Hanna (Ann) Schechner and Beth Schechner

Recorded April 13, 2008 Archived April 13, 2008 41:52 minutes
0:00 / 0:00
Id: GCT004905


Hanna Schechner and her daughter, Beth Schechner, talk about Hanna’s upbringing in Holland and her family migration to Holland.

Subject Log / Time Code

Hanna’s earliest memory is growing up in a suburb in Amsterdam, Holland.
In April of 1954, Hanna and her parents took the Maasdam cruise liners to the U.S.. They landed in Hoboken, NJ.
During WWII, her parents had to hide out in Haarlem, Holland. While doing so, their daughter, which they gave over to someone’s else care, died.
Exxon Oil Spill
Family naming


  • Hanna (Ann) Schechner
  • Beth Schechner

Recording Location

Grand Central Terminal


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00:06 My name is Hannah schoeppner. I am 61 today is the 13th of April 2008. We are in the Grand Central Terminal and I am the mother of that.

00:23 My name is Beth schechner. I am 24 years old 25 years old April 13th 2008 Grand Grand Central Terminal and I will be interviewing my mother.

00:41 So what is your earliest memory?

00:45 My earliest memory is in my birth country, which is Holland in a suburb person.

00:53 And a suburb of the city of Amsterdam.

00:59 And we lived above a bakery.

01:04 Cross the street from a train station

01:08 In Inver some infant. What's your memory of of the apartment? The apartment was euge it had a big living room overlooking the street. It was two levels. We did not have central heat.

01:25 And I did say you'd staircase in the living room going down to the bottom floor with with a gate on it. How is it? How is the apartment? He did a big coal stove in the center of the living room. How old were you when you live there? I live there from birth till just seven years of age. So that was the only place you ever lived in Hollands, but I didn't correct. I went to kindergarten they are as well.

01:56 And what was it? What was it like living in in Holland to remember the streets or the people? I remember the streets the people spoke spoke Touch of course and they wore clothes just like we we are here in America. No wouldn't choose no strange uniforms. Just regular clothes. What year was it when you left home when I left in 1954 in April and who did you live? Leave us I left with my mom. I lived with my mom and my dad. I'm an only child and we came to America on a

02:38 What they call Cruise liner in ocean liner named maasdam maasdam and has been resurrected as a cruise liner today. It is going back and forth. I think in the Caribbean on the Holland American line, really? Yes, and what made your parents decide to come to America?

03:04 They came to America after World War II.

03:08 They lost their entire family including my sister my sister and they wanted to start their lives a fresh. Do you remember how you found out? You were going to America what you thought about it? Yes. I had to get a physical and I had to get a smallpox shot and they didn't tell me much about it was just one day. I was on the boat and I wasn't something that they discussed with me. They never they never did they tell you where you were going or why now now my parents were very closed-mouth about their experiences during World War II, so I really didn't know except questioning them as I got older who came with you and your family besides your parents know it was just myself my mom and my dad and his steam trunk.

04:02 And one suitcase and how long did it take you to come across it took us 10 days. We were it was during April like I said before and that's when there's a lot of storms on the Atlantic so it took us a day longer than it should have and everybody on the ship was seasick. Did you get sick? I was seasick for the first couple of days, but then I was okay. My mom was sick the whole entire time and you had you had a cabin for your family and the butthead a cat. We had a cabin for the our family. What was the cabin like very tiny little bunk beds. I don't recall exactly what it look like, but I do remember it having bunk beds and you saw how long in the in the cabin Crossing 10 days 10 days 10 days and we landed not Inn at Ellis Island but in Hoboken, New Jersey

04:59 Do you remember anything else from the trip across that I went into like a little nursery school or play school area that I remember and I had the run of the ship by myself. I was my parents were not necessarily with me at all times in those days. You could go around a ship without anybody there. Were there other children on the boat? Yes. They were at the children. I don't recall what they look like or anything to that effect to remember if they were all Dutch or if they were different so different languages we had we got on the boat in Rotterdam.

05:41 And we made a stop in England and I believe Liverpool but I can't be sure exactly which other stop it was in England on the North State and then we went across so my assumption is that they were children from other nationalities on there, but I don't recall and how how old were you when when this all happened I was seven.

