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text Chris Patti: with survivor Elisabeth Dixon. My name is Chris Patti. We are in Tampa, Florida, in the United States. The language is English, and the videographers are Jane Duncan and Richard Schmidt.
Okay, Ms. Dixon, thank you so much for spending time with us today and for telling us your story, and for driving all this way to the University of South Florida.
Elisabeth N. Dixon: Youre welcome. Im looking forward to this.
CP: Well, I am, too, and well start off real basic. Can you give me your name right now?
ED: Elisabeth, spelled with an s, not a z. And I use N. as a middle name; its the first letter of Nichtenhauser. Thats a little bit too long to keep it. And Dixon.
CP: And you had a different name at birth. Can you tell us that name?
ED: Alice Leopoldine Franziska.
CP: Franziska. And Nichtenhauser?
CP: And that is spelled N-i-c-h-t-e-n-h-a-u-s-e-r?
ED: Yes, it is.
CP: And I think the only other difficult to spellLeopoldine, is that L-e-o-p-o-l-d-i-n-e?
ED: Yes, sounds good. (laughs)
CP: Okay, okay. And when were you born?
ED: May 21, twenty-eight .
CP: Okay, and that makes you eighty-three today, is that correct?
ED: Yes, it does.
CP: All right. And where were you born?
ED: I was born in Vienna, Austria.
CP: Youwhen we talked on the phone, you had a really kind ofeven though you didnt live in that area for very long, you had a good description of where you were born. Do you remember that at all?
ED: Well, it was the important place in Austria. Everybody wants to be in Vienna. Its a marvelous city. The DonauDanubegoes through it. From what I was toldbecause I was just a baby when we left anyway, but we were near the Prater, which wasthey had a reasonI cant think of the other word. But it was like a fun park sort of thing; it was quite famous. And it seems the family hadthe living quarters looked down onto all that. They had a very lovely time at that time.
CP: And you were born in Vienna, but then you soon moved about twenty miles away?
ED: To Mdling.
CP: To Mdling. And that is M- with an umlaut-d-l-i-n-g.
CP: How old were you when you moved there?
ED: I would think only a few months, actually. I have no recollection of when we moved. I just know that thats where we went. (laughs)
CP: And how would you describe your hometown, where you grew up?
ED: Well, that wasI think itsthe best thing about it is that it wasnt too far from Vienna. It was maybe a twenty-minute train ride and youre back in the middle of Vienna. The whole town was situated at the foot of the Vienna Woods, and it was a very pretty place. It was not too big and not too small. It was just a regular little town.
CP: Do you remember, you know, the kind of people that were in the town? Was it a mix of all different sorts of people, or was it?
ED: I think it was a mix. There were shopkeepers, you know, and among them there were Jewish people. I wouldnt know any other people as far as their beliefs or something; that came later. It came out with a bang what they really were. But they all seemed very nice. My father had to rent a smaller place for his business. His business was selling radios at that time, and music players, you know, the old fashioned way. And he was content there. He made friends, and he was very kind to the people. It was not a rich area or anything. It was still hurting from the loss ofwhat do I call it? I dont know. Well, everybody could make a living, you know, it was that kind of place. There was a railroad station in the bottom corner of Mdling. You know, for me it was just a very little place. That was my world.
CP: When you were really young, did it feel kind of like a safe world? Did you feel like you didnt have anything to worry about?
ED: No, not really, except that my mother and father were divorced, so they were living separately. My mother was living aboutI would say about maybe a half hour away from Mdling, and where she lived it was called Brunn am Gebirge. (laughs) That was a much smaller town. And there were times that my mother had fights with my father. I think when I was that little, I was living with my father in Mdling. And he had to have a housekeeper, because you know, he had his business in the same place where we lived. We had a one-bedroom placeI have a painting of that, if youd like to see it.
CP: You actually brought the painting?
CP: Oh, excellent. Well look at that at the end of the interview. Can you tell me, what was your fathers name? It was Alfred?
CP: And your mothers name was Ana?
CP: A-n-a, and what was her last name? Wenzlik?
ED: (corrects pronunciation) Wenzlik.
CP: Wenzlik. Is that W-e-n-z-l-i-k?
ED: Let me see it. Where am I looking? Oh, that looks very good. Yes.
CP: Okay, okay. And it seems to me when you told me your story the first time that your story has a lot to do with the difference between your mother and your father, and what happened between them during the kind of history that was going on around you at that time. So can you tell me a little bit more about what was going on in your town, as well as what was going on with your father and mother when you were growing up? You told me that your fathers music shop was the only place where people could go to hear music anymore. Can you tell me about that?
ED: Thats because it was the Depression, you know, and it wasnt a rich city to begin with. Yeah, my father was a very loving and understanding sort of a man, and he loved music. He played music to the people. They asked him to play; you know, they missed music. The Austrians do love music, generally. That hurts when they cant have it. And so he had arranged tosomebody, one of his pals, put something together that it wouldthe people could come around and be outside and just listen to the music. It would come through a speaker, I guess, to them.
CP: When did things start to change when you were young? Because you said your father was identified as Jewish; you said according to Hitler, he was Jewish, but he wasnt really a practicing Jew.
CP: So when did he get identified as such, and when did things start to change?
ED: You mean when the people realized he was Jewish?
CP: Yeah, realized he was Jewish, and when the sanctions started coming in to your town, is that right?
ED: Not until the Anschluss. Overnight, all of a sudden, they looked up the Jews, and there were quite a few Jews still in that area. And thats when Hitler talked about, and so on. But I cant tell you too much of the history, because I was just a little kid. I didnt know what was going on.
CP: You mentioned that youwhen you were young, you had Christmas in your house.
ED: See, my mother was Aryan. She iswas Aryan. So we had a Christmas tree, you know. But I didnt know that we were Jews. I wasnt brought up to go to a church or anything. I just was.
CP: Do you remember at all what you were feeling or thinking when things started to change? You said things started to change overnight. What happened to you, and did your father talk to you about any of that? Do you remember any of that?
ED: You know, my young days when I was still able to see my father and my mother, heoh (laughs). I lost my train of thought.
CP: Thats okay.
ED: Tell me again what you want me to do?
CP: What were you feeling as things started to change? It must have been pretty radical for you, because you were growing up and you werent even really thinking; you didnt know what Jewish was necessarily, and then all of a sudden your father was leaving.
ED: Oh, what I was going to tell you was that I was a child that was seen and not heard. I never recall that either one of them would sit down with me and talk to me about anything. Its not that they didnt love me, I suppose, but it just wasnt done. So I just did what I was told (laughs) and that was it. But if you could have asked my brother, who unfortunately isnt with us anymore, but he knewhe was older than I was, five years older. His name was Hans, and he knew the history and everything. And he wrote a book, too.
CP: He was interviewed, also, by the Shoah Foundation. Is that correct? Your brother?
ED: Yes. I dont know what the place was, but he has beenhe was interviewed.
CP: And Hans is short for Hansel, is that right?
ED: No, Johann.
CP: Oh, Johann, okay.
ED: He was Johann Paul, Paul. (laughs) That was his name. But he changed his name when he grew up and so on, because he was a writer and he had a family. Nichtenhauser is a very long name to grow up with. So he changed his name to Hans Knight, K-n-i-g-h-t. So he became Hans Knight. Just because I might mention him sometime later, so thats why I thought Id tell you.
CP: Thank you. You told me a number of other stories about your childhood and about your father in particular. Do you remember talking about Beggars Monday? Can you tell me about that?
ED: Yeah. Well, there were very, very many poor people. The real poor ones were just beggars. But they only allowed them to come around one day a week, so there wouldnt be beggars all over the place. What it entailed, as far as I could see, they were allowed to go to the stores and just put their hands out for a few pfennigs, for anything. But that was only for one day a week. And so when I wasI dont know if I was not going to school already or something, but I remember one of those Mondays. My father said, Would you like to do the Beggars Monday? and I said, Well, yeah. And so he said, Well, you knowI said, What do I have to do? and he says, Nothing. You are giving away. They will tell you whats going to happen. And so I stood in the open doors of his store, and he gave me a littlelike a little ashtray or something, with small change in it. He said, Dont let anybody take more than they should, you know. Make sure that you give it out evenly, so we can give to as many as we can. And thats what I did on Monday, and I stood there and I saw all these people. Theyd done that before, you see. And they would come by and take some pennies, you know, and thank you. That was it. And then later on, of course, I realized that we were quite poor ourselves. (laughs) I said, How much do I have to give it away? My dad said always, As long as we have something, you share it. That was him, you know. He was such a good man.
CP: It sounds like he was a caring and a generous man. He cared about his community.
CP: And you said that the non-Jews of Mdling turned overnight, all of a sudden, and people that were your fathers friends all of a sudden werent associating with him. Can you tell me a little bit more about that?
ED: Well, you see, we never knew till thatI dont know the date that it happened. It just seemed that overnight, there were swastikas all over the place, and people running around and Heil Hitler, people who youd never think would ever do anything like that. But there had to have been some subterranean arrangement, you know, because it was just too sudden. You never saw a swastika or anything. But that was the beginning of it. And a lot of people didnt think of my dad as Jewish. He wasnt a practicing Jew, so it never occurred that it would end the way it did.
CP: Once he was labeled a Jew, then he had to move his store, is that correct, and paint a Jew on the window? You mentioned that. Is that right?
ED: He had to move. Yeah, he had tothey closed his store, because they stole everything. You couldnt refuse them if they wanted something and they knew that you were Jewish. They just helped themselves to anything. So this Mdling store was emptied, and all of a sudden they labeled him. Hey, Alfred! And then, of course, he had to be able to feed still my brother; he was still a boy, a schoolboy. And whats gonna happen to me? They had two children. So it was a terrible time for them. So he tried to open a little store furtherstill in Mdling, but off the main street. He was on the main street before. And thats wheresee, that washave I mentioned two friends of his, who stuck by him for quite a while? One was the ice cream man that had the ice cream shop.
CP: Is that Toegel ?
ED: Toegel, uh-huh. And the other one had a store where they sellI cant think what its called. There were cases like that. Mr. Toegel couldnt figure what was going on. He never thought of Dad being a Jew. I mean, it just never came up. So he was of the opinion that this would be a nicethe things that were going on right then there would simmer down, and life would go on, really, just a little bit different. So he decided to volunteer for one of the Nazi things, you know. I dont know what branch. But he thought that if he showed the rest of the people that you can do that and still live and be a decent person. And he had a red convertible, which was a very unusual thing in those days. So he asked my dad and HansI wasnt involved in that. I dont think I was, or maybe I was in the car. And he drove us through the town, waving to everybody. And all of a sudden, he was proved wrong, because the next thing we knew, hed vanished. They picked him up, and he wasnt Jewish. He was gone for weeks, and nobody knew where hed gone. And all of a sudden, he was back again, but he wasnt the same man. He never spoke of anything. Nobody ever knew what had happened to him. And he was a broken man.
CP: When we spoke over the phone, you said that it wasit was like when you beat a dog: thats how he was after he came back. He just wasnt the same.
ED: Thats right. But not towards our family, just generally. He couldnt understand that this would be so awful. And that was only the very beginning.
CP: That was one of your fathers friends, you said?
CP: Was there another person?
ED: Yes, Dundalek or something like that. Yeah. Similar, but he hadhe was a quieterno, he wasnt a quieter man. He was a fun-loving man. He used to entertain me when my dad used to visit him sometimes, you know, from one store to the other, chatting. Hed take me with him, if I happened to be living with my dad. And he would jump up on his counters in the store, and dance and sing and everything. (laughs) His wife then had to come in from the backthey were living behind the storebecause she realized that I was getting afraid, because he was dancing on his showcases, you know, and being funny in his way. She knew that I was afraid that he would fall or something, and so shed come out from her apartment and simmer him down. (laughs) But again, Jewish/not Jewish didnt come into this.
CP: Was that the man who you said pretended to be a Nazi at one point, Dundalek?
