David P. Boder Interviews Bertha Goldwasser; August 4, 1946; Paris, France

  • David Boder: [In English] This is Spool number 24, taken the 4th of August, 1946, at 9 Rue de Patin, Paris. The interviewee is Mrs. Bertha Goldwasser, née Rosenstrauch, age 34. She is here in Paris and works with the Neue Freie Presse, a Jewish newspaper.
  • David Boder: [In German] And so Mrs. Goldwasser, would you give us again your full name and [tell us] who you are?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: My name is Goldwasser. Born in Poland. I was married here in Paris. My husband, his name was Kuba Goldwasser . . . who was deported in '41, arrested by the German Gestapo.
  • David Boder: In Paris?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: In Paris.
  • David Boder: Tell me, Mrs. Goldwasser, where were you when the war began?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: When the war began I was here in Paris, all the time, until the year . . . until the year '41. On the day when my husband was arrested . . . and about the deportation I did not know. Fifteen days later I, too, was arrested together with my nine-months-old girl.In the spring of 1941, Vichy officials ordered the French police to round up mostly foreign-born Jewish men in Paris. Women and children were excluded at the time—Mrs. Goldwasser's arrest was anomalous. Native-born French Jews had a much better chance of survival than did foreign-born Jews such as the Goldwassers.1
  • David Boder: A little nearer here [to the microphone]. Yes? You were arrested with your nine-months-old baby.
  • Bertha Goldwasser: Yes.
  • David Boder: Tell me, how was it here? You were living with your husband in Paris, is that right?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: Yes.
  • David Boder: What was his occupation?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: His occupation was . . . he was an engineer.
  • David Boder: He was an engineer.
  • Bertha Goldwasser: Engineer.
  • David Boder: And did you have any other children?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: No.
  • David Boder: No. That was your . . .
  • Bertha Goldwasser: My only . . . my only baby . . .
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Bertha Goldwasser: . . . that I had.
  • David Boder: Don't you have the child any more?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: No. I had also been deported. And when I found out where the deportation was going, I jumped from the train with the child in my arms. And, God's woe, my child was killed on the ground when I jumped down. And I, too, was very severely wounded, but some French [people] picked me up. [I was] with them nine months and was cured. And then . . .
  • David Boder: Which French [people], those who were on the train?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: No. Those on the ground. The French people who lived near the tracks.
  • David Boder: Let us not go so fast, please. And so your husband was . . . was arrested. And what was done with him?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: He was deported to Germany to work in the salt mines.
  • David Boder: Yes. How was he arrested? Tell me the particulars of that occurrence.
  • Bertha Goldwasser: I was arrested at home . . .
  • David Boder: No, no, your husband.
  • Bertha Goldwasser: My husband, too, was arrested at home. It was on the 26th of Aout— . . .
  • David Boder: August.
  • Bertha Goldwasser: . . . August, at nine o'clock in the morning. The Gestapo came into the house and asked for his name.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Bertha Goldwasser: And then they said, "Aha! You are a Jew! Then come. You are good for . . . for work in Germany." My husband worked . . . [correction] answered, "Work does not scare me, but I would not like to go through the same things that my friends have already gone through in Germany." So they took him by the neck and threw him down the stairs. And they said, "We will give you work indeed! You shall work a long time with us." And then they deported him to Germany. They took him away to Drancy. And from Drancy they sent him to Pantin[?]
  • David Boder: How do you know that? Did he write to you?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: About that I received from the Germans themselves a ca— . . . a letter that the Jew . . . the Jew-prisoner Goldwasser is going to Germany as . . . as a volunteer worker.
  • David Boder: As a volunteer?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: As a volunteer worker. But it is not true, because they did this with all the Jews and Frenchmen. But they were not volunteers, because no Jew, no Frenchman reported to the Germans voluntarily.
  • David Boder: Tell me, Mrs. Goldwasser, when were you given this paper?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: This paper I received . . . I received in April . . . on the 11th of April.
  • David Boder: He was taken in August . . .
  • Bertha Goldwasser: In the year '41.
  • David Boder: Yes. And on . . .
  • Bertha Goldwasser: On the 11th of April . . .
  • David Boder: The 11th of April . . .
  • Bertha Goldwasser: . . . in the year '41, I . . .She seems to be confusing the dates. It was in August 1941 that Mr. Goldwasser was incarcerated in Drancy.2
  • David Boder: Received this paper.
  • Bertha Goldwasser: . . . received this paper.
  • David Boder: Was it mailed to you or transmitted by hand [?]?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: Sent by mail. [unintelligible]
  • David Boder: Notified[?] you by mail . . .
  • Bertha Goldwasser: Yes.
  • David Boder: . . . that he had gone voluntarily to work in Germany.
  • Bertha Goldwasser: Yes. And also . . . and on the bottom was added: The Jew-prisoner.
  • David Boder: Yes. And so your husband had left, and you remained with the child.
  • Bertha Goldwasser: And I remained with the child.
  • David Boder: And when were you arrested?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: On the 16th of July in the year '42.The Germans conducted a forcible round-up of Jews in the Paris region—including women and children and people with disabilities—on July 16-17, 1942. Some 9,000 French police were involved in this operation, during which over 12,000 persons (including 3,900 children) were arrested. They were soon taken to Drancy before being deported to Auschwitz.3
  • David Boder: That was approximately a year later.
