Interviewer: This is Bill Cohen for the Columbus Jewish Historical Society. The date is March 28, 2019 and I’m here at the home of Jenny Floch, F-L-O-C-H, at her home in Columbus and we’re going to talk to Jenny about her life, her life in Columbus but also her life before Columbus. Jenny, I understand that, as a child, your life has a link with the Holocaust so can you tell us about that?
Floch: I was born in Paris in 1935. The Nazis took Paris in 1939. My father was a world-famous artist but he also had a keen mind politically so in 1939, before they came in, we moved to sort of the middle of France. The Germans made a deal with the French. That was that the northern part could be taken by the Germans. The southern part would be under an autonomous government which would be the Vichy Government. Well, it was, of course not autonomous and the Vichy Government fell in 1943. By then we were gone. The people who lived up the street from us were Nazis. We were in a kind of a medieval gate-keeper’s house with no running water. My mother had to go out to the well and no heat. It was a pretty rugged existence and we kept a low profile because the people up the street from us were Nazis, wine merchants and Nazis. Eventually one of them became the mayor of the town in the second year. At that point, my father went to Marseilles. He took us all to Marseilles, I don’t remember it, where the American Consulate was. There was a guy there. His name is going to come back at some point. He and Varian Fry, Varian Fry was the Consul and this man whose name is escaping me but I’ll get it back (Harry Bingham) was the Vice Consul. What they did was to give visas to Jews who they thought would be good in America, mostly artists.
Interviewer: They wanted to have artists?
Floch: Yeah (laughs) writers. Chagall was one of them. His wife was on the same boat that we were on, yeah.
Interviewer: You were how old approximately?
Interviewer: Did you understand what was happening?
Floch: Well I knew they stuck me in the closet every time the Nazis came through town in their fancy cars and distributed candy to the children. Bill you look astonished.
Interviewer: Well this is fascinating and scary. Did you ask why you didn’t get any candy?
Floch: I resented it but they were so scared that I guess I was scared too.
Interviewer: Did they tell you who the Nazis were?
Floch: They didn’t really have to. I mean we had moved out of a wonderful place in Paris. He had a big studio. We had a terrific apartment and I loved it there, you know. All my relatives escaping from the Nazis passed through and stayed with us. It was a nice life. I didn’t know, I mean I was four so I didn’t understand but by the time we were in that town and we were lying low, I mean it was a farm community. We weren’t like anyone else there. The people whose house it belonged to owned the castle at the top of the hill. Their name was Zabot and they told my father he could have that house so we were there.
Interviewer: They knew you were Jews but they let you have the house.
Floch: Yeah. Well my father was very … It was the height of his career. He was part of the Ecole de Paris which was like the leading art movement in the world. He came to Paris from Vienna in 1923 and you know, he just became famous. His career was kind of destroyed when we came to America because America was in a nationalist mode and so they were basically into abstract expressionism.
Interviewer: Your father’s kind of art was what?
Floch: I’ll show you. There are a couple of books I have. He was a realist but he was not really a realist. His work is really pretty unique. He’s a realist. You can tell what it is but it has, it’s full of his depression, you know, and it’s pretty architectural. If I could say what his art was there would be no reason to paint.
Interviewer: I don’t know if we’ve heard your father’s actual name. His name was? 3
Floch: Joseph Floch.
Interviewer: And your mother’s name was?
Floch: Hermine (Mimi) Mimi Floch.
Interviewer: Mimi Floch. Do you know her maiden name?
Floch: Who knows. I mean in could be Fra(umlaud)kel. It could be anything.
Interviewer: They were of what nationality? They were both …
Floch: They were Viennese.
Floch: Yes so German is my second language. French is my first language.
Interviewer: French is your first language. Were they observant Jews?
Floch: No. When I asked what Seder was, they gave me a book (laughs). That was it.
Interviewer: So you weren’t religious Jews but in some way you were Jewish.
Floch: We were definitely Jewish. I mean otherwise you wouldn’t ….He went to the Viennese (oh God I don’t remember the name of it) Art School there. I think Klimpt was one of his teachers.
Floch: You know, “The Kiss.” Anyway there was a guy in his class who was an ardent Nazi but my father was the best painter in the class so this guy was pursuing us.
Interviewer: He was pursuing you?
Floch: Yeah, he was high up in the Nazi establishment. He was a General, I think, and he was specifically looking for my father so they were pretty scared.
Interviewer: When you say he was pursuing your father, in order to arrest him or,,?
Floch: Or get rid of him, yeah right, this Jew who is a better artist than me and it wasn’t the kind of art that Hitler was destroying anyway.
Interviewer: So your parents were Austrian?
Floch: I think they became French. He went to Paris in 1923 and she followed him, I think in 1928. They got married at some point. I think it was on the way.
Interviewer: You said they were Viennese, from Vienna, and I guess I thought that was Austria.
Floch: It is. Vienna is the capital of Austria.
Interviewer: They were Austrian but they became French, okay. So, you’re there in this rural area. You’re worried about the Nazis. What happens next?
Floch: So we go to Marseilles and Varian Fry is the Consul and I cannot remember the other guy’s name (Harry Bingham was the Vice Consul).
Interviewer: You were trying to get papers to go to America.
Floch: So he gave my parents papers which was kind of amazing. He did that a lot. In fact, when he died, his kids found a trunk full of his letters from Jews thanking him for saving their lives. He never told anybody. He was fired from the State Department. The State Department was very anti-semitic at the time. Did you know that (laughs)? He was posted in Cuba for a couple of weeks and then he was fired altogether. He had 13 children. I don’t know how he supported himself. The strange thing, this is really strange. My sister, because of our trip to America which I’ll get into, she became brain damaged. She had Encephalitis on the ship because of the conditions there and she was autistic. She was a perfectly normal baby before this happened. I know you’re not supposed to become autistic but I think she did.
