I’m talking now to Kurt Odenheimer. It’s Tuesday, October 17, 1989. We just had a nice lunch. We had our salami sandwich and our turkey sandwich and soft drinks and Kurt is going to share some parts of his life that perhaps his grandchildren and great grandchildren would be interested in listening to as well as other people in Franklin County.
Interviewer: So, Kurt, we left off in Germany before we were so rudely interrupted by this Japanese
machine. You were born in 1922 and then the Hitler years came and you were going to a
Jewish day school. Is that correct?
Odenheimer: No. It wasn’t a day school, it was a boarding school in Heligan which
is a small town near (undiscernable). I went there for about three and a half years.
Interviewer: How old were you when you started this boarding school?
Odenheimer: I was twelve.
Interviewer: So Hitler was already coming in.
Odenheimer: It was 1935 and I was there until about June, 1938. Then my father got all
excited and called us home – my sister was at the same school with me – because he thought
we could get visas to come to the United States the next day or something. When we applied
at the consulate, we found out we wouldn’t get a visa until 1939 so I was keeping
around at home. In October, my mother took me to Frankfort and I was going to enroll in a
very famous Jewish high school there. And I was supposed to start there sometime in
November – I don’t remember the exact date – but somehow the Kristallnacht on
November 9, 1938 interfered…
Interviewer: Kristallnacht was November 9. You had a Bar Mitzvah in Germany, is that
Interviewer: When was your Bar Mitzvah?
Odenheimer: My Bar Mitzvah was November 9, 1935. It was the last service in that shul.
Actually, they hadn’t had services there for a number of years because there was no
minyan anymore. My family came in so we had a big (undiscernable).
Interviewer: Was that shul destroyed during Kristallnacht?
Odenheimer: No. It was it was kept but they ruined it anyhow.
Interviewer: Well, that’s the Nazi movement. Tell us about your family and how you
Odenheimer: The house where we lived in Germany was owned by, of course, my father and
my mother and until I was born, my maternal grandmother stayed with them also along with
two bachelor uncles.
Interviewer: May I ask you these questions? One, what was your mother’s maiden
Odenheimer: My mother’s maiden name was Herz.
Interviewer: And what was her first name?
Interviewer: Marie Herz. And your father?
Odenheimer: My father’s name was Isadore Odenheimer.
Interviewer: What year were they married? Do you know?
Odenheimer: 1921. And I was born in November, 1922 so it was alright. My mother came
from a different town.
Interviewer: Where was she from, Kurt?
Odenheimer: The town was called K______dorf and later on it was (undiscernable). The next
town was called N_________ and this was known as the home of most of the motorcycles.
Those people used to ride motorcycles all over most of the world. Also it was near
Interviewer: Did your father drive?
Odenheimer: My father drove. We had a car, not when I was a little kid, but later on we
had a car. My father needed a car for business.
Interviewer: What business was your father in?
Odenheimer: My father had inherited a grocery and dry goods store from his father. My
grandfather died when my father was still going to school. He didn’t finish school
because he would come home and have to take care of the store. So my father never achieved
the education he wanted to achieve. He was a frustrated architect but he never got through
high school. But he was a good business man. He originally did groceries and dry goods and
later on gave up the groceries and was strictly a dry goods store.
Interviewer: Was there much of an age difference between your mother and father?
Odenheimer: Yes. There was about fourteen years which wasn’t unusual. We had two
others staying with us in the house who were bachelor brothers of my fathers. We always
had a house full. I never really knew my grandmother. She died before I was a year old.
Interviewer: Can you remember some of the special foods you liked to eat? Perhaps your
mother’s good cooking? Or some things that you can remember?
Odenheimer: My mother cooked well. It’s hard to remember exactly what kinds of
foods she used to make that I liked.
Interviewer: Was there a special baked good that she used to make? Perhaps a special
Odenheimer: I always liked whatever she baked. She baked every week. She baked a rye
bread during the week. She didn’t bake things at home. She got the dough ready or
whatever she was baking and then we took it to the bakery and they were baked in the
commercial ovens in the bakery.
Interviewer: This was a small town?
Odenheimer: Yes. I never knew anything that was baked at home. It was always taken to
the bakery and when it was finished, it was taken back home.
Interviewer: Was there a shochet in town for kosher meat?
Odenheimer: There was a shochet in town for chickens and things like that. The beef we
used to get from another part of the next bigger town nearby.
Interviewer: Your mother kept a kosher home?
Odenheimer: Yes. When we kids were old enough, we had a Hebrew teacher come to the
house once a week. He was the sheckert and he used to go to the goishe butcher shop and
shect the piece of beef and the butcher kept it in a separate place for us. So we had
other veal or beef or something like that other than chicken.
Interviewer: What were some of the subjects and other things you learned in school that
might be different than what the kids are learning today in America?