ED: No. That was the ice cream man.
CP: Oh, the ice cream man? Oh, he was the one who pretended to be a Nazi.
ED: Yes. He put a uniform on, you see, and he wanted to show the people that he loves them anyway and so on. It was just a uniform, and this was just something new.
CP: Oh, okay. But then he learned otherwise, like you said.
ED: Well, yes, because I think they taught him what he was getting into. And he was a broken man. They left him alone then, cause he wasnt Jewish, but he justIm sure he had some tough times with them.
CP: And so as things began to deteriorate, did your fatherhe had a sister, is that right?
ED: Oh, yes. He had a few sisters. Helene was the main one that he was with, yeah.
CP: Can you tell me that story, why he was talking with the sisterand didnt he try to move in with his sister, is that right? Can you tell me about that?
ED: Well, that was when everything was just terrible. We were missing something about the other little store that he rented after the main street one.
CP: Yeah, please tell me about that.
ED: The little one.
CP: Soyeah. He had a third store, is that right?
ED: Yeah. Well, from Vienna and then Mdling, and still Mdling but in another place. Thats whenI just looked it up the other day. They wentyou know, the Nazis went around, and if they could find a Jewish person they would either saywrite on the window or something, Jew! Dont go here! and all this sort of stuff. And so this third place that my dad moved toreal tiny, and Hans was living with him then. I guess I was living with my mother at the time. They, umwhat was I telling you?
CP: The third store. You were living with your mother and her sister.
ED: Oh, it wasmy father and Hans always thought that it was herthe friend he had, the ice cream man. His only thing he could do for his friend Alfred was to have a very small notice put in his window, because other people, you know, they had the notice. And so my brother used to tell me that the Nazis used to come around and see that everybody had these signs that should have had the signs in the windows. They suspectedwell, they knew, or they thought that this old friend had something to do with just having them have the small thing. But when they came to inspect it to see if theyre following the rules, they would give him the size that he should have had. And so my father put it on the window, not to get any more trouble than he had. But as soon as they would go away, hed say to Hans, Take it down. (laughs) And then if they went by again and said, Where is it? We dont see the sign, and hell say, Oh, Hansit just fell down. (laughs) Put it back up. So, you know, he had a sense of humor, too. It helped him.
CP: A sense of humor, and a really serious situation at the same time.
ED: And my brother loved that about him you know, about Dad.
CP: Did your brother take after your father, do you think?
ED: Yeah, a lot. Music. He just looks a lot like himlooked a lot like him.
CP: So you were talking about how your father ended up moving in with his sister.
ED: Well, that wasthat came quite a bit later.
CP: Oh, okay.
ED: He couldnt even keep that little store that Ive been telling you about. Nobody came, and they robbed everything there again that he had. And so he had tohe thought that if they went into Viennathere were a lot of Jewish people there, and maybe they would get lost in the crowd somehow, you know, and they would feel safer there. So thats what they did. And he knew that he had a sister who lived there, and she hadshe was renting an apartment, and lived there many years, I guess. It was a very meager sort of place. She never had a great deal of money.
He asked her, of course, if he could come and live with her, and she was glad that he would do that because, unlike my fatheryou know, the typical thing they used to say, You look Jewish. My father never did look Jewish. Ive got photographs of him. And she did: she had the red hair that they expected Jewish girls to have, and she just had, you knowshe was brought up to be a Jewess. So, that was her. So she was afraid to go out in the streets, even if she could, because they were always looking. There were Nazis walking all over the place all the time. The slightest thing they would see, they would go after them and theyd disappear. And of course, she lived alone; she was a widow, but she did have two sons. One of the boys was called Karl, and the older boy was Robert. The young one was fortunate enough to have people who took him toI think he came to America straightaway, because they had friends there and they realized how things were happening in Europe, and they kindly offered to take Robert and Karl. They both went toit was either England or straight to the U.S. I really dont know.
But so she was living alone in that little place she had, and she said, If you would come and live with meshe was very frightened all the time. Because he didnt look like he was Jewish, she felt very safe with him. She said, Of course, you can sleep here. I have a little side thing. It wasnt actually a bed; it was like a couch type thing, and it was small, but he wasnt a big man, my father. And so thatsshe said, I cant even go shopping. Im afraid theyll pick me up, you know? So he would start doing things for her. I dont know for how long they did that. It was a considerable time, a year or two or so, but I cant be sure exactly how long.
CP: But he moved in there to help her out with the dangerous things.
ED: Yes. Yes. And of course, he had no income. He had no store, and nothing left from his radios or anything. So I guess they just, you knowshe gave lessons. Oh, what is that thing? The making of hats, what do you call that?
CP: Oh, I forget what a hat maker is called.
Richard Schmidt: Haberdasher.
ED: No. No, no, thats clothes. But the hatsyou know, its an art to making hats, ladies hats and things. And she taught that to a few young girls who wanted to do that, so thats what her income was. They would come to her apartment, and she would give them lessons on that. So she got the little money that they could both eat; you see they just had to get together. And then it just got worse. He wouldmy father wouldthat wasnt enough for them to live on, you know, a few pennies here or there. And she had to pay rent, you know, too. And so he started looking in newspapers to see who had beenwho had left their place to live, because a lot of Jewish people, if they could afford it and they had sense enough, they could leave at that point. So they would advertise theirhe would see this is an empty place, and then he would somehow try to notify people who were looking for a place to live, and hed get a few shillings. Theyd be very grateful, because Vienna didnt get any bigger, you know. (laughs) And so that was his side income. He didnt just sit home and do nothing. And Hans and Karl Helenes little boy; he was about two years younger than my brother. They were teenagers by that time. Oh, gosh. Ive lost my track of thought.
CP: Thats okay. Im actually wondering about you at that time, and were kind of jumping around a little bit in time here. But theres a couple of things you said to me when we first talked that really stuck with me. A couple of them wereyou said that you had a double bad youth, because you had your parentsthey were getting a divorce, but also the world was sort of falling apart around you. And you said, I never knew where I was. I felt I was a nuisance. Can you tell me about that?
ED: Yeah. (laughs) Yeah, I just didnt know where I belonged, you know. I knew that everybody was having a bad time, but I had no way of knowing what could be done about it or anything. And then this thing with my mother and fathermy mother, she tried toshe did. She took me away in the middle of the night, and she kidnapped me from my fathers place. God knows why; I dont know.
CP: Do you know about how old you must have been?
ED: For that, I was about four years old, because I remember her coming into the house. We called it the house, the place where we lived, where my father lived. And she woke me upI was asleepand she broughtshe put my clothes; she found them somewhere in the bedroom, I guess, and she started dressing me. And I was sort of dozing; I was half sleeping. It was a very cold, rainy sort of a night. She looked upset. She wasnt sayingthey must have had a terrible row about something that I wasnt aware of. She was still upset, you know. Once she gets upset, she was always very upset. She just grabbed me and ran out of the house with me, and she jumped onno, how did she get there? I dont know if she tookwe didnt have a bus. Tramways we had. Yeah, I think thats what it was, from Mdling to Brunn, where she lived then.
She got off the tramway at a certain place: there was a little store there that was an ice cream store. It was raining and everything. She was still upset. And she ran into that store, and she said, Help me, help me. Theres a man following me, and she was crying and everything. She startedthey told her she could stay in the store, I guess, and simmer down and all that. But I seem to remember, even as little as I was, there was a station for the tramway; it happened to be you can change tramways. They had a little shelter outside to wait for the next one or something. There was a light to light it up so you knew where to get on the next time. And you know, she was just grabbing me all this time. I didnt know what was the matter with her. As I told you, they never told me anything. I just saw what was going on, and I didnt know what was happening. I was really little for that, you know, to know.
And I could seethere was a nice, big window in that store, and I could see the roof of the station that you could stand. I could see my father, and he had just a suit on, and a hat. He was dripping with water. And unfortunatelyIve written all that myself sometime. But I never knew what happened after that, because I fell asleep again. Now, thats what I mean. I was pushed from one to the other for one reason or another.
CP: It sounds like, from what youve told me, from a young age you identified more with your father than your mother. Is that true? Your mother seems to be more absent than your father.
ED: Yeah, thats true.
CP: Why do you think that was? Do you have any idea?
ED: Well, my mother was so different from my father. I mean, inside, you know. I dont think she would likely give away even pennies to anybody. When she married him, she got into the business with him. She wanted to do things, you know, and my father was more saving things; hed already done. He was about twelve years older than she was, in the first place. But maybe Im rambling too much.
CP: I dont think so. Im asking you some kind of in depth questions. I appreciate it. Your parents, they separated when you were young, and then your mother got remarried, is that right?
ED: Not for quite a number of years, but she had a male friend, yes.
CP: And you said that he couldnt get work. Do you remember that? Can you tell me that?
ED: Well, he was an engineer, and he was an Aryan. A very brilliant sort of brain he had. He was a nice guy, but they just lived together, you know, for as long as they were in Brunn. And I think I wasntI was a problem for her, because he used to come and stay with her and everything, and he didnt like that, I dont think. He liked her, not me. (laughs) I mean, he didnt mistreat me or anything, but it was just a sense that he didnt want me there. So whenever I could, I guess Id stay with Papa.
CP: But you would go back and forth, a little bit?
ED: Yeah, a little bit. Mainly when she was angry at my father: shed come to Mdling and start a row, you know, and yell at the maid we had, the housekeeper. My mother was very clean and very special, you know; everything has to be just so. (laughs) And she would go in without telling us she was coming; she would just surprise us sometimes, and go through the little apartment we had, and ran her fingers around the furniture to see if it was not dusty and that sort of thing, and then yell at the maid. And she in turn, whoever she happened to be at that time, would run downstairs and into the shop where my father was, crying. I mean, my mother liked to have a flare up. It was none of her business, but thats what she was like. So the only times I ever saw them was if theyd been fighting.
CP: Well, I think what well do is theres a lot more of the story, mostly when you go into the convent and your family goes into hiding. Well get to most of that, I think, after, on the second tape. But is there anything that we missed about your upbringing or what happened before you went into the convent, before you went into hiding that youd like to talk about?
CP: Thats always the hardest question. (ED laughs) Thats the end of the interview, when you say, Did we miss anything? and theyre like, No, we got this. Is there anything else, any other memories that you have from when you were young, that youd like to share?
ED: Yeah. Let me see. I would just like to tell you what happened when my father decided he had to go to Vienna to his sister, because he had Hans, you know, he had to take his son with him. And that was the beginning of the real struggles for Hans and me.
CP: Why didnt he have to take you with him as well? Im wondering. Why did he just take Hans and not you?
ED: Well, because maybe she wouldnt let him. I mean, she was very on and off. It was just a weird situation. In those days there were no divorces, you know, and things. And she had married into a Jewish family, and they loved her and they were very good to her, and she loved them. But it had to be her way, you know, or nothing. And to tell you the truth, of course, Hans was always her favorite. I didnt ever feel that she liked me, loved me.
ED: I was just a nuisance, you know?
CP: And so to have that going on, on top of all the other stuff.
ED: Then it gets to the really tough part.
CP: I think thats a good place to break, and well get to the tough part after lunch.
CP: Thank you.
CP: Okay, this is tape two with our interview with Elisabeth Dixon, and we were just kind of wrapping up your childhood until right before you moved into a convent. And you were telling us a little bit more about your mother and her friend that became her husband. Could you tell me a little bit more about that, and how you got into the convent? What led up to that?