Interviewer: This was your younger sister?
Floch: Four years younger, yeah.
Interviewer: So the official who gave your parents the fake papers…
Floch: Well they weren’t really fake. They didn’t have the five-year warranty behind them.
Interviewer: What was the five-year warranty?
Floch: In order to come to America, every person that immigrated had to have someone to support them for five years in America. So by sending us it was a huge possible expense for the United States.
Interviewer: Because you didn’t have anyone to vouch for you in the United States? 6
Interviewer: He gave you the papers anyway. This was an American official?
Floch: Yeah, I wish I could remember his name. There was a stamp to honor him.
Interviewer: So maybe we can look it up.
Floch: I have a book he wrote here. I’ll find it easily enough.
Interviewer: So he was an American official and years afterwards he was hailed as a hero.
Floch: He was considered a traitor and a terrible person and fired by the State Department and had a hard time then making a living for himself and his thirteen children. It was Bingham. His father was the Bingham who unearthed a lot of treasure in Peru and brought it back to the United States to Harvard, no to Yale.
Interviewer: There’s a lot of history in this, wow.
Floch: You didn’t expect this, did you?
Interviewer: No, this is fascinating. You were in the middle of history.
Floch: In the last few years, Yale has been returning all this stuff that Bingham stole from them because that’s the popular thing to do these days.
Interviewer: The Bingham who gave the papers to your parents, he was fired for doing exactly what he did for your parents?
Floch: Yeah, exactly.
Interviewer: As we look back, we look at him as a hero but back then he was labeled a bad guy because he disobeyed the rules.
Floch: And his children, his children really fought for his rehabilitation that the stamp was issued in his name.
Interviewer: So you wound up coming to America on a ship. Do you remember that?
Floch: Very clearly. It was terrible. It was called the floating concentration camp.
Interviewer: That’s what you called it when you were there?
Floch: That’s what everybody called it. You can look it up on Internet. It was called the Navemar, a Spanish freighter. All this stuff will come up about it. So, we got the papers. We had a farewell party because none of us wanted to leave France. For my parents, France was really heaven and he had this fabulous, fabulous reputation in Paris. He had to give all that up and we made our way to Portugal.
Interviewer: You went to Portugal by land and then got on the ship?
Floch: Yeah, started around the Iberian Peninsula. I keep thinking it was San Sebastian but it wasn’t. I’ve actually, I’ve written a little monograph about this which I have yet to finish. It’s very strange, there was a guy on the ship with me who was four years old, not six years old, and he got in touch with me and he turns out to be, he was the minister of, you know OPEC was centered in Vienna.
Interviewer: The oil producing countries has its headquarters in Vienna?
Floch: Yeah and he was the Viennese representative to OPEC.
Interviewer: Decades later you find out that this boy that was with you on the ship was a very important person.
Floch: Yeah, well he found me, I didn’t find him. He was the head of the Austrian National Bank which is like our Fed. He’s a really big deal and he’s a really nice guy. We had a really good time together.
Interviewer: You actually remember meeting him on the boat and being friends?
Floch: No, this is two years ago.
Interviewer: You had a reunion with him?
Floch: Yeah, right. Well there was this big exhibition that was put on, this is all very disjointed.
Interviewer: Let’s go back to your journey to America. That’s really what we want to focus on here. First you had to go to Portugal to get on to the ship. So how did you get from France to Portugal? Was this a train?
Floch: Very slowly, on many trains, because, you know. there had been this thing called the Spanish Civil War which had really destroyed a lot of the Spanish infrastructure and my father kept forgetting his paintings and having to go back to where we were before to pick up his paintings.
Interviewer: He kept forgetting what?
Floch: His paintings.
Interviewer: He wanted to bring his paintings with him?
Floch: He had a roll of paintings. He left his studio in Paris which, amazingly, the Nazis never found. So when he went back in 1946, it was deeply covered in dust but he hadn’t lost anything which is close to a miracle.
Interviewer: He wanted to take some paintings with him on the ship and he was able to do that?
Floch: He rolled paintings under his arm. I remember them. He kept forgetting them because there was luggage and there were two little kids and there was me. I was not an easy child.
Interviewer: So after many train rides you come to Portugal.
Floch: There’s one that I need to talk about. There was a span between two mountains that they were just building. It was made of wood and we went across it. It took many hours because it was so flimsy that the train went back and forth and back and forth and none of us were sure we’d make it.
Interviewer: You had to go very slowly on this train because the bridge was so rickety.
Floch: Yeah and there was a big drop underneath us.
Interviewer: You remember that firsthand?
Floch: Absolutely, I was terrified and I checked it with my mother and she said that was exactly right.
Interviewer: You had good reason to be afraid.
Floch: Well she was terrified.
Interviewer: Wow, so you finally arrive in Portugal.
Floch: We finally arrive in Portugal and then we have to wait because nobody knows when the ship is coming. There were a lot of other Jews. I’ve read about since then. A lot of visas had expired. It was problematic. We contracted whoopicough on the way to the ship.
Interviewe Say that again?
Floch: We contracted whoopicough on the way to the ship, my sister and I. When we finally got on the ship, the ship’s doctor said, “Oh yeah, go ahead, you can get on the ship.” It turned out that the ship’s, I only know this recently because this guy who I met, Tom,I don’t remember his last name, his mother wrote an autobiography and she had a whole chapter about, I call it the boat because it wasn’t really a ship, so I learned a lot about it. It turns out that it was a Spanish freighter that carried coal and arms, depending on what direction it was going. It was supposed to carry 28 people in little cabins but it carried 1300 in the holds where the coal normally was and it wasn’t properly cleaned.
