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The Heilbronner Family

"We had a wonderful life in our native Germany where our family had lived for many hundreds of years. They were patriots who defended the country and gave much to the communities where they lived. To suddenly be persecuted and physically abused by compatriots is beyond comprehension.

Forced to flee to save our lives we endured hardships and the loss of our loved ones. Our family members scattered to find refuge and thankfully some of us found sanctuary in foreign countries where we were welcomed. For me, the country is the United States. Over the years I established myself in this free society where my children and grandchildren are successful, patriotic citizens living without fear. Being ever watchful, we contribute to and defend this nation to assure future generations the freedom from prejudice and harassment."

Summation of John Heilbronner's report on his family. He provided the following text and photos to NCA in 1998.

Josef Heilbronner (May 9, 1887 - September 15, 1967) resided at 44 Guntherstrasse and conducted his sole leather business named "Julius Heilbronner" at Zeltnerstrasse. This business was nearly 100 years old when Josef, the third generation owner, was forced to sign it over and leave Germany in 1939. He had served with distinction in the Germany army during World War I and was decorated for devotion and service to his country.

 

Josef Heilbronner as a German soldier decorated with the Iron Cross during World War I

Josef Heilbronner as a German soldier decorated with the Iron Cross during World War I

When life as a Jew became unbearable under the Nazi regime he started making plans for the family to emigrate to the United States. In 1938-1939 he was forced at gun point to sign over his properties and business and other personal effects. As the threat of war increased and the timing of the quota number to emigrate to the United States was uncertain the family took advantage of the British Kindertransport law put into effect in December 1938 to get his 2 sons out of the country. He and his wife, Luise, were able to depart for England several days before the beginning of World War II as England allowed immigrants to the United States to temporarily wait until their U.S. quota numbers were called. They lived in England under very poor circumstances and with little knowledge of the language until May 1940 at which time they embarked for New York.

 

The Heilbronner boys Hans and Fritz in 1931

The Heilbronner boys Hans and Fritz in 1931

Thus at the age of 53 with very little knowledge of English Josef went to night school to learn the language and arranged to work with no payment for a leather company in New York in order to learn American business techniques. His wife took jobs as a maid to support the family. He later started a small leather business which over the years became successful and provided a simple lifestyle.

He had also made arrangements for his mother, Johanna Heilbronner, to emigrate to America, but was not able to accomplish this resulting in her deportation and death in the gas chamber at Auschwitz. This fact coupled with all the tremendous changes in his life style, affected his personality greatly. He worked extremely hard to succeed, but became quite morose and could never overcome the events that had transpired.

 

Luise Heilbronner nee Reis (November 7, 1901 - January 19, 1983) was brought up in Nuremberg by her father, Josef Reis, a prominent hops dealer and her mother, Rosa Reis who resided in the Heilbronner home at 44 Guntherstrasse after the death of her husband. Luise was well educated and married Josef Heilbronner in 1922. She was a dedicated wife who managed the large home and numerous servants in an affluent lifestyle. She was devoted to her mother and enjoyed a warm relationship with her. She had made arrangements for her mother to emigrate to the United States, but did not succeed and her mother, Rosa Reis was suddenly deported to Gurs, France where deplorable conditions resulted in her death in 1940. As stated previously, she tried to find any kind of work on arrival in the United States to provide for her family . She later joined her husband in his leather business and due to their hard work the business became successful. Later in life she had great joy due to the birth of her three grandchildren. However, she never overcame her grief over the loss of her mother and the sense of guilt that so many survivors carry and this negatively affected her health.

 

An American family: The Heilbronners 1942 in New York

An American family: The Heilbronners 1942 in New York

Fred (Fritz) Heilbronner (born March 7, 1924), the elder son of Luise and Josef Heilbronner went to public school in Nuremberg until 1937 when Jews were no longer allowed to attend. He was sent to a farm school near the Bodensee where he remained until "Reichskristallnacht" at which time a Nazi gang went to the school and beat the Jewish boys with thorny whips and left them in the most deplorable condition. As no doctor would treat Jewish victims his parents hired a car in Nuremberg and together with their personal physician, Dr. Seidenberger, drove to the farm. Fred's condition was so severe that it so shocked Dr. Seidenberger that he cried while treating Fred as best he could. Obviously this traumatic and bestial action has had a life long detrimental affect on Fred. He left for England on a Kindertransport in February 1939 from the Hauptbahnhof in Nuremberg and lived and worked on a farm until emigrating with his parents to the United States in May 1940. When the U.S. entered the war he enlisted in the U.S. Army with the hope of serving in Europe with a chance to directly face the Nazis. However, he was sent to the Pacific theater and was severely wounded in action in the Philippines. During his service there he was decorated for bravery. After his discharge he worked in private industry and later for a government agency from which he is now retired and living in New York.

John (Hans) Heilbronner (born January 6, 1929), the second son of Luise and Josef Heilbronner went to public school in Nuremberg until 1937 when he was forced to leave and attend a Jewish school in Fuerth. On a daily basis at the end of the school day Hitler youth gangs congregated at the exits of the school and beat the Jewish students as they exited. Due to this he could no longer safely attend school and had no further formal education until his arrival in England.

On the 9th of November, 1938 he was at home in Guntherstrasse ill with Diphtheria. He was awakened by a loud commotion in the house which included shouting and crashing of broken china. Brown shirts of the Nazi party had entered the home and were turning over all cabinets with china, slashing the carpets with swords as well as all clothing in wardrobes. They entered every room in the house and broke and slashed everything in sight. On this night his father, Josef Heilbronner, was taken away and subjected to threats and torture. John left Nuremberg on a Kindertransport in May 1939 from the Hauptbahnhof and his parents were not allowed into the station knowing that they may never see their son again. In England John attended the New Herrlingen Boarding School in Kent until his departure for America in May 1940, at which time he was 11 years old.

Upon arrival in New York the family lived in a furnished room for some time until arrangements were made for John to live with a helping family until his parents could get on their feet. He was reunited with his parents about two years later and they lived in a small apartment in New York.

 

Hans Heilbronner in 1939

Hans Heilbronner in 1939

After finishing his education John joined the U.S. Army. Upon his discharge he apprenticed in a tannery and later joined his father's company eventually heading the business when his father retired. After a long career in the leather industry and as an executive in a large American shoe corporation which took him to many parts of the world, John retired in California in 1997.

John married his American wife, Carol, in 1949. They have three sons and three grandchildren who all live in California. Their three sons are well educated and are successful in their chosen professions.

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