Malka Johles, her husband and two children were living in Vienna Austria when Nazi Germany invaded the country and annexed Austria to the Third Reich in March, 1938. Following the Nazi takeover, they were subject to humiliation and persecution, their delicatessen store was put out of business, and they lived in a daily climate of fear and anxiety. Like so many Jews in Austria at the time, they prepared to flee the country. However, the Johles family was still in Vienna during the Kristallnacht pogrom of November 9-10, 1938. The Nazis robbed them of all their valuables, but did not incarcerate Mr. Johles (as they did with many Jewish males) because he and his wife were Polish nationals.
In the wake of Kristallnacht, the Johles family fled to Brussels, where they remained until Germany invaded Belgium on May 10th, 1940. They then fled to southern France, where they fortunately survived the roundups of Jews in the summer and fall of 1942. In late December 1942, the Johles family, along with Mr. Johles’s sister and niece, found refuge in Switzerland after a harrowing time crossing the border. Although Mr. Johles was sent to a labor camp, the rest of the family remained free supported by Swiss and international Jewish organizations.1
When Boder interviewed Malka Johles in Genève, Switzerland on August 28, 1946, she and her family were hoping to immigrate to the United States with the help of Mrs. Johles’s relatives. Boder promised to contact these relatives on his return and do what he could to help with the immigration process.
Malka Johles’s interview illustrates that flight was itself a form of resistance to the Nazis’ efforts to murder every single Jewish man, woman and child. Successful flight, as demonstrated by Mrs. Johles’s account, involved initiative, risk-taking, and luck. The latter indeed played a crucial role in Jewish survival efforts. It should also be emphasized that Boder was not content just to interview his subjects. In Mrs. Johles’s case and others as well, he made note of American relatives whom he promised to contact in order to promote communication and encourage immigration prospects.
1. For more about the experiences of the Johles family and of Jewish refugees in Switzerland, see Frieda Johles Forman, Jewish Refugees in Switzerland During the Holocaust: A Memoir of Childhood and History (Portland, OR: Vallentine Mitchell, 2009)