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EDITH BERNSTEIN

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Interviewee: Edith Bernstein

 

Interview Transcript

Interviewee: EDITH BERNSTEIN
Interviewer: Cary Levy
Interview Date: June 18, 2019
Location: Rochester Hills, MI
Interview No.: 06.18.19-EB (audio digital file)
(Approximate total length 35 minutes)
Transcription: Yousaidit (DS), Fiverr

Themes: Jewish Identity, Upbringing, Holocaust

Summary: Edith’s parents were part of the underground in Holland and they hid people
during the war. Her father would find people who were willing to take in a Jewish child. She was hidden at a farm away from the city. As an adult she went to Israel and met her husband on a Kibbutz. Together they returned to his home in New York City, and then came to Detroit.

Example of proper citation/ attribution:
 Levy, C. (Interviewer) & Bernstein, E. (Interviewee). (2019) Edith Bernstein: Jewish Journeys [Interview transcript]. Retrieved from Jewish Journeys Oral History Collection of Congregation Shir Tikvah: https://shirtikvah.org/cstoralhistoryarchive

Additional Photos:

         

INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT

[00:00 silence]

Interviewer:   The name of the interviewer is Cary Levy. The name of the interviewee is Edith Bernstein. Today is June 18 and we're at Edith’s home in Rochester hills. I've explained the project to you. You’ve signed the consent form. Is that correct?

Interviewee:              Yes.

Interviewer:   Okay, so we shall begin. Thank you very much for your story. I look forward to hearing all about it. Let's start with some background information. Can you tell me about your parents’ background and how they met?

Interviewee: My mother came from a poor Jewish family in Amsterdam. Her dad died at a very young age. They were two children, my mom and her sister and their mom. My grandmother could not take care of both of them. So, the smart not so pretty one, which was my mom grew up in a Jewish girls’ orphanage. Her sister, my aunt, grew up at home. My father came from a Dutch Reformed family, but he never was into religion, period.

They both went into psychiatry. They met in a psychiatric hospital, Jewish psychiatric hospital, in [inaudible 00:01:52]. They met and started going out and my mom was told by the head of the hospital that she could not hang around with my dad because he wasn't Jewish. So my mom said, “Well, that’s too bad.” They both left and they got married in ’36. I was born in 1939, so just before the war.

My father lost his position in the hospital where he was working because after the Nazis came into our home, they kicked him out of the hospital because he was married to a Jew. I guess things were pretty darn tough for them financially in that light. The war started and this obviously is from hear saying, “I don't remember that.” Both my parents got involved. That's what we call it here but called it the underground. They hid people.

My father brought [inaudible 00:03:23] got a way to people that were willing to take in Jewish children because the parents already have been taken away. After a while, they decided that it was too scary to be at home. Too many things happening there. I was hidden by myself. I mean, without the family. The family I was with, the guy was a butcher and he had a glass eye. Don't ask me why I remember that, but I do.

I stayed with them for a year or so. Then one day, my parents got a -- my father would come and visit me when he could. My mom couldn't because she was not allowed to go on the train because of her Jewish star. One day, somebody in their big group came and told my parents, “You have to get out of here because they're coming for you.” They left. Through the group there was a place that they could go, a farm in Holland in a small village. My mom went straight there.

[00:05:00]       My father came and picked me up and we went there. There, we stayed for the last, I think it was two years, at least two years of the war. For me, except for the fact that my mom would tell me “Don't talk to the bad boys,” which were the Germans were everywhere. I remember I had a great time.

I made friends with the kids in the village. We’d sit in the cherry tree and Jerry's play in the woods. Yeah, I had a good time. I remember the day that the Germans kept pulling back, that I do remember. They were shooting back and forth from the Canadians and the Germans and we were outside the farm against the wall and bullets were...

I remember my little skirt girls didn't wear slacks in those days. My little skirt, in the breeze then there was bullets coming back. The Germans on the road dragging [inaudible 00:06:27] and they would ask, a couple of them asked, and I remember they always say “where is Deutschland

 Deutschland?”  “Deutschland is there,” is what the farmers would say, that a way.

Right into the arms of the Canadians, which was a good thing. And so, the war ended. Both my parents were asked to stay around for a while in the village and my father, they made him head of a camp of Dutch, German sympathizers, men. He run that camp. And My mom run the camp and that was in a school in the village for the female German sympathizers.

