name is George Gutman, of
Costa Mesa, California. What follows is a brief outline of my parents’ journeys, starting from their
homes in Germany and Austria prior to World War I and eventually taking
them to their new home in New York City in 1947. Various parts of
story are told in more detail elsewhere on this web site.
Max (Peter) Gutmann, was born in 1904 in Ansbach, Germany, a Bavarian
town about 40 km west of
Nuremberg. When Hitler was
appointed Chancellor in January of 1933 my father immediately became a
target for persecution by the Nazis, not because he was a Jew (that came
later) but because he was an active communist.
In March of 1933, while he was in Berlin for a short visit, a
friend of his came from Nuremberg to warn him that the Nazis had
arrested several of their mutual friends (who were never seen again) and
they had come knocking on my father’s door asking for him by name.
He never returned home, and with no papers and with only the
money in his pocket and the few clothes he had with him, took a train to
the Czechoslovak border and made his way to Prague, where he rented a
room from the Bauhaus-trained photographer Werner Feist.
mother, Friederika (Friedl/Frances) Reitmann, was born in 1912 in
Vienna, Austria, her parents, with her two older sisters, had emigrated
from the Polish/Galician town of Husyatin a few years earlier. She earned
her living as a commercial artist, fulfilling assignments mailed to her from an
agency in Switzerland to wherever she happened to be at the time
(Vienna, Berlin, London...). She
was in Prague in 1933, and one day accompanied her German boy friend (also a former Bauhaus student)
when he went to visit Werner Feist.
There she met my father, and not long afterwards she broke off
her relationship with her Bauhaüsler and my parents’ romance began.
1938 my parents left (separately) for Paris, believing they would be
safer there after the war began (which was correct), and that they would
be able to leave France and go to New York where my father’s brothers
and parents were already living (they were wrong).
They lived together in Paris until the start of the war when my father was
interned as an “enemy alien” in a camp near Nantes in Brittany,
ultimately being incorporated into an army unit created specifically for
refugees - he tells this story here.
The suspenseful and touching tale of their 1940 wedding in Paris
is related here
mother left Paris just before the German army entered in June of 1941,
while my father was still in Nantes, and went by train to Domme, a small
medieval village in the Dordogne in the south of France.
Later that year my father managed to find out where she had gone
and joined her there, many of the pages in my mother’s pictorial
essay represent events during their time in Domme.
They lived openly for a couple of years, but in August of 1942 my father
was arrested as part of the
nation-wide roundup of Jews for deportation, and managed to get released
due to my mother's pregnancy
- he tells the story here.
My brother Tom was
born in Domme on November 10, 1942, the night that German troops moved into
the area during their occupation of the former “Zone Libre”.
In early 1943 my parents regarded their situation as having
become too dangerous, and they obtained false papers and went into
hiding, my father on a farm in nearby Bergerac, and my mother and
brother in a home for unwed mothers in Perigeux.
In May of 1944 they managed to have themselves smuggled across
the border into Switzerland (see
where, unlike many other refugees, they were allowed to stay.
written by a friend describes one of the refugee camps.
In August 1945, when my mother was eight months pregnant, they
travelled by train back to Domme (see
here) where I was born three weeks later.
and New York
We stayed in Domme for a year, and in 1946 my parents moved us to Saint Rémy-les-Chèvreuse on the outskirts of Paris, expecting to remain permanently in France. But in 1947, much to their surprise, my parents were notified that they had been issued a US visa - they had applied for one in 1940 but never got a response. They made the difficult decision to emigrate to the U.S., drawn by the fact that my father’s family and my mother’s sister were already living there, and because they saw it as providing better opportunities for my brother’s and my futures. We sailed into New York Harbor on the RMS Mauretania on October 20, 1947. Two of the final pages from my mother’s pictorial essay were drawn during our early years in New York.