ED: Oh, yes, I think I can. Yes, absolutely. Lets see. (laughs) My mother had to earn her own living, really, because she wasnt married then. Her friend was very loyal to her and so on. So she hadMother had a small little store that she opened in Brunn. In that store, all she could do wasyou have to think back to the old-fashioned ways of listening to radios and things they used to have. Well, things would go wrong with the radios, and she could fix little things. There wereI can never remember what it was she used to do for them, but it may come to me later. But so Friedl, whos her friend, he also didnt have any work. Couldnt find anything, for anything. So he decidedbetween them, they decided that the only way they could ever change anything was to get out of Austria. He would have to go to Germany. And soam I saying that right? And so he said he would give it a try. Hed go first and see if it was any different in Germany. Well, Germany was very busy, and quite a lot of chances of getting work, the kind of work he needed to get. He was an electrical
ED: Engineer. And so I remember him taking off. They had a motorbike. (laughs) So strange. So he took the motorbike, and he motorbiked toI dont know where it was exactly. Berlin or somewhere, I dont know. And my mother stayed back, because theyd had the clothes. They opened a little store for him in Enzersdorf. There was nothing doing there, you know, so they had to close that up, and he said he would have to go to a different place; it just wouldnt work. So, off he went, and he struck it fine. I.G. Farben took him on, grabbed him.
CP: Thats a big company?
ED: Oh, yes, its a huge company. And he started writing back to Mama, you know. Oh, this is wonderful here! Suddenly, there was nothing like poverty anymore in his life. He made so much money, compared to the way it was; he was speechless sometimes. But he just kept bombarding, with, You have to come and join me! You have to come! I need you here. I want you out of the other place. So my mother was living in part of a very pretty house that was very close to a convent, still in Brunn. She was friendly with the owner of the house, and they became friends. Two women, you know. And so she used to speak to her about everything. I was too young to assist her or anything.
So, how did that go? I happened to be living with Mother at that time. I was just playing by myself, you know, but I knew that she was in the basementwhich was not really a basement; it was just a little bit lower. It was a place where they store things in the house. And she was chatting to this friend, and she was talking to her about Friedl, that he wants her to come and he wants her to come. And she at first was reluctant and kept putting him off, and he was just getting hysterical waiting for her. And I heard her say to this friend, You know, he sent me a letter the other day, and he said if I dont come soon, hes going to kill himself. Hes not the kind of man youd ever think would kill himself, but he was just crazy about her. And she saidand she was standing there, over boxes. I could see that myself. She knew I was around, you know, but like, be seen and not heard. She pointed to them, because the friend said, What are you doing? She said, Im packing. When he says that hes gonna kill himself, what can I do? Ive got to go. And thats where it started. That was one of her big problems, was me. He didnt say, You and Lilly. Thats my nickname, by the way, Lilly. And I wrote in my book that Im writing, I think I saidwhat did I say? Oh, I cant get it. Oh, I dont know.
But anyway, she had this big problem. Where am I gonna be, because Hans was with Father now and Hans was starting high school or something. There wasnt room for me. So, I said she always would find ways to have her way. (laughs) She found a way to get rid of me, really. So she decided that itd be a good idea if she got me in the convent: a sleep-around place, you know. I think when she divorcedI dont know who divorced whom, but when she left my father. I dont think you could have divorces in those days. But she always said she was divorced, so everybody thought she was. She was Catholic, and sheIve seen herI used to see her once in a while to go into the church and pray. I never saw her go to mass, so I think they excommunicated her, whatever she did with her marriage. I dont know if they had such a thing. But so that was how it was.
And she went to see the head priest, you know, in the town, and spoke to him about her problems. Was there any chance that my little girl could go in the convent? Well, you know, I was never christened. I was never a member of any church, knew very little about religion at all, any religion. And so she had a number of interviews with him, and she could be very persuasive. So finally she told me that were going to see this priest so-and-soI dont remember his name. He wants to see you. So I had to be interviewed, (laughs) and he decided that Id be a fair sort of a candidate.
CP: Did you know why you were being interviewed? Did you know that you were going to possibly
ED: No. I heard her say, you know, when she was packing. What could I do? And I thought about it, and when I wrote it, I saidI cant remember again. I thought that since she is so fireball-ish, you know, with all her plans and everything, she was just talking and she would never leave me. But I was wrong. She left me. But I dont know what kind of a story she told to the priest; I have no idea. He said, Yeah, we can let her board, but of course she has to be christened. She has to be taughtsomething else. And it was settled. That was it. I have no idea if she even had to pay him anything. I never saw or heard anything about that. I doubt that she could, because she didnt have any money. I dont know what story she told him.
So the arrangements were made that thats where I was going. And she said, You knowsee, in that convent there were girls; it was just girls. Not many, it wasnt a huge place. Maybe in one of the better times there were maybe ten, ten of us in there, maybe fifteen. All ages, you know, till when you were ready to go to high school or something. I think they couldnt take it anymore. But they teach you, and you sleep there and just live there. And a lot of the girls had parents who had stores, shopkeepers. They could afford to pay, you know. And so these parents would bring the girls on Monday morning or Sunday evening, but pick them up for the weekend to be at home, because their work or something allowed them to be at home with them. But so they were sort of semi-total livers there. (laughs) And she said, At the weekend when I dont have the store anymore, when its not openI didnt know she didnt have it anymore. But she said, When the stores closed, Ill come and get you and youll stay with me for Sunday, and itll be nice, nice food and everything. She talked me into it. Well, I had no choice; I mean, thats whats gonna happen, and it happened.
My problems started then, because in the first place, I told youor I didnt even say it yet. My mother was a very good cook and a wonderful housekeeper, and she cooked stuff that I liked, or I liked things that she cooked. She cooked with oil. Now, to me, that was important. In the convent, they used any kind of fat. Well, that didnt agree with my stomachI wasnt used to itand so, I couldnt eat the food. So, I didnt eat. I couldnt eat. That was gonna be a problem. So the nuns told her that if I dont start eating, she should take me out. She decided that she would bring things that she had cooked every day, and then I could eat, just till I got used to it. I mean, I thought it was forever, you know, but it wasnt. So she would bring me gurkensalatits cucumber salad; that still is my favorite saladand a dish called eiernockerl. Its dumplings, and then its covered in beaten-up eggs. And the two together make a very nice meal, if youre used to that kind of food, and thats what I was used to.
In the beginning, it worked, and then gradually I would say, Wheres my food? and my mother said, Well I said to my mother, Why didnt you bring it for me? and she would say, But I did. I did, I did. It just dwindled away till I didnt get it anymore, so I had to sit and eat what they put in front of me. I was soI dont know, I guess I had a sensitive stomach or something, but I would vomit. I couldnt eat the stuff that they gave me. And so the nuns were very strict people, I found out, as far as children were concerned. So they couldnt figure out what to do, you know. Oh, gosh, she wont eat this either. They started to put the works on me. What they would do is make me sit at the table where the others had been sitting, and I had my own spot there, and I upchucked everything. They made me sit there, and they just made me sit there. The other kids were running away and everything; I had to sit there and just look at my plate. (laughs)
So that went on for quite a while. And then they said that cant work, either. So, what was it now? They said, I think, at that time, that if I didnt start eating, I would not be able to go home for a day or so, a week. And Mama came to see me, and she would talk to me and say, I want you to come home. Little by little, thats how they weaned me to eat their food in the convent. You know, children can get used to most things, if you do it long enough. And her visits, my mothers visits, taking me home weekends, just dwindled away.
CP: You said you were always the last kid to go home.
ED: Mm-hm. Well, when Id be there, Friedl was there, and I know he didnt feel comfortable around me. He wanted just to be with her. So anyway, finally she gotthe nuns and my mother, I dont know what they did, but we agreed to just stay there and do what they tell me. I was always told to do whatever Im told, and I always did that in the end, anyway, cause I wanted to please everybody. You know, you feel wanted, really.
CP: Because you must have felt so isolated and alone.
ED: Yeah. So anyway, that was one thing. She then went away; she went to Germany. She fell into that wonderful life without any difficulties, because they could now buy a car, which is something you could never do in Austria at that time the way they were. He had had a motorbike, and he was lucky he had that. But not anymore: he had a car, and I think he even bought a little boat.
CP: Do you remember feeling any resentment about that: that you had to live alone, really, as a kid, and your mom was out there living this kind of lavish life?
ED: Exactly. Exactly. And sheby this time, of course, Mdling and all those places were overrun withno, not quite. The Anschluss hadnt happened yet. But yeah, you see, I was out of everything. I didnt have a family. But before she went, I must say, before she went to Germany, she used toI brought pictures; I can show you later. Her little store that she kept in Brunn was down on the main street of this little place, and she would walk home and pass the convent, and then the house that she lived in was just a few houses away, so she lived very close to the convent. When she didnt use to get me out anymoreyou know, oftenshe decidedshe said, I can see where youre sleeping, because for some reason I ended up near aI have a picture, I think, of that too. But I could see the road from the window, the big windowsill, and I could crawl on there and I could see her. And she would then say, I will wave to you, close to your bedtime. We had to go to bed early anyway, in the convent, and she could close her store whenever she wanted. And she would stand there at the bottom and wave to me, and I would wave back.
But then there came times when I didnt see her anymore. Then, thats when she left for Germany. Of course, there were no ways thatI didnt hear, you know, I didnt get a letter from her, nothing. I didnt even know where she was until she would write to me, so I did get that eventually.
CP: You said even the letters stopped after a period of time, right? You were in there for a number of years.
ED: Two years.
CP: Two years. Did you have friends while you were in there, or did you feel different from the other girls?
ED: I was different, because most of them went home sometime or another, for weekend visits to their families.
CP: Did they tease you?
CP: Or was it more out of, you know, you were kind ofyou didnt have too many friends?
ED: No. No, the girls were nice. They were all right, except the one. Our upstairs there was a fairly large room, and there were all the beds for everybody and so on. And next to it was a smaller room: it had two beds in it. After I had been there a while, I considered it my luck that the girlone of the girls who had one of the two beds was taken out. She was maybe too old or something; she didnt come anymore. And I got that bed. The girl that was with me, she was a little bit older than I was. She knew my secret of waving to my motherwe kept that a secretand she started to wave to her, too, to my mother, because I saidI think I felt that she felt it was her mother waving to her, too. Everybody was lonesome, really. I wasnt the only lonesome child, I think, but there were different reasons and different degrees of loneliness. So, we became friends.
And all of a sudden she came back from her home stayshe was gone a whole weekend, every weekend; they took her awayand she said, I want to share a secret with you, too. And I said, Well, what is it? What do you want to tell me? We werent supposed to speakonce we were in the bedrooms, its finished for the daybut we could whisper because we were the only two people there. And she said, Well, I have something, and I need your help with it. I made it. I said, Well, what did you make? What happened? She said, Ive beenyou watched me bring little things from my house when I come back every week. I said, I didnt know what was in your little bag. And she said, Well, Ive been secretly bringing wire and big glass balls, and then some different sizes of those balls, and some string and that kind of thing. But now its finished, so now I need your help. So I said, What do you want me? What did you do?
She showed me this thing: she bent the wires, cause she had no tools or anything, and she made a ball with certain distances, so that the bigger ballsthe balls would have to be willing to fit, to come through, if she moved this thing, but not really out. Itd still be inside, but they would have enough room to sort of come out a little bit. And I said, Well, what are those things doing? What are you doing with that? She said, Well, I have to cleanse myself. She decided that she was an evil personthey were all evil persons, you know, in the convent, (laughs) thats terrible. And she said, I know that there are some saints who will appreciate my doing this to myself, but I cant do it enough. I want you to do it. I said, What do you do with it? She said, Well, I get hold of the stringits attached thereand I do this on my back. I throw that thing on my back. But thats so hard to do. I want you to do it for me. I said, No! I wont do that! And that broke up our friendship.
CP: Because you wouldnt cleanse her of her sins with her mortification thing? Wow. And she was about your age as well?
ED: She was maybe a year or two older than I was. I was eight; from eight to ten years, I was in the convent.
CP: And you wouldnt do it just because you didnt want to hurt your friend? You didnt believe that it was helping her?
