Lottie Burger left Stuttgart, Germany because of anti-semitism in April 1938 at the age of eight with her mother, father, and grandmother. As there was no port in Germany they traveled first to France to depart, where her grandmother took her underground to see the subway for the first time.
They arrived in New York on the Queen Mary and lived for a while in Manhattan, where she started school. Both of Lottie’s parents had taken lessons in English to prepare for moving to America, though she and her grandmother did not and therefore could not speak English. In school Lottie was paired with a girl who had moved to America a few months earlier and spoke English; but this girl did not enjoy being a buddy to Lottie and instead of helping her, scratched Lottie with her fingernails.
For eight weeks in the summer, during July and August, Lottie’s parents sent her to a Jewish summer camp. The first two weeks were miserable, as she still didn’t speak English. By the end of the summer she was fluent and even refused to speak German to her grandmother for a few weeks upon returning to her family. Every Friday night at the camp one of the counselors dressed as the Shabbas Queen, and four of the girls held her train. Three of them rotated week to week so that everyone would get a turn; the fourth was Lottie, every week.
Her family moved to Queens, where she started school in the fall with a command of the English language, making things much easier.
In Germany her father had sold shoes. That wasn’t a job he could find in New York, so instead he worked at an embroidery business, managing two machines that were ten yards by three feet in size. Her mother and grandmother knitted for a boutique store on Madison Avenue, working almost nonstop all day each day. With both of them working hard every week they earned ten dollars.
Every Tuesday morning her mother would give her a dime. On the way home from school Lottie would use it to buy six cinnamon buns, which, along with hot chocolate that her mother made, would serve as a wonderful lunch for the two of them and Lottie’s grandmother.
After elementary school she attended Forest Hills High School and then Queens College, the free college in the city, where she majored in education. She was married ten days after her graduation, and they had three children. Her favorite teacher from school, Rose Oshman, came to visit Lottie when she had her first child. Lottie was a teacher in New York for over twenty-six years before retiring to California, where she lives today.
This story was written by Zahava Preil, a student volunteer for a service project at the Moldaw Residences in Palo Alto, CA.