  • Bertha Goldwasser: Yes, a year later.
  • David Boder: Now wait a moment, please. Was the child born already when your husband left?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: Yes. The child had already been born.
  • David Boder: The child had already been born when your husband left?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: When my husband left.
  • David Boder: The child at that time was nine months old?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: Nine . . . it was then nine months old.
  • David Boder: Yes. And when you were arrested the child was already approximately a year and a half old or so? Isn't that so?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: Yes. No, it was thus. When my husband . . . when the child was nine months old I had already been arrested once.
  • David Boder: Yes?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: Because I had gone to the lager, and my husband . . . [I] threw in bread for my husband.
  • David Boder: Oh. Nu?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: So I was arrested then, the first time, together with the child. I had taken the child along. I believed that if I went with a child perhaps they would let me pass near [enter?] the lager.
  • David Boder: Yes?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: But it did not help, and the same as the others I was arrested.
  • David Boder: Was that here in Paris?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: In Drancy.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Bertha Goldwasser: A few kilometers outside of Paris.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Bertha Goldwasser: Not far.
  • David Boder: So then you were . . . And how were you released?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: And I was taken into Drancy, too.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Bertha Goldwasser: But my husband did not know about this.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Bertha Goldwasser: Then the French interceded, that [I] should . . .
  • David Boder: Which French?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: The French . . . the commandant of the French . . . of the lager.
  • David Boder: Yes?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: The French commandant of the lager . . .
  • David Boder: Yes?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: . . . interceded, that I with the child should be released.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Bertha Goldwasser: I was released. And afterwards the police . . .
  • David Boder: Why did he do that?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: He took pity probably on the child. And he could not do otherwise. I was the first woman to get [into there] to be arrested at that time.
  • David Boder: Yes?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: Yes.
  • David Boder: [adjusting the equipment] Talk in this direction. So you were released, and you came home.
  • Bertha Goldwasser: And I came home.
  • David Boder: Where were you living then?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: Not at the same address any more. I was not any more . . . At another . . . at a completely different location[?]
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Bertha Goldwasser: I had . . .
  • David Boder: Did you have to wear an arm band? Did you have to wear an insignia?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: I had to wear a Magen David [Star of David] as they say . . .The edict mandating the obligatory wearing of the yellow star by all Jews in the German occupied zone was promulgated in May 1942. It provoked a good deal of discontent among the general French population.4
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Bertha Goldwasser: . . . with "Juive" [Jew] inscribed on it.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Bertha Goldwasser: But I did not wear it, because I am not recognized too well as a Jewess.
  • David Boder: Yes?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: I allowed myself not to wear it.
  • David Boder: You took a chance, isn't it so?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: I took a chance, yes.
  • David Boder: Yes. Nu, and thus you came home with the child.
  • Bertha Goldwasser: And thus I came home with the child.
  • David Boder: All right. Nu, what did you do then, did you work?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: I then undertook to work . . .
  • David Boder: Where?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: . . . illegally. At dressmaking.
  • David Boder: At dressmaking. Can you sew?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: I can sew too, yes.
  • David Boder: Yes. And how long did you work? And then you were working until you were again . . . arrested.
  • Bertha Goldwasser: Until I was again arrested.
  • David Boder: Tell [me] the particulars of this arrest.
  • Bertha Goldwasser: I was . . . They came at four o'clock in the morning to my house, and they knocked.
  • David Boder: At four o'clock in the morning?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: At four o'clock in the morning they knocked. I did not answ— . . . answer.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Bertha Goldwasser: Then there was again . . . They broke in the door.
  • David Boder: Yes?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: But I had a window which led onto the . . . onto a roof of another house. I got out through that window and . . .
  • David Boder: Were you dressed?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: I dressed myself . . . I only put on a house coat.
  • David Boder: Yes?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: And I got out through that window and started to walk on the roofs . . .
  • David Boder: Yes?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: . . . until I couldn't any more. And they began to shoot at me. Then I had to surrender, no?
  • David Boder: With the child.
  • Bertha Goldwasser: When I came down they already had the child. Because all the time since the first arrest, I did not have the child with me. My landlady kept the child.
  • David Boder: Your landlady . . .
  • Bertha Goldwasser: Kept the child.
  • David Boder: Yes?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: And when I came down they already had the child. And just the way I stood [in the same clothes] they took me to a lager.
  • David Boder: And they gave you the child?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: And they gave me the child, yes.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Bertha Goldwasser: It was in a big lager where hundreds . . . hundreds and thousands of women and children, men, too, were assembled together there.Those arrested in the infamous Paris round-up were at first packed for days without food, water or sanitary facilities in the Velodrome d'Hiver, a Paris sports arena.5
  • David Boder: All Jews?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: All Jews, only Jews. And then they began to sort [us] out, and the women with children were brought to Drancy.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Bertha Goldwasser: And there the children were taken away, and from all the deported the children were taken and deported separately.
  • David Boder: Yes?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: I . . . I . . .
  • David Boder: You jumped off the train.
  • Bertha Goldwasser: I got an idea. I asked the woman there . . . the German woman . . . She liked me, and she herself was married to a Jew. And she was . . . she had lived in France and knew me from before, too. Then she said . . .
