Charlotte Dreyfuss was born on September 30, 1923 in Schmieheim, Germany. She had a sister named Margot who was two years younger. Charlotte's father owned a small cigar store and her family worked together to make a living during the difficult economic environment of the 1920s and 1930s.
As life for Jewish families became more difficult because of Nazi persecution, Charlotte’s parents decided it would be safer for her to live in America. It was decided that Charlotte would live with a German Jewish family who had settled in West Point, Georgia in 1936. When Charlotte arrived in New York, her only possessions were a passport, a birth certificate, one trunk, and a piece of hand luggage.
Even though Charlotte was placed with strangers, she was happy to be free from the oppressive Nazi regime. The fact that she was living with a German family helped her to adjust to life in America. Charlotte began studying English and quickly learned to read and write in English in order to be ready to start the eighth grade. She was described as an outstanding student and averaged a 93 in all her subjects.
Although Charlotte was adjusting to her new life in America well, she was desperately trying to bring the rest of her family to the United States. Her parents, who were imprisoned in a transit camp in the Pyrennes, wrote their daughter plaintive letters begging her to help them leave Europe. As the only member of her family in the United States, the burden was on young Charlotte to file the necessary paperwork to save her parents. One of the first letters that Charlotte wrote to her case worker, Mrs. Wyle, illustrated her anxiety concerning her family's situation (the idiosyncratic grammar and spelling of Charlotte's letters have been retained):
Many thanks for your letter and for writing a letter to Washington in re: of my sister. I hope its going to ball right now and I can bring her to this family. This week I had a letter from home and they told me, to look for an affidavit, because they can’t stand any longer there. Can you help me and write me what I can do for them. I am expecting a letter in which I can receive the addresses of the relatives of us in this country. Maybe they can help me. I don’t know what to do. Please write me if you get news from Washington.
Almost a year later in April of 1939, Charlotte's family was still trapped in Europe. She wrote the following to her case worker expressing her concern:
“Dear Mrs. Wyle,
After you asked in your letter about my people in Germany, I want to tell you all I know. Last week I had a letter from home. They wrote that the committee in their section notified them that the Atlanta Section is interested in bringing my sister to America. I am hoping that my sister will be here very soon. My parents also heard from Stuttgart that their affidavit is there. I know, it will take my parents a pretty good time before they are able to come to America because their number is 25672. All we can do is to wait and see what is going to happen. I thank you and the whole organization for everything you have done for me and I remain with best regards.”
The next month on May 16th Charlotte wrote again:
“And now I have to trouble you again with my family. You should read my father’s last letter. He wrote that he really had to find a way to get out. You know already that my parents have a very high number and its is impossible for them to wait until their number comes around. My Daddy wrote also that so many Jews are to Via Havana and to Cuba. He asked my for advice. I know that you are the only person who can help me. Please excuse me if I trouble you too much, but you know how I feel toward my people.”
In December, Charlotte again begged for help:
Charlotte Dreyfuss at the
time of her high school
graduation in 1942. The dress
was donated by the local
Today I had an air mail letter from my parents which upsets me terrible. I know you heard already that on account of the war steamship cards can only be paid in American money. My daddy found out that those who are in possession of a paper guaranteeing that their steamship card will be send when needed, will get their visa quicker than usual. He asked me for that paper. What shall I do? I know for sure that nobody will give me the money and for that reason I want to ask you if the organization wouldn’t sign this paper. As you know many Jews are being sent into Poland and I think that this is one reason that my father asked me for that paper because he is afraid that he might be sent too like many others. I heard that those who have everything ready to go to a foreign country can remain in Germany. You can imagine how I feel and I really don’t know what to do. As you know Mr. Hagedorn gave me the affidavit for my parents and he told me then that he wouldn’t sign anything else, so it’s not any use for you to ask him. As much as I love school, I would be ready to retire so I could earn some money and pay the expenses of the steamship card back.
By April of 1940, Charlotte was getting desperate:
I had a letter from home just a few days ago. Thank God they are alright so far but I know from what I hear and read that the food is getting short over there especially the Jewish people don’t get very much. I only hope and pray that there might be a chance soon for them to get out, at least for Margot.
As she waited to hear news concerning her family, Charlotte graduated from high school in May of 1941. She enrolled in a business course, with the intent of learning a skill that would help her support her family when they arrived in the United States. Charlotte continued to work for her parents’ immigration only to hear in 1942 that they died within three days of each other. Charlotte still tried to assist her sister, but once the United States entered World War II, immigration possibilities ended. Fortunately, a cousin of Charlotte’s was able to hide her sister, Margot, in a convent with nuns until the war ended. Charlotte left Georgia in 1946 for New York where she was reunited with Margot. She eventually married and had children. Margot has passed away, and Charlotte is still living in New York.