Recollections of Nikolsburg in the 1930's

by Lilly Landesman (Kaufmann)

Our son Peter's interest in genealogy and lifestyle of our ancestors who lived in Nikolsburg for many generations encouraged me to add to Kurt Krakauer's fine report. First, of course I knew the whole Krakauer family well. Trude and beautiful little Ruthie and Hans, whom everybody loved, were murdered by the Nazis together with their parents. Edith was my good friend and Kurt, a little older, was my cousin Kurt Lederer's classmate.

At a recent course I took in story telling, the subject was: "The street I grew up on". My street was the Emil Schweinburg Strasse - Hauptgasse, or Husova today. We, the children were out there every day after school, playing ball, with marbles or hopscotch under the watchful eye of Kathe Konrad, who sat all day long at her window making sure we behaved and Mrs. "alte" Spielmann who sat in front of her house and threatened us with her cane when we ran past her.

We knew every house and who lived in it. Also the rest of the Jews who resided in other parts of town. There was Mrs. Hahn's grocery store with all the mysterious boxes and barrels, chocolates and goodies. She always gave me a lollipop or candy when I came in with my mother.

My cousin's grandfather Kohn's bakery was down the street. People used to take their Sholet (a Jewish speciality with meat, white beans, vegetables and barley) to bake in his oven. According to my cousin, it was the best Sholet ever, as grandpa Kohn's secret was to remove some of the meat from the wealthy customers' pots, adding it to the poor peoples', who couldn't afford meat, saying that the rich won't miss it and the poor will enjoy.

Schaffa's, Kurt Krakauer's grandparents' restaurant, was an institution. It's fame reached all the way to Vienna. All the jews travelling from there to Brünn through Nikolsburg, stopped at Schaffa's for their Krautstrudel or other specialities.

At Chanucah we always had to perform a play, in Schaffa's social hall, the girls representing the 8 candles of Chanucah, in our crepe paper coloured dresses. It was a very exciting project.

The highlight of the season was the Chanucah Jause - afternoon tea. We were served hot chocolate cookies and tortes provided by our mothers, followed by the distribution of Chanucah presents. Each child was called up by name and everyone received a gift, rich and poor alike. I never knew where the presents came from, until one day in my parents' shoe store I saw my mother giving someone several pairs of shoes, gymshoes, slippers and socks for the poor children at the Chanucah party. She then explained to me that the presents were brought in by the parents and the poor children were also provided for with toys plus warm clothes for the winter. A lesson in Zedekah.

All the youngsters belonged to the Maccabi sports club, where we exercised every week with an instructor. There was also a ladies' and men's gym and the older boys played soccer.

We received our zionist education at the meetings of the Maccabi Hatzair. There were also summer camps we attended, where we met other youngsters from the surrounding towns. My father was the Maccabi treasurer for as long as I can remember. He served on the board and was a 25 year member of the club. When I entered 1. grade at the German school right next door to our house, the principal said to me, that he expected me to be a good student just like my mother was, when she attended the same school.

The Temple played an important part in our lives. We received religious instruction after school from Oberkantor Helmann, or Dr. Willmann, the Rabbi. The high holydays, Passover Purim were properly celebrated. Usually relatives came from out of town, to share in the festivities. We were always outfitted with new dresses for these occasions and wore them proudly to Temple.

It was a happy time to be growing up in Nikolsburg, but it all came to an abrupt end in 1938, after the clouds of Nazism gathered above us in 1933.

The first change was that most of the Jewish children transferred to the Czech school, to join those who were already there. I didn't speak a single word of Czech, but by the end of the school year I caught up and was among the best students. After finishing grade school we continued on to the Czech gymnasium - high school. I must say that I never had any antisemitic encounters there. My friends were Czech and Jewish children.

One couldn't escape the massive German Nazi propaganda, the 1. of May parades with marchers in Lederhosen, Dirndles and the white stockings, the swastikas and provocative German songs. It was very frightening.

Austria was overrun by Germany and ugly stories of concentration camps, beatings of Jews in the streets of Vienna, expropriation of homes, businesses and property belonging to Jews, by Austrians, surfaced. Jews were being picked up in the streets and forced to scrub sidewalks with a toothbrush. Worse yet, a few Nikolsburg families received packages containing ashes of their loved ones from Vienna, mailed by the Nazis.

My father, always an optimist, didn't believe that these acts of terror would ever come across the border to us in the C.S.R.

My cousin Kurt and another boy were accepted by the Youth Aliyah (an organization supported by Hadasseh, the American women's zionist organization, who helped settle youngsters in Palestine). The two left under the protest of their parents, thereby saving their lives as it later turned out.

I don't think that the Jewish population considered emigration. Number one, there was no place to go, with the existing visa restrictions, and secondly, everyone believed in a return to Nikolsburg and that all the evil would disappear...

I was sent to Prague to stay with my mother's sister, and my parents left Nikolsburg with all the other Jews on the 10th of October 1938, for Brünn, leaving all their possessions behind. My father realized soon that there was no return to Nikolsburg. Although he was called irresponsible by family and friends, he signed us on an illegal transport to Palestine, the same one Kurt Krakauer has mentioned. I was fortunate to have been one of the 15 children among 700 passengers on the refugee ship Aghios Nikolaos. We left in the nick of time on the 12th of March 1939, by train to Bratislava. While still on the Danube steamers, we heard over the radio that Hitler's armies had occupied the rest of Czechoslovakia. It was truly a miracle that we had escaped.

We arrived in Haifa, four months later after an arduous journey.

Nikolsburg was but a memory. My first visit there after 50 years was painful. The Temple, though restored, serves as a community hall now. I could still recognize the location where the Aron Hakadosh with the Torah scrolls once stood. Although the pew s are gone, I remembered where my father and grandfather Lederer used to sit, also the women's gallery, etc. The Temple was full of ghosts. I couldn't bear it and left as fast as I could.

Out on our street I kept pointing out who lived where and my husband listened with great patience to my rambling. Today, there is not a single Jew left in Nikolsburg. Except for the handful of us who were lucky enough to escape, and survive, the rest were all murdered by the Nazis.

After centuries of a Jewish presence, of Jewish contributions to the development of the town, of a past with a famous Jewish academy of learning, Jewish poets like Hieronymus Lorm (Heinrich Landesmann) and benefactors like Emil Schweinburg, who provid ed for Jews and Christians alike - not a trace is left.

Copyright © 2000 Lilly Landesman
Copyright © 2009 Bob Lenk

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