. This worried me because if this one copy were somehow lost, it could never be
rewritten, since Dr. Merdinger was so frail. I volunteered my time to help get the manuscript
edited and stored on disc.
As I write this, he is in North Florida Regional Hospital suffering from congestive heart
failure. I believe he will not endure much longer. He has said on several occasions how
meaningful it is to him to know that his story will at last be told. Now his story is ready to be
shared with any who will listen.

For the Merdingers,

Dr. Craig Hend rson
510 B. S.W. 5th Terr.
Williston, Fl. 32696
Nov. 11,1997



My earliest recollection goes back to the time when I was

about three years old. I vividly remember the basement apartment

we lived in and the small courtyard paved with flagstones where I

used to play. The courtyard was surrounded by a stone wall, on

the top of which was cemented a tall iron-bar fence.

In the same building in a one-room apartment near ours lived

a nice elderly lady. Her name was Rosie, and she used to invite

me in occasionally and give me a small lump of sugar, which I

clearly remember liking very much. Occasionally I would enter

her apartment uninvited if the door was open.

One day in her apartment I saw her drinking something from a

small glass, and I asked her to give me some too. She tried to

discourage me by saying that it was not good, that it was

schnapps and not for small children. However I insisted, and she

finally gave in and let me drain the remaining few droplets from

the small glass. It was sweet liqueur, and I liked it. The

following day, while I was playing in the yard, I remembered the

sweet schnapps, but Rosie's solid wooden door was closed. When

Rosie's door remained closed for what seemed to me too long a

time, I went to the door and banged on it with my small fists,

and when there was no answer, I kicked with my heels. Either

Rosie did not hear or she did not want to answer. I called,

"Rosie, open the door," so loud I knew she heard me. Finally I

had a brilliant idea. I shouted, "Rosie, open or I will pee on

your door." This threat did wonders. I immediately heard

Rosie's voice, "Nein, nein, Mendele," (my nickname) "do not pee

on my door, I am opening right away." Not only did Rosie open

the door, but I persuaded her to give me a little of her sweet


When Rosie told the story of my strategy to my parents, they

had a good laugh and were proud of their son's resourcefulness

and inventiveness. My mother told the story over and over again

to family and friends. This is why I remember it so well. This

was my first experience with alcohol, a product of fermentation.

Little did I or my family dream how fermentation processes would

bubble throughout my life.

It was not alcohol nor was it schnapps that provided my

first experience, an unforgettable, beautiful experience in a


"Come, Mendele, come, let's go for a walk," said Galina, the

wet nurse for my baby sister, as she left for a shopping errand

in the center of town.

An obedient boy of four and a half years, I trotted along.

We passed a town tavern from which spilled out the sweetest

sounds imaginable. Against her will I pulled Galina inside so

that I might see the source of the heavenly music. I was

enthralled to see and hear a pink-faced man playing a violin, the

first I ever heard. Enraptured, I listened with body, mind and

soul. Though I wanted to linger on among the drinking men in the

tavern, just to absorb the music, Galina pulled at me, with

obvious circumspection, until we stepped out on the sidewalk and

walked out of hearing.

That crying, singing instrument made such an impression on

me that I kept on talking about it to my parents and asking them

to buy me a violin. In my imagination I could immediately play

the violin without difficulties. My father would certainly have

bought me one if only he had had the money. He comforted me by

saying that if he would win in the lottery he would buy me one.

Austria had a state lottery, which my father would play when he

dreamed of some numbers and thought they would bring him luck.

He never won and never bought me a violin.

I liked music and singing. In spite of the poverty in which

we lived, my mother used to sing occasionally for her youngest

child when she nursed, and I was delighted. She seemed never

inclined to sing when I requested it, but she sang spontaneously

when in the right mood.

I soon discovered that I myself could sing, and I sought

opportunities to sing with others. The first great one came when

I entered the first grade of grammar school. A teacher, Herr

Lehrer Traber, used to come into our classroom with a violin and

play Austrian songs. The children sang to his accompaniment, and

nobody was so happy and thrilled as I during these singing

periods. We moved into a less expensive apartment when I was

about eight. One of our new neighbors was Abraham Lehrer, older

than I by two years. He and his older brother were choir boys in

the biggest temple in my hometown. Abraham's brother died very

young, because of malnutrition, I think, and Abraham and I became

very much attached to each other.

The happiest hours in my childhood were spent with Abraham,

and we sang a lot. Because of his experience as a choir boy he

could sing an alto voice to any song he heard. The resulting

harmony was delightful to my soul. I studied Abraham's technique

with the alto voice, began to try it myself, and little by little

I became adept at arranging an alto voice for all our songs. We

both were happy when several other boys joined our choir.

Abraham assigned me the alto part. To make the choir richer he

himself began to sing bass. I think his shift to bass accounts

for his later becoming a baritone cantor.

We sang on the streets, we sang inside the house, we sang

during our daily walks, we sang everywhere. We sang the same

songs again and again and grabbed new melodies as fast as they

were created. Upon Abraham's recommendation the cantor of the

temple, Deutsch, gave me a practical examination, on the basis of

which he made me also a choir boy. I must have participated in

the choir for about a year before World War I broke out and our

cantor went away to Vienna.

The war interrupted also our private singing at home for a

while because of the tension and fear of the grownups. Little by

little we got used to the idea that Austria was at war; we began

to sing patriotic songs, which deeply pleased my father. He went

to the store, bought candies, and distributed them among us young

patriots as a reward.


The Bukowina (Buchenland), where I spent my first 23 years

is one of the most beautiful and blessed provinces in all Europe.

A little smaller than the state of Connecticut, it extends over

and beyond the east side of the Carpathian Mountains, which

contribute to its moderate climate. It has thermal and mineral

springs and is known throughout Europe for its many health


The Bukowina was ceded to Austria by Turkey in 1775 and

remained under Austrian rule for about 170 years. At the end of

World War I in 1918 it was given to Romania. Austria peopled the

Bukowina over the decades with all sort of citizens -- Jews,

Germans, Czechs, and other nationalities. Austria spent heart,

love and money to the hilt in the Bukowina although taxes and

products obtained from there amounted to much less. Until 1910

the Austrian-Hungarian monarchy had only a small number of

universities, one of which was in Czernowitz, the capital of the


Czernowitz used to be called "Klein Wien" or Little Vienna,

because it was a miniature of Vienna in many respects, including

art, music, organization and education. The Emperor Franz Josef

I (Francis Josef I) was fond and proud of the Bukowina, and the

Bukowinaer loved and revered their Kaiser. To this day the

Bukowinaer are deeply moved just by hearing his name. In these

feelings of affection and adoration for Austria and its Kaiser,

the Jews ranked first because of the freedom they enjoyed under

his government.

The Bukowina was inhabited by several ethnic groups,

including Germans, Romanians, Jews, Ukrainians, Poles and a

sprinkling of Hungarians. The rural areas were mostly inhabited

by Romanians and the cities by Germans, Jews and other


All minorities lived in harmony in the Austrian monarchy,

and the Bukowina was a true melting pot of nationalities. The

inhabitants were diligent and contributed to progress in all

phases of life. They pursued education assiduously. The

Bukowina enjoyed a fine reputation and wide respect and

recognition. It was the garden spot, the gem of the nation.

Every Bukowinaer, from the poorest to the richest, was proud to

be a Bukowinaer.

I was born in 1906, the second of six children in Suczawa,

later Suceava, Bukowina. My ancestors had lived through many

generations in this splendid and glorious town. All my relatives

who served in the Austrian army felt proud to have served under

Kaiser Franz Josef.

From 1918 to 1940 and again from 1941 to 1944 the Bukowina

was a province of Romania. In 1940 to 1941 and 1944 the Russians

occupied and unlawfully retained the northern part of this

province, the heart of which was Czernowitz, later Cernauti, and

presently Cernovtzi.

While the Bukowina was under Austria, the Romanians cried

over the loss of this territory. Nobody has described better the

beauty of the Bukowina than the greatest Romanian lyricist Mihai

Eminescu, who lived and studied for a while in Czernowitz at the

turn of the nineteenth century. Today the Romanians mourn the

occupation of this choice spot by Russian and sigh with regret

that little Romania is helpless alongside mighty Russia.

Suczawa was the southeastern-most city of the Austrian

empire. It was about four kilometers west of the small town

Itzkany, which was the border town on the Austrian side, as was

Burdujeni in Romania, the two towns separated by a strip of

no-man's-land only 100 meters long. The Austrians and Romanians

had their customs buildings in the respective towns. Burdujeni

proper was three and a half kilometers from the Romanian customs

building. Many commercial transactions between the two countries

took place at the point of contact between Itzkany and Burdujeni.

When World Was I broke out, I was eight years old. Austria

needed grain and bought a lot of it from Romania, which sold the

grain freely because Romania was neutral until 1916. Then it

declared was against Austria and Germany. Romania's entering the

war against these two countries was a surprise because King

Ferdinand of Romania was of the German royal family Hohenzollern.

Be that as it may, until Romania joined the war, business was

booming between these two countries. My father was involved in

the transfer of grain from Romania to Austria and was well known

by the Romanian customs officers.

In 1914 during my summer vacation my father took me along to

the border town, and I enjoyed observing people working,

unloading and loading sacks of grain, and I had fun jumping over

them. Scarcity of food after the outbreak of the war began to be

felt by the Austrians, including our family. My parents thought

of a way of supplying us with food by involving me. They knew

that cigarette lighters were scarce in Romania but abundant in

Austria. My father made some contacts while working in

Itzkany-Burdujeni, and soon I became his active agent.

My mother bought some cigarette lighters and put them into

my pants pockets and away I went with my father. On the way to

Itzkany he instructed me how to cross into Romania and from there

to walk to Burdujeni to the home of an acquaintance of my

parents. When we got to Itzkany, I followed his instructions to

the letter. While my father and his helpers were busy unloading

and loading the merchandise in the strip of no-man's-land and

everybody was busy counting and weighing the sacks of grain, I

crossed the lowered separating barrier by ducking under.

Uneventfully I arrived in Burdujeni and went to the house of the

family my parents knew. The lady took the lighters out of my

pockets and told me to wait until she returned. After a while

she came back with a killed chicken, which she then cut up,

spread on a long piece of cloth, and after turning and folding

the cloth a couple of times she wrapped and tied it around my

waist, and I was on my way to join my father.

When I came to the beam, which was high up because of

passing vehicles, I crossed the line walking as inconspicuously

as possible and joined my father, who hardly took notice of me.

When we got home in the evening, I gave a detailed report to my

mother while she unwrapped the chicken. My mother was satisfied

with the international adventure, and the nicest thing was that

my mother got busy washing the chicken and preparing it to be


This exchange of packages between my mother and the lady in

Burdujeni was not on a regular basis, but only when there was

need. Sometimes the exchange commodity was beef. This was cut

in thin layers, wrapped, and concealed near the bottom of the

lining of my heavy overcoat. I fulfilled my task unaware of the

danger involved. The childlike trust I had was to know that my

father was close by to rescue me should I be stopped by a

Romanian officer. The Austrian officers could not have cared

less what I did. Everything went smoothly, and I did this job

all year round as needed.

Then came the year 1916. The Austrians were not doing so

well. They needed men. My father was drafted, but he worked up

to the last minute. A couple of days before he left, we went to

Itzkany, and I, loaded with cigarette lighters, went on alone to

Burdujeni, on what should have been my last expedition. But when

I came to the lady in Burdujeni, she told me that I must come

once more because there was a very sick woman who wanted a

talisman blessed by the rabbi in Suczawa. She gave me money for

the rabbi to use for this service.

In the old country there were two types of rabbis. One

studied at universities and afterwards had very respectable and

well paying jobs. The other, the so-called Wunderrabbiner,

wonder-rabbi, learned only in Hebrew, did not go to public

schools and therefore had no formal education. The title rabbi

was inherited by the oldest son after the death of the father.

The unschooled son would immediately begin to perform religious

services, pray for and bless his congregation, who would accept

the new rabbi without hesitation. The superstitious population

would turn to the wonder-rabbi in any distress, as when business

would go bad, sickness would strike, or marriages would break up,

and ask him to bless them, since in the mind of the

blessing-seekers he was close to God and could talk to him. The

wonder-rabbi was usually paid for these blessings according to

the ability of the person, although often he would do it without

any compensation.

If the wonder-rabbi was a smart man, and often he was, in

interviewing the persons in distress he could find out the causes

of their troubles, and would give them sound advice and

blessings, and many would be helped. Depending on the wisdom of

the rabbi's advice, his reputation would spread, and he would

become famous. Many rabbis became also wealthy, and with wealth,

like everywhere else in the world, they gained influence and

respect. Occasionally gentiles would also seek his advice.

Although not wealthy, but a man of God, the wonder-rabbi in

Suczawa was widely respected. The same day I was given that task

to go to the rabbi for the blessings for the sick woman, my

father left for the army. I was somewhat fearful of going to

Burdujeni knowing that my father was not nearby, for I was only

nine and a half years old. My mother insisted that I go to the

rabbi because a sick woman was involved. To give me courage she

told me to ask the rabbi to bless me so that I could not be

caught by the Romanian customs officers. As usual she persuaded


The next morning I went to the rabbi and was received

immediately. Although I knew him by sight, I was scared when I

saw him so close. I told him the whole story and gave him the

money. First he asked me whether I had had breakfast. Although

I had not, I said, "Yes." My pride would not allow me to accept

a free breakfast. Then he got up, took a cane in his hand, which

people said was his late mother's cane, walked toward the corner

of the room, and began to pray, holding a coin in his other hand.

After he finished his prayer, he gave me the coin to take to that

sick woman, and before I left he put his hand on my head and

blessed me.

After I reported everything to my mother, she put the

cigarette lighters into my pockets and I started out. When I

crossed the barrier in Burdujeni, a Romanian customs officer

became suspicious of me because my father was not there or

perhaps he knew that my father had been drafted. The officer

ordered a man to follow me. I pretended to go to an outside

latrine, hoping that he would give up. When I came out, he was

there and came straight toward me asking me to come to the

customs office with him. The officer searched me and found the

cigarette lighters. I was scared stiff and pretended not to

understand anything they asked me. Then I began to cry. Maybe

the officer thought that he might be accused of badly scaring a

child. Anyway, he put the cigarette lighters back into my

pockets, told me never to show up again, and let me go.

