Old Dominion University Libraries
Special Collections Home

Copyright & Permitted Use of Collection Search the Collection Browse the Collection by Interviewee About the Oral Histories Collection Oral Histories Home



Life experiences of a female Jewish immigrant from Germany, who came to New York in 1938, then later moved to Tidewater. Includes work history, sexual history, and sexual attitudes, with a focus on sex roles of the 1930's. (Interview taken at Jewish Community Center).



German Immigrant: So,, what shall we start with?

Interviewer: Let's start with your family -

German Immigrant: Do you have a (?) here?

Interviewer: -- your religious and ethnic background and what your father and mother did.

German Immigrant: In Germany we belonged to the Conservative congregation. But here we belong to Reform. You know Rabbi Foreman? He's very nice,

Interviewer: Tell me a little about your family life. What did your father do?

German Immigrant~ My father was a merchant.

Interviewer: He was? What did he do?

German Immigrant: Selling. Linens and do you mean in the thirties?

Interviewer: Yes!

German Immigrant: He died in the concentration camp and so did my mother but in another one. They were divorced and my husband and I were just lucky that we could escape it and we planned to bring some more of the family over here. But the war broke out in between.

Interviewer: How old were you when you got married?

German Immigrant: When I got married, I was, let me see. 24,

Interviewer: 24? And what year was that?

German Immigrant: Hmm?

Interviewer: What year was that?

German Immigrant: 1934.

Interviewer: Did you go to... did you graduate from high school?

German Immigrant: Yes.

Interviewer: Did you go beyond high school?

German Immigrant: Beg your pardon?

Interviewer: Did you go to college or anything?

German Immigrant: No… But I think the last two years over there in high school over there is like college here. Of course they make it quite difficult for you.

Interviewer: Were you planning on having a career since you married so late?

German Immigrant: Yes, but I couldn't get -- I planned to go to France and study more French and wanted to be an interpreter but I didn't get the visa for France anymore. So, I studied to be an apprentice in a ladies ready to wear shop and millinery store. Very nice shop, Over there you have to be an apprentice for three years before you can wait on the customers. So, I was there in that same store until I got married and the store was already taken over by some gentile people because the Jews were not allowed to have any stores anymore.

Interviewer: What year was that?

German Immigrant: Hmm? That happened in, let me see, I got married in 1934, l933, I think. But I stayed in that same store as saleslady. I stayed on with the same store. But my --but the people only kept me for awhile because they knew I was going to get married and they had to put me in the back room somewhere so the Nazi's didn't see that they still had a Jewish saleslady there.

Interviewer: They couldn't keep you after you got married?

German Immigrant: No. I didn't want to work after I got married. But they couldn't keep me because I was Jewish and they had already taken over for my Jewish boss -- you know.

Interviewer: What did you husband do?

German Immigrant: He had his own business with his mother together in a small village. And we had everything, linens and stockings and clothing and everything.

Interviewer: After you got married you worked with your husband?

German Immigrant: I worked in his place, yeah.

Interviewer: Why don't you answer these questions for me?

German Immigrant: From the top?

Interviewer: Uh-huh!

German Immigrant: Your mother, yeah, they were interested I get a career, but I didn't get the career that I wanted to. No, they didn't give me any advice about dating.

Interviewer: Was your family very close?

German Immigrant: No. I was closer to my mother because my parents got a divorce but I was an only child and I think that's a short-coming right there. I would have liked to have a brother or sister but my mother always told me I didn't know as a child they didn't get along so well. So, she always used to tell me if you have a brother or sister you have to share everything. So, she tried to discourage me you know. So, I stayed the only child, I don't think I was a tomboy. I was closer to my mother than my father. Does it all go in there?

Interviewer: Oh, yes. It's all going in there. So, you were employed with your husband so obviously he felt that you should work.

German Immigrant: You mean in his business.

Interviewer: Yes, his business.

German Immigrant: Yeah.

Interviewer: Did you have any child?

German Immigrant: No, I didn't have any child.

Interviewer: Did your husband share in the housework or were you mainly?

German Immigrant: No, we had a maid there and I didn't have to but after Hitler came, Jewish people if there was a man in the family they couldn't have a maid under 45.

Interviewer: They couldn't?

German Immigrant: No. It was Hitler's doing. He was afraid the men would start having intercourse with the maid's or something like that.

