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Jewish Heritage: The Oral Histories - Cuba Family Archives

MEMOIRIST:          ALFRED SCHNEIDER

INTERVIEWERS:    ADINA LANGER

                                 MIKE BRYAN

                                 SANDRA GHIZONI

DATES:                    SEPTEMBER 17, 2015 

LOCATION:             ATLANTA, GEORGIA 

Transcript (PDF)

BIOGRAPHY

Alfred Schneider was the only child of a Jewish doctor in the Bukovina region of Romania. His mother died when he was a small child. After his father died a few years later, Alfred moved to the city of Czernowitz to live with his stepmother’s family. Throughout his youth, Alfred enjoyed a comfortable home that emphasized education and music. His family enjoyed travelling throughout Romania on summer vacations.

When the Soviet Union occupied Romania in 1941, Alfred’s education continued and life continued somewhat normally. After Romania allied with Germany and reoccupied Czernowtiz, restrictions imposed on Jews meant Alfred could no longer attend school. His family briefly lived in the ghetto during mass deportations to Transnistria. His family escaped deportation thanks to a special authorization, which allowed them to remain in Czernowitz for the remained of the war.

After World War II ended, Alfred joined an orchestra to avoid Soviet conscription. His family soon left Czernowitz for Poland. Alfred continued on to American occupied Munich, Germany and enrolled in college. With the help of an uncle in New York, he immigrated to the United States in 1948. In 1950, Alfred married a Polish Holocaust survivor, Tosia Szechter (1929-). The two had met in Czernowicz immediately after the war and reconnected after she immigrated to the United States in 1949.

After graduating from Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in 1951, Alfred received his Ph.D. from Polytechnical University of New York in 1958. He has worked as a research engineer, technical manager, consultant and professor of nuclear engineering. In 1975, Alfred was appointed Professor of Nuclear Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) where he taught and conducted research until his retirement in 1990. He continued to teach as a Visiting Professor of Nuclear Engineering and conducted research as a Research Affiliate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) until 1996.

Alfred and Tosia live in Atlanta, Georgia, where both are active in sharing their wartime experiences. They have three sons and five grandchildren. 

Scope of Interview:

Alfred provides a historical context of the Bukovina region and introduces the city he grew up in. He recalls the transfer of power to the Soviets and then Romanians and Germans. Alfred talks about the deportations of Jews to Transnistria. He explains how the mayor, Trajan Popovici, issued permits that saved many Jews in Czernowitz, including his family. Alfred describes the fluctuations of currency exchange rates in Romania and how important currency was to the survival of deportees. He discusses his father’s family and educational background. Alfred recalls his father’s medical practice in Vyzhnytsia. He discusses his inheritance after his father’s death and living with his stepmother’s family in Czernowitz. He recollects family vacations and celebrating holidays before the war. Alfred recalls his music lessons and tutors. He describes the arbitration system that settled business disputes for Jews. He talks about why he learned so many languages and describes the relationships between Jews and non-Jews. Alfred explains the challenges Jews faced from educational quotas before the war. He talks about beginning of World War II and where his family lived. Alfred remembers shopping and attending school under the Soviets. He considers the Jews he knew that were deported by the Soviets to Siberia. He shares how risky it was to hide valuables. He mentions the Soviet plan to resettle Jews in Birobidzhan. Alfred discusses how his family found an apartment to rent after the ghetto was dissolved and they had to vacate their house. He explains how he earned money and sold items on the black market to help support family that had been deported to Transnistria. Alfred reminisces about the study group he formed as restrictions on Jews loosened at the end of the war. Alfred characterizes the Judenrate’s roll in Czernowitz. He talks about enrolling in school again after the war and joining an orchestra to avoid Soviet conscription. He explains how his family left Czernowitz for Poland. Alfred relates how valuable American currency was when he travelled to the American occupied zone of Germany and enrolled in college. He touches upon the cultural sensitivities and language barriers in Europe after the war. Alfred outline’s his stepmother’s immigration to Australia. He recounts the challenges he faced in coming to the United States and entering college.

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