Escaping Danzig with Help from a Box of Chocolate
In the summer of 1937, my great-uncle George and his wife, Margaret, together with my grandmother, Toni Prinz, and my father, Ray, boarded a ship for Copenhagen. Great-aunt Selma and her husband, Mor, escorted them to the ship to wave goodbye and at the very last minute “gifted” them with a small box of chocolate produced by MIX Konfect, a local company.
Hidden under the chocolates were gold coins Uncle George had packed in the box in anticipation of the trip. George and Margaret carefully accepted the box with its concealed $10,000. My father, just 12 at the time, had about $3000 worth of gold pieces sewn into his suitcase and his coat hem. The mishpucha (family), ostensibly on vacation, traveled overnight to Copenhagen where they visited Tivoli Gardens and after a couple of days, returned to Danzig. While in Copenhagen, Toni and Ray wired their money to Union Bank in Los Angeles, California, where a few family members already lived. George and Margaret similarly wired funds to other places in North America.
By the time of the outing to Copenhagen, my relatives also were applying for affidavits to the U.S. and having clothes made in preparation for departure. In September of 1938, members of the Nazi party came hunting for my grandfather, Sigfried. Omi Toni, as I came to know her, sent their maid to wait for Sigfried at the building’s entrance to tell him to meet her immediately at the train station.
Toni explained to the “Black Shirts” that she knew where to find him and that she would bring him back. Fortunately she had stowed their passports in her purse, which she grabbed before hurrying to the station in just her slippers. The two of them boarded a train to Orlovo, a nearby seaside resort where they rented a room. The landlady was suspicious, curious that they arrived after the summer season.
My grandparents called their Jewish neighbors in Danzig to tell their sons, Arno (my uncle) and Ray to join them. The boys quickly packed a few things from the apartment at Pfefferstadt 52 and hurried to catch a train. A few days later, Arno and Ray went back to the apartment to pack up as much as possible. They managed to take the Shabbes candlesticks but had to leave behind a brass menorah, which Ray says he has never forgotten. Another time, when the boys went back to the house to pack more, they found the Nazi party members had vandalized everything.
Meanwhile the family’s haberdashery store with its inventory had been impounded. To try to secure some income, the family snuck into the store in the middle of the night and bundled as much as possible in their arms. A former, loyal employee, a Catholic named, Roeschel, helped. Everyone carried as much as they could back to Roeschel’s apartment. He later mailed the goods to family members, the Holsteins, in Soblevo. Proceeds from the store inventory supported my family from September 1938 until January 1939.
Luckily, 15-year-old Arno had received his visa on the Danzig quota, which came up in 1938, before the rest of the family received theirs. He redeemed the store IOU’s at discount so that he could clothe himself for the trip. He traveled through the “corridor” in a “sealed” Polish train (neither German nor Polish police could search it) to the port of Gdynia, where he boarded the M.S. Batory, Poland’s only luxury steamship.
Because the Danzig consulate had sent my father’s and grandparents’ papers on to the Warsaw consulate, they finally were able to leave on the Polish quota. In January 1939, the three of them took a sled through Danzig to the train station in Gdynia in order to board a ship to America.
What started in Danzig with a small box of chocolate produced by MIX Konfect, helped to nurture my family’s four-generations-long love of See’s marzipan candies – and the opportunities and freedoms Los Angeles and America offered them.