Interviewer: What was your income in the 1930's?

German Immigrant: I don't remember.

Interviewer: Did your husband handle all of the money?

German Immigrant: Yes. He and his cousin and his mother were partners in the business. My husband was, he worked in a bank after he finished high school. But when his father died he took over the business with his cousin,

Interviewer: Where did you learn about dating and sex if you didn't learn about it from your mother?

German Immigrant: Oh, my goodness. From my friends and --

Interviewer: From your friends?

German Immigrant: Yeah. I mean over there I don't think my mother would have discussed any sex problems with me and she didn't tell me that she probably had very many problems because she got divorced.

Interviewer: Did you, you never had children?

German Immigrant: No.

Interviewer: Never at all?

German Immigrant: We raised our nephew. We invited over here and he went to school here, studied at M.I.T., and he's in California now. But he gave me a lot of trouble. He got married and the marriage didn't work out. So, he got a divorce after ten years and now he's in California again and I'm still think he studied nuclear physics. And I think that he still teaches but his last letter to me was the he wanted to become a monk and it'a possible because in a Catholic cloister after Hitler marched into Belgium. He and his parents went into Belgium and when Hitler took over there t hey tried to kill the children too. But I think the Queen mother intervened so the children were saved. The Jewish children. He was put in a Catholic cloister so, its possible that he may. He was a small when he came over. He was eleven years old. So, its possible they tried to convert him over. He was. He had bar mitzvah here and confirmed here. He was an excellent student.

Interviewer: Did your husband share any housework with you?

German Immigrant: We came, when we came over to N.Y. we worked in a doctor's house as a couple. So, we had to do most of the cleaning.

That was 1938.

Interviewer: So, the Depression was almost over here when you came over.

Woman: Yes, but it was very hard to get a job and my husband's English was not to good at all so we have a very hard time. And I broke down. Work was too much for me and it was a large house and a child and so I got sick. Then when I got better, the settlement service told us we should go out and leave N.Y. and see another part of the country and we didn't have much choice. We wanted to stay maybe closer to N.Y. because we had our cousins here. But they said N.Y. and N.J., they had too many refugees already. So, they had open Virginia and Texas and when I heard Texas I thought I'd never see N.Y. anymore. So, I told them I think Virginia is quite pretty. So, that's how we came to Portsmouth first, and then to Norfolk. Are you studying too?

Interviewer: I'm helping her. I go to Old Dominion too.

German Immigrant: Oh!

Interviewer: Was your husband the first man you had dated?

German Immigrant: No. And I was not the first girl he dated either. The girls over there they didn't get married so young as they do here.

Interviewer: Why do you think that was? Do you have any idea about that?

German Immigrant: Well, because here they going to other schooling. Well, the wife has to work so he can study. So, over there it wasn't the case. I mean it's probably different. They probably lived together just like they do here not whether they are married or not but over there you had to have especially over, the men had to prove that they could support a wife not just like here, he goes to school and she has to support him.

Interviewer: How did it come about that you were able to leave Germany?

German Immigrant: Because we got the visa from my father's cousin's to come here. And we hoped we could bring the whole family over here but war broke out. We couldn't get them anymore.

Interviewer: Yeah, were visas hard to get.

German Immigrant: Yes. Yes. And you had to have someone give an affidavit that they are responsible for you and most of the people at that time didn't understand how much it means and my husband tried so hard to get my mother and his mother here but too late.

Interviewer: When you came to this country, did you find there was a lot of anti-Semitism here?

German Immigrant: No.

Interviewer: No?

German Immigrant: No. We had enough anti-Semitism over there.

Interviewer: Yeah. Would you look over these questions for me?

German Immigrant: No. The answer is no. I think to all of them. Especially in those years it was like, it was here, you know they go together, live together without being married.

Interviewer: Have you ever felt that abortion was a valid means of birth control?

German Immigrant: Was it what?

Interviewer: Was abortion a valid means of birth control?

German Immigrant: No. We didn't think about any abortion or anything like that. It didn't come to our mind.

Interviewer: So, none of your friends or anyone you had ever known anything.

German Immigrant: Uh-huh.

German Immigrant: That's quite a --'38 and '74 now. I lost my husband in 1966.

Interviewer: Was you husband the first man you had ever had sex with?

German Immigrant: Yes.

Interviewer: You already answered that. You learned about sex mainly from your friends.

