D-Day has double meaning for German Jew who fled to U.S.


June 06, 1994|By DAN RODRICKS

This D-Day story begins six years before the Normandy invasion, three years before Pearl Harbor, a few days before Crystal Night in the 38th year of Eva Salomon's life. It begins in Germany, where Eva Salomon and her husband, Hermann, lived a charmed life that was swiftly losing its charm. He was a physician, the son of an affluent businessman. The Salomons were German citizens, and they were Jewish, and time was running out for Jews in Germany. By the fall of 1938, the Salomons knew they had to leave.

"So many of our friends had already escaped," Eva Salomon, now in the 93rd year of her life, says from a couch in her home in Sykesville. "I was 38 years old, and my parents had already died. My husband's parents fled to Italy and were able to take some money with them. We wanted to go to America because this was the only country on the globe that accepted refugees. Hitler was in the midst of his glorious triumphs, sweeping over Europe."

By the fall of 1938, Hitler had announced the "Anschluss," or union, with Austria and had been cheered by thousands in Vienna. His troops already had goose-stepped into the Sudetenland. A few months later, the Germans would be in Prague. A year later, a German force of 1.25 million men would sweep across another border into Poland, igniting Europe's second war within a quarter-century.

Meanwhile, Jews in Germany were in increasing danger. There were about a half-million of them when Hitler took power in 1933. That same year, his propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels, proclaimed a boycott against Jews. That same year, an old powder factory near Dachau, outside Munich, was turned into something a Nazi official by the name of Heinrich Himmler called a concentration camp.

In 1938, the Jewish population in Germany fell to about 385,000. That same year, Eva and Hermann Salomon made plans to leave. The Gestapo had knocked on their door and one intimidating encounter with Hitler's secret police was enough. "This was the beginning of a time of entire lawlessness," Mrs. Salomon says. "But many non-Nazis who were Germans helped us." And the Salomons were lucky; they managed to depart from Cologne with American passports. "The Nazis had very bribable officers," Mrs. Salomon says now. "And the United States was almost the only country that gave passports at that time."

The Salomons were on a ship bound for New York when Crystal Night came. That was the pogrom of Nov. 9, 1938. It became known as Crystal Night because of all the glass on the streets from attacks on synagogues, Jewish businesses and homes. Berlin's largest synagogue was burned, scores of Jews were killed, thousands more brutalized, arrested and sent on fatal journeys to concentration camps. The Holocaust had begun.

"We came to New York with $10," Mrs. Salomon recalls. "We had great difficulty getting the first [immigration] papers one needed to work, to do anything. We lived in Sunnyside (Queens); it was such a modest neighborhood, we felt safe there, and people were nice, they helped us."

Though in time he would become a member of the psychiatric staff at Springfield State Hospital in Maryland, Hermann Salomon had difficulty adjusting to the dramatic change his life suddenly had undergone. "He was the son of wealthy parents, and yet he despised money. He was a doctor and he did not think one should be paid for being in a helping profession, even though this was not very practical for us. At one point he said, 'Perhaps I will become a sculptor.' I said, 'That's a beautiful plan, but do you realize it means starvation?' "

With her husband depressed, full of angst and bewildered at his change in lifestyle, Eva Salomon went to work as a peddler; she sold aprons and socks. "I was the best-dressed beggar in New York," she laughs. "But I was very happy. To me, it was an adventure. I had never lived like this before. In Germany, I had lived a beautiful life of a lady of leisure."

Things changed again after Pearl Harbor. "They called every German an enemy alien," Mrs. Salomon says. "It was such a turbulent time. If we went somewhere more than 20 miles away, we had to let the police know we were traveling."

Increasingly, Eva Salomon was anxious to become an American citizen. In time, she secured the proper papers that allowed her to apply for citizenship. In time, the government contacted her and set a date for her naturalization. As the date approached, Mrs. Salomon could hardly sleep. The morning of the naturalization ceremony, she rose from her bed and reached for the little radio the Salomons had acquired to get news of the war in Europe. "I wonder what Eisenhower is doing in my honor today," Eva Salomon said as she switched the radio on.

"The radio reported that the Normandy beachhead had been taken by the allies," she recalls. "The allies had invaded Europe and I knew that would be the end of Hitler. I was very moved by this and, in the following days, very, very moved by the casualties, the lives lost for this great effort."

That day at the federal courthouse in New York, Eva Salomon was one of 200 citizens-to-be. "I thought they were all my brothers and sisters," she says now. "I thought, 'How generous this country is to make 'enemy aliens' citizens of this country. I went to the courthouse on clouds, and when I became a citizen, I felt completely different."

Completely free. Completely liberated. June 6, 1944.

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