Oral History

Ernest G. Heppner describes learning about the Holocaust and the fate of his relatives

Ernest's family owned a factory that made matzah, the unleavened bread eaten during Passover. In February 1939, three months after Kristallnacht (the "Night of Broken Glass" pogroms), Ernest and his mother fled to Shanghai, one of few havens for refugees without visas. His father and sister stayed behind in Germany; they perished during the Holocaust. A brother escaped to England. Ernest and his mother found work in Shanghai. In 1947, he came to the United States with his wife, whom he met and married in Shanghai.


But what we heard was really hard to believe. We heard something about the extermination camps, and thousand of the Jews had been murdered. And then on one of the buildings, posters were mounted with names of Jews that were alive, and you could look up on a poster if you see any of your relatives there. And of course, I didn't see any there. And the rumors, buncos, got louder and louder and more consistent. There were mass exterminations. I mean we...who wants to believe it? I mean that...that's what we heard, but we just couldn't believe it. That was too...too incongruous. Until I found later on it was...and then I started hunting for my father and my sister and never found out what happened. And I was not the only one. What you heard was just another bunco, we thought. We couldn't understand it. We couldn't...you couldn't accept it. We were so far removed, you know.


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