Harold Orbach was born in March 1931 in Düsseldorf, where his mother, Herta Soloman, was born. His father, Eugene, was born in Frankfurt. Harold had an older brother, Gerald, and an uncle, Henry Solomon, also lived with them.
They lived in a fine home with many comforts. The cantor’s grandparents were very wealthy and on Saturdays, he stayed with them. His grandfather had a plumbing business and they lived behind the store. Harold remembers that a mute shoemaker lived close by and had a great dog that played with Harold.
The entire family went to shul and his father sang in the choir. There was a marble bimah and his grandfather had a permanent seat where he kept his tallit and his prayer books. During the service, Harold would play in the courtyard.
His grandfather also owned an entire apartment house where he lived, on the second floor and the Rhine River was closeby. He swam in the river although he remembers a sign saying “Jews and dogs forbidden.”
The other children that lived near him would not play with him because he was Jewish and he was especially jealous of them when they went to their Hitler Youth meetings and wore, what Harold thought, were good-looking uniforms.
Eugene, his father, dealt in import/export and spent hours singing, especially on Shabbos. He was the acting Cantor and the tenor soloist.
Harold remembers getting a phone call from his grandparents saying that their house was destroyed.
The family ran there and while they were gone, their own house was also destroyed and the synagogue was set on fire. He said that he remembers the extreme heat to this day and that he witnessed men rushing into the building to save the Torah scrolls.
His father was taken to Dachau because he and his friends were overheard talking about Polish Jews being arrested while on a trolley car. When his father was gone, his mother became “energized,” going to Stuttgart and getting a lawyer who used bribery to get his father out of Dachau. He was sent immediately to Portugal, where one of his brothers lived.
In 1936, his family was supposed to visit that uncle in Spain but a war broke out, so they went to Belgium instead. After Harold’s father went to Portugal, the family befriended another family by the name of Poliakoff. They arranged for Gerald to go on a Kindertransport, but Harold was too young to make the trip alone.
But he did go on a Kindertransport and had motion sickness.
He said goodbye to his mother at the station and was not a bit nervous, but was excited about going to London (Twyckingham). Harold was frustrated there as he couldn’t speak English and there were no people his age.
His mother followed and now worked as a maid for the Poliakoff family. Harold didn’t understand this. His father disguised himself and arrived in England and met up with his mother purely by accident.
In 1940, they all arrived in America. He said that everyone was excited when they first saw the Statue of Liberty. In the U.S., his mother needed to work because his father worked at Kleins and made $15 per week, not enough for the family. His mother put him in the New World Camp, a Trotskyesque camp.
This is where he learned Yiddish and began to sing Yiddish songs. He became an assistant cantor at the age of fifteen. He had his own money and conducted his high school band.
Harold’s first home in the U.S. was a synagogue in Flatbush, Brooklyn. He and his family were non-paying members.
He met Evelyn Lisener and, at the time of this interview, was married to her for fifty-four years. They have four children and ten grandchildren.
He received the “culture” medal in Israel from Golda Meir.
His beloved grandfather died in a camp gas chamber and his grandmother died during surgery for a goiter.
Interviewer: Lila Lazarus
Format: Video recording