Interview of Arthur Hermele

Background

Arthur Hermele, son of Joseph Hermele of Mielec, was born in Berlin in 1922. He emigrated to Sweden, settled in Stockholm, and raised two extremely successful sons: Swedish economist Kenneth Zwi Hermele and Swedish journalist & author Bernt Hermele.

On Dec 10, 2020, Bernt Hermele published an audio recording of an interview between him and his father Arthur about his family’s history in Mielec:

YouTube video of the interview, published by Bernt Hermele on December 10, 2020

Thanks to anonymous donors to this site, I was able to pay someone to listen to the audio in Swedish and translate into English. Some parts were not able to be understood, but for the most part the story is complete and very compelling.

Full credit for the original content in Swedish belongs to Bernt Hermele. The translation sponsored by Mielec Yidn is published below.

* endnotes by Scott Genzer indicated by [1] notation.

Translation

(A) = Arthur Hermele (father)
(PA) = Perla Anna Hermele née Albert (mother)
(B) = Bernt Hermele (son)

A: I would like to tell you a little story that occurred during the 60s. We were staying in a hotel in Switzerland, St. Moritz. Someone announced in the speakers that I had a phone call. 

When I came back, an older man walked towards me and said, “Are you Mr. Helm?”

“Where are you from?”

He was speaking to me in Yiddish.
 
I replied, “I am from Stockholm.”

The man then said, “but before that?”

I replied “Berlin”.

“But before that?” the man asked.

I said, “My father was born in Melitz.”[1]

“Melitz?! Oh my god! It’s the real Hermele!” he said.

So, this man grew up with my grandfather (on my father’s side), he knew him and was one of his students. My grandfather was a [inaudible at 00:01:04], and he was very rich. He started telling me about me when they had [inaudible at 00:01:09] and he was very rich. People would come to them pick up gifts. They were 6 brothers in the family, I believe. Every brother had one type of coin to distribute. One of them had a half Zloty, one had a one Zloty, one had five zlotys, one had notes and so on. Half of the money disappeared under the table. Money that they took care of themselves… 
But this man was one of the men who distributed money and so on. 

B: But who did the money belong to?

A: It was my grandfather's… 

B: Your grandfather’s father? 

A: No, it was my grandfathers. Let me explain. Moische Meyer[2] had 4 children. Israel, we don’t know much about him, the eldest. Benjamin (my grandfather). Then there was Kalman, and then a daughter [inaudible at 00:02:59]. So, they were three sons and…

B: Was Moische the one who was the mayor? 

A: No, Israel was the mayor.[3] Israel was my grandfather’s brother, and he was the eldest son. 

B: Oh! What did Moische do? 

A: He was an old man. He was probably dead by this point. 

PA: But who was the owner of the mill? 

A: That was my mother father. That’s another story. 

B: But wait a minute… Do you know what occupation he had (Moische Meyer)? 

A: I assume he was a landowner. 

B: Wasn’t it very unusual for Jews to own land? 

A: Yes, it was.[4]  And my mother’s father (Löw), was a miller. That was very unusual too. [5]

[inaudible mumble at 00:03:25 – 00:03:30].

B: It must have been quite unusual in Poland for Jews to be...

[pause]

A: Yes, especially that he was a mayor. 

B: Right. So, who was the mayor? The eldest son? 

A: Yes, the eldest son, Israel. He was taken hostage when the Russians came, 1916. He was taken away to a prison camp in Siberia. I have a letter from him, that he sent to his wife. 

B: What happened to him? 

A: He came back after a while.[6]

A: Benjamin is your grandfather’s father. My grandfather. We know that Israel had 3 children. Rubin, Schaja[7] and Esther. We have also figured out who my grandfather’s children are. It starts with a daughter, Chaya, and then Sholem[8] who died early. He was married but he never had children. And then Chaim came. He has a son in Chicago, US. He is named Alter like me, or Alex. Then Brandel came, a sister who was married to Shaul[9]. Do you remember this, Perla?

PA: Yes. You met them once, right?

A: Yes, we met the son, and the daughter. Then there is Abraham, who was the father of Bertil and Molly, in England. And then there is Josef.

B: How many siblings were they? Ten?

A: No...one, two, three, four, five. I am on number 6 now, Josef, my father. And then there was Gitel. And then David. I believed for a long time that he was the youngest, but he wasn’t. And then there was Sheindel, who was married to Padover.[10]

B: Didn’t Josef know how many siblings they were?

A: Yes, he did. But before I started writing this down, I always thought that David was the youngest. I know some of these siblings. My uncles and aunties.

B: But did you never ask Josef how many siblings there were? 

A: No, [inaudible at 00:06:25]. There was also the youngest, named Shia, or Osias, and we do not know much about her.[11] So, in total there were 10 siblings.

