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Second Interview Insert Key
Indented text represents the follow-up interview conducted on May 1, 2003.

Slate: Karl Lyon, May 14, 2002, San Francisco, CA

I want to ask you about your childhood to begin. What was your childhood like?

I was born in Bühl, in Baden, in Germany in 1922. I had a fairly normal childhood so far as I know, except for the fact that my mother passed away when I was 6 years old in 1928. Then my father married again two years later. My second mother and he had another child in 1931. When I was 9 years old, my brother came along and he also lives here in San Francisco now.

What is your earliest memory that you can recall from your childhood?

My earliest memory is a dream. I don't know how old I was, but we lived in a tiny, little apartment next to my father's shoe store and my bed was in the same bedroom as my parents. I went to sleep one night and I dreamt that I had a box of spaghetti. Eventually, the spaghetti turned to worms and I got frightened. It woke me up! Here I was in my crib, with the sides up. I couldn't climb out. I climbed over the sides onto my parents' bedside table and from there to my parents' bed and from there down to the floor. There was nobody home! Here I was, alone and frightened because of this horrible dream - bunch of worms - so, what to do? I tried the outside door and it was locked. They'd locked me in!

What to do? I had to find the key to the front door. The key was hanging on the wall on a nail behind the sewing machine. I had to move a chair to the sewing machine, climb up on it, from there, climb up on the sewing machine, and from there I was able to reach the key. Then, coming back down, I think I fell off. I just stayed on the floor. I wasn't hurt, particularly. I just stayed on the floor and pretty soon someone came home. That was my earliest memory!

Do you remember where your parents were?

No, I don't know. They had just gone out for a short time, I guess. I was asleep, so they locked me in for safety's sake, I guess.

Did you ever talk to them about this?

I don't remember. I have no idea how old I was - I must have been pretty young because I was still sleeping in a crib!

What did you do during your school vacations?

During vacation, I sometimes visited other members of my family - uncles and aunts, grandmother – I had one grandmother. I had some relatives in Switzerland, so sometimes I went to Switzerland, which was not far away - about 150 miles. Or, in the little town where my parents both came from, which was called Ettenheim, which was about fifty miles away from my hometown where we lived. In fact, most of my family came from Ettenheim - half the Jewish community were all my family in that little town - and there is a cemetery there where most of my ancestors are buried.

The German organization which was formed there in order to study that cemetery - I'm digressing a little bit - but there's a German organization that made it it's business to study that cemetery, research all twenty-eight hundred graves in it, took pictures of all twenty-eight hundred gravestones and they produced a tremendous two volume work - two books. Very big books and extremely heavy.

I have a copy of it here - In which they published every single name in these graves and all the information that they were able to acquire about them. Studying that book, I was able to trace my ancestry back through ten generations - back to the year approximately 1700. My family still lived in that town and I visited there quite frequently.

Now, another thing I did on vacations - you know, here you have summer camps for the kids - over there, we had something similar, but not in a camp-like setting but more in a resort-type setting. In other words, a big building which was sort of a dormitory and several hundred kids would go to that place. It was in a resort town, as a matter of fact, called Bad Dürrheim. The first word is "Bad" which means "bath" which means it's a water resort town. They had a Jewish vacation home there - I still remember the huge building - and many, many Jewish children went there during the summer. From there we used to take walks, excursions in the area, and had a lot of fun. It was a very pleasant change from what was in school those days. That vacation home was an exclusively Jewish vacation home. It was very nice. I went there during the summer, several years.

Do you remember any specific events or memories of the resort?

No specific events. Just the general memory that it was a very happy time. We had a good time. I don't know how long I would go there during the summer - whether it was just three weeks or six weeks, or what it was, I don't remember. But I remember I was there several years in a row.

I was in about fourth grade or something like that, when the Nazis came to power. By the way I have a picture of me in my grade school classroom which you might want to see.

That's my grade school classroom, in the years 1931 to 1932, and I am right here at this corner. Now one other thing that I'd like to point out on this picture is this. You see, after the Nazis came to power, I was pretty much isolated. I had to sit in the last row of chairs in the room by myself, and the other kids didn't much communicate with me or interact with me. They were all members of the Hitler Youth. I became quite isolated. They made fun of me obviously as a Jewish boy.

I only kept one friend. among all these people on this picture and that's this boy here (points). He remained friends with me. Many, many years later, about 56 years later, when my wife and I went back to my home town, I called him up and we met again. He lived in a little town. He became a school superintendent. He came on the train and we met, we embraced and immediately renewed our friendship. That was my only friend during the Nazi period. I was not quite 11 years old when the Nazis came to power on January 30th, 1933.

