Interview with Herta Freund  (May 19, 1981)

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Interview with Herta Freund (May 19, 1981)
Series Title:
History of the Jewish Community in El Salvador
Publication Date:


Subjects / Keywords:
Jewish Community History
Jews -- History -- Florida


This text has been transcribed from an audio or video oral history. Digitization was funded by a gift from Caleb J. and Michele B. Grimes.

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Samuel Proctor Oral History Program, Department of History, University of Florida
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This interview is part of the 'Jewish Community History' collection of interviews held by the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program of the Department of History at the University of Florida
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DATE: May 19, 1981

F: Today is May 19, 1981. I am interviewing Herta Freund from the community
of El Salvador, Central America in Miami Beach, Florida. We are going
to call her Teta, because this is the name that we are used to calling
her. She is my grandmother. Where were you born?

H: In Grossstein, Germany.. Near Oppeln and Breslau.

F: In which year?

H: 1905.

F: Were your parents born there?

H: My father was born there. My mother was born in Boiten, which is in
the same neighborhood in Schleisien.

F: Where did you go to school? What kind of Jewish life existed there?

H: The first years were in Grossstein where there was only a Folks school,
which means the basic school. When I was twenty years old, I could not
go to the Folks school anymore in such a small village, so I was sent
to Oppeln where they had excellent schools. They were very progressive,
very well know, and were a higher class of schooling.

F: Did you commute everyday or did you live with someone else?

H: No, that was not possible. There was a married Jewish teacher, for the
Oppeln community which was quite large.

F: How far was that?

H: It is very difficult to understand. Communication between places was
only made by train, but from the Dorf where I came from to the railroad
station was five kilometers away. So in rain or shine, if you wanted to
get out of town, you had to walk. During the First Woard War there were
no carriages or cars. They hardly existed. It was something outstanding.
We had to walk because even horses were taken by the state, and you could
not get a .horse even horses were taken by the state, and you could not
get a horse and carriage to take you to the station.

In oppeln, I had one brother. We stayed with a few other children from
small villages. We stayed and those people were named Speer. On week-
ends we could go home though we usually had to come back Sunday evening
on the late train. We usually had to come back Sunday evening at home.
We would rather stay Sunday to Monday at home and go in any weather at
five o'clock in the morning to the railroad station and take the train.

F: It was worth being home one more day?

H: Yes.

F: What kind of Jewish life did you have? How many Jews lived in that town?

-H: We were the only Jewish family. But that was not always the case. My


grandfather came to a Jewish community in Grosstein. There was a large
family with many children, and they wanted to educate them in our trad-
ition. He came as the teacher and stayed on and married and had his
own family of which there was one son. That was my father. By and by
everybody left for the larger cities and my father was the only one who
did not want to leave the town. He stayed on with the business and made
a very prosperous life for himself and later for his family. By that
time we were the only Jewish family.

F: Did your brother make a bar mitzvah and how was he prepared?

H: Sure, in Oppeln.

F: When did you get married?

H: In December 1923.

F: How did you meet your husband?

H: Well, there was no Jewish life and my parents were still very religious.
We used to spend the holiday in Grosstrelitz, which was the next city
that had a Jewish community. For the holidays, we would close the store
and go there for the two days of Rosh Hoshanah. In Grosstrelitz my
father had a sister who married and had a big family. We joined that
big family in Grosstrelitz. My late husband was born in Grosstrelitz
and he left just for the fun of it to go to Central America where he had
a cousin. He had the idea to see the world and come back to Germany.
Meanwhile, World War 1 broke out and he could not come back. He stayed
in Salvador and in 1923 he came back to see his family in Grosstrelitz.
We were there for Rosh Hoshanah and everybody was talking about Freund,
the man who lived in Salvador. Nobody at that time knew what Salvador
was, of course, and I got to know him. We fell in love and decided to
get married and I moved with him to Salvador. Our idea was to stay for
ten years in Salvador and then return to Germany and educate our children.

F: So you arrived in El Salvador by boat?

H: Yes.

F: How was it? What did you feel? What did you see when you arrived?

H: A very small town at that time. Not paved streets but cobblestones.
Lovely people and a foreign colony which kept together. Jewish and non-
Jewish had no influence. There were Englishman, a few Americans, French,
and Germans, and we all kept together because we felt a little different.
Our upbringing was a little different than the Salvadorians.

F: How did they communicate? In what language? English?

H: English.