Interviewer: Now, repeat that again, those numbers. It was only supposed to carry 28 …
Floch: Twenty-eight people in small cabins on the deck.
Interviewer: And instead?
Floch: Well, depending what you read, 1300, 1100 in the holds in the bottom of the ship.
Interviewer: Where were you and your family?
Floch: My father was in the mens’ dormitory. We didn’t see much of him because he was seasick for six weeks.
Interviewer: Because what?
Floch: He was seasick for six weeks and my mother and my sister, well, my sister was very small and very vulnerable so my mother basically took care of her and I was on my own. It was unbearably hot down there. We were right next to the kitchen so we smelled the food such as it was. About eight people died of ptomaine poisoning.
Interviewer: Eight people died from food poisoning or something else? Also during this trip you had Whooping Cough?
Floch: Well I got over it, yeah. My sister’s whooping cough turned into encephalitis and she became retarded.
Interviewer: During this trip, that’s when she got the disease.
Floch: No, we had whooping cough when we got on but it turned into encephalitis.
Interviewer: Are your memories of that boat trip pretty vivid?
Floch: Very vivid, yeah.
Interviewer: How long did the trip take?
Floch: Six weeks.
Interviewer: Do you have any other memories of that trip you can share?
Floch: Sure. So, we went to Bermuda and then to Cuba and then to the United States.
Interviewer: You went first where?
Floch: To Bermuda.
Interviewer: Bermuda, then Cuba, then to the United States.
Floch: In Bermuda the British boarded the ship and Tom’s mother, (Tom, my friend, the important Viennese person) his mother, she’d become like this really important (I don’t know what the word would be) but she interceded for all of us. I mean she was in the same situation. I didn’t know her because she was in another part of the dormitory and she organized people so they had some food. We didn’t really …
Interviewer: She became your advocate.
Floch: Not ours. She became basically the advocate for our group but she was also chosen because she did both English and Spanish and German so she talked to the British and she showed them exactly what the boat was really like which was terrific. I remember them because they were incredibly tall. I think I’d come up to their knees or something.
Interviewer: The British were tall.
Floch: Yeah. I mean I remember looking WAY UP at them, all dressed in white. 13
Interviewer: Were the British at all astounded that there were so many people on this boat that was really supposed to hold only 28 people?
Floch: Well they sank the boat later.
Interviewer: On purpose?
Floch: Well because it was carrying Jews under untenable conditions. I mean it was a concentration camp.
Interviewer: The British sunk the boat later, after you were safe?
Floch: I think. I don’t know this but my parents said that it was carrying guns to the Axis powers. See this was a Spanish freighter and it had been rented out to this ruffian so the doctor was drunk all the time. The crew members beat up on the passengers. The food was poison when it was available. There was one bathroom for all of us. (Laughs) You’ve known me all these years, Bill.
Interviewer: This is how we learn history, from people like you. This is how we learn the most interesting details. You arrive in Bermuda but your goal is to get to the United States. What happened after you get to Bermuda?
Floch: In Bermuda they had a view of how awful the ship was so they were letting women and children off the boat, children, you know, kids and their mothers. My mother’s best friend was on the boat with us so I adopted her for the day so she got off the boat too.I mean, then there was food, wonderful food.
Interviewer: On shore, in Bermuda?
Floch: Yeah, amazing food. I remember it. Then we got a bag of marbles. A bag of marbles on a boat is a kind of a silly gift. I don’t even know what happened to mine. So then we just kept going. It was so hot that sometimes my parents would, the deck chairs were at a premium because everybody wanted one. But it was often my parents had a deck chair and we were all on the deck chair for the night. We ran without lights because they were afraid that we’d be sunk by the Germans, or the British, or someone. I don’t know who they thought we would be sunk by.
Interviewer: Do you mean after you got to Bermuda?
Floch: No, all the way.
Interviewer: All the way, okay. On the main journey from Europe to Bermuda they went with no lights?
Floch: And Bermuda to Cuba. I don’t remember the details that clearly but I do remember sitting on the deck at night and it was very quiet because the engines weren’t running and the water sparkled with phosphorescence. It was really beautiful.
Interviewer: So first Bermuda, then you wind up in Cuba.
Floch: In Cuba half the passengers got off because they didn’t have Visas to the United States. I have, a branch of my family lives in Lima, not in Lima, in Bogata.
Interviewer: In Columbia, and they were……?
Floch: I don’t know if they were on the …. This was supposedly the last boat. I don’t actually believe that it was but that’s the thing we were told.
Interviewer: That it was the last boat from …?
Floch: From Europe.
Interviewer: Of Jews and again the year was?
Floch: 1941. We arrived September 13, 1941 and there’s an archive in the New York News, which is a defunct paper.
Interviewer: So then, after Cuba, you then …?
Floch: We went up the coast.
Interviewer: You went up the coast and you arrived …?
Floch: It was cold. We arrived on Sept. 13 and the entire New York harbor was filled with photographers, news reels. The boat had a reputation. Eventually there was a lawsuit because so many people died and suffered. That was in 1943. My parents were told the kind of damage that happened to my sister was so severe that they couldn’t include us in the lawsuit because there wouldn’t have been money for anybody else. I think my parents got really bad advice on that one.
Interviewer: Yes you would think that since your sister was damaged so much, she should get the most money of anybody.
Floch: It should have been apportioned, you know, but that’s not what happened.
Interviewer: Do you remember arriving in New York?
Floch: I do. We arrived in Ellis Island.