  • David Boder: She knew you? It was an acquaintance from Paris?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: An acquaintance from Paris. She had lived here. But she wanted to save herself, so she said that she was a German, but she was Austrian, a Viennese . . .
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Bertha Goldwasser: . . . and also a Jewess, a Mischling [a half-Jew].Mischlinge (lit. hybrid) were "half Jews" of the “first or second degree” defined by the Nazi Nuremberg Laws promulgated in the fall of 1935.6
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Bertha Goldwasser: And she . . . she told me to go to the second RR-car. There are the children. And I should say that she sent me. Then I went into the second RR-car, and I had my child . . . and there I found my child. And thus we . . . There were other mothers, too. I do not know how . . . how they arranged to . . . to get to the children. When we got to the Colmar bord[er] . . . to Colmar, I jumped off the train.Mrs. Goldwasser's transport held a portion of the 42,500 French Jews who were sent to "an unknown destination" in 1942. In fact, the destination was Auschwitz, where most of the deported were murdered upon arrival. This would have been the fate of Mrs. Goldwasser and her child had she not taken the bold and difficult act of escaping from the train.7
  • David Boder: Now wait a moment, please. What sort of a RR-car was it?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: It was a sealed RR-car, a completely locked RR-car for . . . for . . .
  • David Boder: A freight car?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: A RR-car for . . . for cattle.
  • David Boder: For cattle.
  • Bertha Goldwasser: For cattle.
  • David Boder: A cattle car.
  • Bertha Goldwasser: Yes.
  • David Boder: So. And how could you jump off?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: There were . . . there were three . . . les planches. How does one say it?
  • David Boder: The boards were not tight [?] . . .
  • Bertha Goldwasser: The boards were separated, and in this way we . . .
  • David Boder: Oh, that was a real cattle car.
  • Bertha Goldwasser: A cattle car.
  • David Boder: Because so cattle were transported . . .
  • Bertha Goldwasser: [unintelligible]
  • David Boder: Yes?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: And then we . . . There was a . . . I took one . . . I do not know at all where I got the strength for it. I removed one board, and when I saw that the train was beginning to climb a hill . . .
  • David Boder: Yes?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: . . . I jumped off with the child.
  • David Boder: Did anyone explain to you that it is better to jump when the train is going uphill?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: No, no. I carried this idea already all the time. I told myself, "Once and for all. I am going to death, of course. And here I might be able to save my life . . ."The Germans did everything possible to keep their victims from knowing that their deportation would end in death. Somehow, Mrs. Goldwasser, perhaps instinctively, realized this and was moved to take desperate action.8
  • David Boder: Yes?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: . . . "and the child's." But, alas, I lost the child while jumping off. With my own . . . hands I had to gather the child . . . separate pieces of its body, and left it thus in the forest.
  • David Boder: What does it mean, separate pieces?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: A leg, a hand. I have . . . [Details possibly not entirely all correct. —D.P.B.]
  • David Boder: Did that so . . .
  • Bertha Goldwasser: Yes. When I jumped off, the train was going up the hill fast, up the hill.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Bertha Goldwasser: And thus I . . . I myself could . . . could not move ahead. And then two Frenchmen arrived from work. They asked me what I was doing here. I said that I am a Christian woman, and that the Germans had brought me here and had left me. I did not dare to tell the truth.
  • David Boder: You did not tell them that you jumped off.
  • Bertha Goldwasser: No.
  • David Boder: No.
  • Bertha Goldwasser: [unintelligible]
  • David Boder: And was the body of the child still with you?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: No. They saw already nothing [of the child]
  • David Boder: You had buried the child.
  • Bertha Goldwasser: I had buried [her] yes. And then came [unintelligible]. The people took me to them, and they . . . and they washed my wound, and I remained . . .
  • David Boder: Where were you wounded?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: My leg was broken in two places . . . was broken.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Bertha Goldwasser: The left leg, yes. And also my whole back was bruised. I could not lie down at all, nor walk, not even eat. But I was with those people. They were good [?]to me. They cured me.Mrs. Goldwasser was most fortunate in that the Frenchmen she encountered belonged to the Resistance. Some two-thirds of French Jewry survived in France, many due to help such as that offered to Mrs. Goldwasser. These rescuers came from all walks of life. Some were ideologically motivated. Others acted out of a conviction that a fellow human being in danger was deserving of help and compassion. Some of the rescuers knew those they helped and others were introduced to them by third parties. In Mrs. Goldwasser's case, as with many others, help was provided spontaneously to strangers.9
  • David Boder: Did they bring a doctor?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: No, I did not want it, because I said [unintelligible].
  • David Boder: But how can one [handle] a broken leg . . .
  • Bertha Goldwasser: There was a . . . a clergyman. He did that for me.
  • David Boder: A clergyman?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: A clergyman.
  • David Boder: He bandaged your leg.
  • Bertha Goldwasser: Yes, bandaged. And thus I remained nine months with those people.
  • David Boder: Tell me, please, if you got together with the clergyman, wasn't he able to understand that you were Jewish?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: But the clergy themselves here in France did very much for the Jews.Prior to the deportations of French Jewry, the French Catholic hierarchy did not protest against Vichy's anti-Jewish measures—many supported the Vichy regime, which had abolished previous anti-clerical legislation and afforded new privileges to the Church. Following the deportations, the attitude of a number in the Church changed. Catholic clerics hid Jews in religious institutions, issued false baptismal certificates and helped Jews fleeing to neutral Switzerland. A number of French Protestants, themselves a small and often beleaguered minority, also became involved in Jewish rescue efforts.10
  • David Boder: The clergy . . .