Odenheimer: Everything in European schools, as you know, is different from what it is
here. Number one, you don’t have any choice as far as curriculum is concerned. Not
just in grade school but all the way through high school. In grade school, you
have the normal kind of stuff. I don’t remember that much about grade school
anymore except I remember some of the teachers I didn’t care for that much. As you
know, in Europe, teachers are on a pedestal and are regarded as the “class” of
Interviewer: People would tip their hats to them?
Odenheimer: Everyone did. To this day, I remember, my father and I were walking up the
street one day and unbeknownst to me (because I was looking someplace else), one of my
teachers passed by (he might have been the principal – I don’t remember who it was)
and I didn’t say hello. My father turned me around and we hurried to get
ahead of this man who was going in the opposite direction, so I could come back and tip my
cap to him in the proper way to say hello to let him know that I wasn’t
Interviewer: This was respect.
Odenheimer: That’s right.
Interviewer: It’s different today.
Odenheimer: Slightly. As far as subjects were concerned, in high school, it was
different because in the German school at that time, the basic grade school went from
first through about eighth or ninth grade. However, if you were going to go into a high
school type of education, you left the grade school after grade four and you started what
was considered a high school education with the fifth grade. The high school went for nine
Interviewer: This was preparing you for higher education?
Odenheimer: Where you went to high school depended on what type of road you were going
to take afterwards. If it was strictly an academic route, a doctor or a lawyer, for
instance, you went to what was called the (undiscernable) in which your first language subject was
Latin, your second was Greek and you learned French and English as well. All of this was
beside German. Then we had (undiscernable) which could also be to college but not to strictly sides
oriented education where the languages started with French and then English or Spanish.
Interviewer: And in between these years, you also had a Hebrew education?
Odenheimer: Yes. Actually, I went through five or six grades of the grade school
because at the time, where we lived, we only had a grade school. And then I went to this
Jewish school which was the high school. I started in what was comparable to the
sixth grade. Looking at the curriculum there, we had to take in languages, French,
German and Hebrew. In history, we had German history and Jewish history. In mathematics,
we had Algebra and Geometry and in sciences, we had botany, zoology and biology and
Interviewer: Was there a music program?
Odenheimer: That was optional.
Interviewer: The arts was “frosting on the cake?”
Odenheimer: Yes. Some of it was part of history.
Interviewer: It sounds as though it was a very thorough curriculum.
Odenheimer: I would say we had a very well-rounded education. We really didn’t
learn as much in any one subject because we didn’t have that kind of coverage in a
week. Some subjects we had three or four times a week, some we only had once a week.
Interviewer: Did you have activities after school? Was there time for theater? For
playing and sports? What were some of the games you participated in?
Odenheimer: There were a lot of activities after school. We played soccer and we had
various ball games that resembled volleyball. We had a lot of gymnastics, a lot of racket
ball, high jumping, broad jumping. I think I was involved in many things. I wasn’t
very good in anything but I was involved. We had to do everything. We skied –
cross-country skiing. We also had a lot of studying.
Interviewer: Well, it sounds as though the young men of the village, Kurt Odenheimer
and his friends were busy young men and didn’t have much time for foolishness. Did
you have some close friends in town? Can you recall their names?
Odenheimer: I didn’t have any Jewish friends because there were very few Jewish
people. A lot of the Jewish kids were either too young or too old for me. I had a couple
of goishe friends.
Interviewer: Do you remember their names?
Odenheimer: One kid’s name was Collin. I don’t remember his last name. There
weren’t any great lasting friendships or anything like that. Once Hitler started,
these kids went into the Hitler Youth and there was not that much association anymore.
Interviewer: Let’s talk a little about the Hitler Youth and your feelings going
back. What attracted the young people to the Hitler movement?
Odenheimer: Basically, it’s the same type of thing that attracts young people
(these are real young kids) to Boy Scouts. They went out on hikes and they went marching
in rank and file and stuff like that. Very few kids can resist playing with guns and
things like that. Give them broomsticks and they will put them on their shoulders and
march around like soldiers. And isn’t it wonderful? That was the basic start. I
can’t tell you about the indoctrination because I wasn’t involved with that.
Interviewer: Politically, evidently, they started some mind-washing.
Odenheimer: It was like anything else, getting the youth together.
Interviewer: Was the economy of Germany beginning to come up a bit in the early
thirties? Was it still in a severe Depression?
Odenheimer: At the time, I was seven or eight years old. I only knew that we always ate
well and we had what we needed. We lived all right. We lived in a small farm community
that had no factories to speak of so the unemployment factor where we lived was not
something that we saw everyday. There were some people who were unemployed and if we
wanted to see them, we could see them line up once a week to get their unemployment
checks. It wasn’t something that anyone worried about very much because most of the
people were farmers and they took care of their plots of land. I didn’t see anything
like you might have seen in a big city.