Had I come home without the lighters, it would have been the

end of our world because my mother could not afford such a

financial loss. Scared to death, I told my mother the story

after returning home, but there was no need to tell her that I

would never again go to Burdujeni. I was even scared to look in

that direction. All this happened in spite of the blessings I

had received from the rabbi. Of course the sick person in

Burdujeni never received the talisman the rabbi gave me for her.

I myself carried that blessed coin in my pocket for a long time.

One day I climbed a small mountain near Suczawa, took that coin

from my pocket, and threw it as far as I could, trying to forget

my encounter with the Romanian customs.

In 1916 my father was drafted into the army. We were all

surprised that my father passed the physical examination because

a couple of weeks earlier a wooden box had fallen on his right

leg, which became badly swollen. He limped and used a cane to

reduce his pain on his walk to take his physical examination. My

mother and I accompanied him. When he came out and told my

mother that he was declared fit for military service, my mother

began to cry aloud on the streets. My mother's loud crying made

me feel ashamed.

We were by then five children, and my mother was pregnant

with the sixth. She did not want to have any more children and

as far as I can remember and could understand she tried

everything a midwife told her to do to bring about an abortion,

but it did no good and she resigned herself to reality.

As long as my mother received a government subsidy, we got

by. Soon, however, the Russians occupied the Bukowina, we were

shut off from the outside world, and no subsidy from the Austrian

government could get to us. It was a hard and trying time and

lasted for nearly two years.

At the age of ten I felt I had to do something to contribute

to the support of the family. There was a large number of

Russian soldiers and Russian administrative personnel in our

town. One enterprising Russian soldier ordered Russian

newspapers from Kiev, and youths participated in selling them to

make a small profit. I was one of them. Although I did not make

much by selling papers, my effort encouraged my mother and

stimulated my family to appreciate whatever we had.

I knew that selling newspapers was a demeaning occupation,

but young as I was I did not care what people might think.

However, ten years later I found out that the knowledge of my

selling newspapers had traveled one hundred kilometers from

Suczawa to Czernowitz. One day I had a dispute with a classmate

in front of the gymnasium in Czernowitz. Both of us tried to

offend the other, the more the better. I appeared to have the

upper hand until my classmate retorted, "I cannot be offended by

one who sold newspapers."

I could not answer that. I was beaten! His parents made a

living by selling alcoholic drinks to hoodlums, hobos and

peasants. This was honorable work; selling papers was not.

While in the U.S. newspaper boys are honored, in Europe they are

deemed to be discredited by the menial task.

My older sister Clara was very enterprising at her young

age. She induced my mother to rent a small stand in the park and

use it to resell all kinds of fruits brought in and sold by

farmers from the nearby villages. For a time my mother and Clara

started a Konditorei [pastry shop], which involved almost

eighteen hours of work daily. By such enterprising efforts my

mother managed to pull us through until the revolution broke out

in Russia.

In early spring of 1918 the Russians retreated, opening the

way for the Austrians to reoccupy their land. What a celebration

the whole town enjoyed! How the people celebrated the return of

the Austrians. These included our father, who was dismissed from

the service because of age; he was fifty.

During his two years in the military he was wounded in the

head. While hospitalized, his head pains were so unbearable that

he hit his head with his fists to dull the pain the wound caused.

To prevent this he had to be put into a straitjacket.

The war ended with the defeat of Austria. This nation, my

native land, was mutilated by the Entente, and the Bukowina was

given to Romania. Life became much harder.1

The new rulers did not give my father the pension he would

have received from Austria had the war not been lost. My

father's earnings were very small. Then my mother decided to

1 It should be emphasized that this account does not deal
with Romania of the 1970's and that whatever I shall say does not
reflect at all on today's government.

pitch in again, to help feed six mouths, by opening a sort of

restaurant. She prepared food in quantity, and customers took

away family-sized batches to serve and eat at their own homes.

As mentioned before, my father's earning were lean, and

leaner yet were those of my mother. Though we were assured of

one relatively good meal daily, the other meals were mainly corn

mush with milk, butter, or chicken fat. We children did not mind

that. The bad part was that we could not take corn mush to

school for lunch. I once took a piece of corn mush, which I had

roasted on the stove, to school, and kept it in my pocket in

order not to be seen by others. At lunch time I broke up pieces

in my pocket and put them into my mouth. The fear of being

caught with corn mush, plus the horrible taste, induced me not to

repeat this experiment.

We were too proud to acknowledge our poverty. It was a

shame to be poor. Our father taught us pride, ambition, honor

and love for our country from the day of our birth. After the

war our clothes were in pitiful condition. When the school

teacher offered clothes which were sent by the American Joint

Committee to needy pupils, my sister Clara, who was two years

older than I, answered, "No, thanks. We have plenty and don't

need such clothes. Give them to the poor." My father was very

proud of her. We did not want anybody's pity.



Before the ceding of the Bukowina, I was put into an

accelerated class because I had lost two years of school due to

the occupation by the Russians. The Russians had not allowed the

opening of schools; besides all teachers fled when it became

obvious that the Russians had broken through the Austrian front

line. The time of occupation of the Bukowina was called the

"Russenzeit," the time of the Russians.

Although I passed my fourth grade of grammar school with

only mediocre grades, I passed the entrance examination to

gymnasium, which was very hard, with flying colors. I did so

well in the written part that I was excused from the oral. This

spurred my parents not to discourage me from going to the

gymnasium, even though they needed my earnings. Until then my

parents had envisioned my future in a metal-working shop.

Suddenly my father was genuinely proud that one child of his

might get through gymnasium. In Austria and elsewhere in Europe,

four years of grammar school were mildly compulsory, eight more

years was a privilege, attained by only the rich and highly


My sweet and unforgettable friend Abraham Lehrer, whose

father had died when he was very small, could not think of

attending the gymnasium because his mother could not afford it.

He entered the traditional Austrian apprenticeship in a tailor


We were separated partly by our different interests and

partly by a gap in social standing that began to widen in spite

of our friendship. During the first year of gymnasium I saw him

scarcely at all. However, during my first vacation after the

first year we saw each other more and more during the evenings

after he left his workshop. One of our finest enjoyments still

remained singing. Some other boys joined us.

Following Austrian tradition, we began to serenade girls at

11 to 12 p.m. We were pleased when the serenaded girl came to

the window and lit a match, which was her thank-you. As in the

past, Abraham was the choir leader.

As we continued with our routine, I in gymnasium, Lehrer at

his workshop, we saw each other occasionally in the evening.

Together with new members of our group, our not-for-profit,

just-for-fun choir sang our troubles, sorrows and shortcomings

away. We became known as serenaders, and the girls of the town

were jealous of those known to have been serenaded.

Occasionally it happened that Lehrer set the key of the

songs a little too high and we could not make it to the end.

When that happened we had to break it up and run away, and the

poor girl was shamed to the toes because we did not finish the

serenade. None of the boys had any schooling in music.

Sometimes the harder Lehrer tried to set the right key of the

song, the more it turned out to be wrong. But we took it in

stride because none of us knew any better.

One day, by chance, something happened that turned the whole

choir upside down. On the street I found a tuning fork. In the

past I had seen one, but did not know how to use it. My

inquisitive mind worked hard, and after a few days of

experimenting with the tuning fork not only did I know how to

operate it, but I learned at what key to set most of the songs we

sang to avoid a premature ending.

When the boys, including Lehrer, saw me with the tuning fork

and heard me set every song at a range suitable to our voices,

they rejoiced. Tacitly I became the leader of the choir and

therefore of Lehrer. That was a victory that I did not seek nor

dream of, but it made me feel good. I was proud of having

figured out by myself the secret of the tuning fork, and of using

it to improve my standing among my singing peers. Lehrer did not

resent my displacing him, and he stayed on in the choir.

I was seventeen years old when I met an older youth on the

street who told me that he was leaving town and would like to

sell his violin cheaply. I understood that it was very

inexpensive and went straight home and told my mother. She knew

how much I would enjoy trying to play. When I told her the

price, she went to the dresser where she kept her money and gave

me the necessary amount without saying a word. To this day I

believe that she was left almost penniless. I repaid that sum

thousands of times later on, but her gesture to give me almost

all she had will always be unforgettable.

My parents had no savings but lived from day to day. Social

differences in those days weighed heavily upon me. The rich

would not mingle with the poor; even the educated poor were not

fully accepted by the rich. In order to become fully accepted by

the rich I would have had to break with my dearest friends and

become snobbish. I could not and would not do such a thing

because it would mean snubbing my own family. There was one such

case in my home town that filled me with disgust at the

perpetrator. Still I wanted to belong, to mingle, and to have

fun as the others did.

There was a recently formed student fraternity which

received a great deal of attention from the so-called

honoratiores of the town. For a long time I thought of trying to

join them, but would they accept me? I told one of them that I

wished to join them. He advised me to make an application, and I

did. I was bitterly hurt when they decided to give me a

hospitium, i.e., a trial period of four weeks in which they might

observe me. In fact this meant that they would not say "yes" but

could not say "no" either. At that time I did not realize the

humiliation associated with the hospitium. The four weeks passed

and I became a member. Little by little it dawned on me that I

was not one of them, but I thought I should try a little longer.

In Europe, especially in small towns, it was customary to go

for a walk [Spaziergang] on Saturday afternoons, on beautiful and

warm days, about the center of town. The sidewalks were packed

with Spaziergaengern. These walks in the center of town

[Hauptstrasse] lasted three to four hours. One Saturday

afternoon I went there looking for some fraternity brother with

whom to take the usual walk when I ran into Abraham Lehrer. I

had not seen him for quite some time, and we began strolling up

and down the Hauptstrasse.

We encountered mostly friends, with and without girls, and

the custom was to lift one's hat in respect to the girl even if

she was not known. On this particular Saturday afternoon I met a

fraternity brother whom I shall call K., accompanied by a girl,

and I lifted my hat as did Lehrer, according to the etiquette


After a few hours of walking I went home to study for the

following week. Half an hour later one of my fraternity brothers

came to tell me that I must come immediately to the headquarters

[Bude] of the fraternity. I was puzzled. What could be the

cause of such an emergency?

When I arrived there, the first person I saw was the

fraternity brother, K., whom I had met on the sidewalk with a

girl, and whom Lehrer and I had greeted with deference. K. was

red in the face and boiling mad. According to the fraternity

constitution, he required that I appear before a fraternity court

consisting of about five to six fraternity brothers. The ages of

the students forming the court ranged from 15 to 19. K. was the

accuser. He asked, "How did you dare to greet me in the presence

of a girl when you were in the company of a lousy tailor's

apprentice?" I was shocked but had no answer, for he himself

should have realized that his own father was not so long ago a

waiter. Later on his father was able to buy a restaurant, which

was a failure. Anyway, waiters did not rank high in the

hierarchy of that society.

The verdict of the juvenile court was that "should I be seen

once more in the presence of that tailor's apprentice I would be

dismissed from that fraternity in disgrace [chassiert]." The

humiliation and shame to which K. and the juvenile court

subjected me that Saturday afternoon made me realize that

actually I had never been a part of them. My heart ached, my

soul cried, and in my misery I tried to figure out a way to give

them an answer becoming to a person of honor, pride, and dignity.

When I left the fraternity house, I went straight to Lehrer and

asked him to come with me for a walk again. He gladly complied,

and the first person who saw us was the accuser K., in the

company of one of the judges of the fraternity court. My answer

to the fraternity was unmistakably clear. Because K. and the

rest had disgraced themselves, I ignored and defied them.

To date, in thinking of that incident, I am happy to have

shown that loyalty, pride, honor and dignity were not the

exclusive qualities of the rich. I never told Lehrer about that

infamous Saturday afternoon at the fraternity; neither did he

ever hear about it from anybody else. Even my own family never

knew. My proud and blitz-like response to the fraternity may

have caused them to realize how foolish and unjustly they acted,

though never a syllable has been mentioned to me to this day.

About the time of the incident of that Saturday afternoon,

K. courted a girl I shall call S., a classmate of mine. We boys

thought that S. was very beautiful, and everybody was in love

with her. It seemed to us young men that a marriage would result

from this romance. Fate wanted it otherwise. Upon insistence of

S.'s parents the romance as broken. The reason, as it circulated

in town and among us, was that K.'s parents were not up to par in

their social standing. The beauty's father was a wealthy and

very successful lawyer.

Just a few paragraphs will bring their stories up to date.

When I was a student at the University of Czernowitz, studying

sciences, K. studied law and we became good friends. K. never

finished his law studies but continued to make a living as a

fiddler-on-the-roof musician. He played the violin in

restaurants, at weddings, for bar mitzvahs, and the like, for a

time in Czernowitz and later after World War II, in Israel, where

he died several years ago.

In 1970 circumstances warranted my description of the K.

incident in an article in a German newspaper in Basel,

Switzerland. I made a copy of the published article and sent it

to S., who is married to an engineer in Bucharest. S.

acknowledged receipt of my article and reacted to it in a few

words, "I did not know that K. had blue blood in his veins."

While I was an Exchange Scientist of the National Academy of

Sciences to the Romanian Academy of Sciences in Bucharest in

1971-'72, S. and her husband and my wife and I saw each other

often. S. is still the democratic person she was as a girl. She

would have married the person she loved regardless of his social

standing. Nevertheless, one must not underestimate the power and

influence of parents on their children, especially parents of

half a century ago.

S. lived up to her democratic nature when her single child,

a daughter with a professional engineering degree, fell in love

with and married an Italian craftsman and left for Italy. S.

continues to be the charmer she always was. My wife, an

American-born Georgia peach, and S. got along beautifully.

Now let us return to the scene of my boyhood. Lehrer was a

very courageous boy, and my endeavor to follow his footsteps

nearly cost me my life. One of the great free pleasures shared

by rich and poor in my home town during the summer was swimming

in the nearby river Suczawa. Swimming places were separated for

men and women. Men swam nude and enjoyed refreshing exercises in

cool, clean water.

One day a group of striplings, including Lehrer and me, was

gathered in a choice spot at the river. Suddenly we saw a head

sticking out of the water trying to call for help but quickly

disappearing. The daring Nathan Strominger had gone too far into

deep water and could not swim. We were all paralyzed by fear.

No grown person was near to rescue the drowning Nathan. It

was noble, sweet Abraham Lehrer, half the size of Nathan, who

jumped into the water and rescued him, endangering his own life.

