My dad, Herman was born in 1926 in Kassel Germany. He was the oldest of two sons born to Isaac and Cilly; his brother “Sigi” was two years younger than him.
Herman called his parents Pop and Mutti. Mutti and Pop met in Poland and moved to Kassel Germany after they were married. They lived as middle-class Germans. Pop and Mutti belonged to the Polish synagogue and were very active there.
Pop ran a men’s clothing store with his brothers and Mutti was a housewife. Pop was friendly with the chief of police of Kassel and many other non-Jews . He was well-respected in the community and often acted as a mediator between the Polish and German Jews who sometimes didn’t see eye-to-eye.
In 1938 when Herman was 12 years old daily life in Germany was getting difficult and money was tight. Herman and Sigi were forbidden to attend school. The family decided that it was time to get out of Germany, but it was not so easy. Luckily, Pop was able to get a visa to go to England. The plan was for Pop to go to England on his own to find a source of income and a home for the family. Once Pop had settled, he would send for Mutti and the boys.
While Pop was away, Mutti looked after the family’s clothing store. The family, like many families at that time, believed that only the men were at risk of being taken by the Nazis to help them win the war. So Pop went ahead on his own and left Mutti and the boys behind believing this was the best way to keep everyone safe. As Mutti said: “What could they do to women and children?” It wasn’t long after Pop arrived in England that the borders of Germany were shut; no Jews were allowed to leave the country and things went from bad to worse.
Every Jew in the town was required to wear a yellow Star of David that said the word “Jude.” These stars were required for men, women and children whenever they were out in public. It was just one of the ways that the Nazis sought to dehumanize Jews and take away their dignity as human beings.
The Nazis also wanted official papers to identify people as Jews. So, the official papers of Jewish men had a middle name of “Israel” and the papers of Jewish women had a middle name of “Sarah.” Every morning Herman, Sigi, and Mutti had to check at with the local police station. The police required him to say “I am Herman Israel Ziering.” The Nazis had two purposes here: one was to keep track of all the Jews in the area, and the other was to degrade and inflict shame on them.
At one point Herman remembers being so completely surrounded by antisemitism that he began to question whether the rest of the world was right. “How could everybody be wrong?” he wondered.
One day, just to be defiant, Herman decided to go to the movies even though the laws forbade him from going. Herman removed his yellow star and snuck into the movie theater. That day the newsreel showed Nazi propaganda, depicting Jews as “subhuman” creatures on an organized mission to infiltrate Aryan society. This is an antisemitic trope that is still used to this day to incite fear in non-Jews that the Jews are taking over the world. Seeing this movie was shocking to Herman because he knew first-hand that everything said in the newsreel about Jews was a lie. This was a turning point for Herman and seeing the film enraged him.