// William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum
Jewish Heritage: The Oral Histories - Cuba Family Archives

MEMOIRIST:                     HENRY GALLANT (1928-   )         

INTERVIEWER:                 JOHN KENT

DATE:                                SEPTEMBER 21, 2000

LOCATION:                        ATLANTA, GEORGIA

ID#:                                    OHC10227


Transcript (PDF)


After Kristallnacht:

“I went into Berlin, and I saw the stores on the Kurfurstendamm—the main boulevard—had in huge red letters the word ‘Jew’ painted on it.  The next day all these windows were broken. There was one store that I recall was a store where they sold yarn for knitting.  The Nazis were not sure whether the owner was Jewish or not.  I remember the name Geiger—G-E-I-G-E-R—a wool store.  They put not the word ‘Jew’ on the window but a huge question mark.  Because evidently their records did not show exactly what the background was of the owners.  Anyway, the next day all these windows were broken, and it was immense.  Thousands of people were arrested and put into these camps . . . not death camps, although people died there because of terrible treatment . . .” 3, 4

“On the thirteenth of May, we left Berlin for Hamburg and boarded the St. Louis along with 937 other German Jews, and we left Germany.  That was a wonderful journey, actually—it was a wonderful trip that I recall as a child.  I have definite memories of swimming and festivities, specifically for children, and as well as for adults.”  4

On leaving Germany:

“I know that they had to liquidate the best way they could whatever our possessions were. The laws were such that even our business, really, was no longer totally owned by us—you had to have a non-Jewish partner.  All assets were frozen, so it happened gradually that they took control in every conceivable way of whatever it was that you owned.  My parents were busy liquidating the best way they could to raise the . . . I believe, if I’m not mistaken . . . it was $750 that you had to pay the Cuban government to receive the visa.  Also, there was the cost of the trip to Havana [Cuba], which you had to buy a return ticket [for] because that’s what the Hamburg-America line requested or required.”  4

On waiting for his father to return:

“Up to 1945, we had actually lived with the hope of seeing my father again.  That’s very interesting—I never really had the opportunity to thoroughly mourn, as you would when someone dies, because when you live with a person that’s absent for five years or six years, and then you don’t see them again, it’s a very strange emotion.  I find it hard to explain.  It’s not something where you have someone who’s sick or old and dies regardless.  My mother was 85 when she passed away, and even though it was a very advanced age, I was devastated—much more so than I ever was from my father, simply because he just . . . he left . . . in a way that just is simply not normal.”  7

In Switzerland Henry and his mother, Rita, were separated:

“I saw my mother once every six weeks.  That was the policy of the Swiss government—to allow the children to join the mothers—we would then be given a furlough, so to speak, for—I believe it was one week—which you could choose the place where you wanted to spend that week, and you would be given spending money.  The Swiss were . . . my recollection is really one of appreciation and gratitude to the Swiss for what we experienced.  I can’t talk for those poor victims who were sent back, who tried to enter Switzerland . . . the policy that they led on changed to the better . . . but for us—under the circumstances—it was a positive thing.”  8

Aboard the St. Louis:

“I remember the mood had drastically changed on board.  Instead of festivities, they had meetings on board where the progress would be relayed to the passengers as to what the chances were to go here or there, and rumors were flying around about going here, or going there.  There were organizations in the United States, like the [American] Joint [Distribution Committee] and HIAS [Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society] and several others, and they were all trying to find a place for these people to go . . . You have to understand that a ship with a thousand people—937 people—is like a small town.  If you’re on ‘A’ deck, you do not really know what goes on on ‘D’ deck at the time.  You only, by way of rumor, you find out that this happened, or that happened.  From what I know—through the media and the book Voyage of the Damned, which documented the voyage of the St. Louis, and other magazines, newspapers, and other media—I know that they had discussed the possibility of taking the ship to Palestine and scuttling it . . . or whatever you call it . . . blowing up the engines.  There were all sorts of options that they had been considering, from what I understand.”  8, 9