The irony of fate was that one of the judges of the fraternity

court that had condemned me for my friendship with Lehrer was

Nathan Strominger, whom Lehrer rescued from certain death. But

Lehrer remained the hero among our group. In the years that

followed, Lehrer did not mention even once, as far as I know,

that episode which could have had a tragic end without his brave


In his twenties Lehrer moved to Czernowitz, and thanks to

his beautiful voice he became a cantor in one of the many temples


Lehrer's courage had a deep and lasting influence on me, and

in trying to follow his example I was almost drowned. Two months

after the drowning accident with Strominger our crowd again

enjoyed a day at the river, jumping from a high point of the bank

into the water and swimming. A springboard belonged in the land

of fairy tales.

Suddenly a tall older boy by the name of Zettel maliciously

pushed a classmate of mine, Mikusch, into the river. Like me,

Mikusch was ten years old, but he could not swim. He surfaced

once and sank again. The scoundrel Zettel, who was a good

swimmer, did not move to help him.

Seeing that, I jumped into the water, found Mikusch, and

grabbed him to swim with him to the shore. But as soon as

Mikusch felt me near him, he grabbed me around my neck and made

swimming impossible. I tried to loosen his grip by choking him,

but everything was in vain. I simply could not get my hands free

to swim.

Because of Mikusch's weight on me I was on the bottom of the

river and instinctively walked toward the shore. I began to

drink water and thought my end had come. During my walk with

Mikusch's arms and body around me and my neck in the vise of his

hands, I reached shallow water. When Mikusch's head was just

above water, Zettel came and took him away from me. Free now, I

swam ashore with my last breath and strength.

When I saw Mikusch sitting in the shallow water recovering I

walked toward him, hit him in the face as hard as I could with my

hand. He did not even feel it. Then I asked him, "Why did you

choke me and not let me rescue you?" He answered, "I had only

one thought; if I go, you must come with me to death."

Of course I was proud to have saved a human life. But

thinking how easily I could have died with the victim, I often

asked myself in later life whether I would do it again, but have

never been able to come up with a definite answer.

Mikusch failed the entrance examination into gymnasium and

began to work in his father's Selcherei [a store selling pork

products]. At the age of seventeen or eighteen, about eight or

nine years after the accident, I saw him once, passing me by

without looking at me. By then he was already a member of the

Nazi party, so I was told. Several years later I heard that he

committed suicide because of contracting an incurable venereal


With regard to Abraham Lehrer, I wish to add that when the

Russians occupied Czernowitz in 1940 in accordance with the

Stalin-Hitler pact, they transformed many temples into

warehouses, and Lehrer lost his job as a cantor. To make a

living he sold beer in an improvised beerhall. After the war I

was told that when Hitler attacked the Russians and the Germans

occupied Czernowitz in 1941, Lehrer and his wife were shot by the


Now I am returning again to the story of my violin. I had

no money for lessons. Some classmates who studied violin would

come to me from time to time and give me some instruction. First

I learned how to count time. Other hints, such as how to read

music and change fingers on the four strings did not seem

important to me then; years later the little instruction the

classmates gave me came in very handy. I practiced the violin a

lot by ear. Soon I could play any song or melody I could


After a while I got tired of playing the same songs over and

over and began to play things which came simply floating or

dancing through my mind. I could do a tune only once. If I

tried to do it again, something else came out. I did not realize

that I was improvising new and original melodies. But since I

could make them anytime I was in the mood, it did not matter to

me whether I remembered them or not.

One day I improvised a tune which was quite pleasing to my

ear. I was able to repeat it a number of times until I knew it.

When the choir got together, I rehearsed the tune a few times,

and it sounded beautiful. The boys accepted it with enthusiasm

and I was delighted. The next time serenading came up, with

tra-la-la-la we sang this song with great success. I may have

composed a few other tunes which I have forgotten by now,

although the first one is still intact in my memory. This little

insignificant gift of composing melodies came to have an

important bearing on my future, which perhaps saved my life.

While I was a student at the University of Czernowitz, I

used to come home during holidays for only a few days to see my

parents. Nearly all of my old buddies by then had left their

home town for other cities and countries. There remained an old

classmate and friend, Karl Grossmann, keeping his mechanic shop,

which he and his brother had inherited at the death of his


He was usually the first to come to greet me, and he

unfailingly asked me to visit his old, feeble, arthritic and

retired friend Knop, who used to work in his shop before and

after the death of Karl's father. Old Simon Knop had come from

Vienna to Suczawa at the turn of the century and worked in the

mechanic shop until his strength gave out and he had to quit.

At that time (1925) there was no socialized medicine, no

pension, and no insurance. Retirees exhausted their savings, if

they had any at all, and then were at the mercy of pitying and

compassionate souls and the charity of society. Workers lived

from hand to mouth. Karl had a golden heart. There was no one

else like him in the whole community. Like the majority of

Austrians, Knop was Roman-Catholic and Karl's main self-imposed

task was the welfare and comfort of the aging and ailing Knop.

Karl provided for Knop's daily needs, drugs, and medical care and

was especially thoughtful during religious holidays.

For religious holidays Karl provided goodies and special

foods not only for him but also for his callers. With joyful

satisfaction I remember contributing quite often to Knop's

entertainment with my violin and our choir and some good little

chats. I was pleased that Knop knew my father and spoke well of

him. Today, being myself of early advanced age, I can understand

how these visits and entertainment brought hours of happiness to

good old Knop.

The rest of Karl's life can be summarized in a few lines.

Along with many other Bukowinaer survivors of the holocaust, Karl

went to Israel and established himself relatively well. There

was one thing which made him most unhappy: namely, he had to

wear the Jewish ceremonial cap while he was an instructor in a

religious school. He was an old-time social democrat and not

religious. He was required to wear a cap or else. He took the

easier way, to submit. Still he was unhappy to be forced to

practice a religious ritual in order to have a job.

While on a research leave in 1967 I visited Israel and found

many Suczawaer in Tel-Aviv. In notifying one of my old chums,

journalist Martin Haas, of my coming, I told him that although I

should have little time to see buddies, I must see Karl. Karl's

desire and compulsion to help others was proverbial all through

his life; he would give away his last penny just for the joy of

helping. I consider myself lucky to have seen him again in 1967

after 26 years, especially because only one year later Karl died.

I was in the second year of gymnasium when the Bukowina was

ceded to Romania at the close of World War I. Under the new and

extremely chauvinistic rulers, life for the working class and all

Jews was very hard. These chauvinists were anti-Semitic and

through propaganda they turned the Romanian population of the

Bukowina against their former Jewish friends and neighbors. The

slogans used were that the Jews were living off the Romanians,

the Jews exploited the Romanian population, and the Jews should

go to Palestine. Of course there were some well-to-do Jews, but

the majority of them were very poor.

My family belonged to the poor. My father used to work

eighteen hours a day, six and seven days a week and could not

earn enough to feed his family, and the same thing was true for

many, many families in my native town. To be therefore accused

of exploiting others did not make sense, and bitterness in the

Jews against the new rulers grew more and more. Persecutions

made the Jews increasingly unhappy and they longed for the time

when they had lived in Austria as free people, even if they had

lived in poverty. I still remember the hunger pangs I used to

have in school because my mother could not give me anything to

take along for lunch.

The greatest difficulty for us young students was the

unreasonable demand by the new rulers that we learn to use, in an

unreasonably short time, the Romanian language as well as the

Romanians. Language deficiency was a means to flunk us out of

the gymnasium as quickly as possible. For instance, a Bukowinaer

teacher for Romanian was assigned to teach my class in the third

year of gymnasium. He did not teach us at all. His job was, as

we learned later, to decimate us. That teacher, whose name was

Carlan, several years later became a congressman of the "Cuza"

party, the object of which was the elimination of the Jews.

One of Carlan's followers told me later that Carlan's job

was to flunk as many of us as possible, to eliminate future

Jewish intellectuals. There is no doubt in my mind that the

newly appointed director of the gymnasium, Burduhos, selected

Carlan for this devastating job. Our dislike and hatred, though

hidden, knew no bounds. In the late thirties, speaking our

family language, German, on the streets or in other public places

was forbidden and cause for arrest. Many, many families and

teenagers left Romania for other countries, taking with them the

Bukowinaer heritage.

Until the sixth of gymnasium I was in a German section and

our instructors lectured and examined us in German. If one of

the many who was deliberately flunked out wanted to repeat the

class he could do it only by going into the Romanian section,

where everything was taught in Romanian. If he could not do so

because of the lack of knowledge of Romanian, he was forced to

give up his education, which was the intent of the Romanians.

There was no German section anymore; we were the last of the

Mohicans. Five years after the Bukowina was given to Romania,

Romanian educators and politicians demanded of us who studied

Latin, Greek, French, and German to master Romanian as well as

the native Romanians did, and with one stroke tried to erase the

knowledge of the language which we had first learned. That was

the new generation and spirit of educators surrounding us.

Without exaggeration I can state that by the time we reached

the sixth of gymnasium, 85 percent of the initial 79 students

kept in one classroom at the beginning had flunked out. Many of

these "failures" went to other countries, especially France,

where they continued their studies successfully and became

capable physicians, engineers, professors, etc., and devoted

useful citizens of their adopted countries.



In the sixth year of gymnasium there remained only one

section, the Romanian one. I tried it for two months, but it was

impossible for me to continue. I dropped out in good standing

and registered as a private student in a gymnasium in Czernowitz.

This was allowed according to the Austrian law, which still

existed in the Bukowina. In fact, Austrian civil and criminal

law could not be changed overnight but remained in use until the

eruption of World War II.

It was known that in Czernowitz the teachers in the

gymnasium had more power than they had in Suczawa because the

large majority belonged to the old-guard Austrians. For months I

studied on my own, although it was very difficult, but I could

not afford to live in Czernowitz. Toward the end of the year I

went there and took the comprehensive examinations and passed

them all.

It would have been impossible for me to study on my own for

the following two years of gymnasium; so I made a great decision

for my young life -- to go to Czernowitz for the last two years

of school, attending as a regular student. There were four

classical gymnasiums, one each for Romanians, Germans, Jews and

Ukrainians. The toughest was the Jewish Gymnasium. I was in

this one, where there was a stronger force of the old Austrian

guard and where the instructors dared to use the German language

for their lectures. In Europe the instructors in gymnasiums have

the title "professor," which is, however, different from that of

"university professor." These gymnasium professors were tough as

could be, but they were humane. Their attitude was that only the

capable should study, but they did not try to decimate the


My gymnasium days in Czernowitz were hard. In the room I

shared with an old couple there was not even a table on which I

could do my homework. Hunger was my constant companion.

Ridiculous iron-clad mores forbad students from doing any kind of

work to support themselves. One exception was acceptable. A

student might tutor other students.

In Suczawa I was known as a good tutor, but in Czernowitz

nobody knew me. I had to wait for my opportunity, which came

only toward the end of my first year. My eldest sister Clara,

who had gone to America, helped me occasionally with a little

money. In my last year of gymnasium I stood almost on my own


How many difficulties a poor youngster had to battle in my

time is illustrated by one episode. In the last year of

gymnasium, thanks to my sister's support and my tutoring, I had a

much better place to live. It was not in a basement as in the

previous year, but on the second floor. I shared a room with

three other men, but I was the only student and could study when

I was in our room. My tutoring took me away from daytime study,

and I had to study late into the night. My landlord did not like

this because I used electricity.

One evening as I was preparing for the following day, the

clock struck ten. The landlord came in with a burning candle,

put it on the table, turned off the electric light, and stalked

out. He had no right to do this because I was paying for a room

with electricity. He just took advantage of my shyness and

helplessness. The candle did not give sufficient light, but I

managed. In a short while the candle burned out, and I had to

quit before completing my preparations. From then on I had to

buy my own candles to light my books after ten p.m.

So, by dogged persistence, and my sister's occasional

contribution, I got through gymnasium. The last examination, the

"maturity examination" for the baccalaureate, was most

terrifying. In Czernowitz there were 207 candidates for this

milestone examination. By chance I overheard the president of

the maturity examination committee say that he had received only

100 diplomas from the Ministry of Education in Bucharest and that

at least 107 had to be flunked. Even so, only 78 passed, and

among these I ranked twelfth from the top.

I was determined to pull myself out of poverty and to be

able to help myself and my family. This could be accomplished, I

knew, only by getting a university degree. I had wished to study

medicine since I was knee-high, but family circumstances forced

me to abandon this ambition. It was only by a miracle, as I

realize now in looking back at my struggle through deprivations,

that I even finished gymnasium.

Among Jews in Europe there was a tradition and an unwritten

law that when a girl became engaged, someone in the family had to

promise a dowry to her fiance. This was usually the father of

the girl. In the case of my sisters, what could my poor father

promise if he did not own anything? It sometimes happened that a

bride's father would promise a dowry and later refuse to keep his

promise, but this was the exception. Any father who broke his

promise was despised by everybody who learned about it. In our

family I was the one who had to take the obligation of a dowry

for three sisters. I often thought myself lucky that one sister

lived in the United States and that I did not have to worry about

a fourth dowry.

It was in September of 1926 that I passed the maturity

examination, and I had to plan quickly for my future studies. My

hope to study medicine was blocked by lack of money for myself

and the burden of a dowry for my sister Anna; otherwise I most

likely would have gone abroad to study medicine.

Under the existing circumstances I registered at the

University of Czernowitz, department of science, and enrolled in

some chemistry and biology courses. The "liberta academica" the

freedom of a student to attend the lectures or not, came in very

handy. It gave me the freedom to tutor nearly all the time

except for the laboratory periods, which I had to attend. I

tutored gymnasium students in mathematics, Latin, French,

Romanian, history and geography, and a few in Greek.

My reputation as a first-class tutor grew and grew, and I

was so busy with this work that many times I even skipped

laboratory work. At the end of the year I took examinations in

only half the subjects for which I had registered, but passed

these with average grades except in chemistry where my grades

were better.

During this year I had amassed most of the amount of money I

had promised to give to Anna. The second year at the University

of Czernowitz continued in the same vein. In this period I not

only had completed Anna's promised dowry but had saved enough

money to leave the country in order to finish my studies at the

German University of Prague.

At this German University, most people from the Bukowina

flourished, because this city had also been a part of Austria and

we felt so much at home. I passed nearly all my examinations

"with distinction," and in 1931 I took my M.S. degree with a

major in pharmacology. Unfortunately, foreigners were not

allowed to work in Czechoslovakia. I had to live very thriftily,

not being allowed to tutor. I had enough time to study and

wanted very much to continue my graduate studies in Prague, but

my finances did not allow this. Occasionally I made an extra

penny by taking pictures of groups of students and professors

with my camera and charging a few cents per picture for my time.

This enabled me to get an occasional decent meal.

