Hilda Fogelson remembers Berlin fondly although she left in 1939. As an 13-year-old, she boarded a ship bound for the United Kingdom without her family, part of a rescue mission for about 10,000 Jewish children in Nazi-occupied areas known as Kindertransport.
On that same ship was toddler Michael Wolf, who escaped from Germany. Although they traveled together and both ultimately settled in California, Fogelson, 96, and Wolf, 86, had never met until they reunited last month at Fogelson’s Studio City home.
Hilda Fogelson’s son George found Wolf on a Kindertransport passenger list he unearthed online, and set up a time for Wolf to visit from his home in Santa Barbara. Along with their children, they shared memories over German gingerbread cake and coffee.
Hilda Fogelson was 7 years old when the Nazis came to power in 1933. Before that time, her son says she had a joyful childhood. “She had dancing lessons. She had a mademoiselle who taught French. She had a lot of friends. She had a loving family, grandparents and cousins, and they would get together.”
But she noticed attitudes changing with the new regime. Kids threw snowballs with rocks at them, and refused to play with her because she was Jewish, she recalls.
Fogelson – whose childhood name was Hilde Anker – recalls going to a couple of Hitler parades, which passed by her uncle’s apartment. She says one time, she and her cousin purposely didn’t salute, as their own act of defiance. Another time, she remembers seeing both Hitler and Mussolini giving their salute as they passed by.
“I was thinking if I would’ve had a gun, I could have killed them. But I guess there was so much security,” she says.
According to a family story, in 1936, the adults called a family meeting and made a decision. “We need to sell all our real estate holdings. We need to start selling our homes. We have to sell our two farms, and we need to get the hell out of here and get as far away as we can,” George Fogelson recounts.
Still, some of the family was hesitant. Fogelson says his grandfather, who was a World War I hero, passed up a chance to leave earlier because he figured he was a “good German,” so he would be safe.
Then in 1938 came Kristallnacht, the “night of broken glass,” when Nazis burned and destroyed synagogues and Jewish businesses. Fogelson was 12 years old at the time. She remembers her dad taking her on a streetcar to see the damage.
“We went all through Berlin, and we saw all the Jewish stores with windows smashed in. That was really something,” Fogleson says. “My father said, ‘You remember this. If you ever get out of here, you tell people about it.’”
George Fogelson says that night was a turning point. “My grandparents, after Kristallnacht, they said, ‘If we can’t save ourselves, we have to save the children.’”
Fogelson left for England with two sisters in June 1939. Their parents were not allowed on the train platform to say goodbye. Although her parents treated it like they were going on a school trip, Fogelson says they understood they might never see their parents again.
Unlike many others, the family did reunite. About a year later, Fogelson’s parents barely made it out of Germany, able to escape because their passports from the “free city” of Danzig did not have the “J” for Jewish stamped on them.
Fogelson’s parents bought a chicken farm in Van Nuys in the early 1940s.
Michael Wolf was not quite 3 years old when he was put on the same Kindertransport ship as the Anker sisters. He does not remember much about Germany or his journey to safety. He says his mother handed him off to a stranger, and then a family friend met him in London.
Wolf met the family friend many decades later in Orange County. “She remembered that I was at the Liverpool station, and I was screaming and hugging her because she was the only one that spoke German,” he says.
Wolf eventually reunited with his father, and they made their way to Bolivia to meet up with his mother. It took them more than a decade to make their way to the United States.
“When my mother left, she wanted her sister and her father to go with her and they wouldn’t leave,” Wolf recounts. “My grandfather says, ‘I fought in World War I. They’re not going to do anything to me.’ He ended up at Theresienstadt, in a ghetto, so we don’t know what happened to him. My aunt was gassed at Auschwitz.”
It took Wolf’s family until 1992 to find out that his grandfather died at Theresienstadt in what is now the Czech Republic. Wolf found out recently that his grandmother died in 1942 in a Berlin hospital, but he is unsure how she survived that long. Some other members of his family also escaped, many changing their names because they considered Wolf to be “too German.”
Both Wolf and Fogelson have spent much of their lives telling school children and other groups about their families’ experiences getting out of Germany, and Wolf wrote a book about it. Fogelson worries that if Holocaust survivors don’t share their stories, what happened in Nazi Germany could happen again, especially in light of the recent rise in anti semitism.
“When things go bad, they’ve got to blame somebody. They blame the Jews,” Fogelson says. “We have to fight it.”