06:04 And you know how old your parents were?

06:09 My mother was 36 when I was born. So perhaps 43 and my father was a year younger. So he was forty-two did you before you came did you practice speaking any English know my parents as a second language in their Elementary School Daze took English, but it was very rudimentary and they didn't know any really English when they came here. My mom used to watch soap operas to learn how to speak English. Once you came to America America, correct? Thought so after 10 days you landed in Hoboken, right? And when we land it, he was like a big huge Warehouse.

06:56 Which was the terminal and it took me a long time to get rid of my sea legs, which I didn't know I was supposed to have so it was Eerie getting off the boat and still feeling the boat rocking back and forth. Do you remember any thoughts from arriving in into the terminal what it was if it was crowded or it wasn't about and it could cuz I'm assuming the boat was packed but I don't recall anything other than this euge wouldn't Warehouse as we approached Hoboken New Jersey. We then how we got to Manhattan? I don't know but we spent the first night of our arrival and the United States in a hotel called The Roosevelt Hotel. I remember that and then we took a train.

07:47 2A City Court, Cleveland, Ohio, where are sponsors sent us? How did you meet your sponsor sponsor? I believe met us at the train station in Cleveland Ohio. How did how did you find this sponsor? How did you meet them before you came to the US and in order to come to America in the 50s you had to have a sponsor and be a job you cannot enter the United States without those two criteria. So your parents had prepared.

08:26 In Holland to come here by going through this organization and also correct and when we landed in Cleveland, they had to put us up in this attic.

08:40 The attic had I remember one bear lights on the ceiling and my father broke down. He said this is not what America was supposed to be. Like, what was America supposed to be like the city was supposed to be filled with gold.

08:56 And this is not what he wanted his family to have an attic room filled with darkness and one window and one light see called at the sponsor. I said I can't do this and the sponsor took us to her own apartment and in Cleveland Heights, which was a beautiful area at that time and we stayed there for about 3 to 4 weeks and I was introduced to television I never had seen the television before and I remember to this day what is television look like it was a wooden box furniture with a little green screen.

09:41 We sponsor help us look for a place of Our Own.

09:47 And we landed in a town called shakerheights, which was just outside of Cleveland Heights and we stayed there for a couple of months and I went into school.

10:02 And that was first grade and I didn't speak a word of English.

10:09 Ann April

10:11 That was the April of that year and everybody had their little friends. I had nobody.

10:17 So my mom sent me to summer school to learn the English language and this is all your first year you're in in America. So you are seven in all of these hot things happened and then summer school. I went there and then my parents wanted to

10:36 Progressed and get a bigger place without the sponsor. This is your third place now in the United States wrecked, and we moved to Cleveland the town of Cleveland itself. We stayed there for

10:55 I would say not more than one year. Now you are in your own house your family lived a life. We lived in our own area was a two-family house and my mother was not happy there because

11:10 I was the only white child in the school, and she thought that I would not be comfortable there.

11:19 We then went back to shakerheights got another apartment, which is in a two-family house. And we stayed there I went back to the original school that I was at came from when I was with the Hadassah and I stayed there for a whole year and this

11:42 That is how long had passed since you had come to the country. I'm going to say a year-and-a-half and they do not keep in touch with your sponsor who took you in but we moved again and where were you living now now my parents thought that the streets were paved in gold and that we could find our own house.

12:06 So we moved to a suburb of Cleveland called Mayfield Heights and we had around house but my parents for the first time in their own life. What did your father do for a living? He was a diamond cut?

12:19 Didn't he learns where did he learn this trade? He learned his trade before the war.

12:26 During the war he made cigarettes out of Ashes to support his family, I guess because Diamond was not a big commodity during the World War II, where did he live during the war? He was in hiding and my mom was in hiding in a town called Harlem Harlem and they were separated. My mom had a 14 month old daughter had to give it to a Christian family and it perished.

13:01 And this was this was all during the war during the war and back tonight.

