Berlin (Germany), Haifa
Mr. Wartel was born in Berlin in 1922.
Mr. Wartel explains that his arm was damaged in a birth accident. He was the first born son of Isadore and Doris (Manasse) Wartelsky, originally from East Prussia. His maternal grandparents were Samuel and Paula Manasse and paternal grandfather was Zalkee Wartelsky. Ruben’s sister Shulamith Balaban now lives in Israel. His maternal aunt, Teressa Manasse, lived with them and acted as his nanny. She died in Theresienstadt.
His oldest uncle, Max Manasse, was the manager of Woolwoth’s in Germany. One day in 1933, he left his store, went to a phone booth and called his wife and said “meet me at the railroad station … NOW.”
Ruben’s father owned a store which was next to their apartment. They sold mostly men’s workclothes and his mother was the buyer. His father had served in World War I. Ruben’s mother was called and told to pull him out of school because he was Jewish, so she put him in another school. His teacher said that Hitler was civilized and to ignore anti-Semitism. The other students said “go to Palestine … that’s where the apes are.”
Prior to 1933, his parents associated with non-Jews. One day after Hitler came to power, his mother met her friend on the street who called her a prostitute.
The synagogues in Germany were often in backyards and the rabbis were paid by the government. In Mr. Wartel’s opinion, the Jews stayed in Germany because of one major reason: ownership of property.
Ruben’s father was a Social Democrat who leaned to the right. He believed in Germany and felt that they needed “order,” but his mother wanted to leave for the U.S. Her brothers had been there since the 1920’s.
His father abandoned their store in 1932 because of the boycott and brooded about Hitler’s advances. Uncle Max left for Switzerland. In the summer of 1933, Ruben’s grandmother died and his grandfather put up a stone that said “You’re well off,” and then left for the U.S. Ruben saw Hitler driving down the street in his Mercedes “heiling everybody.”
His parents got a certificate of immigration. The Nazis were collecting money to have the Jews leave. They took the train to Trieste, Italy, passing through Yugoslavia. His father mailed his unemployment papers at the station with an uncomplimentary note to his former employer. They next got on a boat for Greece, bound for Haifa.
There, he was put up with a Jewish family from Russia who had a son of the same age. He went to a Hebrew school where he played games.
Ruben was separated from his parents as they were able to find work far away. In school he learned everything “backwards,” because Hebrew is read right to left. His parents got the New York newspapers, but they were old and behind the times. His father refused to learn Hebrew so he was not able to further his career.
Ruben was reunited with them after one month. His father joined a cooperative. He remained in Palestine from 1933 through 1938. Because High School was not free, his mother wrote to her brother in New York who was a doctor. She wanted to send Ruben there to further his education, but he didn’t want to go. When examined, it was found that he had glaucoma and was sent back to Palestine. When he tryed to go again, he was rejected for the second time. He eventually succeeded and landed in Southhampton, went to New York City and lived with his uncle and entered high school. He was unhappy there.
His uncle, Henry, told him to send money home. His wife was Helen and they had two children.
In 1941, he left them and looked for a job, but no one wanted a “one-armed man.” Ruben went back to Palestine in 1946, staying eight months until returning to the United States, this time to Detroit.
Ruben’s friend from grammar school in Palestine was Peisner, who lived in Detroit. He wrote and said that he made $178 in two weeks at Ford. Ruben was only making $35 a week in New York.
He started an association of Israelis and played chess at the JCC, where he met his wife Jeanette (Johnny) who was a bookkeeper there. They’ve been married fifty-nine years and have two sons, David (Doris) and Daniel (Karen), and grandchildren.
Interviewer: Donna R. Sklar
Date: February 20, 2008
Format: Video recording