ED: Well, I didnt care her reason for it, but I wasnt gonna hit her and draw blood and stuff. But you see, in the convent you get all kinds of weird thingsat least then you did; I dont know anything about it now. But that always stuck with me. Theyre verymy experience was I saw too muchjust sort of weird results of when these nuns would do something that normally wouldnt be done. There was one girlI think her name was Martha. Very quiet, very nice girl; always does what shes told, and smart and nice. And that poor girl, she had one fault: she was a bed wetter. They would tell her, Dont do this, da-da-da, but she couldnt control it somehow, and she would do it every day. So what they used to do was take her in the upstairs place where they used to do the laundry and stuff, and it was right next to where we were sleeping, and theyd take hairbrushes and take that child into that room and hit her, her bare bottom, and she would cry and she would cry. You know, I thinkthey had two young nuns who would do this to her. They were told to do that; that was their job. They seemed quite oblivious that they shouldnt be doing this. And to this day, I wonder what happened to her, how shefinally, her parents took her out of the convent. But they were cruel to her, and they threatened her with not being allowed to go home; like they did with me, because they didnt know what else to do. The parents finally kept her home.
CP: But you ended up kind of just having to take part in the normal convent life. Do you remembercan you tell me about your eighth birthday? Is that when you were baptized, you said?
ED: Oh, yes. Yes, yes. Yeah. (laughs) Beforeit wasnt First Communion, the thing I had to take, too. So I got some lessons, you know, so I knew a little bit about it, which Ive forgotten already. (laughs) But they arranged for that. I think it was around my birthday, as a matter of fact. What was it, now? Yeah. My mother had invited her mothermy grandmother, who lived in Viennato come for this party that she was going to throw. I never heard of a party before, for anything. And that little house she was living in, it was very nice: it had a verandah outside. She invitedI dont know, all kinds of people I didnt know, never seen before or since. There were some young children there, too. They figured Im young and its my party really, so they have to have a few children. And they put us outside on the verandah: the other party was in the house, and they were drinking wine and having a good time. My grandma would occasionally come out to where we were, the children. I didnt know any of these children. She would bring us some goodies to have, too. And I said I didnt know what went on, because I didnt know who they were or what they were doing. So the only time I ever saw my grandma come away from her houseI only saw her maybe four times in my whole life. I loved her; she was a very sweet woman.
But anyway, before that was, of course, the thing to go to church and do all this stuff. Before the whole setup began, suddenly somebody said, Oh, shes Leopoldine and Alice and all these names. Theyre saying, We cant do itshe doesnt have a holy name. We have to have a name for her of an angel or something. So they started saying, What name would you like? I dont know. They started saying all kinds of saintsSaint So-and-So and Saint So-and-So. I just said to myself, Mama, where are you? She wasnt even there for that for me. So, one of the nuns happened to say, How about Elisabeth? I said, Thatll do. Thats it. Thats how I got Elisabeth.
CP: Wow. Thats amazing.
CP: We just have a couple more minutes left on this tape, but I just want you to talk aboutyou said theresyou have one nice thing that happened to you while you were there. I guess you were musically talented when you were young?
CP: Can you tell us that, really quickly? Can you tell us that story?
ED: Yeah. Yes, that was after Id been there a little while. Id got used to the eating and all these other things. I had a very good memory, and I had a very good ear, toowhich I dont have neither one now. (both laugh) But I had it. We had to go for a little Mass every day before we go to school, you know, in another building on the premises. So somehow, one of the nuns, who used to play a little organ that they had in the chapel, she realized that I could sing very quickly and remember songs. So it became a habit with her to, while the nuns and everybody were coming in to seat themselves to these events in the morning; she could very quietly play the melody of the next thing they were going to have in the chapel. And I could sing it. They didnt know; they were busy seating themselves and the children, whatever. The only one that was playing the little organ and I were busy getting this song ready, and I could sing it. I had a nice voice (laughs) for a little kid. It was nothing to me, and I was just natural because Id always heard music at home and everything. It was all very nice for me. And then they started to realize, and they started calling me Lilly in the convent. So they said, Yeah, she can do that. She doesnt practice for hours before or anything. And so they were kind of glad to see that. So somehow, they said, Well, shes ourthey gave me a name.
CP: You said they called you the Little Nightingale.
ED: I was Nightingale, Little Nightingale.
CP: Well, I think thats a good place to stop this tape, and well pick it up with the rest of it on tape three.
ED: Dont ask me to sing for you. (laughs)
CP: All right. Thank you.
CP: Okay, this is tape three of our interview with Elisabeth Dixon, and is there anything else that youd like to tell us about your time that you spent in the convent when you were young?
ED: Yes, I think I would, a number of things: some not as interesting, maybe, as others. But it happened after I was there and I knew my mother had left and so on, or was about to leave. I suddenly realized that I was all alone, and thats not a good feeling when youre about eight or nine years old. So, what had to be had to be. I had no choice. Lets see. Firstthat was my first experience of homesickness. I had lots of practice, you know, as a little one from here to there, but this wasI was older, and I just missed everybody from the family, because there was no way I was going to see them, I thought, not for a long time. And that wasfor that, I dont think I had any friends or anything in the same position. They all were moving around and going home and coming back, and I never was. So the weekends, very often I was there alone, and everybody elsejust thinking about them, wondering when theyre coming back, the other kids in the school. It was not a very happy time.
Lets see. (shuffles papers) Okay. My mother was packing to get on her trip; she just decided that was it. The girls, we saw a youngish nun, and she was very pretty, and thats unusual, to see that in a nun. And she seemed to be, under all her costume and everything, slender and littlelike a young little girl, actually. She wasshe took over from another nun, and their job had beenthe older nun had been, and she will do now, to bring our food to our building and then share it out and see that everybody has something to eat. So she was there alone. The way it was set up, there was quite a largeit really wasnt, because when I went back again, nothing was large in the convent. To me, it seemed it was quite large, for the tables for the girls to eatto eat from, I should say. Yeah, I dont quitethis is confusing. And we liked her; she was so sweet.
But this room, our dining room sort of thing, had a double door at one end. The food was brought by probably another nun from the kitchen, which was in another building, and I think they rolled it somehow, in bigI dont know what. I dont know, like buckets almost. And we had to take turns, you know, to go up with the plate, and she would give us something and we would go and sit down again. We had her, and we were so glad to see her because she was so different. Nuns get sort of a pallid look after a while, especially as they get older, and they dont look too happy, really. But she was still sort of love and happiness, I think. She even had a cross on herthey all do that, on their belt thing. So she would walk so quickly, compared to the older nuns that she would sort of hit the thing that was holding the cross, and it would bounce on her. (laughs) We just enjoyed looking at her.
Well, that went on for a little while, and then we suddenly noticedyou know kids, they find things out. After she would have given us our first helping of everything and we were settling and eating, she would disappear. She would go behind one of the open doors, and then come back again. You know, these nuns have big sleeves, and they always put their arms into the open sleeves; they are supposed to pray all the time. And then if anyone wanted more, they could ask for more and she would take her hands out of her sleeves and give them more and so on. But we couldnt figure out why she walks away after we have ourafter she feeds us at first. We couldnt figure what happened.
But then we noticed that her habit wasnt fitting the way that we were used to. The habit is the gowns that they wear. We justyou know, sometimes little girls imagine things, but we didnt imagine this. We noticed the difference, especially because her cross wasnt jumping around as much, and she wasnt moving quite as much, and she kept disappearing still behind the door. Sometimes we think we saw that she was actually chewing. And then we realized that shes going behind the door because shes hungry, so she thought, Well, theres so much food here for the kids; theyll never miss that.
We figured out between us that she goes behind the door and does this with her hand and then puts that in the sleeve, and then when nobody was looking shed eat it. Nuns are not allowed to do that. They only are allowed, at least in this particular set of nunsshe would only be allowed to eat in her building at a set time. They had their own dining room and everything. But I guess we thought that maybe she had not pleased somebody or something and they were punishing her, not giving her enough time to eat in her own kitchen. Well, the cross stopped getting kicked around, and she was just not the same thing. And that went on for quite a while, and then she disappeared and they exchanged her with another nun and we didnt see her for a little while.
Then one night, not too long after, I woke up in the middle of the nightand I woke up one or two of the other girls, I think, or they woke up anyway as well. We heard a lot of crying and moaning in the middle of the night, when you hear this when youre a youngster like that, and we were just shocked. We couldnt imagine who would be crying in the middle of the night. And then eventually, when all of a sudden the crying and so on stopped, then we heard what sounded like a baby crying. We figured she had a baby, and we didnt see her for quite a while.
Then in the chapelshe came back a few weeks later and we recognized her, but she didnt look like she ever did. She was getting that pallor of the other nuns, and she was not so happy. She was really very sad looking. We neverI never found out just what happened to her, but there was always talk that if a nun had a child when she shouldnt have, they do away with them, because youre not married to Christ anymore if you do that, so youre out of the Church. That was the way they looked at it. So, we were very sad about that.
But many yearsI went againI have to go forward for just a minute. I would say maybe fifteen years ago I went back, and that time I made sure that we were in the nursesin the nuns house. I asked while we were waiting to have someone come and speak, or let me speak to them. I asked one of the nuns, What happened to the older nuns when we were there? They said, Well, theres only one left that I can think of, but she is getting on pretty much in years, and she hardly ever leaves the house anymore and so on. I said, Well, Id like to see her and talk to her. She said, Well, Ill see if shes having dinner, and if you can leave and come talk to you. So she did, and we went to a little private room and we spoke and we talked about the old times and so on. Thats when I found out how they fared during the Hitler time. Ill tell you that again later.
So at the end of our talkshe was very friendly. She had no teeth and she was very thin, but I could still seethe eyes, I recognized. I talked about what she had to do while they were not free. I was surprised, really, to see anyone left in the convent from my time. And I finally said to her, Do you remember at all when you used to feedbring the food over to us? I didnt say any more than that. And she got very quiet, and she said, I think you must be making a mistake. I never had anything to do with the girls who were living here then. Now, I know and she knows that thats not true. So, you know, there are things that happened in the best of homes. It was sad. But that was just very recently, this story.
CP: So do you think she justit was too difficult for her to recall that and talk?
ED: Yes. She didnt want to remember it. She was very old by this time. Well, old for a nun. I felt sorry for her. She was so pretty.
CP: And well talk a little bit more about this at the end of our interview. But for you to talk about these memoriessome of them sound pretty difficult to talk about. Is it hard for you to talk about them today? Or, because youve thought about it and written about it, its a little bit easier? Whats that experience like?
ED: No, its notI havent written anything. I havent added anything to the (inaudible) book for three years, ever since my brother died, becauseyoull begin to understand why later on, too. I mean, I live with this all the time, in one way or another. The only way I think I can handle it is to see the fun side, if I can. It doesnt get easier.
You see, when I was writingof course, Hans was the writer. If I needed a certain expression or something, Id pick up the phone and say, Hans, what should I say? Is this better than that? and hed tell me. I miss that. And he would send me articles that he had written and say, Now this one, only tell me if it is good. So we kind of encouraged each other, because it was his career, so he didnt need much encouraging. But I did, and he realized it. Its a terrible thing. I could discuss anything with him, and did, all that we were able to talk about together. Some of it we couldnt, because we didnt know how to express it in English, and it was something that wed never heard in German. So, we were both deaf and dumb in some places. But I miss him very much.
CP: And even back in that time, when you were young and still in the convent, he was one of the only people that would come and visit you. Is that right?
ED: Yes, he did come a few times, and he even brought Karl one timehis cousin, you know. And I remembernow Ill tell you that little incident. He picked me up from the convent; he had to get permission to take me out for a couple of hours or something, and they said, Oh, sure, and then bring her back. The three of us walked down away from the convent, and they thought they were doing me a great favor, because they knew that I loved ice cream. (laughs) So they walked down the street with me, and they said, Theres an ice cream shop down there. Im sure youre going to love it, cause I didnt like walking too much, (laughs) even then. But they said, Its worth it. There was no bus or anything like that. There was a tramway, but that was for longer rides, not just a block or two down.
