INTERVIEWER: Today is Thursday August 7th , 2014, I am Linda Kalette Schottenstein interviewing Erna Gilbert for the Columbus Jewish Historical Society Oral History Project. We are at Creekside at the Village, 2200 Welcome Place in Columbus, Ohio and first, I thank you so much for agreeing to be interviewed.
GILBERT: My pleasure. You’re very welcome.
INTERVIEWER: We are so grateful.
GILBERT: I’m excited.
INTERVIEWER: We’re so grateful that you are willing to give us a window to your world. So, what is your full name?
GILBERT: Well, Erna. I guess my middle name maybe is Esther but that’s really my Jewish name almost, [Middle name is Rachel. Erna Rachel Sherman Gilbert] and my maiden name was Schermann.
GILBERT: In Germany it was S-c-h with 2 nn’s at the end. That’s the American version.
INTERVIEWER: When and where were you born?
GILBERT: Mannheim, Germany.
INTERVIEWER: How do you spell that?
INTERVIEWER: And how long did you live there?
GILBERT: Until we came to, went to America. I was born 4-12-28.
INTERVIEWER: Do you know when your parents were born and where they were born?
GILBERT: I do but the dates I guess I’d have to look up, their yahrzeits and their date of birth.
INTERVIEWER: Where were they born, do you know?
GILBERT: My father’s family was from Russia and they came to Mannheim and settled there and my mother was one of eight children from a small town near Krakow. It was called Vishnetse and she said every morning they had to pledge allegiance to the Austrian emperor. That’s how close they were to Austria.
That’s how Galizcian Yiddish is totally different from Litvak Yiddish.
INTERVIEWER: Explain that.
GILBERT: The accents, the accent is totally different.
INTERVIEWER: Because of where they were form?
GILBERT: That was the neighborhood, the area.
INTERVIEWER: Do you know what brought them, how they met?
GILBERT: How they met, was my mother’s parents had eight children and both died. I don’t know if the same minute, but very close.
INTERVIEWER: Her parents.
GILBERT: Yes, and the children were divided up to different relatives and my mother got sent to Germany to Mannheim. She had a grandmother there, with a sheidel.
INTERVIEWER: A grandmother on her mother’s side or her father’s?
INTERVIEWER: Do you know her name?
GILBERT: Hansche. Hansche.
INTERVIEWER: That was the grandmother. Do you know what her last name..?
INTERVIEWER: Do you know her last name?
GILBERT: Yes. Vogelhut. Vogel is bird. That’s V-o-g-e-l-h-u-t.
INTERVIEWER: And that would have been her married name.
INTERVIEWER: So she went to live with her. Did you know your grandmother?
GILBERT: I did. She was tough and smart and she kept house for a converted daughter-in-law. That was the talk of the town.
INTERVIEWER: For a converted.
GILBERT: ..daughter-in-law. Her son had a girlfriend who converted and married, and got killed in a concentration camp. No, she didn’t, he did.
INTERVIEWER: But she had converted to Judaism.
GILBERT: Yes. She kept a Kosher home.
INTERVIEWER: So your grandmother, did they live with her?
GILBERT: Yes. No. My mother came alone. One brother went to Berlin to family. I don’t know where they all went but he ended up in Israel in Ranana I know. And they died, the parents, and the children grew up without them.
INTERVIEWER: Was your father’s family also large?
GILBERT: No. no, my father’s family. I have a picture….this is my mother and her family, I guess before they got separated and got sent to various caregivers. This is the picture – my parents saw of each other before they married. They had never met.
INTERVIEWER: This would be…
GILBERT: My mother’s parents.
INTERVIEWER: Your mother’s parents. Did they have a matchmaker?
GILBERT: I don’t know. I guess so.
INTERVIEWER: So, before they were married..
GILBERT: They saw this picture of each other.
INTERVIEWER: …and they never met.
GILBERT: They never met and had eight children, one, two, three that died. There was a lot of sickness and ill health.
INTERVIEWER: So, tell me again, your parents’ names were..
INTERVIEWER: And their first names were…
GILBERT: My father’s was Joseph and my mother was, in German, was Bertel, It was Bertha.
INTERVIEWER: So how would you spell..?
GILBERT: Which version?
GILBERT: B-e-r-t-e-l. First person my mother visited when the War was over and she could travel was her Tante Getl, the converted one. She was her favorite.
INTERVIEWER: And where was she living?
GILBERT: She was back in Nurenberg [Nurnberg]. That was her home town. It was near Mannheim where we lived.
INTERVIEWER: Do you know how to spell Nurnberg?
GILBERT: Sure, N-u-r-e-n-b-e-r-g [Nurnberg] with a [ ] over the “e”.
INTERVIEWER: So she survived. Do you know any more about your grandparents?
GILBERT: I guess I know some things. I wish I had seen my Tante Getl once. This [picture] is my father’s family. This is my father. His parents had remarried. These are the children of his second marriage. This is my father, his older brother and two sisters.
INTERVIEWER: So he had remarried. When did he remarry?
GILBERT: When they came to Germany. The photographer’s name is here which I enjoy. You can open it.
INTERVIEWER: Oh, it says Mannheim!
INTERVIEWER: So his parents remarried. I’m sorry. He (pointing) remarried.
GILBERT: My father was of this second marriage. Do you know the names of the rest of his siblings?
GILBERT: Sure. We were very close.
INTERVIEWER: So what were their names?
GILBERT: This is his older brother Yulius – Julius. And these two sisters: this is Lenschen, which is very hard to translate. I don’t’ know if there is a name for it, maybe Lena, but in German it’s L-e-n-s-c-h-e-n. She was sweet and good. And this is Perle – Perl. She married in France and ended up living in Strassburg. And she (pointing) was bitchy, an interesting person.
INTERVIEWER: This one?
GILBERT: My father’s mother. All my life they said I looked like her. She wore a sheidel. I always walked in the Jewish cemetery with her because my father was afraid the schutzim would flip the sheidels off.
INTERVIEWER: The who would – say that word?
INTERVIEWER: What is that?
GILBERT: It’s a nasty word for Christian.
INTERVIEWER: And they would taunt people and..
GILBERT: ..pull her wig off. It started in ’32 way back, you know, right away. There were horrible things right away so that’s why we left from France ‘cause my father…she settled in France. [Addendum: My father wanted to say goodbye to his two sisters, one in Paris, one in Strassburg so that’s why we left from LeHavre. He did get to say goodbye. The one in Paris – Lenschen didn’t survive. The one in Strassburg – Perle- she survived. ]
She married a man in France and she was single, and he wanted to say goodbye to them so they took this ship, Champlain, from Le Havre. I have another story connected with that.
GILBERT: My best friend in Mannheim had scarlet fever when it was time for us to leave and she was supposed to be quarantined. Of course we wanted to say goodbye. I don’t remember how we got together but we did see each other and hug. She gave me a present. That’s why we left on a French ship and she was supposed to be quarantined but we saw each other and by the time we got on the ship I had a sore throat but I heard people talk that if you’re sick you get sent back so I didn’t say anything and my mother didn’t look at me too much because my father was deathly seasick the whole six days. He crawled into bed and never came out. The doctor came twice a day and gave him shots or something.
