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This is a diary of my grandfather’s true experience of escaping the Holocaust.

November 9, 1938

Dear Diary,
Today, Mother said, “You don’t have to go to school.”
“Why?” I questioned.
“They burnt it down.”

I think she means the Nazis, the ones who’ve been mistreating the Jews. I guess it makes sense that they burnt down the school; it’s all Jewish students, and has my synagogue connected to it. When I looked outside this morning, a couple of houses’ windows were shattered, with the glass littering the street. I assume this was also the Nazi’s fault.

Mother gave me this diary to practice my writing, since I won’t be at school for a while. She’s looked unsettled all day. I just feel surprised―I never thought the Nazis would affect me.

November 15, 1938

Dear Diary,
What a night I’ve had. Rumors have been circling all through Freiburg im Breisgau, that the Nazis were deporting Jewish children to some sort of camp. Since I’m only 11, I would go to that place, which is supposed to be very bad.

So, Mother hired a professional smuggler who picked up me, her, Father, and my brother, Gene. She brought us across the border, from Germany to France, where we have relatives. The smuggler winked at the border guards, and we thankfully made it across without getting caught.

May 10, 1939

Dear Diary,
I’ve been living with my cousins for six months now in Alsace-Lorraine. I don’t go to school or know anybody besides family. I haven’t stepped foot outside once, because if the police see me, I’ll be sent back to Germany and then to one of the camps.

Gene is with a different part of the family, and there’s only one other cousin my age that I live with. But she’s always mean and bullying me about having no friends. So, my best friend is their pet, a beautiful bulldog. He’s what’s keeping me from going insane is this very changed world.

May 15, 1939

Dear Diary,
Today is a wonderful day! Mother and Father managed to obtain visas and buy tickets on a ship to Cuba called the MS St. Louis! It’s a stunning luxury liner, and we have just boarded in Cherbourg, France.

So far, Captain Schröder has shown unbelievable kindness towards Jews. He makes sure that the Gestapo on board don’t mingle with us and has even covered up all pictures of Hitler. I can’t wait to start fresh, away from Nazis and my cousin’s house.

May 27, 1939

Dear Diary,
After 12 pleasant days at sea, we’ve arrived in Cuba. There’s a one-day delay to get off the boat.

May 28, 1939

Dear Diary,
There’s been another one-day delay to leave the ship.

May 29, 1939

Dear Diary,
This is the third day we’ve been in Havana’s harbor. On the ship, I overheard people talking about the camps. I now know what they are. I hope we don’t return to Europe.

Author’s note: The St. Louis returned to Europe, and the passengers could choose whether to go to England, France, Belgium, or Holland. My grandfather’s family went to France, where around 50 percent of the passengers who returned there were murdered. He lived in a French orphanage for a year. Luckily, he and his family obtained tickets to New York on the final boat from France to the United States. He worked his way up from selling toothbrushes door to door to attending New York University (NYU). Later, he was accepted to the NYU Grossman School of Medicine and became a dermatologist.

This piece was selected as a winner of the AAA’s AnthroDay Student Unessay Competition in the high school division. Inspired by the World on the Move exhibit, this year’s unessay competition focused on migration. Selected prompt: “Do you or your family have any stories about moving? If so, share one.”


Dani Halperin

Dani Halperin is a junior at Horace Greeley High School in Chappaqua, New York. Anthropology interests her because she can learn about other people’s societies and cultures in different time periods. Outside of anthropology, she enjoys playing varsity field hockey.

Cite as

Halperin, Dani. 2022. “Grandfather Experience.” Anthropology News website, September 14, 2022.