Hanna Bratman

Transcript of Hanna Bratman
Interviewee: Hanna Bratman
Interviewer: Dorothy Nygren
Place: Chicago, Illinois
Date: September 12, 2014
Transcriber: Dorothy Nygren
Total Time: 51:51 minutes

Copyright © 2014 Edgewater Historical Society

DN: This is Dorothy Nygren. I’m with the Edgewater Historical Society and I’m interviewing Hanna Bratman on September 12. Hanna, could you state your name and what country you came from?

HB: My name is Hanna Bratman and it originally was Hanaloreshore. I was born in Germany, Mannheim, Germany, which is an industrial city on the Rhine, on the confluence of the river Macon and the city was founded originally by the Romans. The Romans came up the Rhine and they founded Mannheim and other cities all along the Rhine.

DN: What year were you born in Hanna?

HB: I was born in 1920. My birthday is January 7, 1920.

DN: Perhaps you could tell us a little bit about what life was like for you as a little girl.

(1:20)

HB: Well, I grew up in a very big house that my great grandfather, my parents, all my forefathers had been living. It was my family homestead, sort of. They were all butchers. And so I grew up as the daughter of a butcher. The butcher shop was right there in front. The living quarters were above it… like a three story brick house that had been modernized several times. We had all our help as well as the butchers lived with us in this building. It had a courtyard, like a Roman courtyard. The maids lived above the family living quarters on the third floor, as well as my mother’s room. The butchers lived in a separate back house that was sort of…what shall I say (making a round circle with her finger) …it was like a courtyard and the house was on one side. The butchers lived above this and the maids lived upstairs.

(3:10)

Of course, in those days, 1920, most families, middle class families has maids. I was taken care of by a wet nurse. This wet nurse also stayed with the family. I had a little brother three years younger than I was. What can I tell you? My mother used to say that … I also had a brother ten years older than myself. His name was Kurt. My mother kept on very early talking about how embarrassing it was [that] she got pregnant on her honeymoon. In other words, she got married in 1909 and had my brother in 1910. I was born after my father came home from World War . He had been in Russia. So she was pregnant again. In those days people counted on their fingers whether this was legal or not so legal. People hid their pregnancies. That’s what she always talked about. My mother was a real early feminist.

(5:05)

My father died when I was about five years old. Unfortunately he had been poison gassed in Russia in the trenches. My father had been a pacifist and he was not about to carry a gun. And so he became a cook and cooked for the men in the trenches and they were poison gassed. And this poison gas traveled to his brain and he often was not really sick, but he passed out for as much as a day or two and then everything was OK. But he could no longer work very much and my mother had to manage the butcher shop. We also had a very busy sausage factory. Today it would be called a sausage factory. My life was not, what should I say…. I did not see my mom, no. I did see my family and my mother. We ate our dinner together, but that also included the help in the store; not the butcher and not the cook and the other maids. But it included these people.

(6:47)

I had all these cousins that were living with us because this was a bigger city. They came from smaller towns. I lived in a community where everybody took care of everybody else. It was a very different lifestyle than it would be today. It changed. All of life changed very much when I was growing up already.

DN: in your book [What Is In My Head] you describe your childhood and your school experiences as being very normal, very happy until the Holocaust, until 1933. If you feel it’s OK, could you talk about what changed at that time for you?

HB: What year did you say?

DN: 1933.

(7:50)

HB: 1933. Well I had gone to a grade school first. My education started at the age of three…about. I went to kindergarten, as did my little brother. I had grade school in a regular public school. In fourth grade, we switched schools and I went to a, well I think they called it a lyceum. I’m not sure what they call it in number. That was from the fifth grade to the twelfth grade, which was the higher education that people got. Most people got only eight grades. If you were a main lined fourth grade and you spent that in a different school to be prepared to go to this lyceum, which grade offered already French and a year later we started English. I took a class in Latin and also in Greek.

