Survivor STORY

Sophie Nathan was born in 1921 in Emmerich am Rhein, Germany, a town of about a hundred families, thirty of which were Jewish. In 1936, Jews began emigrating from Emmerich, including her future husband. In 1938, Sophie graduated from gymnasium (high school) and went to Cologne to study home economics and was in Cologne during Kristallnacht. Sophie returned home to Emmerich soon afterwards.

On December 10, 1941, Sophie and her family were deported to the Riga ghetto. Upon arriving they learned that most of the Latvian Jews had been rounded up a few days before and burned alive in the synagogue. In 1942, her father died of natural causes and lack of medical care in the ghetto. Sophie was a forced laborer before being deported with her mother and sister to several labor camps. They were liberated from Kiel by the Danish Red Cross and driven to Copenhagen, Denmark, to recover for several weeks and then was taken on to Sweden. Sophie, her mother and sister lived in Stockholm, where an aunt and uncle found them employment as maids. In 1946, they received papers to go America.

In New York, Sophie was reacquainted with her childhood sweetheart, Henry Nathan, and they married six months later. They lived first in Anniston, Alabama, near his parents, and then in Birmingham. Sophie recently moved to Atlanta to be near her two sons, George and Mark.

Liberation

And then all of a sudden, the next morning they told us to go at a certain place, and then all of a sudden we saw the Red Cross buses come. And we didn't want to believe. They told us, "We are from the Red Cross. We are from the Danish Red Cross." And we didn't want to believe it, because these buses, not those particular ones, but that's what they used to send the Jews away. And then finally we went into these buses and they took us to Denmark. And from there we, they took us by boat to Sweden, to [Swedish town] and that's where we stayed about, I guess about two weeks. And at that time, the Swedes were very, very generous. They tried to give us food, and do this, and do that, but they told us, they gave us the care packages and they told us not to eat. I mean, we couldn't eat anything, but they told us not to eat too much at one time because you would get sick. And that's what happened to a lot of people - they just...You know, everybody was undernourished, all of a sudden if you eat that much food, it won't work with you, so some of them died right after liberation.

Well, the only thing I can say, I mean, we were liberated on Lag B'omer, [a Jewish holiday] and so that you will never forget. But it was about the 2nd of May, and then on 8th of May, Europe was liberated. And it didn't even register with us. So, I think it took a long time for us to realize we were free, because all of a sudden there were no soldiers behind us, there was no SS there. And we lived in a little village, like, in Sweden, each one had their own homes and It took a long time to realize that you could live like a normal life again.

Talking About the Holocaust

So, every once in a while, but very, very seldom do we talk about it, because it was just...I mean, for a long, long time, my husband never knew what I went through, because you just couldn't talk about it. And you thought nobody wants to hear, know it. And then, later on, I don't even know when this, I mean, my husband was gone already, but after this film The Holocaust came out, then you felt freer to talk about it.

You mean Schindler's List?
Oh no, this was way before Schindler's List. This was around 1976, or something like that, because I remember my boys calling, "Mom? Are you watching? You shouldn't watch it," you know. But of course you do.

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Sophie Nathan