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Essay, A Day to Remember by Henry Schuster, no date



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A Day To Remember By Henry Schuster When I left Frankfurt in March of 1939 for France I thought for sure that I will be reunited with my mother and two sisters someday in Bloomington, Illinois. My father had passed away in 1935. Like most 13 year old boys I was a lazy letter writer and didn't write to my beloved mother very often. (This guilt I carry still today at age 71). Until the war broke out our correspondence went very smoothly. After the hostilities erupted my mother established a way to communicate with me through Switzerland. Mother was now the director of the Jewish Old Age Home in Frankfurt, and one of the residents there had a daughter living in Berne. We only knew that men between the ages of 18 and 65 were interned into concentration camps. Women and children were safe. So my comfort was that my mother and sisters were safe and sound and that after the war we would all be together again. My sparse writing continued through Theresa Neumann until I arrived in the U.S. A. in June of 1941. Because the U.S. was not at war with Germany, I wrote directly to Frankfurt. My family knew that I lived at 505 Wilkinson with a family Schuster. All was well until the infamous December 7th of 1941. Then again we established our correspondence through Switzerland. After the middle of 1942 I no longer heard from Mom, Bertel and Margot. At that time I knew nothing of the death camps in Europe. Even though I no longer received messages from my family, I believed that they were safe. Concentration camps were for others not my loved ones. My feelings were still the same, I knew that as soon as the war was over we would be a family in the U.S. I had many fantasies as to my role as the man in the house as soon as we would be all together. My life in Shreveport was not the happiest. I no longer practiced my Orthodox upbringing, and had no longer many ties to my past. I was now a typical American youth, going to high school, Boy Scouts, driving, dating and looking forward to entering the military to help free Europe. In 1944 I graduated high school and entered the U.S. Army Air Corps. I was trained to eventually be active in the Pacific theater of war. While stationed in Madison, Wisconsin I became an American Citizen. The final phase of my military training was at Boca Raton, Florida. The war in Europe came to an end. It was now that I learned of the horrible death camps, and I still hoped to eventually find my mother and sisters. Upon returning to my barracks from a weekend pass to Miami, I found a note on my bunk, "Report to the Officer of the Day immediately." It was 3 o'clock in the morning. My first thought was," What possibly did I do wrong?" I entered the Lieutenant's office, saluted and stated, "Corporal Schuster reporting as ordered." I was told to call Sam Schuster in Shreveport no matter what time of the day or night I received his message. Uncle Sam Schuster (actually my 2nd cousin) informed me that a local radio station called him, and told him that they picked up a story of importance to him, from the UP wires: A woman by the name of Schuster was liberated by the British army at Bergen Belsen concentration camp. The information was very sparse?only that this Schuster woman had a brother living in the U.S. in Shreveport, LA. 1 I was elated with the news, even though I didn't know whether it was my mother, my sister Bertel, or my sister Margot. With this great news, I requested and was granted an emergency furlough. I was on the first bus to Washington D C. to get possible information. The Red Cross was not very nice or cooperative. In fact, their attitude was, "So what's the big deal that someone survived?" At that time I wanted help to find out who was liberated. The State Department could offer no help. A young employee there gave me great advice. "Get an affidavit of support so once you contact your loved one, she will be able to join you in the U.S. as soon as immigration opens." Some time in May of 1945 I received a letter from England via Shreveport. Upon opening the envelope, I saw that it was a letter from my sister Bertel. She gave the letter to a British soldier, who in turn mailed it to his mother in England, and then she mailed it to me c/o Sam Schuster 505 Wilkinson St. Shreveport, LA U.S.A. Bertel remembered this address all the years of her incarceration. I was elated and euphoric to hear from her, and very sad to find out the fate of Mother and Margot. We then corresponded on a regular basis in the same manner through England. Because I was trained for the Pacific war my destiny was to be shipped to the Philippines. My obsession was to go to Europe to be reunited with the only surviving member of my family. In August my group was shipped from Florida to Williams Field at Chandler, Arizona to be processed