(9:30)

Then in 1933 Hitler had come to power. I had one particular teacher who was a big Nazi and he made my life very difficult. He made life difficult for all Jewish children; I was not an exception. But I was very good in the subject matter that he happened to teach, which was algebra. And he taught also Latin. He really did not particularly…. He was very anti-Semitic. Her made my life very difficult in school. But I had one teacher that was just the opposite. She taught English and gym. I know it is a strange combination of teaching. But in the gym she always had me demonstrate some of the exercises and always called upon me to show the class how to do it. Well I don’t know some of these children’s parents belonged to the Nazi party and they were forbidden to even talk to me. And so I had my best friend that I had had for several years. She lived just across the street but she could no longer talk to me. So I was pretty much alone to begin with. One day in one of the gym glasses I was demonstrating on the rings. I was swinging pretty high. I felt really good. I really loved gym. I loved just being…. it was nice. I heard a voice in the background saying, “I wish you were dead.” The next thing I knew I had let go of the rings, landed on my feet, fell forward slightly, got up and just simply walked out of the gym class, went upstairs on the balcony, put on my clothes and walked out of the school. Well, ny mother was pretty upset I’m sure. I came home. Of course, I never came home during the day. My mother was in the store and wanted to know what was going on. She was very anxious for me to have a good education. Her main goal was to give me as good as education as my big brother had had. At least the school… So what really happened is I convinced her I would never go back to that school again, which she did not struggle. ‘Oh, it will blow over. Hitler won’t last very long. You can go back to school…” that kind of thing. But of course that was not possible because Hitler decreed a week later or so that Jewish people…Jewish children could no longer go to German public schools. And there were really no private schools. [They] did not exist. Everybody went to the same public school. So there was no way to continue keeping up with the class on learning or anything else.

(14:15)

DN: How did you as a thirteen year old girl feel about that discrimination? Your best girl friend couldn’t talk to you. You couldn’t go to school. What were your feelings and thoughts about that, if you can recall?

HBP I really don’t exactly remember what it was like. I did continue… I did have….

DN: Do you remember feeling angry or ashamed or confused or was the support of your mother helping you? As you said, she was an early feminist so she was pushing you to complete your education at home.

HB; Of course she wanted me to work to finish my education. But then I continued to ….I also had gone to a private gym class. I had had piano lessons. I went every day to my Jewish friend’s house whose mother was a French lady. She was Catholic. Her husband was Jewish, a mixed marriage and she taught French and also some English. Her family used to go there during the summer…. I went there during the summer to France, to Paris. Of course she had a lot of relatives there. Actually my mother sponsored these trips. These people were not so well to do. Her husband was not earning much money. This lady, I called her “Maman, Mother.” Mother Bloom was her last name. She had a daughter a year younger than myself and we spent a lot of time together. So actually not going to school, I was still very busy doing things. But angry? I don’t know. I remember I used to do the algebra, which I just absolutely adored. I finished that whole book that we had been working on. It was just like doing puzzles.

(17:40)

DN: And perhaps the woman that was one year younger than you were that you were in Paris with helped you feel not so badly about the loss of your other friend.

HB: Well, I certainly…..this is an attitude that I have even today. They don’t want me there. I’m not going to do this. I remember that particular feeling, very strong, and unfortunately it still is very much in my mind. If I feel that a group doesn’t want me for any reason, it’s OK with me, I can do something else.

(18:40)

DN: I’d like to ask you about your journey to the United States. What year did you leave Germany? I read in your book you took a boat in Italy. Maybe you could talk a little about that.

HB: Sure. The immigration to America was very difficult because there was a quota of Germans. At the time German Jews were Germans at the border… so we had to have a number to apply. We had our numbers. My mother, my brother and myself, we mailed the applications all at the same time but in different envelopes as advised. My number came up first, but it was already very difficult in Germany to emigrate because there were no more transatlantic boats and the Atlantic war had started. Hitler had started the war.

DN: What year was that?

HB: Hitler invaded Poland in September of ‘39 if I remember right. I left Germany in December 6. Basically I think it was December 5 or 6. I took a train from Germany with my German passport. My German passport….I had a “J” in it which indicated I was Jewish. In Basil, which is the border between Germany and Switzerland, I went to a different train. The Swiss apparently didn’t like the Jewish immigrants either, because the windows had screens on them that could not be open and they also locked the doors so that nobody could get out while we were going through Switzerland. It was a very difficult trip because there was not a dining room car. It did not exist. So fortunately I had some food with me, but we were very thirsty. There was no water either.