B: What do you know about Benjamin?

A: I know that he was a landowner in Melitz. I cannot speak much about the farm today since I have only been there once with my sister in 1927, on our summer break. I know that there were a lot of people, and they had lots of hay, they were harvesting wheat and they had potatoes. There was a river there. You had to take a ferry to cross the river from one side to another.[12]
 
B: So, did they have land on both sides?

A: Yes. A lot of the times there were flooding. I was swimming behind the ferry, holding a rope, to cross the river. I was seven years old. So, it was 1929, I apologize.  My sister was eighteen years old when they sent her off with me.

B: Weren’t your parents with you?

A: No, they were still in Berlin.

B: You traveled alone? How did you get there?

A: By train.

[inaudible mumble at 00:08:21 – 00:08:28]

A: I just remember that I was quite mischievous and rowdy back then. Blanka[13] was finally so done with me that she pushed me. I fell in loads of stinging nettles. That wasn’t very fun. I was so upset, that I walked away. I just disappeared. They sent out a horse grain[14] to look for me. They understood that I had gone towards the village, since my grandmother lived there. They had a house in the center of Melitz.

PA: Wait a minute...so your grandfather lived in the village and grandmother lived in the city?

A: No, I was at the farm.

PA: And that belonged to your grandmother as well?

A: Yes, of course. And then they had a house in the center. The farm was a bit outside of Melitz.

B: Why did they need another house?

A: It was not fun to live at the farm during the winters. You couldn’t stay on a farm as an orthodox.

[inaudible mumble at 00:10:05 – 00:10:23]

B: Was Benjamin there?

A: No. Benjamin was a [15] to the Rabbi. Anyway, they came looking for me.

B: How large was the farm?

A: I thought it was enormous. But that is from a seven-year-old perspective.
 
PA: But how many people lived in Melitz?

A: If you would count to 10 you would have walked through the whole village. No, I have looked it up. I believe the population back then was between 3000 – 5000. Most of the population were Jews.[16]

B: Did the farm first belong to your grandfather’s father?

A: That must be correct.

B: Was it not split up between the siblings? Was it only Benjamin who took care if it?

A: I am not sure. It is possible that it was split between multiple people. But it is also possible that it was only Benjamin’s.

B: Do you know which years Israel was the mayor?[17]

A: I know that he was the mayor when the war started in 1914 since he was taken as a hostage. It was the Russians way to take down the people.

B: Was it called Austria-Hungary then?

A: Yes, that is correct. My father was called in to the military. He never actually made it to the front line. But I have a picture of him playing cards in a bunker.

B: But why did you go there? (Melitz)

A: It was summer break.

PA: Just like when you send your children to us on the summer breaks.

B: Oh, I see.
 
A: None of my father’s siblings survived the war.

B: Do you know anything else about his siblings?

A: The one named Kalman lived in Krakow. He had five children. One of the daughters was named Sabina. Then there was Oscar Herman, in London.
 
B: So, most of the people you have mentioned emigrated from Poland?

A: I am not sure about that. But I know that we found my grandfather’s brother Kalman’s son Oscar in London. But he had changed his name to Herman, Hermele was too difficult to pronounce. There should be another son that we do not know much about, from Glasgow. So, I know that two of them emigrated. I know a daughter named Henja who I personally knew. She lived in Berlin.

[inaudible mumble at 00:14:53 – 00:15:29]

I know that Chaim, he had three sons. We found one of them seven years ago, in Chicago. We found him by looking through the telephone directory.
 
PA: Anyone who has a telephone directory, and find someone named Hermele, can call them up. (Meaning there probably aren’t more people alive that they do not know about)
 
A: That’s how we found the American side of the family. There was an American cruising ship (referring to Sweden). All Americans had left the ship to look at the city. But one man was still there when a photographer from DN came. That man was Chaim Hermele. There was a picture of him in the newspaper, but I didn’t see it. Theo called me and asked if this could be a relative. I thought that it must be, so we jumped in the car and went down to the harbor. When we got there, the ship had already left for Finland. I went home and ordered a “radio call” with the ship (to speak with Chaim Hermele). I introduced myself as Hermele, and it was quiet in the other end. He started asking questions about who I am, who my father was and so on. He then said that yes, we are family! And he said to contact him if I ever went to America. That is how we found out that we have a lot of family in America. They had emigrated before the first world war. I believe it was around 1908. 

B: What else do you remember from your summer in Poland?
 
A: I remember that they were collecting rainwater in a big barrel on the balcony. I was throwing that on people walking below, which wasn’t very popular. I also remember that there were a lot of synagogues. 