On the basis of information I gathered about studies in

other foreign countries, I decided to go to Italy, because I was

told that the tutoring system was alive and that the authorities

did not object to such work by foreigners. After my graduation

in June 1931, I made plans to go to Italy in the fall. During

the summer I was in Czernowitz tutoring to raise enough money to

last me a couple of months in Italy.

I studied a little Italian after deciding to go to Italy,

especially with my unforgettable friend who had studied Italian,

Leo Mader. Italian was easy for me because I knew Romanian,

French and Latin very well -- all of them Romance languages.

Since nothing is better and more helpful for studying a language

than living where the language is spoken, in almost no time I was

ready to begin studies at an Italian university.

The first university I visited was in Pisa. Foreign

students, especially Bukowinaer, were everywhere. The presence

of many foreign students made the living expenses so high there

that I decided to seek better conditions in Modena. There I

found the situation the same as in Pisa.

I inquired about universities having only a few foreign

students. The university in the nearby city of Ferrara was just

what I needed. The reason for this university's having a very

small number of foreign students was that most foreign students

came to Italy to study medicine and the curriculum here had only

two years of medicine. To finish, students had to go to another

university after two years in Ferrara. Today Ferrara has a

complete faculty (school) of medicine, and foreign students are

as abundant as in any other Italian university.

My desire was to study for a Ph.D. degree in chemistry, and

Ferrara had such a faculty of science, including chemistry,

pharmacy, natural science, mathematics, engineering and physics.

I came to Ferrara, and upon consultation with a professor, I was

told that with my master's degree in pharmacology it would be

easier for me to take first a doctorate in pharmacy. One year

after that I could get my Ph.D. in chemistry, because these two

degrees could be coordinated according to the curriculum of the

university. I agreed to follow this scheme and undertook the two

doctorates as recommended.

I registered and began to attend the required courses. The

money I brought with me went very fast, mostly for my room, and I

could not find any source of earnings. I was getting hungry and

poorly nourished. All I could permit myself to buy was bread.

For three months my three meals a day consisted mainly of slices

of bread spread with some chicken fat that my mother gave me when

I visited home on my way to Italy.

This diet apparently brought on a severe diarrhea that

lasted three days. Something had to be done. I went to the

president of the Ferrara Jewish Community Center, Professor

Magrini, and asked him to find me some work. He refused and

harshly so. But I did not give in to him.

I went to the president of all Italian Jewish Communities,

who happened to be located in Ferrara, and explained my

situation. He was very nice and offered me a free meal daily at

the Ferrara Jewish Community Center. I refused it, for I could

not stoop to being a beggar, and I appealed for honest work to be

able to live.

He was impressed by my refusal to accept the free meal and

asked me to come back after a couple of days. I did so and the

president told me to go back to Professor Magrini, with whom he

had talked, and that he would give me some work.

When I came to Professor Magrini, he was a little nicer, and

gave me a German book to translate into Italian. He assured me

that he was interested in the book and gave me an advance of

fifty lire. This corresponded to about five dollars and tided me

over for approximately ten days. My expenses, including my room

and tuition, amounted to not more than three hundred lire a month

if I lived frugally.

In the meantime I had written to my sister Clara in the

United States and asked her to send me a loan of $30 each month

for a little while until I was able to support myself.

Unexpectedly an instructor of German in a gymnasium sent me

a student for tutoring three times a week. The going rate for

tutoring a high school student was ten lire an hour. That was a

break. Then I began to tutor in German some colleagues of mine

at the university; they paid two lire an hour. Suddenly in a

short time, my private students increased until there was no need

to go hungry anymore.

This was about the time $30 from Clara arrived, which I no

longer needed. I wrote her of the improvement in my financial

situation and told her to let me know what to do with the $30.

She never answered, and several years later I gave the money to

my parents.

Things went well for a time. I attended lectures, studied

and spent all the rest of my time tutoring, for little by little

my reputation as a good teacher spread all over town.

In 1934 I passed nearly all my examinations with the highest

grades and got my doctorate in pharmacy with the highest possible

number of points. On the basis of my high grades, all my tuition

and laboratory fees were refunded to me according to Italian

university laws. This money was used for my Ph.D. degree in


In the fall of 1934 I registered for my doctorate in

chemistry. I felt grateful to Italy, to Ferrara in particular,

and to everyone for the opportunity I had there. I wanted to

show my appreciation and gratitude to the university and to

Ferrara and tried to think of something to do that was important

and worthwhile.

Before long an idea came to me, and I hoped it would be well

received. The University of Ferrara had no language department.

Relations between Italy and Hitler-Germany began to warm up, and

the demand for studying the German language increased daily. I

proposed to the University that I teach a couple of evening

classes in German and that the resulting tuition money be given

to the poor.

Fascism, however, did not recognize that there were poor

people in Italy; so this latter part of the proposal was not

acceptable. Then I proposed that the money be used for the

pre-fascist traditional Christmas packages to make Christmas

merrier for some. This was accepted with grace and gratitude,

and the packages provide food to the poor of Ferrara.

In the fall of 1934 I began to teach two courses of German

at the university, each twice a week, and the result was

excellent. Because of the great demand, I increased the German

courses to four a week in the following years. The gift of money

for Christmas was appreciated by the Roman Catholic Archbishop

Bovelli, whose personal secretary, Don Bassi, was one of my dear

students in German. My contribution was brought to the attention

of the Archbishop by Don Bassi and by the newspaper Corriere

Padano. In recognition of my service Archbishop Bovelli invited

me twice for an audience, although he knew that I was Jewish.

Both times I was accompanied by an outstanding Roman

Catholic, my unforgettable friend, the late Alighiero Paparella,

whom I had befriended during my studies of pharmacy. Alighiero,

eighteen years my senior, was a gymnasium instructor. He studied

pharmacy part-time because he thought he would someday inherit a

pharmacy from an uncle. As we studied together, I tutored him so

that he could pass his examinations, and a great friendship

developed between us and between his family and me. I considered

him closer than a brother. He knew all about me and sympathized

with me for the difficulties I had gone through. I appreciated

his friendship and his advice as a native Italian.

In 1935 I attained my doctorate in chemistry and began to

teach in the University School of Engineering. My desire to go

on and study medicine was still alive, but again many

circumstances restrained me from doing so. At this time I had

saved enough money and paid for my second sister's dowry, even

though she had already been married for some months.

Now my youngest sister began to press for her share through

letters from my father.

I was tired of dowries by now and resented being asked. The

resentment came from my need to give of my own free will, not to

be pushed and forced. I finally gave in to the insistence of my

married sisters and paid out a third dowry. I did it for the

sake of my parents. Again I scraped the bottom of my little

savings barrel.

Another factor bore down hard on me. My parents, who had

gone to my sister Clara's in the United States, came back because

my mother could not adapt herself to a new world at her advanced

age. The main barriers were the lack of knowledge of English and

the consequent lack of neighbors to talk to.

Many times I wrote to my parents to stay there, because one

did not need to be a prophet to foresee an oncoming war. Mama

argued that she had brought all her children through "the World

War" and that if another war occurred she could bring her family

through again. She failed to consider that she and Papa were

already old and that her children were adults accountable to

governmental authority. My poor father really wanted to stay in

the United States. My strong-willed mother was determined to go

back to Suczawa. I was not happy that in spite of all my

attempts to make them stay there Mama prevailed over both Papa

and me, and they came back.

Both my parents were at that time in their late sixties, and

I felt that they should not be working anymore. Therefore, in

agreement with my sister Anna, who was the eldest at home and who

had become the leader of our family there, I sent my parents

monthly a sum adequate for their needs.

These were the circumstances that made my going in for

medicine impossible. For all the cumulative courses I had passed

I would have obtained four years of credit in medical school, and

in two years could have finished. I would have been obliged to

leave Ferrara because the University then had only three years of

medicine, and I would have been reluctant to give up the

prestigious position as a faculty member in the School of

Engineering. Besides, as mentioned before, I was without funds

and had taken upon myself the obligation to help my parents.

Blocked off from a career in medicine, I registered for a

doctorate in natural sciences, but as a part-time student because

of my heavy work schedule. I did not think that my studies in

natural science would drag out until 1939, as they did because of

unpredictable events.



Three years after my registration for the studies of natural

science the Hitler-Mussolini pact came into being and the whole

European situation began to look pretty sad. German emissaries

were sent to Italy. They began to foment and instill

anti-Semitism in all kinds of ways. Also there were enough

Italian opportunists to try to climb the ladder by opening a

campaign of hatred and abuse against their Jewish compatriots

loyal for centuries to their country.

Another aggravating factor intervened. I made the greatest

mistake of my life by persuading my sister Anna to lend to a

person in Czernowitz the money I had given her for her dowry, for

a moderate amount of interest. The money was insured by a first

mortgage. I assured Anna that she would not lose her money,

because I would return it if something should go wrong. In fact

the borrower soon stopped paying interest. The piece of real

estate on which Anna had had the first mortgage is still in

Czernowitz, but the despots there are now the Russians.

Anna was not worried about her money, she was only

disappointed that I had put myself into such a situation. Had

she kept the money, she would have lost it the same way my sister

Lotty lost hers when they all went to a concentration camp. Only

my third sister's money was used up with lightning speed by her

husband's mismanagement and ignorance long before they went to

concentration camp. What about my own savings? The story about

that will follow very shortly.

In spite of the increasingly hostile situation against Jews

in Italy I continued my work at the university at the school of

engineering and my evening courses in German four evenings a

week. I faithfully continued to turn over the tuition money paid

by the students to the catholic committee, which took care of the

Christmas gifts for the poor.

One day the vice rector of the university, whose very

capable son I tutored privately, asked me to help a friend of his

family, the widowed Duchess Massari of Ferrara. She was sick,

and since she could afford it, she called a physician from

Germany for advice. The physician did not know Italian and the

Duchess only a little German. I would help by interpreting. I

did it gladly since I appreciated the fact that the vice

president chose me for that task, which remained confidential as

far as I personally was concerned. The vice rector was not a

member of the Fascist Party.

The duchess, a highly cultured person, decided to take

private German lessons from me to make it easier for her and the

German physician in case she needed him again. Although the

duchess was in her fifties, she learned surprisingly well, and I

was happy to have a prominent socialite as a student. It gave me

prestige because the duchess spoke well of me with her prominent

friends. Only a few years later she would help dissipate the

fascist-Nazi clouds for a while.

My name became a household word in Ferrara. The city had

about 150,000 inhabitants and a letter addressed to me with only

my name and city was sufficient to reach me without delay, while

the lack of an exact address on a letter to some well-known

Italian in Ferrara would cause the letter not to reach its


As a foreigner I had to go from time to time to the police

to fill out certain documents. On such occasions the police

officer, Panebianchi, would run out from behind his desk, offer

me a chair and talk in the most polite and nicest possible

manner. How long would such deference last?

From time to time the leading newspapers, Corriere del Sera,

La Stampa, etc., would drop an indication that there was nothing

good in store for Jews in Italy, especially foreign Jews. My

private students would inform me confidentially about Mussolini's

ties to Hitler and the deluge that would not be long in coming.

It was hard for me to believe that Mussolini, who had many

important Jews in his administration whose loyalty he never

questioned, would cooperate with Hitler to such an extent.

Many important posts and political jobs were held by Italian

Jews. The mayor of Ferrara, Ravenna, who had occupied this post

for many years, was a Jew and a childhood friend of the Minister

of Aviation, Italo Balbo. Balbo accomplished the transoceanic

flight with 24 airplanes in 1933, which was considered an

extraordinary feat. An active general of the armed forces, who

participated in the Ethiopian war and whose daughter was a

private student of mine, was a Jew stationed in Ferrara. He told

me confidentially of his apprehension about things to come. The

comforting thing, however, was that the people with whom I was

always in contact did not approve of Mussolini's ties with


In January 1938 I had the first taste of trouble to come in

the not-too-distant future. While I was lecturing one day, a

group of students outside in the courtyard began to scream and

holler, calling my name in chorus, so loud that I could not hear

my own words. I felt embarrassment and humiliation, which

emotions were quite obvious to my students. I could not tell

what was going on in their minds. During the screaming outside,

from time to time I could see a smile on some of their faces.

Today, after more than 35 years I can say that these students

were put up to this demonstration by an opportunistic fascist,

who in turn had got orders from others higher in the fascist

hierarchy. I will admit that some of the demonstrating students

did it with pleasure.

When the demonstration was repeated twice more, I notified

the administration (they, of course, were very well informed

about it) that I was ready to stop my teaching if the

demonstrators were not stopped. This helped. To save face the

administration asked for help, because had I stopped teaching --

and I was dead serious about it -- it would have been a slap in

the face of the fascists. To prevent me from quitting, fascist

militiamen were put as guards to disperse would-be demonstrators.

I have to say that my own students did not participate in,

nor did they approve of, the demonstrations. Among my students

in my last year of pre-war teaching at the university, there were

several from foreign countries. One was from Yugoslavia. The

Italian students did not like him because it was known that

Yugoslavia aspired to some Italian territory. Most of the time I

saw him in the court of the university standing all by himself.

He was very nice, polite and quiet, and being myself a foreigner,

I felt sorry for him. Unknowingly he was to play an important

role in an episode of my life several years later.

Toward the end of May 1938 all the Nazi laws against Jews

were adopted in Italy. Overnight, Italians were declared to be

Aryans, as announced in all morning newspapers. This

announcement was an irony and scientifically unfounded. If there

is a typical non-Aryan nation on earth, it is the Italian nation.

In walking on the streets in Italy, one is inevitably reminded

that Italians are the descendants of many nationalities. They

are a blend of Turks, Arabs, Moroccans, Austrians and other

nationalities from Europe, Africa and Asia with whom they had

commercial relations for centuries, making Italy a relatively

rich country.

About the same time, I was notified orally that I would be

teaching no longer at the university. Panic and sadness could be

seen on the faces of the loyal Jewish citizenry. The Jewish

business people had to turn over their inventories to the fascist

state and were never compensated for their financial losses.

No Jewish children could attend public schools or

universities beginning September 1938. The Jewish community in

Ferrara was in despair. Mayor Ravenna of Ferrara was deposed,

and the same fate was shared by all state employees. All Jewish

military career officers were dismissed from the armed forces.

To date I still can see the tears of that Jewish general friend

who told me, "Can you imagine the hurt, shame and humiliation I

am suffering not to be entitled to send my child to school, while

the Abyssinians, our enemies, whom I fought against in 1936, and

the criminals and murderers can!"

Under the leadership of the deposed Mayor Ravenna, the

Jewish Community Center improvised a gymnasium where all Jewish

children in Ferrara could continue education. I was in charge of

teaching chemistry and science. My private teaching was booming.

