Smuggling Money

We all knew that eventually we would have to get out of Germany, but we also were afraid to face reality and uncertainty. But some preparations should be started and some planning. Our parents favored the idea to move to France and then apply for a U.S.A. visa from there. We also knew that, if we wanted to apply for the American visa, we would have to travel to Stuttgart in southern Germany where the nearest consulate was located. We also knew that the waiting time for an immigration visa, according to the quota system, could be several years. Refugee visas did not exist at that time. Many people were applying for the American visas at that time, it was the most desirable one, also the rumors persisted that the consul was not too helpful and he was impressed by the Nazi government.

For Pessach 1936 the entire family traveled by car to a small resort in Belgium, with the name of "Spa" and we stayed in a Jewish hotel, that was strictly kosher. There I was introduced to the famous "Matze mit Ruehrei", Matze with scrambled eggs, I loved it. Father met in this hotel by chance a diamond dealer from Antwerp in Belgium. Antwerp was known at that time to be a trade center for diamonds. Father and this man became very good friends and they worked out the following deal: we would bring German marks to him in Antwerp and he would convert it to American dollars, at the prevailing rate and deposit it in father's name, with a bank in New York.

Smuggling money out of Germany at that time was punishable by death. One had to be quite desperate to try it. Father had an older DKW, which was one of the four cars made by the Autounion. Audi was and is one of the cars from this Union. This car was traded in for a new 1936 Mercedes, rear engine model. John and I worked very hard to convince our father to buy this particular model. It was a very advanced design, with a four cylinder engine, water cooled, transmission and differential were one block. Porsche was the name of the engineer who designed it. This car was the forerunner of the VW Bug (Volkswagen), which was also designed by Porsche. The Porsche automobile is also his design. Very few people had seen a car like ours and it turned out to be the best car for our "adventures". The German custom inspection was generally very thorough. When we got to the German border crossing, the custom people would ask us to open the trunk and we opened the front of the car and they would say "AH", but where is the motor?" Than we opened the hood over the engine and they would say "AH" again and that was normally the end of the check by the custom inspectors. John had constructed a double bottom in one of the car doors. This false bottom was made in such a manner that it would have been invisible even if one would have opened the door panel. It was a master piece of construction.

John and I made several successful trips to Pelicaan Str. in Antwerp, Belgium. From Cologne it was a round trip of about 300 miles. We left in the morning and returned at night. Coming from Nazi Germany it was an unbelievable sight to see the large number of diamond dealers, most of them were Chazidik Jews, dressed in Caftans and black felt hats, walking on Pelicaan Str. in Antwerp. They were dressed exactly like the Chazidims I saw in Israel and New York.

When we were looking for our friends' office the first time, we had a little trouble finding it. The people we asked for directions did not care to help us. I guess we were dressed too "German" and our French was not so good either. We did find his office after a while and we were very apprehensive because the building we came to looked very run down and neglected. We thought a rich diamond dealer would not live in this very shabby building and we were a little doubtful if we could leave our money with him. We went inside and it was as run down as the outside. They knew our names, which indicated to us that we had been expected. After waiting a few moments we were asked to go to an adjoining office which was much nicer. We had to go through a third office, which was very elegant and than we were let in to our friends' office, the big executive type office. We were very impressed.

The shabby entrance was just a cover-up. This man kept his word and he did open a bank account for father in New York. I don't remember with which bank the account was with, but it became one of the most important things to help our migration. I wish I could remember his name. I asked at that time what he would do with the German money and he gave me this explanation: as the course of exchange was only 10% of the face value of the money we brought him, anything bought in Germany would be very cheap. The money would be smuggled back to Germany and goods would be brought to Belgium. It was very profitable for the smugglers, but they took the same risk we did. It was a very sad rate of exchange for us.

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A Teacher's Guide to the Holocaust
Produced by the Florida Center for Instructional Technology,
College of Education, University of South Florida.
©1991 Kurt Lenkway.

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