[inaudible mumble at 00:19:10 – 00:19:40]

A: Let’s keep to the subject. Child number four of Moische Meyer’s children was a girl named Chava. She had eleven children, but she gave birth to twenty children. Only eleven of them survived.

[inaudible mumble at 00:20:10 – 00:20:43]

A: I have found out that Chava has two daughters who lives in USA. I also know someone named Sholem who has emigrated to USA. And someone named Leif who has emigrated to Paris. We haven’t been able to find them.

[inaudible mumble at 00:21:31 – 00:22:25]

A: Moishe Meyer had a brother named Baum[18]. He had three children. Chaim, Israel and a daughter named Feiga. I think that is all the family we have in America. Some of them are dead now. 

B: What happened to the farm?

A: The Russians took care of that. It was there until 1939.

B: Who had the farm after Benjamin?

A: I don’t know. Probably some kind of trustee. I don’t think any of these brothers had any interest in farming.

B: What did grandfather tell you about his background?

A: [inaudible at 00:23:42 – 00:24:05, Hebrew] He got engaged with Sabina when he was eighteen years old. He didn’t have any education or anything like that. He couldn’t provide for Sabina. Once they got married, they lived with my grandfather (Sabina’s father) in Sędziszów. I don’t know much about what happened after that. They escaped from Melitz to Wien[19] in 1916.

B: From Melitz? But didn’t you just say that they didn’t live in Melitz?

A: They moved to Melitz after the three years of engagement. Blanka was born 5th of March 1911. They had another son after Blanka, but he died very young, around 1916-1917. They lived in Wien for a while, where Sabina’s parents also lived. In 1921 they decided to move to Berlin. 

B: Why did they move to Berlin?

A: I don’t know if they had family there… I know that he bought a few properties in Berlin. He was buying and selling estates.

PA: Can I just ask. Where did he get the money to buy those?

A: I have no idea.

B: When did his father die?

A: 1934.

PA: That was the one who went to Israel right? 

A: Yes. 

B: He might have left them a lot of money before he left? 

A: That is possible. But wait a minute, that cannot be right. My grandfather still lived in Poland when I was there, 1929. He must have moved back to Poland again after the first world war, while my father moved to Berlin instead. Anyway, at the end he only had one property left when the aggressive inflation hit. We would go out with a bag full of money in the morning, but in the evening, we could only afford to buy a piece of bread. This was between 1920-1923. The inflation was terrible.   During this time, he lost three or four properties. But he had the last one until after the war, but it was bombed during the last war. 

After this, he and his brother Abraham, and another younger brother called David, opened a clothing store where people could come and pay in installments. People couldn’t afford to purchase suits and things like that, so they would then pay in installments instead. They ran this business until right before Hitler came.

The other brothers then went back to Poland, but my father stayed. The reason that we could stay during Hitler’s time, all the way until 1938, was because we had Polish passports. Right before Kristallnacht that occurred on November 11th, 1938, Poland and German had agreed that all Poles that hasn’t been to Poland, by September 1st and renewed their passports, would lose their citizenship and passport. The Poles that travelled back to Poland were stuck between the border of Poland and Germany. They were not allowed back in either country. Between September 1st, 1938, until the start of the war in September 1939 these people were living in a no man’s land. It is not known how many people died there. We were warned about this before. My father came home running saying that we must leave because they were taking in all Poles that were trying to leave. When they arrived at our house, my mum was home alone and let them in. We went to someone named Billy Löw, a professor, and stayed at his parent’s house. They were Austrians and not affected by this. We stayed over with them and from this night onward we would move around from place to place.

After Kristallnacht, where they had destroyed and burned down all synagogues, and beaten down any Jew they could see, we realized that we must leave. The passports were no longer a protection for us. Blanka and [inaudible name at 00:33:55] were in Stockholm and helped us getting visas to be able to go to Sweden. The Swedish Legation in Berlin refused to issue visas, because they claimed that the passports were invalid (which they weren’t) and because the Swedish government had approved us to get a visa without any time limit. They then had to change this to a time limit of three months for the Swedish legation in Berlin to approve it. 

On December 5th, 1938, I was sat on a train all by myself, to go to Sweden. I remember it very clearly, the German guard who checked the passports, he said “you don’t have a re-entry visa?”, I replied “Well, I haven’t planned to come back…” He looked at me like I was crazy. 

B: How did you feel once you arrived in Sweden?

A: I was 17 years old. And I had been here once on my summer break in 1938 but went back to Germany. 

B: Were your parents strict with you?

A: No, not really… I was mainly raised with nannies. We had a chef and multiple nannies. I went to a Jewish school with only boys. I was quite rowdy. I was almost suspended twice. Once because I had forged my father’s signature. 