13:09 We lived in our very own house with pear trees and apple trees and something my parents absolutely love to have their own garden. There was a grape arbor and then my father's boss died, but did your mother a garden know as a matter of I will get to her gardening skills later. So what did you do with your own garden little kept it up there very long. We were only there 7 months. So the garden was there when you was in it was there when we moved in and it was better when we move down and my father had to go to New York because that's where the diamond industry capital is to even to this day and my mom had to stay behind with me and sell the house. How old are you now?

13:57 This is Gabby's 1956. So I was about nine years old. Do you remember anything about that house? Guess isn't my size the garden. It was a tiny house was two bedrooms that I was able to paint it. Whatever colors I wanted color. Did you paint it? I painted it purple and yellow. I had one wall purple and three walls yellow and she let you did. Did she help you paint it now you paint it all yourself when you were eight. Yeah, I guess so I didn't do such a great job or did you get all the furniture for your house?

14:31 When we move to our very own area back in Cleveland, my mom bought an estate in entire house full of furniture for $100.

14:45 That included a gorgeous oak dining room sets a bedroom sets that. Would cost thousands of dollars kitchenware. Everything all $400. How did she get it off of a house with someone who has passed or you don't I don't know. I don't know but I still remember the day I would love to have it today. What was it was? It was okay with you big legs does a really beautiful.

15:16 Did any of that furniture come with you when you move to, New York?

15:20 Yes, we have one thing left. It was a little table that I have a Bowl on.

15:28 It is now is the temple fall. It's at the end of the hall on Cromwell drive. It was upstairs at Clark Drive in the corner. It's a wooden wooden table. That's from your mother's original house in America, correct? And I believe a can opener. I still have that with a wooden handle, you know, that wouldn't handle can opener that opens Sofia cans and now I don't know what else to do with you. Yes that came from that estate as well. So you and your mom were last sell the house and everything in it and my father Dan moved.

16:08 Two Queens New York called Glenoaks and he had got an apartment at Garden Apartments for the three of you for the three of us a two-bedroom garden apartment and a job and a job. Did you all speak English at this point? Yes. Yes. We had gotten a car at this point is well. I thought we had already taken one trip to Canada cuz there were people in Canada in Ontario that were from extinct community in outside of Amsterdam person and they contact the entrance. How did you get up to Canada? We drove and my mother may she rest in peace was the world's worst backseat driver That Ever Walked the face of this Earth and it maybe should have taken us 10 hours to get to Ontario from New York. It probably took us 30 hours cuz if my father went 45 miles an hour she was too.

17:08 She told him you're driving too fast.

17:11 And this this road trip event after you moved to New York after we moved how did you and your mother get to New York to New York? We took strength lifting Glenoaks for 2 years my Mom hated it here because they're because she had already tasted what it was like to have your own home.

17:34 I hate my dad had to sign a 2-year contract. So the first week we already started looking for homes on Long Island, and we used to take rides out to Huntington and there was a restaurant with the windmill on it. And that's how far east we used to go on Jericho Turnpike.

17:55 I know which restaurant you're talking about, right? It's just east of Route 110.

18:00 It has become a Chinese restaurant and never stayed very long. That's a long ride from from Queens. Correct? Correct Sergeant did your parents have in the first car? We had was a 1951 Buick Deluxe and it had one had the antenna above the windshield going back. Then. We had a 1954 Plymouth witch caught on fire by father started it and caught on fire. We always had used cars because we could not afford a new car and then we had a 57.

18:45 Dodge with push buttons, which I happen to have totaled in Roosevelt Field parking.

18:57 You your dad taught you how to drive when your C's it? Did your mother drive only people crazy, so you

19:10 You found an apartment on Long Island, eventually. I know when we the lease was up in Glen Oaks. We moved to our house again in East Meadow. Miss was a house your parents bought my parents bought on Fairview Avenue. It was a two-bedroom little ranch.

19:33 And at that time my father wanted to start to work out of the house. So we lived in that house for about two years maybe and that has did not have a basement so he cut diamonds in the house. Yes, but not in that has cuz it did not have a basement, but he wanted to move have a house with a basement so that he can could work out of the house and did not have to commute to New York City.

20:03 So they bought a house two blocks away at that point. They realized that it was not a good idea for me to have a change school. So many times. How old were you at this point? I was in 7th grade.