  • Bertha Goldwasser: The clergy in France did very much for the Jews. They have . . . have hidden hundreds of children with them.
  • David Boder: Yes?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: Very many. The clergy, and also the . . . the sisters [nuns].
  • David Boder: Yes?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: They hid very many children here in France.
  • David Boder: Then it was really true.
  • Bertha Goldwasser: True indeed. Just as I say.
  • David Boder: Yes. I mean it was said so in America, and we have heard that the French clergy was [especially] good.
  • Bertha Goldwasser: Very good.
  • David Boder: Yes. So.
  • Bertha Goldwasser: And then the clergyman started talking [with me] I saw that I could trust him, because I asked him once what was going on at the [battle] fronts [unintelligible]. And the people with whom I stayed belonged also to the French Resistance. They also worked against the enemy [?] against the Germans. [About two sentences unintelligible.]
  • David Boder: And so they cared for you, and you got well. Where did you go then? [At least five or six sentences are unintelligible. Apparently the microphone connection during the interview got partially out of order. From the fragments of speech, one gathers that she discusses the Resistance. Then the recording becomes clear again. —D.P.B.]
  • Bertha Goldwasser: . . . and so I returned home on false documents. I was in flight. And until liberation I joined the French Resistance and worked with them until the liberation of Paris.Although reliable statistics of Jews in the French Resistance movement are not available, there is little doubt that they were disproportionately represented in the French struggle against their German occupiers. They were found both in the general and the communist resistance. There was also a specifically Jewish resistance movement. It appears that Mrs. Goldwasser was in the general resistance movement, which was tied to the Free French Resistance under General Charles de Gaulle.11
  • David Boder: Oh. Now tell me a bit about the work of the French Resistance.
  • Bertha Goldwasser: The French Resistance worked very hard, and did . . . has done a lot for the Jews. When they learned . . . when they heard that Jews were being arrested they "sent" immediately and took the Jews into the forest. They were organized in a military manner, and we worked against the Germans.
  • David Boder: What, for example, did you do?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: We were after the [German] military. When a [German] military unit would pass, they [the Resistance] threw grenades, and they hampered in general their advance.
  • David Boder: You hampered [?] . . .
  • Bertha Goldwasser: Their advance. We also had aviators, American, Canadian, and English, who had been shot down, fell [parachuted] down. The planes were shot down. These people, the American aviators, when they were sick or wounded, we picked them up and brought them to the Spanish as well as to the Swiss border. I myself led twenty-four Canadian aviators to the Spanish border. And there I handed them over to other members of the Resistance and also to clergymen. They dressed them in different clothes and led them to Spain.
  • David Boder: And what happened in Spain? Were they interned or . . . ?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: In Spain they got in touch at once with the American consulate, and they went to Morocco, or to London.At the time, Spain controlled a portion of northern Morocco from the Atlantic to the Algerian border. On November 8, 1942, Allied forces launched successful landings in French Morocco and Algeria and by May 1943 had driven the Axis powers out of North Africa. These Allied successes encouraged neutral Spain to become more helpful to the Allied cause.12
  • David Boder: Aha. And you yourself worked with these English, Canadian soldiers.
  • Bertha Goldwasser: [unintelligible]
  • David Boder: In what city was that?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: I arrived with these twenty-four [men] at Toulouse. There the clergy would come and take over these people from me.Jules-Gerard Saliege, the partially paralyzed bishop of Toulouse, authored a ground-breaking pastoral letter on August 30, 1942 which called upon his French countrymen to stand up for the rights of French Jewry and resist the harm being done to them. This letter was read in the majority of churches in the diocese of Toulouse and sold secretly in Catholic book stores. It helped inspire the will to resistance among the Catholic clergy of the area.13
  • David Boder: Yes. So the clergy was with the Resistance.
  • Bertha Goldwasser: With the Resistance. Very many of the clergy.
  • David Boder: Tell me, please, where were you . . . where were you when the liberation came?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: When the liberation came I was in Paris. I was also . . . I was as a lieutenant, as a lieutenant of the SEK [?] of the Resistance.
  • David Boder: Yes?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: And I was . . . and I was wounded in Paris for the second time.
  • David Boder: How?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: Because I had to pass through [a region] when the Germans retreated—so fast that one cannot imagine. And I wanted to get over to the other side [of the Seine?] in order to inform my comrades that they should hide from the Germans. They noticed it and fired. I was wounded in my leg, and twelve months . . . [correction] twelve weeks I was in a plaster cast with my leg. But afterwards I did . . . I got well very rapidly, and also my morale was quite different. And to this day I am working in the French Military Staff, that means in the Resistance, SEK [?] with the contingent of the Marseillaise.The battle for Paris between the French Resistance and the German army, marked by fierce and bitter street struggles, began on August 17, 1944 and ended with the arrival of the Leclerc division of the Free French forces on August 25 when the remaining German forces surrendered. The SEK portion of the resistance movement, Marseillaise contingent, has not been identified. However, it should not be confused with the SEC, the Vichy Jewish Affairs Commission intended to catch Jews contravening Vichy's anti-Jewish edicts. It is not clear what type of work Mrs. Goldwasser was engaged in with the French military staff. Immediately after the war, resistance groups had a good deal of political power and played a considerable role in the government dominated by General de Gaulle.14
  • David Boder: Oh, the Resistance [organization] still exists!