Did you have a close relationship with both your father and your mother?

I might show you a picture of my parents. This is my father and my mother.

Yes, yes, I had a close relationship with them. Of course my mother died when I was six years old. Then my father married again. Here's a picture of my father and his second wife.

What was your relationship like with your family?

With my family? I had a good relationship. My mother - as you probably know - died when I was six years old. I do have a memory of that. She was sitting up in bed and we were talking. That's the last I remember of her.

When she died - things were different in Europe in those days. Today people are much more realistic. At that time, being six years old, I wasn't supposed to know about it. They didn't tell me that she died. They didn't tell me when the funeral was going to be. They put me somewhere, I don’t know, with somebody while the funeral went on. I didn't go the funeral. I didn't even know about it. They told me later. But my father and I had a good relationship and he tried to be both father and mother to me. Two years later, he was remarried and so I had a mother to bring me up.

How did things change when you were with your second mother?

Oh, I had a good relationship. She tried to instill some manners into me, see? For example: eat your vegetables. I'd rather eat chocolate. That sort of thing.

Did she bring any new customs or traditions?

No, not that I remember. Nothing particular. We moved around a bit. Our earliest home was - as I said - near the store. Then we moved to a little flat in a house in a nice residential district shortly before my mother died and that's where she died. Then later, when my father remarried, we moved to another flat just two blocks away from there and that's where we lived until I left Germany. That was right about a block or two away from my high school.

When you were with your father and mother, did you have any traditions?

Holidays, religious traditions-sure. I have another early memory. When I was going to preschool or kindergarten-I don't remember which- it was run by a group of Catholic nuns but it was general for any kids in the town. I remember that my father once came to pick me up from school to take me home and we walked down a little lane - little alley - with trees on both sides and there we saw my mother coming. She was going to the same thing; she was also going to pick me up. She didn't know that my father picked me up. We hid until she came by and said, - BOO! - We were all very surprised! We were surprised that she was coming, and she was surprised that we were there. That was sort of a nice memory. There are very few memories like that of early childhood.

Did you celebrate the Sabbath?

Yes. Friday evening, and Saturday.

How did you celebrate?

We went to the synagogue for services. Then we had the traditional home ceremony where you light candles and it's usually the woman of the house who lights the candles and then usually the man of the house recites prayer over a glass of wine – a cup of wine – and over the bread, which is called challah. It's an egg twist. A special kind of bread. You put a little bit of salt on the bread. Bread and salt - it's the staff of life. Two of the basic foods. Of course wine is supposed to gladden your heart. I received a silver wine up - it's called a kiddush cup - for my Bar Mitzvah and I still have it. I can show it to you. It's a beautiful silver cup which I still have, and still use.

Who were your role models?

That's pretty hard question to answer. I can't at the moment think of any specific role models. I had one, let's say. He was my mother's brother. He was a very prominent lawyer in Germany. He lived in a town not far from ours. Maybe because of him I decided to study law and become a lawyer. But you know what happened when the Nazis came to power, they prohibited people to practice their professions including doctors and lawyers. My uncle could no longer practice. In - I believe in 1936, he and his family immigrated to what is today Israel, and he lived there for the rest of his life. He became one of the founders of the city where he lived, which was Nahariya, in Israel. I would say he was a role model for me.

You mentioned in the last interview that your uncle was your role model. Do you remember why?

He was a very prominent lawyer. He was very much involved in Jewish community activities, too. In our state, the state of Baden, there was a council governing the Jewish community. It was called the Oberrat, which means the upper council, or superior council -something like that - and he was a member of that. He was pretty prominent and he was the head of the Jewish community in his city. He was pretty highly regarded as an attorney in his profession, so I looked up to him. He and his family lived just about maybe 30 miles away from our town.

What were some of your goals and ambitions when you were younger? What did you want to do when you grew up?

Oh, gee. That's so long ago, I wouldn't remember. Because when you see, when I was not quite eleven years old, the Nazis came to power and from then on, things went downhill. I couldn't really think much about ambitions and goals. Eventually, I just wanted to get out of Germany. In fact, somebody recommended to my father: "Why don't you send the boy across the Rhine to Strasbourg and have him go to the university in Strasbourg?" I'm sure glad that they didn't do that, because Strasbourg and France was overrun by the Germans during the war and we would have been right back in the soup. They didn't do that. No, I didn't have any specific focus ideas about what I wanted to do at that time.

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