Interviewer: Just like Jewish immigrants and other immigrants 50 and 100 years before?
Floch: They didn’t change our name. They did not change our name.
Interviewer: Unlike many others, you kept your name.
Floch: What I remember about it was this huge barren hall and they sat me on the luggage and they disappeared for hours.
Interviewer: Your parents disappeared?
Floch: I think what was happening was that they were trying to make sure that my sister would be allowed in the United States because she was such a mess.
Interviewer: And the final verdict was yes, she could come in?
Floch: Well we were here. So then we went to live in Rockaway with my uncle and aunt and I went to school. I didn’t speak any English. I could count to five, one, two, three, four, frice. Frice was the local grocer in our town. (Laughs) In those days children had to wear a handkerchief pinned to their clothing and, if you forgot it, it was your code or something, you would say, “I forgot it in thecupboard.” Then the teacher would say, “Go get it.” Of course, I hadn’t said a word the whole time. One morning I didn’t have my handkerchief so I had to say, “I forgot it in the cupboard.” And the entire class burst into cheers because those were my firstEnglish words.
Interviewer: So up to then you spoke French?
Floch: And German.
Interviewer: And German. So you became tri-lingual.
Floch: I still am.
Interviewer: How did it feel to be in the United States after this terrible ordeal?
Floch: The ordeal continued because my parents decided they couldn’t keep us. There was a famous psychologist, psychiatrist in Europe who had divorced his wife, Otto Rank, and his wife lived in Boston.
Interviewer: Say that again.
Floch: There were three famous psychiatrists at the time, Jung, Freud and Rank. Rank got a divorce and his wife was a friend of my parents. She found us what they said was a school but it was really a foster home where they would take the two of us for the price of one. So we lived there for a year and that’s when my sister stopped talking. I was beaten. My sister was kept tied up because she would constantly try to escape. My parents would visit us on Sundays for a couple of hours. They had a home in Martha’s Vineyard so we were there for a few months and I didn’t see my parents at all. They had red clay cliffs there. The cliffs are gone because people took all the clay. That’s the first time I ever touched clay and now I’m a potter. (Laughs).
Interviewer: Again, your parents gave up their two daughters because ….?
Floch: They thought that they couldn’t take care of them and support themselves. My mother was, my mother’s main goal in life was primarily to make sure my father would be extremely famous.
Interviewer: And he was.
Floch: And he was, less in the United States. Although now there’s a different story. Now he’s big time.
Interviewer: So that’s why they gave up the two daughters because they wanted to focus on themselves?
Floch: My mother was going to work and support. My father was going to paint. That’s what happened.
Interviewer: So this was a horrible experience, being in this other home?
Floch: It was awful. It was just awful.
Interviewer: Tell us more about that.
Floch: You know, I can’t. I mean we were supposed to get some schooling, we didn’t. We were just allowed to run wild during the days. We were fed. If they didn’t like what we were doing we got the back of a hairbrush, like that on my arm. It was a bad foster home, that’s all.
Interviewer: You were about how old?
Floch: Six and a half to seven and a half. In the Fall, when we came back from Martha’s Vineyard, my mother came to visit us and I mentioned to her that my bed stank. I was sick so she looked at my bed and I was lying in filth. I mean the bed hadn’t been changed. So she decided that wasn’t the right place for us to be.
Floch: Finally. By then my sister was so damaged that she couldn’t bear to be out of my mother’s sight. I mean I remember going to a grocery store and my sister would, if my mother went around the isle and I was in charge of my sister, she would throw herself on the ground and start screaming.
Interviewer: It was traumatic for your sister to be away from your mother.
Floch: Yeah. I went to school and I was in all the remedial classes. I was considered stupid because I didn’t know how to get along with the other kids.
Interviewer: This was after you were finally taken out of the foster home? Does that mean your parents took you back?
Floch: Yeah. I had these two crazy aunts who would take care of my sister. By then she’d calmed down a little bit. During the day when my mother, my mother was a textile designer. She was actually, I have some drawings here of hers. She was very talented but she gave up everything that she had to support my father.
Interviewer: So finally you were back with your mother and your father and you were in regular school.
Floch: I was in regular school where I couldn’t learn.
Interviewer: Where you could not learn because …?
Floch: I just couldn’t learn. I mean I was a social misfit. I had no idea how to live.
Interviewer: You’d been thru a very traumatic situation for months and years.
Floch: So finally, oh I got an award in fourth grade for being the most improved remedial student. (Laughs) You may have noticed, I’m not so stupid.
Interviewer: I noticed that. You have improved much. Tell us about this school. Tell us about your life then. You were still seven, eight years old?
Floch: By the time I was going to go into fifth grade, they figured out there was something wrong with all this so they took me to the Rudolph Steiner School in New York City which was the firs Waldorf School in America. I don’t know if you’ve heard of Waldorf Schools.
Interviewer: Is it a progressive education?
Floch: Not exactly. It’s based on the philosophy of Rudolph Steiner. In fact we have a budding Waldorf School here in Columbus and I’m on the Board.
Interviewer: Very appropriate.
Floch: Very excited about that.
Interviewer: Was that school good for you?
Floch: Oh it was amazing. I mean I started to learn. I started to enjoy learning. I still have some reports from there where they say, “Jenny is improving but she still doesn’t know how to get along with other children.” Sometime around the seventh grade, I knew I wasn’t doing something right, so I just started imitating what the others did and I began to be socialized.
Interviewer: You began to be socialized and it worked.
Floch: And it worked. So then my parents decided. When I graduated eighth grade, my parents decided I should go to Elizabeth Irwin High School. It was a continuation of something called The Little Red School House. Red wasn’t a reflection of the color of the school. It was a reflection of the politics.
