by Eva Martinez
Edited by Alice Kobayashi/Carol Kobayashi 06/06/12
On May 17, 2012, Eva Martinez interviewed Alice (Marill) Kobayashi over the phone about her family’s journey to the United States when they fled Hitler’s persecution of Jews. Alice current lives in retirement home in Atlanta, GA.
The Marill family, which included Alice, her older sister Gertrude, and parents Alfred and Klara, were living in Vienna, Austria, when German troops annexed the nation under Hitler’s Third Reich in 1938.
Alice was 15 when the Nazis took over. “The German army invaded the country overnight, made it part of Germany and changed its name to Ostmark. They changed the money. They took away the identity of the country and the people. Austria became independent again after WWII ended in 1945.”
Alice said that her family wasn’t particularly religious and that there was a lot of intermarriage with Protestants and Catholics in the extended Marill family. “We were mainly Jewish on paper,” said Alice.
At the time Alice had a serious boyfriend. “He was five years older, as was the custom in those days. He was my friend’s cousin and he was Catholic. But because I was Jewish I could not go to school or to the movies or to the park. There were signs saying ‘No Jews allowed.’ But he would take me to the movie and take care of me.”
Yet, their attempts to live a normal life could not hide the cataclysm that was happening around them. “Every day you heard of someone who disappeared or committed suicide or who got sent to camp.”
With the situation worsening, the Marills decided to leave their homeland and called upon relatives living in the United States to help sponsor their passage. But finances and visa processing prevented them from leaving together.
“My mother had two brothers who were American citizens and they sponsored the whole family. We came whenever we got the visa. I didn’t want to go. I didn’t want to leave my parents and my boyfriend.”
Gertrude, the eldest daughter, was the first to travel. She arrived in New York City in mid-1939. Alice followed her that fall.
The sisters were living with relatives in New York City when Gertrude applied to an international student organization and was awarded a scholarship to Sweet Briar College in Virginia. “My sister had always been a top-notch student.”
Gertrude connected with the Jewish community in Lynchburg, Virginia, and told them about her sister. At Thanksgiving Alice visited her sister and met some of the townspeople. “One of the families took me in and they decided that I also should go to college.” Thus, Alice was soon attending Randolph-Macon Woman’s College.
One year later, on August 29, 1940, their parents landed in the Port of San Francisco after travelling through Russia and Siberia and by ship to Japan and being held a few days at Angel Island Immigration Station before traveling to the east coast to join their daughters.
They settled in Washington, D.C., where they had Viennese friends and could be near their daughters. Alfred compiled the notes he recorded during their journey and produced a wonderful essay documenting their passage. (See “It is a Long Way…” By Alfred Marill)
“At one point along the trip they took his notes,” said Alice “He makes note of that in his writings.” He also mentioned that the religious Jews aboard the ship had to decide when to do Friday night prayers when crossing the international date line!
When Alfred’s plans to become a music teacher did not come to fruition, he found work as a cashier at a liquor store and Klara took in sewing work. Alfred began to attend Benjamin Franklin University three nights a week studying to become an accountant. “The nights that he wasn’t in school he was doing homework. He always had to be busy…doing something for his brain.”
Upon graduation, Alfred found an accounting job at Glogau Portrait Studios where he remained for many years. Klara Marill died in 1948. “My mother passed away of breast cancer. It was very sad. She was youngest of seven brothers and the only sister.”
When asked if her family ever returned to Austria, Alice said, “My parents didn’t go back. I didn’t go back. I remember my father saying ‘I don’t go back to where I got kicked out’. He was not sentimental about it.”
Gertrude went on to receive a Master’s degree in psychology from Yale. She has worked in the mental health field in D.C.
After graduating from college, Alice lived with her parents in an apartment and went to the International Student House in Washington, D.C. for recreation. While there she met her husband Fritz Kobayashi, whose father was Japanese and who was in the Army and stationed at Walter Reed Medical Center. He later became a member of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team consisting of Japanese Americans.
Despite a good life in her new country, Alice never wants to forget the horrors of Nazism in Austria. “I made a list of about 25 friends and relatives who were killed in concentration camps. Their names should not be forgotten. We were very, very lucky that all of us got away by 1940 before the real Holocaust began and America entered the war on December 7, 1941.”
Eva Martinez is a professional free-lance writer and editor in San Francisco.
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