A: I can tell you a bit about your grandmother, Sabina. Her grandfather was named Nathan Löw. Nathan had two brothers, Emanuel and Wolf. Nathan was married to Scheindel Itte Katz. Nathan had four children. Lazer, Baruch, Meyer and Nachum. Nachum was the youngest and he was my grandfather (on mother’s side). He had eleven children. Baruch, the eldest, who died of cancer. We met his daughter once. The other children were Heirch, Josef, Hani, Simont, Sabina, Blanka, Frieda, Hella, Therese, Carola. We always thought that my father was older than my mother. When my father died in 1969, I found some papers and found a birth certificate, where it said that my mother was born 1885. She was four years older than we thought. When she died 1971, we thought she was 82 years old, but the fact is that she was 86. When I showed her the papers she said “No, that cannot be right”. I figured out that my mother was older than my father, and realized, that couldn’t have been appropriate during their time. I believe that’s why they said she was younger. 

B: What did Sabina’s father do?

A: Nachum was a miller and was very rich. It is special that my family on both sides had these types of jobs, since it wasn’t common at all for Jews. 

[inaudible 00:49:39 – 00:50:09]

A: Out of these Löw siblings, only Blanka and Carola are still alive. Blanka is turning 80 years old next year. There’s 16 years between Sabina and Blanka. 

[inaudible mumble 00:51:00 – 00:51:41] 

B: Now it’s your turn to tell stories, mum.

PA: My grandmother also had a mayor in the family. 

A: What was his name? 
[Laughter]

[inaudible, Bernt is discussing a trip he is going on soon 00:51:58 – 01:02:59]

A: Should we turn this off? We have gone through everything now. 



Transcription and Translation by 
Julia Sabouri 
For Scott Genzer 
26/01-2022








Endnotes

[1] ‘Melitz’ is the Yiddish pronunciation of Mielec.
[2] ‘Moische Meyer’ is the Yiddish nickname of the Hebrew name ‘Moses Meir’. (source: Beider, Alexander. Handbook of Ashkenazic Given Names and Their Variants. Avotaynu, 2009.)
[3] Arthur is referring to his great-uncle Israel Hermele. Israel was not the mayor of Mielec (a position always held by a Polish Catholic), but rather was the president of the Jewish City Council in Mielec for many years. It is not surprising that the family considered this position akin to being a ‘mayor’.
[4] This assertion is not true. In fact Jews owned many properties in Mielec as well as in many surrounding areas. Land transactions were common between Poles, with Poles and Jews, and between Jews. Readers can view some of the legal paperwork on this site via the Werynski Files.
[5] Jews being in the milling business was not unusual. In fact most of the milling in Mielec and the surrounding areas was done in factories owned and run by Jews.
[6] We do not know when Israel Hermele came back to Mielec – definitely before December 1927 (source: Gazeta Narodowy, 11 Dec 1927) – and likely much earlier.
[7] This name is very difficult to discern from the audio. It sounds most like ‘Schaja’ which is a Yiddish nickname for the Hebrew name ‘Yehoshua’, or ‘Joshua’ in English. (source: Beider. See [7])
[8] ‘Sholem’ is the Yiddish nickname for the Hebrew name ‘Shalom’. (source: Beider. See [7])
[9] ‘Shaul’ is the Yiddish nickname for the Hebrew name ‘Shoyel’, or ‘Saul’ in English. (source: Beider. See [7])
[10] What Arthur means is that Shaindel married a man whose surname (last name) was Padower. In this case it was a man named Nathan Padawer (born in Mielec 25 Mar 1901; died in New York City 29 Sep 1963).
[11] This is confusing because ‘Shia’ / ‘Osias’ is a man’s name – a Yiddish nickname for Yehoshua (Hebrew) / Joshua (English) – that was very common in Mielec. But the translation here says “her” instead of “him”, and I have no record of a boy named Shia / Osias / Yehoshua / Joshua who was a son of Benjamin and Beila Hermele.
[12] I must assume he is referring to the Wisłoka river which runs along the east side of Mielec. There was a ferry that shuttled people + goods back and forth across the Wisłoka right on the edge of Mielec.
[13] ‘Blanka’ is Arthur’s older sister.
[14] Clearly a mistranslation but it is unclear what it should be.
[15] Arthur is using a Yiddish word that I am unable to decipher. It sounds to me like ‘Chosit’ but that is not a word I recognize. He says it at exactly 10:25 in the audio.
[16] See timeline on the History of Jews in Mielec page for more accurate census numbers.
[17] See [3].
[18] The name sounds very much like ‘Bau’ or ‘Baum’ but I am 99% certain he is referring to Baruch Hermele.
[19] ‘Wien’ is the German name for Vienna, the capital of Austria.

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