We got to the door of the ice cream shop, and they went ahead of me. Hans said, Well, come on, Lilly, choose what you want, what kind of ice cream. They didnt have many choices then. Come on and see what you want. And I could not get up that step and go into that shop. I dont know why, and they didnt know why. They said, Come on! Come on in, and I said, I cant. Im not coming, I cant. And only when I grew up and thought about it, Ive been wondering what had happened. All of a sudden, I realized that was the shop that I vaguely remember when my mother kidnapped me from my father when I was real small. It was reallyI never knew exactly what happened, I told you, at the end. But I had such a clear vision it would happen again, and I was older and I could then understand. I told him that I finally found out why I couldnt go in with you. What it ended was the two boys brought me ice cream outside that I could eat. But I could not move back into that store. Weird, isnt it?
CP: Its pretty amazing.
ED: Yeah. But I was glad that I finally realized what had happened. Its just too bad a memory. It just doesnt work anymore.
CP: Well, it seems to work pretty well, at least as I can see it. (ED laughs) So, what happened? How did you get out of the convent? What happened before you left?
ED: Well, the convent was getting smaller and smaller, more and more people. This is nowsee, when the Anschluss happened, the nuns had known, or they had been told by their higher-ups, to start growing their hair, because under the thing they have on their heads, they shave. Youre not supposed to have the beauty of hair or anything when youre that kind of a nun. But they were allowed, and they were told to let their hair grow, because they said, We may at any time have to run away. You may not be able to stay to be nuns, to be looked at like that. Of course, us kids, we noticed that occasionally we could see hair under their veil things, you know.
All of a suddenI mean, I had no idea what Anschluss meant, or what Jews meant, or what anything meant. But I started to learn, because they finally explained to us a little bit. The Anschluss is that now were not Austria; were part of Germany, because Hitler just decidedhe was an Austrian, you know. (laughs) Nasty man. We belonged to him, because we speak German, you know, and all that, so why not? And they started an invasion: that was what it was, but there was nothing fought because of all of that propaganda that was coming forth when they suddenly showed us all their flags and armbands and Heil Hitler. No more Good morning; its all Heil Hitler. No Good night; its Heil Hitler. And all these uniformed people walking around, and there were too manywell, I want to finish the first thought.
Now, where was I? Oh, the nuns one day, not too long after that, took us outside, the few of us that were still there in the convent. She said, If you look out in the sky, youll see airplanes, which we, I dont think, had ever seen in that area anyway. She said, Well, look up. Thats because Hitler says that we belong to them now. So, that was the way I was told the Anschluss had started. But they were all welcomed by all these stupid people. (laughs) They didnt understand, or didnt want to understand, what was going to follow after that. See, he had an easy time with Austria, because they were still poor from prior collapses of everything, and there were no jobs and he promised them all that. And of course, he said, Ill give you enough to do so you have enough to live on and then some moreall his propaganda, all his people around him that are yelling all these good things. And you know, when youve had nothing for a long time, you say, Heck, itd be nice to work again and have a little house or something. And thats how he won them over, I think, without a shot being fired.
CP: And so at this time, the convent is shrinking. People are leaving left and right.
ED: Yes, yes. And then there came the day when I was just there. I didnt know; nobody talked about anything to me. If I asked anything, they just said, Well, youre here. Were here with you; dont worry. Papa will come and Mama will come. Well, one day, a nun called up in the room that I was in, and she said, Come down, come down to the courtyard. Your mama is here. Well, that was the first time almost in two years that I had heard that. So she said, Hurry up. Shes there, shes in a hurry. Go and see her. And she said, I think your brothers here, too. Well, I wanted to see Hans more than her. (laughs) I ran down, and thats when this thing comes about with the packaging. I didnt have anything.
But so she approached me, you knowlike, if I saw someone, or now that Ive had four children of my own (laughs)its unbelievable that after she hadnt seen me all this time, that she wouldnt run to me and kiss me or something. She didnt, she just was so busy with herself. I think she didnt know what to do, really. But she just came, and I guess maybe she gave me a kiss on the cheek or something, I dont know. And Hans sort of lingered back a bit, I guess to give her the room to talk to me or something, or hug me or something. Well, I didnt work that way, but he didnt want to get into an argument either. He didnt know what was going to develop.
And she just said to me, Go and pack your things, because you and Hans are going on a groewhat is it called? Groewell, it meant a big journey. The two of you. Like, Id never been further than you could see, and all of a sudden Im gonna go on a big trip somewhere? So she said, Now, you hurry up, and she gave me a little suitcase that was made of paper. You know, not leather or anything like that.
CP: Like cardboard, right?
ED: Cardboard, yeah, just a small thing. She said, Come on now, hurry up. Thats when I said, when I was writing about it, I didnt have the heart to tell her I didnt even have anything to put in it, cause what I had, I was wearing. (laughs) Thats where I was. Thats when we left, and weits a little bit hazy. I dont know when they exactly came to get me, you know. I dont think they took me that day, but pretty soon I was gone, and she took me towhere did she take me? She took me to her mothers house, my grandma, and in the meantime must have told them what was happening, about leaving.
CP: Where was her mothers house at the time?
ED: In Vienna. They always lived in Vienna, in an apartment building somewhere.
CP: And your father was away, but he knew that things were getting bad and he knew that he needed to find a place, at least for his kids. Is that right?
ED: That is right. But he had been fighting and standing in rows from morning till night, getting in all kind of weather and everything. There were lines all over this road or whatever; there was no room in any indoors. Just all over these people, and they were all hoping to get their children on a list that they could export them somewhere.
CP: So he wanted to get you on the Kindertransport list.
ED: Oh, yes. He worked his bones waiting and lining up and getting cold and getting wet and all that. He just did it all the time, till finally our names came up. But nowhere did it say that we would be together, Hans and I.
CP: You and your brother.
ED: Yeah. But it was so bad that no matter what it was, if we can go separate or something, Im gonna send you. And at that point, Id like to tell you what I think now, and I wrote not long ago. I was thinking about that, and I said that my oldest son, Michael, has two children. One of these years that Im talking about now, his children were the same age difference and the same ages as my brother and I were in my time, and it struck me. Really, I have to tell something to Michael here. And I asked him. I said, Would youcause I was talking to him about these sort of things; he always liked to hear about it. I said, What would you do? You have two children which you adore. Could you ever just pack them up and tell them, I dont know when Ill see you, but it wont be long, and send them away to a place you dont know, people you dont know, languages you dont know? And all of a sudden, youre in this train and youre going to this place. Could you do that?
CP: Its hard to even imagine it. Its really outside.
ED: Thats what he said, exactly. He held my hands very tight, and he said, I could never do that mom. And I said, Well, even if you thought there was a terrible alternative? He said, I dont think I could. So, Ive always remembered that. But the thing is, I think it was the fact that our father cared so much for us. He just knew thats the only thing he can do; otherwise, well just get killed, because thats how it was going on. And my mother wasnt at it, but I heard later from Michaelfrom Hansthat she came down from Germany when she heard that he wasI think he had to get a signature from her or something that she would allow that to happen. She came to Vienna to talk to him and say, What are you dreaming of, to send the children away? All of a sudden, she was a good mother, you know. And he said yes, and she made such a fight about that. She said, England or the places? No, thats too far. I have relatives or friends in Holland, and I have friends in France, I think she said, too. Theyll take care of them. But she hadnt done anything about it prior to this. She just heard. And my father said, No, theyre going to England. And finally, after a lot of to-do, she must have signed or something. But we went.
CP: You have a very powerful memory of that train station when you left.
ED: Oh, yes.
CP: Can you tell us about that?
CP: Can you describe that for us?
ED: Well, I hadnt ever been on a big train, I dont think, before that. But it was evening, I think, when my dadonly my dad took us to the station. My mother had gone back to Germany. And the station was fairly filled with manyobviously parents, with their children. There was so much talking, you know, between them, and tension, and the smell of the smoke from the engine. It was kind of warming up or something already; there was much more time. And then as the time grew a little shorter, I actually think I saw somebody, a woman. She could notwhen her child was about to get on the train, she couldnt let her go. She got her through the window, and she said, I cant let you go. My dad must have felt just as bad as she did, but he had the love to let us go.
CP: The wisdom to let you go, as well, to know that he needed to let you go. That was
ED: That was in the evening, and the trainwe were on the platform most of the time, and then finally we realized that it was time for the train to go, and they started shouting. Get the kids on the train and say goodbye, and that sort of thing. So then there was a lot of crying and a lot of hugging, and some of the children didnt want to go. It was just a very sad thing. There were about, I would say, maybe close to fifty of us. I could be mistaken by some, but it was quite a good crowd of kids. It was one of the last trains to get refugees out of Vienna.
CP: And you up to that point lived with so much confusion and isolation. What did you think was happening at that moment? Can you remember at all?
ED: All I cared was that Hans was with me. The train thenthere was a whistle blown or something, and we all had to be on board. He and I ran to the first window we saw, and our father was out there. He found us, which we knew that he would. He was still saying, Well see you soon. It wont be for too long, and well see you again. Then the last thingand then the train started to move, slowly at first, of course. So he walked along with us on the platform, and as the train hurried more, he hurried more. He was running, finally. And he saidhe sort of called back to Hans and me. He said, Gewhrt Sie dem Kleinen. He meant, Take care of the little one. That was me. And then the train just hurried out, and he was gone.
CP: And that was the last time that you saw your father?
CP: And Hans must have taken that to heart, because he ended up taking care of you, right?
ED: Yeah. And you know, thats quite something, because he was only about fourteen years old himself. And he was used to playing in the woods, you know, in the Vienna Woods with his boy friends, go to the swimming pool in the summertime with the other friends. He was a champion swimmer and all that stuff, didnt have that much to do with me. You know, typical teenager, with the nuisance sister. (laughs) It didnt turn out that way, at all.
CP: So you take this train to England. What happens? You get to England; you get on the next station?
ED: No, we could only go as far as Holland. (laughs) We could have but (inaudible). No.
CP: Oh, then you had to take a boat ride. Is that right?
ED: Wait a minute.
CP: A train to a boat?
ED: In Hollandoh, I have to tell you first. That train started going, and I think it slowed down somewhere down the line again. Somebody said, These are thethere were the Nazis on board, to examine the kids and make sure theyre supposed to be there, if theyve been signed in and everything; or if theyre carrying anything they shouldnt be, theyd steal it from them. You know, the parents might have given them some gold things or something, and they wouldnt get it anymore. It was really nasty, and I was petrified of that. I had a little gold ring from my mother, with a little stone. It wasnt a real stone, you know; it was just the fact that shed given it to me. And do you know what a muff is?
CP: (murmurs no)
ED: A muff is
CP: Oh, okay.
ED: A hand warmer, you know. Well, I had a little hand muff. I said to Hans, Whats going on? Whats happening? He said, Well, I tell you what. Youd better not let them see that ring, because theyll take it away from you. I said, What do I do? What should I do with it? He said, Well, Ill make a little tear in the muff, inside. Put it in there, and then look like you did nothing. (laughs) Because if he sees that, youre not gonna keep it. And thats what I did. That was the first thing that he really did for me, willingly. So those huge men came onthey were so big compared to us; we were all kids. They didnt actually touch me or anything that I had on me, but I was sitting likeI didnt know if I looked guilty, or if they would look at me. I was scared. But they didnt bother us. They tried to look as though they were very fierce, and I dont really think they were. But they were Hitlers people.
So that train then went as far as the Hook of Holland, and at the Hook of Holland, still in thewait a minute now. In Holland, the train stopped, of course, because it couldnt go any further. Let me see. Yes, they pulled up in another station. I think I must have dozed off; it was evening already, and I was quite young, eight yearsnot even eight years old. What was it now? It stopped, and some of the bigger boys that were with us as refugeeswe thought wed better ask somebody why its stopping; we were afraid that we were going to be examined again or something. And somebody yelled out, No, were in friendly Holland. They said, Look out the window. So it was stopping, and we looked out of the window and it wasthe platform was crowded with women, Dutch women. Each one had a big sack of something: it was food they were handing us.