German Immigrant: What?

Interviewer: In discussions with your friends. You learned about sex with your friends.

German Immigrant: I guess so. I think in school. No, in school they didn't talk about it.

Interviewer: Did you feel that premarital intercourse was immoral?

German Immigrant: No.

Interviewer: No? Can you describe a typical date? Like where you went and what did you do?

German Immigrant: Well, my husband had a motorcycle and a car too because both his cousin and he were traveling and selling too. So, when we first dated he came to the city where I worked at lunchtime and he took me out for lunch and we had lots of fun there and it was very nice. Then after we became engaged I spent the weekends with his family. But he stayed with my mother and me because we had planned everything so different and when Hitler came in between we wanted to go to Vienna and Salisburg to our honeymoon. And when we got married finally we had only a few days in Hanover and went out to the opera and went out to eat and things like that. He courted me on the motorcycle. It was lots of fun.

Interviewer: I'd be afraid to ride on one of those.

German Immigrant: No. It was wonderful. I don't know how I'd feel about it now but at that time it was just fun.

Interviewer: Did you think it was okay for an engaged couple to have intercourse?

German Immigrant: Yeah. I wasn't against it.

Interviewer: Did you wish to marry a person with experience in sexual relations?

German Immigrant: I guess so.

Interviewer: You expected him to know everything?

German Immigrant: Yeah.

Interviewer: What was your reaction to your first sexual encounter? Was it what you expected?

German Immigrant: It's been so long ago I really don't remember.

Interviewer: Did you practice birth control you and your husband?

German Immigrant: Yeah. Because we didn't want to have a child right away but I didn't even get pregnant.

Interviewer: Can you tell me what was your definition of feminism in the thirties?

German Immigrant: Definition of what?

Interviewer: Of a feminine woman in the thirties. Did you think, obviously you didn't think it was masculine for a woman to be employed or have a career.

German Immigrant: No., I thought it was alright for a woman to have a career. And for me it was alright because I had to do something because I had to support my mother and as apprentice you don't get very much money at all. It was very small amount of money and you have to work really hard. The salesladies couldn't wait on a customer before she had her apprenticeship. You had to help the other salesladies put their things away and straighten up the store. Now things may be different over there. We went over in 1960 and 1965. I have an uncle living in Germany. His son was blind now. He had an operation on his eye. I just got a card from them yesterday. They are in a health spa both of them are over 80. And his wife is not Jewish and they both had to be in a concentration camp. But he survived. And she was in another camp because she was married to a Jew. They had men who had gentile partners in other camps. So, its just like a miracle that he and, and his wife survived and they found each other.

Interviewer: What were your thoughts? How did Hitler become so powerful?

German Immigrant: Because people were so stupid and believed everything they promised them. A life of luxury you know and people thought they were going to have a wonderful life and less work and all that you know. I don't think it was too difficult for him because people just believed in him. They worshipped him.

Interviewer: Was there a great deal of anti-Semitism before Hitler?

German Immigrant; Oh yes! I think there was always especially in Germany.

Interviewer: But Hitler just really played upon it?

German Immigrant: Oh yeah. You could write a whole book about my life.

Interviewer: I don't know if this will have any application for you or not, but if you had to choose one area of your life that most affected by the Depression, what would you choose?

German Immigrant: I -- you mean if I was still in Germany?

Interviewer: Uh, yes.

German Immigrant: We had after, let me see. My father was in the first World War. After the first, well we had a terrible inflation in Germany you know. You had ten marks the next day it was only worth one mark. And I don't know whether you call that a depression too. What do you call that?

Interviewer: Recession.

German Immigrant: Recession. It was not easy for the Jewish people over there not even before the war. I mean there were times when they could have their stores and whatever they did and they had plenty of Jewish people in professions like doctor's, dentist's, professors, surgeons. He killed six million Jews.

Interviewer: What were your thoughts about Hitler when you were living there? How did you deal with everything that was going on?

German Immigrant: Well, we were scared because he told them what he was going to do with the Jewish people. And some people were lucky enough that they had some Gentile friends who did really hide them and help them to get out of children on time. The majority of them didn't. They just died you know.

Interviewer: I think I just about covered all the questions -

German Immigrant: I think so too. I want to go swimming. I'm going to meet a friend.

Interviewer: I certainly appreciate your talking to me.