F: And you knew enough English then?


H: Yes. Because I had a very good education. I went to school first in
Oppeln and when I finished school, I was sent to the finest Jewish
after-school education place in Hanover to get a little more education
which was not so common in Oppeln.

F: What kind of Jewish life did you find in El Salvador when you arrived?

H: Well, life, that is a big word for what I found there.

F: How many families did you have?

H: That I do not remember, but I remember there was Paula Widawer, who had
no children. About two years larer, Sol Mugdan, my husband's cousin,
was married so that was a second Jewish family. Then there were the
Ftenhels. She came about a year or two before I came to Salvador. I
do not remember what other families there were.

F: What kind of Jewish life did you have? Did you get together for Friday

H: Usually.

F: Did you pray in the house, or just have dinner together?

H: Dinner together with the usual prayers.

F: The dinner took place in the house because there was no synagogue?

H: Yes.

F: How many families would you say more or less, five, ten?

H: At the beginning, only these three that I remember.

F: That was all?

H: That was all. Two came afterwards. Then came the influx of more people.

F: But they were not survivors from the holocaust. They just moved before
the war?

H: Some before the war, and others like my late father were in concentration

F: What Jewish education did you give your children? There was no rabbi.
Did they receive just what they saw at home?

H: Absolutely. I remember there was once a Jew who lived, many years before
I met him, Moishe Levy. Moishe Levy had enough knowledge to give some
preparation for bar mitzvah. He could read the Torah.

F: That was when they were preparing for the bar mitzvah. Your son, Ernesto,
-...was.the first one to have the bar mitzvah in El Salvador, how was that?
How was it done? How was he prepared?


H: He was prepared my Moishe Levy. We had no Torah. But Guatemala had
several of them and we went by car to Guatemala. It took at least
eight hours to drive to Guatemala, and they lent us a Torah.

F: We are talking about fourteen years later. How many people were in
the community?

H: By that time, there was Felix Cohen who was married. There was Mario
Enriques who was married. It is difficult to say off hand.

F: The Liebes family was there when you arrived?

H: Yes.

F: And so by the time Ernesto was bar mitzvahed in 1937 or 1938--he was born
in 1925-there were about fifteen families?

H: Maybe. I remember that everybody stayed on in the Jewish community. The
prayer part of the bar mitzvah, as such, was the whole thing. It was in
our big house. Everybody stayed on for lunch. I remember we had about
fifty people there for lunch.

F: With youngsters and children?

H: Yes.

F: The ladies of the communities held the big holidays then. How did you
organize yourself for the big holidays?

H: Everyone in his own house.

F: But you prayed together for Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur...

H: Yes, in the Widawer's house.

F: That was in which year?

H: I am trying to figure that out. It must have been 1928 or 1929.

F: So they were praying in your home on Friday nights and Saturday mornings?

H: No.

F: Only Friday night, Pesach, Rosh Hashanah, and Yom Kippur?

H: I do not think even Friday nights. As far as I can remember, only for
the high holidays.

F: How did they make the high holidays? Who was in charge of that?

H: I do not know. The few who had a good education.

F---TheWIZO is the Women International Zionist Organization that you were so
active in. How and when did it start?


H: I think it was in 1941. It started in a very strange way. In Europe,
the Zionist movement brought what we at that time called "schnores".
Later on, from the roots of the Zionist organization, people came and
we got money. There was a time when sent some nice, young men who tried
mainly to wake the Judaic conscience in the young generation.

F: Who started the WIZO organization?

H: Our house was the center of any Jewish get together. A younger woman came
from Canada, and her name was Smiley, but I have forgotten the first name.
I do not know who sent her to me, but she came from WIZO and told me that
I had to go back to work. Well, I was delighted because it gave me a
broader field of doing things. The first teas and everything were in my

F: The basic idea of their coming and you doing it was towards which direction?
What was the purpose of it?

H: To help the women in Israel start schools.

F: So you got the community together to earn money to send...

H: The women.

F: To Israel.

H: Yes.

F: What was the purpose of WIZO inside of the community?

H: There was really no purpose. It developed by itself. It is like when
you push carts or something. Give it a little push and it starts to run.
And that was exactly what started it. We got together and we would read
about Zionism, and about Jewish things. I tried to get a little more
educated in that field. Then when there were children in the community,
it was the most natural thing. Like Elsie Levin, living now in Boston,
and we got to see what they were teaching. She was brought to Margot
and Shita Liebes.