  • Bertha Goldwasser: It was not disol— . . . dissolved [?]. It exists to this day [?].
  • David Boder: And you . . . Go on.
  • Bertha Goldwasser: Because they are recognized by the Military Staff.
  • David Boder: And you are a member of the Resistance.
  • Bertha Goldwasser: I am a member of the Resistance, SEK, with the contingent of the Marseillaise.
  • David Boder: Yes. So what are you doing now concerning the military?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: Now they demobilized me, because I am already too old. [giggles] [unintelligible]
  • David Boder: Oh. You are thirty-four and look twenty-eight.
  • Bertha Goldwasser: But for the army . . .
  • David Boder: If you are too old, then whom do they have in the Resistance, fifteen-year-old children?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: No, women up to twenty-seven, twenty-eight. Because presently the women of the Resistance are going to Morocco. I did not want to go to Morocco, because I wanted to search for my brother whom I found in Lager Föhrenwald near Munich.Like most Jews who left Communist bloc countries after World War II, Mrs. Goldwasser's brother was in an UNRRA camp. UNRRA was subordinate to the Allied military commands of each of the four zones of occupation. Munich and the surrounding area, including the Föhrenwald DP camp, were in the American zone. UNRRA's task was to administer the Displaced Persons camps and to oversee the activities of volunteer welfare organizations.15
  • David Boder: Now wait please. You have a brother?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: Yes.
  • David Boder: Where did he live during the war . . . when the war began?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: He was in Poland until '40. And then . . .
  • David Boder: Did you correspond with your family in Poland?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: Until . . . my last letter . . . the last letter from the mother I received in '42, in May . . . in May.
  • David Boder: When did you leave Poland?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: In '36, on the 20th of June.
  • David Boder: How come you left?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: I went . . . I came here to study.
  • David Boder: To Paris?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: To Paris.
  • David Boder: What did you want to study here?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: I wanted . . . I wanted to be trained as a chemical engineer.
  • David Boder: You wanted to study as a chemical engineer?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: To study chemical engineering.
  • David Boder: Where did you finish the Gymnasium?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: In Poland, in Barysz [?]. There I graduated.
  • David Boder: There you graduated.
  • Bertha Goldwasser: Graduated.
  • David Boder: And then you came here to study chemical engineering. Where?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: In Paris.
  • David Boder: In which school?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: In Faculte de . . . in Faculte de . . . in Faculte des Docteurs. [unintelligible; sounds like "Bue"]
  • David Boder: Did you begin your studies?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: I beg— . . . I enrolled but did not begin. My mother was not rich enough to support me. And I myself did not know the language, so I was not able to go that far.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Bertha Goldwasser: So then I . . . I began to give Polish lessons, and I myself was learning French.
  • David Boder: Who wanted to learn Polish here?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: There were . . . there were colonies of Polish workers who were working here in coal mines.
  • David Boder: Here?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: Here in France.
  • David Boder: And they wanted to learn Polish?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: Yes. They had children here [unintelligible].
  • David Boder: Aha. And these colonists wanted their children to learn Polish.
  • Bertha Goldwasser: Polish, yes. They were Poles, of course.
  • David Boder: Yes. And when did you get married?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: In '38.
  • David Boder: Here in . . .
  • Bertha Goldwasser: Here in Paris.
  • David Boder: Here in Paris.
  • Bertha Goldwasser: Yes.
  • David Boder: Now tell me . . . And then you . . . and you had . . . How large was your family in Poland?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: In Poland I had my mother and my brother.
  • David Boder: And the father?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: The father had died a long time ago, when I was a child four years old.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Bertha Goldwasser: When I left my brother, he was fifteen years old. And I also had uncles, aunts, my mother's brothers and sisters . . . [her] brothers- and sisters-in-law with children.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Bertha Goldwasser: But in America I have two aunts.
  • David Boder: Two aunts?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: Yes.
  • David Boder: Now let us first finish with the Polish relatives. When was the last time you heard from your mother?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: From my mother I have [heard] in '42. In May I received the last letter.
  • David Boder: Where was she then?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: She was in Barysz [?] at home.
  • David Boder: Yes. And what . . . How did your mother get along?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: Before the war my mother was rather well off, but afterwards, like all the others, they took everything away from her, drove her out [of her house] put [her] into a ghetto like all the other Jews. And there probably she was very badly treated, beaten. And the old ones were even taken to the gas chambers. I was told that. In the gas chambers they were asphyxiated.
  • David Boder: But what happened to your mother?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: My mother was taken to Treblinka to a . . .
  • David Boder: Treblinka?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: Treblinka . . . to a lager. And there he was gassed in a gas [unintelligible].