(21:58)

But we got to Italy – Trieste Italy – and I got off the train and I had a brown heavy suitcase and things in Trieste were very different than in Germany. It was a beautiful sun shiny day. I remember I stood up before the steps going down from the railway station and just looked around and admired what the beautiful sun shine. It looked so different to me from what I had left. I was nineteen; I was almost twenty. I had traveled mostly to France. But this city looked pretty good. I didn’t know where in the world I was going to go. I had no idea where to go. To a hotel? Because the boat was supposed to be there. It was supposed to be going immediately from the boat to the train. It was supposed to be somebody there to put….a guide….but I was not the only person. But nobody was there. I went down steps to look around. Now Trieste at the time had been occupied for a long time by the Germans. Most people spoke German as well as Italian. Mostly, I think they spoke more German than Italian but I don’t know.

(23:07)

I was standing there in the middle of the plaza of the railroad station when somebody came up and said, “Would you like to come to our hotel. The shipping company…Your boat has not come and it will be late. So would you like to come to this hotel?” I said, “Yes.” And he took my suitcase and I tried to follow him. The problem was, there was a store and the store had a display…. a pyramid of eggs in the window. I had never seen so many eggs in all my life…some hens had chickens. I stood there and counted those stupid eggs. My guide man had my suitcase and had totally disappeared with my suitcase. But then he was nice; he realized that I was not following him. He waited on the corner and of course everything was okay. We got to the hotel and he told me the boat would be several days late coming to Trieste for people to board. So I spent two or three days…three days….

(25:31)

DN: Did you have much money with you at the time?

HB: I had no money at all. I had ten. The German allowed only ten dollars, no not dollars, ten marks to be taken out which would be a value of $2.50 I’ve been told. Of course, $2.50 was a lot of money in 1933.

DN: So was it enough to pay for the hotel and food for you?

HB: Food, no. The hotel came with a so-called continental breakfast and it had a huge bed… with feather beds all over the place. They were very nice but they did not furnish dinner or lunch.

(26:31)

I was very lucky in my life - always. There was a French chamber maid. I got acquainted with her rather fast. She was so homesick. She was a French speaker and she, I guess, had some difficulty communicating. Here I was. My French was almost as good as my German. I was very fluent in French and so we became friends right there. She said she would like to take me for dinner in the evening with her boyfriend and indeed she fed me all three days or four days. What was even better than that, she said, “You have to learn English; you know French.” I said, “Oh, I know some English.” She said, “That’s not good enough. You have to learn English.: So every night they deposited me and pay for the movie to see Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs which was shown in Trieste at that time in English. I learned English through this movie. They picked me up and then we went back home. It was…This chamber maid; unfortunately I was not very experienced in saying, “Thank you.” I don’t even know the woman’s name. I’m sure I said, “Thank you,” at the end but I really would have liked her to know that especially when I was thinking about it…she really was sort of a guardian angel or something like that. It was a very wonderful thing for her to do to a total stranger. I hope she got over being homesick.

DN: I think it was probably especially comforting to you coming from Germany where you had not had wonderful experiences from strangers.

HB: Right. Right.

(27:11)

DN: So then you took the boat from Italy in 1939 or ‘40?

HB: I would like to say here that the boat never came to Trieste. The boat came only to Genoa, which was on the other side. We were transported. It was, I don’t know, three or four cars on the train that were all people who had been stranded in Trieste waiting for this boat, the Saturnia, and that’s where I met my husband to be. I got on the train and there was this young man and he sort of blocked the way. He said, “There is one seat left here in our compartment. Would I like to sit there?” He took my suitcase and put it way up there. I had a seat. There was another man in this compartment that tried to court me, but this particular person, this Eugene, he said to me when we got to Venice, “We have a layover of three or four hours and it was in the evening.” He said, “You’ve never been to Venice?” “No, I’ve not been in Venice.” “You must go and see it.” I said, “No, no, no. I’m going to stay put.” He said, “Oh, come on.” He had already been in Italy waiting for the boat. He came from Czechoslovakia. There were different rules. He had been to Venice. He said, “I’ll show you around.” We got off the train and it’s hard to believe that Venice at night – the bridges were all lit up – it was absolutely romantic. It had started to snow; something that happens very rarely in Italy. So it was really a most romantic evening. We got back on time to the train of course. We went to Genoa. So I had already some sort of companion which was nice. But we, well….

