Hans Fuld's Story

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The Fulds board the MS St. Louis on May 13, 1939
The Defining Moment
When Kristallnacht hit Hans Fuld’s town of Weidenau in central Germany in November 1938, his father, the prominent owner of a large textile fabric store, was arrested. His mother said, “Don’t be surprised if he doesn’t come back.” Hans’s father was taken to the Dachau concentration camp—and Hans, then nine years old, remembers someone calling his mother to tell her that her husband was dead.

Hans was shocked. He was used to being called a dirty Jew, unable to go to parks or other public places, or even walk the street by himself, but he had never imagined the death of his father.

A year or so before, Hans’ father closed his store. His mother wanted to leave Germany then, but he was adamant. He said he had a good life in Germany and this thing was not going to last, it’s too crazy to last, and he wouldn’t leave. “Then, of course, immediately after Kristallnacht, that’s when my mother made the immediate decision to leave,” Hans, now known as Harry, says.

Hans, his older brother, Ludwig, and mother, Julie, prepared for the trip. They had an American visa that would allow them entry in 1942. Hans’ step-brother, Max Fuld, and a step-sister were already in America.

On Board the St. Louis
The Fuld family took the train to Hamburg to board the M.S. St. Louis. The two-week journey to Havana was, Harry says, “joyous, but  joy turned to fear when disembarkation was denied in Havana”

Harry says, “I really don’t recall any personal feeling except anxiety and we didn’t know what was going on. Even during the process — and I think as a child I was probably spared a lot of the anxiety… I really didn’t realize the possible consequences.”

The adults, however, were fearful. “As the kids were always playing on deck,” Harry says, “we overlooked the rail into the harbor and saw all the little boats, which were fascinating to us. I do recall when that one gentleman, when he slashed his wrists and jumped overboard and he went right over my head because I was on the railing and he came down… He was a deck or two above and he jumped. There was a lot of screaming and that’s one incident you don’t forget.”

While the St. Louis was docked in the Havana harbor, Max Fuld flew down to greet them. But he was not allowed access to his family on board and could wave to them from one of the many boats that surrounded the ship and fascinated Harry.

Once the Joint’s cable reached the ship that England, France, Holland, and Belgium would give St. Louis passengers asylum, the Fulds—like other passengers—had to fill out a card with their desired destination. Mrs. Fuld had a friend in England, so the family wanted to go there.

Never lose hope

Hans (Harry) Fuld remained in England until their quota number came in through the American visa system in the middle of 1942. The Fulds arrived in New York City. Harry’s Bar Mitzvah was delayed until they could be in the United States. He became a salesman and now lives in central New Jersey. He says, “You should never lose hope.”