  • David Boder: Who told you that?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: My brother told me that. He had remained . . . He was drafted [?] by the Russians. That was in Poland. Then, when the Russians withdrew, he went with them to Russia. And there he joined the Russian army, and . . . and he was a soldier. He was wounded three times. He has fought . . . fought on the borders of East Prussia, under the command of a Jewish general. In keeping with the August 1939 Stalin-Hitler pact, the Russians occupied eastern Poland after the outbreak of World War II and drafted Mrs. Goldwasser's brother into the Red Army. In June 1941, following the invasion of the Soviet Union by Nazi Germany, the Red Army withdrew and her brother went with it. Some half a million Jews fought in the Red Army during World War II. Approximately 120,000 lost their lives, and thousands more, including Mrs. Goldwasser's brother, were wounded.16
  • David Boder: Who was that?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: In . . .
  • David Boder: Was this the general who was killed?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: Who was killed.
  • David Boder: Yurenko?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: Yur— . . . no, not Yurenko.
  • David Boder: Yes, in northeastern Prussia.
  • Bertha Goldwasser: In northeastern Prussia.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Bertha Goldwasser: He [my brother] was wounded. And then he was taken to Moscow, and [there] he recovered. Afterwards . . . he had it very good in Russia. This he wrote me. And then he thought, what should he do there all alone. He is still "a child." He thought perhaps he will find . . . perhaps he will yet find the mother. So he came home, to Poland, to Barysz [?]. And he did not find the mother, no one. So he went on to Poland . . . he went to Poland. And he found no one of the family. So he came to Germany. In Germany he found no one either. Then he went on to Munich and . . . and joined a lager of the UNRRA. There he decided to go either to America or to Palestine. But when he received word from my aunt in America, and when she also gave him my address, he immediately wrote to me in France, and now I am in contact with him.
  • David Boder: Where is the brother?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: My brother is in Mun— . . . near Munich, in Föhrenwald, in a camp.
  • David Boder: In a camp, and . . . and he corresponds with you.
  • Bertha Goldwasser: Yes.
  • David Boder: Why doesn't he come to Paris?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: Because I myself do not know what to do in Paris. Perhaps he . . .
  • David Boder: How old is he now?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: He is now twenty-four years old, going on twenty-five.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Bertha Goldwasser: And so myself do not know what to do. To take him to Paris? I am alone. I perhaps can create a future for myself [?] and from America . . . the aunts want to take him over to America.
  • David Boder: The aunts want to take him over to America.
  • Bertha Goldwasser: Yes. They have sent him an affidavit.The affidavit was a sworn assurance by family or friends of those who sought to be admitted to the United States that they had the financial means to care for the would-be immigrant and that he or she was at no risk to become "a public charge."17
  • David Boder: Tell me, please, where do your aunts live?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: My aunt lives in Brooklyn.
  • David Boder: In Brooklyn, near New York.
  • Bertha Goldwasser: New York.
  • David Boder: And what are their names?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: Rosa Drah [?].
  • David Boder: Rosa . . .
  • Bertha Goldwasser: Rosa Kupferstein and Anna Drah [?].
  • David Boder: Kupferstein?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: Kupferstein.
  • David Boder: And Anna Drah.
  • Bertha Goldwasser: And Anna Drah.
  • David Boder: Both in Brooklyn.
  • Bertha Goldwasser: Both in Brooklyn.
  • David Boder: Do you also have their telephone numbers, or just their addresses?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: I have the addresses, just the addresses.
  • David Boder: You have just the addresses.
  • Bertha Goldwasser: Just the addresses, yes. And they have also sent me an affidavit. They also want me to come to America.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Bertha Goldwasser: But unfortunately I am Polish, and the quota for Poles is a very "tedious" one. It may take very long.
  • David Boder: Yes. But you were a student here?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: Yes, I was a student.
  • David Boder: You were a student.
  • Bertha Goldwasser: Yes.
  • David Boder: Do you have a diploma showing that you have graduated [from the Gymnasium]?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: Yes. But unfortunately I have nothing [to show] because the Germans took everything away from me. I cannot get another one.
  • David Boder: Is it recorded at the university that you had been there?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: It was . . . yes, it is recorded.
  • David Boder: Then you can get a certificate from the university.
  • Bertha Goldwasser: I can get a certificate, of course.
  • David Boder: Yes. That should be sufficient.
  • Bertha Goldwasser: Yes.
  • David Boder: So. Tell me, please, did the Maquis have any poems, any songs?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: Yes, they created very beautiful songs.
  • David Boder: Would you perhaps sing one for me?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: [chuckle] [unintelligible] I can't sing. I have no voice.
  • David Boder: You may do it in a very low voice. The important thing is that the words be clear. Right?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: Yes.
  • David Boder: Just hum it, so to speak. Try, please.
  • Bertha Goldwasser: I cannot remember.
  • David Boder: Try, please. Let us see.
  • Bertha Goldwasser: [In French] [unintelligible]? [sings] Friends, you heard the glory of liberty, which has called you. Come to the ranks [unintelligible] stretch out your hand to your brothers, who agree with you [feel like you] [unintelligible; "to fight against"?] be it those who abandoned the legions [ranks] be it those who abandoned the nations. Friends, you hear the glory which is calling you. On the hills is liberty, which will unite you, comrades, Jews, Italians [unintelligible].
  • David Boder: [In German] Yes. Do you know any Jewish songs from the lagers?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: From the lagers? Yes.
  • David Boder: Yes. Will you please sing one for me?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: But I myself was not in the lager. These are songs which we have had come to us [?].
