Harriet’s mother, Lena, was born in Lemburg, Austria, that was then in Galicia, a Jewish cultural center destroyed during WWII. Later, the area was annexed to Poland. She first tells the story of Lena’s mother, Rachel, who came over after Lena. Harriet was not sure about her mother’s maiden name. She thinks, but isn’t sure, that Falber and Fruendlich were the names of the two husbands of Rachel, but wasn’t sure which one was Lena’s father.
HT: My grandmother [Rachel] had an aunt who was married to this man who was quite wealthy. She died and left eight children. But before she passed away she made him promise that he would go to her brother and marry one of his daughters, meaning one of the older girls. So he came over to where they lived after his wife passed away, and he saw my grandmother. He fell in love with her. She was 14 years old. He didn't care about the older sisters. He went to her father and told him he wanted to marry her. So her father said to him, "but she's such a young girl." And he said, "but she is the one I want." So [her father] told her she was going to marry this man, and she rebelled. She was playing with dolls. She was a little girl. She said she would not marry him. [The man] said to her father, he will take care of it. He wooed her with jewelry, and you know for a little girl – so she agreed to marry him. She had six children with him…. So here was a man who has eight children. She marries him and has six children with him. She's 26 years old, and he dies.
GM: So there are 14 children all together? HT: Yea. Well, maybe some of them are older. They didn't [all] live – all of her six children didn't live long either. He left her money, so she wasn't hurting. She met this other man who was also a widower, and he had a bunch of children. God knows how many children were all together there. And she marries him. But her first husband taught her everything about business so she never learned to cook or anything. She always had maids, cooks. Then she marries this guy who is also in business and a very wealthy man, and they had two homes, one for the adults and one for the children, servants and tutor. My grandmother would go out to visit her children and she would say, "Who is this child?" She didn't even know her own children.
She was in business with her husband. So she'd become pregnant, have a child, and they would have midwives. The children would be nursed by somebody else. So when they lost all their money and they finally came over to New York, she learned to cook, but she was a horrible cook. My aunts refused to eat what she cooked, but my mother ate what she cooked because her mother cooked it. So her aunts would go out to eat in a restaurant or something because they couldn't stand their mother's cooking. She was a really lousy cook.
GM: So when did your mother, Lena, come over? HT: My mother came over to New York when she was about 14 _, I think. She came over with this Max Durst [a half brother], his wife and I think, two children. I think she went to stay with her half-sister Etta. They had been here for many years. Then my mother went and got herself a job. She'd never worked a day in her life, but she got herself a job, and she went to night school to learn English. She spoke better English than my father. And she learned how to speak Yiddish in the United States. Because they used to speak Polish and German and one other language, I can't remember. Anyway, out here, they all spoke Yiddish in New York. So she had to learn to speak Yiddish.
GM: Were they coming over because they could sense that things were getting worse? HT: Oh yea. They were coming over because America was the golden land. The streets were made of gold. It wasn't made of gold, that's for sure. It wasn't an easy life when they came over.
GM: But there was the hope that they would have an easier life? HT: There was always the hope.
GM: But also because of the political situation back in Lemburg? HT: Oh yea. Things were very bad. They lost all their money. By the time they came over to the United States they were very, very poor, and they had been extremely wealthy at one time. I know Kaiser ruled them. I don't remember... I guess it was Kaiser Wilhelm. I'm not sure. At the time my mother came over, things were going bad there. Jewish people were not allowed to buy any land. They weren't allowed to own any property. They had to rent it or lease it. I think that Kaiser had died and things were starting to go bad for the Jewish people. Besides, my mother and her sister Rose did not get along.
GM: So Rose stayed there? HT: Yea, well, my mother was the first one [of the full siblings to come] over. And then when she went to work, she saved money, and then she brought one sister over, which happened to be Rose.
