Peter Fleischmann’s Journey to Freedom

Anvika Hegde, Author

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If you were to ask Peter Fleischmann, he would chuckle and tell you about his life story.

Peter is a Holocaust survivor who left a part of Czechoslovakia now known as the Czech Republic and immigrated to New York to escape the Nazi Occupation when he was a mere teen. Today, he travels to schools and talks about the story of his journey to freedom. Born in 1927, Peter along with his parents and brother lived a peaceful life until the Nazis occupied Czechoslovakia in 1938. After that, life became considerably tougher for Peter’s family.

Luckily, with help from his Uncle Phillip who lived in America, Peter and his family were able to make it out of this situation by traveling through various countries including France, Mexico, and Cuba, before reaching the United States. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to ask Peter some questions after he spoke to all of Millburn Middle School’s students during an assembly in the winter.

  • What was your life like before the Nazi occupation? 

Great–it was great. My family was well-off, we lived comfortably, and there was a loving family surrounded me.

  • How did your experience living under Nazi occupation affect the rest of your life? In other words, what impact did this experience have on you?

The most important thing that it taught me was if you feel something isn’t right, step up and do something that will have some impact, but never stay silent.

  • Do you consider yourself fortunate? 

Extremely (chuckles). I am grateful that my family was able to escape the Nazis and emigrate here to the United States. And, look, I’m still alive! Healthy and around!

  • What were the three years of Nazi occupation like for your parents?

It had quite an impact on my parents. As time went on, my father was no longer allowed to work. I don’t know much about my mother, but I know that my mother was also really concerned.

  • How do you think it affected the younger generation of the time and the older generation? 

It affected me because I was helpless and I couldn’t stand up for my generation. I felt some responsibility.

  • The people who were not Jews–were they helpful, prejudiced, etc.? Did they immediately change? 

I know that there was a couple nearby that our uncles and aunts knew. When the Nazis came, they became Nazis. A lot of people took advantage of the situation. There were some people however who were kind enough to assist Jews. Sadly, there weren’t enough of them.

  • When you emigrated to the U.S. to start a new life, what were some of the challenges that you faced? 

I didn’t know English, not one word! I learned it in high school. In high school, I took up track and trombone and earned a degree in journalism.

  • When did you feel that America was your home? 

From the minute I stepped off the boat (laughs).

  • Have you visited Czechoslovakia since you left? If so, when did you go back? 

Yes, I have gone enough times to start the “Fleischmann Family Tour Business!” (joking) I’ve taken everyone in my family–my grandkids, my cousins, everyone!

  • Did you meet any people you knew before the war? 

Yes–there was a friend that I used to play with every summer. Today, that man is alive and still lives there! Every time I go back, we see each other, and we’re still friends!

 

Before his departure, Peter had two important messages for us. First, we should promise to tell his story and spread the word. “I am part of the last generation that survived the Holocaust,” Peter stated. “Retell this story so the world remembers the Holocaust and so that it won’t die out. The world needs to remember,” he continued.

Peter also says that we should speak up if we believe something is not right. Stand up for yourself in any way possible, and never back down.

It was a pleasure interviewing Peter and witnessing his presentation during our assembly. He was an energetic and cheerful; remember to spread the word!

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