Veterans: Yehudit Huebner, 88 - From Vienna to Jerusalem, 1939

"On the street we were constantly made aware that we were Jews," she said, "but at home we had a good life."

yehdit huebner 224.88 (photo credit: Joe Charlaff)
yehdit huebner 224.88
(photo credit: Joe Charlaff)
Yehudit Huebner was born in 1921 and grew up in Vienna. Although there was a Jewish quarter, her parents lived in a neighborhood where there were not many Jews. "We were not rich but I had a good childhood," she said. At an early age she was exposed to anti-Semitism. "When I went to school at the age of six, I sat next to a little girl whom I became friendly with. I helped her with school work and shared my food with her. One day she asked if it was true that I was Jewish, and when I replied in the affirmative, she said that she could not sit next to me anymore because her father told her that all Jews are dirty dogs." "On the street we were constantly made aware that we were Jews," she said, "but at home we had a good life." She recalled that every summer the family went on vacation to Sauerbrunn, a resort popular with Viennese Jews, for six weeks. "We took all our belongings with us, rented an apartment, ate at a kosher restaurant and had a wonderful time - it was like paradise." PREPARATION Anti-Semitism became more virulent after Hitler annexed Austria in 1938. Posters appeared on the streets saying "Jews, go to Palestine." Huebner had been involved with the Zionist youth movement since she was 13 and was involved with the "Palestina Amt," the Jewish Agency's office in Vienna responsible for handling applications for entry to Palestine. In 1939, with life getting harder for Jews, she and several friends decided that the time had come to make aliya and applied at the Palestina Amt for permits. She explained that only a few categories of people were permitted to make aliya. These were capitalists (wealthy people), farm workers and students. She fell into the student category, but did not reach matriculation as she was thrown out of school along with all the other Jewish students when Hitler occupied Austria. Nevertheless she received a certificate from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in August 1939, approving her entry as a student, thereby enabling her to leave Austria. Her mother was unable to go with her as she did not fall into any of the categories to qualify for entry into Palestine. Nevertheless she encouraged her daughter to go. War broke out on September 1, 1939. Huebner's father was already in Buchenwald, and in 1941 her mother and sister were deported to Lodz. "I then realized how great my miracle was," she exclaimed. THE JOURNEY "I left on November 9, 1939, together with a group. We were among the last to leave Vienna. My mother brought my little sister, nine years old, to the train station. She clung to me and cried, 'Don't go - take me with you.' A surprise awaited me when I entered my compartment. My best friend, Tina Friedmann, was sitting there crying, also having parted from her family." They traveled to Trieste and had to wait for a week to catch the boat Galilea to Palestine. All those on board were in possession of official documents assuring them entry. The voyage to Haifa took five days. ARRIVAL No one was waiting for her when she disembarked. "I was very tired and had been crying all night. I was taken to the Jewish Agency office to go through the immigration procedure and then traveled by bus to Jerusalem." SETTLING IN "I arrived at the Central Bus Station on Jaffa Road and made my way through the streets of Jerusalem trying to find the student hostel, asking directions in Yiddish, which not many people understood. I eventually found the building on Rehov Hillel but it was closed." She then searched for a contact in Geula named Nahum. She found the apartment and knocked on the door. The woman who opened it told her that he had gone to Haifa to meet students arriving at the port. "I began to cry," she said. "She asked where I was from and then took me by the hand and said, 'My dear girl, you are not in Vienna now, you are among your own in a Jewish land. You will stay here as long as you need to.'" The next day Nahum arrived and took her to the students' hostel where she shared a room with two other girls and settled in ready to start her studies at the university. DAILY LIFE "I wanted to study law but at that time there was not yet a law faculty at the Hebrew University. Instead I studied history and psychology for two years. In 1957 the law faculty opened and I completed my law studies in 1961." At a shiva she met a young man, Yitzhak, who told her that his father was killed in Buchenwald. She told him that her father was also killed in Buchenwald. They met frequently at the university and became close friends, and married a few months later. LIFE SINCE ALIYA After she completed her studies, knowing she had to make a living, she trained to become a dietician and worked in various institutions, eventually being appointed deputy head of nutrition at Hadassah Hospital on Mount Scopus. "During the 1948 War of Independence, Yitzhak joined the Hagana. I wanted to join as well, but they would not accept married women - I was also pregnant. I wanted to help in the war effort so joined Mishmar Ha'am [People's Guard] and learned how to shoot. I was stationed on Mount Scopus with 20 others." In April 1948 when fighting was very intense, a convoy to the hospital with 78 people was attacked by Arabs in Sheikh Jarrah. "I was on watch at the time and witnessed this terrible attack through my binoculars." After the war she began working on a population census for the office that eventually became the Interior Ministry. In 1967 she was appointed deputy director-general of the ministry. "In this capacity I became acquainted with the people at the Foreign Ministry through close cooperation between the two ministries. I received an offer to be ambassador to Norway, which I accepted. Nine months later my husband died suddenly." After his death she returned to Norway to serve for three additional years. On her return she became deeply involved in Emunah, becoming its first president, and has been serving in this capacity for the past seven years. LANGUAGE She speaks Hebrew with a heavy accent, a smattering of Norwegian, and her mother tongue, German. BEST THING ABOUT ISRAEL "The best thing about Israel is its existence and not living in fear of anti-Semitism," she said emphatically. ADVICE TO NEW IMMIGRANTS Because of the varied backgrounds and cultures of the immigrants, her advice is to keep expectations low to avoid disappointment. "If you have a positive attitude, you stand a better chance of succeeding." 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