Segment 1


Gerard Halpern finished high school in 1943 then took one semester at a City College before dropping out and joining the army. His mother had told him not to join the navy. Halpern went to Grand Central Palace where all branches of the military had tables set up. As the volunteers and draftees arrived they were sent to one line or another. Halpern was placed in the line for the navy. When he got to the table he told the man seated there that he had promised his mother that he would not go into the navy. The man let him go into the line for the army. Halpern's mother did not want him in the navy because she was afraid that he might drown. By the time Halpern joined the army in 1943 all of his relatives back in Germany had been killed. [Annotators Note: interview actually begins at this point which is approximately two minutes and 18 seconds into this segment.] Gerard Halpern was born in Frankfurt am Main, Germany on 8 July 1925. His father was a merchant who had a delicatessen store. The delicatessen turned into a bakery which Halpern's father eventually sold to a chain. Hitler came to power in 1933 when Halpern was eight years old. Prior to that Germany was in an uproar. Inflation was terrible. It was right after World War I and the country was still in a shock situation because they lost the war. Parties on the right blamed the loss of the war on the financiers and the Jews even though there had been a good number of Jewish officers and enlisted men in the German army. This was all taking place at the time of the Weimar Republic when it was unknown whether the Bolsheviks would win control of Germany or if it would be the right wing parties. The old president, von Hindenburg, asked Hitler to form a cabinet. This was in 1933 and the beginning of the Hitler era. Within a few years Hitler was the leader of Germany. Halpern was aware of the situation because of the gangs in the streets chasing Jewish kids. He even once escaped from a group who had placed a noose around his neck. Halpern does not think the group would have killed him. In 1935 things really started getting bad and his parents decided that it was time to leave. Halpern was shuttled back and forth between his parents in Germany and his grandparents in Czechoslovakia. In 1937 the family left Germany. They boarded a ship and came to the United States. Halpern was much too young to have an impression of the political climate in Germany when he was a child. Even so he knew about Hitler and that Jews were restricted. One day a neighbor who was the same age as Halpern approached him wearing part of a Hitler Youth uniform. The child told him that they could no longer play together because Halpern was a Jew. He knew about the restrictions but there was always a sneaking admiration for them [Annotators Note: the Nazis]. Halpern arrived in the United States on 20 July 1937. He steamed into Manhattan aboard a Cunard White Star line ship. He never went through Ellis Island. Halpern had an uncle in the United States and that made it possible for the family to enter the country. Halpern adapted well into American society. He learned English and graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School in 1943.Halpern was still in high school when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. He and a friend were preparing to make a report on the Museum of Natural History. They were in the museum on that Sunday afternoon when an announcement was made over the loudspeaker. That is how Halpern learned about the attack on Pearl Harbor. Halpern believes that the attack came about because of restrictions placed on the Japanese.


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