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Kristallnacht – the turning point in my family's history

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Saved by my mother's prescience
Eric Kandel Scientist
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Now my mother was a very prescient woman. In those several days between Schuschnigg announcing the plebiscite and Hitler marching in, she sensed it might not go right. And she went to the American embassy and she found out how does one get to the United States. She had a brother in the United States, Berman, who had become a very successful accountant. He’d come ten years earlier, 1927 or something like that - ’28. And she found that she needed to get an affidavit from him. He guaranteed that he would support us in case my father couldn’t get a job. And he organized, and he sent that affidavit, and we were in position to leave.

But there was a quota. So the sequence in which people would come was specified, and the quota for people coming from Eastern Europe, from Poland, was very small. America did not want to bring in many Eastern European people. So it took a long time for our number to come up. And there also was a further sequence of how members of the family could come. So the parents of the person sending the affidavit, my grandparents, my maternal grandparents with whom we were very close, came first. My brother and I, because we were children, came next, and my parents came last.

Eric Kandel (b. 1929) is an American neuropsychiatrist. He was a recipient of the 2000 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his research on the physiological basis of memory storage in neurons. He shared the prize with Arvid Carlsson and Paul Greengard. Kandel, who had studied psychoanalysis, wanted to understand how memory works. His mentor, Harry Grundfest, said, 'If you want to understand the brain you're going to have to take a reductionist approach, one cell at a time.' Kandel then studied the neural system of the sea slug Aplysia californica, which has large nerve cells amenable to experimental manipulation and is a member of the simplest group of animals known to be capable of learning. Kandel is a professor of biochemistry and biophysics at the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University. He is also Senior Investigator in the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. He was the founding director of the Center for Neurobiology and Behavior, which is now the Department of Neuroscience at Columbia University. Kandel's popularized account chronicling his life and research, 'In Search of Memory: The Emergence of a New Science of Mind', was awarded the 2006 Los Angeles Times Book Award for Science and Technology.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: USA, affidavit, quota, emigration

Duration: 1 minute, 26 seconds

Date story recorded: June 2015

Date story went live: 04 May 2016