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After the Shoah: the Emigration of the Kolbs

Bernhard Kolb, secretary and executive of the Jewish congregation in Nuremberg from 1923 until his deportation to a concentration camp in June 1943 emigrated after the liberation with his spouse and his son to the USA. He could not live anymore in a country for which he and his four brothers had fought in World War I three of them giving their lives for it, and which rewarded this sacrifice with the murders of his only surviving brother and his sister both with their families, his only daughter, his son-in-law and their newborn child as well as all other relatives. The following text was written by Herbert Kolb, Bernhard's son, who provided most of the photos, too.

After January 1933, when the Nazi party got to power, it was a special honor for a lot of the teachers and professors, to torment the Jewish students one way or another…. From one day to the next, the so called red Nuremberg decorated their red flags with the swastika.

 

Hitler Youth attending the demolition of the synagogue at Hans-Sachs-Platz, August 1938

Hitler Youth attending the demolition of the synagogue at Hans-Sachs-Platz,
August 1938 (NCA F 3 no. 1938 VIII 10)

My sister entered the Labenwolf Lyceum after four years in the public school. At that time Jewish children were only permitted in these schools, if their father was a front line fighter in the German army in World War I. My father, as well as my uncle, who still believed at that time, that the German people, for whom they had fought and had lost three of their brothers, would not permit that everything was forgotten. Therefore they did not take their children out of these schools, should send them to the Jewish Highschool in Fuerth. 1936 as well I, as all of my Jewish class mates, left the Reformgymnasium In Nuremberg. Together with some of the other boys we went for one year to the Handelsschule in Nuremberg.

 

Bernhard Kolb and his daughter Erna in 1927/28

Bernhard Kolb and his daughter Erna in 1927/28

In June 1943, we, my parents, my sister Erna her husband Julius Neuberger, and his mother, were deported to the concentration camp of Theresienstadt. I worked there as a cabinetmaker and carpenter. As the only one of our family, who got a small amount of extra heavy labor food provision, I shared it with the rest of our small family group. The food was completely insufficient, and therefore everybody, young or old had lost a lot of weight. Sicknesses were a constant threat. Most of the older people in the camp succumbed through starvation, diarrhea, because of the hygienic condition, as well as pests of fleas, bedbugs, etc.

On August 26, 1944, I together with a group of other manual laborers, was shipped to a place called Wulkow. We were promised, that our families, which we should write down, would not be sent to Poland. At our arrival in Wulkow we were told, that nobody should try to flee, as our families in Theresienstadt would have to suffer for it. A typical German promise.

Luckily, my parents were kept as hostages, but my sister and my brother-in-law, who were on the list as well, were shipped to Dachau. My sister died in Bergen-Belsen around March 1945, and my brother-in-law in Kaufering on February 21, 1945, a satellite camp of Auschwitz. The mother of my brother-in-law was deported and killed in Auschwitz already in May 1944.

 

Erna and Julius Neuberger at their wedding on October 20, 1942

Erna and Julius Neuberger at their wedding on October 20, 1942

My parents never had the slightest desire to keep on living in Nuremberg, and rather wanted to get out of Germany as fast as possible. They could not forgive their so called countrymen the murder of my sister and all their other relatives.

 

Reta and Bernhard Kolb in 1946 Reta and Bernhard Kolb in 1946

Reta and Bernhard Kolb in 1946

Finally on August 27, 1946, our emigration started. Each one of us was permitted to have one suitcase, which was in general sufficient, after all we came back from the concentration camp with nothing but a couple of old cloths. As far as I remember we were five people who left Nuremberg. Sitting in an open truck, together with our belongings, we were driven to the emigration camp in Munich. The "Funkkaserne", a former German army barrack, was a billet for a large number of people, and again we were surrounded by barbed wire. This time that nobody could get in.

We stayed there for four weeks, until there was room for emigrants in the emigrant staging area in Bremen. For the next three days we traveled in cattle cars. Even from the Americans, we were considered not yet quite human. We did not get fed on the way and had to sleep on the floor of these freight cars, but everybody was happy, that we are riding towards the North Sea Coast and finally away from that country.

At that time in fall 1946, There was a ship strike, and for the next three months, again we were kept in an enclosed area and living in mass billets. I believe we were at least ten to twelve people, men and women together in one room.