Interviewer: It was a left-wing Socialist ….?
Floch: It was Communist. Everybody there was a Communist. It was really pretty funny. They didn’t know. (Laughs) I was in the classical music club and Mr. Tannenbaum came up to me and he said, “You do not belong in this school,” which was very kind of him because I really didn’t.
Floch: This is a highly intellectual and politicized school. Even then I was already an artist. When I couldn’t stand being in my class, Iwould go down to the art studio and make paintings. The teacher there, she always left me alone. The students would come in and she would say, “Now this is a real artist,” about me. (Laughs).
Interviewer: You were recognized for your artistry.
Floch: I was recognized. I also became a potter.
Interviewer: Was this back then?
Floch: Um Hum.
Interviewer: Okay, tell us about it.
Floch: My parents realized that this school wasn’t good for me and they decided I should go to the local high school, George Washington High School, and they would give me all kinds of extra classes. I couldn’t stand them. I didn’t want anything to do with them. I was fifteen. I had spent my entire early childhood neglected by them. I had spent my entire early childhood neglected by them and now all of a sudden they were focusing on me. It was too late. I essentially forced them to send me to High Mowing School in Wilton, New Hampshire.
Interviewer: What’s the name of the school again?
Floch: High Mowing. The high mowing is the highest field that a farmer has to mow. High Mowing. It’s still there.
Interviewer: And this is in what city?
Floch: Wilton, New Hampshire. It’s a little tiny town. At least it was back then.
Interviewer: You told your parents, “This is where I want to go to school.” How did you find out about that school?
Floch: Because it was a continuation of the school I’d been in, the Rudolph Steiner School. It was the only Waldorf based high school in the country. So they said, “Okay, get on a train and go.”That was it. I got on a train. I was 15. I went to Boston. I took a taxi to Back Bay. I took, I can’t believe they did this, I took another train to Nashua, New Hampshire and then I took a bus to Wilton and then they picked me up. I went in the school and I fell in love with it. I knew that’s where I belonged. The teacher, the Head Mistress, knew I belonged there too.
Interviewer: Okay, this is Bill Cohen from the Columbus Jewish Historical Society and we’re doing part two of our interview with Jenny Floch at her house in Columbus. Jenny, when we left our last interview you had made it from Europe to the United States and you were in your teen years and you finally found a school that ignited your passion for art work and for pottery. So tell us about that.
Floch: Well I had gone to Elizabeth Irwin High School which really didn’t fit me at all. In fact, one of the teachers there took me aside one day (He was the guy who did the Classical Music Club) and he said, “Jenny, you really don’t belong here.” He really said it in the kindest way. He knew I was suffering. So I kind of forced my parents to send me to the High Mowing School, the first Waldorf-like high school in the country. The High Mowing is the highest pasture that a farmer has to mow for hay. That’s why it’s called the high mowing. The School was at the high mowing of the farmer who used to have the land before it. It’s a beautiful building. Half of it burned down and the sad part of that, aside from the building burning, my parents couldn’t possibly afford the school but she traded for a lovely painting of my father’s and I worked in the kitchen. I did dishes. So that’s how I worked my way through high school.
Interviewer: This is a private high school and it was away from your parents.
Floch: Yes, fortunately for all of us. (Laughs) I didn’t get along. When I finished with Elizabeth Irwin, they said I could go to the local high school and have lots and lots of classes, to increase, you know, art classes and dance, whatever I wanted. The only thing I really wanted was to be away from them. Basically, because I was neglected all the years my sister was there and I was used to taking care of myself. All of a sudden, I was going to be taken care of. That wasn’t going to work too well.
Interviewer: So this new private high school you were going to, where was it located?
Floch: In Wilton, New Hampshire. It’s still there. It’s thriving. There is now a grade school that accompanies it. Waldorf schools are the single largest growing school system in the entire world. I was in at the beginning of it.
Interviewer: This was a school that finally you felt you were in the right niche It catered to you.
Floch: Oh I was so happy there, yeah. The Head Mistress took a real interest in me. I fell in love with, the place is beautiful. One day I walked into the pottery, because I’d been doing sculpture at Elizabeth Irwin and I thought I would go on with that. I walked in, there was this woman sitting at the potter’s wheel who was just beautiful and ethereal doing this magical thing, making pots on the wheel. I looked at that and I said that’s what I’m going to do and that’s what I did. So what happened then is that she taught me for a year and then in my junior year she got pregnant with the art teacher who was married to my roommate’s mother, very complicated.
Interviewer: Your favorite pottery teacher got pregnant with somebody else who they shouldn’t have gotten pregnant from.
Floch: Essentially, yeah. So she had to leave. A friend of mine and I got, were in charge of the pottery for my whole junior year and my senior year. We taught, we gave grades, we were like faculty. It was very remarkable.
Interviewer: You became the pottery teachers.
Floch: We became the pottery teachers. What I realized was that I came to a point where I just didn’t know, I couldn’t advance. You know, I needed more technique for the wheel. I needed to understand materials. Because I was a pottery teacher, I didn’t have anyone teaching me so I decided I needed to learn more but at the same time, one of the insanities of my life, I got engaged to a man who was 14 years older than me. We were going to get married when I was 18 so I decided to go to NYU where I became the pottery assistant. How much of this do you want?
Interviewer: Some detail here. You were graduated from this high school. You went to New York University. You were almost 18.
