Research

Herkowitz (Lenczer), Susan (Susi)

Survivor/Emigre
Vienna (Austria)

Susan Herkowitz was the sole child of Heinrich and Helene Lenczner who owned a dry goods store in the 2nd District of Vienna, Austria. She was raised in a conservative Jewish household and had a happy childhood without any Anti-Semitism that she can recall until the German annexation of Austria. She attended public schools, had religious instruction, and received excellent grades as was evidenced by various school report cards shown during the interview. Also shown were photographs of her parents, other relatives, and her parents’ store.

Following the annexation of Austria in March 1938, her life and that of her family rapidly deteriorated. Their home was repeatedly entered by Nazi squads in search of valuables who caused considerable damage and even ripped out the floor boards. Their store was confiscated. Both her father and mother were forced to clean streets with toothbrushes in an effort to de-humanize and humiliate them. Her father was brutally beaten, the effects of which never left him and which Mrs. Herkowitz believes contributed to his early death in 1942.

Fearing for his life, Mrs. Herkowitz’s father left Germany illegally in 1938, i.e. without proper exit or entry documents, by crossing over the Alps on foot into Italy. He left all of his belongings behind. From Italy he was smuggled into France where he was arrested and placed into detention camps. His objective was to join his sister in Detroit, who had previously immigrated into the United States. After receiving the required affidavit from his sister, he was permitted to leave the detention camp and enter the United States in 1940.

Mrs. Herkowitz vividly remembers the excesses against Jews during Kristallnacht and still occasionally has nightmares pertaining to them. She also recalls a Nazi official entering her schoolroom and taking photographs of the Jewish children, photos which were subsequently published in newspapers with derogatory remarks.

Mrs. Herkowitz’s mother applied for and accepted a position as a housekeeper for a family in Surrey, England. She was allowed to bring her child along; consequently Mrs. Herkowitz was able to accompany her mother. They left Germany in June, 1939. The English family had four children of their own, including twins about the same age as Susan. Susan quickly and easily bonded with the four. Her mother was discharged from the job since the head of the household was a British army officer and it was considered improper to have an “enemy alien” in their home. However, she quickly found another position. They were treated very well in both places.

When word arrived that the papers for immigration to the United States were forthcoming, Mrs. Herkowitz and her mother moved to London to expedite their departure. While there, bombing raids by German aircraft required them to take frequent refuge in air raid shelters.

When in Liverpool, ready for departure to the United States, they were told that the intended ship was overbooked and that they would have to wait for the next available ship. It turned out to be a stroke of luck since the initial ship was sunk by a German submarine shortly after departure with no known survivors. Mrs. Herkowitz finally arrived in the United States in October 1940 where she was met by her father.

Inquiries after the end of the war revealed that essentially all members of her family perished during the Holocaust. Documents were presented during the interview on how this information was received pertaining to her grandmother, aunt, and cousin. Mrs. Herkowitz estimates that about a dozen people in her close family perished.

Following arrival in the United States, Mrs. Herkowitz continued her education and in December 1945 both she and her mother became U. S. citizens. She married in 1947 and has one son, Harry, who is now a prominent orthopedic surgeon. She has two grandchildren.

One reason stated by Mrs. Herkowitz for submitting to the interview is to dispel the often-made claim by the Austrian government and its people that Austria was merely the first victim of German aggression and not a perpetrator.

Interview Information:
Date: June 15, 2004
Interviewer: Hans R. Weinmann
Length: 37 minutes
Format: Video recording