“During the war . . . for me being Jewish was a fait accompli—it was just an accomplished fact.  It was something that I didn’t have to debate, or adjust to, or reason with.  It was just something that I very much identified with. There was never any question.  It was not only a matter of religion, although that did play a part; but it was a matter of being what you are.  I never had a problem with that.  I had problems—antisemitism—I was confronted with antisemitism, but nowhere was I confronted with antisemitism as much as I was confronted with antisemitism in the United States.  There was—upon arrival in America—that I came face to face with antisemitism in the most drastic of incidents.”  10

“I had a job as commis saucier—that means ‘assistant sauce cook’—in the famous Greenbrier Hotel in White Sulpher Springs, West Virginia . . . I had $11 at the time . . . I was a short time in America . . . and coming to the Greenbrier Hotel . . . You had to fill out the papers in the personnel office. As my name was Heinz Goldstein, a friend, a young lady, said to me, “With that name, you will last here two weeks.”  I discovered . . . I found out that the hotel was restricted.  There was no clientele . . . no clients, no Jewish guests . . . the hotel was restricted.   There were no Jews there.  That’s precisely when I changed my name, actually.  But I didn’t change my name legally; I just changed my name from ‘Heinz Goldstein’ to ‘Henry Gallant.’  Much to my mother’s pain, I would say.  She would say, ‘Ambassador Goldberg and Jonathan Goldstein, Attorney General of the State of New York, Ruby Goldstein, Referee of the Boxing Commission and you have to change your name to Gallant.’  She found it very difficult to accept.  But I changed my name because it was convenient . . .”  10, 11

“. . . [at] the end of the war . . . we came face-to-face with the American soldiers.  They were stationed in France, Germany and all over Europe, Italy, and they came to Switzerland on a seven-day so called ‘R and R’—rest and relaxation—that’s when we came face to face with the first Americans.  Let me tell you something, it was an emotional encounter because, unlike today, where you have anti-Americanism here or there in certain parts of the world, in those days anything that reflected the United States, anything that looked American, was something that was very valuable.  A carton of cigarettes, a raincoat, a Parker 51 [fountain pen], anything made in United States of America was ten times the value, and the Americans . . . the music . . . all of Europe celebrated the United States.  That’s how popular we were at the time.  That’s what I remember.  The American uniform was idolized . . . in France . . . everywhere.”  12, 13

“We were very grateful that we escaped.  We just had to live with the fact that my father would not return, as did hundreds of thousands of others.  The inner feelings or emotions my mother experienced is something that is a blank in my mind.  I really could not focus on it because some things just simply are blurred, where I would not know . . . did I hear it somewhere, did I read it somewhere, did I see it somewhere, does my knowledge come from a film, from a documentary, from a newspaper, or a magazine, or have I actually seen it myself?  I wouldn’t know . . . I don’t remember.”  13, 14

“I remember that . . . I must say that I lived for . . . I had a craving of enjoying life . . . of growing up and being independent.   I really looked forward to not be in a family . . . the kind of adopted child or so . . . and being regimented in where to go, how to go, when to go.  I really looked forward to coming to America and enjoyed it to the fullest.  It was very, very exciting— the arrival in New York and all that it implied.  It was wonderful.”  14

“. . . what I remember is that in Atlantic City where I worked the first few weeks upon arrival in this country . . . I had a room with a Jewish family—American Jews—and they were totally detached from these events.  I could almost say that they really didn’t want to know about it.  They looked upon these people . . . these new arrivals . . . they had a name for them—they were refugees.  Today they’re survivors, but yesterday they were refugees.  It took something like maybe 10 or 15 years until you could blow away that kind of identification as a refugee, until you became an immigrant or something.”  15

“I missed my father very, very much in the beginning.  It was very, very painful.  I was in this home for children outside of Paris upon disembarking from the St. Louis.  My father was in a camp outside of Paris.  I saw him there behind barbed wire, once or twice, and it was extremely painful.  I remember the separation from my family was the one, single most painful emotion that I experienced during the war years.”  16