My replacement at the university was very strict and demanding,

and his students came to me for tutoring and paid good money.

During the year 1938-'39 the police did not disturb me too much,

because of my assignment at the gymnasium. A militiaman would

come frequently to my place and ask me the same question over and

over again, "Sempre a Ferrara?" [Still in Ferrara?].

According to the new law, all Jewish foreigners, including

practicing physicians, dentists, engineers, pharmacists, etc.,

received warnings from the police in the various cities of their

sojourn, that within a certain time limit, usually thirty days,

they had to leave Italy. If they stayed on, they would be

arrested and their belongings confiscated. Many of them left

precipitously, others stayed just within their time limit, trying

to sell whatever they could. Many of them succeeded in going

back to their country of origin.

An unspeakable tragedy happened to all those Italian Jews

who were naturalized after 1918. All of them lost their Italian

citizenship and became now stateless in a state governed by

immoral and unscrupulous opportunists. They could not return to

the countries of their origin because they had had to give up

their citizenship before becoming Italian citizens. I did not

receive such an ultimatum and thought I would remain undisturbed

as a persona grata.

Because of the financial burden of the Jewish gymnasium on

the Jewish community in Ferrara, it was decided several months

before the end of the scholastic year that it would be dissolved.

The students would have to go to Milano, where there was a much

larger Jewish community and therefore greater financial support

for a Jewish private gymnasium. At the end of June the Jewish

private gymnasium ceased to exist.

The war clouds became bigger and bigger on the horizon until

finally, on September 1st, Hitler, living up to his reputation

for deception and falsehood, claimed that the Poles attacked

Germany, and undeclared war broke out. September 23rd I wrote a

letter to the French Consul in Florence expressing my desire to

join the French army as a volunteer. He replied that he had no

instructions to enlist foreigners and he would let me know if it

became possible for me to do so later.

I did not know then that this application to volunteer for

the French army was the cause and the beginning of my odyssey

that is related in this book. I learned in June, 1945, that this

letter to the French Consul was intercepted by the fascist

police. At that moment (June, 1945) I decided to write and

publish the events of the war as I had experienced them. But

when the Iron Curtain came down, shutting off Eastern Europe from

the rest of the world, two of my sisters and their families were

caught there. Because of the uncertainties and dangers of

communist oppression, I dared not write these true stories for

fear of what punishment might befall any or all of my relatives

there. Finally on December, 1972, the last of them were able to

emigrate to the U.S., although details are best omitted for the

sake of the safety of other individuals still there.

Near the end of September 1939 I was called to the police.

This time I waited quite a while in the antechamber before

Officer Panebianchi received me. When I finally entered his

office, his attitude was drastically changed, from politeness to

hostility and nastiness. He remained seated, offered no

handshake, and did not invite me to sit down. I remained

standing like a little boy before a teacher. He informed me that

I would have to leave Italy if I did not want to wind up in jail

or in a concentration camp. In addition, that I was forbidden to

teach Aryans at home. I asked myself then which was the real

Panebianchi, the one before or the one after the declaration of

war by Hitler on France and England. It did not take too long to

find the answer.

Returning to my apartment I immediately wrote a letter to

Clara in the U.S. explaining all that happened. I talked to some

of my Italian friends about my situation, and they advised me to

speak to the Duchess Massari. I called her and made an

appointment. When I was there, I told her just how things were.

I explained that during the scholastic year 1938-'39 I had gone

to many foreign consulates and embassies, including the American,

requesting immigration visas, and that all had denied my

requests. Also I told her that I would be hard-hit financially

as well as humiliated if I were not allowed to teach privately in

my own apartment.

The duchess was visibly moved and told me that although it

was against the rules of etiquette for her to visit a man, she

would ask for an audience with the prefetto, who was the highest

governmental representative in the city.

There was another angle. According to the new fascist law,

any Aryan who tried to help Jews could be punished by ten to

twenty years in jail. This part did not matter to the duchess.

She was mostly concerned about etiquette.

Since the duchess had to wait for an appointment with the

prefetto, I was in an awkward predicament. If I had stopped

teaching and had told my private students to wait until the

outcome of the meeting between the duchess and the prefetto, many

or all would have been scared and would not have come back again

for private lessons. While battling with this dilemma I

encountered a good friend of mine, Don Grata, one rank below

monsignor in the Roman Catholic hierarchy. I used to favor him

by recommending him to my students as an instructor of Latin,

Greek and philosophy when they needed help in these subjects.

When I told him about my plight, he offered me the use of his

apartment in the church until things could be straightened out.

I accepted his offer, and by word of mouth I notified my

students to come to their lessons to Don Grata's apartment. I

also informed the duchess that I had accepted Don Grata's offer

and was teaching at his place. How naive of me to believe that I

had succeeded in tricking Panebianchi! I did not know until June

of 1945 that I had been followed step by step by a fascist police

dog. I realized then that had I committed the slightest wrong,

Panebianchi would have known about it immediately and he would

have gotten rid of me instantly.

Why did he not proceed when I tricked him with Don Grata?

First, a priest would have been involved -- I was in Archbishop

Bovelli's favor, and it would have caused irritation against the

police. Secondly, it was Panebianchi's own scheme to forbid me

to teach in my apartment and would have cause criticism against

him. And thirdly, I was still remembered by many whose children

or relatives I had taught, and some courageous man may have found

enough guts to protest. In my mind, these must have been the

reasons why he did not proceed against me.

After her meeting with the prefetto, the duchess called me

to her palace and told me that she had succeeded in persuading

the prefetto to help me. The prefetto promised the duchess

tacitly to inform the chief of police to close an eye and not to

disturb me. On that basis I changed my center of activity again

to my own apartment Even though the prefetto could not or would

not prevent my future disaster, my gratitude to Duchess Massari

can be easily understood.

Two paragraphs, interpolated here, tell of my last

expressions of thanks.

I was already an American citizen when a friend sent me the

death notice of Duchess Massari in 1956. It was a sad day for

me, because the duchess had tried to help me at the cost of

disobeying the rules of etiquette so important to the

aristocracy, and by endangering her own life, to help Jews in

defiance of the fascist law.

I wrote an article in Italian for the newspaper Corriere del

Po, published in Ferrara. I gave an account of what the duchess

had tried to do to prevent my imminent disaster, when I was

abandoned by nearly everyone else. The editor did something very

special with my article. After each paragraph he made a comment

to clarify for young readers with the obituary was all about. He

took pride in emphasizing that there were many Italians who had

tried to help Jews in trouble. At the end I was proclaimed "The

Adopted Son of Italy." It was a royal acceptance.

A few days after I resumed teaching in my apartment, the

unforgettable Don Grata dropped in to find out how things were.

He seemed greatly pleased with the result of the duchess'

intervention with the prefetto.

After beating around the bush Don Grata finally said,
"Professor, I am sorry to tell you, but I was informed that there

will be very difficult days for you. I would very much like to

help you if you let me. I am offering to you an official

document from my church that you were converted to Catholicism,

but you do not have to perform the act of accepting the Catholic

religion. Just please accept my offer; the document may be

useful some day." I was deeply moved by this voluntary offer. I

had heard many times that Jews paid large amounts of money to get

such certificates, with which they were able to emigrate into

many countries from Italy. Later on, persons having such

certificates escaped concentration camps and likely even death.

With regard to the generous offer by Don Grata, I replied,

"Don Grata, if it were not for the esteem and deference I have

for you, I would accept your offer, but in view of these

feelings, I cannot do it." He understood and did not insist.

How often did I regret later on having refused his offer. But

then it was too late.

One day in October of 1939, I did not feel well and thought

I needed a medical consultation. The question then was to whom

to go. I had some physician acquaintances, but they were

gentiles. To go to them could result in embarrassment for both

them and me because they were Aryans, who by law were not allowed

to help Jews. I did not want to impose danger on them and

probably expose myself to a humiliating refusal.

There was in Ferrara a famous former professor of medicine,

about ninety years old, by the name of Minerbi. He was called

upon when a physician would be uncertain of a diagnosis or

treatment for a patient. Ordinarily his fee for a consultation

or examination was high. I decided to go to him, not because I

considered my illness so serious, but because I knew no other

Jewish physician in town.

Without appointment I went to his office and was examined by

the renowned professor very thoroughly; he found nothing

abnormal. He knew who I was through his grandson Giorgio

Bassani, who today is a well-known Italian writer, for he had

been a private student of mine and they had talked occasionally

of me. Before leaving the office, I stopped at the

receptionist's desk and paid the usual high fee for the

consultation. I was wondering why I did not get a courtesy or

professional discount.

Several days later I received a letter from Professor

Minerbi containing a check for the same amount I had paid for the

examination. In that letter Professor Minerbi wrote that because

for years I had helped so much to elevate the cultural level of

Ferrara that he considered it a privilege to examine me and could

not accept any payment from me.

This kind of consideration boosted my drooping morale,

especially because it came from such an authority as Professor

Minerbi. The boost would have been higher, however, if such a

letter of encouragement had come from Aryans, who were the real

beneficiaries of my work and not from a Jew who himself faced the

same troubles.

At the beginning of October I received a letter from Clara

in America telling me that DePaul University of Chicago had

agreed to send me a contract to teach full time in the chemistry

and German departments and that I should receive it in a short

time. A few days later I received the contract, a copy of which

I sent with a letter to the American Consulate in Naples. A few

days later I left for Naples to show the Consul the original

contract. I never got to talk to the Consul, only to the Vice

Consul, Mr. Jandry.

The Vice Consul raised the most impossible questions and

objections. One of his objections was that I tried to obtain a

student visa in 1938, that now I was trying to get a visa as a

professor, and that if I did not succeed as a professor I would

try as a rabbi. These were the three preferred quotas then for

immigration visas. The Vice Consul tried very hard to find

reasons to refuse the visa rather than to help giving it. In

vain did I try to explain that I had both the qualifications of a

professor and of a student, since I was a part-time regular

student in natural science. I went back to Naples many times

afterward in the hope of moving or persuading that unyielding and

unfair Vice Consul Jandry. His answer was always negative

because he did not want to contribute to the admission of Jews to

the U.S. He had good reasons to issue the visa, but looked for

reasons to refuse it. This was and still is my conviction. I

hope Mr. Jandry is alive and well and will read this account.

With all my hopes shattered through the ill will of Mr.

Jandry, to leave Italy for somewhere, anywhere, I lived from day

to day under frustration and fear of expulsion to nowhere, or to

a concentration camp. In spite of the promise of the prefetto to

Duchess Massari to leave me in peace for a while, the police came

to my apartment constantly to check on me. The usual questions

were, "Sempre a Ferrara? Non ha fatto ancora il fagotto?"

["Still in Ferrara? You have not packed yet?"]

At the beginning of my life in Ferrara I was happy to study

there while being one of very few foreigners. Now I was the

single foreign Jew and was therefore a welcome prey for the

notorious Panebianchi in his desire to show his cooperation with

the Hitler-Mussolini pact, that he was a good fascist.

In Milano, where there were many foreign Jews, the pursuit

of Jews was more difficult because of the reaction against the

persecution of Jews by a greater number of decent Italians. I

bore more than one man's share of persecution in Ferrara. What

was at first an advantage for me as a student under Mussolini

turned out to be hell under the Hitler-Mussolini regime. I did

not dare to go outside my living quarters, for it was dangerous

to be seen, especially by police. Today I am convinced that I

was under a 24-hour surveillance by Panebianchi's henchmen.

Panebianchi could afford such a surveillance in Ferrara for one

Jew, while in Milano such a thing would have been impossible for

the many Jews there.

My private students by now knew exactly what was going on.

Some became scared and some were threatened for going to a Jew

for lessons, and they stopped coming. Others were really

sympathetic and courageous, continued to come for their lessons,

and reported always that the overwhelming majority of Italians

did not like the Nazis and did not want a war against France.

In March of 1940 I was summoned to Panebianchi. How scared,

frustrated and humiliated I felt when I received a summons to go

to that henchman Panebianchi. At the police headquarters he told

me that I had to leave Italy. I explained to him that since


On the 20th of May, 1940, I was giving a lesson to a student

when the doorbell rang. I opened the door and before me stood a

policeman in plainclothes, a man I had known since my arrival in

Ferrara. His name was Rubini and he had always been kind an

gentle. When I was still a student, Rubini used to come

regularly every other month to where I lived to check on me, as

the law required. He was a plainclothes man working for the

police in the department dealing with the sojourn of foreigners

in Ferrara. I was very surprised to see Mr. Rubini because I

knew that he had retired a couple of years previously. My first

thought was that he wanted me to tutor some of his relatives or

acquaintances. He volunteered that he was called back for duty

because of the political situation.

Rubini said, "I am sorry to interrupt your lecture, but

you have to come with me to the police headquarters." Since he

did not seem in a hurry I asked him to wait about twenty minutes,

until I finished my lesson. He agreed to wait. It did seem to

me a little strange that a policeman should come to take me to

the police station because in the past I had been notified to

come on my own at a given hour on a certain day. I realized only

later that I was under arrest.

After I finished the lesson I went with Rubini to my nemesis

Panebianchi. At the headquarters he was at his worst. With a

loud voice he said I was under arrest and expelled from Italy. I

would have to take the first train going to Trieste, in about an

hour and a half. He allowed me only half an hour to pack. I

begged and pleaded with him to give me 24 hours to arrange my

affairs. But, true to his evil nature, Panebianchi was

unyielding and hard as stone. He could have given me one day to

get ready, as I was told by the policeman who accompanied me to

my apartment and on to Trieste. When I ask myself today why

Panebianchi refused to postpone my expulsion for 24 hours, the

only answer I can conceive is that he was afraid that some of my

friends might have intervened and prevented my deportation. He

was determined in his diabolic way to be done with me once and

for all and maybe get a promotion for handling my case so

humanely. Panebianchi played this role perfectly well. I cannot

resist speculating about his life after his exit from my own life


At the end of the war Panebianchi's superior, Gueresi, who

was as bad as or even worse than Panebianchi, was killed by

Italian partisans, but Panebianchi saved his skin by escaping

into another city, in northern Italy. Irony may have it that

Panebianchi is now in the U.S. claiming to have been a victim of

the fascists and to have helped many Jews escape from certain

death. Or perhaps this noble soul is in the service of the

Italian communists teaching them what he so perfectly learned

under the fascists. It is most unfortunate and sad that many war

criminals have succeeded in outwitting American immigration

authorities and have received visas to come to the U.S. where

they are leading a happy life after causing so much sorrow and

despair to so many people.