ED: And there was milk in there. I dont know, a little bit of fruit or something. What else was in there that they gave us? Oh, sandwiches, of course, which wasnt very well known in those days. But they did it on white bread. I, for one, had never seen white bread in my life, because the European bread is so good, and the best kind is not the white bread. I said to Hans, Look, Hans. They even gave us cake. (both laugh) And Hans said, You silly thing, you. (both laugh) You have a lot to learn.
CP: It must have been a disappointment when you realized it was just white bread. No?
ED: I thought it was heavenly.
CP: Okay, okay.
ED: I was hungry! I didnt care what it was. And so thenI have a Dutch daughter-in-law, and I know her mom and everything. Whenever I used to tell Ellen about it, my daughter-in-law, I would cry. I said, It could have been your mother standing there. There were all ages of people handing us this food. It was such a kindness that I cant tell you. Shes a good kid that we have here. Where was I now? Oh, and when we had pulled out of the stationno, before we pulled out of the station. We had a boat, quite an old boat, waiting for us, to take us across thewhat is that horrible crossing you have to make for England?
CP: The Channel?
ED: The Channel. The Channel is a wild piece of water. (laughs) Thats what we had to get over. Theres no other way to get there; they didnt have a Chunnel yet or anything like that. It also was dark and raining, and our sort ofthe lady that looked after us, or tried to look after us, made sure we were all lined up, you know, squished together, so we would quickly go as one. Then she said, Now, as long as were all quiet and were all here and everything, now we go on a boat ride. She said, Run, because its dark, and we need to hurry up. Its late. Lets go. So I remember looking at the floorit was dark and wet, because wed been on the train, so it wasnt like that. Well, that was what it was. She just told us, Get on it, get on it, get on it. Lets get in, just pushing us in, almost, to get away from there, because there was still a chance that they could have made us turn around. We were too close, still, to Germany.
So we did, and we were headed for London. I think it was to London, yeah. I wrote about that once, too, and I said I was very tired, so the lady that received us in the boat, she could see that I was really weary and I wanted to sleep. She thought I was just so unhappy. Well, I wasnt happy or unhappy. I was nothing; I just wanted to sleep. I was cold. And she brought a blanket from somewhere, and she wrapped me in it, and she said, Now, you sleep here, and Ill wake you up when you need to get up. And the next time I woke up was when we were in England.
CP: Well, I think thats actually a perfect place to stop for this tape, and well pick it up when you wake up in England on the next tape.
CP: Okay, this is tape four of our interview with Elisabeth Dixon. And where we left off is youd fallen asleep on your boat trip over to England, and you wake up and all of a sudden youre there.
ED: Thats right. We landed, and lets see we had to get into awhere did we land? I think we landed in London, and it was morning, closeit was quite a crossing, I guess. I dont knowI slept. Now, when we docked, we somehow had to get on a train again, and there was another lady from the Society of Friends waiting. They helped us all along. She said she wantedshe got out with us and said, Were in London now. We have your parents waiting somewhere here, so you have to listen. Dont be rowdy; just listen for your name, because you wont know who it is. And I think I wrote that they gave usits an identification that we could hang over ourselves, so that the parents could understand that this is their child, or the child theyre gonna look after for a while. But I said, This is not like the identity cards that they put on people that we had to leave behind, have to wear all the time. Were wearing this for a different reason. Were free now. So that was that.
And then she said, Now, the ones that are being picked up here, well start with that. You get out, and the ones that are not, youll make another trip with me. So she looked after us. On the platform, when we landedit must have been in London. (laughs) Yes, it has to be because, yes, she said somebodys name, and two parents came and took one child away. This all went very smoothly, and theres always one child going, one child going, and we were still there. We hadnt heard our names, and we were getting more worried. Theyre taking one child; whos gonna take two? You know what is this? So, theres nothing we could do about it, except just worry about it. Hans, I think, to just soothe me, said, You dont know any English, and I said, I know I dont. (laughs) But he says, I want you to say some English words. I said, How? I dont know any English.
He said, Well, you know, were here in London now. You can say London. Theres a gentleman thats been over there watching this. I hadnt noticed anybody, but he had, and he was a very nicely dressed gentleman and he had an umbrella, because its always raining in England. He had a hat on, a nice hat. And Hans said, I want you to go to that gentleman, and I want you to ask if he can tell you where we are. I said, I dont know how to say that. He said, Well, Im telling you how to say it. So he told me what to say, and I went. I said, Do I have to? Yes, you have to, he said. I went over to him, and I said in my wayI dont know how it came out, but I said, Please, sir, tell mewould you tell me if this iswould you tell me if were here in London Town? And the gentleman looked at me, and he smiled a little bit and he said, Yes, my dear, youre in London. I always cry when I remember that. So, he was very nice.
CP: And eventually you and your brotheryou said you were the last two, right?
ED: Well, yeah, just about the last two. We were still worried. Hey, they all left and we didnt. All of a sudden, a little old lady came down to the platform, and he said, Theres still somebody here. It turned out to be our foster mother. She was a little sixty year old lady who looked like she was about seventy-eight or something. (both laugh) I shouldnt say that. She was an elderly looking woman, for her age.
CP: And her name was Maud, is that right?
ED: Whats her first name? Oh, Maud Harker.
ED: Maud, M-a-u-d, Harker.
ED: K-e-r. And she didntyou know, she was as scared as we were, I think. I mean, she took a chance. She was just an old lady. But she had a friend who had a car waiting for us, because wewait a minute. Where did they take us? I think somehow we landed in Leeds. You must have heard of Leeds, in England. But we werent gonna live in Leeds; she doesnt live in Leeds, and its quite a way away from Halifax, which is where we went. She spoke not a word of English; I couldnt understand it, nothing, just like we couldnt understand her. But the lady who was there to sort of give us away, she said, Well, thats your new mother, to take care of you. But then she went off, and that was it. So she took us in the car. She was talking a mile a minute in English. (both laugh) Its like youre deaf and dumb all of a sudden, if you know nothing of what everybody is saying. Its a very weird feeling. But anyway, that was going to be our life, so something had to be done. She took us in that car, and the friend was driving us then to Halifax, to her house where she lived. Lets see. Well, then we got out. We couldnt even say thank you, because we didnt know how to do that. It was dark by the time we got there. She took us into the house, and we realized very quickly that there was a young man there, too, and an older man. The older man was her husband, and she had a son.
CP: And Ben was the husband?
ED: Ben was the husband. You know more than I do. (both laugh) Did I tell you that?
CP: I got it from you, yeah.
ED: Oh, thank you. So, yes.
CP: And you said Jack was about five years older than your brother?
ED: Yes, but they had the same birthdays. Weird. And we learned much later that it was Jack who persuaded his parents to take the two children. They were told that we would be two; we didnt know that. So we were very relieved to be together, first of all, so there were two of us who couldnt speak anything. Hans knew an odd word from school or something, but nothing that he could do a conversation in. And we quickly realized that they hadJack or somebodyit must have been Jack, because the woman was with us. He must have prepared an extra special evening meal to welcome us, which was very nice. The fatherwell, the reason the father couldnt have done it was because it turned outwell, Ill tell you in a minute about that.
My brother has a thing that he cannot eat or do anything with fish, no matter what it is. It seems when he was a little boy, he swallowed a bone or something, and he had such a scare he justall his life lasted this horror of fish. He just couldnt. And of course the English love fish, and they thought thenand Im sure they do stillthat its a very good meal, you know. Besides, we were hungry again. So they had set the table in the kitchen, but it was a set table and they all sat down and started eating with us. Well, Hans was sitting this side of me, and I was sitting next to him, and of course we could just look at each other every now and then. We couldnt say anything even to each other.
But there was the moment when Hans was about to put his fork in his mouth, and I quickly said, Hans, thats fish! (laughs) He had to put it down. It was one of his most embarrassing moments ever, because he couldnt explain why, and I couldnt, and we knew that they were trying to be very kind. Oh, it was just a terrible thing. And they were going to keep us for a while, you know. Oh, it was awful. (laughs) But eventually, he hated it so muchthe fishthat he managed enough words somehow, or just sign language or something, to make them understand that he just cant tolerate it or something. So he saidhe told me then thatwell, I knew I was there, but they realized theres something wrong with the fish for this boy here, and he couldnt explain what, but they were good enough to never serve fish for him again, as long as we lived there. So, that was sort of a happy ending.
But I was shown to my room in this house, and it was just a one-story house, on the long side. My room was about as long as this table, and aboutyou know, about this wide. Then came the wall, and there was one door in there, and Im looking to hang up something and I dont see a closet or anything, but there was a hook on the back of the door. That was going to be my hang-up placenot that I had any clothes, really, but I had a coat and stuff, and then later on a uniform to go to school with and all that. So anyway, that was my room. At one end there was a little cabinet with about two or three drawers and that was it, and then at the foot of the bed there was a window leading to a garden out there. Every now and thenwell, I just fell asleep again, I was so worn out; just threw myself on the bed and heard nothing till I was waking up. When I started waking up, I kept hearing a bell go ding-dong, then nothing, then ding-dong. (laughs) It wasnt a clock or anything. I thought, What the heck is this? What do they do here? Do they think its Christmas or what?
So finally, I got dressed, and I went out of my door. I didnt know where else to go; I didnt know where Hans had gone. He had gone in the other bedroom with Jack. I was so glad to see him, and he said hed been looking around to see what there is here. I said, What is this bell thats always ringing? He started to laugh. He said, Its a doorbell. They have a mom-and-pop type store, but its in front of their house, part of the house. So anytime anybody came and opened the door, the bell rang. Oh, I thought all kinds of things! I was glad to hear that. Then, of course, we still couldnt talk to the people. Jack worked, so he had gone to town to work in the carpet shop in Halifax. There was no link between us; we couldnt say anything. This lasted quite a time.
Hans then finally said, Look, from nowwe had a few words already that we could say, he more than me. But he said, From now on, were not going to talk in German. No matter what it is, you have to tell me in English. If you dont, I wont answer you. Weve got to get ready to talk to these people. Well, of course, I could see the sense in that, but its very difficult. (laughs) But thats what we did, and from then, I dont think I ever spoke German again. And within about two months or so, I was ready to go to school, cause they couldnt accept me till I could speak English. It was time for me to be in school. And Hans, he could take evening classes, cause his education was interrupted with all that stuff in Austria.
So one of the first words I remember that I used to have to sayfirst of all, this lady, Maud, we were told by Jackthrough Hans. Hans told me we have to call her Auntie Maud, and Uncle Ben, and Jack. Thats who they are. Oh, what was I telling you before? Oh, the first words that I didnt forget so easily in English was apple, banana, and that turned out to be my choice of dinner. I could either have a banana or an apple for my dinner, and that was the beginning of being a hungry little girl. The older people in the end had trained me to run for them just about every night to a fish and chips shop; they were big on fish and chips, and there happened to be one around the corner from where they lived, not exactly there, but very close. It wasnt rationed, either; it was one of those things you could just buy, if you had the money. So they would send me to get them for them. They would eat them, but I could choose my banana or apple.
I had experiences because in Halifaxits in a valley, this town, and its a mill town. They used to make carpets and bedding and that sort of thing. It was a lot of good stuff they made there, and that was their industry there, the main industry besides ordinary shops like you would get in any town. Really, there was Halifax, and there were the two tops, you know, on the busesthey had a double decker bus still, and even though they would sometimes go on the lower road, very often wed seen one right on the top, these double deckers, in all weathers. They had terrible weather; they had snow and everything. The double deckers were still going. (laughs) But we got used to it, little by little by little. But that was the beginning of a very difficult ten years.
CP: And at first you only thought you were going to be there a short period of time.
CP: But you ended up staying there for ten years. How long did it take you to feel adjustedor again, did you always feel sort of left out or different?
