Villingen, (Germany), England
Mr. Joseph Haberer began his summary with the history of the Haberer family. In the 18th century his family lived in Offenburg, Germany in the Baden region. They were the “protected” Jews. In German, Haberer means emphasis: they who have the “right stuff.” Offenberg was a medium sized town. His family was large, his father was one of nine children, the youngest and the weakest.
In Southern Germany, Jews handled the cattle and were also money lenders. Mr. Haberer’s father became a civil servant (an auditor) in the Villingen government office, one of the few Jews to enter government service. He was a nervous and sickly man who was bald at an early age. He lost his job when the Nazis came to power. In 1933, the Jews were expelled from the government and the universities.
Mr. Haberer’s mother was one of three sisters and one brother. They came from Sechols, Aurich, a large Jewish community of four hundred families. Her parents married late, as men during that time, had to have money before they married; so mid-thirties was the average age a man married.
Aurich was part of Holland before 1829, so on Mr. Haberer’s mother’s side, he was Sephardic and Ashkenazi on his father’s. He visited his maternal grandparents once. His grandfather was a shopkeeper, selling mostly clothing. They were up to their ears in debt with a house that was mortgaged.
Mr. Joseph Haberer was born in Villingen, Germany in 1929, eight months before the Depression. He was a premature baby that lived in an incubator for the first two months of his life and was given goat’s milk to survive. His parents’ apartment was small: one bedroom, a living room, small kitchen with a large stove. There was no central heating. They were in the Black Forest Region, at the edge of town. His father was incapable of domestic chores but was good with numbers. He remembers his household has not a joyous one. His mother was a seamstress and made all his clothes. Their house was opposite a cuckoo clock factory.
Mr. Haberer walked a great distance to school. His father was not religious, but had a kittle, a white garment worn on Yom Kippur and when one is buried.
Mr. Haberer’s parents took in a baby boy, Eric, as a three month old infant whose mother had a relationship with a Hungarian student in 1934 and had the baby out of wedlock. She gave her child to Eric’s parents, who may have been her distant cousins. The baby was colicky and cried all the time, taking all the attention away from Mr. Haberer. This adoption brought in money from a Jewish agency. Mr. Haberer’s father was collecting unemployment which was embarrassing to Mr. Haberer, remembering that the German kids stoned him and he was caned in school. Once he said “Heil Hitler” to his parents and they slapped him.
Joseph’s parents spoke to each other in “Plack Deutch,” a dialect that Mr. Haberer didn’t understand.
During Kristallnacht everything in the town’s only synagogue was smashed. Shortly thereafter, the men in the town were shipped to Dachau. Mr. Haberer left Germany two weeks later. His parents wanted to leave, but couldn’t. Because his father had connections, he arranged to have Mr. Haberer sent on the Kindertransport. Eric was too young to go, eventually going to Camp de Gurs, a concentration camp in France, smuggled out to live with nuns. After the war, Eric grew up in France, married Mimi, became a carpenter and had three children.
Mr. Haberer’s parents realized that things would get worse. German Jews were committing suicide. In the late twenties and early thirties, Jews were telling their psychiatrists that they had dreams about being thrown in ovens.
Mr. Haberer’s father took him on a train to the ship. His parents gave him a comb to remember them by. His papers had a stamp that said “Judah” and his name, Joseph Israel Haberer, his middle name given him by the Germans. Mr. Haberer was sent to England which was still at peace. His parents wrote often and sent photos, trying to be positive.
War was declared in 1940 and the German Jews expelled, first being sent to Vichy France. The government there was very anti-semitic. The Villingen Jews wound up in Camp de Gurs where Mr. Haberer’s father died. He learned about his death in a letter from his mother.
The Kindertransport landed on the East Coast of England. There were approximately three hundred children. They stayed there for three nights. Mr. Haberer was lodged in a bathing cart on wheels.
The winter of 1938-39 was bitter cold and Mr. Haberer remembers being near frozen and sleeping with a hot water bottle. He developed a bladder infection and was sent to the hospital. He was basically abandoned and alone. No one could speak German and he was traumatized. The next three years were a blank to him, not being able to remember anything. He lived in a few hostels, but was in shock. He does remember seeing planes during the Battle of Britain and remembers going through a Kellogg’s Shredded Wheat Factory.
