Morgenstein, Henry Bernard

Morgenstein, Henry Bernard

Antwerp (Belgium), France, Cuba

Mr. Henry Morgenstein was born in Antwerp, Belgium in 1933.  His sister Ruth was born two years later.  His parents were Chel (Charles) and Charlotte.  His younger brother Jacob was born in Cuba in 1947.

His paternal grandmother lived with them and his grandfather lived in the United States and later died there.  His maternal grandmother lived in England and his mother was born in Poland.  His father was one of eleven children.

Before the war, Mr. Morgenstein’s father and the entire family were all in the diamond business.  Antwerp had a large Jewish community who were mostly in some form of that business, working as cutters, polishers, etc.  Mr. Morgenstein spoke English at home and French in school.  The Morgensteins lived in a third floor flat, just across from the park.

Although his father went to Cheder, he was not an observant Jew.  His father lived in Belgium for twenty years, yet he and his wife had Polish passports.

War began on Friday, May 10, 1940.  Mr. Morgenstein remembers waking up to the sound of bombing and gunshots, so the family packed up and went to the border town of LaPonne.  They took their clothes and as much silver as they could carry.  They only stayed a short time, leaving to try to get to Paris, driving across the border into Dunkirk.  Some of his relatives tried to walk.

They hid in a basement of a church with many other people until they left for Bologna, where they hid in another basement.  His sister, who was ill, was taken to the hospital there.  When they went to get her, they found a bomb shelter where he was given American food, Campbell’s Tomato Soup.  They stayed two days as it was moldy and the Nazis had begun to capture the Jews.

Mr. Morgenstein’s father found refuge in a small village in Ambria.  In Calais, the family separated, some getting on a ship for England.  In Bologna, his father tracked them down, finding them standing in a bread line as he searched for them on his bicycle.

They all headed back to their home in Antwerp, where they stayed ten months until March of 1941 as the Germans were encouraging normalcy.  His father went back to work and he went to school although the Allies were now bombing and there were blackouts at night.  His parents listened to the news on BBC.

The family tried next to get to Spain as both Belgium and France were occupied.  They traveled by train from Antwerp to Brussels to Paris, with some light luggage.  Mr. Morgenstein remembers the good food that he ate in Paris when they arrived.  Because they had false transit passes, they were the last to get through and, unbeknownst to him, the heels of his shoes were packed with diamonds.  The family left Feiga Morgenstein, Mr. Morgenstein’s paternal grandmother, behind. She was then seventy-eight and when his father kissed his mother goodbye, he knew he’d never see her again.

Next they went to Bilbao and then two weeks on a boat to Havana, Cuba going through an island entry, similar to Ellis Island, and paying $150 per person to stay in Havana.  This was June, 1941, and they stayed six years.  Mr. Morgenstein’s Bar Mitzvah took place during that period. The Jewish community in Cuba was very big and most were in the diamond business.  The  Morgensteins came to the United States in 1947 and shortly afterward became United States citizens.

Mr. Morgenstein went back to Antwerp to visit his uncle in 1947.  His parents are still living in New York.  He is now a practicing attorney, is married and has two children.

Interview information:
Date: April 5, 2000
Interviewer: Donna R. Sklar
Length: 1 hour and 2 minutes
Format: Video Recording