Aronson (Kellermann), Lea
Aronson was born in Berlin in 1919, the oldest of two daughters in her Orthodox family. Her parents moved to Duisburg, Germany, when she was four years old so that her mother could work in her paternal grandmother’s dry-goods store. Her father was a cantor in a large synagogue. The non-Jewish population in Duisburg numbered 100,000 and the Jewish population 20,000. Aronson belonged to Habonim, a Zionist youth organization, and she dreamt of living in Palestine.
After the Nazis took over control of the government in 1933, Aronson noticed subtle changes. There were always pairs of brown-shirted guards who attended her Habonim meetings and watched the plays the group put on. The Hitler Youth made fun of her and said things such as “Jews have big noses and Jews smell from garlic.”
In 1935 Aronson was excluded from her public school, and she began attending a Jewish school. The dry-goods business was taken away from the family, but her father continued as the cantor in the synagogue. Her family began to prepare to leave Germany in 1937. Aronson took English lessons and located a cousin living in the United States by looking through a New York city telephone book. She wrote the cousin, who agreed to support and employ Aronson and who would also try to find employment for her parents if they, too, came to New York.
Aronson’s father, with passports and papers in hand, requested permission to leave Germany. Because of a health problem his request was denied. It was decided that her mother would stay in Germany with her father and her sister, who was too young to leave. Aronson would go to the United States alone. It was some time before she left, however. She remembers Kristallnacht in November 1938, during which she was hidden by a neighbor while waiting for her father to return home. Her father had several episodes in which he was picked up the German police, but when Aronson supplied doctors’ letters, he was released.
Aronson left for New York in 1940. The train went from Duisburg to Munich, through Austria and Switzerland to Genoa, Italy. In Genoa, she boarded the Roma for the ten-day voyage to New York. Her uncle and cousins met her when she disembarked on May 10. Aronson expected to bring her mother, sister, and perhaps her father to the United States. She worked three jobs and saved money. Even though she knew her letters home were being censored, the letters she received in return gave her hope that she would be reunited with her family. She attended night school classes in order to become a U.S. citizen and to become more proficient in English.
She learned of her father’s death at the age of 47 by a telegram sent in March 1941. The letters she received from her mother became more disturbing. Then one of her letters to her mother was returned in July 1941. It was opened and stamped “censored and address unknown.” Aronson was aware that her mother and sister were separated in 1942 and both had been at the Izbica transit camp. She wrote to the Red Cross in 1988 after reading that the Russians were releasing documents that were seized in 1945. Aronson received word from the Red Cross in November 1994 that her mother had come from Dusseldorf and her sister from Nuremberg to Izbica in 1942. They both perished in Che_mno, one of the first death camps. Aronson notes that both of her grandmothers were killed in Poland. Her paternal grandmother was shot at the age of 72 when she was found siphoning gasoline from a gas tank.
Date: February 6, 1996
Interviewer: Judy Michaels
Length: 1 hour, 50 minutes
Format: Video recording