“I was a waiter . . . on a liberty ship going to Bremerhaven [in Germany].  I traveled from New York to Bremerhaven for eight, nine months, and once a month we were in Bremerhaven for three days.  There were mixed emotions.  I liked Germany in one way . . . and didn’t like what happened . . . but I went back to Germany frequently.  I went back to Germany when it was unpopular to go back to Germany or buy German products.  Later that no longer mattered, whether you bought a Mercedes or Rosenthal [china dinnerware], or any of the other German products.  In the earlier days, there was a strong resentment . . . I went to Germany because I liked Germany.  I avoided anyone over the age of, say, 40 or so.  For me—in my thoughts, in my feelings, and in the same feelings of my friends, who also went back to Germany—German Jews—we had no association with any of the elderly people.  I spent frequent summers outside of Hamburg [Germany] in a resort town called ‘Westerland.’   I only associated with young ladies and fellows my age at the time.  Those to me were absolutely without guilt—they were innocent—by way of having been five or ten years old by the end of the war.  My wife was born in Germany.” 17

“I’m very, very lucky.  I sometimes, in moments of a setback—a setback could be a simple traffic ticket to a falling equity in the stock market, or a busted pipe in a swimming pool—any minor thing that occupies your mind and makes you very, very upset.  ‘My God, my car broke down.  I need a valve job’ or something.  But then precisely at a moment like this, I try to tell myself, ‘I shouldn’t even be here.  I’m so lucky to be alive.’  My father was . . . I kind of look back at how old my father was when he endured what he had to endure.  He was not even 50 when his life ended.  When I took recently—a couple of years ago—I took a trip to, as I mentioned to you, to Warsaw [Poland] and then with a guide went to Krakow [Polish: Kraków], Auschwitz-[Birkenau].  Spent three hours standing in the snow up to my knees wearing a fur coat, warm underwear.  I asked myself, “How lucky, that I didn’t end up here.”  Then the 21 hours by train from Munich [Germany] to Warsaw.  I had a first class . . . I traveled first class . . . I said to myself . . . what crossed my mind was . . . the train was forever [makes train engine sound] . . . it was a locomotive, slow train, stopped at every . . . I don’t know how many times . . . I said to myself, “Here I am, first class.”  I was the only person in that compartment, and it had a soft seat.  I said to myself, ‘How dreadful it must have been for a hundred people in a cattle wagon, standing up for 21 hours, or 24 hours, without food or water.’  It was just as bad to experience that comfort as it was to see the movie Schindler’s List.”  25


Henry Gallant was born Heinz Goldstein in Berlin, Germany in 1928.  His parents were Hermann and Rita Goldstein.  Henry was an only child, and his father was a chemist who manufactured perfume.  Henry’s parents were proud Germans, and Henry’s father had served in World War I.  After Kristallnacht, which Henry witnessed, Henry’s parents prepared to emigrate from Germany.  They liquidated their assets, bought tickets for the St. Louis, and obtained visas.  Along with 933 other Jews, Henry and his parents boarded the St. Louis which was bound for Cuba, hoping to eventually settle in the United States.  However, when the ship arrived in Cuba, it was not allowed to dock and was sent back to international waters.  The United States also refused to let the passengers enter the country even though most held valid immigration quota numbers in the following years.  Eventually the ship returned to Europe, where England, France, Belgium and Holland each took part of the passengers.  Tragically, many of the passengers perished in death camps when France, Belgium and Holland were overrun by the Nazis.

Henry and his family went to France, where his father was interned and eventually sent to Aushwitz-[Birkenau].  Henry’s mother remained free and Henry was put in a home for children outside Paris.  Henry and his mother managed to escape into Switzerland in 1942 where they stayed until 1947.  Henry’s mother lived in a camp for women, which was in an unused resort hotel, and Henry lived first with a Jewish family and then a gentile family.  In Switzerland, Henry describes being treated very well and attending a progressive school called Ecole d’Humanite. 