When I arrived with the policeman at my apartment to pack, I

called my friend Alighiero Paparella, who was teaching school,

and told him what was happening. He said he would be there

immediately, and he was. He had somehow managed to notify his

wife Gianna, who was teaching at another school, and she too was

there in fifteen minutes. Oh, that scene should have been


Alighiero and Gianna walked into my apartment. Seeing the

disarray and chaos, Gianna broke down with uncontrollable crying

and sobbing. She had been an interested witness as to how hard

and how long I had worked to build a decent life for myself, and

now by one stroke she saw everything destroyed. I believe, in

fact, I am sure I saw tears in the eyes of the policeman.

When I turned around to ask Alighiero something about my

packing, he was not there. After a short while he came in with

two new suitcases. He had looked over the situation with a

glance and realized that I had nothing in which to put the most

necessary and indispensable things for my uncertain journey and

future. So he went out and bought two suitcases, which went with

me through the war years, and which after 35 years are still in

my possession. They are material testimony to my troubles and

tribulations then just beginning.

There was not time to arrange my affairs. My students were

not notified to look elsewhere for help. They did not pay me for

my work, as they ordinarily paid on the 1st of each month. I had

no time to withdraw my money from the bank and to pay a small

debt. I left my money, 20,000 lire, my furniture and all

personal assets with Alighiero. These were a few big things, but

many little things had to be forgotten.

My first home in a foreign country was broken up and I was

deprived of all I had saved. To this, my chosen country, I had

shown my gratitude for my education by serving as an educator and

especially by contributing for years sums of money for the poor,

although I myself was not much above that level. Now nobody

intervened, nobody could help. Those who wanted to were afraid

to expose themselves for a Jew. With a few strokes I was reduced

to a level lower than that at which I had arrived in Italy.

Where was the fruit of my endless hours of work, of my frugality

and thrift? It just disappeared, and only a few others drew

material advantage.



The arrest at home by Rubini, the hollering and screaming of

Panebianchi, the signing of papers at the police station, the

walk to my apartment from police headquarters, packing, disposing

of all my possessions, saying goodbye to Alighiero and Gianna,

and arriving at the railroad station took just one and one half

hours. We made the train as Panebianchi planned it. The

accompanying policeman in plainclothes appeared to be

sympathetic, though today I cannot feel sure whether he was

sincere or as false as his boss.

On the train I remembered that I owed money for the daily

milk delivery to the milkman, whom I paid by the month. I gave

money to the accompanying policeman and asked him to give it to a

neighbor, who in turn would certainly pay the milkman. After the

war I learned that the milkman indeed received the money.

When the train arrived in Trieste, the policeman told me

that I should try to pass the Yugoslav border or I would be taken

by the Italian police into a concentration camp near Trieste. If

the Yugoslav customs would not let me pass, they would send me

back to Trieste and this would go on for a while winding up in

the concentration camp near that city.

I did not want to go to Romania, which already had as head

of the government the notorious Antonescu, a devoted puppet of

Hitler's. Antonescu had been imposed on Romania by Hitler. But

all in all I had no other choice. I took the train which was

supposed to go through Yugoslavia to Romania. When I arrived at

the border and the Yugoslav customs official saw no Yugoslav

transit visa, he ordered me to get off the train. It was night,

the darkness pitch black. I went to the waiting room, which had

no light, and had plenty of time to bemoan my fate and to

consider ways to avoid Mussolini's concentration camp.

I thought I would try what appeared then to be the lesser of

the evils, to go to the Romanian border. And if the Yugoslav

customs officer would reject me again, to try to bribe him. It

was a dangerous thought, but I had to try it. The worst that

could happen would be removal from the train, I thought.

When the next train arrived, I boarded it, and although I

showed the customs officer my passport, he ordered me to leave

the train. But a 100-lire bill canceled his order, and I stayed

on the train. The trip to Jimbolia, the border town between

Romania and Yugoslavia, was uneventful, lasting about nine hours,

a normal length of time.

When the train arrived in Jimbolia, Romanian customs

officers mounted the train to control passports and luggage.

When I presented my passport, they told me that I needed a

Romanian visa, "Bon pour se rendre en Roumanie," ["Valid for

entering Romania."] I knew that, but I had been refused one by

the Romanian embassy in Rome several times. As a result, I was

taken down from the train and the passport was confiscated. I

was allowed to go to the nearby village to look for a place to

stay until my situation could be cleared by the Romanians or

until I could be sent back to the Yugoslav-Italian border.

In the village I sent a telegram to my parents indicating

where I was, and after 24 hours my sister Lotty arrived in

Jimbolia. After she heard the whole story, we agreed that she

would go back to Bucharest and try to obtain an entry permit

through a lawyer. Within three days an order came from the

ministry of the interior to let me enter Romania.

I took the first train to Suczawa and stopped in Bucharest

for a few hours between trains. I used the time to look for

Lotty, a task similar to looking for a needle in a haystack. By

pure chance I found her standing still on a sidewalk in the

center of the city, and she was overjoyed to learn that I had

been legally admitted to Romania.

In Suczawa I had to register with the police, as did

everyone. In no time I was ordered to appear before the draft

board, since Romania was in a state of military preparedness

because of the current political situation. I did not dare to

say that I was not a Romanian citizen anymore lest I face

expulsion again.

In 24 hours I was notified that I had to report to an Army

sanitary unit in Transylvania, with the rank of first lieutenant.

My Ph.D. in pharmacy merited this officer rank. Life in the army

was absolutely unbearable, mainly because of the anti-Semitic

policies, which were a faithful continuation of what I had known

in my early years. Somehow I learned that because I was Jewish I

would be dismissed. After about a month I asked for and received

a short furlough to visit my parents, and went to Czernowitz

where my real last domicile had been before I left Romania for

good. I looked around for work, but in a few days I found that

there was no chance of getting a job commensurate with my

qualifications. With resignation I returned to my assigned

function in the army. One morning shortly afterwards, the

newspapers announced that the northern part of the Bukowina

including Czernowitz had been occupied by the Russians. This

action was in full agreement with the Nazi-Russian friendship

pact. The furor and anger of the Romanians was not directed so

much against the Russians as against the millennium-old

scapegoat, the Jews living in Romania.

Romanians threw Jews from moving trains. The legionnaires

and other anti-Semitic partners stormed apartments of Jews during

the following night and killed many of them mercilessly. The

"Death Train" in Romania will remain in the memory of Jews and

non-Jews as much as the gas chambers and incinerators of Hitler's

Germany, and even more so. The Death Train was organized in the

city of lassy and 1,500 prominent Jews, among whom was a former

professor of mine, Dr. Eisig Feuer, were packed in cattle wagons

with only standing room. This train moved in circles for eight

days in June until these unfortunate human beings died of heat,

dehydration, starvation and suffocation. The screaming, the

crying, the praying of these innocent victims of sadism and

unfounded hate were heard everywhere the train passed, but no

mercy was shown. All these cruelties were carried out with the

consent of the Romanian government. Many of these murderers and

sadists have evaded justice by escaping from Romania into other

countries by the end of World War II, and perhaps some of them

live in the U.S. claiming to have been victims of Antonescu, or

Hitler, or the communists. What a pity that these criminals and

gangsters have not yet been unmasked and punished.

Every Jew was afraid that he might be next on the list to be

killed. There were confidential orders, which in fact were open

secrets, to eliminate all Jewish officers from the army. Upon

the demand of the Russians, the Romanians had agreed to allow all

former residents of the Northern Bukowina now living in other

parts of Romania to return there if they wished.

Under these circumstances I decided to disregard all the bad

things I had read about Russian communism and to ask for

dismissal from the army to go back to my last domicile in

Czernowitz. My application for dismissal was granted. Again I

prepared my suitcases and went toward Czernowitz. At the newly

created border between Romania and Russia there was a collecting

point for those waiting to go to the Northern Bukowina. There

were thousand and thousands of people waiting for the moment to

be allowed to go into the land of "liberty and dictatorship of

the proletariat." I was among them. After many formalities I

finally passed the border and was in the Russian "paradise."

When I arrived in Czernowitz, I found out that all my

sisters had fled from Suczawa and were in Czernowitz, leaving our

old and ailing parents alone. Had I known that, I would have

waited until my official dismissal from the army and would have

stayed with them, never going to Czernowitz. To date I have

heart cramps from thinking how sad that one year must have been

for them. My father was very ill with prostate cancer and my

ailing mother now had to take care of him alone. She was used to

being surrounded by her children, but now everyone was gone. It

was a hardship and heartbreak for both of them.

When the Russians occupied the Northern Bukowina, I was told

later, people danced on the streets with joy. People thought

that the Messiah had arrived and that they had nothing to worry

about. But soon they awakened and saw the falsehood of Russian

communism and tyranny; they soon learned about the big lie.

First the Russians instituted centers for exchanging foreign

currency, including Romanian money into rubles. The population

soon became aware that with the exchanged rubles they could buy

much less than with Romanian money, to say nothing about foreign

currencies. For this reason many refrained from exchanging their

currency into rubles. For a while I considered giving to the

Russian government power-of-attorney to collect my money in Italy

and pay me rubles in Czernowitz. But I dropped the idea when it

became clear that the deal would have been to the advantage of

only the Russians.

The disadvantage in exchanging currency for rubles, plus the

need for buying daily necessities, stimulated the population of

the occupied territory to look for jobs. Everyone wanted a

position corresponding at least to, and possibly beyond, his or

her qualifications. If normal procedures did not produce

results, people resorted to gifts and other attentions to the job


All of a sudden, a pandemonium of bribery and corruption

erupted in the competition for preferential and better paying

jobs. This system of bribery and dishonesty was a way of life in

Russia and was so deeply rooted from top to bottom that no

attempts were even made to change it.

One of the greatest blows administered to the population of

newly occupied territory was the requirement of knowledge of

Russian. The official language became Russian overnight, and

very, very seldom did a Jew know a Russian language except for

Russian Jews who spoke a yiddish that contained a lot of Russian

words. The best jobs everywhere were given to Russians, who

flooded the occupied territory.

Job hunting was a continuous and altogether necessary

obligation. Because I had no money to change into rubles I could

buy nothing to fill my empty stomach. I was overqualified as to

education, it seems to me today, and underqualified as to the

knowledge of Russian. The University of Czernowitz, to which I

applied for a teaching position, refused me because the more

honorable and better paying jobs were given to the incoming

Russians. For a lesser service, such as assisting in the

chemistry department, which I would have done gladly, I was

considered overqualified.

I tried to get a minor job in the sugar factory in Juczka a

few kilometers from Czernowitz. Here I was also refused although

I offered good experience in this field, having worked as a

chemist in sugar factories every summer for six years in Italy.

Since I knew that the better paying jobs were given only the

imported Russians, regardless of their qualifications, I asked

only for lesser paid jobs, but with not much success.

My application to teach chemistry in high school had no

more success than the others. However, I was finally offered a

teaching job in the first four years of a grammar school in a

village, a job of insultingly low prestige for a university

professor. That I was completely and utterly unqualified for

teaching young children did not occur to the Russian job


The inspector of schools who made me that offer thought that

because of my considerable education in science I would be very

good in teaching youngsters of ages six to ten. I refused this

job and continued my search for something more suitable.

It is not my intention to belittle or to exaggerate in

relating these facts. Later I shall relate the confusion which

was caused by an imported Russian chemist involving tens of

thousands of rubles. It took a Bukowinaer chemist to unravel the

confusion. Many well-educated natives of the Bukowina, experts

in various fields, had the same experience as I. In spite of

their exceptional qualifications they could not get jobs. And

yet employment was essential for buying indispensable things,

especially food. The only way to live was to get rubles.

Then it was found out that for suitable gifts, such as

jewelry, watches, cameras, etc. to the various heads of

departments, jobs became available. The hiring staffs in keen

competition for gifts began to offer well-paying jobs. Many

positions were beyond the abilities of the applicants. But if


the imported untrained Russians could get jobs beyond their

qualifications, why should not the gift-bearing natives give it a

whirl? As a natural result, quite a few natives began to eat

better. I had nothing to offer in briberies, and my chances of

getting a job became slimmer and slimmer as time passed by.



One day a friend advised me to look for work at a small

distillery in the village Lujan, about fifteen kilometers from

Czernowitz, where a chemist was needed. Since that distance

would not jeopardize my possession of my one-room apartment if I

took a job there, I decided to try my luck.

When I arrived at the distillery, so small and neglected,

and took a look only from the outside, I could not understand how

a chemist could be used there. But as I found out later, the

requirements for personnel in every factory were the same --

fixed and unalterable regardless of needs.

I went to the office and asked for the director. I do not

recall how long I waited, but when he received me I had a

definite feeling that I would be hired.

The interview was in Russian, of course, since it was

expected that every job seeker must know that language. The

director, named Homenko, asked questions, and I answered them in

my very limited Russian, which I had learned during the short

period I lived in Czernowitz. My past efforts in the self-study

of Russian now paid off. The director seemed satisfied to see

that I was learning his own native speech.

After the first part of the interview concerning my

curriculum vitae, which apparently impressed him, he asked

particulars about my industrial experience in sugar factories,

for I had worked six summers in research laboratories of sugar

factories in the region around Ferrara. It was a struggle to

answer these technical questions in Russian, but I was either

clear enough or confusing enough to affect this interviewer


As a climax Homenko asked me how much alcohol is obtained

from beet molasses. I was hit hard by this question, as I had no

idea whatsoever. Despair almost invariably worked for me. My

brains squeezed out some answer that was acceptable, although it

was not at all an answer to his question. I asked for a pencil

and a piece of paper and wrote down the following chemical


C6H1206 = 2C2H50H + 2C02

This was completely beside the point of Homenko's question, but

without saying a word he folded the paper with my formula and

told me that I was hired as distillery chemist.

On the way back to the city I wondered what impressed him so

much in my answer to his single technical question. Did the

chemical equation have such an effect on him that he was

satisfied? Did he have no understanding of what I wrote on the

piece of paper nor the slightest idea of chemistry and was afraid

to reveal his ignorance? I think the latter interpretation was


A couple of days later I returned to the factory to get

acquainted with the people there, to learn what my duties would

be and to inquire about living and working conditions. My

position had to be confirmed by a central office, and the

confirmation required a week. Meanwhile I was not on the


Director Homenko introduced me to the chief engineer,

Dimitrov, from White Russia. He told me that his wife was a

chemist still in Russia and that she was expected to arrive here

after two months. Dimitrov informed me that he would be my

direct superior, that I would share a room with three other

employees, and that my first assignment would be to organize and

equip the laboratory.

