by Sonia Pressman Fuentes, Hermann Pressman's sister
Berlin diary >>
In January of 1933, my family
was living well in Berlin, the capital of Germany. My
mother, Hinda Leah, was forty years old, my father
thirty-nine, my brother, Hermann, was eighteen, and I was
both born in a Polish shtetl named Piltz (Pilica in
Polish), an hourís drive from Cracow, had lived and worked
in Berlin since 1919. My father, Zysia Pressman, rented and
managed the Herren-Konfektion, a menís clothing store and
factory. My mother and Hermann helped out in the store. We
lived in a rented apartment at another address, where
full-time maids did the housework.
30, 1933, President von Hindenburg appointed Adolf Hitler
Reich Chancellor of Germany--and our world ended.
earlier, Hermann had become concerned about the growing
power of Hitler and the Nazis (National Socialist Party).
After Hitlerís accession to the Reich Chancellorship,
Hermann became increasingly aware of atrocities perpetrated
by the Nazis against the Jews.
after an incident in our own store, Hermann told my parents
that it was time to leave Germany. My father snorted with
contempt. He had lived in Germany for over twenty years ,
was the prosperous owner of a menís clothing store and
factory, and had just bought an apartment building as an
investment. Leave Berlin? Because of this madman? Hitler
and his Nazi thugs would soon blow over.
decided to leave alone, and on May 9, 1933, he boarded the
train for Antwerp, Belgium, where we had a cousin.
later, my parents decided to join him. My father met with a
small group of Nazis and agreed to turn his store and
factory as well as the apartment building over to them for a
fraction of their value, and they agreed to let us leave the
On July 16, 1933, my
father and I arrived by train to Belgium and a few days later my
mother, who had stayed behind to supervise the shipping of our
furniture, arrived, too. We rented an apartment in Antwerp and I
was enrolled in kindergarten.
For many months
thereafter, my father explored various business ventures both in
Belgium and in other parts of Europe, none of which came to
fruition. My brother busied himself with filling out applications
for the members of our family to be granted legal visas to remain in
Belgium. These were all denied.
On April 20, 1934,
we boarded the Belgian Red Star Lineís S.S. Westernland II bound for
New York City, and arrived on May 1.
Sonia Pressman Fuentes and her parents, Hinda and Zysia
Pressman in Berlin, Germany, circa 1931.
In 1936, my family
moved to the Catskill Mountains of New York State and my parents
entered the summer resort business. Hermann married shortly
thereafter and moved with his new wife, Helen, to Long Beach, New
York, where my father bought him a candy store, which he operated
for decades thereafter. Then he became a realtor and insurance
agent in Long Beach, and he and Helen raised their two daughters,
Ruth and Miriam. Eventually, they had children, grandchildren, and
great-grandchildren. One of his granddaughters, Debbie Gold Linick,
studied and lived in Germany on several occasions.
Hermann Pressman's real estate office, Long Beach, New
York, June 7, 1956. The office, later run by his
youngest daughter Miriam Pressman Gold and called Paul
Gold Realty, was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy, November
photo, above: Zysia and
Hinda Pressman in front of the handball court at their
Pine Tree Bungalow Colony in Monticello, New York,
the Catskill Mountains.
I graduated from high school, Cornell University, and the University
of Miami (FL) School of Law and was working as an attorney for the
federal government in Washington, D.C. Hermann told me one day that
when he had opened his bedside night table one evening, he was
surprised to find his diary written in German shorthand, about which
heíd completely forgotten. He had begun it on July 21, 1932, his
eighteenth birthday, in Berlin; continued it after his arrival in
Antwerp; and concluded it on November 29, 1935, while we were living
in the Bronx, New York.
I was tremendously
excited about this find and urged him to get the diary translated
into English. He, however, had no interest in doing anything with
It took me a decade,
but eventually Hermann agreed to translate the diary into English
and did so with Debbieís help. I urged him to donate it to the U.S.
Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. Initially, he said he
had done the translation for his children and grandchildren and was
uninterested in doing anything else. But, after a short time, he
relented and donated the original diary and the English translation
to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Shortly before his
death in 1996, Hermann spoke to me about his interest in exploring
the possibility of getting the diary published, and we discussed
some avenues we could explore to get that accomplished. But
before we could seriously look into it, Hermann died at the age of
Thatís where matters
stood until Nov. 2, 2012, when Steven Lasky emailed me about
Hermannís diary. Iíve known Steven for years, and text and
photographs about my family are on his online Museum of Family
History Now he was interested in including Hermannís diary in his
I was thrilled to
learn about Steveís plans since publication of the diary is what my
brother wanted toward the end of his life. It has been a pleasure
working with Steve to bring the diary, and the accompanying
pictures, to the Museum of Family History.
Berlin diary >>
Sonia Pressman Fuentes