Cincinnati, OH Cincinnati, OH
Cincinnati, OH Cincinnati, OH

Trudy & Werner, Cincinnati, OH — Married 1946

When I visited their home in Cincinnati, Werner Coppel showed me a photograph on the wall of his den in which he appears with Elie Wiesel.  In Wiesel's famous Holocaust account, Night, he describes the Auschwitz Death March, in which the remaining prisoners were marched from Auschwitz to other concentration camps inside Germany.  At age 19, after nearly two years at Auschwitz, Werner was on that same march.  On the fifth day, near the city of Gleiwitz, he managed to escape and was directed to an apartment house where local Jews were being hidden away by the non-Jewish sides of their mixed-marriage families, to protect them from deportation.

Among those in hiding was Trudy.  It was in this environment that she and Werner first met, and it was from their shared experience as survivors of the Holocaust that they formed their alliance and chose to marry.

Werner and Trudy's marriage holds the distinction of being the first Jewish wedding ceremony held in Berlin after World War II.  Working in the French sector, they assisted in the relocation of rescued children brought out of eastern Europe.  The Coppels left Berlin in 1949 and emigrated to Cincinnati, where they had an export food business and Werner later worked for Emery.  They asked to be photographed with a sculpture from 1999 which commemorates a cherished golden anniversary: marking not 50 years of marriage, but 50 years of living in America.

Werner and Trudy have two sons.


Werner:
When we look back today on the history of that period, it's amazing to know that the Jewish survivors of the Shoah—the Holocaust—immediately started to get married and produce children.  There were more children produced per capita, if we use the business sense, for whatever reason, and nobody could ever explain it, how fast the survivors got married and raised the children.

You have to visualize, we are now... free.  From the Nazis.  But for us, it only started a chapter in the evolution of freedom, totally freedom, which occurred when we got to America.  Because the struggle was not finished.  All of us were told to go back to the country of origin.  And when we finally made our way back to Berlin—and we arrived in August '45—some survivors and some of the Jews who had lived underground—and there were about 2,500 Jews surviving in Berlin underground... in the city.

Trudy:
Hidden away.

Werner:
During the war.  Hidden away.  Had already formed a sort of a Jewish community, a general Jewish community; a self-help type organization. And that's where we got involved.  We decided to get married.  Without thinking, "oh, where's bread coming from tomorrow?" Or "what is going to be our future?" We were not thinking about it. I don't even think we were falling in love like some dreaming people would have. But there was the necessity, we liked each other, we were compatible to each other; and I pushed a little harder to get married...

Trudy:
Very hard! (Laughter.)

Werner:
To be honest, there were not many Jewish girls there.  (Pause.)  There was not much choice.

Trudy:
(Chuckles.)  Thank you. (Laughter.)

Werner:
No, no, I don't mean it facetious.  We wouldn't touch a German girl.  For anything.  And where she grew up, there was about a half a dozen girls.  Wonderful girls.  And they all got married in a hurry.  None of 'em got divorced.  They're all still married today.


Trudy:
Werner was trained, as a youngster, with the idea of going to then-Palestine, and build a homeland.  I wasn't.  And then, after liberation, all his survivors from that group went to Israel.  And actually, that was his dream, too.  But I wasn't about to give in; I said, "I have enough from war, and I'm not going to Israel to fight again, I'm going to America."  And when I suggested to him, "you can go, and then we meet later," that he didn't like.  So then we got married.  And I won.

RF:
Do you still win?

Werner:
Oh, yeah.  (Laughter.) Oh yeah! She is still winning all over the place.


Werner:
Our oldest was born--

Trudy:
In '48.

Werner:
'48, so we'd been married a little over two years when he was born. That was shortly before the blockade started. And she raised him, as a baby, on dried milk, and dried food, and dried this and dried that—

Trudy:
(Overlapping.)  Dried potatoes, milk powder...

