Living History: A German merchant who survived two world wars comes to Utah
Editor's note: This is the second part of the story of Fred Linden, who survived World War I and, with his family, did the same during World War II before settling in Utah. The first part ran on Jan. 13, 2013.
On March 28, 1935, German Jewish merchant Fred Linden (Fritz Lindenstrauss) rented a small store in north Berlin, stocked it with merchandise, dressed the windows and before noon waited on his first customer.
"When the first sale is white or black, it means good luck," Fred said in interviews and memoirs archived at University of Utah's Marriott Library. "She wanted material for a bride's dress it was an omen for the good."
But it didn't last.
In a recap of my last column, Fred was born in 1895 in northeastern Germany. He spent his youth mountain climbing and sailing, began an apprenticeship in textiles in his teens and found work in Stettin, near the Baltic Sea. During World War I, the 20-year-old served in the German military and lost his older brother, Curt, a platoon sergeant killed in action.
After the war, Fred returned to his trade. As he climbed the mercantile ladder, each rung offered him a better position in stores from Essen and Hamm to Hamburg and Kiel. He was in Gera in 1933 when Hitler became chancellor of Germany and within the year like most other Jews lost his job.
The only oasis for Jews was Berlin, and Fred was determined to work. He opened his retail store and he, his wife, Ruth, and son Kurt led "an undisturbed life" until Kristallnacht (the violent, anti-Semitic pogroms of Nov. 9-10, 1938) proved no Jew was safe not even in Berlin.
Nazis storm troopers and Hitler youth roamed the streets breaking into stores. They destroyed Fred's shop and he became a hunted man. "My father spent many evenings riding the subway to avoid being caught," Kurt told me recently from his home in Massachusetts.
Almost too late, Fred bought tickets to Shanghai. He smuggled funds to relatives in England and stood in line relinquishing everything else to the Nazi regime.
"More than saddening, it was the anger and depression to be powerless," he said.
On April 18, 1939, the Lindens were traveling by rail to Italy when they were ordered off the train, meticulously searched and miraculously released by German border police at Brenner Pass.
They spent an uneasy night in Genoa and were grateful to board the Italian liner Giulio Cesare, a "refugee ship of the East," departing for Shanghai.
In 1933, an estimated 17,000 German and Austrian Jewish refugees had escaped to Shanghai, followed by several thousand more after Kristallnacht. Greeting them at port, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee offered housing, food and clothing.
"The Hongkou District in Shanghai was a designated area for Jewish refugees," Fred said. "The Wayside Heim, which the committee had assigned us, was a warehouse set up for 50 families with bunk beds divided only by curtains. It was a most appreciated refuge after having escaped Nazi Germany."
Once settled, he told his wife and son, "We have to think about making a living."
Using his money from England, Fred rented a huge, two-story bombed-out structure. He employed refugee workmen and created a "European style" boardinghouse for Jewish immigrants. But due to Shanghai's staggering inflation rate, he eventually lost the house, but not his good cheer.
"No matter how difficult things were in Shanghai, my father put an optimistic twist on everything," Kurt said. "He made it even pleasurable."
"We moved to a smaller home with a storefront window," Fred said. "Ruth was an excellent dressmaker, and we were in business."
In 1940, when the Japanese closed Shanghai's "open door" policy, Fred received desperate letters from close relatives and neighbors in Germany imploring him to help. Complying with the only caveat left open property ownership had its rights Fred was able to bring all 12 mishpocheh, or family, and friends to safe harbor.
In 1947, the Lindens left Shanghai and immigrated to Utah where, Fred said, "the mountains beckoned" and where they resumed their trade. Ruth opened a dressmaking shop. Fred worked at ZCMI. They became U.S. citizens in 1953. And traversing the state so much like he did his youthful home, Fred lived to be 102.
Eileen Hallet Stone, an oral historian, may be reached at email@example.com. Additional sources: U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum papers.