Peter’s Tribute to a Mother Extraordinaire. Alice Steinberg, the daughter of Anna and Louis Steinberg, whose families’ names were identical although the families were not related prior to their marriage, was born in Hannover, Germany, on November 19, 1896, according to Mother’s diary which began on April 24, 1903, in grandmother Anna’s handwriting and continued until the year 1905, when Mother entered first grade and continued entries in her own handwriting. Initially, Mother attended Public School; one of her earliest report cards shows an “A” for French speaking; a “B” for French pronunciation as well as writing. For the fall term that year, she entered a private girls’ school were the first report card shows a “B” for French. In May 1911 the daughter of an English family (same age as Mother) arrived in her parents’ home to stay for a year; she went home in November 1912. This was followed by an ill-fated visit to the English family on April 25, 1914, because after the outbreak of World War I in August of that year Mother, by now a young lady of 18, had to return home, since she had become a foreign enemy. Her successful but eventful trip back to Hannover is described in the diary in great detail. (Note by Peter: I visited the same family for 6 weeks in the summer of 1937).
Like all patriotic girls, mother engaged in some community activities during the war and, beginning in September 1914, worked at the city’s “Office of Assistance”. However, that did not satisfy her, so in early 1915 she entered a private language school where she received her Teacher’s Certificate in May 1916. The next entry in the diary is quite astounding; it is written diagonally across the page and reads as follows: 30th October 1917: Secret engagement (“oral”); 5th October 1919: Received permission for marriage; 18th October 1919: Engagement party; January 28, 1920: Wedding party in parents’ home (40 guests); 20th November 1920: Peter born; 16th July 1921: Father Louis passes away; 5th June 1923: Curtis born. The diary skips the years until 1928 when a summary of the intervening period is provided.
What happened was that grandfather Louis was absolutely against Mother marrying father. In her opinion, Louis suffered so much by her insistence that it probably cost him several years of his life. I, of course, never really knew him – grandfather died when I was 8 months old. Mother and father separated in 1925 and were divorced in 1926. So that she could go to work, Mother found a wonderful young woman to help her raise two rambunctious boys; she became a member of our family until she married in the early thirties, whereupon Mother, brother Curtis and I moved into grandmother Anna’s apartment to live with her. Mother taught French and English privately, but also worked as a secretary at the Jewish Congregation and the nearby Jewish Agricultural School – the only such institution in Germany, and which had been co-founded by grandpa Louis.
After Hitler took power in 1933, life for Jews became ever more difficult, culminating in the “Kristallnacht” burning of all synagogues in Germany. Thus, Mother’s efforts concentrated on emigration; first she tried Ecuador, to which county visas were available at a price, by a crooked vice-consul in Hannover; then she tried Brazil, to where Mother’s best friends had moved and were willing to guarantee our financial well being vis-a-vis the state; and finally she concentrated her efforts on America, from where Mother’s cousin Otto Cahn had returned with a financial guarantee for the 4 of us under the U.S. immigration quota. Mother, Curtis and I left for New York in late January 1939 after passing through Cologne to say goodbye to my paternal grandmother and her family (all of whom except one daughter perished in the Holocaust) and Amsterdam, to board MS Volendam which arrived in Hoboken, NJ on February 6th; we were met by Mother’s friends the Herbers. They had changed their name from Herzberg, so we immediately changed ours from Herzfeld to Hereld. Grandma Anna arrived 3 months later after Mother had rented a first apartment in “The Fourth Reich” in the Washington Heights section of New York City which was called that because of all the German Jewish immigrants who settled there (including the Kissingers – Curtis went to High School with Henry, the future U.S. Secretary of State – Mother went to the same beauty shop where his mother had her hair done).
After Grandma Anna had joined our household, Mother obtained a masseuse’s license; after that, she became an X-ray technician and also the secretary in a doctor’s office. In 1948, Mother moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico, to marry cousin Otto Cahn, with whom she returned to New York in 1956. Otto had a devastating stroke in 1967 and died in 1973. Mother died of Alzheimer’s disease in 1996, just 100 days before her 100th birthday.