to go to the Pacific. During the three weeks in Arizona, I tried several means to have my fate changed. The base chaplain could do nothing to help me. In fact I told my story to anyone who would listen. Nothing worked. Friday was the ship out day. On Tuesday evening I called Uncle Sam Schuster in Shreveport to see if, with his political connections, he could help to change my orders. Sam was a personal friend of both Senator Ellender and Congressman Overton Brooks of Louisiana. I subsequently learned they intervened directly with the Secretary of War. On Friday morning our entire group was packed to leave by train for Fort Lewis, Washington to leave from there for the Philippines. Then, one of my buddies came all excited, and told me that my name came over the base public address system, and for me to report to our officer in charge. I was given a train ticket and all my records with orders to report to Selma Field in Monroe, Louisiana. Friday afternoon 1 was on my way. I knew Sam's connections worked. After three weeks at Selma, I was assigned to an Army transport at Newport News, Va headed for Le Havre, France. In the last letter from Bertel, she informed me that she was trying to leave Germany for Paris. While in Louisiana, I called my cousin, Leo Schwabacher, knowing that his good friends the Franks returned from North Africa to resume their lives in Paris. I asked Leo to write to them to try to find my sister. They did find her at a camp set up for liberated survivors. They invited Bertel and her friend, Ilse Wetterhahn, to live with them. Just in case I had the opportunity to get to Paris, Leo gave me the Franks address. Arriving at Le Havre our transport ended up at a collecting base at Chateau Thierry . This was only a temporary situation. After being there for about a week I asked the officer in charge to give me a pass to visit Paris. His reply was that he could in no way give me an official pass" however because he knew the reason for my wanting to go to Paris, he said that he would not' have roll call for the next three days. With my barracks bag full of cigarettes, candy and all sorts of goodies that I was able to buy at the PX, I left for Paris 60 miles from our camp. The first 40 miles I was able to hitchhike 2 on an army 6x6 truck. The next 5 miles I rode in the back of an ox cart. Then 1 flagged down a freight train, and rode to within 3 miles of Paris in the steam engine with the engineer and the fireman. At that time of my life I spoke French very well. Once I arrived in Paris I took three metro trains to the Frank's house. I wanted to check with them if they had found my sister. On the ground floor of the apartment building was the directory. I found Frank's name. They lived on the third floor. I had forgotten that in Europe the first floor is called parterre. What would be considered here our first floor, was actually the second floor in Paris. Walking up the stairs, I stopped on what I thought was already the third floor. The name on the door was not Frank. Because 1 heard voices coming down the stairs, I stayed on the landing of the "second" floor waiting for the people coming down to pass me. As I looked at the figures coming down I yelled out, "Bertel!" It was my sister. We embraced, and both cried. We found each other. Yes, we found each other. I stayed with Bertel and Ilse for 2 days before departing to my company at Chateau Thierry. I don't remember how I got back. With the goodies I gave to the girls, they could buy many things on the black market. After a short stay in France, I was assigned to the Ansbach Air Base in Bavaria. Bertel and I spoke by phone almost every day. She would call me toll free to the base telephone exchange at a given time. In February of 1946 I obtained a 10 day pass for Paris. Bertel, Ilse and I spent all our waking days together. I checked in at a U.S.O. hotel not far from the Frank's house. Again I brought with me a huge supply of items in demand on the black market. During my stay with the girls in Paris we had a great time. We went to the famous Bal Tabarin night club. We went to a movie, their first in many years. I was able to get my sister admitted to the Paris PX. She was the only civilian non employee to be allowed in there. We also had ice cream, another first in many years. On my sister's birthday February 11th , the American Consulate opened for the first time since prior to 1941 I in my Sergeant's uniform equipped with 2 affidavits of support and Bertel, entered the consul's office. He spoke with us for quite a long while. He was impressed with our story. Immediately he issued Bertel Bertha Schuster a visa to enter the U.S. as a legal immigrant. Because there were no passenger ships leaving France for the U.S., Bertel bought her ship's ticket from England to N Y. with money she made from the items she sold on the black market Upon my discharge from the Army late in 1946 Bertel and I were reunited in New York. 3