I remember they all slept on mattresses in the gym. I was with my mom and I got lice from somebody there. They did that for quite a while. Till I guess they went through everybody and decided where they were going to go; jail or whatever. And we went back to Amsterdam. Our place, the door had been kicked in. Nobody had been there for a couple of years. Door had been kicked in. A lot of furniture was gone. All my toys and things were gone.

It seems that I don't remember at that point I didn’t talk because I had been told so many times, “Don't talk, Don't talk to the bad boys.” So, I didn't talk to anybody I didn't know.

Interviewer:   That's a fascinating story. Your parents met at the psychiatric, the Jewish psychiatric hospital and because your dad was married to a Jew, he wasn't allowed to continue when the Nazis took over. You were deported. You were sent to a camp. You were sent to a farm where you, first you went to a butcher's house, where you were hid. Your father was able to visit you. How far was that? How far was it from the butcher's place to --?

Interviewee:  Couple hundred miles.

Interviewer:   Couple hundred miles?

Interviewee:  Yeah.

Interviewer:   Okay. Then your parents were forced to leave Amsterdam and you had to all live together in a farm. How far was the farm from Amsterdam? Do you remember?

Interviewee: Well, don’t forget Holland is small, for starters and we didn't have cars then. It was either the train or your bike. [Inaudible 00:09:34].

Interviewer:   Okay. Do you remember your life at all before all this chaos came in? When you were at home did you do anything Jewish with your mom or did you light candles?

Interviewee:  I was born in ‘39.

Interviewer:   Yeah. So, you were four or five when it all happened.

Interviewee: There was no before.

Interviewer:   Yeah. Okay, I guess. Yeah. At what age were you sent to the butcher where you -- with the butcher?

[00:10:02]

 

Interviewee: I think I was three and a half, four.

Interviewer:   Did your parents ever talk about the war afterwards?

Interviewee: No.

Interviewer:   No.

Interviewee: They never did. I know my mom was extremely unhappy with the Red Cross. She kept trying to find out where my grandma was buried or whatever and she never did find out.

Interviewer:   Were you at all aware that your parents were hiding kids? Were you at all aware that your parents -- you knew that was happening?

Interviewee: Oh, yeah, yeah. The adults in the closets on the beds. Oh, yeah.

Interviewer:   Any idea how many kids he saved or how many families he saved?

Interviewee: No, I don't know. I do know that my parents, when they started, I don’t remember what year they started that after the war, but they both work well.

Interruption:

Speaker 1:               I’ll see you Friday, okay?

Interviewee:  Yes ma'am. Than….…k you. Thank you. Don't forget the door.

Speaker 1:               Huh?

Interviewee:            Don’t forget the door.

Speaker 1:               Okay. Yeah, all good.

 

Interviewee: Yeah, so now I lost my train of thought.

Interviewer:   Is your dad written up there? Is your parents written up anywhere or noted anywhere, I mean, like in any of the Holocaust museums?

Interviewee: No. My grand ma’s name was [name? 00:11:39] No, they were compensated. Financially, they were very well. Holland did that. After the X amount of years after the war, they started doing that. All the people that really worked.

Interviewer:   What was your father’s name?

Interviewee:  Joost, J-O-O-S-T.

Interviewer:   Spell the last name.

Interviewee:  B-A-N, separate word, K-R-I-M-P-E-M.

Interviewer:   ban Krimpem. Sounds like a name we should all know about. Sounds like a very, very important person. Then he said he did some more stuff with the psychology and stuff. He published books or --? No. Okay.

Interviewee: No, as a matter of fact, and after the war was over, my father did fantastic. Did all kinds of scary and dangerous things. Then I remember again after the war was over, he obviously kind of fell apart and he got eczema. Yeah, I mean, but eczema his whole body. He was hospitalized. He tried everything. I remember he itched so bad that he put iodine on his face because he could rather have the pain than the itching. That took years and years and years and years before that went away.

Interviewer:   Probably from the stress of everything that happened. Did your parents remain in Amsterdam after the war?

Interviewee: Yeah. X amount of years. Yeah. Oh, yeah. They did. It's only when I went to Israel, they started a very small, private Jewish psychiatric hospital. I mean, it was in a big private home, big home. There were only seven or eight patients if I recall.

Interviewer:   This was in Israel, oh in Holland?