F: As a teacher?

H: And this American family. Then she got married to a Jewish man, Max
Levin, and she helped get the children together and gave them a little
more incentive to participate. There were not many.

F: How many years where you the president of WIZO, and how did you organize
with a treasurer and secretary?

H: For the first years I did everything myself.

F: You did not have a board then? It was just you doing the work?

H: -.When-it grew we were able to organize it. When my late husband passed
away I had no more time to work. I had worked very intensely for WIZO.


F: That was in 1949?

H: Yes, but by that time r was president of WIZO for maybe ten years.

F: Then what happened? You have it to someone else to be in charge?

H: And then we started with elections. Who came after me?

F: Then you headed a full board that functioned for the last twenty to
thirty years?

H: Yes. In between, there were many years that nobody wanted to take
responsibility as president. so I always thought that if I got a good
board, and that I would only have to direct, and not try everything and
do everything, I would do it again. I do not know how many times I was

F: Do you remember how much was sent to Israel from our community?

H: No.

F: Did you help in any way in the community in Salvador?

H: If that is interesting to you, you have to write WIZO in Israel. They
have it. We destroyed mainly everything.

F: Was there any connection between WIZO community and the community in
El Salvador? Did you do any work for the Salvadorian community, in
hospitals or in any specific way?

H: No, because our funds were proprtionally very good, and we never aimed
for something like that because that needed a huge community and we
had such a small one. W& could never have done that.

F: Well, there was a little school that I remember that the WIZO helped in
El Salvador.

H: That came much later. That could not be done before because it had to
be from the state. So the state of Israel was first.

F: First there was a synagogue and then there was a board of directors in
the synagogue, but the WIZO itself had a very prominent influence as far
as making all the holidays happen, like Pesach. It was a community Pesach.
Can you tell us a little about how you came into doing this in each one
of the home and then having a community center? How was that transition?

H: I do not know. There were many families already and many of the fathers
of the children from the families did not know how to make it an effec-
tive Seder. I imagine that was the way the children wanted it, and the
community had the feeling to be together because at that time many of
the single men had married Salvadorian girls, not Jewish ones. They were
more than anxious, to have a new companion, which their wives could not
give them.- I think, was the idea for the first community Seder in our


house. There were so many people we never expected that we had to put
a microphone on and had a number of tables, not only on this huge porch,
but in the garden. The women prepared the whole meal. Nothing was
catered and it worked out. There were too many people to have in a
private house because that was a tremendous work, and then we looked
for some place where we could have it together.

F: Even then you had to make the matzo balls?

H: Even then.

F: (Laughter.) I remember very clearly the women making the matzo balls
in the afternoon at your home. How many did you make?

H: Usually 400.

F: So, before the synagogue was founded, the prayers of Rosh Hashanah and
Yom Kippur were in your home.

H: Yes.

F: How did you do Yom Kippur and the breaking of the fast in the community?

H: As long as there were not too many people, everybody stayed on for the
fast breaking in our house.

F: There were how many people then?

H: Fifty, at least.

F: The WIZO, as an organization, was the link between the happenings of the
community life, and later on was the Jewish holidays. It that so?

H: Repeat that.

F: For instance, whenever there was a Chanukah party, and later on when the
children were making the place for Chanukah, the WIZO was the organiza-
tional part of that party. It was done not by the community as a board,
but by the WIZO.

H: Sure, because the women had time to do.

F: The women were the ones in charge of that. What is the situation right
now, and how did you find the situation in the last years of the WIZO in
El Salvador? When you arrived there was nothing, and then there was.
You were in charge, and then there was a board. There was a beautiful
community life. What happened to WIZO in El Salvador?

H: Well, there is nothing.

F: So they have closed the books.

H: -- Completely.

F: Because there are no people there.

H: No.

F: When you went as the president of WIZO of El Salvador to Israel was the
contract between you, Israel, and Mexico?

H: The first time there was hardly any contact. They looked down on us
because we lead such a small community, and only years later we realized
that the small community was doing the work of community. The WIZO kept
the small community life, and only then we suddenly were somebody.

The WIZO was so strange. The one time that there was something of a con-
vention to which we were not invited, I was furious. They invited me to
a cocktail and I said, "Thank you very much, but I can buy my cocktail
alone as long as I want to, but I don't come to a meeting and they have
a meeting and I am completely shut out of it," and I did not go to the
cocktail. And where I did go, I remember that very good, too. I had
gotten an invitation to the now very famous Hadassah Hospital and that
was in April of 1955.

