Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Fullerton During the Holocaust

The following is an excerpt from a work-in-progress called The Town I Live In.

Fred Strauss was a German/Jewish immigrant who moved to Fullerton in 1909. For many years, he worked for the Stern and Goodman’s store, the first general store in Fullerton.

During the 1930s, when Hitler came to power in Germany, his Jewish relatives in Germany began to write him letters, begging him to help them escape. “Everybody was crying that they wanted to come, come, come,” he recalled. They were hard times for Jews in Germany. “My brother was standing on the sidewalk one time and the storm troopers put him in a concentration camp,” he said.

During the Depression, Strauss did not have a lot of money to help out his suffering relatives, but he did manage to help many of them come to the United States, with great difficulty. He recalls the story of how he managed to help them escape the Holocaust:

“I decided I was going to bring them over and I had such a time. I had to go to the judges; I had to go to the police department; I had to go to everybody else. I had to have a photostatic copy of my bank account, which I had to lie a little bit about because it wasn’t what it should have been. It cost me quite a little sum of money and I couldn’t get them out. I had a friend by the name of Howard Irwin who was very well-acquainted with our governor [Frank] Merrian who was our governor of California then. Howard was living in Long Beach and he went to bat for me. He went to the governor and asked if he could help me. So the governor sent a wire to the American Consul in Stuttgard, Germany to release my folks at once. In fourteen days my mother, my brother, and his wife were on their way to this country. Of course, Hitler took everything away from them, they didn’t have anything at all.”

As dramatic and inspiring as this story is, it disturbs me that it was so difficult for Strauss to get his suffering family out of Germany. If he did not know a guy who knew the governor, his family would most likely have died. “If it wasn’t for Governor Merriam, not one of them would have been here,” Strauss recalls, “They would have all been killed.” I wonder how many Jewish Americans during the Holocaust were not so fortunate as Strauss to have this rare connection. I wonder how many people died because of bureaucratic red tape.

Source: CSUF Oral History Project, 1976

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