Family recollection, titled: "Seventy Years,Four Months, And Seven Days"
My Uncle Walter wrote this story for his 5 grandchildren:
Now, let us go back to where it all started. It is October 22, 1909, the day I was born. The oldest of two sons of Adolph and Johanna Jacobsohn. I was born in the small town of Blumenthal, 16 kilometers north of Bremen, Germany, (now West Germany). In order to eliminate any confusion, I should mention that my mother’s maiden name was also Jacobsohn, but no relationship to my father who was born in East Prussia, one of 12 children, while my mother was born in Barenberg-Nordeutscland (North Germany) one of 11 children of which 5 died in infancy.
In Blumenthal, my father worked as a yard goods salesman. When I was one year old, my parents moved to Bremen for another job opportunity. It was there that on January 20, 1911, my brother, Hans, was born. Perhaps too young to realize, but it seems to me that Bremen did not mean secure employment either.
Again, my parents were on the move. This time to a small town of Kirchweyhe,16 miles south of Bremen where they opened up a shoe store. This did not mean riches either, but I remember when in early 1915, they had to give up the venture, as my father was drafted into the German army. World War I was about six months old at the time, and he became a member of the 55th Infantry Division. My mother, brother, and myself moved in with my grandparents, Bernhard Jacobsohn and my grandmother, Sophie, (these were my mother’s parents). I should mention here that I never met my Dad’s parents or anyone else except an uncle, Benno, from my father’s side, and consequently, there is little or nothing that I could relay from that part of the family. It is in itself very sad to report but true, nevertheless.
My grandparents lived on a small farm in Barenberg, population 300, approximately 70 kilometers south of Bremen. While my grandmother was a very pleasant and lovable little woman, approximately 4 feet 10 inches, my grandfather was not the nicest person to live with. In fact, he had a bad relationship with all of his six living children.
There was my mother’s oldest brother, David, married and living near Bremerhaven which is on the Nordsee. His two sons are living today in Florida, one in Miami Beach, and the other in West Palm Beach. My mother was the second oldest, next came Uncle Siegfried, a very dashing young man. He was the only Jacobsohn with a little higher education. He went to a private Jewish school for boys (against his Dad’s will because it cost money). This school perhaps the equivalent of high school, was located in Seesen, a medium sized town at the foothills of the Harz Mountains. When the war broke out in 1914, he volunteered to become a Hussar in the Kaiser’s own regiment. His heroism was short lived. He fell in battle on October 9, 1914, 70 Kilometers short of Paris, France.
I will continue with Uncle Otto. He served in the cavalry. He was married to a gentle woman and Aunt Hilke was a very nice person, full of love and life. They had four daughters, of which two are still alive presently, and with one of them, my cousin, Erna, living in Germany. I still have contact with her. In fact, I called her twice on the phone during the last year.
Next, came Uncle Emile. He served in the telegraph regiment. I should mention that both uncles were cattle dealers. Unless you became a cattle dealer, you were hardly considered a Jacobsohn. The next in line were Aunt Else and last, Aunt Henny. Both were not married at the time all of us lived on this little farm during the war years. Not a too pleasant situation, since we all lived under the dominance of our Opa.
For instance, my brother and I were not allowed to sit down at the dinner table. The old man would not let us. Most evenings we ate the same meal, milk soup and home baked pumpernickel. Altogether, it was an unpleasant situation and everything was dictated by Opa. He was financially well situated, but he was not very fond of spending money. There was constant fighting in the home, and if I think of it today, I still feel so sorry for my little grandma as she had absolutely nothing to say.
In the meantime, the war raged on. Germany was losing the battle and things got tougher on the home front. My mother supplemented our income by selling any kind of goods she could get a hold of on the black market. Especially,homespun linen, butter, eggs, and ham. She bought these items from other farmers and then went by train to Bremen for a ready market. There was very little patrolling by the only policeman in the village, since the gendarme was mostly drunk. Finally, on November 11, 1918, peace was declared. My uncles, Otto and Emile, came home, but my father had become a prisoner of the British in France and did not come home until the latter part of 1919. He was a sick man, gallstones, it was said, created by food unfit to eat, caused most of his problems.
July 19, 1919, was a sad day for all of us. It was the day that my grandmother died at the age of 59. Six weeks earlier, she had swallowed a fish bone which lodged in her throat. Since there were no doctors to remove or treat it otherwise, the bone finally worked itself through the neck which consequently caused her death. Shortly thereafter, my father was released from his ordeal, and he came home to us. My mother, brother, and myself greeted and welcomed him at the railroad station. Certainly a reunion that I shall never forget. We had to walk two miles from the station to the farm where our Opa greeted his son-in-law with the following words: “well, you can take about two days of rest, then you have to look for work,” The old man was not about to feed another mouth.