Floch: Yeah, and I was engaged. My parents didn’t like him so they said,“We’ll take you to Europe this year.” He said, “You can’t go to Europe.” I said, “If you really love me, you’ll wait for me.” He didn’t, which was fine with me because I would have broken it off one way or another anyway. That year I was at NYU. Then I went up to High Mowing. My parents said, “Here’s money, go to High Mowing.” I took a train to Boston and a train from Back Bay Station to another station and then a bus, all while I was 15 and got to High Mowing and fell in love. So when I went there, as I said earlier, I saw this woman doing this magical thing and I knew my future was cast.
Interviewer: Now you told us today about how you later became the pottery teacher even though you were really just a student. Then you graduated from there and you were at New York University and you were engaged but that later dissolved and you went to Europe. Now what happened after that?
Floch: I took drawing lessons and sculpture lessons in Paris. My sculpture teacher said I should be a potter. I don’t know how he knew. So I went to Alfred New York State College of Ceramics and I got my Bachelors and my Masters there.
Interviewer: Where’s that located?
Floch: That’s in Alfred, New York.
Interviewer: Now let me just ask you, you told us earlier that, while your family was Jewish, you really weren’t religious. Around this time did you have any Jewish feelings. Were you observant or not observant? What’s the angle there?
Floch: My parents, when I asked them what a Seder was, gave me a book. You know, the Waldorf schools are, the curriculum is connected to the insights of Rudolph Steiner which are also rather on the Christian side. To me that all seemed right, you know. I mean I never had anything welcoming from being Jewish.I had to leave my country and be scared, what have you. I was welcomed there. I started to learn there which I hadn’t been able to do before. It just was a natural for me to be Christian.At Alfred, I read about Buddhism and I went to the Friend’sMeeting House every Sunday for many years.
Interviewer: The Quakers?
Floch: The Quakers. We don’t call them Quakers. We call them Friends.
Interviewer: The Society of Friends.
Floch: Yeah. It was wonderful for me. When I got out, I taught at NYU for a while and then I taught at the Spence School for Girls. They were two part-time jobs and I know I don’t remember exactly. NYU decided that they wanted a man for a teacher and made it very clear that I wasn’t to be there and Spence, I just really didn’t like it. So, I got a job teaching at the Fieldston, Ethical Culture school, where I taught every imaginable craft, spinning and sewing and dyeing and making soap and making candles. It was this wonderful curriculum where each class studied a particular culture for a year and I did the crafts of that culture. When we were American Indians, we dyed cloth and flannel and we made Indian costumes and we beaded them with Indian designs and designed wampum headbands and made them, made moccasins. We dried fruits and vegetables and had a Indian-based cookout. I loved it, I just loved it. Then I fell in love again. I lived with, until he was divorced, and married a potter named Louie Mendez.
Interviewer: Approximately what year would this have been?
Floch: 1960’s some point. He got a job in Philadelphia and we had a little pottery there that I ran and then he got a job at Ohio State and that’s how I got here.
Interviewer: So you came to Columbus in the 1960s and you were married then.
Floch: Yeah, 1968.
Interviewer: You were married then. So what did you do here in Columbus?
Floch: I didn’t make pots. I think I worked at the library, as a librarian in the Fine Arts division. I answered questions on the telephone. Oh it’s Fine Arts and Sports, very funny combination. I guess they think that they’re both leisure-time activities. Then, eventually, we got divorced. I went back to New York and I taught at the Walden School for a couple of years.
Interviewer: What kind of school was that?
Floch: That was a private school. It was very, oh, it was very leftist, politically. Do you remember the three guys that got killed in Mississippi? One of them was named Schwerner. He had gone to Walden. We actually had people who had been on those marches, come and talk to us. It was very moving. So I taught there for a couple of years. I taught woodworking, you know, I just taught crafts. I taught everything. It wasn’t a beautiful curriculum like
Fieldston. I wanted to go back to Fieldston but they had changed the curriculum and I thought… In those days, getting a job, youturned around and there was a job available. In fact, when I got the job at Fieldston, the guy who hired me was leaving and he said, “You know, if you don’t hire her, I’m going to take her with me.” I mean it was just that easy to get a job. Meantime I had fallen in love with somebody here at Ohio State. We decided to get married and I came back to Columbus. He was interested in me really starting my own pottery so I started my own pottery and I had a career in pottery.
Interviewer: So you would make your own pottery and just sell it to private individuals? That’s how you made a living?
Floch : No, not quite. I mean I did that too. My work has two sides .One is a more functional side and I ship pots through Designer Craftsman, they had a wholesale branch, and I ship pots around the country, mostly birds and mugs and bowls and casseroles, to different stores. Oh, wine goblets, they were big. Then, on the other side I made more artistic pottery that was totally one of a kind. I was represented by Rene Gallery, what was it called? It was one of the leading galleries in the city. It was run by ReneCrigler (?). I don’t know how you describe. This was a place that made the stuff that goes into department stores as part of its displays. Anyway it was Gallery 4, I don’t remember. Rene was French and she didn’t like her husband. We became very good friends. When it snowed, even if it snowed just a little bit, she couldn’t go back home so she would stay here which was really kind of fun.
Interviewer: You had two prongs to your pottery. The man you married was?
Floch: Arthur Efland.
Interviewer: He was an OSU professor?
