Fred S. Findling, formerly Siegfrieg Findling, was born in 1930 in Cologne, Germany and continued to live there. He is the son of Wolf David and Etla, nee Gottesdiener, Findling. His father was a Jewish itinerant laborer who had immigrated to Germany from Poland after World War I. His mother, also Jewish, came from Poland as well. Mr. Findling has an older brother and sister (Joseph & Fannie) and a younger brother and sister (Martin & Regina). He attended a Jewish school until expelled and then a Cheder, a school where Hebrew is taught. He vividly recalls a number of anti-Semitic actions against him during his early years. In general, he described his childhood in Germany as living under impoverished and austere conditions.
Since his father had not been able to acquire Germany citizenship, his father became part of the general round-up of Jews without German citizenship in October 1938 and deported to Poland. In departing his father designated his older brother, Joseph, then ten years old, as the head of the household, a psychological burden that remained with his brother for the rest of his life. During the events of Kristallnacht, Mr. Findling witnessed the destruction of a synagogue. Subsequently, he and his siblings hid under their beds whenever there was a knock on their apartment’s door to avoid being picked up by the Nazis.
After an unsuccessful attempt to flee to Holland by his older brother, Mr. Finding’s mother made arrangements with a relative in Belgium to send the children to Belgium through an intricate plan. None of the children had any documents to allow them to leave Germany or to enter Belgium. She and the four oldest children would take a train to Belgium, but she would leave the train on its last stop in Germany with the children remaining on the train. On the first train stop in Belgium the Belgium relative would board the train and take charge of the children. December 25, 1938 was selected to do this since it was expected that due to it being Christmas the border guards would be lax. The plan worked. The German border guards let them leave and Belgium authorities allowed them to enter. The face that all four children were less than ten years old may have been a contributing factor.
In Belgium, Mr. Findling was placed into an orphanage together with his younger brother. His older brother was placed with a family. After being transferred to a Catholic orphanage, he was then placed into yet another orphanage where his older brother also joined him and the younger brother.
Mr. Findling’s mother and his younger sister were smuggled into Belgium by a paid person. In Brussels, Mr. Findling accidentally met his mother on a street, but subsequently periodic visits between them were arranged. His mother and his two sisters shared an apartment in Brussels.
Following the invasion of Belgium by Germany and as German forces approached Brussels, the orphanage where the Findlings stayed and another orphanage were taken to a train, outbound for France, and placed into three boxcars which contained no facilities at all. During the five days on the train the children lived on only food and water handed out by villagers wherever the train stopped. They finally ended up in a small town south of Toulouse. When the roundup of Jews began it became necessary to go into hiding and in early 1941 the children were taken to an abandoned castle called Chateau De la Hille in the Pyrenees mountains between France and Spain. Food obtained from farmers and some grown by the children themselves, provided the needed subsistence.
Through the efforts by Eleanor Roosevelt, and the help of the Society of Friends (Quakers), to bring children to the United States, the Findling brothers became part of about fifty children to be transported to the United States. Permission from their parents was required and received through the mail services using Switzerland as an intermediary to communicate with their father in Poland. The trip took them to Marseille, and then by train through Spain to Lisbon, Portugal, where they boarded a ship for the US. With stops in Casablanca and Bermuda the transatlantic crossing took fifteen days. While at sea the ship, flying Portuguese colors, was stopped and boarded by a German submarine, but was released to continue the trip arriving in New York on September 24, 1941. Mr. Findling believes that most of the costs were covered by the Quakers.
Mr. Findling’s mother and his two sisters had remained in Belgium and went into hiding. However, his mother was picked up by the Germans and deported to Auschwitz where she was gassed to death. His sisters were placed into a Catholic convent where they were indoctrinated into Catholicism. Eventually the older sister was smuggled to London by her uncle and both sisters came to the United States in 1948. Mr. Findling’s father who had returned to his home town Frystag in Poland became part of a massacre of about 5,000 Jews and Poles near his home town in 1942.
Upon arrival in the United States, Mr. Findling and his two brothers were placed into an orphanage for six weeks until accommodations could be found to keep the three together. A childless German-Jewish couple, the Adler’s, in Detroit, Michigan, agreed to become their foster parents. After five years Mr. Findling left to stay in a boarding house and in 1948 he lived with an American family for one year. Starting at age fifteen, he supported himself by working at various jobs and he himself paid for his education. He graduated high school and university, obtained a degree in law, and the opened a law firm.
On a trip to Europe he met his future wife in Paris, where she had lived after leaving Morocco. They were married in London in 1960. By bringing his wife and her mother to the United States, he considers himself as a rescuer, apropos of being rescued himself as a child. The marriage resulted in four children, three boys and one girl. The three sons later joined him as lawyers in his law firm. In a second marriage he adopted the two children of this second wife.
In an effort to protect his children, he did not tell them of his early life until they were adults. Nor did he tell others of his childhood experiences, wanting to leave his history behind and become an average American person. He feels that his Holocaust experiences actually benefited him as an individual and helped him in dealing and overcoming hardships. In a message to viewers of the interview he stressed that a good education is necessary to succeed in life.
Date of Interview: July 13, 2012
Length of Interview: 1 hour – 14 minutes
Interview & Synopsis by: Hans R. Weinmann