Theyleg, Frank L.

Theyleg, Frank L.

Shanghai, China

Theyleg was born Lothar Seelig in 1920, in Glowitz, Germany, the elder of two sons of a Jewish couple who owned a dry goods store. Glowitz, now called Glowice, was a small town of less than 1,000 inhabitants in the province of Pomerania in eastern Germany. The closest larger town was Stolp, now called Slupsk, which is in Poland about 20 miles to the west. The Jewish population of Glowitz was so small that it could hardly raise the ten adult males required for religious services. The ancestors of his family had lived in Glowitz on the same property since about the sixteenth century.

The Nazis came to power in Germany when Theyleg was twelve years old. Anti-Semitic activities at his school caused him to drop out before reaching fourteen, and he became a toolmaker apprentice at a machine shop in Stolp. Since there were no junior or senior high schools available for Jewish children, his younger brother was sent to Sweden for schooling. His father’s store and home were confiscated in 1935 by the Nazis, and his parents moved to Berlin. Theyleg relates in detail, during the interview, the anti-Semitic events that took place and the “legal sale” of his father’s store and home at gun point.

After his brother completed junior high school at age fourteen, he returned to Germany only to be immediately expelled by the Gestapo as a “returned immigrant.” His parents arranged for his brother to go to England as part of a children’s movement. After Theyleg was fired from his apprenticeship for supposedly misbehaving, he joined his parents in Berlin. There he completed his apprenticeship and then found work as a journeyman with a Jewish-owned elevator manufacturer. He was unable to obtain his journeyman’s certificate since the guild was no longer permitted to certify Jews.

Following an altercation with two Nazi storm troopers during which Theyleg beat them severely and left them bloody and unconscious, he and his father were summoned to the police station. They escaped imprisonment when a sympathetic, old-time policeman, obviously an anti-Nazi, told them they should leave the country immediately. He even told them of a black marketeer who could obtain passage for them to Shanghai, China. They took the advice and left Germany as quickly as possible in August 1939. Prior to this event, Theyleg’s father still had not given serious consideration to emigration in spite of many warning signs.

Theyleg’s detailed descriptions of his personal experiences, as well as those of his immediate and close family give an excellent account of the conditions Jews were exposed to in pre-World War II Germany. It includes a summary of the murder of his uncle and aunt in 1935, believed to have been ordered by Herman Goering himself.

Theyleg describes the efforts of his parents and himself to make a life in Shanghai and of the conditions that Jewish immigrants faced. He also describes the conditions in the Shanghai ghetto, created by the Japanese occupation army, which contained primarily Jews. He believes that Judaism baffled the Japanese, and the ghetto was created to isolate identified enemies of Germany, Japan’s wartime partner, and not specifically for Jews. He illustrates this by stating that only Jews from Germany, Austria, and some other European countries, were interned in the ghetto. However, Jews living in Shanghai who came from Russia, Iran, Iraq, and some other countries, who constituted a sizeable portion of Shanghai’s Jewish population, were not placed into the ghetto and continued to live in freedom. (Note: At that time Russia had not as yet entered the war against Japan).

Theyleg attributes the death of his father to wounds received in an American air raid on Shanghai and tells of his life after World War II, which eventually led to his emigration to the United States and ultimately to a significant engineering position with the Ford Motor Company. He concludes with his observations on the rise and success of Naziism in Germany, and on conditions in post-war Germany based on a job assignment he had there for Ford.

The interviewer considers this interview one of the most enlightening as pertaining to the life of Jews in pre-World War II Germany, especially in small towns. Also it is unique in describing the problems and conditions faced by the Jews who fled Nazi Germany to Shanghai, China. In addition to the video interview, Theyleg presented to the Holocaust Memorial Center a thirty-page, typed history of his life, including copies of documents and photos.

Interview Information:
Date: January 24, 1995
Interviewer: Hans R. Weinmann
Format: Video recording
Length: 1 hour 55 minutes