September 22, 2018

A Chocolate Escape from Danzig 1939

A box of chocolate helped my family escape Nazi controlled Free City of  Danzig in the late 1930’s.

Planning started in the summer of 1937 when my great-uncle George and his wife, Margaret, my grandmother, Toni Prinz and my father, Ray, boarded a ship for Copenhagen. Great-aunt Selma and her husband, Mor, escorted them to the ship to wave goodbye and at the very last minute gifted them with a three inches by 6 inch chocolate box of MIX Konfect, a local company. Hidden under the chocolates, Uncle George had packed gold coins. George and Margaret carefully accepted the box with its concealed $10,000. My father, just 12 at the time, had about $3000 worth of gold pieces sewn into his suitcase and his coat hem. The mishpucha, ostensibly on vacation, traveled overnight to Copenhagen, visited Tivoli Gardens and after a couple of days returned to Danzig. While in Copenhagen Toni and Ray wired their money to Union Bank in Los Angeles, California. George and Margaret similarly wired funds to North America.

By the time of the outing to Copenhagen, the relatives were also applying for affidavits to the US and having clothes made in preparation for departure. In September of 1938 just days before my grandmother’s birthday, members of the Nazi party came hunting for my grandfather, Sigfried. Omi Toni, as I came to know her, sent their maid to wait for Sigfried at the building’s entrance to tell him to meet her immediately at the train station. Toni explained to the Black Shirts that she knew where to find him and that she would bring him back. Fortunately she had stowed their passports in her purse which she grabbed and hurried off to the  station in just her slippers. The two of them boarded a train to Orlovo, a nearby seaside resort where they rented a room. The landlady was suspicious, curious that they arrived after the summer season. My grandparents called their Jewish neighbors in Danzig to tell their sons, Arno (my uncle) and Ray to join them. The boys quickly packed a few things from the apartment at Pfefferstadt 52 and hurried to catch a train. A few days later Arno and Dad went back to the apartment to pack up as much as possible. They managed to take the Shabbes candlesticks but had to leave behind a brass menorah which Ray says he has never forgotten. Another time the boys went back to the house to pack more and saw that the Nazi party members had vandalized everything.

Meanwhile the family’s haberdashery store with its inventory had been impounded. To try to secure some income, the family surreptitiously snuck into the store in the middle of the night and bundled as much as possible in their arms. A former, loyal employee, a Catholic named, Roeschel, helped. Everyone carried as much as they could back to Roeschel’s apartment. Then he mailed it to Soblevo to our family members, the Holsteins. From September 1938 until January, 1939, the proceeds of the store inventory supported them.
Fifteen year old Arno had luckily received his visa on the Danzig quota which came up in 1938 before the rest of the family received theirs. He redeemed the store IOU’s at discount so that he could clothe himself for the trip. He traveled through the “corridor”  in a “sealed” Polish train (neither German nor Polish police could search it) to the port of Gdynia to board the SS Batory (the only Polish luxury steamship).

Finally, my father and his parents were able to leave on the Polish quota since the Danzig Consulate had sent their papers on to the Warsaw consulate. In January, 1939, my father and grandparents took a sled to the train station through Danzig to Gdynia to catch the ship to America where they started they have relished their American freedoms.

What started in Danzig with the camouflage MIX Confect chocolate, nurtured a four generation love for See’s marzipan candies and LA’s opportunities.