Reichelsheim (Germany), Frankfurt, Kirch-Beerfurth
Irwin Meyer was born in 1922 in a small village called Reichelsheim in southern Germany. His father was a kosher butcher. The house he was born in was the birthplace for four generations. Irwin had one older brother and two older sisters who had died during the First World War. The brother was involved in communist activities. His mother was very Orthodox and raised her children in that fashion. As a young boy he witnessed the rise of anti-Semitism as the Nazis consolidated power.
His brother was sent to the first concentration camp in 1933. He was eventually freed.
Nazi membership seemed to be powerful in his town early. His father was beaten for speaking out and the further laws passed by the Reich eventually eliminated his trade. Irwin and his brother had to work on various farms to feed the family. In 1938, his brother was able to leave the country and go to Cuba, then to New York City because of relative connections there.
Kristalnacht really effected the Meyer family. SS broke into their home, slashed the pillows and beds, broke all the mirrors in the house, and stole anything of value. Then all the Jewish citizens were brought to the synagogue where they were forced to watch as the contents of the synagogue were stacked in the middle of the street and torched. Then they split the people into men and women with the children. Irwin was taken with her mother and they other women out into the woods where they were hung from trees by their arms and feet. Then they were beaten with hoses until they were black and blue. Later they were allowed to return to their destroyed homes where random gangs came throughout the nights and beat them more.
Soon afterward the family moved to Frankfurt where his father’s brothers and cousins were. While Irwin was visiting a friend of the family in another part of town the Gestapo raided his uncle’s house and arrested all the men and sent them to Buchenwald. His father was freed after two days, mainly because he was a war hero in World War I. Irwin was himself arrested and questioned. He begged not to be sent to the camp and he was spared because of his youth.
The family returned home. Soon Irwin was forced into labor making bricks and shingles for little money. One day he returned home from work in March of 1939 and discovered that his father had vanished. The next day he found his father in the loft in their barn. His father had hung himself after being seen with a friend by the sister of the vicious Nazi neighbor that had beaten him years before. They told him that they would slowly beat him to death if he did not commit suicide. When his mother found out, eighteen year old Irwin had to stop his mother from slashing her own wrists. He said that in hindsight he should have let her go down that road if he would have known her ultimate fate.
Later in 1939 Irwin contacted his aunt whose family had previously left for Sweden. They only had the ability to bring one over. Irwin had to leave his mother to escape. He never saw her again. She returned to her own hometown to live with her sister. Once in Sweden, Irwin worked franically to get someone else to secure a transport for her mother. Tragically, he was two days too late. She had been already sent to a death camp.
In 1947, he came to the United States to live with his surviving brother.