INTERVIEWER: How old were you?
INTERVIEWER: So go back, this is your father and his family and who’s…
GILBERT: …his father, his older brother, his father, his two sisters.
INTERVIEWER: Your grandfather. So you grandmother and grandfather’s names..?
GILBERT: Her name is Dora Schermann. I don’t remember. I have it in some papers, Schermann, but I don’t remember his first name.
INTERVIEWER: So what do you know about your parents’ lives?
GILBERT: It was tough ‘cause in 1932, my father lost his job. He worked in a bank ‘cause he had gone to college.
INTERVIEWER: Where did he go to school?
GILBERT: Germany. She was very active and, she took the battle [bull] by the horns, is that the expression? She found a job. I think I never told this to anyone. A German Jewish organization I think just men, and they rented a beautiful apartment that had a small apartment in the back of it and it was a club and my mother cooked for them and before a Jewish holiday she pulled toilet paper and there was as stack on the window and one of the men left her poem: “The holidays are before us as is this well-prepared paper.” I remember. I am remembering that. So you were living in Germany and she was working there after he was working at the bank and you were, you had other family? You had brothers and sisters? No was just you.
GILBERT: They didn’t allow Jews to have more than one child. That was me.
INTERVIEWER: Do you know how your parents met?
GILBERT: Family. My uncle was very active in Jewish organizations. Mitchell, my Mitchell bought me a book for my…It’s in here. He had a professor of the school translate it. It’s in German. Here it is. To me and sent it to me for my birthday. I found my uncle here..
INTERVIEWER: 1925. Oh, the Chevre Kadishe.
GILBERT: Oh, it’s gorgeous.
INTERVIEWER: Wow. So, they were introduced by family.
GILBERT: Yeah. My father played cards in my uncle’s group. I’ve forgotten what my uncle’s organization was called. We belonged to three synagogues.
[Addendum: Her mother belonged to the Orthodox shul and her father belonged to the Conservative synagogue.]
My uncle was Orthodox. Saturday nights I got taken to shalosh sheudas and the old men sat with their hot tea and the herring and my mother was in the Conservative shul that got burned down the night they broke down churches and bricks. We had gone a few months before.
INTERVIEWER: Do you know the name of that synagogue?
GILBERT: I think it was called Haupt Synagogue. Main Synagogue. It was gorgeous. I have a couple friends who looked him up, the rabbi and he married them when they came to America.
INTERVIEWER: So he survived.
INTERVIEWER: So, that was the Orthodox and the Conservative. What was the third synagogue?
GILBERT: It was where the Hebrew School was which was part of the synagogue building and I don’t know why but my teacher killed himself a few months after we left. I don’t know why. His name was Kelbermann. That’s another story. When I finally came to Mannheim, I don’t want to skip around.
INTERVIEWER: It’s okay.
GILBERT: For our 25th anniversary, we decided to go to Europe. Of course, where do you go? Paris and we check in and we hang up our clothes and we go down to buy sightseeing tickets and the woman said “your”- what is it called the person who sells you tickets –“travel agent should have told you everything is closed. It’s a Catholic holiday. It’s Pentecost.” I never saw that word – Pentecost. There’s a synagogue, a church on Main Street, sloppy looking church- did you ever see it? It’s called Pentecost. That’s what that was called. So we looked at each other, what are we going to do now? My husband said, “I know. You want to go to Mannheim?” So we left our room ‘cause we weren’t going to go for more than one night and took the train to Mannheim and that was interesting.
INTERVIEWER: You went back to visit. So, when you were little then and your family, your mother was working, your father was working they had these synagogues, what was the town like? What do you remember?
GILBERT: Always afraid, always afraid.
INTERVIEWER: Did you have to walk far to go to school?
GILBERT: It was a long walk and I remember thinking, “How come they let me go myself?” It was a long walk.
INTERVIEWER: What are your earliest recollections, even when you were like two or three? Do you remember anything?
GILBERT: No. I have an album. We went to the park Sundays. We had castles and we’d go sightseeing.
INTERVIEWER: What do you remember about school, when you started in school?
GILBERT: This is my first grade. If you don’t he’s there, the older looking man – he was our teacher. And here I am and here’s my friend Gerta Brin. Here’s a friend Doris Wolfe. Here’s a friend, Margot Bertauer. She translates German into English books and I’m in touch with her. She lives on Riverside Drive.
INTERVIEWER: These are the three that you’re still in touch with?
INTERVIEWER: Do you remember any of the others?
GILBERT: No. I remember them but vaguely.
INTERVIEWER: So she lives in New York on Riverside Drive.
GILBERT: In New York and her parents had a carpeting store. We always jumped on the stacks of carpets in the store.
INTERVIEWER: In where, Manhattan?
GILBERT: In Mannheim.
INTERVIEWER: Oh, in Mannheim.
GILBERT: She went to England on a Children’s Transport and because her sister was a drop older than she, by two or three years, she went to the only relative they had in England and Gerta got adopted. She was adopted by strangers. She was very unhappy. She ran away when she was fifteen or sixteen became a secretary with a British accent. Now she’s senile and I cry when I talk to her on the phone.
INTERVIEWER: She was then sent to a Christian family.
GILBERT: Yes, I don’t know I think so.
INTERVIEWER: Do you know much about the transport?
GILBERT: No. I know that because she was younger she went to strangers. The other one, I spoke to her the other day. I owe her a phone call. I feel really guilty.
INTERVIEWER: And she’s still in, where is she living?
GILBERT: Which one?
INTERVIEWER: The one that went to the Transport? When you call her, where is she living?
GILBERT: Now? She was living on the West Coast but now that the other sister is sort of not well, senile and can’t be alone, she has moved to New York and she is working on selling the house.
INTERVIEWER: It is hard to imagine what it must have been like to send your children..
GILBERT: We’ll, I had a good time on the boat. There were other children. I played with them. My father lay in bed. My mother bought me this headband on the ship. The name was the Champlain and Ellis Island was closed for renovations so we did not have to go to Ellis Island, just walked off the boat. The doctor said “you look healthy.”
INTERVIEWER: Really! I didn’t even know that happened. How did you arrange to leave? I mean when was this?
GILBERT: My uncle was living here, my father’s brother. My father didn’t want to come. He was afraid of everything that came true. He couldn’t get a job. He couldn’t learn English. He couldn’t make money. But this brother kept writing. I remember the last letter my father read aloud to all our friends. “We know more about it than you do. Take your wife and kind and come.” So we did.
INTERVIEWER: Do you know when that was?
GILBERT: February ’38.
INTERVIEWER: In 1938. So how did you get tickets to leave?
GILBERT: We had some money, I guess. Those details I don’t know.
INTERVIEWER: Was it not so hard? Was it difficult to leave at that time?
GILBERT: No. We went to Shtutgart. That was the name of the city where the American Consulate was and we each got examined and stood in front of a doctor and got papers to come.
