University of Oxford
17 files

Memories of Berlin as a Jewish Child

online resource
posted on 2024-06-05, 20:09 authored by Their Finest Hour Project Team

The contributor shared that he was born in Berlin in 1933. His father, Max Matys Garfinkiel (note: the spelling of this surname is correct and was later changed), was born in Milawa, Poland, which was a part of Russia at the time of his birth. The contributor's mother, Hermine Garfinkiel (née Rosenkranz), was born in Vienna to Russian parents and eventually moved to Chemnitz, Germany. The contributor's maternal grandfather was a businessman and warden of a synagogue; in 1935 or 1936, he was beaten and imprisoned for several days. Both of the contributor's maternal grandparents moved to Palestine immediately after the contributor's grandfather was released from prison.

The contributor's father owned a family tobacco business based in Berlin, and much of the tobacco was supplied to German soldiers. The contributor shared that his father was called to the Gestapo headquarters for business and entered carrying two suitcases to avoid performing the "Heil Hitler" salute. The contributor's paternal uncle, Arnold Garfinkiel, was later called to the Gestapo headquarters for business. After being detained for several hours, Arnold realized that he was likely to be killed and escaped by climbing out of a window onto a tree. The contributor shared that his uncle then moved to Washington, D.C., USA, where he opened a tobacco business.

The contributor's parents met and married in 1933, with six people total in attendance at their wedding as large Jewish weddings were banned. About one year after their marriage, the contributor was born. The contributor recalled that, in 1937, he had a nightmare about war, after which he was comforted by his mother. He stated that the dream indicated that, despite being a child, he had some understanding of the political environment around him at the time. The contributor shared that he also remembered the Gestapo attending his home early in the morning and taking his father. The contributor recalled not understanding what was happening but seeing men in knee-high, shiny, black boots take his father. The contributor's father was deported to Poland because he was a Polish citizen and was sent to a concentration camp where there were approximately 12 people per room.

The contributor remained in Berlin with his mother and contracted scarlet fever. The contributor shared that a Jewish doctor, Dr. Tinfasser [sic], did not send him to a hospital because he was a Jewish child and instead treated the contributor at home to keep him safe. The contributor noted that his mother would carry a shawl to hide him inside in the event that she was taken. The contributor stated that his mother was present at Kristallnacht and was terrified; however, she was blonde and presumed to be Aryan, so she was safe. The contributor and his mother were forced to move out of their home once his father was deported, as the family was issued a letter from a solicitor banning Jewish tenants from their home. The contributor and his mother were eventually able to move to London, where his mother worked as a domestic laborer for a Jewish family in Clapton named Sklan.

The contributor's mother began to contact Jewish organizations to try to help her husband to be freed from the concentration camp, with no success. The contributor explained that one day his mother found a card with the phone number of the Foreign Office in a phone booth. The contributor's mother called the number on the card and explained her situation, and the gentleman she spoke to assured her that he would help to free her husband (the contributor has searched for this man's name extensively to thank his family, without success). After nine months of imprisonment, and several days before the outbreak of war, the contributor's father was freed. The contributor recalled that his father was unrecognizable upon his reunion with his family. Two objects that the contributor brought for digitization were gifts that his father brought him when he returned from the concentration camp. The contributor's parents each came to London with five shillings, and his father was not permitted to work. Grodzinski bakery gave his father an unofficial position cutting the edges off cakes, and those discarded pieces of cake comprised much of the family's diet at the time.

The contributor noted that his paternal uncle, Herminn Garfinkiel, died in a concentration camp, as well as many of his parents' other siblings and their spouses and children. Both sets of the contributor's grandparents escaped the Holocaust. The contributor's mother reunited with her parents in Palestine after 17 years.


Item list and details

1. A pack of cards with a trick that Max Garfinkiel brought his son from Poland when he was released from a concentration camp. 2. A pencil case with a ruler and dice eraser that Max Garfinkiel brought his son from Poland when he was released from a concentration camp. 3. A letter written in German from a solicitor evicting the Garfinkiels from their residence in Berlin because they were Jewish.

Person the story/items relate to

Hermine Garfinkiel (née Rosenkranz), Max Matys Garfinkiel, Arnold Garfinkiel.

Person who shared the story/items

Henry Abraham Garfinkel

Relationship between the subject of the story and its contributor

Hermine and Max Garfinkiel were the contributor's parents, and Arnold Garfinkiel was the contributor's paternal uncle.

Type of submission

Shared at the Wiener Holocaust Library, London on 10 November 2023.

Record ID

104868 | WIE003