20:16 How to do make friends easily when you came to

20:22 Long Island I had to make friends easily because we moved so many times but once we got to East Meadow, I kept those same friends to these day and I still have a friend to this day from East Meadows from your first school in East Meadow, right? Because the same it was the same school system East Meadow is one school district. So then we lived in 48 Newbridge road, which had a basement not finished my father set up a workbench in the basement and diamond cutting looks like

20:56 A record player with stylus so he bought his own equipment. Correct. Was that expensive at the time? I don't know. I don't know. Do you remember anything about him starting his own business while I wasn't his own business. He used to work in the basement. Like I said look like a record player and The Stylist was how it that way the diamond fit in and then he would cut it in 254 little windows or fasted state are called and if you could imagine

21:27 One of those little diamonds leaving The Stylist and hitting the ceiling.

21:35 And I remember many times having to look for that diamond in the unfinished basement ceiling and we had to find it each and every time he ever make anything for you all. Yes. I have an engagement ring sitting in waiting for my daughter to take it's a canary diamond and I have

21:59 1 ring with a little hard on it. I believe you have that as well. I do have that and made that he made that the he he just cut the stones, right? He didn't dance he didn't do that. Once he caught the stones. Did he take them into Manhattan to sell them? No. No, he works as a consignment person. I guess you would want to call it people cut came to him is a rough Stone make it into a diamond and two jewelry and he used to carry it home with him in his attache case and put it in the freezer in a green pea frozen food box wine in the freezer because they're expensive and you have to hide them and God forbid if somebody came into your house to a robber somebody came into your house you had to hide them.

22:53 Did you but you and your mother knew where he had them?

23:01 What how long did he work out of the house for a he worked out of the house until he passed away in 1966 to remember that? Yes, I did. I had gone out.

23:14 With my girlfriend came home and I saw a video.

23:19 Ambulance there

23:21 At your at your house on your Bridge roads, right? And he passed away very quickly at age 54.

23:29 What happened to him in a heart attack with a heavy smoker?

23:34 And he passed away.

23:36 And you and your mother stay there my mother and I stay there and my mother was never a strong woman and I became the parents.

23:47 Dumb she live by herself for a couple years and then

23:54 I don't know if it's God's will or what-have-you but there was a big oil spill right on the corner three houses in that Exxon had a leak and 50,000 gallons of oil spilled into the ground and they had to leave everybody in the whole neighborhood had to leave it was a nationwide thing everybody knew about it. It was on the national news. There is a illegal settlement wasn't that it was illegal sell it to sediment that Exxon bought the homes for market value at that time. And this was after you had already moved out. This is I was already married and what happened is my mom wanted to either buy a small place or move in with our family and we decided that was best thing to do rather than me going to her house every two days.

24:51 That she move in with us and she lived with us for 25 years.

24:57 And where what what do you remember about her moving in with you?

25:03 Well, what happened is that she took some of the money from the settlement and built a nice little addition to our house. She was self-sufficient. She had her own kitchen area Janet room living area and her own bathroom. And what happened was that it was attached to our house through our dining room. So instead of having dining room windows on the exterior wall. We now headed to war that entered into my mom's apartment and job

25:41 She what she watched her three grandchildren.

25:45 Grow up, and I think she was as happy as she could be in that house. How did you feel about it?

25:53 I thought it was a great idea. Like I said, I wouldn't have to travel.

25:58 With two children in a car for 40 minutes cuz she lives 40 minutes away and she saw the breadth of her third child third grandchild a girl while she was living.

26:13 What what would you say is the happiest moment of your life?

26:18 Well, it's the birth of my children. I have three children a son who is now 30.

26:25 3 a son who's 30 and a daughter who's 25?

26:32 And those were the happiest moments I think so to see The Rebirth of I never had a big family. It was just myself my mom and my dad and to extend the Family with my husband.

26:49 I was really the best thing most the thing that I remember as being the best part of my life.

26:58 Do you do you ever

27:01 Have you ever been back to the Holland where you came from? Not yet? And it's kind of you have an image of what Holland was when I was a child and I'd love to go forget the image. I like it might be spoiled. I went back to the home in Cleveland.