Werner:
Dried whatever.  When we left Berlin, it was a transport in July of '49, he was sixteen months old, we carried him all the way to America, and not in an airplane, but in a transport of a troop ship.  And it plays a role in marriage. Still today, it plays a role in marriage, because you have such an experience together.  It's not a high school experience, or a college experience.  It is a life-threatening experience. And that makes matters entirely different, I would think, than in a normal marriage.


Werner:
There is another thing.  Remember, both of us experienced twelve years of Hitler.  Not one year or two years, three years.  Twelve years.  When our kids grew up—the oldest one born in Berlin, the second one born here in Cincinnati—I lived with them in their teenage years.  I couldn't go on a date with them.  But in everything else, their teenage years were my teenage years.  And their and my teenage years, their mother (he indicates Trudy), over there, Mother was watching them.  So she... and I know she wouldn't say it, I'll say it for her:  she had three sons.

Trudy:
Ja.

Werner:
You know what I'm saying?  She had three sons.  Now today, I'm 78 years old, and our oldest one is 55 and the other one is 52, they're not my sons.  They're my brothers.


RF:
The intention of the Nazis, among other things, besides extermination, was dehumanization; and the tearing away of the capacity for love and trust, it seems to me, were part of the effects of the Holocaust.  How do you rebuild that?  How do you find that?  Does it still have a place in you, is it still alive in you, have you rekindled that?  In the context of a marriage?

Werner:
I know what you're driving at.  I don't think that applies to us as much because of our age. Because, remember, when Hitler got in power we were eight.  Eight years old.  When it was over, we were nineteen.  Now in my case, I had joined a youth group, a Zionist youth group, we were trained to go to Palestine, and spent a whole year of 1940 in a kibbutz—commune—to be trained.  We stuck together all the way through.  So we had the camaraderie, the glue.  The Germans never were able to put on either one of us what you're referring to.  Now if we would have been older, if it would have been by our self, it probably would have been true.  But your question... what they tried to do, we resisted.  So once we got—after the war, and we got married, it took no time.  I understand that people today even after they get married, they have to get adjusted, and you have to find what is yes and no and who has responsibility and all.  We did everything automatically, because we didn't know any better.

Trudy:
Or we did it the simple way.


Trudy:
What I wanted to say is, talking about marriage, that whatever Werner decided to do, I supported him all the way. When he started working in a packing house—

Werner:
Business-wise.

Trudy:
—and had the idea to [peddle] some cheese and some of the other, and eventually built up the business.  I was what you call "Girl-for-Everything."  To the point that I helped delivery.

RF:
You mean "Girl Friday?"

Trudy:
Oh, ja.

Werner:
Well, it was always going to the principle we... pulled together.

RF:
So what did you disagree about?

Werner:
Well, the one thing we disagreed about is, she forced me to come to America, which I don't regret.  You know, if I would have to think what did we disagree about, is one thing.  Today, we disagree that... Trudy still has somewhat of the attitude, "I really don't need it, it's too expensive."  The immigrant attitude.  Where my attitude has changed, "you like it, you get it, thanks God we can afford it."

RF:
So how do you handle it when you do disagree on things?

Trudy:
I yell.  Simple.

RF:
And?

Trudy:
And that lasts a few minutes.

Werner:
When did you yell last?  I don't remember.


Werner:
I was in sales all my life—and I was never formally trained when I was young, I did it automatically.  When I joined Emery in 1980, and I was 55 years old, they were telling me "you have to take this course, and that course, Xerox sales course, and Xerox negotiation courses.  And I had to take 'em, over a period of ten years.  You know, it was par for every associate.  And I always came home and said, "you know, Trudy, I don't know the names, but I've been doing all my life."  I never knew the names.  And that's in marriage, the same way.  We have done it automatically, we have never—

RF:
Read the manual?

Werner:
Never read the manual!  Never.