INTERVIEWER: And who issued the papers? Would you know?
INTERVIEWER: Before you left, what was it that made them decide finally to leave?
GILBERT: This letter that my uncle wrote.
INTERVIEWER: That they knew more. And did you remember leaving everything? What were you able to take from your home?
GILBERT: A big van came. We took bed, couch, chairs, kitchen set. We took all our things. We couldn’t take the money. I think that was it.
INTERVIEWER: So you went to Stuttgart with all your things?
GILBERT: No, that was to get our papers to come.
INTERVIEWER: And then you went back, packed up…
INTERVIEWER: And then did you take all of that with you when you left? How did you get all that furniture and everything?
GILBERT: I guess we spent all our money. Couldn’t take it.
INTERVIEWER: And then you went to where? From Germany where did you go?
GILBERT: We went to Le Havre, got the ship there.
INTERVIEWER: And you carried all of this on, what kind of transport was all of your things..?
GILBERT: That got sent separately. It came a couple months after we were here and got delivered. Very fancy and correct. We lived in Brooklyn.
INTERVIEWER: So, when you were a little girl in school, were there things that you felt, that you could sense that things..?
GILBERT: Yes. There were. They would lock the front door some days. I remember crying, standing there crying, would chase us.
INTERVIEWER: They would lock the door and say you couldn’t come in because you were Jewish?
GILBERT: Couldn’t come out.
INTERVIEWER: Oh, you couldn’t come out of school.
GILBERT: Being tortured sort of.
INTERVIEWER: And what would they do? They would…
GILBERT: Chase us, lock us in. The police would come.
INTERVIEWER: It must have been so frightening.
GILBERT: It was frightening.
INTERVIEWER: So, you would eventually get home and tell your, did you tell your parents?
GILBERT: I think so. I tried to spare them. I think I did.
INTERVIEWER: So, when they made this decision to leave and you left all of your, you left family and friends and came to America, what was it like coming over on the ship?
GILBERT: I had fun with the other kids. I remember running, always running, playing. My mother was busy with my father. He was seasick every minute of the time on the ship. [Addendum she told interviewer later: My father was sick the entire time. The doctor came twice a day and gave him shots. My mother never got to the dining room but she bought me this headband with the name of the ship: Champlain, which I have framed here. After six days, my father said he felt better. He got up. When he opened the curtain, the Statue of Liberty was all lit up.] And then we came here.
INTERVIEWER: So, you landed in New York and didn’t have to go through Ellis Island.
GILBERT: No, it was closed. It was being renovated.
INTERVIEWER: And this was 1938.
INTERVIEWER: And where did you go?
GILBERT: To this uncle who wrote us we know more about it than you do and come. But he was very unhappy that I was sick and we slept in one bed, the first night and my mother was stroking my back and she said, “You have a terrible rash.”
INTERVIEWER: You had scarlet fever.
GILBERT: I had scarlet fever. My uncle called Kings County and the ambulance came and carried me down. I guess I wasn’t’ entitled to a stretcher. I heard my father sobbing. I don’t ever want to hear a man cry again and then I couldn’t speak a word. I remember sitting in the emergency room. They gave me a drink of water and then the second or the third day they had found a Jewish nurse and I could speak Jewish always ‘cause my grandmother didn’t speak German, and she came in with a cup and I think it was a peach from a can. Do you speak Jewish? She said, “Du vez stus iz?” Do you know what this is? I gobbled it up, you know, and then she told me, I had no bell ‘cause it was a children’s ward. It just a row of beds, that if I need anything I should call “nurse.” So of course I had to pee and I called “nurse.” She must have answered, “What do you want?” but I didn’t’ know what she was saying so I peed in bed and in the morning I woke up in a puddle ‘cause there was a rubber sheet under the regular sheet and they were standing around laughing. But my parents found me. My father came in to the street on, I think it was the second or third day and he found a policeman who didn’t speak Jewish or German, who took him to a candy store who translated and they brought me…
INTERVIEWER: A person at the candy store who translated.
INTERVIEWER: So, do you know what hospital you were in?
GILBERT: Kings County. Kings County.
INTERVIEWER: Yes, you did say that. So, when you lived in Germany, you spoke German and Yiddish?
INTERVIEWER: When you say Jewish, you mean Yiddish?
GILBERT: Yes, always. And it was funny. All the years I was growing up people said I looked like my grandmother, like her, and they had, people married often ‘cause they died young. There was another family, and I would say that, a German family, not these two, the name was not Schermann. They lived in Montreal. My father was in touch with them. He tried very hard to stay in touch with relatives. We were here a few months. They wrote they were having a wedding and they hoped we would come. They had never met us and we got lost. We lived in Brooklyn. We schlepped through Central Park and we schlepped through, don’t ask, and we finally found them and we come into the apartment and his wife looks at me and she says, “Oh, my God, de alter mach shiefer,” don’t I look like the grandmother. That’s not a nice word, but it’s a funny word. That’s what she said.
INTERVIEWER: And they were in Montreal?
INTERVIEWER: And you made it through all that? You traveled. How did you travel?
GILBERT: I don’t remember. We were here about six months at that point. We were in Brooklyn six months and we went to this wedding because my father was dying to see him and his family.
INTERVIEWER: Do you remember the wedding? Do you remember much about it?
INTERVIEWER: So, what did your father do to make a living here?
GILBERT: Very hard. Do you know Brooklyn at all?
INTERVIEWER: A little bit. I actually had, my aunt and uncle lived on Riverside Drive but we went in to the city a little bit.
GILBERT: He tried different things, went around with a suitcase with ties. I have a feeling he went to the movies because it was just so shameful and hard and embarrassing. And then my mother found her niche. She became a cook in a children’s nursery and they loved her and she cooked and the butcher gave her two pounds of meat a week for picking him. She cooked Kosher and in twenty years when the nursery got Black, she went to the board of directors and said she cannot cook other than kosher, they said “Cook Kosher, whatever you want!” They were so crazy about her!
INTERVIEWER: Do you know the name of the place?
GILBERT: No. It was in east New York, in Brooklyn and she made a living.
INTERVIEWER: And so, you were how old by then?
GILBERT: It was my ninth birthday – [in America…?] And they said if I learned English I could go to the next grade and if not I would have to stay behind.
INTERVIEWER: So, it was a public school.
GILBERT: Right and I did learn English, went to junior high and I remember a boy getting up and saying “It’s not fair. Erna just came and why is she here?” I don’t know what he had against it, but it went fast from then on. I went to Hebrew School. I think my mother registered me in Hebrew school before public school ‘cause she was very Jewish.
INTERVIEWER: Where was the school?
GILBERT: Brooklyn, east of Broadway, 167, and then I made junior high school which was great. I gained six months or a year, I don’t know what. I went to Erasmus which was a good school.
INTERVIEWER: How did you learn English? Just by being around people?
INTERVIEWER: No one really, you didn’t take a class.
INTERVIEWER: So, when you were in Germany did you also go to a Hebrew school as well as a public school?
INTERVIEWER: What was that like?