Interviewee: No, no. My parents only came to Israel to visit me when I was there.

Interviewer:   You must have been thrilled to be on the farm back united with your parents? I mean, that must have been a big deal. Was your sister there too or --? Your sister?

Interviewee: I have no sister. I only have a brother. My mom had --

Interviewer:   Oh, your mother had a sister. Okay. So, the two of you were there? Was your brother with you in hiding where --?

Interviewee: My brother was born after the war. After my mom had been told after I was born that she couldn't have any more babies.

Interviewer:   Okay. Then after the war, can you tell me about your life after the war when you were living with your parents in Amsterdam?

[00:15:01]

Interviewee: Yeah. I went to school. Went up to see a child psychiatrist to get me talking.  I think I went to her for quite a while.

Interviewer:   Did you do anything Jewish at home then? Did you start celebrating Jewish holidays or --?

Interviewee: No, not at home, but I went to different places with my mom where they -- yeah. It’s not group homes. I don't know what you would call it. Well, let's say organizations where they celebrated the Jewish holidays and then we go, and I go to show with her and we're only Orthodox Jews. We have to sit up on the balcony.

Interviewer:   Upstairs? You went to high school in Amsterdam?

Interviewee: Yep. I went to high school in Amsterdam. I did two and a half years of college and then I decided it was time to go to Israel.

Interviewer:   Do you remember why? What prompted you to say you had to go to Israel? Did you --?

Interviewee: Because I didn’t think Israel was going to make it without me. I really did.

Interviewer:   How noble of you.

Interviewee: Yeah, the first meal I had at that point I was kosher. First meal I got in Israel was pork. They served in the restaurant. Yeah. It was really quite amazing.

Interviewer:   My sister's a year younger than you and I think she felt the same way. She never went to Israel but she was talking about that she will go there to fight and everything else. So, being born before Israel was born, this was maybe, very important.

Interviewee: Yeah. When you said, “Well, did you do anything Jewish after the war?” It's a fact. It's written up that kids from mixed marriages like me. They all pulled to the Jewish side. Yeah.

Interviewer:   How long were you in Israel for?

Interviewee:  ’59, four years.

Interviewer:   For four years. That's where you met your husband?

Interviewee: Yeah. Who came there from New York City and then he decided he wanted to go back to America.

Interviewer:   When you were in Israel were you living on a kibbutz?

Interviewee:  Oh, yeah. We lived on a regular kibbutz. So, we met as a matter of fact on the kibbutz at the ulpan where you go to learn Hebrew, you pay for your classes with work. That’s where we met, but we were lived with other people. We got married in a kibbutz on the steps of the synagogue.

Interviewer:   And in the kibbutz were they religious at all or --?

Interviewee:  No, no.

Interviewer:   Not at all.

Interviewee: That was mainly an American kibbutz. There were certain things they weren’t crazy about doing so they hired other people, which is not the idea of the peoples. I worked in a chicken coop and I gave shots to the turkeys and all kinds of good stuff. Ironed the guys shabbas shirts and khakis. When we have dinner in the -- or breakfast in the dining room, it was Friday night and Saturday, I would look around the guys and I see them slopping their food in the shirt and then I say, “There they come again.” Yeah, I'll be ironing them in a day again after they’re washed.

Interviewer:   Did you learn about the chickens when you were on the farm in Amsterdam? Did you have chickens in Amsterdam when you were --?

Interviewee: Amsterdam?

Interviewer:   Or when you were in Holland. When you were in the farm. You said your parents went to a farm?

Interviewee:  Oh, I'm sure they had chickens.

Interviewer:   Yeah, okay. I thought maybe that’s where you learned skills of --?

Interviewee: No, no, no, it's kind of simple. Turkey, you just pull one ring out and that's no big deal. I learned that as a student.

Interviewer:   Your husband was ready going back to America, back to the United States and you followed?

                        You came with him?

[00:20:00]

 

Interviewee: Oh, yeah. Eventually.

Interviewer:   At first you didn’t want to go. So, you said you’d stay in Israel when                                he left?

Interviewee: No, eventually I went with him but I wanted to have a baby born in Israel. It didn't work.

Interviewer:   Did you come to Detroit at that point or did you go to New York?

Interviewee:  No, New York City.

Interviewer:   New York City. How long were you in New York City for?