DN: This was not your husband to be; this was the other gentlemen?

HB: No, no…

DN: This was your husband to be.

HB: Sure.

DN: Well this is a very romantic story…very romantic.

(32:20)

HB: Our boat, the Saturnia, was stopped twice by U boats. They took passengers off the boat because… for whatever reason I don’t know. One was a French U boat and the other one was a German U boat. The German U boat, of course, everybody was really really scared. It was…. Both boat events were rather scary events, I must say. But the German one of course was much more dangerous. We all got…. everybody got pretty scared. The French one, the French soldiers, were very friendly and they tried really hard not to frighten people as much as the German one. In fact, one French soldier took off his hat so I could touch his pomp on to top which was supposed to bring me good luck. And it certainly did.

DMN: And you arrived safely in New York.

HB: Yes.

DN: And as I recall you lived with your cousin in New York.

(33:40)

HB: Right. We were on the water for three weeks. We went only during the day so as not to meet any more U boats. Well it was a three week trip on the ocean and it was wintertime. It was December. I arrived in New York on Christmas Eve, December 24. I got off the boat and was greeted by my cousin and her husband and boyfriend that had been my boyfriend from Germany. He had a big bouquet of flowers. Well we went along to the apartment where my aunt Angelina and my cousins lived. So that’s how I arrived in New York.

DN: Because I have limited time with the camera I’d like to skip from New York, if you don’t mind to Chicago… but please if there is something else you would like to say…

HB: Okay. I did not stay in New York. I went after about two months to San Francisco where I had other cousins. I stayed there until 1942 until I came to Chicago visiting Eugene who had been visiting me in San Francisco several times. We decided…it was also in December to get married. We got married in 1942. I’ve lived in Chicago every since.

(35:46)

DN: So now you are living in Chicago since 1942. Do you miss Germany?

HB: No.

DN: Do you feel at home here in Chicago? Do you feel as though this is ….

HB: I feel as though I’m a real Chicago person. When people ask me, “Where are you from?” I say, “I am from Chicago,” but then I add,” But I was born in Germany.” But no, I do not miss Germany at all. Even so my father is buried in Germany. And I’ve been going back several times to see the grave. I still support the Jewish community in Mannheim to keep up the grave and you know ….

DN: Was your brother able to leave Germany? Or your mother?

(36:46)

HB: My brother had been in a concentration camp in Dachau. His wife had a much lower number than he did. You had to wait to get a visa according to your number. My mother had smuggled out $2000 out of Germany and with that money she was able to buy a visa to Cuba. He was on that boat to Cuba that did not land. Fortunately he ended up in England and had there some training, boot training. He came on the British convoy to New York. At that time, I was already I think living in Chicago. He came on the British convoy and lived in New York. At that time there was draft for the army. He was sent to register as a young man. He was drafted in the Army right away. About six weeks later because he had that boot camp training in England already, he was sent to fight in Africa. He fought in Italy, but he refused to go back in Germany, and came back after the war was over. Unfortunately he died when he was young.

(39:50)

My mother who had the highest number came on a Japanese boat the day before Pearl Harbor. She had to travel to Poland and Russia through Siberia and China and to take a boar to Japan. She was on this Japanese boat, the Rakuyo Maru, and came to Seattle the day before Pearl Harbor. She had been on the way for I think two weeks or something like that, a very long time. My mother unfortunately was not very well any longer and she died about two years later after she had come. I was able… I made very little money but I was able to support her. So it was OK. I had trouble paying the doctors bills. Some doctors sort of forgave me some debt. I remember the American Hospital was very gracious and let me to pay off what we owed. It was really hard that way. I was always lucky to find some sort of work.

(40:29)

DN: So as an immigrant coming to the United States would you say that the people and the institutions in the United States were welcoming to you, were helpful to you, or would you say it was family members that you could count on?

HB: No I would say… there was no family.

DN: Your cousins?

