Manko, Gerald H.

Manko, Gerald H.

This oral history video interview is available at the USC Shoah Foundation website through the
generosity of the Eugene and Marcia Applebaum Family Foundation

Frankfurt (Germany)

Mr. Gerald H. Manko was born in Frankfurt, Germany in 1927.  His name was Gerhardt Heinz Manko.  His father, Ruben Hermann Manko was born in Alsenow, a farm town near Frankfurt.  His family dated back the mid-1700’s.

Mr. Manko’s mother was Hilda Schmidt and his grandmother, Regina Schmidt lived with them.  Mr. Manko’s brother, Rolf Emanuel was five years his senior.

His father had three brothers and one sister; his mother had one brother.  All of the members of the family survived the war, but the men on Mr. Manko’s father’s side, died young of heart disease.

The Manko family lived on Petina Platz, a park near the railway station.  They had a first floor flat.  They attended the “West End” synagogue on the High Holy Days, the men wearing top hats.

Mr. Manko, a very good student, attended public school until 1937, when the Jews were no longer allowed to attend.  His best friend was Jack (Heinz) Epstein.

His father, Ruben Herman Manko, was a prominent attorney, who drove a Buick, which was the equivalent of driving a Mercedes in this country.  His mother had a housekeeper to help her, who first worked for his grandmother until she quit, saying she no longer wanted to work for Jews.

The family’s only language was German.  At that time, he began studying for his Bar Mitzvah, but due to the war, it never happened until many years later.  At the age of eighty-two, Mr. Manko was Bar Mitzvahed at Temple Beth El in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.

The family was non-political, but conversed daily about what was happening to the Jewish people.  Mr. Manko’s father was a World War I veteran, who received the Iron Cross, the German Purple Heart.  His uncles also served in the war.  Mr. Manko’s brother graduated from public high school, gymnasium, and was sent to Switzerland to attend school and keep him out of harm’s way.  His parents visited him in 1935.

The Mankos applied for a Visa in 1936, coinciding with the Nuremberg laws.  Professionals, like doctors and lawyers were stripped of their credentials.  His father lost his license to practice law.

Mr. Manko’s non-Jewish friends would no longer speak to him, but called him a “dirty Jew.”  Restaurants, movies became off-limits.  On November 9, 1938, he witnessed Kristallnacht.  The school principal sent everyone home and, on the way, he passed the synagogue which was on fire.  He saw the broken glass in store windows.  The old German families, including his, thought this would blow over.

The concentration camps opened and, Mr. Manko’s father was picked up on Kristallnacht and sent to Dachau.  No one knew where he was.  His father was targeted because he was prominent in the community.  His mother spent all her waking hours on the phone, looking for her husband.  The Nazis came to their home often, once at 4 a.m., just to search.

Mr. Manko’s mother took his father’s Iron Cross and went to Gestapo headquarters, hoping to remove him from Dachau.  She succeeded and he was released on December 2nd or 3rd.  His father arrived home and this was the first time that Mr. Manko saw his father cry.

The next morning, the entire family boarded a train to Stuttgart to the scheduled appointment at the American Consulate for their physical and visas.  Mr. Manko’s father didn’t pass his physical, as his legs showed the wounds from WWI, although after the war, he became a skier and tennis player.

The American Consulate bathroom was on the 5th floor and Mr. Manko’s father was just about to jump out the window because he failed his exam.  He didn’t want to go back to Dachau and felt that death was the solution.  The transfer came just in time.

Their American sponsor was Mr. Manko’s uncle, Isadore Freimark, who came to the United States in the early 1900s and opened a dry goods store in Lemon, South Dakota.  He had a mail order bride and three children.  The Mankos called him, asking him to be their sponsor.

First the Manko family traveled to Holland on the train and met Mr. Manko’s brother there.  They boarded the S.S. Manhattan, taking nothing with them, but made plans to have their possessions shipped.  Nothing ever arrived.  Their trip was horrid and the ship was covered in ice.  When they saw the Statue of Liberty, the entire family became emotional.  His brother had been seasick for the entire seven days and nights.  They landed in January of 1939 and were met by Elsa Doner, a cousin, who said “change your first name and get a haircut.”  Friends began calling him Jerry.

When the family arrived in America, Mr. Manko’s father had become devout.  He died of cancer at the age of sixty-eight.

Mr. Manko’s brother went to Central High School, then to University of Detroit, becoming an electrical engineer.  Mr. Manko’s cousin, Elsa Doner, took him to Roosevelt School.  His teacher, Mrs. Stermerhorn, helped him learn English.

They lived in an apartment at 2680 Rochester, between Lawton and Wildemere.  School was more relaxed than in Germany, but Mr. Manko was teased on the first day because he wore short pants.  He became the Editor of Central High School’s newspaper in the 12th grade.  One teacher, Mr. Welsch at Durfee, failed him and he had to take summer school, but, when he graduated high school in January of 1945, he was also on the student council.

Mr. Manko’s brother was drafted and was in the U.S. Air Force in the Pacific.  His mother got a job in the kitchen of the Statler Hotel, making salads.  He got a job at the Jewish Community Center on Meyers.  His parents learned English quickly.

Mr. Manko wanted to become a lawyer and went to Detroit College of Law at night, becoming legal council for George Romney and the automotive manufacturers.  He then went to Wayne State University College of Education majoring in Real Estate Management.

Mr. Manko married Barbara on May 5, 1963.  She died in 1998, short of her 70th birthday.  Barbara had three children: Beth (Earl) Erman; Larry (Janice) Shulman and Nancy (Barry) Lefkowitz.  They lived on Oneida in Oak Park, Michigan.

Their grandchildren are Mark, Alyce and Eric Erman; Brian, Michael and Julie Shulman; Dana, Brad and Lauren Lefkowitz.

Mr. Manko said that his worst experience was not knowing the whereabouts of his father.  To this day, he has a fear of uniforms.

He speaks at the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills, Michigan.

Pictures shown:

  • His passport and his mother’s, showing the red “J” on both
  • His grandfather’s, Hermann Manko store
  • His father’s Iron Cross certificate 1935
  • List of furniture and other possessions they left to be shipped
  • Book of family births and marriages in Frankfurt
  • Certificate revoking his father’s law license

Interview information:
Date: April 25, 2012
Interviewer: Donna R. Sklar
Length: 1 hour and 37 minutes
Format: DVD

To view this oral history video interview, please click here.