GILBERT: It was a conglomeration of other schools, of other children, and a beautiful building. I did not know any of the children actually but it was Hebrew school. [Addendum: When the Jewish children were kicked out of the public schools in Germany in 1933, Erna went to a school the Jewish community organized for their children where they had both secular and Jewish studies.]
INTERVIEWER: And that was at one of the synagogues.
INTERVIEWER: Did you speak Hebrew and Yiddish or just Yiddish?
GILBERT: No. I could read Hebrew. I could pray. I could converse and by the time a new term came around, I knew enough to get promoted and in Erasmus, in the high school we all had to make a appointments with a grade advisor and she said to me, “Are you going to college?” I said, “No, I’m lucky to be going to high school.” She said, “Learn shorthand. You’ll always make a living,” and she was right.
INTERVIEWER: So, did you become a secretary?
GILBERT: Drake, yes, to an ophthalmologist, who’s paying the rent here, my pension.
INTERVIEWER: Did you ever want to go to college?
GILBERT: I did, but I didn’t regret not going.
INTERVIEWER: It wasn’t the same then. So, where did you learn shorthand?
GILBERT: I went to Drake at night. It was very hard.
INTERVIEWER: How did you get there?
INTERVIEWER: Subway. You were…
GILBERT: I was spunky!
INTERVIEWER: Yes, I was gonna’ say!
GILBERT: I guess.
INTERVIEWER: ‘Cause you were young. You were what seventeen, eighteen, when you went to learn shorthand?
INTERVIEWER: What was the, how did you feel as a Jewish person in America as opposed to your school experience in Germany?
GILBERT: I enjoyed going to Manhattan. I don’t know how my mother found it. A German butcher was the uptown area of Manhattan, had a kosher butcher, spoke German so occasionally took the subway there, bought stuff and she learned as she learned English. She worked at Woolworth before she became a cook and my father sat home crying that his wife was working and he..
INTERVIEWER: …couldn’t find work.
GILBERT: He couldn’t find work.
INTERVIEWER: That had to be very hard.
GILBERT: Very hard.
INTERVIEWER: You said before we started that most of your family was lost. Do you know who you lost? Do you know the names of, who they were?
GILBERT: She was lost. She survived. She married a Frenchman.
INTERVIEWER: This was the one you said might be Lena.
INTERVIEWER: This one was…
GILBERT: Perle. Pearl.
INTERVIEWER: Pearl, and she survived.
GILBERT: Her name was Dora. I used to walk in the Jewish cemetery with her because my father didn’t want her walking in the street ‘cause Nazi boys were pulling the sheidels.
GILBERT: Do you want a cold drink or a hot drink?
INTERVIEWER: No, I’m fine. You can if you want.
GILBERT: I have Coke in the ‘frig.
INTERVIEWER: No, I’m fine, thank you. So, your father tried hard to keep in touch with the people that were here, that were his family. Some of your family was able to leave before. Like how did, you said your uncle was already here in America. How did he…
GILBERT: Which uncle?
INTERVIEWER: The one that you said sent back and said that we know more…
GILBERT: I don’t know. He must have gone very early.
INTERVIEWER: That would have been your father’s brother. His name was..
INTERVIEWER: Karl Schermann, but you don’t know how he came to America.
GILBERT: I don’t.
INTERVIEWER: Did any of your family go to Israel?
GILBERT: No, my mother’s brother went to Israel, Ranaana. He founded a home, I have pictures.
INTERVIEWER: He founded a what?
GILBERT: Whatever they call their homes. There’s a name for it. He married, had children in Israel.
INTERVIEWER: So he left also before.
GILBERT: Yeah. He lived in Berlin. I don’t know how he was in touch with Israeli connections.
INTERVIEWER: But they had the foresight to leave. So, tell me about your mom then after she was working as a cook. Is she still living?
GILBERT: No. I feel so bad that they’re all buried in different places. If you want to pay respects you have to travel. My daughter lives in Princeton, New Jersey. Last time I went to her, somebody drove me to New York, to Brooklyn actually, to the cemetery.
INTERVIEWER: Where are your parents buried?
GILBERT: In a cemetery in New York. Now I can’t think of the name of it. I have papers.
INTERVIEWER: How old were they when they passed away?
GILBERT: Not old.
INTERVIEWER: Do you remember what it was like when your mother, who died first?
GILBERT: My father.
INTERVIEWER: How did he die?
GILBERT: He had a stroke.
INTERVIEWER: Did he ever find work?
GILBERT: No, not steady. For a while he worked in a dairy store in our neighborhood, selling and slicing cheese. I don’t know how many months. He did whatever he could find.
INTERVIEWER: And then he had a stroke and passed away and then what did your mother do after that?
GILBERT: Well, she cooked as long as she could and then she retired and travelled. She was tough.
INTERVIEWER: She travelled?
GILBERT: She went to Germany to goyishe relative who she loved. They made a wedding. They converted, the daughter-in-law of my grandmother. I have a lot of pictures.
INTERVIEWER: She went to see her.
INTERVIEWER: So she stayed there? How did she survive?
GILBERT: They were in Auschwitz. He was killed and she survived.
INTERVIEWER: They were both in Auschwitz.
GILBERT: When I look at, what’s her name, the mother of the opera singer in the building?
INTERVIEWER: Here? I don’t know.
GILBERT: She was in Auschwitz but she says they let her live ‘cause she entertained them singing.
INTERVIEWER: It seems that Auschwitz has become the symbol of the Holocaust and that people don’t necessarily know there were many other camps and ghettos. How do you feel about that?
GILBERT: You mean should I be angry?
INTERVIEWER: Or no, does it, does it, not does it matter, but people only see that…
GILBERT: I think that Auschwitz was the biggest and longest lasting. I know there was one with a very German name. I can’t think of it.
GILBERT: Maybe Mauthausen.
INTERVIEWER: Do you know where any of your relatives died? Do you know where they were?
GILBERT: Yes, some.
INTERVIEWER: In one of those death camps or..
INTERVIEWER: I have wondered how music played a part.
GILBERT: The opera singer’s mother says music helped her to stay alive. She entertained and they liked that.
INTERVIEWER: They moved people around a lot.
GILBERT: They did.
INTERVIEWER: It’s hard to understand how or why. Do you know much about that?
INTERVIEWER: So, tell me then about your life. You became a secretary in New York and you worked for this opthalmologist. His name…?
GILBERT: Wesely. Alan Wesely.
INTERVIEWER: And how long did you work for him?
GILBERT: Twenty-five years.
INTERVIEWER: Oh, My goodness.
GILBERT: My fathers’ favorite story- it’s a cute story. It has nothing to do with this but it’s so cute I have to tell you. It was a humongous office –sixty/seventy patients a day [?] I found a picture of it the other day. Do you want some hot tea or coffee?
INTERVIEWER: Is this a picture from where you worked?
