Lindemann (Zydower), Anna Elsie
Fürstenwalde (Germany), Shanghai
Fürstenwalde is a German town situated on the river Spree, 55 km east of Berlin. Erna Placzek from Wilna, Germany and Hugo Zydower from Märkisch Friedland came to Fürstenwalde when they married. They had a son Alfred, and 18 months later in 1931, a daughter Anna was born. Hugo stripped goats and sold the fur and Erna was a homemaker.
The Zydowers lived in a nice Jewish community and belonged to a Conservative congregation right down the street. Anna liked to go to services and dreamed of marrying a cantor. Jewish life revolved around the synagogue and they celebrated holidays with their family, including Hugo’s father, two brothers and one sister. Alfred went to Catholic school, but after Kristallnacht, he and Anna had to take a train to Frankfurt to the Jewish School.
It was a pretty good life until 1938 when the Nazis came and picked up all the Jewish men and took Hugo, his two brothers and their father to Sachsenhausen concentration camp where he was for two years. “My grandfather had his 70th birthday there—that’s how good they were—unbelievable!” The family did not have much contact with them in the camp and Hugo was finally released on the German quota. Their cousins were in another sub-camp by Fürstenwalde.
Erna refused to divide the family up and go to England with her children on the Kindertransport. So she and her children stayed in their apartment with Erna’s aunt—a bigger home—it wasn’t that primitive—with a bathroom up three steps. The last two years, Erna wasn’t allowed to work. “You could stand in line and buy food if you had money. So we sold this and that—what the Nazis left after they came in 1938 and took every piece of jewelry we had in the house.”
Anna was always making a little money. When she got chocolate, she sold it. Ever since then “if they were not Jewish, I wasn’t interested. The Nazis got nothing from me. I was not a nice person to them. I wasn’t nice. I never was nice. When we ran into Nazis on the street, my brother was very afraid and always said ‘Heil Hitler’ and I said ‘NO.’ I gave them a look and figured drop dead. I was never interested in them. I couldn’t tolerate them. Even when I see a movie now—it’s awful.”
The Joint Distribution Committee arranged their trip to Shanghai since both Hugo and Erna had German quota and could get an affidavit to go to China. They were able to get a visa because Anna’s grandfather and her two unmarried uncles went earlier to China. Her aunt came in 1941 with her cousin Hannah and her husband.
Anna was nine when they left Germany in 1940. “I had a small doll I got for my birthday and when we came down to Berlin, the Nazis wanted my doll. I had my hand in the bag, tore out the arms and the legs and then I gave it to them.” They took the train for 8 or 10 days through Russia to Shanghai, along with a few other friends. The Joint brought sandwiches and gave them coupons to have tea and stuff, but they couldn’t go in the dining car and had to stay in their compartment.
On the way, they spent one night in Harbin, which was very nice, and had cots and were a little freer to walk the streets. Erna didn’t speak English and Anna had just learned. “In German you call the bathroom closet [klosett]. Everywhere we went my mom had to go to the bathroom. And she was so upset and said I don’t know why there are so many bathrooms here—closets—and you can’t get in. But it wasn’t, it was closed. There were some parts that you laughed.”
In Shanghai, they lived in a house—“I mean shack on a lane”—with her grandfather and two uncles, who had a store where they sold little crystals. Hugo started to deliver bread at 4:30 in the morning and Anna helped him deliver. He wouldn’t give up even after the Chinese knocked him down and robbed him because the family needed to eat. Alfred learned how to be a baker.
Anna went to Kadoorie School with mostly Jewish kids, but first needed to learn Chinese. In Shanghai, schooling ends at age fourteen, so Anna learned to be a dressmaker. You couldn’t buy anything, but she could make three old dresses into one new one. It was so cold that she made warmers and sold them for a dime. “If I got a dollar I was happy.” When the dressmaker she worked for started to sell purses, she told Anna to sell them for $2; so Anna charged $2.50 and kept the extra for herself.