Interviewee: In the actual city, not very long because I told him, “This is what you brought to America for? Keep it and I have.” So, we moved out of the city in a very nice suburb. After that we just got an apartment in the Bronx.

Interviewer:   What did your husband do for a living?

Interviewee: Mechanical engineering, heating, ventilating, air conditioning.

Interviewer:   You said you had two and a half years of college in Amsterdam. Did you ever finish?

Interviewee:  No.

Interviewer:   No? Okay. How did you get to Detroit? When did you --?

Interviewee: Well, last move until my husband said -- the bottom fell out of commercial construction in New York at one point, just went. Somebody in some engineering magazine saw something about him, and they asked him if he wants to come for an interview and that was for a job in Detroit. So, I remember we went to Pittsburgh for that and they hired him. The two of us, I left the kids with a babysitter, two of us flew to the Detroit area for the weekend and bought a house on the weekend. Naturally, we bought in the wrong place.

Our daughter had asked us, “Can we have a house on a regular street?” Because in New York, we lived on a mountain road, and it was beautiful, but no kids. So, we bought this house in Southfield. We lived there for years and years, until our son got out of high school and then we moved out of Southfield. We lived in Brighton. We lived in Indiana for a while then came back to Michigan.

Interviewer:   When you came to New York, did you have a feeling that you wanted to associate with the Jewish community or was it important?

Interviewee: In New York, at the time, no. I didn't -- there was too much to learn period. You know, but I mean, my mother-in-law was still alive at the time. We went to her place for Friday night dinners.

Interviewer:   Did you speak English when you came over originally?

Interviewee: Yeah. In my day, you did not graduate high school in Holland without speaking and reading and writing three foreign languages.

Interviewer:   Like which languages?

Interviewee: French, German and English.

Interviewer:   That wasn't an obstacle. When you came to Detroit, did you still -- did you seek out any Jewish friends or Jewish community?

Interviewee: When we came to Detroit, we wanted to be part of the Jewish community. We joined Kol Ami, but they were not my kind of people. What new clothes are we wearing for Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur? How many new   diamonds rings are we wearing? That's not my thing. So, that didn't last very long and then we found Shir Tikvah.

Interviewer:   Do you remember what year that was?

Interviewee: Oh, yeah. The ‘90s.

Interviewer:   The ’90? Okay. How did you find Shir Tikvah?

Interviewee: Don’t remember.

Interviewer:   Don’t remember? Okay. Just stop by one day?

Interviewee:  No, there was no shul to stop by. Remember there was no shul.

Interviewer:   I mean you stopped by for services -- when you stopped by for services

 

[00:25:01]

 

Interviewee: Yeah.

Interviewer: Became very active and became very part of a lot of stuff?

Interviewee: Yeah. I was in Sisterhood from day one, I think until X amount of years ago.

Interviewer:   Did you have any culture shock when you move into a reformed congregation and Kol Ami and the men were together?

Interviewee: Yes. Yes. Yes. Very much so because the only thing I had known before that was Orthodox because that's all there was in our home. In Israel, well, since we didn't even get to go into the shul to get married, I figured no sense going in period.

Interviewer:   Was there anything else that besides like men and women sitting together that was like shock to you?

Interviewee: Well, no yamulkas. No davening like this. Yeah, it was quite different to go on

Interviewer:   But it was easy to move into?

Interviewee: Yeah.

Interviewer:   Okay, so let's just recap. So, you left Holland to go to Israel because Israel was young and you thought you were -- all the people that went there were important to the survival of Israel. You were in on a kibbutz and you met your husband Sid there. Sid was a New Yorker, American from New York. Eventually he decided time to go back home and you followed. Didn’t like the city, didn’t like the hubbub of New York City so you moved a little further out in the suburbs and that was a little more peaceful, a little more up to what you wanted to do.

Eventually the housing market in New York got to be so bad so Sid’s job security and ability to make a wage that wasn't working, so he got an offer Detroit. You came to Detroit. You moved your family to Detroit, moved to Southfield. You were looking for a Jewish community. You found Kol Ami. You tried that, didn't quite meet all your needs. So, you later found Shir Tikvah and became very involved with Sisterhood and all the people that were at Shir Tikvah.

That’s that. That's quite a story there. This is an amazing story. I’ve known you for all these years and never really knew much of it. Since you've been in America, have you ever felt that you had anti-Semitism since you've been in America?