ED: No, I didnt feel left out. I felt different, because I dont think the people around where we livedthe whole town, I thinkhad ever seen two foreigners in their midst. And Ben and Maud spread the word that We have the two kids from Europe, you know, so the doorbell would go extra often because they all wanted to come and have a look at us.
CP: Did you feel like an attraction or something?
ED: Yeah. (laughs) I hated it! And HansI just wrote that he made himself scarce. I dont know what I could do; I didnt know where to go.
CP: So how did you feel towards Maud and Ben? Was there conflicted emotions? Did you feel thankful that they had you there, or did you not like them?
ED: Well, in an adult sort of thought, which we had to be grown up in five minutes at that moment and from then on. But we realized that, A, we have to be very grateful because we knew what was happening in Europe; and Bwhat was the other thing? For taking us in, and the other reasonwe had no alternative. You see, the people from the Society of Friends, even after wed been there maybe a month or so, they sent people around to talk to the children theyd left with people. They were very thoughtful, you know, because I dont know what they would do if the kids said, No, theyre beating me, or something. Where would they go? So we heard that they were going aroundI think they even called ahead of time and said, Wed like to speak to the refugees you have.
So she came, I remember, and before she came, Hans said to me, This is where theyre gonna ask you questions. We talked in German, that time. Wed better just fib a bit, you know. Were not as happy as we make out to the parents. In letters we had written how wonderful it was and everything, and they were so happy and they had written happy letters to them and all that. It wasnt like that at all, but we didnt want to worry our parents, at least our father; I dont know if we could write to my mother then or not, I dont know. But so we had to always watch what we said about them. Now, deep down, if it hadnt been for Jack and they said yes, we would haveI dont know, we never would have been there. So we have that to be grateful for. But the other thingsit was not friendly; it was not good at all. Ben was a voyeur type guy, and I had no idea what that was, and so I couldnt explain it to Hans and I couldnt explain it to anybody, because I didnt know the words for it.
CP: You had the sense, you said, that he was kind of an evil man in that sense.
CP: You mentioned that there were
ED: He liked to feel me and pick me up and make me kiss him goodnight when I didnt want to kiss him goodnight. He drilled a hole in the bathroom door, and I said to Hans, Whats with that? Jack had told Hans, Now, you know theres a little hole there in the bathroom door. But he said, My dad thought it best to do that, because his wife, Maudin case she falls or something and needs help, he should know it. It was all malarkey, because Id never seen her trip or fall or anything. He was looking when I was taking a bath or going to the toilet or whatever. It was his game, you know, that kind of stuff, and he knew that I didnt like him. That, I couldnt hide. But he had no intention of changing his habits, because he knew I couldnt explain it to anybody, what he was doing.
CP: And you were pretty much trapped there
CP: At least you werent in Europe being murdered.
ED: Yes, but still, we were alive and we were together. So those were our ten years together like that.
CP: Thats still not an easy tradeoff, though. It still sounds very difficult.
ED: It is difficult, because the two people, the older people, they just didnt know how to be parents. They were just weird. They had two dogs, two cats, and two birds in the house.
CP: Thats too many.
ED: It was a small house, really. Yeah, what was I going to tell you about them? Oh, and they had one of the dogs was a beautiful Alsatian dog. Betty, they called her; they had names for all these creatures. Its a small house, and they had these six things there. (laughs) Oh, gosh, what was I going to tell you about that? Oh, Maud, she was supposed to keep the house, cleaning it and cooking and so on, housekeeper. Bens place was the shop, and thats how the work was separated. Jack had to said to her, we heard later, that the reason they should notthey should take the two of usis that Ill have a brother that Ive never had, if the boy they will take, and for the girl, shell be a good companion to my mother and a helper. Well, that means youve got to do all the cleaning and dirty work. Ben, he heard probably a little young girl coming, and he was delighted. He was smart enough to know that I wouldnt be able to talk.
CP: Is this where Miss Scott comes into the picture? Can you tell
ED: Oh, later. Thats later.
CP: Thats later, okay.
ED: When I got to high school. You want me to jump to that? I can do that.
CP: Is there anything else that youd like to share about the early years?
ED: Theres a lot, because my life did change while I was with them, and it was my doing, the change.
CP: How did it change?
ED: Well, I just did all I could, and we oftenoh, Ben was always complaining about me. Not to me: to Jack to tell Hans, and Hans had to tell me. This was endless. I tried everything. I got older and I stayed away from him, and he knew it. That annoyed him, of course. So everything I didI was getting piano lessons free from somewhere, from a lady, because Jack played piano very well and they had a piano in the living room. I had to practice, of course. I had never played a piano. I chose piano when they asked me at school, high school, what would I playsome jumping ahead there. But when I used to practice, he used to walk through the room and stand there (laughs) and walk out again. He just couldnt stand it that I was practicing and doing something. How long do you think I could stand that? I wiggled out of the lessons. I couldnt do it. So that probably satisfied him for the day: he ruined something else for me. Oh, I dont know. He was just an awful man. Where were we?
CP: Leading up to your high school years when things started to change, you started to change.
ED: Oh. Welloh, yeah, I was going to continue with Hans and me. Ben started saying to Hans all the time, Shes a troublemaker. Thats all he would ever say about me. Troublemaker! (laughs) I never got anybody in trouble, except he was afraid that I might say something about him when I was olderand I didnt. But exceptyou know, everything I did, when I tried to help him in the shop and anything, Shes a troublemaker, that one, he would say. I was that one, that person. It used to make meI dont know, I cried a lot. And Hans, I couldnt wait till he came home and I could talk to him again. He knew how tough it was. But he used to say, Lets go for a walk, and wed walk down. We had a street leading away from the store, and it was a lane type of a place: very nice, woodsy. And we would talk it out. He wouldnt turn around till we were both laughing again. And it always came back to, Now, look, if we werent here it could be worse, because they could have separated us at any time. So that was pretty bad, but he got me through those things.
And then there was one time when Hans just got sick and tired of hearing him complain about this troublemaker. I think hed swallowed hearing that for a couple of years already; I cant be sure, but it seemed so. So Hans, who was always friendly with both of them, as friendly as he could beand he was never nominated as the troublemaker, you know. (laughs) Just me, who was just a schoolgirl doing my homework and everything I should be doing, I was a troublemaker. So Hans blew up, and he just started to yell at Ben. (laughs) I heard him do that. He said, Im tired of what you always call my sister! Whats she doing wrong? Its not right to do that, on and on and on. And I think Ben was taken aback, because hed never heard Hans like that.
That was the beginning of a little less ugliness about himnot that he ever liked me, but he didnt talk so much anymore. That suited me fine. If he never said another word, Id be happy. But he was just driving me crazy, and Hansand he kept it in, too, like I had. And after a while, he said, No, I cant have that happen. So he saved me again. It was like that. They didnt care about us as people, and they were annoyed because I think, stupidly, that somebody had started the rumor that wed only be there for six months, because then theyll send us to Canada. I dont know who started that, but everybody seemed to believe that. After six months, we couldnt go: the war was on then, and we were there for almost ten years. Not meI left them after, I think, eight years. Thats where the other part begins of my life, when I left there. You wonder, Whatd she do now?
ED: I need to tell you.
CP: Yeah. Did Miss Scott come before that?
CP: Okay. What happened next?
ED: Well, I had diphtheria when I was aboutthe first year in high school. I dont know how old I was. Eleven, I think. I was so ill I wasI missed a lot in school. I was still learning English on the way and everything. When I came out of thereI was in a hospital for, I think, about two months, cause Maud had no ideaor if she had, she didnt practice itof helping me recuperate.
This is where Miss Scott comes in. She and the school doctorthere used to be a doctor for each school in those days, not to examine but to talk to the girlsit was an all-girls school I went to thenand answer questions and things like that. How am I telling this? The doctoroh, she and Miss Scott decided to try and interest me in repeating the year, because I was so far behind and still not perfect in anything. They thought that would be better for me. She called me to her office and told me, and she was very kind about it and everything. She knew I wouldnt like it. (laughs) She said, You know, its for your own good. You wont be sorry. You really need to have time to get better and all this stuff. Of course, again, I had no choice. I had to do it.
That yearwhen the year started again and I saw who was in the class, there was a girl there called Pat North, and we became close, like sisters. There was a time when I was living in their housenot right away, I was still at the Harkers. Pat and I, we just were funny and silly together. She was a beautiful girl, and her parents were a little bit off the norm. Her mother liked to bleach her hair, and I never saw her without makeup. She had a strange figure, so she had to make all her own clothes, this woman. She was very clever: beautiful stuff she made. Anyway, she eventuallyIll just skip all that, the big thing, but agreed tono, she wanted toI used to visit Pat a lot, and we played together and we went to school together and we made fun of the teachers together and all kinds of stuff. (laughs) Oh, Im losing myself.
I think she persuaded her folks that they would let me move into their house, and that is because Miss Scott talked to them. The thing was that Emthat was Pats motheronce came to the Harkers. Shed heard a lot about them, cause I was more at Pams than I was at the Harkers if I could help itPat, I should say. Not Pam, Pat. Pat would have liked me to have beenshe had a big bedroom and two beds and everything, and places to put clothes that you dont have. (laughs) Between them all, they decided itd be nice if I would live with them eventually, but that was a bit later, after the other thing.
CP: Is that why you said that Miss Scott saved your life?
ED: I think so, in the long run, because shewhen I was sixteenI had lost a year in school. When I had a sixteenth birthday, I didnt thinkI thought, well, legally I can work now; but I didnt have the last school, the last year in school, and it was in that last year that I should have matriculated and finished my high school education, and I didnt. I thought, Hey, whats it going to do to me? I want to be free. I want to do something and live by myself. Crazy. (laughs) And then Pat said, Our neighbor, our back-door neighbor, theyre looking for a maid. They were a young couplewell, he wasnt so young, but she was young, the wife, and she was expecting her first child. He wanted to pamper her and always had a helper in the house, live-in help. For some reason, he didnt have it at that time, and he wanted it desperately for her. The two must have talked about me, so Pat said, You know, Moms been talking to them. If youre not going to go back to school, go and be their maid. I said, Oh, good! Ill have a job.
Well, that was also a terrible experience, the whole thing, but thats when Miss Scott came to see me, when I was working for them. A principal never does that for anybody, but she did. She had to first find out where I was, because Pat promised she wouldnt tell her, and she didnt. So she had to findshe knew I had a brother, but she didnt know where he was. She found him somehow and talked to him, and she explained the situation. She said, You know, I really want her to come back to school and finish. Then she can do what she wants, cause in that school nobody had ever left and gone to be a housemaid anywhere. They all matriculated and they all went on to colleges and everything, and I was going to be the first one (laughs) who worked.
But anyway, that was to my good. Out of kindness she talked to my brother, and he said, I think, that hed seen her. I said, How could you see Miss Scott? She doesnt know you. Well, one afternoon the doorbell rang and Miss Scott is standing on my doorstep at that house where I was working. (laughs) I didnt know what to say. She said, How are you doing? She was very sweet. You mind if I come in a little bit? I couldnt even think to ask her to come in, cause I had it as part of my deal with those people theyd given me sort of another room that they said, That could be your private room, which I thought was great for me, Id never had that. So I had my little sitting room to ask guests in there, if I had any.
She talked to me, and she explained to me that she really wished for me that I would finish and all the reasons that there were. I knew the reasons. And she saidshe mentioned the Harkers, and I didnt respond with anything from the Harkers to her. The more we talked, the more she realized thatthe more she knew what was going on between me and the Harkers, and that I was very unhappy there. So she must have had somebody who kept an eye on me all the years I knew her, or she knew me. I thought that was really something. She arranged that I would go to the high schoolit was a private school. Id have no fees; they would, I dont know, give me grants that I dont have to repay or anything. I didnt have anything to repay with. Even my uniformswe wore uniforms. Anything I needed, I could go and buy and not pay for them. The dinnersor the lunches that they served at the school during the war, they were very good. Thats where I got my real meals, not a banana or an apple. (laughs) I like both, but I mean, you know!
