Museum gala to evoke memories of Kindertransport
The Florida Holocaust Museum could not have selected two more appropriate co-chairs for its upcoming “To Life: To Children” gala on Thursday, Feb. 27 in St. Petersburg when it honors those whose lives were saved by the Kindertransport children’s rescue effort before World War II broke out.
Co-chairs Lisl Schick of Largo and Marietta Drucker of Seminole were both saved by what has become known as the Kindertransport – riding a train, then crossing the English Channel in a ship, as they escaped from Vienna, Austria, to London, England, in 1939.
Yet another child who took the Kindertransport from Vienna to London was Lisa Jura, who at age 14 was studying for her concert piano debut when her parents put her on the train. Jura’s daughter, Mona Golabek, will be the featured entertainment at the gala, performing excerpts from her award winning stage show based on a book she co-wrote, The Children of Willesdan Lane. It is a tribute to her mother, who lived on Willesdan Lane when she arrived in London and played piano for other refugee children there.
Though Schick, Drucker and Jura did not know each other as children, they all lived in Vienna, Austria, before their parents put them on the Kindertransport to escape from Hitler.
Schick and Drucker both spoke of the difficulty of arriving in a strange land where the people spoke a language they did not know. They were assigned to live with strangers and – worst of all – did not know if they would ever see their parents again.
The Kindertransport began in late 1938 and operated until the war broke out in September 1939, transporting nearly 10,000 children to safety. Sadly, about 1.5 million children did not get rescued and died in the Holocaust, and only a tenth of the Kindertransport children ever saw their parents again.
The parents of both Schick and Drucker did eventually manage to escape Austria and in time were reunited with the children.
But many other relatives of the two women did not survive. Schick’s grandparents, an uncle and a total of about 20 other relatives died in the Holocaust, as did Drucker’s grandparents and many of her aunts and uncles.
Drucker, born Marietta Sobel, was 10 when she was put on the Kindertransport in January 1939, but recalls nothing of the journey. “I just have no memory of it,” she said. About the only thing she does remember was carrying a small suitcase with just a few possessions.
“You have to take care of your brother,” Schick said her mother told her before they boarded the train.
“My brother cried for most of the trip. He was on my lap,” she said. “I did not cry. My mission was to take care of my little brother.”
She recalls Nazis looking through suitcases at the German border. “Then, when we crossed into Holland and some lovely ladies gave us cookies and hot chocolate,” she said.
Drucker and Schick both had pleasant childhoods in Vienna before 1938 when Nazis took over and stringent anti-Semitic rules were imposed. For both girls, all of a sudden their non-Jewish friends at school would no longer talk to them, and Jews were restricted in where they could go.
Both recalled no longer getting to go skating or to parks or, eventually, to school. Schick remembers other kids calling her a “dirty Jew” and going to a park where there was a sign reading, “No dogs or Jews allowed.”
Drucker said her dad owned a shoe store and an apartment building and that by the time she left, Nazis had taken both from him.
She said she remembered that the windows of her dad’s shoe store were smashed during Kristallnacht, Nov. 9-10, 1938, and synagogues were destroyed. She also recalled hearing of book burnings and she saw elderly Jews being whipped while forced to clean statues with toothbrushes. A memory of screams and wailing from the family of a nearby friend when Germans took her friend’s father away still haunts her.
“I think it was at that point my parents must have heard of the Kindertransport and decided if their lives could not be saved, they would send me,” she said.
In an oral history interview for the USF library, Schick described her memory of Kristallnacht: “We lived on the fourth floor, and we walked down the stairs and we opened the front door to the apartment house, and I will never forget the sight that I saw. It was absolutely horrendous. There was broken glass everywhere, all along the pavement.” She said every Jewish store in the area had its windows smashed and that if the men did not clean up the mess fast enough, they were whipped.
“I was so horrified, and I remember looking at my father, who I felt could fix everything, and I remember saying, ‘Can’t you do something?’ And he just shook his head, and he said, ‘There’s nothing I can do.’”
Life in England
Schick and Drucker said when they arrived in London, they had necklaces with names or numbers on them and that they were matched up with people who agreed to take them in. Schick first went to a boarding school and Drucker to a foster home. Both said they bounced from foster homes and schools during their time in England. Once the war began, they were moved out of London to avoid German bombing raids – Drucker to countryside areas near London and Schick and her brother to a place near Wales.
Drucker said families were paid to take in the children. To make money they often took in many of them, but did not always treat the children well, she said. Drucker was made to scrub floors and do laundry, and she recalls times when there were three children per bed. While being alone in a strange land was not at all a pleasant experience, she was grateful to the English people for saving her life.
Reuniting the family
Schick’s father did accounting work for a bank, and through people at the bank, her parents were expecting that they would be able to move from Austria to England and reunite with her and Walter.
Her dad got approval and went to England, arriving a short time before England and France declared war with Germany on Sept. 3, 1939. Without money, he lived separately from his children and once the war started, her dad was sent to an internment camp on the Isle of Man for two years. Schick explained that many German-speaking men had fled to England before the war and it was hard for the British to determine which were true refugees and which were spies, so all the men were rounded up.
Meanwhile, the paperwork to bring her mother to England got lost and when the war broke out, her mother was trapped in Austria. Schick’s father had a distant cousin in New York who agreed to sponsor her mom. She managed to escape on what may have been the last passenger ship out of Europe to the United States in May 1940. She lived there, working as a maid until just be- fore the war’s end when Schick, her brother and father were able to get to the U.S.
Lisl wound up marrying Dr. Alfred Schick and they moved to Clearwater in 1960. He was the first Jewish doctor in north Pinellas and Morton Plant Hospital’s first board certified radiologist. Walter wound up as vice president of ABC television news.
Drucker’s family experience was similar. Her mother managed to get papers approved and came to England, finding work as a cleaning woman. Then, very shortly before the war broke out, her dad got papers approved for him to come to England, as well. At the time Nazis were rounding up Jews in Vienna and Drucker said her father learned that the Gestapo had his name on a list of people to be picked up the next night. He fled Austria illegally to Belgium, helping smuggle a small boy hidden in his suitcase to the child’s relatives. Then Drucker’s dad was able to get to London. Because the Nazis had taken all her family’s possessions, her parents could not afford to live with her, and soon, her dad, like Schick’s, was sent to the internment camp.
It was only after the war that the family reunited, and not long after that Drucker’s mom died. Her dad remarried and remained in England. Marietta decided to go to New York, where she met Ernest Drucker, another Viennese refugee from the war, and after a three-week romance, they wed. Ernest owned a shirt making company in the Detroit area before the couple moved to Pinellas County to live near their children.
Drucker and Schick, as well as their husbands, became active in the Jewish community. Both women said they feel lucky to have been in the Kindertransport program. The act of compassion by a foreign country and foreigners saved not just two lives, but many more for generations to come. Drucker has two children and five grandchildren. Schick has four children and 12 grandchildren.
About the event
Besides the performance by Golabek, Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor will receive the Loebenberg Humanitarian Award at the To Life event on Thursday, Feb. 27 at the Mahaffey Theatre in downtown St. Petersburg. Doors open at 6 p.m. and there will be dinner-by-the-bite and cocktails before the program starts at 7 p.m. Tickets are $200.
For more information, call (813) 820- 0100, ext. 251.