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.
Ansbach and Vienna
My father, 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 without papers and with only the money in his pocket and the few clothes he had with him, he took a train to the Czechoslovak border, smuggled himself across the border and made his way to Prague where he rented a room from a Bauhaus-trained photographer, Werner Feist.
My mother, Friederika (Friedl/Frances) Reitmann, was born in 1912 in Vienna, Austria. She worked 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...). In 1933 she was with her German boy friend (also a former Bauhaus student) in Prague 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.
In 1938 my parents left separately for Paris, believing they would be safer there when 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). In Paris my father worked at the offices of the German language weekly "Die Weltbuhne" (which had been suppressed in Germany in 1933) and my mother continued her work as a commercial artist. When war was declared in September of 1939, my father was interned as an “enemy alien” in a camp near Nantes in Brittany (my mother had Polish papers and was considered a "friendly alien"), 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 and here.
With my father still in Nantes, my mother left Paris just before the German army entered in June of 1941 and went by train to Domme, a small medieval village in the Dordogne in the south of France (a friend who was already in the area). 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, and my brother Tom was born there on November 10, 1942, the night that German troops moved into the area during their occupation of the former “Zone Libre” (Vichy France). My father had been arrested in July of that summer as part of the nation-wide roundup of Jews for deportation, but managed to get released - he tells the suspenseful story here. In early 1943 my parents regarded living openly as having become too dangerous, and they obtained false papers and went into hiding, my father on a nearby farm in Bergerac, and my mother and infant brother in a home for unwed mothers in Perigeux. In May of 1944 they managed to get themselves smuggled across the border into Switzerland (see here) where, unlike many refugees, they were allowed to stay. A poem written by a friend describes one of the refugee camps they lived in. The war in Europe ended in May 1945, and that August, when my mother was eight months pregnant, they travelled by train back to Domme (see here) where I was born three weeks later.
Paris and New York
We stayed in Domme for a year, and in 1946 my parents moved us to Saint Rémy-les-Chèvreuse outside 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 one of my mother’s sisters 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.