Werner:
I have learned a lot from her.  For the very simple reason I was a nineteen-year-old boy, knowing from nothing.  We were not allowed to go to schools.  The only school I ever was able to attend was a parochial school of one class, in a small town in Nazi Germany; and came the labor camp, Auschwitz, I was… nothing.  She made something out of me.  And I’m the first one to admit that.

Trudy:
Let’s say this: social grace.  Okay?  Coming from a camp, where you had no food. Where you learned to eat out of the garbage can.  Now, I had at least, parents—I had a father who got killed in ’44, so I had parents, and my mother was a most courageous woman. Why did we survive?  Because, well, we had the tablecloths, maybe a nice tablecloth; maybe a nice vase.  Maybe a crystal something.  And my mother would take it, go to the countryside, and they would give us potatoes.  Okay?  And then she did the same thing to get flour, you know—give away everything.  What had worth, which she could live without it.  Okay?  So that’s why we had food and a mother who cared.  Then I had some uncles, they taught me how to do the waltz and the whatever, the tango, I don’t know.

Werner:
The dancing, the…

Trudy:
Dancing.

Werner:
Social graces.

Trudy:
So I was exposed to that.  You know?  Because of my family.  So then I passed it on to him.  I taught him how to dance, and I taught him social grace, and I said, "that doesn’t go together, you cannot go out of the house like that, I’m sorry you will not…"

Werner:
Today, yet.

Trudy:
Well, I—

Werner:
And she taught me cooking.

Trudy:
Ja, I taught him how to cook.  And now I let him cook.

RF:
Do you remember what song you learned to dance to?

Trudy:
A waltz… Der Blue Danube.


Werner:
We got married—and this probably also was true for marriages during the depression—we got married, and we pulled together, we did what we had to do.  People get married today, and—not only today, fifteen, twenty years ago—right away they have to have a house, right away they have to have two automobiles; right away they have to have two televisions; right away they have to do this, and this, and this; and both have to work.  What is the reflection on the kids?  They don’t go step by step by step to earn it.

And this goes back again to when I said the Fatherly Image.  As World War II—after the Riveter girls went into factories to work, and they came out, they kept on going to work.  That way, when the kids came home, no parent was there.  Well, even if we had nothing, Trudy was at home.  Even if she needed to work to have bread for us to have on the table.  But she always did things, believe it or not, went to work, took care of the kids coming home, and in the evening we went to Citizenship classes.  She needed pills to stay awake.  And you tell this today, or ten or twenty years ago, to a nice American girl, who would do the same thing?  No way.

All this kind of experience has formed our marriage, and is missing in many other marriages.  What is missing in America is the pulling together, working together.  The pressure of have-to-have, with the Joneses, have-to-have the same thing.

Trudy:
You find it, but you cannot generalize.

Werner:
They’re losing track.  They’re losing track.  Oh, there’s the exceptions, of course there’s exceptions.  But it’s still the economic pressures.  They’re missing the value of family life.  So if you hear in the news, and the newspapers, everything "family life," and "religious family life," it’s not true.  Talk is one thing, the matter’s entirely a different thing.


Trudy:
Between the survivors we know—

Werner:
Not one divorce.

Trudy:
None of them.  None of them.

Werner:
Survivors are a very unique breed.  I’m sure there were some divorces somewhere.  I mean, don’t get me wrong.  But we don’t know of any, and you will rarely find some.  And I don’t know, also maybe not all marriages were happy.  That could be very possible.  But the biggest—and I say now, without exception: the kinder—children—that loss of family on one side, and creating the new family there is something which is more than glue.  It’s… everything.


Werner:
We do for each other whatever we can do.  Does it have to do with our background?  Yes. Does it have to do that we lost our family that young?  Yes.  Is that the only reason?  No.  Other people will do the same thing.  Grew up normally.  But our experience is not high school experience or college experience.  Our experience are experiences of life.  That makes us probably somewhat different than most.

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