Fleeing Nazis Breaks His Father’s Spirit


My father, rarely impetuous, married my much younger mother when he was 46, and he was 49 when I was born.

When I was a toddler and we went occasionally together to the Berlin zoo, people came up and congratulated my father on his cute grandson. So there was this age gap, to begin with. We went on vacations together to a Baltic Sea resort or Denmark, but we never kicked a soccer ball around (who knew about baseball?).

My father, Dr. Gustav Tugendreich, was a well-known pediatrician and a pioneer in infant health care who had served as a frontline medical officer for four years in the Kaiser’s army during World War I.

He was profoundly steeped in German culture, could probably recite most of Goethe’s and Schiller’s works by heart and was an enthusiastic classical music buff.

As in most upper-class German Jewish families, the upbringing of my older sister and I was left largely in the hands of a devoted governess.

Typical of the time and class, my parents were completely assimilated, much more so than American Jews of that era. My earliest recollection of any religious rite was standing around the Christmas tree with the servants and singing “Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht” (“Silent Night, Holy Night”).

Yet, my father’s assimilation had its limits. When he was offered the directorship of the Berlin municipal hospital, on condition that he convert to Christianity, he refused.

Everything, of course, changed in 1933, when Hitler came to power — but only gradually. First, my father could no longer treat his “Aryan” patients. Then our beloved governess had to leave under a new law that no Aryan woman under 45 could work in a Jewish household.

For me, living in cosmopolitan Berlin, the change was hardly noticeable. I had gone to a private Montessori school, so didn’t have to switch. Now I was sent to a suburban Jewish boarding school, where I had the time of my life, the best teachers I have ever known and lived in Albert Einstein’s summer home, which he had donated to the boarding school.

In the beginning of the Nazi era, my father, thanks to his international reputation, was offered various positions abroad, including, oddly enough, at the main hospital in Tehran, but he couldn’t conceive of leaving Germany. Like many old-time German Jews, he looked on Hitler as a temporary aberration, which the good sense of the German people would soon reverse.

We still spent our family vacations abroad, the only prolonged stretches of time I recall with my father.

It’s odd what sticks in your mind. In 1935 or 1936, we vacationed on the idyllic Danish island of Bornholm, staying at a boarding house. One morning, a German man and his family arrived, and when the Danish host tried to introduce him to my father at the breakfast table, the German bowed briefly and stiffly but did not shake hands. My father responded in kind.

What puzzled me at the time was why the German wouldn’t shake hands, and later, how he knew immediately that we were Jews.

Finally, in 1937, two years after the Nuremberg laws consigned all Jews to third-class status, my father reluctantly agreed that it was time to leave. As in most families faced with life-changing decisions, it was my mother who was the more flexible, resolute and pragmatic.

But by now, all potential countries of refuge had pretty well closed their borders, and there was a line stretching ahead for years to get an American visa.

We were saved, in retrospect, by one of those odd happenstances that determine our lives.

Back in 1919, British and American Quakers sent missions to defeated Germany to help feed its hungry children, and my father was appointed liaison to the Quakers by the German government. Now my father recalled the brief relationship and tracked down the Quakers.

By a quirk of the U.S. immigration laws, academicians who had taught at a foreign university before emigration, and were guaranteed a one-year position at an American college, were granted a “nonquota” visa and skipped the immigration line.

Though my father had never been a professor, the British and American Quakers went to work and arranged a lectureship in public health, first at the University of London, and then at Bryn Mawr College, near Philadelphia.

So it was decided that my father would go ahead, spend 1937-38 in London and 1938-39 at Bryn Mawr, at which time the rest of the family would join him.

My mother was then head of the German WIZO (Women’s International Zionist Organization) and reluctant to leave her post, and, anyhow, what was the hurry? Everybody in Germany knew that Hitler was so shrewd that he would get what he wanted without a war, and of course, anything like a Holocaust was beyond imagination.

My father was always a bit of a worrywart, and I clearly remember how we chuckled over his increasingly urgent letters, especially after the 1938 Munich pact, begging us to forget about bringing the furniture and money and come to America right away.