GILBERT: When he took in an associate, he always had a partner who was ten years younger you know ‘cause it was so busy. He had sixty/seventy patients a day and four women working. It was a zoo. My favorite story is a mother came in with two children, a twelve year old girl and a four year old boy and she had to wait very long and then the girl got called in. The minute the girl got called in the boy had to pee, so she asked me to take him, so I took him. I have never seen so many buttons. His overalls had metal clasps and buttons down the front. Outside people milling around must think, what are you waiting for? He said, “Hold it.” So, I held it, and he came in a as a grown man. Whenever I looked at him I thought, little do you know how well I know you!
INTERVIEWER: Wonder if he remembered.
GILBERT: Where is that..? This is one of Mitchell’s art things.
INTERVIEWER: So, you were working there. Did you know what was happening in Europe after you came here? How much do you think you knew?
GILBERT: I don’t think we knew a lot.
INTERVIEWER: Did your parents talk a lot about it? And were there efforts to bring people here?
GILBERT: We couldn’t ‘cause we had no money, but that was the topic of conversation and I met my husband very early, very young. I put straps on watches. That was my summer job [Addendum: as a high school student I worked at Rima Watch Company] and his aunt [Goldie Levine], my husband’s aunt, worked in that office and one day he came in from a USO meeting. He was in the Canadian Air Force. He was born in St. John, New Brunswick and he had tickets for a show that night. [My husband’s aunt introduced us.]He asked me to go so I called my mother. I’m in my brown and white, what are those shoes called?
INTERVIEWER: Saddle shoes?
GILBERT: Saddle shoes and she said “Biz meshuga? What do you mean a strange serviceman walked in and asks you out?” So his aunt got on the phone and said,”Mrs. Schermann, it’s my nephew. He’ll take care of her and bring her home. Don’t worry.” So, I went. It was, Arlene Francis was her name.
GILBERT: She was very good. And the next day she comes in and she says “What did you do to him? He says he’s going to marry you.”
INTERVIEWER: Wow. Did you know right away, you both?
GILBERT: He did. He seemed to. He pursued me.
INTERVIEWER: So, how did his family come to Canada?
GILBERT: …to St. John. I don’t know.
INTERVIEWER: Were they also from Europe?
GILBERT: I don’t know.
INTERVIEWER: So, you met, so, he was in the service over there. How did you, how did he court you?
GILBERT: I was living in New York. He wrote. He called. One summer I actually went up there. They had a country house.
INTERVIEWER: So, how long did you know him before you two..?.
GILBERT: Not too long. I was nineteen when we got married.
INTERVIEWER: Where did you get married?
GILBERT: Up there ‘cause we had nobody in New York. The uncle was angry with us…
INTERVIEWER: Oh, that’s the picture you showed me.
GILBERT: …when I woke up in a hospital. That’s in our hotel in St. John.
INTERVIEWER: He was angry because you were sick. That’s the uncle?
GILBERT: My husband didn’t talk to him ‘cause he felt he treated us badly.
INTERVIEWER: When you were well were you still close?
INTERVIEWER: No. After that you weren’t close? Did your family stay with him when you first came?
INTERVIEWER: You always had a place.
GILBERT: Uh, he had a single sister and she had an apartment. She took us in.
INTERVIEWER: And he was so angry that you were sick that…
GILBERT: I heard my father weeping when the ambulance men carried me down. I don’t ever want to hear a man cry again. It’s the most awful sound. I was there three weeks in the hospital ‘cause there weren’t penicillin. They brought me my favorite books that I had schlepped from Germany and they didn’t let me take them home.
INTERVIEWER: The books that you brought were children’s books or school books?
GILBERT: Regular books, my books.
INTERVIEWER: You said that you have your books from Germany.
GILBERT: My notebooks.
INTERVIEWER: These are your notebooks?
GILBERT: They’re falling apart.
INTERVIEWER: And you carried these with you all the way.
INTERVIEWER: They’re all in German I assume. Is this your writing?
INTERVIEWER: It’s beautiful.
GILBERT: There’s a lot of pages and they are falling apart.
INTERVIEWER: They’re beautiful.
GILBERT: I don’t understand why we had to learn this language before we learned the regular.
INTERVIEWER: This is…
GILBERT: This is called Sudaling (?). I’ve never been able to find out what it means.
INTERVIEWER: This is not German?
GILBERT: It’s German, but it’s Sudaling and then we learned regular.
INTERVIEWER: So, it’s a kind of German?
GILBERT: No. I don’t know.
INTERVIEWER: They called you Esther.
INTERVIEWER: They all say Esther. Esther Schermann. This is Fourth Class.
GILBERT: That’s when I left, Fourth Grade.
INTERVIEWER: You left in Fourth Grade. So they taught you that. Did you draw?
GILBERT: Whatever we made in class this must have been. Benze tcherne garten! What a pretty garden! So, it must have had something to do with gardens.
INTERVIEWER: Can you still read it and know what it says.
GILBERT: Yes. It’s on the tip of my tongue – composition.
INTERVIEWER: So you learned that and German or just this?
GILBERT: No just this.
INTERVIEWER: Do they still speak it? Yes? I’ve never heard of Sudaling.
GILBERT: It’s Sudaling is the writing. I’ve never been able to find why we had to learn this.
INTERVIEWER: You mean it’s the kind of writing.
INTERVIEWER: But it’s in German.
GILBERT: It’s in German.
INTERVIEWER: Oh, I’m sorry. I thought Sudaling was a language.
INTERVIEWER: So you learned how to write
GILBERT: At the end of the composition we got marks.
INTERVIEWER: Your writing is beautiful.
INTERVIEWER: So, I’m sorry. So, Sudaling is a way of writing German.
INTERVIEWER: What else would it look like? If you were to write German, it’d be the characters…
GILBERT: …right now.
INTERVIEWER: It’s wonderful you have these. Is that a little inchworm you drew? What was that?
GILBERT: It looks like a leaf. [reading in German] I don’t know. It’s something that flies, it says. I’d like to find something familiar that would make you enjoy them. Oh, what is this? It’s a receipt to a store.
INTERVIEWER: K-a-s-s-e is a receipt?
INTERVIEWER: And on the back it says Shmoeller.
GILBERT: That’s the name of the store.
INTERVIEWER: Mannheim. There it is.
GILBERT: Oh. Kasse means register.
INTERVIEWER: And that’s from Germany. Look at the back. Did you see the back?
GILBERT: Yes. That’s the address [German]. That’s the name of the street. That means wide street. Something got changed. I never noticed that. I don’t know. It’s funny. Now I’m an old lady and I may have never found out why we had to learn this kind of writing. And this is from Hebrew School, [Hebrew] my Hebrew teacher who killed himself a few months after we left. I don’t know why. From the Beginners’School…
INTERVIEWER: What is that? Lehr..
GILBERT: Lehr bokh. Lehr means teaching and bokh means book.
INTERVIEWER: It must have made you sad when you heard he killed himself.
GILBERT: Very sad. I saw his grave when we were.. Oh I never finished telling you about Mannheim, about the cemetery We went. We left our clothes in Paris in the room. We were coming back the next day. When we got off the train there was row of taxis so in my best German I said, [German – ?] “De Yiddishe freituf, biter, the Jewish cemetery, please.” He had the grace to look embarrassed. He said, “It’s not there anymore. It was dug up.”
