Eva (Schiff) Wertheimer
1920 – 2017
Like her future husband, Eva also grew up near Frankfurt, in the nearby small town of Hoechst. Her father, Paul and his twin brother Carl both fought for the Germans in World War I where Paul was badly wounded. The twins inherited the family store and with their wives, expanded it to become the largest department store in the area.
The oldest of three children, Eva spent her early years living surrounded by extended family, going to school and spending time in the family department store. She began Lyceum an exam based high school in 1930 and in 1931 her brother entered Gymnasium, as schools were segregated by sex. In the early 30s facing some antisemitism, former friends disassociated themselves, and Eva’s brother faced increasing beatings, arriving home often with a bloody nose or bruised body. By 1933, boycotts of Jews and Jewish businesses began: the SA and SS stood in front of her parents’ store to prevent customers from entering and Eva and her brother were s transferred to a Jewish high school, in Frankfurt. The school grew from 300 students to over 2000 students within a few months. The family moved from their home in Hoechst to an apartment in Frankfurt, to minimize the commute to school for the children, and to prevent them from seeing what was happening to the family business in Hoechst. The children became involved with the IPD Maccabi Hazair, a Jewish Zionist program. They studied Hebrew and became nationalistic Zionists. Upon graduation from high school, Eva was enrolled in “Jewish household school” and then in “Landwerk Arensdorf” to prepare her for immigration, potentially to Palestine.
Eva’s parents took trips to both Palestine and the US, when they realized that immigration was going to be critical. They applied for Visas to emigrate from Germany to Palestine and the United States but hoped that they could move to the US. This was not well received by their children, whose friends were planning to become Zionists in Palestine.
The Schiffs’ received visas for the US in late 1938, around the time that their store was “sold’ and made plans to leave in January 1939 on a “required” German boat. Kristallnacht changed their plans. Paul Schiff was taken by the SS on Kristallnacht, and the family fled to the home of a non-Jewish friend. They heard that their Hoechst synagogue was burned and of other friends who were taken away. Annie Schiff, Eva’s mother went to the detention center the next day, with visas in hand and said that her husband should be released, since they had legal visas for departure. He was released and he, his brother and son left immediately to hide in a hotel in a nearby town. With all Jewish bank accounts frozen, Annie sold whatever she could and packed up the family. She changed their departure date.to the next available boat and finally secured passage to the US in 1938. Facing the final humiliation of being strip searched by the Nazis as they boarded their German boat, the Schiffs arrived safely in New York on Thanksgiving Day, 1938.
As a young Zionist, Eva was disappointed with the move to the US, but made the most of it. The family lived on the Upper West Side and kept their affinity to the German Jewish community there. Paul opened a fluorescent lighting store with mixed success, while Annie became the primary breadwinner by ascending the ranks at Orbach’s, first as a salesperson and then a Department Head. Eva first worked as a live-in governess to minimize the number of people living in their family’s one bedroom apartment. She took night classes at Pratt Institute, translating the English based science classes into German to establish a career as a food chemist. She met Gerard in 1944; they married in 1945 and had two daughters (Madeleine, and Janet).
Other than one trip to visit/maintain family gravesites, and visit the family store, Eva never returned to Germany. A plaque commemorating the Kauhaus Schiff (store) was installed in Hoechst by the German government in 2003. Eva’s brother, Otto, attended the installation.