Interviewer: When you and your parents finally decided to leave Germany and come to the
United States, how did you go about this as far as transportation, arranging visas,
Odenheimer: It was no big problem, as long as you had a clean bill of health. The main
thing you needed was a visa to the country where you wanted to go. If you wanted to go to
the United States, particularly in the later years, the United States had a quota which
was never big enough so you couldn’t get a visa very easily. There were also some
scandals at the time because there were some people who were selling them on the side
which was not unusual. There were so many people who wanted to get out and there were so
few places and such limited space.
My father pulled us out of school in the middle of 1938
because my uncle was going to send us affidavits. By the way, those affidavits never stood
up. We had to get affidavits from somebody else. My father thought we would just go to the
counselor and get visas but it didn’t work that way. We got a number at that time and
that number was so high that they said we’d probably get visas sometime in June,
1939. When we got those numbers, my father and mother did not apply for numbers but
because of what they read in the papers, they finally decided about a month later that
even if we didn’t want to leave, we’d better get those numbers in case we needed
a visa, we could get one. They got their numbers and they were so high that they would get
their visas about a year later.
It also depended on what you had, what you wanted to take
along and how much money you had to buy the transportation. That more or less determined
what you could take out. Except for some valuables, furniture and clothing, we brought out
a lot of stuff.
Interviewer: I saw some of the furniture.
Odenheimer: Yes. We brought out a lot of furniture, a lot of bedding, clothing and
things like that.
Interviewer: You weren’t allowed to bring out money?
Odenheimer: Money was always restricted, particularly after 1938, we couldn’t
bring out any gold or silver because in March or April of 1939, all jewelry, gold and
silver and silver pieces were taxed.
Interviewer: Were you taxed on top of that?
Odenheimer: They weighed all gold and silver
Interviewer: That means it wasn’t much. So you left Odenheim and you boarded
transportation from what city? Where did you get your ship?
Odenheimer: We got our ship in Hamburg.
Interviewer: Now this is what month?
Odenheimer: August 9, 1939.
Interviewer: This was when you left Hamburg. Do you remember the name of the ship?
Odenheimer: Yes. The S.S. Manhattan, US Lines. From Hamburg, the ship went to South of
England and from there to New York. We landed in New York on August 17, 1939 which was
just about two weeks before Germany started the war in Poland.
Interviewer: Yes, it was very close.
Odenheimer: We arrived during the time of the World’s Fair.
Interviewer: In New York City?
Odenheimer: Yes. It was a great experience. My Uncle and aunt from Toledo picked us up
at the boat and we stayed at the New Yorker Hotel which was relatively new at that time.
Interviewer: So you were a teen-ager at that time.
Odenheimer: Yes. I was sixteen years old and my sister was a couple years younger. I
still remember staying at the hotel and going high up on the fortieth floor.
Interviewer: It was a first class hotel in those days.
Odenheimer: Yes. It was quite a thing to look out the windows and see the harbor and
half of New York from there
Interviewer: So this was your mother’s family who picked you up?
Odenheimer: Yes. My mother’s sister and her husband.
Interviewer: What were their names?
Odenheimer: Their name was Metzker.
Interviewer: Metzkers of Toledo. Are they still in the area of Toledo?
Odenheimer: My first cousin’s son is still in Toledo and their daughter is in
Cleveland. Staying at the hotel was one of the high points of being in New York. We also
went to the Roxy Theater which was another high point. And the third one was going to the
Interviewer: These are very marvelous memories about arriving in the United States. Was
your father still in Germany?
Odenheimer: Yes. And to this day, I still remember one little story. We were walking
around the fair and my uncle said, “There are a couple of Yankees…”
Interviewer: Now, we’re still at the World’s Fair, Kurt (we’ve turned
the tape over), and you and your uncle are walking along and he said, what?
Odenheimer: “There go a couple of Yankees.”
Interviewer: Tell us about the Yankees.
Odenheimer: I didn’t pay any attention because everyone, to me, in the United
States were Yankees but it came to me years later, after I knew a little bit about
baseball, that the Yankees were the baseball team and were famous at that time. They got
into the World Series at that time, if I remember right. I brushed elbows with Babe Ruth
and Lou Gehrig and other big members on the team and I didn’t know anything about it.
Interviewer: Well, Kurt, we’re going to stop here. Again, I would like to thank
you for a delicious lunch and let’s do it again sometime. This is Dick Golden and
Kurt Odenheimer on Tuesday, October 17, 1989 and we’re going to sign off. This tape
will become part of a collection of Jewish Families in Franklin County and in and around
Columbus so others coming after us will be able to hear about our lives. Shalom.
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