An American Childhood

A German-Jewish Community in New York City

"At the time I did not know or would not have understood what Hitler was doing to the Jews in Germany."

Editor's Note: After marrying in Brazil, Eugen and Karla Kimling were both infected with malaria. They decided to move to the United States where Karla soon gave birth to two sons, Carl and Eugene Kimling. During his childhood, Eugene's family lived in various parts of New York City including the Bronx, Brooklyn, and a German-Jewish community on Coney Island. The family maintained their German culture by attending German Lutheran Church and spoke mainly German at home. Some American customs were unfamiliar to the family. Although the family celebrated Christmas with a tree trimmed with candles, Eugene's parents did not want him to celebrate Halloween. Eugene's daughter, Joanna, later recalled:

"They thought they were begging. So they got into trouble when they went out. So all the kids were going to houses to get treats. They did it too, but then they got into trouble with their parents."

Born on January 17, 1929, in the Bronx, Eugene Kimling grew up in a dynamic urban culture. He frequently was drawn into street-fights with other kids about the same age. He encountered mockeries and discriminations at school because his first language was German. In his autobiography, Eugene described conflicts with Jewish kids who lived in the same community with him and his brother because they were German:

"Sometimes someone would shoot 22 caliber guns, pellet guns at us and we could fight back with slingshots loaded with steel ball bearings or marbles. [The Jewish kids] would stand on their porches or would shout from their windows, 'You goddamn German' and I would shout back, 'You goddamn Jew.' At the time I did not know or would not have understood what Hitler was doing to the Jews in Germany, and I don't think it would have made any difference to me at that age, nine years old."