He said, “I can take you to the newer one across the Neckar.” Mannheim has the Rhine River on one side and the Neckar River on the other. So, I spoke to my husband. I said, “We’re here. I guess we’ll go to the newer one.” It’s a good thing. We get to the newer one. There’s a plaque and it says: “The Jewish Community of Mannheim, sensing immediate danger, dug up all the graves in the F Block and wrapped them in perfect ceremony and reburied them here hoping that they’ll rest in peace forever.” And they did. I found all my graves. Isn’t that terrific?!
INTERVIEWER: If they had had room in France at the hotel it was open, you would never have gone there, right?
INTERVIEWER: So who did you find there? Who was buried there?
GILBERT: [Quite a lot.?] Well, the most beautiful stone was my Hebrew teacher. I don’t know why. His wife had just had a baby. I don’t know why. But family…
INTERVIEWER: How far is Mannheim, from, where were you in France?
GILBERT: Well, the ship we took was…
INTERVIEWER: This is you and…
GILBERT: My mother and father.
INTERVIEWER: But this is when you went back, that was with your husband
GILBERT: Oh, right, 25 years later. Right.
INTERVIEWER: So how far is Mannheim from where you were at the hotel?
GILBERT: Oh, I guess about two or three hours. We went back and forth a lot. We always went to my aunt. [papers] This is a hand drawing. We always hand drew things or we made them.
INTERVIEWER: This is wonderful. You are pretty artistic!
GILBERT: You think so?
INTERVIEWER: Yes! So what did your husband do?
GILBERT: In America?
INTERVIEWER: Well, how did, first of all you’re dating and he’s in New Brunswick, so how did, how did he ask you to marry him?
GILBERT: This is a report card.
INTERVIEWER: In Germany, your report card.
GILBERT: [German] two n’s…my father’s handwriting.
INTERVIEWER: Oh, isn’t that wonderful.
GILBERT: Pretty good marks. One is, you can’t do any better.
INTERVIEWER: You got almost all ones.
GILBERT: That’s my father’s handwriting. How did I what?
INTERVIEWER: How did, so, you’re dating and how did you..?
INTERVIEWER: So, you’re dating. So what happened?
GILBERT: He tortured me a lot, you know, to make a decision and I really couldn’t. I wasn’t that crazy about him. I didn’t think I wanted to leave. I don’t know what made me make up my mind.
INTERVIEWER: He wanted you to move to Canada.
GILBERT: Yeah. They had a big business.
INTERVIEWER: Did you?
GILBERT: His father…yes. Less than a year and I didn’t even talk to him about it. I didn’t talk to my mother about it. One day I just packed a bag, and went to the train station, went home.
INTERVIEWER: Wait. How did you get married? You got..?
GILBERT: In St. John.
[Addendum: Leo Gilbert, was one of five Gilbert siblings who emigrated ot St. John,Canada from Ploand at different points between the early 1900’s and WWI. The Gilberts that Erna and her children Ellen and Mitchell are related to are all Canadian.]
INTERVIEWER: In St. John. So, that was the picture. You got married and then?
GILBERT: We had a nice little apartment and their business went bad.
INTERVIEWER: What was the business?
GILBERT: It was a.. I have a picture of it. It was a big vegetable and fruit store on one side and on the other was a curved lunch counter. It was really gorgeous. His father’s been there like forty years. In fact they gave us the most gorgeous wedding present people delivered to him. I don’t know.
INTERVIEWER: What was the present?
GILBERT: A tray, a silver tray.
INTERVIEWER: So, you were living there and then what? You had to leave from where you were working.
GILBERT: Oh, yes.
INTERVIEWER: You had to leave and what were you doing there? Did you work?
GILBERT: No, not yet. It was, no I didn’t.
INTERVIEWER: So, one day you packed up and came back to Manhatten?
INTERVIEWER: And what happened?
GILBERT: You know, my mother didn’t even ask me. She just accepted it.
INTERVIEWER: But you had two children.
GILBERT: Oh no, I didn’t have children.
INTERVIEWER: No, but I mean later. Did you get divorced?
INTERVIEWER: This was the man you stayed with! So, what happened?
GILBERT: He stayed there and tried to get work. The business failed. I guess I didn’t say that. They expanded and it failed. They expanded too fast, too much. I don’t know.
INTERVIEWER: And he’s living there and you’re living here and then what? How did you get together?
GILBERT: Less than a year, he would come once a month by train.
INTERVIEWER: Did he ever move to the United States?
INTERVIEWER: Oh, he then moved here. He wanted you so much he was willing to move.
GILBERT: Right. (?…)a long time.
INTERVIEWER: This is a picture of you and your husband.
INTERVIEWER: His name again?
INTERVIEWER: Oh. C-y-r-i-l. And so he decided to come.
GILBERT: I don’t remember how many months I was in Brooklyn and he decided to come that he would be more apt to find a job in New York.
INTERVIEWER: And he must have found work.
GILBERT: He did.
INTERVIEWER: What did he do?
GILBERT: Sell men’s ties, clothes. I don’t remember more..
INTERVIEWER: In a store or traveling?
INTERVIEWER: And so did you get an apartment? You were living at home then.
GILBERT: We lived in my room at home for a few weeks.
INTERVIEWER: He moved in with your parents.
GILBERT: It was weird.
INTERVIEWER: How long did you live with your parents?
GILBERT: Not long. We moved to an apartment. A friend of mine had bought a house in Long Island and had a apartment for rent.
INTERVIEWER: So did you go back to work for the same ophthalmologist? Did you go back?
GILBERT: I wasn’t with him then.
INTERVIEWER: That was after. Well, when did you start working for him?
GILBERT: I ought’ve figured that out once.
INTERVIEWER: That was before you were married? Didn’t you work for him before?
INTERVIEWER: Oh, It was after. Ok. So, you worked later for him but your husband was selling things and you were making a living. So, tell me about your children. You had children while you were living in that apartment?
INTERVIEWER: So, tell me the story.
GILBERT: You’re living in an apartment. He’s working and you’re working and how long were you married before your daughter – she is the oldest…
GILBERT: My daughter is the oldest.
INTERVIEWER: Her name?
INTERVIEWER: Ellen. Does she have a middle name?
INTERVIEWER: And when was she born?
GILBERT: You should have told me to look all these things up! I don’t know why I am thinking ’52. I was married in ’48. I think she was born in ’52.
INTERVIEWER: What date were you married?
GILBERT: May 10th.
INTERVIEWER: May 10, 1948. So it was right before Israel became a state. Did you know what was happening in Israel?
INTERVIEWER: Was that exciting to know?
INTERVIEWER: So, and then War broke out in ’48, so you knew all about that?
GILBERT: Um hm. So, your daughter was born in 1952. What was her birthday? Do you remember her birthday?
GILBERT: You know, I was trying to think of it the other day. I’m ashamed to say I don’t remember.
