After the liberation, I enrolled in school in Messierre, which was a small village. We had a one-room schoolhouse in which every row in the classroom represented a different stage of education, starting with the first grade all the way up through the sixth grade, or seventh grade. But because I knew how to read and write and I knew my basic arithmetic, although I was in the first row, I ended up doing the work of the seventh graders. During that time, although they didn’t necessarily direct them at me, because they didn’t know, or they didn’t perceive me as being a Jew, I heard them make remarks about Jews. I didn’t say very much about it at that time. When we moved from Messierre to Mons, which is one of the larger cities, I was enrolled in school there. And there the rest of my peers kind of caught up to the stage where I was in terms of my ability to read and write and arithmetic. So I was enrolled in school with my peers then. And again, I had to undergo some discrimination in being chosen to do a certain thing in the classroom, for example.
We didn’t stay in Mons very long; we ended up going to Brussels. That’s the city where I was born. And in Brussels, I attended a school called L’Attenee Royalle in which there were four Jewish boys. And we underwent all sorts of discrimination from both the fellow students as well as the teachers. For one thing, the students would attack us at recess time. One of the four of us was not well. We could tell that he was suffering from — I called it shell shock, but who knows what trauma he suffered as a child. But the other two boys and me, we would back up into the corner of the schoolyard and we’d get into fights with the rest of the students. And at first, we held our own, so when we’d go back into the classroom after recess and the teacher saw that we weren’t marked, they would put us in front of the class; we’d have to hold out our hands in front of us, and they’d rap our knuckles with stainless steel meter sticks or they’d hit us in the back of the head. When this happened a number of times, I told the other boys, “You know, before we go back into the classroom, take the shirt out of your pants, mess up your hair, so it looks like we’ve been messed up a little bit.” So we did, and of course, the teacher stopped — (laughs) — harassing us then. They tried very hard to prove that we weren’t really Jewish. They did it, for example, by taunting us with the fact that some of us had violated the dietary laws. Well, my family, except for my mother, were not observant, and so sure, I violated the dietary laws. But one of us — his name was Maurice Mansheimer — came from an Orthodox family. And as an Orthodox Jewish boy, he didn’t violate the dietary laws, and the teachers kept on harassing him until finally he admitted that at one time he took a piece of bacon and just touched the end of it with his tongue just to see what it tasted like. And he said, “Aha, you see? He’s not a Jew.” This is the type of conduct that is unheard of in the United States. But that’s what we had to go through, even after the war.RETURN TO PODCAST HOME
Photo credits: David Seide