On January 3, 1947, our time came that we could board the "Ernie Pyle", an US-troop transporter. On board, men and women were directed to separate quarters. My father and I, were directed below the deck, to the bow of the ship. There were hundreds of hammocks, four above each other. Even so, my father was at that time already 65 years old, for the next two weeks he had to sleep like that. As soon as the ship left the English Channel and got into the Atlantic, the sea became very rough and stayed that way for the entire voyage. Very many of the 2.000 passengers became seasick, but nobody was sorry of having left Germany.

 

Before the departure from Munich to Bremen

Before the departure from Munich to Bremen

We arrived in the harbor of New York on January 16, 1947. On the evening of that day, we got off the ship. The only surviving sister and a cousin of my mother's were on the pier to take us to the cousins apartment in Queens for the night. My aunt, who was lucky to be able to have emigrated with her husband in 1939, had started a chicken farm in Vineland, New Jersey. That was where we were traveling to the next day. For the next couple of months we lived with the relatives. It was very hard for my parents to find a job, as they were 55 and 65 years old at that time. My mother took a position as a cook and maid for the family of a local doctor. Finally, around March, my father was offered a job from the foreman of the factory, where my aunt worked as an operator, on a sewing machine. He now became a night watchman, floor boy and cleaning man. He worked now from 5:00 p.m. until 7:00 a.m. to clean two stories and besides had to punch security clocks every hour in this factory.

On May 1, 1947 my parents and I moved to a very small and primitive chicken farm, which we, being penniless, had bought with the financing of a Jewish agency. 50 % of the borrowed money was without interest and the rest with interest. As the chicken farm had only a coop capacity of 200 chickens, it could not produce enough income to feed two people. My father worked for a while in the factory, while my mother took care of the chickens now. As far as I remember, our relatives raised 2.000 baby chicks for us. At night and on weekends, when we both did not have to go to work, my father and I erected more chicken coops. At about the same time I also built a feed house. The wood for it were boxes, that were given to me from a neighbor, who had a small glass factory.

Our house too was small and very primitive. We did not have a bathroom and summer as winter had to use the outhouse. Only more than two years later I managed to build a bathroom into that small house. I left Vineland in early 1948, after the farm had a capacity of 2.000 chickens, which gave my parents enough income, that they could live from it. They lived simple, but comfortable, even so this was a seven day job. Not for one moment did they regret that they had to start completely new again at their age. Their only luxury was to meet on Saturday night, other Jewish immigrant chicken farmers at the Poultrymen's club in Vineland. To go to town, at a three miles distance, they took a taxi, as they never bought a car.

My parents understood more or less when spoken to in English, but both were never very fluent in speaking it. After all, the chickens and the friends in the Poultrymen's Club all understood German.

 

Herbert Kolb in 1946

Herbert Kolb in 1946

I moved to New York and found myself a job as a cabinet maker. In 1950 I got married to Laure Wildmann, and in 1955 we moved from New York to New Jersey. Ever since we were married, we drove every three to four weeks to visit and help my parents in Vineland which is 128 miles of Paramus where we live. When our daughter was born in 1955, my parents got a little over the loss of their daughter. Our older son was born a year and a half later and my parents enjoyed their grandchildren. Our daughter learned a little bit of German from the grandparents. Even so Becca talked gibberish, they all got along fine. Chuck understood less German, but by that time my parents could already converse in English better, that there was never any difficulty. Our third child, Steven, also always loved to visit the grandparents.

My father was, besides with the chickens, always very busy writing and answering letters to former Jews from Nuremberg. As an old bureaucrat, he marked daily the egg production very exactly, in comparison to the amount of chickens and cost of food. Therefore he frequently was quoted in the Vineland Times as an authority.

In the late 1960, after my parents gave up farming, and my father was already more than 80 years old, they visited us in northern New Jersey, just as often, as we used to come to them before. In 1959 - 1960, we especially added on to our small house, which we bought in 1955 with the financial help from my parents, that they would have a separate room and a bathroom. They never wanted to move to us, and loved their little house and friends in Vineland.

First my parents came by train and bus. Later on my wife picked them up at the railroad station in Newark. During the later years in the 1960, one of us picked them up in Vineland and brought them back there again.

On October 16, 1971 my father died shortly after his 89th birthday, after his last stroke, being eight weeks unconscious in the hospital. My mother died August 9, 1982 shortly before her 90th birthday in her house in Vineland.

 

Bernhard Kolb in 1971

Bernhard Kolb in 1971

 

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