  • David Boder: Yes. Will you sing one?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: [recites] "[The first line is not clear] Ravensbrück, Ravensbrück, you are in the abyss [?]. And perhaps one day we will see freedom. Then we shall say to life once again, yes, Ravensbrück, you are the past, the sorrow, the destruction, by the Germans, by the Nazis, of the Jewish people. We the young have faith in life [?]. One must strive to live. But the Germans have besmirched this striving with black ink." There are some more words, but I do not remember them.
  • David Boder: Recite please in French.
  • Bertha Goldwasser: [She recites another song in French.]
  • Bertha Goldwasser: [In German] There are some more words to this too, but I do not remember them.
  • David Boder: Well, tell me, what do you think in general? What will become of the future?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: About the future?
  • David Boder: [adjusts the equipment]
  • Bertha Goldwasser: . . . when one is able to talk about the future it is [appears] very beautiful. But we cannot imagine at all what the future will look like. The Polish Jews had been very much oppressed. They have absolutely no "moral instinct." They have absolutely no . . . no hope to live. They want to wander. They want to run. To Palestine, unfortunately, they are not admitted. England does not want to give any certificates. To America one is unable [to go]. People have affidavits, but the quota is blocked. Well, what should the Jews do? Where should they go? They have no homeland. They want to have a national homeland. They want to be Palestinian citizens. And why should we not be? And so, unfortunately, no . . . I cannot imagine at all how life . . . the problem of the Jewish life in general, all over the world, will . . . will not take shape. It is a question. We are at the start of a world conference. Perhaps they will talk about us, too. Who knows? The Jews in general . . . a European Jew is not . . . is not too well at the moment. I mean morally. He has no homeland. He has no, as one says in Yiddish, roof over his head. And what can he do? He is broken up. No family. And out of a family, out of the most beautiful families, not a single person was left. And out of many hundreds and millions not even one has remained. What can one . . .Mrs. Goldwasser was indeed among those who lost almost their entire family including her mother, her husband, her baby daughter and her aunts, uncles and cousins.18
  • David Boder: For which paper do you work, here in Paris?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: I? For the Neue . . . Neue Presse. This is a paper which naturally defends the working class.
  • David Boder: Aha. How many . . . how many Jewish papers are there in Paris?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: There are many Jewish papers, but not all . . . not all of the same opinion. There are Zionist papers. There are socialist, so-called Bundist [an old, Jewish socialist party founded in Czarist Russia] papers. They are the worst, because they are against . . . against the progressive labor movement.The Bund was opposed to the communist labor movement. It was a socialist movement that aimed to seek Jewish cultural autonomy in a democratic state. It favored the Yiddish language.19
  • David Boder: The Bundist papers?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: [They] take always the stand . . .
  • David Boder: Yes?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: The Bundist paper always takes the opposite stand, against the Neue Presse. This is a struggle between two camps of labor.
  • David Boder: Is the Bundist press not a socialist press, not a Social-Democratic press?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: A Social-Democratic [paper] as it is said, but in reality they are not the way the worker wants to have it.
  • David Boder: You think so?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: That is what I think.
  • David Boder: But there are many people who read this paper. Isn't that so?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: There are, but it does not have too much of a success [following] I am not talking now as a follower of the Neue Presse . . .
  • David Boder: Yes?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: . . . which has a tremendous success.
  • Bertha Goldwasser: [In Yiddish] When one comes to a Jewish home, in every Jewish family, in the morning one sees a Jewish newspaper.
  • Bertha Goldwasser: [In German] This is the Neue Presse, naturally. As one sees a French newspaper, a working man's paper, or any other one, but the . . . but the Jew, he reads the . . . the Neue Presse.
  • David Boder: The Neue Presse.
  • Bertha Goldwasser: Because in it he has . . .
  • David Boder: Is the Neue Presse Zionistic?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: The Neue Presse is not Zionistic. The Neue Presse is a . . . not communistic, but it defends the Jewish immigrant, defends the Jewish [unintelligible] man, the worker who works at home, who works in the factories, and the intellectuals who . . .The Neue Presse (also known as Neie Presse or Naie Presse) was a Yiddish language daily newspaper with pronounced communist leanings. Like the Bund, it was anti-Zionist, but was more universalistic in outlook.20
  • David Boder: What does it say about Palestine?
  • Bertha Goldwasser: About Palestine? What does it say about Palestine?
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Bertha Goldwasser: They have a very strong [?] opinion about Palestine. They help in Palestine the Jews who organize in Palestine against the . . . against the bourgeois camp [class] who want to create their own homeland, who want something too . . .
  • David Boder: I thank you very much, Mrs. Goldwasser. This is a very good . . . [mid-sentence interruption of interview apparently due to the end of the spool]
  1. In the spring of 1941, Vichy officials ordered the French police to round up mostly foreign-born Jewish men in Paris. Women and children were excluded at the time—Mrs. Goldwasser's arrest was anomalous. Native-born French Jews had a much better chance of survival than did foreign-born Jews such as the Goldwassers.
  2. She seems to be confusing the dates. It was in August 1941 that Mr. Goldwasser was incarcerated in Drancy.
  3. The Germans conducted a forcible round-up of Jews in the Paris region—including women and children and people with disabilities—on July 16-17, 1942. Some 9,000 French police were involved in this operation, during which over 12,000 persons (including 3,900 children) were arrested. They were soon taken to Drancy before being deported to Auschwitz.