Floch: Yeah, Art Education. Like my first husband, they were both world famous. They were famous men, like my father had been.I wasn’t happy with either of them for reasons I’m not going to go into on this tape. Eventually I met somebody else when I was in my 70s and I thought, you know, I’m old and fat and nobody really gives a dam about me. I’m stuck here in this miserable marriage, blah, blah, but along came this guy named Steve Wilson who’s not world famous and we live together. We’ve been living together 13 years. Arthur’s mind left. He’s demented and he’s in a nursing home, a full care facility. I’m physically not in great shape so I make fewer pots. I was for a long time with the Sherrie Gallery in the Short North. I had a couple of shows there, sold well. I didn’t exactly fit because, Sherrie, she really wanted very avant garde work and mine is hardly that. It sold well and Sherrie and I got along well. So I was there and then a little gallery formed up here, in Clintonville, called Evangelia and Evangelia, I was feeling a lot of pressure around being in that gallery. I was in my 70s, you know, I thought maybe it was time to retire or something. I wasn’t really ready to but I didn’t want to feel the pressure that I did at Evangelias and at Sherrie so I went to Evangelia and I had, I guess, two or three shows there. The last one she kept over for a second month which was kind of nice. Then she closed the gallery and I decided that I didn’t need a gallery anymore. You know I just didn’t want the pressure. Recently I’ve had the feeling that I’m closing up my career and I want it to be something that I’m really going to love. I have a friend who has a tiny little gallery in Rockport, Mass., on the, there’s a touristy stretch out to the sea, Bear Wallow Hollow, I think it’s called. I’m going to have a little tiny show there at the end of August. I’m going to show some of my photos and some of my drawings as well I hope. That will feel like a very small but precious ending. I think that’s important for me.
Interviewer: That will be the end of your artistic career you think?
Floch: Oh no, no, I’ll keep on doing but I don’t know how much more I can do because I mean, as I said, I’m in bad shape physically.
Interviewer: But you still have the passion for doing your art work?
Floch: Absolutely. That will die with me.
Interviewer: Tell us about that. What is, maybe it’s impossible to describe.
I don’t know. Can you try to describe what is it, what do you get out of producing pottery and art work?
Floch: I guess, I feel like, I feel as though that’s the only time when I’m fully myself. It’s interesting because other people have said that too. I have a friend, well, a large part of my life has been involved with Anthropociphy which is a philosophy that Rudolph Steiner promulgated. I started a study group here some 40+ years ago which keeps on going and there was a couple of other women who tried to start a Waldorf School here. They failed for reasons I’m also not going to go into. But now there’s a start to a Waldorf School that is gonna work and I’m on the Board. I work and I teach the anthropocophical part of it. We’re studying a book called ‘The Study of Man.’ That’s a big piece of my life. So then I also served on the Anthroposophical Regional Council and then on the General Council. The Regional Council is 14 years and one of the people in it and I had a particularly good connection. He came down to my studio when we were first, when he first came here and I made some pots and showed him around and we came back upstairs and he said, “Well now I know who you really are.” That’s really how I feel about it. When I’m down there I get so involved in what I’m doing that I don’t really hear anything else. I mean the radio is going, you know, I don’t know what they’re doing on the radio. It’s just kind of a sound barrier. (Laughs) I used to listen to Bill Cohen on that when I was making pots. That’s as much as I can explain to you. In my set of understandings I don’t see myself, I see my ideas coming from a spiritual place. I don’t really, I don’t see it coming from me. I mean I feel as if I transmit them. I like that. It’s as though I’m kind of the will that incarnates these ideas.
Interviewer: You’re the channel.
Floch: No, I don’t like that word because there are too many people who channel and who knows where it’s coming from.
Interviewer: Do you think there’s, your family was Jewish but you’ve never been observant as a Jew.
Floch: Actually I was.
Interviewer: Tell us.
Floch: There was, when I first moved into this house. I don’t know how it happened but I made friends with a woman named Doreen Seidler who was doing a Ph.D in Psychology. She fell in love with Haim Feller, remember Haim Feller.
Interviewer: Haim Feller was the rabbi at the Hillel Foundation?
Floch: That’s right and he was married and that didn’t work and he and Doreen wanted to be together. His wife threw him out and he came and lived here. Since he’s a, I don’t know if he’s Conservative or (Orthodox) but the house isn’t kosher so I had to make dishes (laughs)….
Interviewer: So you became more observant because of your house guest?
Floch: Right and then he had me……
Interviewer: Was this in the 1980s or 70s?
Floch: It was around 1972-73. You and I were dancing at the same time at Hillel at that time.
Interviewer: You and I were folk dancing at Hillel.
Floch: Right (laughs) and then later on, you and I and Miriam played music together and played at somebody’s wedding.
Interviewer: Yes, and also we had in common the fact that we were folk dancers and Mim Chenfeld, was she the leader?
Floch: Yes, she was.
Interviewer: Forty-five years later, she still is.
Floch: I know. Isn’t that amazing? She’s one of the most amazing people I know.
Interviewer: So you were a little observant in the 70s because of your house guest who was a rabbi. But in general, I know you’re…..
Floch: Well let me just explain. What happened was he insisted, well, he suggested strongly that I take courses and find out what it means to be Jewish. My son was born pretty much at the same time. He’s adopted. I took the courses and I had my son named. I had a naming ceremony at a local synagogue because I thought I should try to find out what this thing is that I’d cast away. Unfortunately, or fortunately, I don’t know. It just didn’t mean anything to me. I guess my upbringing was so strong that Anthroposophy, it’s not a religion, it’s a philosophy, but it’s wha tspeaks to me.
Interviewer:Rather than Judaism. Do you think that your very early years as a child going thru the Nazi era, do you think that has had an impact on why you have moved away from Judaism?
Floch: Yeah, it’s an interesting question, Bill, because I wondered the same thing. I don’t know. I mean I think I said earlier that I never got anything out of being Jewish that was good or comfortable or loving but whether that really effected…. I really don’t think it’s so much that I rejected Judaism, it’s that it just didn’t speak to me.
Interviewer: And yet, culturally and perhaps artistically, you move about the community and you have Jewish friends?
Floch: I have far fewer Jewish friends than Christian friends. I was baptized at St. Stephens. I really, you know I can’t think of very many Jewish friends that I have.