At the age of 16, Henry attended hotel school in Switzerland to learn cooking and serving.  Upon immigrating to the United States with his mother, Henry got a job at the Greenbrier Hotel in West Virginia and changed his name from ‘Heinrich Goldstein’ to ‘Henry Gallant’ at the suggestion of a friend, who informed him that the Greenbrier was a restricted hotel that did not allow Jews.  Henry also experienced antisemitism in the United States during his time in the military.  He joined the air force in 1949 and was stationed in Texas and California.  Although there weren’t many Jews in the hotel industry, Henry found that his ability to speak French, German, and Swiss-German was an asset in this line of work, which was often run by Europeans.

Henry met his wife, a German gentile who later converted to Judaism, while on vacation in Montreal, Canada.  They married in Las Vegas and worked at hotels in Miami, Lake Placid, and New York City.  Gallant was a maître d’hotel in the Empire Room, a nightclub at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City.  When the Empire Room closed in 1975, the Gallant family moved to Atlanta for Henry’s job at the Fairmont Hotel.  Henry and his wife, Ilse, later ran a kosher catering company.  They have one son, Mark, and a granddaughter.  Mark’s wife also converted to Judaism.  Gallant feels very lucky to have survived the Holocaust with his mother in Switzerland and to have had a successful career and family upon arrival in the United States.


Henry describes a happy early childhood in Berlin, Germany as the only child of a perfume manufacturer.  Henry recalls in detail the events of Kristallnacht, the destruction and its aftermath in Berlin and the impact it had on his family.  After Kristallnacht, Henry recalls how the Goldsteins fled Germany on the St. Louis, and remembers the voyage itself.  When the St. Louis was denied entry to its destination port in Cuba and later to the United States as well, Henry describes his family’s return to France after the St. Louis was turned back.  Henry remembers how his father was sent to the Gurs internment camp in France and later to Auschwitz-Birkenau on Convoy 17 which left France on August 10, 1942 and arrived in Auschwitz-Birkenau on August 12, 1942.  He describes the strange predicament of waiting for his father to return and not knowing that he had died until after the war or of his ultimate fate until very recently.

Henry expresses a lot of gratitude toward the Switzerland, to which Henry and his mother to from France and lived until 1947.  Henry describes his training in the hospitality industry in Switzerland and his immigration to the United States and his extensive career in the hotel and food service trade.  Henry describes experiencing the most antisemitism in the United States, both in his first job at a hotel and while stationed in the military.  Henry discusses the various ways he dealt with discrimination, among which was changing his name from ‘Heinz Goldstein’ to ‘Henry Gallant.’ Later on in his life, Henry felt that in a way he was responsible for bringing more Jews into the fold, since both he and son married gentile women who converted to Judaism. 

Henry recalls meeting and marrying his wife, Ilse, who is a German gentile and her conversion to Judaism. 



Auschwitz-Birkenau (Death camps: Poland)

Berlin, Germany

Brauchitsch, Walther

Congregation Ahavath Achim—Atlanta, Georgia

Congregation Beth Shalom—Atlanta, Georgia

Congregation Shearith Israel—Atlanta, Georgia


Convoy 17


Death camps: Poland



Drancy, France (transit camp)

Ecole d’Humanité—Goldern, Switzerland

Flight and hiding

Food service industry and trade


French Riviera

Gallant, Henry

Gallant, Ilse

Gallant, Mark

Goldstein, Heinz

Goldstein, Rita

Goldstein, Hermann

Greenbrier Hotel—White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia

Gurs, France (transit camp)

Havana, Cuba

Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945)

Holocaust survivors

Hospitality industry and trade


Internment camps: France


Jews, German


Kunis, Mark (Rabbi)

Kurfurstendamm—Berlin, Germany

Mariel boatlift—1980

Military Sea Transportation Service

Or VeShalom—Atlanta, Georgia

Paris, France

Perfume industry and trade

Persecution, Jews—Germany


Refugees, Jewish


Roosevelt, Franklin Delano (President)

Schindler, Oskar

Soldiers, German

Soldiers, Jewish

Soldiers, United States


SS St. Louis (ship)


Transit camps: France

United States.  Air Force


Waldorf-Astoria—New York City, New York

World War, 1939-1945


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