The poor Chinese also lived in the ghetto. “They stole; they snuck into your rooms at night and cleaned you out. . . . The Chinese were mean; they didn’t like us in their territory. But they were nothing like the Japanese; they were Nazis.” In 1942, following the occupation of Shanghai by the Japanese, the family had to move to the Hongkew [Hongkou] Ghetto, known as the Restricted Sector for Stateless Refugees. “There was no running water or running toilet. You had to take everything out to the front. If you wanted hot water you had to pay for it. We lived in a ghetto—not walls—we just knew we couldn’t go across that street or down there. We were all in the ghetto unless you had a special permit and they didn’t give them out so much. We all had one apartment—my uncle slept here, I slept on the floor—very primitive. We had to stay where we were. We couldn’t move. We couldn’t go to the larger Jewish community. We didn’t know non-Jews. It was so bad during the three years that people would sell their children to Chinese, whoever would give them money, to eat. But, all in all, the Jewish community stuck together. We didn’t have much bread; no food hardly. But we managed. If you came to the house and we had one slice of bread, you got a fourth of it.”
Anna loved studying at the Bais Yaakov School in the ghetto and the tradition. “I loved the Jewish community. I loved the religion. In our ghetto, Shabbos was Shabbos and we even celebrated Shavuos. My brother had a Bar Mitzvah in the old synagogue and the party was some cookies and some coffee.”
In 1945, just three weeks before the Americans bombed Shanghai, “the Japanese had everything ready to kill us like the Nazis. In the bombing, 900 people died. They were just laying there; there was no room in the cemetery.”
After the war ended in 1945, the whole family continued to live in one square room in Hongkew; they never had to live in the tent camps. “We couldn’t move. Who could afford it? It was very primitive. No more ghetto. No more money to go farther and almost everybody lived in the same area. By then you already had a bathroom inside but not flushing. It wasn’t good to drink the water either.” Her mother and uncle both had typhus. Erna survived; but it affected her uncle’s brain and he was put in a home in China. Anna’s grandmother died there too. Hugo worked most of the time, delivering bread and Anna made some money sewing.
They applied to go to America with the help of HIAS. Erna, Hugo, Alfred, and Anna sailed to America on the USS General Gordon, an army ship. Her grandfather survived but had Polish quota and had to go to Australia. Another uncle had to go to Israel. Even on the ship, Anna made some money. She had bought packages of gum in Shanghai before sailing and sold them up on the deck for a dime.
In June 1948, they arrived at San Francisco and were sent to Detroit by the resettlement agency. “I was still very Orthodox when we got here. Then everything was so inconvenient that I started driving on Shabbos. Everything was so far. But I still like my Jewishness. But you have to do what you have to do if you want to survive.”
After 21 days in the Warren Hotel in downtown Detroit, with Erna cooking on an electric hotplate, they moved into a four-family house on Philadelphia and 12th Street. “It only had one bedroom but we were used to it. I slept in the living room, my brother in the dining room.” Hugo worked in a butcher store after he worked at L.A. Young—a car factory that later closed. Alfred worked at Hudson Motor Car Company, Dodge Main, and later at Sanders Candy. Anna worked at Industrial Bag & Specialties, sewing flags and other heavy things on electric power machines. She was there 5 ½ years.
In 1955, Anna married Gunther Lindemann, a baker from Stettin in Germany [now Szczecin, Poland], who had also been a baker in Shanghai. He worked at Grace Hospital as a baker, then Awrey’s. He died in 1995 from bone cancer. They had two daughters—Susan (Fred) Cahn and Deborah (Gene) Stewart—and six grandchildren—Michael (Erica), Sarah, Robert, Jason, Heather and James and one great-grandson.
“I definitely had lasting experiences from my early life. Thinking back it doesn’t leave you. It’s always in front of you. It all comes back—the memories. Some are not nice. You try to avoid it but they still pop up no matter what you do. There’s no end to it. Some people are ashamed to tell their story, but it’s the truth; they should know that it wasn’t gold in Shanghai.” She does not want to go back to China and “will never go back to Germany, step on that ground. I’m not so good with non-Jewish people. I see it in front of me—the people—and I wouldn’t spend a penny to go there.” She likes going to Israel. “Nothing bothered me in Israel—it was heaven for me—I kissed the ground.”
She shares her message that “you have to keep pushing to survive otherwise you can’t. You have to help yourself. If you don’t do this, then you can’t survive a war like that.”
[For additional information about the Zydower family’s life in Fürstenwalde before emigrating to Shanghai, please see the recording, transcription, and synopsis of Anna’s brother, Alfred Zydower, in the Oral History Archives of the Holocaust Memorial Center Zekelman Family Campus in Farmington Hills, Michigan.]
Date of Interview: March 21, 2012
Length of Interview: 1 hour 10 minutes
Interview & Synopsis by: Zieva Konvisser
Videographer: Fred Safran