GM: The one she didn't like as much. HT: Yea, that's the way they chose over there for the one to come. And then Rose came here, and she went to work, and also went to school, and the two of them saved, and then they brought over my Aunt Clara. When Aunt Clara came, she also did the same thing. She went to work and went to school at night, and the three of them saved. So at that time they brought their mother, their father and their sister, Anna over. And her brother refused to come because his wife wouldn't leave her Motherland. She was very happy with her Motherland, so she was taken by Hitler later on, and no one knew what happened to her. Not a living soul knew what happened to her. She must have been killed, put to death in the camps…
At this point in the interview, she and her son talked about the various relatives that might know the names of these two and where the remaining relatives might be located now.
GM: Do you have any idea why your mother was picked as the one to come first? HT: Because she couldn't get along with her sister. It all goes back to that. (Laughter)
GM: Do you remember why they didn't get along? HT: They used to fight, I don't really know why, but I do know that after years that passed [they still fought]. My aunt had the camp up in High Falls [New York]. She bought a piece of land there with a house on it, and she boarded children. Most of the children that were there were from Jewish actors and actresses from the Jewish stage. She was making money, and so she decided she was going to open a camp… Each year with the money she made, she reinvested in buying more and more land and putting up more and more of the barracks until it became very large.
But once a year she used to have all the kids and the fathers and the mothers come. I was there one day….This was early in the afternoon, one woman says to me, "Who is older, your mother or Mrs. Stein?" So I said, "Mrs. Stein is. She's a year older than my mother." So that woman went and told my aunt because my aunt always told everybody she was younger than my mother. Now, I didn't know this, and what was on my tongue, you know, came out. She was so angry. Do you know she and my mother didn't talk to one another for two years? She [Rose] said she never heard of such a thing that a child should know how old her parents are.
And after what my mother did for her! My mother made my father give up a wonderful tailor store to move to Arizona because she [Rose] was married to a man with TB. Well, she didn't know it when she got married to him, because [he and] his family kept it from her. It wasn't until after she got married and she was pregnant with [her son] did he tell her that he had TB. So they went to the doctor, and he said that they should go out to Arizona if she wanted him to live.
GM: So Lena, your mother, made your father give up a tailor shop to come to Arizona? HT: Yea. A lucrative business. He was doing very well. GM: Why? HT: Because her sister asked her to. GM: The sister that she didn't like? HT: Yes. That was my mother. She knew she [Rose] needed help, and she talked my father into it, and we went out to Arizona, to Phoenix. I was five months old.
But my aunt Rose made herself a matriarch. She ran the whole thing. She never did anything. My mother used to get up early to milk the cows, to take the eggs, to get it ready for my father. My father used to deliver the milk to different places, and then he went to work at a department store called Goldwasser as a tailor. He used to take all his money, his wages, and bring it into the household. And my aunt was a matriarch. She just…dictated to everybody, but my father kept his tips. Somehow Rose found out my father had tips so she accused him of being a crook, that he was holding out on her, and my father said, "This is it, we're going back to New York." And they went back to New York, so she [Rose] went back.
GM: What an interesting relationship between Rose and Lena. HT: My mother really put herself out for her.
GM: In terms of both your mother and father, did they tell stories about the old country? Did they talk about what life was like back then? HT: No. My mother used to sing Jewish songs to us, things like that.
GM: Was there any longing to go back to the old country? HT: Oh No! I never heard them express that they would have liked to have gone back.
GM: Were there customs from the old country that.... HT: Well, see my mother learned everything here about cooking and everything about being Yiddish, in the United States. She grew up in a home away from her parents because her mother never nursed her.
GM: There just wasn't any sense of any connection to the old country at all? HT: No. Not at all.
GM: Did she identify herself as an immigrant? HT: I never heard her say she was an immigrant. They might have spoken about it to one another. When they did, they spoke Polish so we would never know what they were talking about.
GM: So the only time they spoke the language was to try to keep it from the children? HT: Yea. That's the only time.
GM: Does the fact that your parents came from other countries impact you at all today? HT: I know I was born in the United States and that was the important thing.
GM: Do you think your parents were ever discriminated against because they were immigrants? HT: Not because they were immigrants. Discriminated against because they were Jewish. GM: So it's much more that. HT: Yea. Not because they were immigrants.