Haberfeld (Tisser), Caroline
Vienna (Austria), Cologne, Brussels, Toulouse, Brens, Lyon, Levan (Switzerland), Lugano
Caroline was born in Vienna in 1924. She lived there until the age of fourteen. The population was two million and of that, two hundred thousand were Jews.
Caroline’s parents were Abraham and Amelia Gross Tisser and her sister Selma was two years older. Her father owned a deli with a non-Jewish partner.
She went to school until the Germans entered Vienna. Her school was near her home but when she and her sister were turned away; their “Jews only” school was far away.
Caroline remembers that she saw a Gentile neighbor visiting a Jewish hairdresser and when she came out of the salon, she looked beautiful but the Brown Shirts hung a sign on her saying “I support Jews” and she was forced to parade up and down with streets while being spit at by the Gentiles on the sidewalks.
The Jewish men were rounded up on trucks, while their neighbors screamed “throw them into the Danube!”
Caroline went to visit her grandparents in Vienna. Suddenly, the SS came and took her father and uncle. Her father returned three days later. He had signed a paper agreeing that he’d leave Vienna. He was treated leniently because he was a veteran of World War I. Caroline’s twenty-eight year old uncle was sent to Dachau.
On Kristallnacht, she saw books burning and deserted streets. There were fires everywhere and store windows were smashed. The Brown Shirts were in charge of this horrible night.
On September 1, 1939, Caroline made it to Brussels. Her family had a hard time obtaining visas, so they went over the border illegally and took a train from Vienna to Cologne. They were exhausted and wanted to stay overnight, but all the hotels said “No Jews,” so they registered and didn’t admit to being Jewish. A friend of Caroline’s father told them exactly what to do. A German soldier saw them and took them to a house near the border where their luggage was searched. He shook their hands and wished them well. They walked all day and finally arrived in Belgium. A stranger gave them food and offered to buy their train tickets. When nightfall came, she took them to the station and waved goodbye. They arrived in Brussels at 11 p.m. and checked into a hotel.
The next morning, they went to see a friend who took them to the Jewish Committee. They were sent to a furnished room and lived there for eighteen months. Because they weren’t allowed to work, Caroline took care of a baby for six months. She wasn’t paid so she left and got another babysitting job with a three year old.
On May 10, 1940, the Germans attacked Belgium. On the third day of the bombing, they took the train to the South of France. They were given water and bananas through a window. The mayor of the village helped them. The town was under Vichy rule and the Jewish men were sent to an island. The mayor sent a letter requesting that Caroline’s father join them. They stayed there from May through September.
At that time, there was a proclamation saying that the Jews must leave for the train station. Caroline begged to see the Mayor, who told them to leave that night. She and her sister took the train to Toulouse and went to Camp Brens, a French military run camp. There were twenty barracks with one hundred people in each. She thinks it was a concentration camp. They stayed until September and ran away at night and took the train to Lyon. Her family from the U.S. sent them sixty dollars, so that they could find an apartment.
Caroline got a job sewing with a Jewish widow. She found this woman through the Jewish Committee. She remained in Lyon for two years.
In August of 1942, Jews were being arrested, so she left the apartment and slept with a Turkish family at night. She could no longer work.
Caroline and her sister went to Switzerland with her mother and her father’s friend. They wore Girl Scout uniforms on the train from Lyon.
They had no papers and were stopped, but the guards released them after arguing with each other. They climbed all night, following their guide and not stopping. They had no food or water, but had chocolate. At four in the morning, they made it to Switzerland and arrived at a village where they were taken to a hospital for three days to be checked for disease.
She sent a telegram to her parents saying (in French) “In good health. Caroline” Next she went to an empty hotel where she cooked and knit.
Their second camp was in Levan where they knit sox for the Swiss Army. They wore navy blue uniforms and stayed for six weeks.
Her mother was in the German part of Switzerland and their father was in the forest, cutting down trees. They remained there until 1946 when they left for Lugano to sell dresses in a Jewish boutique. They came to the U.S. in May, 1948. Vienna’s Government said they couldn’t return. Caroline’s parents came to America three months before the girls.
When Caroline arrived, she was twenty-four and spoke English. Her husband had arrived here in 1939 at the age of twenty-four. He saw her at a concert and invited her for coffee. They married in June, 1951 and have two children.
Interviewer: Shirley Dichter
Length: 1 hour, 26 minutes
Format: Video recording