Author/attorney Tom Singer publishes Shoah memoir

“Never Forget:  My Family’s Flight From Nazi Terror”

BY ROBERT A. COHN, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

In October 2005, St. Louis attorney, author and Holocaust survivor/escapee Thomas M. (Tom) Singer completed a personal history of his family and their escape from Nazi Germany in the aftermath of Kristallnacht (“The Night of Broken Glass”), which occurred in November 1938. His purpose was for his children and “especially my grandchildren, to know that what happened to my parents, Elsbeth and Rudolph Singer.”

Singer then expanded his original manuscript into a full-length book, “Never Forget: My Family’s Flight from Nazi Terror” (published by Tom Singer, $10, proceeds to St. Louis Holocaust Museum). He will discuss and later sign copies of his book 1 p.m. Sunday at the Jewish Federation Kopolow Building Building.

Singer is founding partner of the personal injury law firm of Fox, Goldblatt & Singer, P.C. in St. Louis. He received his undergraduate and law degrees from Washington University. Singer and his wife, Sherry, split their time between their homes in Clayton and Longboat Key, Fla.

Singer was not yet three years old when the growing Nazi menace forced his parents to flee their native Germany to start new lives in the United States. As was the case with many thousands of German and other European Jews who were fortunate enough to escape from Hitler’s Germany, Elsbeth and Rudolph Singer were uprooted suddenly from what prior to the Nazi takeover had been a comfortable and seemingly secure homeland. They were thrust into a new life in St. Louis, having to learn a new language and the ways of another country.

Singer’s book makes extensive use of archival letters, documents, photographs and personal narratives detailing the harrowing plight of his family in their efforts to escape from Nazi Germany before the full force of the Holocaust would eventually take the lives of six million Jews throughout Europe.

The Jewish Light caught up with Singer for an interview on the background and motivation for his book.

What prompted you to expand your personal memoir of your family flight from Nazi Germany into a general audience book?

I wrote this book not as a memoir but as a cautionary tale of what can happen when economic conditions in a country undergo serious problems and blame is placed on minorities. We must never forget the lessons to be learned from the catastrophic events that were launched by the economic crisis in Weimar Germany.

What convinced your parents, Elsbeth and Rudolph Singer, that they had to leave Germany as soon as possible?

In 1938 the Nazi terror grew and my family tried desperately to leave Germany. In the days leading up to Kristallnacht, my father’s Christian friends warned him that the Nazis were looking for him. My parents knew that they could not wait in Germany until December for their ship to leave for the Netherlands. They were fortunate that our relative in Nice was able to get us permission to be in France for one week starting Nov. 10, 1938.

You describe your mother’s family as “the businessmen” and your father’s family as “the lawyers.” Did that background influence your own decision to become an attorney?

My grandfather was a lawyer in Rottweil, Germany, and was the last head of the Jewish community from 1932 to 1938. My father was admitted to the Stuttgart bar in the fall of 1925 and was able to have a successful practice until September 1933, when Jews were forbidden to practice law. He told me about the cases he handled and was able to help German refugees fill out the forms to get compensation from the German government. For these reasons, I decided I also wanted to be a lawyer to help people.

You were not quite three years old when you and your parents left Germany for the United States. Do you have any memories of your very young childhood in Germany? When did you become aware of the fact that your background differed from those of your fellow children here?

When we came to St. Louis I could only speak German and no one could understand me. I kept telling them, “Du bist dumm!” (“You are stupid!”) I had a strong German accent and told my teacher in the sixth grade that I wanted to be a lawyer. She said you cannot be a lawyer in Missouri with a German accent. I had a speech therapist for two years, and this eliminated my German accent.

Your mother kept nearly every letter and other documents on your family’s struggle to leave Germany and to settle in St. Louis. What do you think motivated her to keep such a detailed record?

My mother kept copies of family documents, baggage tags, passenger lists, photographs, etc. She told me about how they gave up their comfortable home, their customs, their language and their place in society because of their religion. I do feel she wanted me to illustrate the struggles of some of the German Jews in the 1930s.

Some child survivors and children of survivors say that their parents never discussed their experiences from that dark period with them. Was that true of your parents — or did they discuss what happened with you, and if so, at what age?

It was part of my growing up, and my mother discussed it as long as she lived.

Have recent and current events about mass murder, ethnic cleansing and even genocides in places like Rwanda, Darfur, Cambodia, Bosnia and the ongoing carnage in Syria made you feel that a cautionary true story about the Holocaust is timely?

Yes. What neither I nor this book can answer is why such a civilized country like Germany had so many people who did not act to stop the rise and perpetuation of such absolute evil. The same applies to what is happening in the world today.    

Do you think the world has really learned the lessons of the Shoah, of the importance of speaking up on behalf of the victims of ethnic cleansing or mass murder of civilians?

No. Unfortunately, the world has still not learned the lesson of what happened in Germany.

What do you hope that your own children and grandchildren and general readers will take away from your book?

Many good people, including my relatives, ignored the warning signs by lulling themselves into thinking ‘It can’t happen here.’

Any other thoughts or observations?

Never forget.

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