The space destined to be the laboratory was a room nine by

16 feet, with a board table two feet wide along the side wall.

When I asked how and where I could get pieces of equipment for

the laboratory, I was told to buy them privately and that the

distillery would provide the money.

After the Russians occupied Czernowitz in June 1940, those

people who had stores and did not flee from the city carried as

much merchandise as they could to their homes, because they knew

that their stores and everything in them would be confiscated.

After the occupation one could hardly buy necessities because no

stores were open. Nobody had jobs, and everything was in chaos.

The black market flourished. The trading currency was of

course the ruble, but where did rubles come from? They came from

private Russian citizens who were sent in with the occupying

forces. They had lots of rubles and bought nearly everything

offered for sale. They paid very little for anything because the

sellers so badly needed rubles to buy food that they had to part

with merchandise for practically nothing. The Russians looked

eagerly for watches, and I often saw them wearing two watches,

one on each wrist.

Slowly and naturally resentment set in among the population.

But since arrests were made constantly and the jails began to

overflow with prisoners, people were so afraid that they did not

dare say anything. Those courageous ones who did rebel were

jailed, and many of them were never seen or heard from again.

The NKVD men, secret police, the devoted servants of Stalin in

whose name so many crimes and injustices were committed, were the

heroes in those days.

To equip the laboratory I began to extend feelers, in all

secrecy, among the people. I was assured of getting what I

needed if I would pay the price and promise not to divulge the

seller. I reported this to the director, and after some hemming

and hawing he agreed to pay. Even before beginning to work

officially, I had lined up a number of people willing to sell me

enough pieces of equipment to enable me to perform the most

important control work.

After my job was confirmed, I was given a horse and carriage

and a coachman to go to town and pick up all I could get for the

money Homenko had given me for that purpose. Within a month I

had a laboratory equipped so that I could perform a limited

number of analytical control tests.

Along with nearly all the other white-collar employees I

continued to live in Czernowitz. The blue-collar workers were

from the village, having been trained and employed in the

production of alcohol for many decades.

The small room I shared with three other male employees six

nights a week measured only about nine by twelve feet. To enter

our bedroom we had to pass through a room in which four other men

had their beds. In the center of our room were a table and four

chairs. We each used a chair to put our clothes on before going

to bed. On top of a small wooden stand were placed a pitcher of

water and a white enamel pan for washing and shaving. Built in a

corner was a wood-burning brick stove for warming the room in

winter. The latrine was located in a distant corner of this

apartment building, and to use it we had to go down from the high

first floor and across the courtyard through fair weather or

rain, sleet or snow.

The occupants of our room worked on different shifts.

Always somebody was sleeping, and any social gathering there was

next to impossible.

Director Homenko occupied the nice apartment of the former

owner of the distillery, while Chief Engineer Dimitrov had the

apartment of the former administrator of the factory. Both their

apartments had private inside toilets. In another comfortable

apartment lived Homenko's in-laws, whom he had brought from

Russia. The father-in-law was well paid as a minor clerk, though

his job could have been easily filled by a village native.

Homenko's wife worked in Czernowitz for the Ministry of

Education, commuting daily by train. The Homenkos had two sons,

17 and 15 years of age. The older bow, Yuri, was brilliant but

had a congenital heart defect and could not go to school. He had

studied nearly all his life at home with the help of his mother.

At the end of each year he always took the school examinations

and passed them brilliantly. The younger brother, Lionia, was a

healthy boy but a weak student.

One day the director invited me to his apartment and

introduced me to his wife and sons. During our conversation, in

which Yuri and Lionia were the main topic, Mrs. Homenko asked me

whether I would mind helping them with some tutoring in

mathematics. Because of my limited Russian I could not have

helped in any other subject anyhow. Under the prevailing

conditions I would not have dared to refuse. I jumped at the

idea anyway because I wanted to be in the director's favor and to

have him on my side if a need should arise. Besides, I genuinely

wanted to help the sick boy. There was no mention of payment,

and I was glad because I would have refused it anyway.

While tutoring Lionia was hard and therefore not

pleasurable, I thoroughly enjoyed working with Yuri because he

grasped everything easily.

One day Yuri saw my fountain pen, and he left me in no doubt

that he would like to have it. Somehow I ignored all his hints

about it, the single pen I had left from all my possessions and a

sentimental memento from Italy.

Yuri must have talked to his father about the pen. Under

ordinary circumstances Homenko would not have given in to Yuri's

pressures. But now because he was so proud of his son, who was

at the same time mentally capable and physically weak, he gave an

unmistakable hint about the pen. I had to sacrifice it, for I

was afraid that otherwise Homenko might do me harm.

One day Yuri told me, "You know you are like us. You always

wear the same suit."

The other employees had not gone through a tragedy like mine

in Italy, and had many suits of clothes. My other suits,

abandoned in Italy, were probably being worn that minute by other

men. I could not tell Yuri why I had only one suit.

In Russia the salaries for all university graduates had been

and continued to be the same, with increases granted at intervals

of five years. My salary was not sufficient for me to live as

when I was a professor in Italy. I could squeeze through a month

only by watching every penny and by not spending for extras like

soap, toothpaste, and sometimes black-market drugs.

In the factory we were relieved from having to buy food at

high black-market prices. We had a cafeteria-like eating place

where all employees could eat simple nutritional foods at

reasonable prices established by the government. With winter

setting in, it was also a relief to live six days a week in the

factory because wood was furnished for keeping our rooms warm.

But when I remember the weekends, from Saturday 3 p.m. until

Sunday 6 p.m., or, according to the shift I had, until Monday 6

a.m. during the long winter months, I still shiver and get goose

pimples. On weekends I went to Czernowitz to take a bath and

change my underwear and shirt. Yet it was too cold to take a

bath because I did not have wood to heat my apartment. I had no

money for wood, and there was no wood to buy. On the black

market a seller of wood was easily caught by the ever-present

NKVD. The result was an impossibly high price for an almost

nonexistent product.

My apartment consisted of a medium-sized kitchen with a

brick stove for cooking, a bedroom with a ceramic wood-burning

stove in a corner to warm up the whole place, and a bathroom

provided with a cylindrical copper heating tank to warm enough

water for one bath. But preparing and taking a bath without

warming up the apartment would have been calling for pneumonia.

This situation forced me to think of a way out. Every day

during the week I hid one or two pieces of wood taken from our

room in the factory, and before I left for Czernowitz I put the

wood into my large briefcase that I always carried with me. In

two weeks I accumulated wood sufficient to warm the room and heat

the water one weekend.

The guard at the gate of the distillery yard could have

stopped and searched me, but he never did. If I had been caught

with several pieces of wood in the briefcase, I would have gone

to jail. The guard did not search me as he did others because he

knew that I was tutoring the director's sons and assumed I was in

excellent standing with Director Homenko.

For the tutoring lessons I gave to Lionia and Yuri I paid my

self with enough wood from the factory to take a luxurious warm

bath every other week. I felt lucky to get a biweekly bath and

was much better off than the employees living in the village

without any bath facilities.

My work in the laboratory was not too demanding since I did

not have equipment to carry out all the required control tests.

I waited weeks for a much-needed polarimeter to measure the sugar

content in the molasses used in the preparation of alcohol. The

amount of sugar in molasses determines the amount of alcohol

obtainable therefrom. Molasses rich in sugar yields more alcohol

per pound than that poor in sugar. Finally the polarimeter

arrived, and I was delighted to get it. I put it in the

laboratory at a specially reserved place and unpacked it.

In just a few days the wife of Chief Engineer Dimitrov

arrived to join her husband. Seventy-two hours later I was told

that she would head the laboratory and that I would work in the

factory as a shift leader. I was shocked. I had built up this

laboratory from nothing, and I resented having the same job in it

as other shift leaders with an education hardly beyond the sixth


The chief engineer demoted me in order to give my job to his

wife. However, I was afraid to voice one word of objection to

anyone, because Dimitrov would have found ways to send me to

jail. Jail was a constant threat used by our liberators, who set

up the same regime of tyranny and terror in the newly-occupied

territories as existed in all Russia.

Although as a shift leader I learned all the minute details

of alcohol production, I dislike the job because it involved

changing shifts every week. The shifts ran from 6 a.m. to 2

p.m., 2 p.m. to 10 p.m., and 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. As a further

insult, I had to stoop to punch a time card at the beginning and

the end of my shift like all common laborers.

The responsibilities of a shift leader were many, and my

failure in any detail could have sent me to jail. If, for

example, any worker on my shift would spill a little molasses, I

was responsible and had to pay for it with my own money. The

group realized that, and when an accident happened, everything

possible was done to make the evidence of any damage disappear as

quickly as possible. I hated the pesky responsibilities of this

demeaning assignment.

It was my hope to find a job with less responsibility and

more dignity in Czernowitz. I went to Homenko and asked him to

release me from the distillery. He knew why I wanted to leave,

and he explained that unless I had a better reason he could not

let me quit.

Boldly I threatened, "I simply will not return to work."

He answered, "In that case I shall have to act according to

law and file suit against you for deserting your work."

Such desertion called for a penalty of one year in jail. Of

course he could have let me go if he had wanted to, but his sons

would have lost a gratis tutor. Whatever angle I tried to apply

to leave this factory proved to be useless.

Suddenly I was elated to be sent back to the laboratory when

Mrs. Dimitrov, the new chemist and specialist in alcohol

production, took sick. I hoped to stay there indefinitely. But

after one week she came back, and I had to return to the despised

shift work. At that point I began to search earnestly for some

way out.

One day in February 1941 Homenko called me to his office and

asked me to go to the nearby sugar factory which furnished the

distillery with molasses. He wanted me there to find out how the

chemists determined the sugar content of the molasses and whether

there was something wrong in their procedure. This factory

determined the sugar content of all molasses sent to the

distillery. The chemists reported to the distillery a sugar

content of 45%, while the regular reports made to Homenko by Mrs.

Dimitrov, the chemist and alcohol specialist, showed a sugar

content of about 30%.

This great discrepancy had important bearings on the amount

of money the distillery had to pay to the sugar factory for the

molasses. The higher the sugar percentage the higher the cost

because the alcohol yield was higher. I wanted to ask Homenko

why he did not send his alcohol specialist instead of me, but on

second thought I discarded the idea because I wanted his support

in leaving the distillery.

The following day I went to the sugar factory, and the

well-trained chemists performed before my eyes flawless tests.

They confirmed that the samples of molasses I had brought with me

from the distillery contained indeed 45% sugar.

When I reported my findings to Homenko, he was very upset.

He asked me to go to the laboratory and find the cause of the


Mrs. "Specialist," I observed, was not her usual arrogant,

fresh and challenging self, but was subdued and meek. I asked

her to perform a sugar determination before me, hoping to detect

her error. After certain preliminary steps she obtained a

correct solution of molasses. When she poured the solution into

the polarimeter, I asked her to make a reading of the sugar

concentration, which she did. She said that the reading was

about 30%. I checked and found that her reading was correct.

Now it was my turn to be puzzled. I knew that somewhere

there was a mistake, and I had to find it. Suddenly I had the

idea of asking this woman whether she had calibrated the

polarimeter after unpacking it, and whether she had set the

instrument on zero before making any reading. She did not know

what I was talking about. Then I asked her for the key to the

polarimeter so that I might calibrate it. Again she had no idea

what it was all about.

She had unpacked the polarimeter after her arrival and had

worked with it daily for two months without calibration and

without putting the instrument on zero. I began to look for the

key and found it in the place where it ought to be. My

examination of the instrument showed an indication of 15 degrees

less than zero and demonstrated clearly why a polarimeter has to

be set at zero every day at the start of work. Although Chemist

Dimitrov had never seen a polarimeter before, I am sure she never

again failed to put the polarimeter on zero before starting to


The ignorance of this specialized-in-Moscow chemist caused

irritation and confusion between two factories, trouble which a

mere shift leader from Italy had to straighten out. Tens of

thousands of rubles were involved when the sugar factory sent

bills on the basis of 45% sugar content and the distillery paid

on the basis of 30% sugar. If "Mrs. Specialist" had not been a

Russian and the wife of the chief engineer, she would have been

kicked out of her job and would have been held responsible for

all the bureaucratic damages she caused.

After I reported to the director the cause of the

discrepancies, he was rather relieved, because he could then

justify the higher amount of money to be paid to the sugar


Fervently I hoped to be called back to the laboratory as

chief chemist, and to be done with shift changing and card

punching, but nothing like that happened. Director Homenko would

have liked to reward me in this way, but apparently he was afraid

of his chief engineer, Dimitrov.

By now I especially wanted to leave the distillery because

my Russian had improved enough that I could aspire to a

better-paying and more dignified job. Also, commuting back and

forth was very unpleasant and became constantly more so from lack

of humane cooperation by the Russians.

For example, the train to the city left the village at 2:10

p.m., while my shift finished at 2:00. If the train was on time,

we missed it and had to wait for the train next day -- that

weekend was ruined. We used to sneak out often at 1:45, but had

we been caught, we surely would have spent the weekend and more

in jail among rats and lice. Homenko and Dimitrov applied the

rules stringently to us employees, but disregarded regulations

applicable to themselves. Even if I turned over all my

responsibilities to the next shift leader at 1:45, I dared not

leave before 2:00 if the director or the chief engineer was

around. Is it any wonder we hated them?

While I was thinking of ways to get away from the distillery

with all its annoyances and dangers of jail, I was busily hunting

a job in Czernowitz on weekends and on occasional service trips

there. Most of the jobs I knew of or heard about were taken

before I got to them. Eventually I found one which was in the

process of being created according to Russian plans. While those

plans were still taking shape, it was imperative for me to create

some situation that would result in my release from the


One day I took an opportunity to talk to Mrs. Homenko and

appealed to her for help in getting separated from this place. I

promised her that I would tutor her son Lionia, who was attending

school in Czernowitz, every day in the city gratis if she would

persuade her husband to let me go. By allowing me to quit work

without justification he would make himself guilty of a crime and

be taken to task for it. He was especially afraid of Chief

Engineer Dimitrov, with whom he did not get along well. Still,

if some opportunity should come, he might be willing to help. I

had to be satisfied with this tentative promise.

