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The history of the Bulgarian Jews


Escaping the Nazis and learning English in Bulgaria
Carl Djerassi Scientist
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So my mother was again an Austrian so when the Nazis came and there was a question of an emigration... of course immediately there is a question of emigration to the United States, but American visa under the Austrian quota, which was a quota that she then would go with. And since I was a minor, I would go with her and I was born in Vienna also. And the immigration quotas to the United States are based on birthplace and not citizenship. So the Austrian quota at that time, because there were of course thousands of... of refugees who wanted to emigrate it took about a year and a half to get in line to get into that, and that was pretty tough to spend that time in... in... after the Anschluss would have been brutal. In fact, Kristallnacht was just a few months after that. So my father came to Vienna a couple of months later just at the end of the school year in July and married my mother again so she would get a Bulgarian passport, and then divorced her the day after when they left. But she had then the Bulgarian passport. So we were then travelling on a Bulgarian passport and were able to leave Vienna without difficulty because then we were... instead of having to wear the Star of David, the yellow Star of David, it was the emblem of the Bulgarian flag. That’s what all foreigners did at that time in... during Anschluss... and left. So, my mother, however, was not going to stay in Bulgaria and she went to London, and stayed in Belsize Park for a year waiting for the visa while I was in Bulgaria. For the first time in my life became my father’s son rather than my mother’s son, and spent that year – it was a wonderful year – in Bulgaria. Went to an American school and learned English in Bulgaria.

Now, here is the source of some of my accents. My original language was German. I went to an American school where half of the teachers were British. So they said 'either' and 'tomato' or something like this rather than 'either' and 'neither', and 'tomato', and so on. Most of the students were Bulgarian so it was a Slavic... a Slavic accent. So, this mixture, and we had to speak English all the time... it was a boarding school. So, it was really an immersion into English for over a year, which was extremely useful because I was, therefore, one of these central European refugees who arrived in the States speaking really very good English. Accented, but very good English. And, of course, I’d taken all my various subjects in English and was accustomed to English as a... as a means of education, and that simplified life enormously.

Austrian-American Carl Djerassi (1923-2015) was best known for his work on the synthesis of the steroid cortisone and then of a progesterone derivative that was the basis of the first contraceptive pill. He wrote a number of books, plays and poems, in the process inventing a new genre, 'science-in-fiction', illustrated by the novel 'Cantor's Dilemma' which explores ethics in science.

Listeners: Tamara Tracz

Tamara Tracz is a writer and filmmaker based in London.

Tags: Kristallnacht, Anschluss, Samuel Djerassi, Alice Friedman

Duration: 3 minutes, 12 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008