CP: Well, thats not dinner.
ED: Thats not. No, not really.
CP: Well, I think we have to stop for this tape, and well pick it up on the next one.
ED: Okay. Are you all asleep yet?
CP: This is tape five with our interview with Elisabeth Dixon.
ED: (laughs) Youve heard enough.
CP: (laughs) Never, never. But you were telling us about kind of the end of high school and how you ended up going back to high school, and you were living with Pats family at the time. Then what happened?
ED: Then another life just started with me. I was homeless for about three or four times between that and being married. People wouldI dont know, I guess because I was a foreigner. England didnt like foreigners; they hadnt seen foreigners in Halifax. There was one woman who threw me out after wed been doing fine, and another oneI was sick. Id had an operation in the hospital, and theyd kept me extra long because Id told them I had nowhere to go. They said, We can let you stay an extra day or two, or something. So she came to visit me, the lady that I was staying withor I was renting from a room. She came to see me, and I thought, Shes left it late, but at least she came to see me. She just came to see me to tell me not to come back. She had packed my stuff. I cant have you back. That was the next place I had nowhere to go.
Then I met one of my school friends, who was now a teacher; and I was teaching, but not a trained teacher, but I had a teaching job. She saidI was telling her, Everywhere I go, they say its okay, then
On my seventeenth birthday, she called me in the front room. I want to talk to you. I thought she was going to say, Happy birthday. She says, You have to look for somewhere else to live. Just like that! What have I done? Nothing. Thats it. She wont even talk to me. I know what it is now: they were getting a stipend for me, and that stops at a certain age. I didnt know about that then, and she didnt tell me. She was very nasty about it.
CP: So how did youhow did you get by at that time; and also, when did you meet your husband?
ED: Well, because my husband Ernie was Hanss best friend at that time. Hed been away for so long in the air force and everything. They just appealed to each other: they knew about Europe and all that stuff. His motherhe went home to live at home when he was discharged from the air force. The war was over, you know; it was time out. Whenever I would be homeless, he would go to his mother and say, You have so many friends, Mom. Is there somebody thats got an empty room that theyd like to rent out? That got me two of them, I think, and the third one I found myself but they threw me out too. She was the one that came when I was sick in hospital and told me not to bother coming home. Thats how it was. This friend of mine said, Why havent you considered renting an apartment? Youre always with somebody. You need to be on your own. Youd like to be. Ill call you sometime and Ill read it to you, how that happened. (laughs)
CP: Theres one other story that we didnt get wrapped up, and that was back on the train station when you were leaving and your father was waving goodbye to you. That was the last time that you saw him, and then for that whole ten-year period, you were pretty much out of communication. You didnt know whether he was alive or dead. And then I guess you said at some point, you heard from maybe the Red Cross that he was likely killed, but you didnt know for sure. Can you tell us how it was that you finally found out about what happened to your father?
ED: Only from that piece of paper; and it was his daughter who found out something, and she forwarded it to Hans and Hans, of course, sent it to me.
CP: How long ago was that?
ED: Excuse me, excuse me. (shuffles papers) I have 2005 here.
CP: It was 2005.
CP: And at that timewell show this document. But you found out that your father was murdered in the Maly Trostinec camp in Minsk, Russia, and thats M-a-l-y T-r-o-s-t-i-n-e-c.
CP: Was itwhen you found out what happened to him, did you have a sense of relief?
ED: No, you cant. We were neverwe never really knew how to feel when first notice came, because we didnt know how or what happened to him. Why is he dead? How good are they? But when we got that, we accepted that as a document from something that she found on the computer.
CP: Was there any sense of at least now you know? Cause it seems like one of the big themes of your life is you never knew. When you were little, your mom never told you what was going on.
ED: Wed sort of known, since the wrong informationwell, the missing information. We sort of thought he was gone, because otherwise we felt he wouldvesomebody wouldve written. There wasnt anybody to notify us. It just made all that last longer. It will never go away; you cant just turn it off and say, Thank goodness hes gone. Again, you have to say, Well, I hope he didnt suffer. Thats all.
CP: And you said this a couple times, and I find it pretty profound. You live with these memories; you live with this experience still to this very day.
ED: Oh, yeah.
CP: And howdo you feel like, then, that its shaped your whole life, being isolated when you were young? Did that shape your life, do you think?
ED: Yes, absolutely. I was very uneducated with life. I had nobody to teach me anything when I was growing ups. And its been the loneliness, you know, that always creeps in. Other people have mothers or fathers to talk to them, but I never had that. I do know that Hans, even though he had nothing to do with it, but he was her favorite child. But I had him. I think Ill never get over that, losing him. But I have to go on living. I just think that Hans would not be happy if he knew I was unhappy.
CP: So still
ED: And the same with my father. My mother, I dont know. I dont think shell care.
CP: So theyre still helping you to live, even today, I would say.
ED: I think so.
CP: Does it help you to have children and a partner that wantyou know, want you to tell these stories, and want to hear these stories? Does that help, to have a kind of intergenerational connection?
ED: I think the children want to hear more. I dont knowdid you hear all the rest of this? You knew about all this.
Pamela Bloor: Most of it, but not all the details. Much of it, but not all.
CP: Some new details.
CP: Some new details. But just to know that they care and that they want to hear about it
ED: Oh, yes. The only thing I can say is that I have my reward, and my reward is my children. I have listened to my whole familyI have two daughters and two sons. Theyre all very decent people, couldnt get any better, and they all are married to very decent fellows. I couldnt get any better. I call them my sons; theyre really my sons-in-law, two of them. We have no divorces in our family. Everyone is happily married, which is quite a difference from just being married. What else, Pamie?
PB: Your grandchildren.
ED: Well, no, just I want to go on with you first. That comes later.
CP: They all sound like theyre very successful and doing meaningful things.
ED: They are all doing well.
Edward Bloor: Ill agree to that. Ill attest to that. I really dont think you can find
ED: A better family.
EB: too many other families that have four children whothereve been no divorces and no criminal activity.
ED: Nobody smokes. Nobody does drinking more than they should.
EB: Its just unusual, and amazing.
CP: So thats your reward, is having a beautiful family.
ED: If I didnt have them, I dont think I couldId be useless.
CP: Well, I
ED: But I do have grandchildren now, and Im even a great-grandma, of the cutest baby in the world. (both laugh)
CP: Well, congratulations. One of the things you said when we first spoke that really touched me, and this has to do with family, is you said you learned everything that you needed to learn about being a mother through your own mothers failings. And like thats how you learned to be a mother. And just the way that you put that, I thought, was pretty profound: out of having a distant mother.
ED: Well, I was looking for things. Thats why I cant understand how she could have been like that. I knew what that did to me, and I always tried to do the exact opposite to my children. I may not have always succeeded, but I always tried, at least. (laughs)
CP: Can I ask you, how do you feel about your life today and about sharing this story with the USF Library and the Florida Holocaust Museum, telling your story in this kind of way? How does that feel to you, just today?
ED: It feels good. I felt I had to do it, and here came my chance. Im still writing, so I hope to finish that one of these days.
CP: But you felt compelled to share your story, even before this interview was set up. You needed to share it.
ED: Yes, I was writing it. Ive written it.
CP: Where does that come from for you? What compels you to write?
ED: I wanted the children to know. I did it for the children to know all the details. I havent finished telling it.
CP: Well, what did we miss? Thats an impossible question.
ED: Just little things, nothing very important, really. The kids should know what sort of a person I am and why I am this sort of a person. I sort of had that as the head thing, you know, for when the book is finished. Thats why Im writing it. And I went to the writing group, and they start out Do you want to write your life? and all this, and I thought, Maybe I will. I know very little about anything past my father, none of his family except vaguely Tante Helene.
The rest of ithe came from seven children. Two or three of them went to France and had a terrible time during the war, but they werent killed. There was only one of them that died on the way to a camp. They caught him: he was their grandfather, I think, who had the foresight to tell them all to go to France. Well, France was invaded, too. Nobody thought that that would ever happen. So they were hidden for the time of the war and doing the best they could. They had friends who tried to hide them. But the immediate father-in-law was instrumental in shipping them out, get out of there, but not far enough, in his case. We lost touch with those people. I never knew them myself.
But we know nowHans and I said were the last Nichtenhausers in the world, because wherever he would travel and look, hed always look at every phone book for Nichtenhausers. He didnt have a computer, and Im not computer enough to have the sense to look on the computer. So thats where someone in Paris had the ideahe came across the name, and hewhat is he? What is Hugo? Is that my cousin? Hes older than I am; hes about ninety-something. He has a son, who is very well educated, a teacher. You might have met him; I think youd like him. I havent met him, but I know him by writing. I dont know who started the writing, but we had a letter: yes, you are those people, and then they started talking about different folks.
See, Hans knew more of my fathers family than I ever did, cause five years is a big difference. Hes grown and Im still ten years old. He lived longer in Vienna, you know, till I was born. A five year old can remember quite a bit. And most of that family lived in Vienna and they were always together. They were a very closely knit family, which I missed. I just wasnt aware of it, cause I was too young and I wasnt even born for most of it. So, thats how it was. (laughs)
CP: Well, I just have one last question for you.
CP: And that is: with your life experience and with your story, do you have any kind of a message for future generations that might watch this video, or for your family that might in the future watch this video? Would you like to leave us with some sort of message?
ED: Theres a lot Id like to say to them. The important thing, I think, in life is: be a kind person, and be loving and lovable. If youre standoffish, youll always be alone. If you had the misfortunes I had, I was alone for most of my life. Pat was really my first feel of how it might be if I had a relative, but then that ended poorly. It could, because we werent related. But I told the kids, I think, that Ive tried to not be like my mother all my life. I have fought it. I know I look like her. But she was just so different, and she was indifferent to me. To hear her talk and to see her, she was the worlds best mother in the whole world, and she really wasnt. And she was not an evil woman, but she justshe came first, and then came Hans. (laughs) And all kinds of other things happened, and maybe then came I down there. Its not nice. She didnt have a very good family. Her father was a messhe was a cold sort of a manand her mother was a nice little woman, very nice.
CP: Well, I think thats a very good lesson to take away. Be kind, love, and be lovable. I like that. Well, thank you very much for an amazing interview. I really appreciate it.
ED: Im glad we met.
CP: Me, too.
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Dixon, Elisabeth N.,
Elisabeth N. Dixon oral history interview
h [electronic resource] /
interviewed by Chris Patti.
Tampa, Fla. :
University of South Florida Tampa Library,
1 sound file (220 min.) :
digital, MPEG4 file +
e 1 transcript (54 p.)
Holocaust survivors oral history project
Interview conducted June 14, 2011.
Oral history interview with Holocaust survivor Elisabeth N. Dixon. Dixon was born in Vienna, Austria, in 1928, and grew up in a Vienna suburb called Mdling with her brother, Hans Knight. Her parents were divorced when she was very young, so she alternated between households until her mother arranged for her to board at a convent. After the Anschluss in 1938, her father grew concerned for his children's safety and arranged for them to leave Austria on a Kindertransport. Dixon and her brother were taken to Halifax, England, where they lived with a local family for eight years. Their father was killed in the Holocaust; their mother, who was not Jewish, was not close to the children and remained in Germany after the war. Dixon immigrated to the United States when she was twenty-one, married a friend of her brother's, and had four children. In this interview, she recounts her childhood experiences, describing how her difficult family situation has affected her life.
Dixon, Elisabeth N.,
Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945)
Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945)
v Personal narratives.
Jewish children in the Holocaust
Kindertransports (Rescue operations)
Crimes against humanity.
Patti, Chris J.,
Florida Holocaust Museum.
University of South Florida Libraries.
Holocaust & Genocide Studies Center.
University of South Florida.
Special & Digital Collections.
Oral History Program.
Holocaust & genocide studies oral history projects.
Holocaust survivors oral history project.
y USF ONLINE ACCESS
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