Immigration story of Gerhard Knopf (German Immigrant)

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Culture : 
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Language: 
English
Creative Commons: 
CC BY-NC-ND 4.0
Accession Number: 
S2017.270.1
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BIOGRAPHY - Short points

Father's Side
Grandfather - Max Knopfborn 30 Sep 1850 in Birnbaum died 4 Jun 1915 in Berlin

Grandmother - Caecilie Knopf nee Joski born 20 Sep 1854 died 9 Feb 1933 in Berlin

Father - Alfred Knopf born 30 Sep 1893 in Treuenbrietzen died 15 Jun 1948 in Oakland,
California, USA

Father's Sister - Emma born 14 Nov 1878 in Treuenbrietzen Transport 1 Nov 1941 to Lodz Ghetto Since she said she was hungry, we send food, but about 3 weeks later we received an official notice
that she had moved to unknown location, likely murdered at Chemlo.

My Father's New Year's greeting to his parents at age 11 in 1904/5665.
In Treubrietzen my Father grew up with horses.

Mother's Side
Grandfather - Georg Gustav Arthur Pohlit born 27 Dec 1871 died 11 Nov 1931

Grandmother- Klara Hedwig Marie Pohlit nee Fister born 21 Jun 1876 died 17 Mar 1906

Mother- Emmy Margarethe Editha Knopf nee Pohlit born 9 Nov 1899 died 22 Jul 1986

WORLD WAR 1

My Mother's favorite aunt, my grand aunt, Emma Fister married Leander Kohn just prior to war. He died of wounds received in the first year of the war.

My father volunteered for service as this allowed him to choose to serve in the cavalry, later converted to horse artillery. He served 1914 to 1918 and received Iron Cross
2nd Class.

AFTER WORLD WAR 1

My mother and father married 15 Nov 1923

Late 1920's my father’s business went bankrupt in the depression. Mother and father had to move to lower rent neighborhood. In the late 1920's my father became sick with tuberculosis.
I was born 19 Feb 1928 in Berlin. Because of my father's sickness (TB), I was sent twice to special cure places.

1933 -1945

My father very soon lost ability to earn a living. Stock exchange was closed.

Pressures kept increasing in severity, exclusion from various establishments, such as restaurants, public swimming places, park benches (except those painted yellow), etc.

My father was politically aware (he had read Hitler’s book). He warned relatives and friends; but most were either too old or did not believe what the future might bring.

My father was seriously thinking that we should leave Germany. However, our funds were rather limited and in 1938 the Nazis introduced legislation, which put a very low limit on money/valuables that an emigrant could take out of the country. Most countries reacted to this by refusing entry to refugees from Germany. The only country, which imposed no such limitations, was China. This resulted in many Jewish refugees leaving for China, in particular to Shanghai. My father left for Shanghai in October 1938, in the hope that once established, my mother and I would be able to join him there. However, the outbreak of the war prevented any such possibility.

My father felt very bad having left us, which bothered him very much throughout the years. At the beginning of the war, I could have still gone to England; however my mother thought that with my father being in Shanghai, her being in Germany and with me going to England, it would have torn the family completely apart.

After Kristall Nacht (night) (8-9 Nov 38), one of father’s cousin’s was taken to Oranienburg (KZ Sachenhausen). On his release he was told to tell that he was treated well. (His bloody clothing however told a different story.) Later his cousin's elderly sister committed suicide the night before deportation in 1941, with her family. According to my mother, another of my father's cousins had already early in Hitler's regime been taken to KZ Buchenwald. When my father was still in Berlin we were always for High Holidays, Pesach, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur at our synagogue, the Friedens Temple on Albrecht Achilles Strasse with Rabbi Prinz. This synagogue was also destroyed during Kristall night. A plaque on new apartment buildings in this area reminds of its existence and destruction.

My mother had great difficulty in finding suitable work to earn a living for the two of us, since she resisted pressures from the Nazis to divorce from my father. In fact, particular persons in our building caused us to lose our ration cards for a while, and also tried to force us out of the building. In addition my mother had to fight hard through the courts to retain guardianship of me.

My cousin, suspecting that he might soon be picked up, left a lot of family items, such as pictures, papers, etc, with my mother for safe keeping. He was extremely happy that they were saved for him and returned to him following the end of the war after his return from Bergen/Belsen, having been moved there from Auschwitz.

My mother's persistence and quick-thinking got me also later out of a few, possibly, difficult situations. During summer 1942 she sent me to my aunt and uncle in Vienna to escape the upcoming work as street cleaner in Berlin.

Since, under the Nuremberg Nazi laws, I was considered Mischling 1. Grades (Mixture 1. Grade), I had to leave High School in the fall of 1942. Since my father was very aware of developments in Nazi Germany, he had me baptized in about 1934. But in Nazi Law I was still considered Mischling 1st Grade (Mixture 1. Grade), At that time the husband of a friend of my mother, who was an accountant for some small companies, got me a job as an apprentice at such a company building and repairing electrical machines. This saved me from forced labour and the persons in that company did not particularly like the Nazis and they knew my situation. Some of the workers there had anti-Nazi feelings and one of them disappeared in 1944 after he had a run-in with a Nazi-inspector.

Around this time (end of 1941 to beginning of 1943), the forced "relocation" of the Jewish population to the East, first to Ghettos and then to extermination camps, began. All relatives from my father’s side, except for two cousins, perished in the Holocaust. One of my cousins survived Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen. The other cousin was able to survive "underground" for a while, but was found out, due to severe injuries was kept in the Jewish hospital in Berlin, where she was used as a guinea pig and eventually liberated by the Soviet Army entering Berlin at the end of the war. Her helpers, while underground, were the Daenes, who were honoured as the righteous.