After a few days, my parents left to look for a place to live, preferably near Bremen. It was very hard to find any kind of living quarters since nothing new had been built during the war. Furthermore, they had not much money to spend. Eventually, they found a very old house in a little village called Leeste, approximately 15 kilometers southwest of Bremen. Once more, we lived together as a family. But things did not go very well. Post-war Germany was a mess. My dad tried dealing with cattle. He bought hides and sold them, but barely made a living. Besides, his gallstones gave him a lot of trouble. The doctors at that time did not want to operate, since not a great deal was known about that type of surgery, so he suffered from many attacks, often at night, and since we had no telephone, I had to go by bike to ring the doctor’s doorbell (Leeste had a doctor, Dr. Kuhlman). He would then come and give my dad a morphine injection and life could go on for a day or perhaps weeks without pain.
In the meantime, it was 1920. My brother and I attended school in Leeste. Already anti-Semitic forces were at work, inflation was in full swing, and my grandfather sold his farm and came to live with us. From time to time, he would live with some of his other children, but wherever he was, he caused a problem. In 1922, my brother and I went to a school in Bremen (about a junior high school level). It meant that every morning, we had to go to the railroad station by bike and then by train to Bremen, about a 30 minute ride. This school named Burmans Institute was a private school and very costly. Government schools did not accept Jews. After about a year, we had to leave, since my parents could not afford the expenses. At age 15, I left school and became a cattle dealer for a few months, but then my parents decided that I would perhaps make a better cattle buyer if I became a butcher first in order to learn cattle from the inside and outside.
After a long search for apprenticeship, we finally found a butcher who would employ a Jew. The next three years were nightmares. My master, as I had to call him, was a very rough man by the name of Herman Bassler. A routine day would start at 5 o’clock in the morning and end at 9 or 10 o’clock at night. It was a hard life for six days a week. (Herr Bassler owned a horse which had better treatment than I). I always looked forward to Saturday night. At that time, I could go home for the weekend, again by bicycle for a one hour trip. When I was two years and nine months into my apprenticeship, my father’s condition became worse. On Sunday, July 3, 1927, he was rushed to a private hospital in Bremen. This was his wish, since he had great confidence in Dr. Lengeman, the owner of the hospital. But he died on the operating table, only 42 years old. It was a terrible shock for all three of us. On top of all that, there was no more money at all. Except for $1250 which my mother collected a few weeks later on an insurance policy. My brother, only 16 ½ years old, was an apprentice in a scrap iron company and lived also in Bremen. That left my mother alone in the big old house. Since my brother and I did not earn money at the time, we could not help support our mother. She, therefore, tried to sell corsets to farmer’s wives which, in a way, was a small success, anyhow, we made ends meet sometimes under difficult conditions.
On October 15, 1927, I became a journeyman in the butcher trade, earning $10 a week, room and board included. I stayed at this job for approximately two years since my dreams to help my father in the cattle business were shattered by his sudden death. In the beginning of 1930, I was fired from my job as the company no longer wanted to employ Jews. I then went into the cattle business with my youngest Aunt Henny’s husband, Louis Lowenstein. This family had a daughter, Lisbeth, and a son, Herbert. They used to live in Lavelsloh, across the street from the Samenfeld family. We often visited my aunt and uncle, and as children, played with Irma and Erich. Irma’s Dad was a cattle dealer also, so years later, on a few occasions, I tried to do a little business in Lavelsloh, and Irma, a pretty young girl, was often there. It seems she would come to Syke where their former neighbors, my uncle and aunt, had moved to. The more I saw of her, the more I got interested in her, but she, it seems was not. Finally, at age 22, I asked her to marry me. She said I was too young. I must admit that perhaps at that age and insecure times, it was 1932, Hitler and his henchmen were at work, it was perhaps better not to get married. For a few years, we did not see much of each other, but in 1935, we finally got engaged.
Hitler had been in power for two years and life for Jews was not very pleasant, in fact, it was unbearable. A lot of cattle dealers did not get their licenses renewed. I was considered a war orphan and could keep on doing business, but farmers were afraid of reprisals so there was very little for me to do. In 1936, uncle Louis, Oma’s brother and his wife, Aunt Martha, came for their last visit to Germany. They lived at the time in Cincinnati, Ohio, and had made their visits every seven years. He had left Germany in 1890 at the age of 14. It was on this visit, that Uncle Louis wanted to take us with him to the USA. Irma and I both had widowed mothers and did not want to leave them behind.
