Sonia Pressman Fuentes
- Museums Index
Hermann Pressman's Diary
Introduction by Sonia Pressman Fuentes,
Hermann Pressman's sister
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 four.
My parents, both born in a Polish shtetl [village] called Piltz by its Jewish residents although its official name was Pilica, an hour's drive by car from Cracow today, had lived and worked in Berlin since 1919. My father, Zysia Pressman, rented and managed the Herren-Konfektion, a men’s 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.
On January 30, 1933, President von Hindenburg appointed Adolf Hitler Reich Chancellor of Germany--and our world ended.
A year earlier, Hermann had become concerned about the growing power of Hitler and the Nazis (National Socialist Party). After Hitler’s accession to the Reich Chancellorship, Hermann became increasingly aware of atrocities perpetrated by the Nazis against the Jews.
Finally, 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 men’s 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.
Hermann decided to leave alone, and on May 9, 1933, he boarded the train for Antwerp, Belgium, where we had a cousin.
Some months 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 country.
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 Line’s S.S. Westernland II bound for New York City, and arrived on May 1.
photo: 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.
photo: Hermann Pressman's real estate office, Long Beach, New York, June 7, 1956. The office, later run by his younger daughter Miriam Pressman Gold and called Paul Gold Realty, was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy, November 2012. Miriam, however, rebuilt the office and continues to run it.
photo: Zysia and Hinda Pressman in front of the handball court at their Pine Tree Bungalow Colony in Monticello, New York, located in the Catskill Mountains.
I graduated from high school, Cornell University, and the University of Miami (FL) School of Law and began working as an attorney for the federal government in Washington, D.C. in September 1957. 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 he’d 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.
It took me a decade, but eventually Hermann agreed to translate the diary into English. He did so, and his granddaughter, then named Debra Gold, typed up the English version. 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 eighty-one.
That’s where matters stood until Nov. 2, 2012, when Steven Lasky emailed me about Hermann’s diary. I'd known Steven for years, and text and photographs about my family were on his online Museum of Family History. Now he was interested in including Hermann’s diary in his museum.
I was thrilled to learn about Steve’s plans since publication of the diary was what my brother had wanted toward the end of his life. It was a pleasure working with Steve to bring the diary, and the accompanying pictures, to the Museum of Family History. With the help of my wonderful webmaster, Danne Polk, I am now also delighted to bring my brother's diary to my own website.
- Introduction by Sonia
- Berlin, Germany, between July 21, 1932, and May 6, 1933
- Antwerp, Belgium, between May 6, 1933, and April 20, 1934
- Bronx, New York, between April 20, 1934, and November 29, 1935
- Eulogy by Hermann’s granddaughter, Debra (Debbie) Gold Linick