27:24 And at the time when I was experiencing these homes, they were all gorgeous little homes and when I went back

27:32 Two of them were in the slums and one was just the little house that I was so perfect was a disaster. So it was all falling apart. I was able to pick it out as an adult as a matter of fact, it was only about three years ago. My husband and I your dad went to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland and Cleveland and decided to relive my past and it was a very very sad experience because I went I was able to find each and every one of these homes CPS that you lived in when you were seven when I was 7 through the age of not I was able to find in each each and every one of them and each and every one of them was very very upsetting.

28:20 Seeing how it had changed how it has changed.

28:24 So is that that's why you haven't come back. You have an image in your mind of what you want something to look like.

28:33 And you don't want it to change.

28:36 And you go if you want to go there and it's not there anymore. I think I'd be very upset. Is there anything that stands out that you would from from Holland that you think you would recognize or that you is there any particular place that you have in mind when you say that?

28:56 The where I lived above a bakery was right across the street from the train station, and I remember the train going by and if you would just think of in the forties when you see these big old locomotives big black locomotives with all the black smoke coming out the steam engine steam engines. That's what I used to see all the time and I remember at that time my birthday which was in March. My parents gave me a bike and after my dad came home from work, he took me for a bike ride. It was dark already and I had just snowed.

29:32 And the sky was absolutely pink and I have this Vision in my mind of taking a bike ride.

29:42 In the dark

29:44 In the snow was this where you lived in Hollands was this a Countryside or was it more buildup? It was not the countryside. However, the countryside was within walking distance cuz nobody had a car in those days. They had bikes but no car is really and you are able to go where you needed to go by walking and all you had to do was make a right hand turn at the end of the block where I lived and you were in the woods and it was within 2 minute walk. 3-minute walk where you you are on a Main Street Santa Ana Main Street, correct. Do you remember any of your neighbors?

30:28 Now I must have had them and I know where my school was. We had to cross the tracks to the other side where they were private homes, and I remember whether I have that image.

30:42 Am I head of the school or I've seen pictures of it. I just remember playing in the sandbox also the house that I lived in the above. The bakery had a little patio in the back where I was able to play and have friends over dude. Did you have I know when you came to the States you didn't have any family. Did you have family that you were close with when you were younger?

31:09 In Holland, you know, my father came from a family of 11 children and he had one brother left and we weren't really close with them, but we saw them once in awhile my mom.

31:27 Had one brother she divorced three children her family and one brother married a gentile woman. So he was not killed. Which brother was that was Daniel to children to a girls one who has the same name as me Hannah and the other one was elsha in Holland grandparents. The children were named after the grandparents. So they were very few names in Holland. They were giving out cuz they were usually very very similar name and it has even in this family. Nothing would have stayed that way and I and my cousin Hannah were named after my mom's mother.

32:15 My granddaughter is named after my mother.

32:20 And my all my children my three children want to name that's their first daughter the same name which might be a problem. But I know that my daughter you got home like I was a little upset when her brother named his first child. He did to my mother. He stole my name. You spell your name your your cousin Hannah wasn't Jewish then but they did they didn't practice. I don't recall I think after the war.

32:56 At least my family my immediate family got a little disillusioned with the Jewish religion perhaps because of what they went through. They celebrate Traditions rather than the my father went to Temple sometimes and Saturday mornings more in Holland than he did in America, but every Friday night we had chicken soup and every Friday night. My mom had a white tablecloth on the table for Shottas. Yes, but we did not like candles.

33:31 Where you bought this with? No, I was not so even in Holland you weren't you were never that my lips. No, did you go to Temple when you when you came to the states with your dad? I went to Temple in Holland with my dad on the high holidays and there it was separated between men and women when we came to America that was conservative when we came to America, the conservative was more reformed and we went to Temple on the high. Holy days. Definitely on Long Island. I would call however when my father passed away he passed away in July of 66 and any money that we had was put in escrow. How come that's how it was so we couldn't touch it because perhaps it wasn't it all in my father and mother's name. I don't recall the exact reason and I wanted to go to Temple on the high Hall.