On February 7, 1937, we got married and moved to Bremen. It was very hard to find an apartment since no one wanted Jews. Our living quarters were not too good, but the best we could find. We kept a low profile and stayed mostly at home. On occasions, we would take our small motorcycle to visit Irma’s mother and Erich approximately 100 kilometers to the south.
Peter was born on February 2, 1938, a very happy occasion, but dampened very much by what surrounded us. In March of 1938, my dealer’s license was revoked, so it was then that we made up our minds to leave and leave as fast as possible. Thousands of people had the same idea. The USA had a quota of 26,000 Germans per year. The fact that we were Jews did not alter our status. Luckily, we had made preparations a year earlier so we had a fairly high priority number. Uncle Louis had all the papers made out in advance, so finally after much harassment by Hitler’s henchmen, and after they searched our home for contraband, we left Germany on the 19th of August, 1938. Irma had her whole family with her, but I can still see my mother, my brother, and his wife, Hilde, standing on the platform in the Bremen railroad station as the train pulled away. It was a very heartbreaking experience which shall be with me for the rest of my life.
In 1938, the American economy was not at its best, and work was hard to find. Oma was able to sell some Leica cameras and a few other saleable items and had a little money. A wedding present from Uncle Louis in the amount of $100 came in very handy. We had asked him to keep it in this country until we arrived. We all lived in a two bedroom apartment at 2710 Sedgwick Avenue, in Bronx, New York. At times, this created some problems, but somehow we managed.
A few days before my 29th birthday, and two days before Yom Kippur, I finally found a job in a packing house in Brooklyn. That was the only Yom Kippur in my life that I ever worked. I was afraid to lose the job if I told them I was Jewish, especially since no one ever asked me. This was the only job I ever had in New York. I worked there until I moved to Milwaukee in 1946, (but that is getting ahead of my story).
Shortly after our arrival in this country, things got really bad in Germany. On November 10, 1938, Hitler burned all the synagogues and smashed every window of jewish business establishments. That night is today known as Kristall Nacht (crystal night). A lot of Jews were killed and arrested. It was then that Hans sent frantic letters and telegrams for help. Money was needed, $195 to get them an entrance visa to Panama. Since I myself had started to work only one month earlier, I could not raise the money without help from others. My mother-in-law gave me approximately $150. I sold my father’s solid gold watch chain, which was a keepsake, and it was hard to give it up, but at the time, lives were at stake, and I had to sell it for $12. It was a very heavy chain and worth a lot of money today. With a deposit of $195 secure in Panama, my mother, brother, and Hilde finally left Germany in January of 1939. They traveled on a small and slow freighter. Only 13 passengers were on board, but it brought them to freedom.
At the end of January, we received a long-awaited telegram, “Glucklich Gelandet”- happily landed. We all felt a little more at ease except for all efforts from here had failed to get my mother’s youngest sister and her family also out of Germany. All four perished in the holocaust. We never heard from them again.
After about one year in Panama, they were able to come to the USA, one at a time, first Hans, then Hide, and finally, my mother. Hans found a job as a dishwasher, seven days a week, for $7, meals included. My job at Dangler and Kraus worked out very satisfactorily. I was making $22 a week and with Irma working as a maid for about $22 per month, we at least did not have any financial problems. With Erich and Oma on one side, and Irma and me on the other side, we shared the expenses for food and rent. Rent, by the way, for our two bedroom apartment was $60 per month.
On July 27, 1942, Harold was born. Irma would have liked to have a daughter, but all were happy to have a healthy baby. The war in Europe had also brought the USA into it. In 1943, Erich who had been married to a girl from Providence, Rhode Island, was drafted. After nine months of basic training as a mechanic, he was shipped to France. Fortunately, he survived and returned safely in April of 1946. The girl he married he never saw again. She divorced him and most likely found someone else while he was serving his country.
After Erich returned, we made up our minds to get back into the cattle business. My Uncle Emile, who lived in Milwaukee, had made a lot of friends also in the cattle business, namely, Otto Hammel and Willi Hessel. After a little correspondence, Erich and myself left in May by train for a so-called inspection trip. We liked what we saw and one month later, we both left New York for Milwaukee in a Studebaker truck. That meant I had to leave the family behind in New York. It was not very pleasant for all involved. Irma was especially against this move. But things worked out satisfactorily, and eleven months later, in May of 1947, the family came to Milwaukee. Erich and I bought a duplex on Farwell Avenue. Once again we lived as a family. It took Irma quite some time to get used to life in Milwaukee, but eventually all turned out satisfactorily. The rest of the story does not have to be told, since Peter and Harold were old enough to remember all that followed.