  4. The edict mandating the obligatory wearing of the yellow star by all Jews in the German occupied zone was promulgated in May 1942. It provoked a good deal of discontent among the general French population.
  5. Those arrested in the infamous Paris round-up were at first packed for days without food, water or sanitary facilities in the Velodrome d'Hiver, a Paris sports arena.
  6. Mischlinge (lit. hybrid) were "half Jews" of the “first or second degree” defined by the Nazi Nuremberg Laws promulgated in the fall of 1935.
  7. Mrs. Goldwasser's transport held a portion of the 42,500 French Jews who were sent to "an unknown destination" in 1942. In fact, the destination was Auschwitz, where most of the deported were murdered upon arrival. This would have been the fate of Mrs. Goldwasser and her child had she not taken the bold and difficult act of escaping from the train.
  8. The Germans did everything possible to keep their victims from knowing that their deportation would end in death. Somehow, Mrs. Goldwasser, perhaps instinctively, realized this and was moved to take desperate action.
  9. Mrs. Goldwasser was most fortunate in that the Frenchmen she encountered belonged to the Resistance. Some two-thirds of French Jewry survived in France, many due to help such as that offered to Mrs. Goldwasser. These rescuers came from all walks of life. Some were ideologically motivated. Others acted out of a conviction that a fellow human being in danger was deserving of help and compassion. Some of the rescuers knew those they helped and others were introduced to them by third parties. In Mrs. Goldwasser's case, as with many others, help was provided spontaneously to strangers.
  10. Prior to the deportations of French Jewry, the French Catholic hierarchy did not protest against Vichy's anti-Jewish measures—many supported the Vichy regime, which had abolished previous anti-clerical legislation and afforded new privileges to the Church. Following the deportations, the attitude of a number in the Church changed. Catholic clerics hid Jews in religious institutions, issued false baptismal certificates and helped Jews fleeing to neutral Switzerland. A number of French Protestants, themselves a small and often beleaguered minority, also became involved in Jewish rescue efforts.
  11. Although reliable statistics of Jews in the French Resistance movement are not available, there is little doubt that they were disproportionately represented in the French struggle against their German occupiers. They were found both in the general and the communist resistance. There was also a specifically Jewish resistance movement. It appears that Mrs. Goldwasser was in the general resistance movement, which was tied to the Free French Resistance under General Charles de Gaulle.
  12. At the time, Spain controlled a portion of northern Morocco from the Atlantic to the Algerian border. On November 8, 1942, Allied forces launched successful landings in French Morocco and Algeria and by May 1943 had driven the Axis powers out of North Africa. These Allied successes encouraged neutral Spain to become more helpful to the Allied cause.
  13. Jules-Gerard Saliege, the partially paralyzed bishop of Toulouse, authored a ground-breaking pastoral letter on August 30, 1942 which called upon his French countrymen to stand up for the rights of French Jewry and resist the harm being done to them. This letter was read in the majority of churches in the diocese of Toulouse and sold secretly in Catholic book stores. It helped inspire the will to resistance among the Catholic clergy of the area.
  14. The battle for Paris between the French Resistance and the German army, marked by fierce and bitter street struggles, began on August 17, 1944 and ended with the arrival of the Leclerc division of the Free French forces on August 25 when the remaining German forces surrendered. The SEK portion of the resistance movement, Marseillaise contingent, has not been identified. However, it should not be confused with the SEC, the Vichy Jewish Affairs Commission intended to catch Jews contravening Vichy's anti-Jewish edicts. It is not clear what type of work Mrs. Goldwasser was engaged in with the French military staff. Immediately after the war, resistance groups had a good deal of political power and played a considerable role in the government dominated by General de Gaulle.
  15. Like most Jews who left Communist bloc countries after World War II, Mrs. Goldwasser's brother was in an UNRRA camp. UNRRA was subordinate to the Allied military commands of each of the four zones of occupation. Munich and the surrounding area, including the Föhrenwald DP camp, were in the American zone. UNRRA's task was to administer the Displaced Persons camps and to oversee the activities of volunteer welfare organizations.
  16. In keeping with the August 1939 Stalin-Hitler pact, the Russians occupied eastern Poland after the outbreak of World War II and drafted Mrs. Goldwasser's brother into the Red Army. In June 1941, following the invasion of the Soviet Union by Nazi Germany, the Red Army withdrew and her brother went with it. Some half a million Jews fought in the Red Army during World War II. Approximately 120,000 lost their lives, and thousands more, including Mrs. Goldwasser's brother, were wounded.
  17. The affidavit was a sworn assurance by family or friends of those who sought to be admitted to the United States that they had the financial means to care for the would-be immigrant and that he or she was at no risk to become "a public charge."
  18. Mrs. Goldwasser was indeed among those who lost almost their entire family including her mother, her husband, her baby daughter and her aunts, uncles and cousins.
  19. The Bund was opposed to the communist labor movement. It was a socialist movement that aimed to seek Jewish cultural autonomy in a democratic state. It favored the Yiddish language.
  20. The Neue Presse (also known as Neie Presse or Naie Presse) was a Yiddish language daily newspaper with pronounced communist leanings. Like the Bund, it was anti-Zionist, but was more universalistic in outlook.
  • Contributors to this text:
  • Transcription : Dagmar Platt
  • English Translation : David P. Boder
  • Footnotes : Elliot Lefkovitz