So we took our time and left flag-bedecked Berlin in style on April 20, 1939 — Hitler’s 50th birthday — flying from Tempelhof Airport to London, and then traveling on a German passenger ship from Southampton to New York, arriving in the middle of May.

We were met at the harbor by my father and some old Berlin friends (I believe we skipped Ellis Island), but I have no emotional recollection of the reunion.

I do remember that a few weeks later, the reunited family left for a couple of weeks for New Hampshire’s scenic White Mountains. There the Quakers had set up a camp with young American counselors to introduce the new refugees, mainly Jewish, to the native customs of their new country.

One lesson was that after each meal, the assorted ex-professors, doctors and lawyers and their wives and children had to bus and clean their own dishes. You have to know the ingrained European class distinctions to realize what an absolute shock this request represented.

My father, who had a great sense of humor, laughed the whole thing off and complied readily. But as I was carrying my dishes, an elderly refugee came up to me to express his shame and horror that the son of Herr Doctor would be asked to perform so menial a task.

Of course, the “yekkes” — German Jews — who arrived in Palestine in the 1930s had to undergo similar adjustments but perhaps with less sympathy from the old-time inhabitants.

Three months after that experience, and to my immense astonishment, Hitler invaded Poland, and World War II was under way.

My father tried hard but unsuccessfully to overcome his heavy Teutonic accent, but, in truth, the forced emigration had broken his heart and spirit. After his Bryn Mawr lectureship expired, he was too old, too ill and too weary to start from the beginning and try to study for an American medical license.

I was then a pimply teenager, completely self-centered, trying to cope with a new culture and language. I was of little help and solace to my father and happily enlisted in the U.S. Army as my first chance to get away.

My father died in 1948 at the age of 71. I recently received a very polite letter from the German Association of Pediatricians, mentioning my father’s name and expressing remorse for the treatment of Jewish physicians by their Aryan colleagues during the Nazi era.

It was a little too late.

 

World Briefs


Variety Comes Down on Egyptian
Television

Variety, the daily newspaper covering the entertainment industry, admonished Egyptian television in a Nov. 13 editorial for running its 41-part series called “Horseman Without a Horse,” a series which is based on the anti-Semitic tract

“Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” The series has not only come under fire from Jewish groups, but the U.S. government as well. Last week, U.S. lawmakers sent a letter urging Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to condemn an anti-Semitic television program; the Bush administration also has urged Egypt to review the miniseries. This week the entertainment industry weekly jumped into the fray. “Leaders of the U.S. entertainment industry must come up with some sort of suitable admonition to Egyptian state television for running its 41-part series,” Variety Editor-in-Chief Peter Bart wrote. “The U.S. pumps some $2 billion a year in aid to Egypt and Hollywood dispatches a flow of movies and TV shows to that nation, which pretends to be one of the more enlightened centers of the Arab world,” he noted. “But if state-run television in Egypt effectively transforms itself into a prime time propaganda organ, it should hear about it from Hollywood. Loud and Clear.”

Israeli Army Moves Into Nablus

The Israeli army took control of the West Bank city of Nablus. Soldiers, heavy armor and helicopter gunships moved on Nablus early Wednesday morning after the army took control of Tulkarm and an adjacent refugee camp a day earlier. Operation Wheels in Motion is the biggest Israeli military operation in months, according to The Jerusalem Post. Israeli officials said the operation is focusing on Tulkarm and Nablus because the two cities have been linked to Sunday’s attack on a kibbutz in which five Israelis were killed. After taking control of Nablus, soldiers imposed a curfew and began house-to-house searches for terrorists. In a statement, the army said its operation also involves a crackdown on Bir Zeit north of Ramallah.

In another incident early Wednesday, Israeli helicopters fired missiles at a suspected weapons-making workshop in downtown Gaza City. It was the second such strike on the site in two days. There were no reports of casualties.

