Inez Sunshine is a Jewish American born in Buffalo, New York in July of 1936. Her father was in the scrap metal business, so during the War he collected scrap metal locally and from drives to sell to government and military groups. She speaks about the lighting candles and saying prayers for President Roosevelt and “our boys serving overseas”, as well as the various ways that shortages and rationing affected her family, specifically in regards to poultry and stockings. Many years after the War, Inez visited Auschwitz, and she describes learning for the first time that her family had lost someone in the Holocaust.
Also present at the interview was Inez’s husband Anthony Samolsky, who grew up in South Africa. His father served in the South African military, and he remembers meeting his father for the first time after he came home.
The Family Scrap Metal Business
My father was born in Springfield, Massachusetts; his family emigrated from Russia, but he was born in Springfield. And then one of his uncles went to Buffalo and started a scrap metal business. So my father came down probably in ’32 , and he went into the scrap metal business.
Do you know how the war affected that business?
Well, I do know that by the end of the war they were rich. It was interesting because a lot of the war effort were scrap metal drives, which the local schools and the churches would have to raise money for the war effort. And I can remember the schools that we went to, not so much the schools that he would go to do pickups, but the school that I went to had a scrap metal drive. And people brought in all kinds of things; I mean it was unbelievable. From the littlest scrap metal items, to big water heaters that were brought in. And people were just so generous and patriotic for the war effort.
My father would, of course, buy all of this scrap metal and I don’t know where he sold it; probably to the mills, and they converted it into some kind of raw material, where they made items for airplanes or tanks or whatever they needed. He was also in waste paper and they would have waste paper drives. Now, I don’t know what they did with the waste paper, but he would pick that up also. And he would go around to all the schools and churches in Western New York, and they would do these scrap metal drives or waste paper drives just for the war effort. He also had a contract with some of the bases that were around Western New York for any kind of wreckage that they had, and he would pick up tanks or airplanes, anything that had been wrecked.
Did you ever help collecting scrap metals?
Through the school. Because you got recognized if you brought pieces in, so we would want that recognition as children, you know. So we would bring things in to our scrap metal drive. I think our local temple also had one, and we would donate things to them.
The Struggle for Stockings
The interesting thing was if a store got silk stockings in, the women would stand in line for hours to buy silk stocking or nylon stockings. And we’d go downtown, downtown Main Street, and the street car. They had trolley cars in Buffalo in the ‘40s. And we’d go downtown on a trolley and like they would have lingerie stores, stores that just sold lingerie or hosiery and we’d see crowds in front of them. And we knew that the women were standing in line finally to buy nylon or silk stockings. During the war, they would draw seems up the back of their legs to make people think that they had silk stockings on because they didn’t have seamless stockings in the ‘40s. So they would paint these seams on and then they would like spray tan their legs to look like they had stockings on. But, you know, stockings are such a luxury I don’t think anyone wears them anymore because you wear them once, you know, you spend eight-ten dollars on a pair and they’re gone. They would make parachutes out of the nylon or the silk during the war.
Did your mom ever do that?
Oh, yeah she did. I used to help her put the lines down. I don’t know. They used some kind of a pencil that was specifically for that but I don’t know what it was. I would help her put the lines up her legs, right. (Laughs).
We went to Auschwitz, and we saw suitcases they have in their display. Have you been to Auschwitz? Suitcases, in their display. And one of those suitcases said ‘Margaret Weintrob’, and it had the year she was born. And that happened to be my grandfather’s cousin. So she was killed at Auschwitz. My grandfather left Europe about 1888 and he married my grandmother here in Buffalo, but left family behind. And so we found that out just recently– we were there about 5, 6 years ago. And we found out that we had lost people in the Holocaust, which we didn’t know about.
And how did you react to that?
Badly, shocked, yeah. I was like–and I talk a lot, and I was awestruck. I couldn’t believe it! That nobody had known about this before, and then I came home. But it was an interesting thing, because all of my aunts and uncles, older ones, didn’t want to talk about it. It was — the aunt that I thought was the sharpest, I said, “Tell me about this.” She said, “It was all history; you don’t want to know about it.”
Samolsky: I think there was a lot of guilt involved, even though they weren’t the perpetrators. There was still a lot of guilt.
The German Kids Weren’t Allowed in the House
And the Japanese and the Germans as kids we would make up stupid rhymes about them. But I can’t remember any of the rhymes; I was trying to think of them and I just couldn’t bring them back. And I really have a good memory but couldn’t think of it, but they were rhymes y’know, putting them down. Not swear words or anything, but just putting them down. I guess everybody felt the same; everybody, whether you were Jewish or catholic. Our next-door neighbors were Catholic, very devout Catholic. The Delaneys was their name, and they had all these children, and we all played together and we were all anti-German, anti- Japanese. It was just this feeling that everybody had, [that] America was the best of all.
During the war did you have any neighbors or know anyone who was German or Japanese?
Yes, the Meinweisers; they had a lot of kids. I remember playing with them, and my mother just didn’t trust them. But we were kids and we all played together. And I mean I didn’t translate the fact that she was German into [feeling] that I shouldn’t play with her, but yes my mother was very suspicious of them.
How did that manifest, How did you know she was suspicious of them did she talk about it?
She didn’t want to let her in the house and there was a lot of kids on the block. The Delaneys next door, they were in and out of our house all the time and all the other kids. But Maureen Meinweiser was my age; if she would come to call I was not allowed out or whatever. I never really got that until thinking about it, but she was very suspicious. There were no Japanese in the block but there were some Germans.