HB: My cousins in New York. No. I got a job right away. They had arranged for a job before I even came. It was as a nursemaid in the Bronx to a Jewish family with two children where the mother had been, I don’t know, hospitalized or something. The mother of the children was never there. There were three men and two babies. One was a half year old; one was less than two. They were both still in diapers. I was to take care of them and I had never even seen a baby. But, well, I managed pretty well. They spoke Yiddish to me. When they, all three, were working, I would turn the radio on and I would listen to English and I knew all the commercials. My name at the time was Hannalore and nobody could pronounce Hannalore. My nickname had been in Germany “Halo – H-A-L-O.” So I decided I would like to call myself Halo. Well that didn’t work because when I turned on the radio it said, “Halo everybody halo, the shampoo that…..”

DN: And you didn’t want to be called after a shampoo.

HB: That’s why I ended up calling myself Hanna. But my middle initial is L. I was always able to support myself. Of course I stayed with my cousins in San Francisco. They had two children and so I was always able to manage somehow.

(43:07)

When my mother came we lived by ourselves. I had to pay for an apartment. But you know I have been lucky. I had training as a physical therapist. In those days in America nobody knew what a physical therapist was. I had also learned how to massage which as part of the training I had gotten in a Jewish school in Germany. So I became first a helper in a massage parlor [in San Francisco], which was owned by a German lady, it so happened. She sort of taught me the routines that people had in America for a job

(8:11)

DN: Did you experience any discrimination from her because you were Jewish?

HB: No. The problem for her was that she had had a Jewish clientele, this German lady. Her name was Wally Boudoris. She was married to a Greek. But the Jews stayed away because she was German. They boycotted her establishment. When I showed up there, she almost fell into my arms. She said, “Oh!” Immediately she gave me a job.

DN: You were her angel.

HB: I rescued her business, honestly. But she was very good to me. She taught me a lot of things that I certainly did not know. And the other masseuses, well they felt my competition somewhat. They were very nice. They taught me English. They sent me out to buy hot potatoes. When somebody jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge, they talked about a suicide. Suicide had not been even in my vocabulary. I couldn’t figure out what they were talking about. So these ladies, they took me to a funeral parlor, which also didn’t exist in Germany. I didn’t know what it was. I was shocked to find out that I was to see a dead person. I learned English the hard way. But everybody was very helpful. Everybody tried to teach me something else, and I enjoyed it. It was OK. I had all these different experiences with things that I didn’t know.

(10:14)

DN: Now you are living in Edgewater. How do you find the people here? There’s a large diversity, many different people from different countries living here. How do you feel about the life here?

HB: It’s wonderful. My life, I have spent most of my life in Chicago and Edgewater is a community that I knew before. There are a lot of different languages spoken in Edgewater. There is the Swedish part and the Swedish food and all the other people with all the other languages. Everybody is accommodating everybody else. I think people are very tolerant with each other I should say. It seems, especially here at the Breakers, most of the help comes from some other place. And they live in the community, most of them. My contact with the community is mostly in the stores right now, with the doctors, and my life right now is really lived here in Edgewater. I find it very good and very accommodating and people are very good. Actually I eat breakfast with some people and they insist on talking German to me, but I try to discourage them because I don’t really like speaking German. But it’s really OK.

DN: I think that’s all the questions I have for you. Is there anything else you would like to say since this is your story that we’re talking about?

(46:21)

HB: Well yes I can tell you, Chicago is a wonderful place to live. It’s so diversified and as a stranger, ads a new person coming here, it accommodates. The ability to have the many ethnic stores that are available for people, I think, makes it much easier for immigrants to merge into the general society, which is really very important. And you don’t really lose your identity doing this, which is also important.

As it is, as I said in the beginning, I’m living in Chicago. I feel as if I’ve always lived in Chicago. Edgewater is always one of the communities that touched my life because… Before I lived in Lakeview; I lived in Rogers Park. And Edgewater was always a place you came to have dinner or breakfast, where you did some of the shopping. You always met people who lived here. And of course the lake and the beach is very, what should I say, is very important. We would go to the beach with my children and spend Sundays outside for the picnic and it was always most likely Montrose beach or one of the beaches along the way here depending on where our friends would meet. Edgewater is really a mish-mash of people living together and it seems to be no prejudice in this community which I much much admire and prefer.

DN: Thank you. On that note, I think we’ll stop the interview. Thank you so much for sharing your life with us Hanna.

HB: You’re welcome.