When he was twelve, Mr. Haberer woke up from this state. He was paranoid, thinking that he was being watched. He was then sent to Northampton, to the home of Mr. Marx. The children in the home spoke German and they began to study English. The first book he read was Dale Carnegie’s “How to Make Friends and Influence People.”
Joseph continued to be depressed which Mr. Marx didn’t understand. He read “The Count of Monte Christo”, by Dumas and adventure books by the dozens. He was sent to study at the Paddington Technical Institute of three years with other refugee children. In 1942, he was at the bottom of his class.
Mr. Marx was the director of the Orthodox children’s home, where they attended synagogue three times a day. Mr. Marx had arrived in England in 1938. His wife remained in Germany where she was killed. Mr. Marx had no understanding of children. They lived on an estate in Northampton where the children practically destroyed the estate. There was a lake, football fields, etc. The boys lived in dorms of about twenty, three dorms in all. Mr. Marx took care of them physically but not emotionally.
Mr. Haberer graduated, working at getting better, talking himself out of his depressed state. He listened to classical music on the radio, the only one around.
Mr. Marx apprenticed him to an accountant, E. A. Woods in Northampton. He sat on a high stool all day and added numbers. One day a week, he rode his bike to the poor district in town and collected rents. He was there for a year.
Mr. Haberer lived in a hostel and joined a Kibbutz Movement. He read National Geographic from the 1930’s until the Americans came, bringing comic books and candy. He was interested in the Zionist life, but, emotionally, he needed America and a family.
The end of the war was dreary. One day, thirty kids, age five to fifteen, arrived, who were survivors from the camps and hidden children. After the liberation, they formed packs until they were rounded up and brought to England. They told Mr. Haberer their stories and he was amazed at how nice they were. Mr. Marx wanted them to conform to his religious belief, being an Orthodox Jew. They weren’t interested. They only wanted sympathy and love. Most of them were Polish and eventually settled in Palestine.
Mr. Haberer’s aunt and uncle, Gita and Jack, from America found him and six weeks later was on a boat for America. He was then sixteen.
Uncle Jack was then sixty-six and aunt Gita was looking for a surrogate son or daughter. They brought two cousins over before Mr. Haberer. He arrived on the Queen Elizabeth 2, which was not yet refurbished. The trip took about four days and he was seasick. He landed in New York. A family member of Gita’s fetched him and took him to their home near Broadway and 123rd Street. He stayed for one week and then left for California by train. Because he was still Kosher, they gave him a salami to eat on the train.
In Oakland, California, he was met by Jack and Gitta who lived in a small apartment. Gita’s mom also lived with them. He was given a small cubicle to sleep in and told not to take advantage of them, but that he needed to carry his own weight. Gita’s mom was senile and would get lost and her other two sons didn’t want to deal with her. She was in her early eighties and finally, the family put her in a mental hospital. She died six months later and Mr. Haberer got her bedroom.
He was sent to Oakland High School and became an instant “celebrity,” speaking to all the classes about his life. He received his diploma and then went to San Francisco State College, the downtown campus. This was a communal college and the tuition was free. There was a good faculty who were politically active. One third of the faculty was fired because they wouldn’t sign a loyalty oath.
School was much too easy for Mr. Haberer, where his major was social science and two minors of English and Philosophy. His aunt and uncle encouraged him to find a part time job. In the summer, he worked with migrant workers in the fields and was paid by the hour. He lived with the workers but refused to work on the Sabbath. One job was working in the Heinz factory.
In the fall, he returned to school, eventually getting a job with Koret of California. Gitta worked as a seamstress in a garment factory, so she used pull to find him a job. He was in the publicity office until he finished college.
During that time, Mr. Haberer walked to a conservative synagogue and began to rethink religion, now believing that it was “inappropriate.”
Date: June 14, 1995
Interviewer: Nina Haberer (daughter)
Format: 8 DVDs, Perdue University