34:31 DES in September of 9 of 1966 could not go to Temple during the high holy days because I could not I didn't have access to the money and they would not let me in.

34:44 How did your mother support you and herself after your father died? I guess she had enough money under the mattress for a month or two. And then she worked at John's Bargain Store, which was like a dollar store and there was a life insurance policy that she put into the bank and she lived off the interest with that from your father's life insurance. If you are able to get payments from that eventually and she how long did she work at the dollar store for store? I would think

35:18 Five or six years. Did you take a job to help out?

35:24 Did I take a job I work during the Summers when I my father passed away when I was 19. I work during the Summers, but she insisted I go to school. I had gone to take classes in Nassau Community College during the summer of 1966 my father passed away in July. I took off 3 days and I went right back to school. She insisted that my father wanted me to go to school and become a teacher.

35:56 Ty really she did not let me mourn

36:01 And how long did you live at home after that?

36:06 I got married and I met my husband and I met your father in 1966.

36:14 So I lived at home until 1970 when I got married.

36:21 See you never you never live by yourself. I never lived by myself now.

36:28 And did you?

36:31 When you said you worked during the summer, what did you do? What about your job? I worked in an office called in a carpet warehouse.

36:41 I worked.

36:44 Yeah other jobs there was

36:50 I was demonstrated for men's cologne where you really yes. I was British Sterling was called and it might have been Macy's I don't recall where I worked in Roosevelt Field.

37:02 And I must have had other odd jobs along the way, you know during college just to support what I did is I went to a community college for 2 years, then went to a private Institution for the next two years at which point I was at my mother was able to delve into the insurance already saw that and I wasn't as bad and I didn't have to struggle as much we really never struggled. Thank goodness. My parents were Savers not Spenders, so we had enough money to get by.

37:41 Do you remember?

37:44 Talking to Mother after your your father passed away. Do you remember anything about you know, how how you needed to get bajor or anything like that? No, I never really she really did pay the bills the first two or three years and she was pretty self-sufficient when she lived in the house by myself. I never paid any bills that I recall. I might have helped if she never had a checking account and she lived in a neighborhood where the bank was literally across the street from her and she would get money orders at tell us checks.

38:26 And she had a little.

38:29 Can cans I still have it in my house. Now that she used to put a little money is in $10 a week for this for electricity $10 a week for rent $10 a week for telephone or whatever it is. And I have that little Bank dispensary now, I think I seen it around thing. Yeah, I think I've seen it that came in one of the prices sessions from Holland.

38:56 What what else came with you that you remember? I don't know how it got here, but there was a bookcase we had some dishes that came to America in that one big steamer trunk.

39:10 And some clothes that was it.

39:14 That's a lot to take with you.

39:17 You know, we had it wasn't a lot when you come to think about what you have in your apartment and what I had what we have in our house now and it probably was very difficult for my parents to part with any of the stuff that they had cuz they lived through the Depression end the war so my parents really didn't want to give up anything and probably were very hard-pressed to figure out what they could keep and what they what they had to take with them. So I am assuming this little uppercase which you know, which one it is was Philips the guilt inside the same with sings. Is that why you won't throw anything out now.

39:58 Perhaps I am not one to throw things out. I need my possessions close by.

40:06 As I guess from my parents.

40:10 From having to acquire things

40:16 And when we moved out of our house and we lived in for 30 years and where you grew up it was very difficult to throw things got rid of a couple of couches and I did have a garage sale and I threw a lot of stuff away. It doesn't look that way cuz my basement I understand that and I know I still have your bedroom set and never know and you want that bedroom set. I have to tell you one of the things that I feel.

40:48 Connected to myself and my culture is your background is is my connection to Holland throw hearing the stories that you and Oma told you and your mother told when I was growing up and I think a lot of my identity comes from.

41:07 Your background and you are

41:12 The stories that like this that you've told me about your your life and in Holland.

41:19 I think Justinian to tell you that one of the things that that I think she asked me was growing up with two strong women in the house and and that strong tie to the to the background and your culture. That's why you went to visit as we speak. My first born is on his way to Holland on a business trip and I would love for you to get there one day. I will try to get there one day.