The opportunity which Homenko soon found was for me

completely unexpected. It was in the middle of February 1941,

with snow knee-deep and temperatures down to -400C (-400F). The

director called a meeting in the distillery of all employees free

from shift work at that time. He told the group that because of

danger of sabotage by the enemy and its agents, every night the

shift leader would have to check at least twice outside the

territory of the factory. He would have to go up to the railroad

station at midnight and again at 2 a.m. Someone asked the

director whether the shift leader would be provided with a gun to

use in case of attack by an enemy or by a wolf, the latter being

frequent during the winter in that part of the Bukowina.

He answered, "No."

I objected to this illogic, also to the extra responsibility

of the shift leader.

I stood as tall as I could stand and protested, "If one

cannot defend oneself in case of an attack by an enemy or a wild

animal, it would mean sheer suicide. We could save our lives by

carrying a gun."

My sincere innocent objections brought about a preplanned

attack against me by Homenko. He called me a coward and said

that he did not want people like me in the factory. I was fired

then and there!

He was quick to accept a free tutor for his son. I kept my

end of the bargain and tutored Lionia until the outbreak of the

war, when all Russians escaped as fast as they could, including

the Homenko family. Occasionally Mrs. Homenko brought me some

cow cheese in appreciation for my work with Lionia.

I was elated to leave my demeaning work. What a relief to

get out from under that young Chief Engineer Dimitrov, who could

have been my student, and away from his wife, who as a chemistry

student I certainly would have flunked. My work was taken over


by two men on the other shifts, whose education was on the

sixth-grade level. My eighteen-year-old replacement had only

eight years of school. I did not care. I was out of it.




At the beginning of March I found a job that paid a little

more and did not require commuting. The nature of the work

brought me a nickname, including the German title of aristocracy

"von." "Von" in English means "from," but it also precedes the

name of an aristocrat in German and Austrian countries. "The

Pied Piper of Hamelin" is translated in German as "Der

Rattenfaenger von Hameln." People poked fun at me, calling me

"Herr von Hameln," implying that rats followed me as the fabled

Pied Piper of Hamelin. This nickname stayed with me for quite

some time.

I was put in charge of eliminating rats and mice throughout

the whole city of Czernowitz. This service would be performed

for those firms and enterprises such as bakeries, factories

involved in the production of foods, storage centers for grains,

etc. It would be done on the basis of yearly contracts with the

newly created Health Office for the control of rats and mice.

The money from these clients would be used for the maintenance of

the laboratory, where the poisonous baits were prepared, for

traps, for legal service of preparing contracts and advising in

case of need, for a salary for the head of the laboratory, and

most importantly, for salaries of the crew of workers.

Before accepting the job I realized that again it was not

something I could be proud of nor commensurate with my education

and past accomplishments, but there was nothing else available.

I must put my eyes and hands to work despite my snobbish European

academic prejudice.

All the instructions for the creation of this health service

branch I received from the Health Office Director, a Russian, of

course, who would be my future boss. I plunged into this new job

by first looking for customers in order to get money to start the

laboratory, and by hiring workers. It was evident that this

proposed enterprise was to be self-supporting, and if excess

earnings should occur they would have to be transferred to the

Central Health Office.

I soon found out that the heads of various enterprises,

especially the natives of the Bukowina, who were unfamiliar with

such a service, were reluctant to spend money. The Russians,

however, heading such enterprises, quickly took advantage of our

services. Within a few weeks I had enough contracts to justify

this branch of the Central Health Office. The Central Health

Office advanced the necessary money for initiating services.

My function was to head the laboratory, prepare the various

baits, handle complaints, bring in enough money to keep the work

rolling, hire and instruct the working crew, and make regular

reports to the boss.

It was no easy task to find people for jobs I had to fill

because working with rats and mice was considered shameful. Yet

I offered a certain amount of protection against the NKVD.

Usually every man in every enterprise was investigated by this

feared and most-hated organization. As a rule, persons who

worked at menial jobs, as in my case, were left alone. A lawyer

was willing to accept the job I offered, because he was guilty of

being very capable, successful and wealthy and had worked very

hard all his life. A wealthy lawyer, for the NKVD, was a guilty

man and an exploiter. After some struggle I was able to hire

enough laborers to begin.

The work involving the battle against rats was and still is

very interesting, and the Russians continue it even now. First,

I learned from my boss that rats have an extremely fine sense of

smell and that if the bait has the slightest hint of human smell

they will not eat it. For this reason we had to work with rubber

gloves, which were very hard to get. I finally succeeded in

getting some from a friend working in a hospital. The basic

poison was barium sulfate. It is fatal to rats but harmless to

humans. In fact, X-ray examinations of the upper and lower

digestive tract in man are preceded by an intake of a proper

suspension of barium sulfate. Because of its high insolubility

it can be used for this purpose.

The barium sulfate was added to various bait preparations

such as cheese, meat, sausage and always flour as the basic

ingredient. The baits had to be changed every other or third

day, for the rats recognized a poison after a short time and

would no longer touch it. In addition to poisonous baits, the

old fashioned and still reliable mechanical means was used, the

trap with the many variations produced in Russia.

At the beginning everything seemed to go well, according to

the reports by the working crew. Every man had to give a report

at the end of the day and in turn I had to report at the end of

the week to the head of the Health Service Office. But the

smoothness of our operation did not last long.

Soon a complaint came in that the rats were still the

masters in the enterprise. People there wanted immediate and

total results. They did not take into account how many rodents

were destroyed; they saw only that damage to their products

continued, even though to a much smaller extent.

I went to various complainants and discussed the reasons of

their dissatisfaction, but some were still not pleased with the

results and complained to my superior. He then ruled that I

should check twice a day all those places in which the crews

worked. This responsibility I had not anticipated when I

accepted my job. My budget did not allow for a foreman who could

take on this responsibility. I felt it most humiliating to have

to check personally on my crew.

I was considering giving up my job and talked about it with

the legal consultant, a friend of mine. Now he became afraid

that if I were to leave, troubles with the NKVD could begin for

him. To prevent my leaving he told me that he would come with me

to check these various points, if it would make me feel less

miserable. I gave in and stayed on the job.

This arrangement no doubt benefitted my lawyer friend, Leo

Mader, more than it helped me. Because the NKVD seemed to have

an allergic antipathy for successful well-to-do lawyers, Leo

walked day after day in danger of being snatched away and sent to

a slave-labor camp in Siberia. Among the many lawyers who were

routed this way to their ultimate deaths by exposure and

starvation, I knew personally Josef Thau, Benedict Kaswan, Max

Diamant and dozens of others.

But Leo's work with me avoided this trap. After the war he

went to Israel and served many years as lawyer for the government

before he was killed in a traffic accident.

One day a crewman reported that in a bakery which had a

contract with our laboratory five pigs were taken sick and one of

them had died. The head of the bakery stated I was responsible

for it because the pigs had eaten the poisonous bait strewn for

the rats. He asked for payment of damage to the bakery. I could

not sleep that night because the NKVD could intervene here too,

especially if they were bribed by the head of the bakery.

Fortunately I was saved by my superior who found a legal

answer to my predicament. He argued that the pigs should not

have been allowed to run around in the courtyard of the bakery

but should have been kept in a fenced enclosure. My friend and

legal adviser Leo kept me company on my daily visits to the

places where my men worked, and tried to persuade me to lay aside

my pride and prejudice.



The political horizon darkened and heavy rumors got around

that the Germans would attack Russia soon. Although some people

did not want to believe it, on June 22, 1941, war broke out.

Rumors circulated that Stalin had been warned that his friend

Hitler would attack Russia, but he had dismissed these warnings

as unfounded. A well-planned attack by Hitler's Germany against

Russia began the cataclysmic events of World War II for Russia.

The following four years were for me one continuous struggle

for survival. In this strife tens of thousands of Bukowinaer

lost their lives under the most cruel conditions. If not for the

kindness of Providence I would have died many times.

The Germans beat the Russians out of every position in the

first part of the war very easily because the latter did not want

to fight for their own government which they disliked. They

surrendered by the hundreds of thousands without firing a shot.

A large number of these prisoners was led through Czernowitz, and

we could witness the maltreatment they received from the Germans,

who promised them before their surrender that they would be freed

from the yoke of communism. But Hitler did not keep his promise

and let these subhumanss" starve to death in the prison camps.

The mass surrender of Russian soldiers enabled Hitler to

make incredible progress in the shortest possible time and to

occupy vast Russian territories. Hitler's hordes entered

Czernowitz toward the end of June. By order of the Nazi

commander no Jew was allowed to leave his living quarters lest he

be shot on the spot. In the .meantime the SS drew up plans to

annihilate the Jewish population in Czernowitz. The city of

Czernowitz, which was once a flourishing center of German culture

and commerce because of the efforts of the Jews for decades, was

now a deserted place.

At the outbreak of the war it was clear to everyone that the

SS would soon be in Czernowitz. Thousand of Jews and non-Jews

decided then to retreat with the Russian army, because it was

known that the Nazis were merciless savage killers.

My sister Lotty, six years younger than I, and her husband

decided to retreat with the Russians. I begged her to stay with

us, arguing that what would happen to all the rest of us would

happen to her also. But her husband had worked as an

administrator of housing for the Russians in Czernowitz and, not

being able to do everything people had asked of him, was afraid

they might denounce him to the Germans. He thought he had better

go with the retreating Russians. His sister insisted that Lotty

retreat with him. She did not understand that he would be

drafted into the Russian army and that Lotty would remain alone

even if they could keep ahead of the Germans. Many inhabitants

of Czernowitz decided to do the same and were overtaken by the

Germans and massacred by machine guns. When we found out that

the Germans were entering Czernowitz, Lotty was already gone.

Jews once filled Czernowitz with joy, laughter, culture,

poetry, commerce and trades of all sorts. They contributed with

their taxes to the worldwide fine reputation of this beautiful

city, of which all minorities were very proud. Now the Jews were

"Frei Wild," free game, and could be shot without the gunman's

having to answer to anybody.

In the middle of July the SS surrounded preselected

neighborhoods and loaded all male Jews, young and old, on trucks

and hauled them to the river Prut. There they were ordered to

dig their own ditches and were mercilessly gunned down. Many of

the slaughtered victims were veterans of World War I. They had

been high ranking officers in the Austrian army and had fought

for Austria and Germany.

Several days later Hitler's cohorts surrounded many sections

of my neighborhood. I was in my apartment stiff with fear when I

heard boots tramping toward the door. When I opened the door,

there stood before me a husky six-foot SS man with his revolver

pointed at me. He ordered me to come with him. Outside were

trucks and a number of old and young Jews on the streets.

Several SS men with machine guns watched them so that no escape

was possible. After some more Jews were taken from their homes,

we were herded into the trucks and driven away. Since the trucks

were covered, we could not see where we were driven and could not

be seen. But through small openings I could see that the trucks

went in zigzag fashion to make it impossible for any of us to see

where we were being taken.

We were unloaded in front of a building erected by the

Romanians and called "National Palace". It so happened that the

people in our truck did not move fast enough for the SS man who

ordered us to descend. Because there were a few elderly men in

my truck who could not move faster, the SS man got more and more

angry at us. Since I had the misfortune, or the good fortune, to

be the last man down, he delivered a blow to my face with his

fist. The blow was hard, and instinctively I covered my face

with my handkerchief and did not realize that I was bleeding


We were taken into the big hall of the palace, ordered to

sit and were prohibited from looking back. Everyone knew that a

number of us or all of us would be killed by these wholesale

murderers. After about two hours of deadly uncertainty we were

ordered to get in line and were taken one by one to what I would

call a death committee, who examined documents and asked


When I appeared before these "supermen" I had to stand at

attention exposing my face to them. One of them asked me what

happened to my eye. At this point I realized that I was still

bleeding. I told him that I was hit by one of his men. After a

short glance at my identity document he told me to go to a

physician, and I was free.

I went as fast as I could to several ophthalmologists, but

found nobody in his office until I came to Dr. Rosenblatt, a well

known specialist whose office was on Kochanowski Street. He only

washed off the blood and looked at my eye. This was the only

treatment I had, and the days that followed were so full of fear

and anxiety that nobody thought of a physician.

Grave days were ahead of us, days that have entered the

history of the Bukowina as the period of death sentences of tens

of thousands of Jews. It was a judgement decreed by a psychopath

a couple of thousand kilometers away and executed by his servants

who saw in him the salvation of the German nation by the

slaughter of countless non-Germans.

What happened to the others arrested I do not know exactly.

Over the years during and after the war I saw some of those who

were taken to the National Palace with me. All I can say with

certainty is that a number of them were killed, others put in

jail, and still others finished in concentration camps where they


In the meantime the Romanians began to flood into the

territories occupied by the Germans, glad to receive back the

northern part of the Bukowina and the province of Bessarabia

which had been grabbed and occupied by the Russians in 1940. The

Romanian fascist government of Antonescu, the vassal ally of

Hitler, gave a strong hand to the Germans in helping them to

carry out the extermination of the Bukowinaer Jewry.

One morning an order was given out by the fascist government

that Jews had to wear a yellow six-pointed star on their coats.

Those caught without it would be shot. It was not that Jews were

ashamed of being identified as such. It was the intent of

offense and humiliation which hurt all. But it would not take

long until the wearing of the yellow star of David would be a

minor consideration.

In the middle of October an order was issued by the Romanian

government under Hitler's dictate, that within twelve hours all

Jews had to vacate their apartments and move into certain

designated quarters, a ghetto. People were advised to take only

what they could carry with them. Those found in apartments not

within the sections allowed would be summarily shot.

In writing this episode, the famous verses written by Virgil

in Song Two of his Aeneid come to my mind. I think of the

quotation by Aeneas when Queen Dido ordered him to tell her all

about the destruction of Troy, "Infandum regina iubes renovare

dolorem" ["You order me, oh Queen, to renew the unspeakable


No phrases, no quotations can be used to describe the

despair, the crying, the running to and fro on the streets, some

carrying their belongings, others trying to find for themselves a

place to stay within the ghetto. Most of the apartments were so

crowded that there was room to sleep only on the floor. After

the twelve hours were over the ghetto streets were cordoned off

with barricades of boxes and furniture and were guarded by

police. Nobody was allowed to leave the ghetto. I found refuge

with my sister Anna, who happened to live in the ghetto section.

After a certain number of days, toward the end of October,

an order came that those in the ghetto had to prepare their

luggage to consist of only what they could carry, for they were

to be transferred by train to Transnistria, the region beyond the

River Dniester, and "relocated" for work. Those found in

apartments after the evacuation would be shot. The account of

Virgil's description of the destruction of Troy is nothing in

comparison with what followed in Czernowitz. People cried, they

screamed, many wished they had not been born, or died earlier,

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