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Hans Heimann

Vienna, Austria

Hans was born to a Jewish family in the Austrian capital of Vienna. His parents ran a successful export shop for ladies' hats and sold their wares to many different countries. As a boy, Hans attended a private, preparatory school in which courses were taught in both English and German.

1933-39: I was attending business school when the Germans annexed Austria in 1938. We watched from my family's window as German troops, led by Hitler, goose-stepped into Vienna. I was immediately forced out of school. About two weeks later, an Austrian appointed by the Germans told us he had instructions to liquidate our business. My parents no longer believed they had a future in Germany and decided to leave. We left for Italy in 1939.

1940-45: My family settled in Genoa. One day in 1940 two Italian policemen came and told us we were to be interned because we were Jewish. "But don't worry," they said, "We're human beings. We're not animals. We're not the Germans." The Italians took us to the village of Compagna, and a month later, to Tortoreto in central Italy. We were housed in a hotel overlooking the sea and we were allowed freedom of movement. We could go to the movies and were even given pocket money. In 1943 we were liberated by the British army.

Hans worked as an interpreter for the Allies until the end of the war, and then spent three years arranging for JDC-funded ships to smuggle Jewish refugees into Palestine.

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