Interviewee: To me personally?

Interviewer:   Yeah.

Interviewee: No, which always amazes me because currently I have a friend who's… we’ve been together for 13 years now. He lives up in the thumb. There are not good things floating around about that area, but I go there all the time and I wear my big Mogen David with them -- know what people think? I don't know but say to me anything, no.

Interviewer:   Do you think your Judaism your is strengthened by the experiences of your life? Do you think you -- having lived through the places where you couldn't be Jewish and couldn't talk to people because you were Jewish, your mom couldn’t get on a train to come visit you?

Interviewee:              Yeah, probably. But I have to be honest, I'm more of -- as the Rabbi that taught my son before his Bar Mitzvah said I’m more of a cardiac Jew than anything else.

Interviewer:   It’s in your heart.

Interviewee: You say anything against Jew and chop your head off. More so than the actual religious part.

Interviewer:   Do you think you've ever had a moment where you felt very, very Jewish at some moment in time? Did your Judaism help you through some tougher times ever?

[00:30:00]

 

Interviewee:  I feel it is -- that's what I am.

                        It’s part of me. It’s deep, I don’t know if it helped me through tough times.

Interviewer:   How many kids did you have?

Interviewee: Two.

Interviewer:   They are living?

Interviewee: One lives 50 minutes one way and the other lives 50 minutes the other                                           way.

Interviewer:   Was it important to pass on your Judaism to them?

Interviewee: Yeah. It’s sad to say my daughter was a Hebrew school dropout. Neither one of them married Jewish, but that happens so much.

Interviewer:   Do they still practice Judaism in their house even though they didn’t marry Jewish?

Interviewee: Yeah, up to a point. Yes. I remember when my daughter just got married, she didn't mind having a Christmas tree in the house. Then my granddaughter was born, I told her, “You're going to have [inaudible 00:31:04].” My granddaughter was five and she said to her mom, “I know I'm Jewish, but when people asked me, I don't know what to say.” I didn't know anything about it. So, that's when my daughter said goodbye Christmas tree, Hebrew school here we come. Now, she has a Hebrew tattoo somewhere on her hip.

Interviewer:   Do you have any other stories that we should hear or any other -- got any others? You were telling me at one time about that parents were dying kids’ hairs.

Interviewee: Yeah, my father did that blonde.

Interviewer:   When he was hiding them were they all hidden in Amsterdam or all over the world or all over Holland?

Interviewee: Just in Holland.

Interviewer:   Did he ever meet up with those kids after the war? Was there ever a time that you had a --?

Interviewee:  No, because everybody had a job that was not, I want to see -- deliver them in real. Make sure that they were in a good place and they were safe. Done his job and then somebody else would do whatever else was necessary. If those people didn't have enough food, make sure that they have food. So, have it, Jewish victim, but there are some friends that they had left over after the war that they did meet.

Interviewer:   Your brother where did he end up at?

Interviewee: Well, now he lives in Holland again. My brother was born in ‘46 so right after the war. He went for the first time to Israel when I left ’67. He's gone back and forth between Israel and Holland . He's married an Israeli and eventually they got divorced. He still lives in Holland.

Interviewer:   Your mother's sister was she part of the family home? She was separated from your mother because your mother went to an orphanage.

Interviewee:  Yeah. Well, that was in Amsterdam. They saw each other, though.

Interviewer:   Was she still there like after the war?

Interviewee: Yes, yes. Yes. As a matter of fact, she was picked up with her husband and while they were on the train at some point, and they had a little girl already, he shoved her off the train.

Interviewer:   For her safety or for her ? To get her off the train.

Interviewee: To get her out and she survived and she made it back.

Interviewer:   Went to a camp?

Interviewee: No, he did. He got murdered at it. I mean, I have all kinds of aunts and uncles that I never met because they were all taken and killed. But yeah, my aunt survived. Sometime after the war, she met a man whose wife had been taken off to the camps and they got married.

Interviewer:   That was a fascinating story. Thank you. Is there anything else you want to add or anything else?

[00:35:00]

Interviewee: Yeah, I don't know. There's always stuff but if you think I can just think of it now, no, absolutely not.

Interviewer:   Well, Thank you.

[00:35:14]

[End of Recorded Material]

 

Mon, May 25 2020 2 Sivan 5780