INTERVIEWER: That’s okay. Well, you’ve got a lot to remember. And how much older is she than your son Mitchell?
GILBERT: Like three years.
INTERVIEWER: And do you remember when he was born?
GILBERT: December I forget what date.
INTERVIEWER: So he would have been ’55? 1955?
GILBERT: He just went through a terrible thing.
INTERVIEWER: So what was it like having little children there? You raised your children there.
GILBERT: There where?
INTERVIEWER: In New York.
GILBERT: I don’t think I can go into all that.
INTERVIEWER: That’s where you stayed, in New York City?
GILBERT: No, never in New York. The apartment was in Long Island.
INTERVIEWER: Oh, Long Island.
GILBERT: Excuse me a minute.
GILBERT: I’m getting a cold drink.
GILBERT: Did you taste these things? Only Trader Joe’s has them. Oh, they’re wonderful.
INTERVIEWER: What are these? Mmm..little pretzels.
GILBERT: But they have peanut butter inside.
INTERVIEWER: Peanut butter. So, were your parents in Long Island as well?
GILBERT: No. No.
INTERVIEWER: But you moved to Long Island and that’s where you raised your family?
INTERVIEWER: Where did you raise your family? Do you remember where you were living when had children?
GILBERT: I was living in Brooklyn when my children were born.
INTERVIEWER: So, you had been in Long Island and or you then moved to Long Island?
GILBERT: I had moved to Long Island but I didn’t stay there long. It was complicated. Have a cold drink.
INTERVIEWER: And then you moved to Brooklyn. You didn’t stay long in Long Island. You moved to Brooklyn. And so, what were you both doing then? He did what?
INTERVIEWER: Oh, that’s right. He was selling and you were still doing the shorthand as a secretary?
INTERVIEWER: What were you doing? Where were you working then? Oh, thank you. Where were you working?
GILBERT: I’m trying to think at what point I went to work for Dr. Wesley. It was walking distance from where I lived in Brooklyn.
INTERVIEWER: So, you were working while your children were in school?
INTERVIEWER: And did they go to the same school?
GILBERT: As who?
INTERVIEWER: The two of them went to the same school?
GILBERT: Yes. It was a good school. 139.
INTERVIEWER: Yes, they have numbers.
GILBERT: And then she went to Erasmus and he went to boys’ something.
INTERVIEWER: Cheers. Thank you. So, you lived in Manhatten er you lived in Brooklyn and then?
GILBERT: I saw the ad for Dr. Wesely, I guess. [ she began working for Dr. Alan Wesely in the mid 1960-s]
INTERVIEWER: So now your children, where were you living before Mitch came here because he came here for a job.
INTERVIEWER: Were you in Florida by then?
GILBERT: I guess so.
INTERVIEWER: Did you and your husband both move to Florida years later?
GILBERT: When I retired from work we went to Florida.
INTERVIEWER: Where in Florida?
GILBERT: It was nice on the lake and he played poker day and night. I had a few friends
INTERVIEWER: How many years did you live in Boca?
INTERVIEWER: And then what happened to your husband?
GILBERT: He died.
INTERVIEWER: How did that happen?
GILBERT: He had something. I forget what it’s called. He was in the hospital a few times. I feel bad that we’re all spread out. He died in Florida and he’s buried there…
INTERVIEWER: …and he’s buried in Florida. .
INTERVIEWER: Were you members of a synagogue there?
GILBERT: I don’t remember the name.
INTERVIEWER: So, he’s buried in a Jewish cemetery.
GILBERT: Yeah and my parents are in Brooklyn. My husband was actually very active in the Knights of
Pythias and we had graves reserved. We bought them.
INTERVIEWER: Yeah that’s hard. I know ‘cause people are all over. And after he passed away, did you stay there?
GILBERT: Not long. I don’t know why.
INTERVIEWER: Then did you come to, where were your children by then?
GILBERT: They were all spread out. My children had a terrific job in Las Vegas. He [Mitchell] was chairman of the Jewish Community something. He was always into Jewish things. He took trips to Israel. He took groups.
INTERVIEWER: And did your children both go to college?
INTERVIEWER: Where did they go?
GILBERT: Ellen was very bright and we thought she’d go to a state university ‘cause that’s the cheapest. Wherever she got into we drove. As we drove in, she went, “Yech.” She wanted Clark in Worcester. That’s where she went.
INTERVIEWER: In Massachusetts.
GILBERT: And he went to Brooklyn College and then he went to, what’s the Jewish one up in Manhatten?
INTERVIEWER: The Seminary? [Jewish Theological Seminary].
INTERVIEWER: So, did they both marry?
GILBERT: Mitchell never married. She married a young man she met in Clark. I knew it was bad news. I must say. I don’t know why. He was in architecture stuff so he knew all about… have you ever seen Roosevelt Island?
INTERVIEWER: I have not.
GILBERT: But you know what it is. That’s where they had an apartment. Not many people knew about it because he was in that… I knew the Sunday before the wedding, I begged her not to but she didn’t.
INTERVIEWER: Did they stay married?
INTERVIEWER: How long were they married?
GILBERT: Three years.
INTERVIEWER: And then she remarried?
INTERVIEWER: They had children or no?
INTERVIEWER: No. Did she remarry?
GILBERT: Then she went back to Columbia for another degree. She has written a bunch of books. She’s got a library using Gilbert, Gilbert, Gilbert and he was a professor there and he had an office in Manhatten. He’s an MD, this one.
INTERVIEWER: Her husband. And what was his name? What is his name?
GILBERT: Francis Sebastian Castelanna.
INTERVIEWER: Castelanna. Is he Jewish? Not Jewish.
INTERVIEWER: So, they are both professors. Did they have children?
GILBERT: Yeah, lovely children.
INTERVIEWER: So, you’re a grandma. What are their names?
GILBERT: Mitchell. No. Paul. Mitchell is mine. What’s his middle name? It’s interesting they both had tragedies before they married. His wife was killed in a hold-up on the stairs at, in front of what’s that big station that everybody knows about?
INTERVIEWER: Grand Central?
GILBERT: No, on the east side.
INTERVIEWER: I don’t know.
GILBERT: About a year before they married.
INTERVIEWER: Oh, goodness.
GILBERT: Yeah and he’s a sweet, nice man.
INTERVIEWER: So you have a grandchild Paul and a grandchild…
GILBERT: …and a granddaughter Jenny.
INTERVIEWER: Jenny. And how old are they now?
GILBERT: I have it all in a book. Don’t think it’s just floating around. Right now it’s floating!
INTERVIEWER: That’s okay. We’ve been talking a long time! And so, how did you come to Columbus?
GILBERT: Mitchell had this terrific job, executive director at Agudas Achim, you kow the shul;.
GILBERT: When his three year contract was up they said they were out of money and let him go. Now, Mondays he goes to the Columbus jail. He has a group of Jewish men that he discusses things with. Tuesday I don’t know what he does.
INTERVIEWER: You said he works at Children’s Hospital.
GILBERT: Children’s Hospital I think is Thursday. I don’t know what else.
INTERVIEWER: You said he was doing some lecturing.
