Report by Roeschen Schuster
(My mothers cousin)
The following letter arrived after the
crystal night. It came from Aunt Roeschen Schuster, wife of Bernhard Schuster. Being a
Dutch citizen, it was safe for her to travel to Frankfurt, where she had gone for a few
days to see what could be done to help the family.
Dec. 18th, 1938
I spent the last three days of last week in
Frankfurt. During these few days, thousands of men came back from the concentration camps.
Your father's phone was ringing incessantly since all who returned were seriously ill. One
patient's feet were frozen off, others had double pneumonia, angina, or the flu. None of
them were willing to talk about their experiences, since they were scared to death to tell
anything. The only thing we know for sure is that they all were doused with water in the
bitter cold weather and had to stand at attention for hours in their wet clothing. They
had to sleep on wooden benches without straw or blankets, and no one will speak about the
treatment they received or the lack of food or water and lack of sanitary facilities.
I noticed repeatedly that the German
Christians have no idea whatsoever of the terrible fate of the Jews - they have too many
problems of their own. At present they are not in contact anymore with the Jews at all.
The Jewish returnees would never dare tell them what happened. It is beyond my
understanding that those Germans who had been arrested and then released from these hell
holes would so quickly forget the murder of the Jews which is going on inexorably in these
Those who were released had to sign a
statement not to see a physician for at least 8 days and to leave Germany within 6 weeks.
Otherwise,, if they had not left within these 6 weeks, they would be returned to the camps
for the rest of their lives.
The Jews who are left in Germany will not be
able to survive until the international negotiations are concluded - they do not even have
any funds left since everything has been taken from them and they are not allowed to work
for a living anymore.
Your father could not understand why no
camps are being set up in England or the United States to at least shelter those who can
and want to leave Germany. What are all the committees and organizations doing anyway? Why
not bring us to safety first no matter how primitive the set-up might be and then worry
about details? Why negotiate now when everybody knows that so many Jews will never live
long enough to see these negotiations concluded? We must get out of Germany - no matter
whereto, as long as we can stay alive.
I must tell you confidentially that your
father is very much disliked by the Gestapo. When he was arrested, many, many Germans
wrote letters to the police and the Gestapo complaining bitterly that someone of your
father's stature should be arrested. This of course was resented bitterly by the Nazi
Every effort must be made to speed the
departure of those who are left in Germany and to publicize their plight. Anyway, what are
all the committees doing in America? They collect money to help the few who were saved,
rather than pressing the government to relax their restrictions and admit more people.
This would get them out of the claws of their sadistic executioners. Many youngsters aged
15 and up were taken to the camps and not one of them has ever returned. They are kept for
forced labor and one can well imagine what this looks like. How desperate their mothers
and families must be never to hear from them again.
There are many suicides, also among the
One fails to understand the slowness of the
U.S. consulate in Stuttgart. Last week, i.e. December 11th, they finally got around to
opening the mail which had reached the consulate in early November. Whether this is on
orders from Washington one does not know. This certainly seems inconceivable considering
the conditions here, which are well known to the staff at the consulate. It is common
knowledge here that they are most uncooperative when it comes to the processing of visas.
With best regards, Roeschen
Tragically, after the conquest of Holland by
the German army, Roeschen with her husband Bernard Schuster and their two small children,
as well as her sister-in-law Steffie Schuster and her young children, were deported to one
of the death camps in the East and murdered in 1942.
The letters we received during this time
from my mother were desperate, not knowing what her husband's fate might be. Outwardly she
kept completely calm, trying to cope with the red tape involved in getting visas and the
many formalities required by the Nazi authorities. At the same time, she had to try to
obtain medical care for the many sick patients of my father who had no one to turn to. Her
phone was ringing constantly.
