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Holocaust Memorial Education Center

Shimon and Sara Birnbaum Jewish Community Center

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Survivor Profile










MARCH 29, 1924







  • BIOGRAPHY By Nancy Gorrell

    Ursula Behrend was born in a small town in Vohl, Germany which she describes in her interview “like the borscht circuit but more elegant.” In the summer, the town was filled with guests and there were swimming pools and gymnasiums. Her father was a successful butcher—the shoket of the town. Ursula’s house was a slaughterhouse. She lived there with her mother, father, older brother and grandparents. She describes the smokehouse, a sausage house, kitchen, living and dining room, stable and bedrooms upstairs. After the rise of Hitler, her father’s business went “downhill.” By 1935, she and her family moved upstairs in the house to live, and a former employee eventually bought the business. Ursula says they were able to sell the business because they left early enough.

    During this time period, her older brother managed to immigrate to the United States with the help of an uncle who was living there. A distant cousin of her grandfather, Sol Kazenstein, got affidavits for SS Deutschland and arrived in New York on February 18, 1938. Ursula was 14 years old. She says in her interview, “It wasn’t an easy time in the United States for us. But it was my America.” The family went to Brooklyn and settled near the Brooklyn Museum. They lived there until they went to New Jersey. Ursula met her husband-to-be, Howard Behrend, in a small park near the Museum where refugees used to gather to socialize and talk at night. In 2000 Ursula went back to Vohl, Germany. The whole town paid for the trip and Howard and her brother and sister-in-law helped too. She spoke at a town in a “big hall,” and “told everyone what happened.” In her interview, Ursula said that “the people that should have heard weren’t there, but they heard about it.” She knows this because Howard met a woman on the street who said: “You have to excuse some of the people your age, but they are ashamed to come out.” Ursula and Howard, both in their early 90s, have two daughters, two granddaughters, a grandson, and two great granddaughters.



    November 7, 2016 and April 21, 2017

    Location: Berhend Residence

    Interviewer: Nancy Gorrell


    Q: Where and when were you born?
    I was born on March 29, 1924 in a small town of under 1,000 inhabitants called Vohl, (two dots over the “o”), Edersee in Germany. It was a small town like the borscht circuit but more elegant. Every summer it was filled with guests. They had swimming pools and gymnasiums all gifted by a rich man named Henkel, a major soap manufacturer. I lived there with my mother, father, grandparents and my older brother. He was three years older. My house was a slaughterhouse. My father was a butcher—a shoket. It went from the basement level to the 2nd floor. There was a smoke house, a stable, a sausage house, kitchen, living-room, dining room and upstairs bedrooms and even a walk-in refrigerator.


    Q: Did you experience anti-Semitism while you were growing up?
    My father was successful. But then business went down when Hitler came into power. By around 1935, we moved upstairs and eventually the man who worked for us bought the business from us. He took it all. We were able to sell it because left early enough. We were so lucky to get out. So many were killed. I had a beautiful cousin.


    Q: How and when did you come to the United States?
    We left, my parents and I, at the end of January 1938 from Hamburg on the SS Deutschland. A distant cousin of my grandfather’s, Sol Kazenstein, got the affidavits. He sent the papers over. I remember my mother writing to him. Vouched for us that he would take care of us if we ever failed to support ourselves. My uncle vouched for my brother. We got to the United States February 18, 1938 and went to Brooklyn, New York. Our ship was the SS Deutschland. My brother was here already. My brother came over by himself, first. Sol brought out at least a 100 people. Then the American consulate in its infinite wisdom said if he had to support all the people he brought over he must have been a very rich man. I never met him, but he must have been a very special guy. He lived in Kew Gardens. My parents went there and thanked him. My mother crocheted something for him. I was 14 years old. It wasn’t an easy time in the United States for us. But it was my America.


    Q: How did you meet Howard, your husband?
    When we arrived, we went to Brooklyn. We never really left Brooklyn until we went to New Jersey. We lived near the Brooklyn Museum and the Botanical Gardens was close by. All the refugees would go to the park at night—just a small area with benches near the Museum and start conversations. And one night Howard came to the park. And I met him. It’s a long story my dear…you can’t put it all in! We were engaged for quite a while, and after we got married, we lived with my parents.


    Q: Did you ever go back to Vohl, your hometown?
    I went back to my town in 2000 and the whole town paid for the trip. Howard, my brother and my sister-in-law paid for all of us. I didn’t want to go back, but my brother wanted to go in the worst way. He was older, and that’s why we went. They had a big hall and I spoke to everyone about what happened. I opened my big mouth and I spoke. The people that should have heard weren’t there, but they heard about it. I’m one hundred percent convinced. Howard said he met a woman on the street after I spoke and she said, “You have to excuse some of the people your age, but they are ashamed to come out.” I spoke in German. I saw my old house. It was all modernized and all glass. Every house had Hebrew writing on it on my street. Still had it after the war. They took care of the writing.

  • Sources and Credits:

    SSBJCC Holocaust Memorial and Education Center Survivor Registry Interview with Ursula Behrend November 7, 2016 and April 21, 2017; Brief Biography by Nancy Gorrell