Interviewer: I was thinking of Mim Chenfeld and a few others but you’re telling me that they are really in the minority.
Floch: Mim and I always say we’ve got to get together for lunch, blah, blah, and it doesn’t happen. Helena Schlam and I are friends but we don’t see a lot of each other.
Interviewer: Helena Schlam who has been affiliated with Ohio State University for many years. You say you were baptized at St. Stephens Episcopal church which is near campus. Now when was that? 37
Floch: (19)85-86, something like that.
Interviewer: So you were well into adulthood and you decided Episcopalian.
Floch: Yeah, well what happened was that I had a friend that was going to that church and they decided they wanted a pascal candle stand and they asked me to make it. I decided I needed to spend some time at the church to see what it was like before I made this thing and I just really, really liked it. It just felt like home. I’m a member of the Christian Community which is a church in Detroit and there are a few of them around the country that are associated with Anthroposophy, and if there were one here, that’s where I would be going.
Interviewer: Spell that word for us. You’ve used it a few times and I’m not sure if everybody will know how to spell that word.
Floch: No one will. Anthroposophy. Anthro means man and sophy means wisdom.
Interviewer: So you have a little bit, you have some Episcopalian and you have this philosophy and in your family background you have Judaism. You have different parts of you. I understand what you’re saying about Judaism.
Floch: On my father’s side, I don’t think there was any. My grandfather on my mother’s side was some kind of official in his shul, in his synagogue, yeah. When my mother died, I found, remember those stamps that Theodore Hertzel, you know who he is.
Interviewer: The father of Zionism, one of the early leaders.
Floch: Right. So what he did was to sell stamps in Europe and the stamps raised money for Israel because a lot of the land in Israel, many people don’t know, was actually bought and it was bought with those funds. It wasn’t just taken away. I wish that were out there in the world. When they died, I found a bunch of those stamps. I’m told they’re valuable now. I wouldn’t know because I gave them to a friend of mine who’s observant. I thought he should have it.
Interviewer: Does this tell you that you have at least some family history of Zionism?
Interviewer: What else do you want to tell people here. We’ve talked about how you’re fazing down your artistic work. You’ve told us about your religious and spiritual beliefs. Is there anything else you want to leave people with or anything else you want to make sure people know about you and your life?
Floch: Well, I guess what I really want to say is I’m not absolutely sure I would have done this interview but the basic reason I did it, and it was fun, I mean it’s fun hanging out with Bill (laughs). The basic reason I did it was because I don’t want that nub in my experience to get lost and I’ve tried all kinds of ways to get it known but, I don’t know why, nobody’s interested. I’ve been in touch with the place in Washington, what’s it called? I’ve been in touch with a lot of different places, even the Jewish Family Service here who said they would record my Navamar story and then they never did. Actually what I’ve done now which should eventually come out. I met a guy in Vienna. I think, did I tell you about him, who was on the same boat as me. His name is Tom Lachs. They went back to Vienna in 1947. We stayed here because there was no way to take care of my sister in Europe at that time.
Interviewer: Is this the guy who later became famous? You did tell us about that. It’s a fascinating part of history and your story, especially when you were just a toddler, those are important parts of the holocaust story that we don’t hear much about.
Interviewer: We hear much about the concentration camps themselves but we don’t hear much about the collateral things that happened to the Jews.
Floch: The big collateral thing that happened was that my sister was permanently damaged. Until a few years ago, when she died, you know I spent 30 years being her guardian and having to look out for her. I mean I don’t resent it, I loved her, still do, but the World War didn’t end with the World War. You know, the suffering, the responsibility, the horrible changes in peoples’ lives continued. That all has to be known. Did I tell you about the pamphlet that I’m writing? I think I did.
Interviewer: Briefly tell us.
Floch: Tom translated his mother’s biography, I mean he gave me his mother’s biography. We translated it adding stuff that I remember and I’m going to try to get it published.
Interviewer: This is mostly about the ship.
Floch: It’s only about the ship.
Interviewer: The terrible ride you had to endure coming from Europe.
Floch: The floating concentration camp. I mean, you know, the world is full of people and I don’t think my life is so remarkable. It’s been interesting but it’s, you know, every kind of life exists. But what happened with the Nahamar, it needs to be part of history.
Interviewer: How is it that you could undergo such a stressful and oppressive situation for months, and months, and months, and years and not come out of it totally embittered about humanity? You’ve emerged as an expressive, creative, loving person. How did you do that?
Floch: I had years of therapy. You know, I had years and years and years of therapy. When I look back at myself as a young person, I see this nutty, emotionally clumsy person. It’s been partly my own will, wanting to turn into what I thought would be a good person and a lot of therapy. A lot of it really comes from my Waldorf education because until then I couldn’t learn. The classes I was in were small and the teachers were loving and understanding and made allowances for my nuttiness.
Interviewer: So that you think is a big factor in how you have been able to emerge from such a tragic early childhood.
Floch: The philosophy of Anthroposophy, one of the main things that it asks is that you know yourself and so I’ve worked on that all my life, knowing who I am and, you know, trying to make sure that the good parts remained and the bad parts were changed.
Interviewer: This sounds like a good place to end our interview unless there is some other point you might want to make.
Floch: I just wish, I just wish that the Navamar part was known.
Interviewer: Say that again.
Floch: I just wish that the Navamar part was known. Did you look for it on the Internet?
Interviewer: Not yet.
Floch: You should.
Interviewer: Okay then, at that juncture we’ll end our interview here with Jenny Floch. I’m Bill Cohen for the Columbus Jewish Historical Society.
Floch: Good bye.