As far as visa applications were concerned,
the employees of the British consulate went out of their way to be helpful and worked deep
into the night. The employees of the U.S. consulate, however, were weeks, if not months,
behind in their work and made no effort whatsoever to expedite things. To the contrary, as
conditions in Germany became more difficult for the Jews and the applicants became more
desperate, new regulations were issued in 1939 which made it almost impossible to obtain a
visa. It was now demanded that the U.S. sponsor of a future immigrant deposit several
thousand dollars into an escrow account to assure that the new arrival would not become a
public charge. With the depression still going on, this of course severely limited the
number of people who could afford to sponsor an immigrant. No exceptions from the
"Quota" laws were ever made, therefore comparatively few were able to come to
On the other hand, many of my father's
German patients called or came to see my mother, offering their help and giving her moral
support. Even Papas old friends from his army days, some of whom were by now in
very, very high positions, made every effort humanly possible to get him released, in
spite of the possible consequences to them. This was the reason dear Papa was permitted to
leave the concentration camp unscathed after about one month.
He never once mentioned his experiences
there - other than saying that what he saw was too horrible to talk about.
During these years, Ernst and I spent every
minute of our spare time with efforts to help the parents as well as our relatives and
friends to get out of Germany. Rarely a day passed that we did not get a letter imploring
us to help. Yet our financial means were limited and the U.S. consulate did not consider
our assets adequate. Eventually, with the help of our relatives, Aunt Emily, Marlows,
Wiesens, Cohrssens, and others, we were able to obtain visas for the parents, as well as
the family in Bingen and Rudolf Natt and family. The visas for the latter two families
were of no help since they, in view of the quota rules, were valid several years from then
only. No matter how desperate the situation might be, exceptions were not permitted, and
these visas therefore did not prevent their deportation to the East.
For Bernhard, living at the time in neutral
Holland which was not considered endangered, no preparations had been made. When the
Germans overran Holland, quick action had to be taken, and I obtained for him a visa to
Cuba at considerable expense (I sold all my cameras to obtain the funds ). But just as
soon as the visa had been issued, Pearl Harbor was attacked and further communications
with Holland were cut off. So all efforts had been in vain.
Papa was released by the end of 1938. This
was still 2 years before the infamous "Wannsee Conference" of January of 1942,
which decided on the final solution, i.e. extermination of the Jewish population.
Therefore, those Jews who had a fair chance to leave Germany were released from the camps.
The parents went to England in July of 1939
to join Ernst and our large family who had escaped there between 1934 and 1938.
With the beginning of World War II in
September of 1939, communications with those left in Germany became very sparse since
hardly any mail came through.
In September of 1940 I received a letter
from my father's brother, Rudolf Natt. He had moved in 1939 to Giessen, near Frankfurt.
His son, my cousin Willie Natt, had obtained a position as cantor at the still-existing
Jewish Community there. My uncle wrote as follows:
"I now have a new position, lumberjack,
but without pay. I have to get up at 5 a.m., then march for two hours into the forest to
my place of work. When it rains or it is very cold, this is no pleasure. The work is
completely exhausting, and after coming home in the evening I immediately go to
sleep." And this had to be done by a man severely handicapped by injuries received
while in the service in World War I, 61 years old,, who had never done any physical labor
in his life. After we did not hear from him anymore, we asked our former chauffeur Paul
Scherer to check on them. When he came to Giessen, he found the apartment completely in
shambles with no trace left of the family.
After Holland was overrun by the Germans on
May 10, 1939, we hardly had any news from my brother Bernhard anymore. In the beginning we
received a couple of postcards, and then complete silence for the next 6 years. No one
knew what had happened to our loved ones in Holland and Germany.
At long last, just a few days after Germany
surrendered, May 8, 1945, the parents received a letter from a Mr. Lebrun: He had been a
Belgian Resistance fighter and had been captured by the Gestapo in 1943. He told in his
letter that for 10 days Bernhard had been his cell mate in the Bocholt Gestapo prison in
June of 1943. During these 10 days they were together, Bernhard had been tortured every
single day in order to force him to give away the friends who had helped him. In spite of
the cruel abuse and punishment, he refused to give out any information whatsoever. After
ten days, Bernhard was transported towards the East, to an unknown destination.
One can well imagine how devastated we all were after
receiving this letter. No further news was received for about 6 weeks, when suddenly a
cable arrived in London on June 22, 1945 as follows: "Returning from Auschwitz to
Holland, Bernhard." My mother told me later that she was home alone in the house,
with Papa being out on calls, when the telegram arrived. So she waited outside on the
street for him for a long time until she saw him in the distance, and jubilantly waved the
telegram at him, urging him to come faster until he was close enough to read it. Can you
imagine the scene?