F: The reason why you could not vote when you were in that meeting was
because you were not a good enough member? But you could go to the

H: I was not invited.

F: Then why did you go to Israel?

H: Because I wanted to get to know Israel, but not from the WIZO point of

F: You were not here for the WIZO. You went there on your own?

H: Yes.

F: I want to make more emphasis on the fact that the WIZO in El Salvador
was the Jewish life.

H: No. I would not put it that way. It was not based on the idea of Israel;
it was based on the community in El Salvador. It had nothing to do with
it. But as we were small, the member of one were the members of the other.
That was very natural.

F: How did the Heurr Kadisha develop in El Salvador? Do you know anything
about that?

H: No. I do not know.

F: Do you remember when this started?

H: No.

F: The little school that you were helping after the state of Israel was


created was called State of Israel.

H: Yes, but it was not a Jewish school, it was a Salvadorian school.

F: What was your role with that school? What were your duties and WIZO's
to that school?

H: Well, perhaps again tb the same point of what we were talking about--
you were a member of one, and were a member of the second.

F: But what was your function? What did you do for that school?

H: It was a government school by the name-of Estado De Israel. We tried to
help direct the school. There was a highly intelligent woman, who tried
to have nightly school, but she did not get monetary help from the other
government so we helped them buy materials. And then there was a national

F: Holiday?

H: Yes. And they wanted to have something special in that school. We
provided for it. Sweets, cookies, etc.

F: And then there were things like the piano, for instance.

H: Right.

F: It was given by the WIZO to the little school?

H: By the WIZO.

F: So the function of the WIZO in El Salvador was the life of the community
and also for the little school, State of Israel.

H: Right.

F: In the long run with the WIZO, when the synagogue was created and you
had a center? Did you have anything different happening to you as part
of the WIZO?

H: Yes and No. Different in a way, of course, hut tea afternoons or bridge
afternoons, things like that. We had our dishes and our own installation.
We tried to have everything out, and not in our homes becasue by that
time there were, for us, quite a number of people.

F: What were the events? What did the WIZO do to make money?

H: There were so many. We tried to always look for something special to
our families, to make people aware. As usual, everybody said, "Again,
again. What do I have to do?" Then when they were together, they en-
joyed it tremendously and had a good time.

" F: Did Fyou~have any very famous visitor come to a WIZO meeting?


H: Very famous, no. Famous, yes, I think so.

F: You had people come in and give you speeches.

H: Yes.

F: What was the relation between WTZO from El Salvador and Mexico?

H: There was little. For so many years headquarters for Latin American
was in Buenos Aires. Then that did not work out because it took very
long for materials to get to us. I do not know what happened. There
were some difficulties and they passed one part to Mixico. There was
one in South America and Central America had the other.

F: And you were connected directly? Do you remember the people that were
in charge from Mexico to WTZO of El Salvador?

H: I might have to ask Carmen Saslav, she would remember.

F: There was another lady that used to come that was very nice. What was
her name?

H: I do not know.

F: The one from Mexico. She used to come. When they heard people were
coming from the outside, they were very enthused about Israel again. It
was helping a little bit, helping the community react.

H: No. WIZO had to work very hard to make them understand. That was not
so easy.

F: Is there anything that you remember that you would like to tell us? For
instance, going out of WIZO. How was your feeling living in El Salvador
with the non-Jewish community? Did you have any problem? Did you feel
at home in El Salvador being a Jew with the non-Jews?

H: Some thought we never had any difference. We were always admired. We
never had any difficulties.

F: You were very active also with the music.

H: Yes, but that has nothing to do.

F: Correct. Would you tell a little bit about being a Jew and being conn-
ected with the music? What was the name of it, Pro Arte?

H: Pro Cultura.

F: You had to be with the Salvadorians on the board meeting and organized.
Will you tell us a little bit of that?

H: That was very natural. My son, your husband was connected to the 100
"thingsand-I do not think there was every any difficulty.


F: No problems for the Jews in El Salvador to be with the Salvadorian

H: Absolutely not.

F: Teta, do you have anything else that you would like to add to what we
have said, or you would like to say anything about the WIZO that you

H: I do not know, suddenly things come to you, but I think it is a guide
line we covered all the fields.

F: Thank you very, very much, and if there is anything else we always can
come back. Thank you.