What happens to the Next Generation of Refugees?
PART FOUR: German Jewish Culture in Washington Heights and the Catskills
A Series Written By of a Child of 2 German Jewish Refugees,
by Rick Landman - October 27, 2014
While I cannot possibly remember how it was when my parents and grandparents came to America in 1939, I can write about what it was growing up in the 1950-60's as the child of two refugees.
My parents came to a newly formed German Jewish community in Washington Heights, in Upper Manhattan, and my mother's side was active in Beth Hillel Synagogue. She was in the same youth group as Henry Kissinger. She came here at the age of 12, and after one summer at a Federation camp was able to speak English enough to go to public school and eventually graduate from George Washington High School and Columbia University.
My dad came after the war started at the age of 19. He later joined the U.S. Army and went down South for basic training, and then to North Africa, Anzio, France and finally was with the first Americans to liberate Dachau (where he was interned after Kristallnacht in 1938) and his hometown of Augsburg.
By the time I was born Washington Heights was the place to go to visit my grandparents and hear German being spoken by older people on the street. The German Wurst (cold cuts and sausages and Kuchen (bakery products) were delicious. We could also walk up the hill (Fort Tryon Park) and be in an area that looked like Bavaria near the Rhein.
Before the war, the first generation of refugees found that the other side of the Bavarian looking Catskill Mountains (Route 28) was full of little towns where Christian German immigrants settled in the late 1880's and had wonderful small hotels. Towns like Pine Hill and Fleischmanns were the ones we knew best. Here the hotels spoke German and served German food as compared to the hotels on the other side of the Mountains (Route 17: Concord, Nevele, Kutshers) where Yiddish was spoken and Borscht was served.
I loved going to the Pine Hill Arms in the winter to go skiing at Belleayre Mountain, or in the summer where we had a pool and a creek in the back yard. We felt that the hotel was our home and our fellow guests were mostly refugees. No governmental program could show us the love and equality that the owners of the hotels showed us. I never realized that we were different.
When I got older I went to summer camp in Fleischmans at Camp Tarigo so that I could sneak out and visit my grandparents in Pine Hill. To me this whole area was like my second home. We even fled to Pine Hill when the Kennedy Missile Crisis occurred in case NYC was bombed.
The most important part of this story, is that even though we had the ability to hang out among other refugees, when we went home we could fit in to American society without feeling different. America was our home, our future, and we were Americans.