Report: U.S. Puts Peacemaking On
Hold

The United States reportedly agreed to an Israeli request to put U.S. peacemaking efforts on hold until after Israel’s January elections. Agreement was reached Monday in Washington during a meeting between the head of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s office, Dov Weisglass, and the U.S. national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, according to the Israeli daily Ha’aretz.

Netanyahu Pledge Angers Arafat

Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat responded angrily to Israeli Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s pledge that, if elected prime minister, he would expel Arafat. “Netanyahu has to remember that I am Yasser Arafat and that this is my land and the land of my great-great-grandfathers,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) dismantled 23 settlement outposts in the past month, according to Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz. Speaking before the Knesset on Wednesday, Mofaz also said three outposts are currently being evacuated and that the High Court of Justice will soon decide the fate of six others, Israel Radio reported. The IDF is currently investigating the status of 35 other settlement outposts.

Harvard Uninvites Controversial Poet

Harvard’s English department retracted an invitation to a poet who once said West Bank settlers should be “shot dead.” Following student complaints, the department chair, Lawrence Buell, issued a statement saying the reading had been canceled “by mutual consent of the poet and the English Department.” Buell also said he “sincerely regretted the widespread consternation that has arisen as a result” of the invitation to Tom Paulin, who lectures at Oxford University.

The invitation “had been originally decided on last winter solely on the basis of Mr. Paulin’s lifetime accomplishments as a poet,” the statement added. Paulin told an Egyptian newspaper earlier this year that “Brooklyn-born” Jewish settlers should be “shot dead,” according to National Review Online. These settlers are “Nazis, racists, I feel nothing but hatred for them,” he also was quoted as saying. “I can understand how suicide bombers feel.”

Former Bank Guard to be Naval Reservist

A former Swiss bank guard who rescued sensitive Holocaust-era documents from the shredder decided to become a reservist in the U.S. Navy. Christoph Meili moved to the United States after his actions at the bank in January 1997 brought him adulation from the U.S. Jewish community, but prompted death threats in his native Switzerland. Now living in California, Meili recently signed up to be a naval reservist a move that can again get him in hot water back in Switzerland.

A Swiss Foreign Ministry official said it is against the law for a Swiss citizen to serve in a foreign army without the government’s approval. As a result of his actions, Meili could face arrest upon his return to Switzerland. But this is apparently not a concern for Meili. “I will apply for U.S. citizenship very shortly, and therefore I am not afraid,” he told the Swiss daily Blick.

Six Egyptians Charged as Spies

Six people were arrested in Egypt on charges of spying for Israel. Egyptian officials said Wednesday that the six, operating under the cover of a travel agency, had spied for Israel in exchange for money, according to The Associated Press. Earlier this year, two other Egyptian nationals were found guilty of spying for Israel and sentenced to 10 years and 15 years in prison with hard labor. Israel has denied such allegations in the past.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

The Hunger Question


"We will never go hungry," Ahmad Zughayer boasted as a truck from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) unloaded sacks of flour, sugar, oil, rice and milk powder in the Balata refugee camp near Nablus.

"We will never go hungry, but not for the reason you think," he added. "We simply stick together. Whenever anyone misses anything, someone will help out, be it family or neighbors."

As a U.S.-funded survey reports growing levels of malnutrition among the Palestinian population, Israelis and Palestinians, have differed over just how severe the socioeconomic crisis is in the Palestinian areas, and who bears the blame.

Palestinians say Israeli security closures are intended to strangle the Palestinian economy and impose collective punishment. Israel says many innocent Palestinians are paying the price for their compatriots’ belligerence and the Palestinian Authority’s ineptitude and corruption.

Before the intifada, tens of thousands of Palestinians worked in Israel and maintained a decent standard of living.

For 20 years, Iyyad Maher, 45, also from the Balata camp, worked as a truck driver distributing dairy products in Israel. Since the intifada began in September 2000, he has been sitting at home, unemployed.

According to the World Bank, 35 percent of the Palestinian labor force is unemployed, but the situation in the refugee camps is worse, with unemployment figures at 50 percent or higher.

