Gisela Moss

Gisela was born May 10, 1926, in Berlin, Germany. Her parents were Sophie (Sisla) and Solomon Hoch (originally Aronowitz). They had changed their last name to avoid being profiled. Her brother’s name was Isi Hoch, but everyone called him Zoni. Zoni was born September 28, 1927, and passed away February 3, 2007. Gisela’s parents were Polish immigrants who moved to Germany. Most likely their parents had brought them there as children. Solomon served as German soldier in WWI. Gisela and her brother had a happy and peaceful childhood with friends and family.  It wasn’t until Gisela was 12 years old that she began to see blatant anti-Semitism in Berlin. It was evident that Jews were being targeted when on October 23, 1938, police rang the doorbell at her home and asked Gisela to get her father. She didn’t know why they wanted him and she tried to hold on to him to prevent the police from taking him away. They told her father to move her aside so they didn’t have to hurt her. Gisela’s parents kept her sheltered from adversity as long as they could, until one day she noticed all the broken glass on the ground. When she arrived at an all girls Jewish school her teacher told all the students to return home. Gisela’s family were caught directly in the cross-fires of Kristallnacht “the night of broken glass” (Nov. 9-10 1938) Kristallnacht was an event where Nazis destroyed and burned Jewish businesses, and synagogues. It marked the beginning of the widespread suppression and persecution of the Jewish peoples’ rights.

During this time Solomon was sent to a border town between Poland and Germany with other Jews. He was then moved to Krakow for 10 months and Gisela’s family didn’t see him again until July 1939. He was sent back to Berlin and forced to liquidate his clothing factory and was instructed to bring his family to Poland. The following month they received a telegram from Sophie’s brother in Italy that said they should come to the country right away and they would not need visas. Solomon left first, then the rest of the family met him in Milan two or three weeks later. Gisela remembers the day after they arrived in Italy the borders were closed to immigrants. “We just made it,” she said. Gisela recalled that living in Italy initially gave them some form of normalcy. They were illegal immigrants, but her father was a skilled tailor and was able work undercover and provide for their family. Gisela and her brother were able to attend school and Sophie maintained their home. Peace wouldn’t last long, a year later in 1940 war broke out in Italy and Gisela’s father was arrested for being a “Polish citizen.” He was sent to southern Italy to a town called Cosensa. In the year (1941) Solomon was in Cosensa, Sophie tried to obtain visas for their family to travel to the US. She was able to send her husband to Portugal, but his visa expired and he would be held there for 5 months until he was sent to Jamaica were he would remain for the rest of the war, about 4 years. Sophie did not know her husband was transported to Jamaica because of lack of available communications. After their father was taken, Gisela and Isi had to leave school and work illegally to earn money to survive. Isi sold flowers and also learned to become a furrier. Gisela worked in a clothing store for a man named Adarica, he converted from Judaism to Catholicism but my grandmother said that he “still had a Jewish heart”.

In 1942, Sophie became ill and was in the hospital for several months suffering from kidney related issues. She had a kidney removed. The money coming in from their jobs helped support their mother’s medical costs. They still continued to live in Italy, but the country was deteriorating between nightly bombings from the allied forces to rumors that the Jews of Milan were being deported. Sophie knew that she had to leave with her children for Switzerland. As she was making preparations she told their landlady that they would be leaving and would not pay the rent anymore. The woman warned Sophie that people were being arrested or turned away at the border and that she would tell her when it was the right time to leave. Knowing there was a high chance of them being turned away at the border Sophie needed to find a smuggler to get them into the country secretly. She was able to find one through a family friend and paid the man with her last piece of jewelry, a diamond ring. They would join a group of 13 people in Como. They took a train to the meeting place and in their group were two elderly women that Sophie doubted would be able to make the journey through the Alps. Isi agreed to help aid one and another man volunteered to help the other. They waited until nightfall and began walking through the Alps to Switzerland. The distance from Como to the Swiss border would have been between 40 to 50 miles. They only moved at night to avoid detection, and the smuggler would raise his hand up to signal the group to be quiet and brought his hand down if the group should drop to the ground. He was looking out for Nazis and German Shepherds. When they were closing in on the border the smuggler would not go with them across. He cut the wired fence where the border was and told the group to keep to the right. If they went left he said they would walk straight into the arms of the Nazis. In October they arrived in Bellinzona and they found a farmer who allowed the group to sleep on the stacks of straw in his barn. He gave them breakfast in the morning, but told them they couldn’t stay.

He brought them to the nearest border patrol and they took their chances that they would be allowed to stay in the country as refugees. The officers had orders to send them back to Italy, but the sergeant of the group felt bad and said the women could stay. Gisela’s mother refused to stay without her son, Isi. The officers gave in to their pleas and let them all stay. They would be sent from refugee camp to camp for the next three years. At the camps they were required to work. Isi would be sent to do the hard labor building roads and outdoor construction while the women cleaned laundry and cooked for the camp. Gisela remembers that food was scarce and that they were mostly fed white beets. In 1944 Gisela said conditions started to get better as the Americans and British were fighting off the Germans. She was paid 10 francs a day for work, which was about 25 cents, and here and there she could go see a movie. She spent 2 years in the town of Lugano until they were free to go after the war ended in July of 1946. They were able to obtain documentation and made their way to France where they left from the port city of La Havre by boat to New York, New York. They were finally reunited with Solomon and were able to rebuild a new life in the United States.

This Map shows all the places Gisela and her family traveled to in Switzerland.