GILBERT: Here, every other Tuesday. It’s on the program: Jewish Current Events with Mitch Gilbert. It’s mobbed. They love him.
INTERVIEWER: Is it. Oh, he’s wonderful. So you moved here to be near him?
GILBERT: Because he’s here, not to be near him, not to be alone. He picked this apartment and I came.
INTERVIEWER: So how long have you lived here?
GILBERT: Five years.
INTERVIEWER: So, you’re practically a native!
GILBERT: So, now I’d love to go visit Ellen or the cemetery. Now I’m peeing in my pants, the latest dilemma.
INTERVIEWER: Yeah, that’s…well, if we’re all lucky enough to get old, we’re all going to have something.
GILBERT: Right, very true.
INTERVIEWER: So, before we…like, tell me what are you most proud of in your life, most proud of?
GILBERT: Would it be…I can’t think of the word, my children are great.
GILBERT: Mitchell’s very sickly lately. He lost a lobe – cancer. Now he’s getting therapy for a backache.
INTERVIEWER: What do you think has been the most difficult thing in your life or among the most difficult things?
GILBERT: I think making that move to Canada. I don’t know how I had the nerve to do that. It’s really a goyishe town. It’s pleasant. We’re members of the Jewish community there. We still send donations.
INTERVIEWER: You are? And do you remain part of the Jewish community in Boca as well?
INTERVIEWER: And then after Mitch left Agudas, where do you go to synagogue now?
GILBERT: Rabbi Kozberg comes here or if he davens, he sends somebody or he davens next door.
INTERVIEWER: Heritage House.
GILBERT: I like him very much. He likes my noodle pudding.
INTERVIEWER: Oh, I’m sure!
GILBERT: When I whisper I have some I say, “Wait, take some home.”
INTERVIEWER: Is there anything that you can think of that you thought I would ask that I didn’t or anything you’d like to share before we conclude this?
GILBERT: I regret not going to college. I read a lot.
INTERVIEWER: Well, it’s quite a story. You know I think it had to be very brave for your parents to leave their home and start a new life.
GILBERT: My father sat home weeping that his wife was cleaning and cooking in other people’s homes. It was very sad. And my hospital stay was horrendous – three weeks because they didn’t have medicines for it.
She was on a tight budget when she started Clark and we always waited for her to call. After she was there three, four months, I had such an urge to hear her voice and I called and it was in the hall and the young man went by and answered. I said, “Would you call her?” He said, “Sure.” Comes back and says, “She’s not feeling well. She says she’ll call you tomorrow.” I went berserk. I said, “No, I want to talk to her now. Please, go back and tell her to get on the phone.” She comes on the phone with a quavering voice. She said, “Mom, I had a drink and I can’t talk.” I said, “Ok, go to sleep I’ll talk to you tomorrow. I went back to bed crying. In the morning I got up with such a headache, I thought I would be chopping my head off. I called my, ‘Kerschy’ His name was Kerschausen, the doctor. I loved him and he came so fast. He was always warming up penicillin in his hand so it wouldn’t hurt going in. This is what I needed. He comes in and I burst out crying and I tell him. He said, “It’s only the first time she did that. He said, “Roll up your sleeve and go to work.” I gave his son…I had a friend who had a Jewish book store on Flatbush Avenue, it was a gorgeous, interesting thirty dollar book. I gave it to his son for his bar mitzvah. He always said it was the best present he ever got. I loved him and he ended up in the same home as my mother.
INTERVIEWER: Really. Where was that?
GILBERT: Uh, oh, my God, Sheepshead Bay, it had a Hebrew name…
INTERVIEWER: That was in, that would have been in…
GILBERT: Brooklyn. I never thought I would send my mother but it got to a point…
INTERVIEWER: …you have no choice.
GILBERT: You have no choice.
INTERVIEWER: I know. It’s very hard. Well,…
GILBERT: Do you think I made the best of a bad, tough situation?
INTERVIEWER: Oh, absolutely. Don’t you think?
GILBERT: I think so.
INTERVIEWER: Oh, my goodness. Look what you…
GILBERT: What a nice man, [my daughter’s husband] I mean, he’s letting her be Jewish.
INTERVIEWER: Before we finish, so you’ve mentioned, so you lived through World War II and [founding of] Israel and penicillin, were there other major events that…
GILBERT: I had a hysterectomy, a lumpectomy…
INTERVIEWER: You’re quite the survivor.
GILBERT: Am I? Good.
INTERVIEWER: Yes, I would say so.
INTERVIEWER: Do you have any reflections about technology and how it’s changed since you were little? I mean now we have computers and GPS and…
GILBERT: I don’t know how to work my cell phone. Every other phone call I have to go down and get it fixed and I left the computer in Florida.
INTERVIEWER: Do you remember the landing on the moon…other…
GILBERT: Yeah, yeah..
INTERVIEWER: Well, on behalf of the Jewish Historical Society I truly thank you and we are most grateful to you and you can always call if you think of other things.
GILBERT: I was just thinking if I think of something important that I left out…
INTERVIEWER: Absolutely. I’ll come back. We’ll do part two.
INTERVIEWER: Thank you so much. I feel very, very grateful.
GILBERT: Thank you.
The following is an addendum by Mitchell Gilbert:
“My mother’s middle name is not Esther but Rachel” Erna Rachel Sherman Gilbert.
My grandmother belonged to the Orthodox shul in Mannheim, my grandfather belonged to the Conservative synagogue.
When the Jewish children were kicked out of the public schools in Germany in 1933, my mother went to a school the Jewish community organized for their children where they had both secular and Jewish studies.
My mother didn’t begin working for the ophthalmologist, Dr. Alan Wesely, until the mid-1960’s. While she was a high school student, she worked at Rima Watch Company. That was the office where my father’s Aunt Goldie Levine worked. Goldie introduced the two of them.
Four of my maternal grandmother’s siblings who survived the Holocaust went to Israel. After just a year or two in Israel, two brothers moved to Montreal. A Sister who lost her two children in the camps reconnected with her husband in a Displaced Persons Camp after the War and they had another child who lives here in Howard, Ohio. They emigrated from the DP camp to Brooklyn around 1950.
Joseph Sherman died March, 1957. Bertha Sherman died September 1986.
My paternal grandfather, Leo Gilbert, was one of five Gilbert siblings who emigrated to Saint John, Canada from Poland at different points between the early 1900’s and WWI. So, the Gilberts in this world that Ellen and I are related to are all Canadian.”]
The following is an addendum by Erna: “My father wanted to say goodbye to his two sisters, one in Paris and one in Strassburg so that’s why we left from Le Havre. He did get to say goodbye . The one in Paris didn’t survive – Lenschen. The one in Strassburg survived.
My father was sick every minute on the boat the entire time. The doctor came twice a day and gave him shots. My mother never got to the dining room but she bought me this headband with the name of the ship. It’s framed here, “Champlain.” After six days my father said he felt better, you see, as soon as the waters calmed. He got up. He opened the curtain and the Statue of Liberty was all lit up!” ]