In 1944 demands for me to report came, which we later found to be forced labour requirements at salt mines and other locations. My mother destroyed the first two demands sent by normal mail. The third was sent by Registered Mail and couldn't be ignored. The following day my mother and I went to the place, where I was to report. We found that the place was severely damaged in a bombing raid the night before. A guard said to wait for another request, which to my relief never came.

On 25 Nov 441 had to report for an Army medical. They termed me Ersatz Reserve II n.z.v. (not to be used). The Army paper helped me survive SS and Gestapo check-points during the last days of the war. Persons without such papers were considered deserters and either hanged or shot.

The factory, where I had to work, was in an old district in the centre of Berlin, where people live in the front building with small factories in the back. Until February 1945 was never bombed. But on a sunny Saturday noon of February 1945 a heavy attack of US B17's took place destroying the whole district. The building to the west was hit with all being killed. The following day it took me 5 hours to get to this district, which was totally destroyed. Dead people were put on each other like piles of wood.

During the war my mother and I listened as often as possible to BBC London (under blankets so that nobody could hear it), which was only possible after a full air raid alarm was given (since then the jamming was off). But since the wardens kept an eye on everybody in the building, that they were all in the shelter, we could only listen for a limited time.

AFTER THE WAR

Both my mother and I were considered Victims of Faschism and Victims of Nuernberg Nazi Laws.

Completed high school in less than the normally required 4 years. This was a special course arranged for those who were forced to leave school during the Nazi era. It did not reduce the study requirements, but no vacations were allowed. Thus we were able to graduate in about 2 1/4 years.

Because the university was overloaded, I first worked for 1/2 year for Berlin TTC (subway repair shop), arranged by the master from my wartime employment.

Then I worked 1/2 year for Siemens as engineering student as required by the university with about 3 weeks in various departments of the company.

Then started studies in Electrical Engineering at the Technische University of Berlin.

Was member of Jewish Sports Club Hakoah; played soccer on the 2nd team. One member on the 1rst team was Hans Rosenthal, later well-known on radio and TV.

Was member of Jewish Student Association

During demonstration against theatre appearance of actor Werner Krauss (well-known from anti-semitic war-time film "Jud Suess") from Austria, I received head injuries through police beatings. Both Hans Rosenthal and Rabbi Levinson were at my side when a newspaper picture was taken.

My family decided to start a new life in another country. Early in 1948, with the aid of the International Refugee Organization (IRO), my father immigrated to the USA, specifically San Francisco I Oakland area in California. Because of 10 years separation my father wanted to visit us in Berlin. But because of the Soviet blockade of Berlin at that time, he could not fly. Continuing separation from his family drove my father to desperation and suicide in 1948. The sad irony is, that the immigration procedures for my mother and myself to join my father in the USA were almost completed.

My mother now suggested that I try immigration on my own. Immigration to the USA was turned down, since under US-IRQ rules I did not qualify as a displaced person (DP), although I was sponsored through a Bursary at Michigan State University. I was then sponsored by the World University Service, which allowed me to immigrate to Canada in 1951.

I first spent 2 weeks in DP Camp Ludwigsburg north of Stuttgart. Then I was 2 weeks in Bremen Lesum (American Camp for emigrants) waiting for the IRQ ship "Goya". The ship voyage took 9 days, through fogy English Chanel and sometimes very stormy October weather on the Atlantic Ocean. Our ship landed at Pier 21 in Halifax. Following a train trip to Toronto and then to Hamilton, students from McMaster University looked after me.

They were unable to get me engineering work, but arranged work at Mountain Sanatorium in Hamilton, where I first worked for 1/2 year. Then as summer student for Ontario Hydro with station maintenance in Stratford, Ontario. During my studies I also worked as summer student at Ontario Hydro Research and CAMESA. During my study time and summer student time I lived at Campus Co-op Rochedale house on Huron Street, Toronto. I completed my university education at the University of Toronto in Electrical Engineering and graduated in 1957 with BASe.

I worked with the electrical power company in the province of Ontario, Ontario Hydro, from
1957 to 1993. With summer student employment at Ontario Hydro, I was with this company
40 years less one month.

I am supporter of Yad Vashem, Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre of Holocaust Studies, and similar organizations. At Earl Bales Park in Toronto, at the Holocaust memorial, the name of my Aunt Emma Knopf is inscribed, also those of my parents as survivors.

In 1995 I was interviewed for Spielberg's Visual History Foundation "Survivors of the
Shoah".

Since 1957 I was also involved with the Canadian Forces Reserves in Signals, now called Communication & Electronics and Signals again. From 1982 to 1985 I was Commanding Officer of 709 Communication Regiment. Now I am Honorary Lieutenant-Colonel for a unit north of Toronto since 1985. On 1 May 2010 I retired from the Canadian Forces Reserves after a total of 52 years. The honours and awards received include the Canadian Forces Decoration with Fourth Clasp,Queen's Silver Jubilee Medal, Queen's Golden Jubilee Medal, Queen's Diamond Jubilee Medal and CFCC Commander's' Commendation.

Other activities in retirement involve the Royal Canadian legion Fort York Branch, where I published a newsletter every two months until 2012; the University of Toronto Alumni Association Soldiers' Tower Committee, where we arrange the annual Remembrance Day Service among other things (I received U ofT's Arbor Award); President of the Canadian Forces Communication & Electronics Association Council since 1999, member of the Conference of Defence Associations; and member of the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association (AFCEA) plus Life member of The Signallers Club of Canada, "Friend ofthe Museum" Military Communications & Electronics Museum and member of Jimmy & Associates.

I married in 1956, but separated in 1970. I have two children, Ann, born 1957, and David, born 1963. Both live in Toronto, Canada.