The obvious result is that family income has fallen sharply, and there is less money to buy basic commodities. In the past month, Israel has imposed a curfew in the West Bank and a closure that prohibits movement between Palestinian cities and towns.

Israel says it would like to ease the predicament of the general Palestinian population, while trying to maintain its own security. When Israel does relax its closures, Palestinian groups often exploit the freedom to send terrorists to attack Israel.

Israel and the Palestinians held high-level talks last week to discuss security cooperation and ways to ease Palestinian hardships. So far, no dramatic improvement has been felt. Zughayer, however, sounded confident.

"Don’t worry about us," he said. "We can always settle for bread and olive oil."

His comments conflicted with a recent survey conducted by Care International, which was designed by Johns Hopkins University’s School of Public Health and funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

The preliminary results of the study, carried out among 1,000 Palestinian households, showed that 9.3 percent of Palestinian children up to 5 years of age suffer from acute malnutrition, meaning they weigh less than they should for their age or height. The study surveyed nutrition levels, availability of food and household consumption. The result was an accusing finger pointed at Israel, as the study’s authors sought to tie the rise in malnutrition to Israeli-imposed restrictions on movement and the dismal economic situation in Palestinian areas, rather than to Palestinian violence or Palestinian Authority mismanagement.

Maj. Gen. Amos Gilad, Israel’s coordinator of government affairs in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, rejected the accusations. He admitted that the standard of living in the territories has dropped considerably, but denied categorically that the population was suffering from hunger.

The truth may be somewhere in the middle. There is no hunger because of a high level of mutual aid among the Palestinian population and the continued supply of food rations by UNRWA, and also because the Israeli army — despite closures and curfews — allows for the regular supply of food to the Palestinian territories.

On the main street of the Balata camp, in fact, fresh fruit and vegetables were piling up on the produce stands. Lumps of meat were hanging in the butcher shop, and the falafel stands were as busy as ever. To all appearances, the population here is not suffering from hunger.

Still, they could be suffering from malnutrition. With unemployment in the territories at an all-time high, few families can afford to buy a pound of grapes for 35 cents, not to mention meat and dairy products.

Indeed, the USAID study found that 36 percent of Palestinian families in the West Bank and Gaza Strip do not have enough money to consistently feed their families.

The figures put the Gaza Strip on par with the poverty-stricken African countries of Nigeria and Chad for acute malnutrition. But Gilad told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee last week that the issue of hunger is partly a matter of definitions.

"Hunger is when there is a lack of basic commodities. Hunger is when people have swollen bellies and fall over dead," Gilad said. "There is no hunger now."

If foreign humanitarian aid to the Palestinians declines, the Israeli army is preparing for the contingency that it will have to establish a military government and resurrect the civil administration that governed Palestinians from the 1967 Six-Day War until the formation of the Palestinian Authority under the Oslo accords, Gilad told the committee.

Jacob Adler, a medical adviser to the Israeli military authorities in the West Bank and Gaza, admitted that "there is a certain problem of availability of food," but argued that malnutrition already had increased in the mid-1990s under Palestinian Authority management.

Not all Palestinians blame only Israel for the crisis. A few weeks ago, thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in Gaza demanding that the Palestinian Authority supply "bread and work."

Even inside the Balata camp, residents openly blame the Palestinian Authority.

"Don’t tell me that the Palestinian Authority has no money," said Maher, who used to earn more than $1,000 a month from his dairy delivery job in Israel. "I remember the days when the Israeli military governor came to his office with a beat-up Sussita [a type of Israeli car produced in the 1960s]. Our leaders all drive Mercedes."

Gilad, too, told the Knesset committee that the Palestinian Authority under President Yasser Arafat is "extremely corrupt," with its leadership "driving fancy cars, hiring maids from Sri Lanka and not bringing up its children to become suicide bombers."

"Sometimes," he added, "I think we care about the Palestinians more than Yasser Arafat and his gang."

Maher would not elaborate how, after two years unemployed, he still managed to make ends meet.

"I have burned out all our savings," he said. "Now I’m considering selling the refrigerator."