ARNO R. – AGE 91

“I was born in Berlin. I came to Holland with a Kindertransport (a series of rescue efforts which brought thousands of refugee Jewish children to Great Britain from Nazi Germany between 1938 and 1940). I was with my brother, who was two years younger. But he was arrested in the street in Amsterdam and sent to Auschwitz. I was hidden for two years south of Holland. Two old people who were against the Nazis hid me. I stayed in a small room in a row house and never got out into the street. My mother committed suicide in Germany.

My father had gotten to the United States by way of Portugal just as the war broke out, and I came after the war when I was free again. I was in my early 20s. If my father hadn’t been here I would have stayed in Holland. I liked it very much there because I lived with a Dutch family that I was very fond of. I felt very comfortable there.

When I first came here I lived with my father. I became an engineer. I studied engineering for ten years at night--seven years at NYU and three years at the Stevens Institute of Technology. Mostly I liked my work, but I wouldn’t have studied engineering under normal circumstances. I would have done something in literature or journalism, but I thought I needed a profession where I could make a living. While I was studying at night I worked as a cabinet-maker because in Berlin my father had a woodworking factory and somehow I picked up some of that knowledge of wood.
I used to live in Manhattan in rented apartments but I wanted to have a place of my own. It was too expensive in Manhattan to buy anything. I started looking in this vicinity and when I saw this place I liked it so much I decided on the spot to buy it. It had to be totally revamped.

As I got older I became more and more isolated. I never made the contacts with people here that I did in Europe. I never really got adjusted. I was too old when I came here. I didn’t seek out many people. It was my own attitude. I was very strongly influenced by what happened in my life. First the immigration as a teenager, and then being hidden in a room at an age when you want to enjoy your life.

I never married, and have no children that I know of. I have been retired for 20 years. But since I stopped working I have been doing a lot around the house. When I first retired I enjoyed it. I spent a lot of time fixing my home. I did a lot of collecting. I went to yard sales. I especially loved gardening in the backyard.

Aging has been very difficult for me. I have felt poorly for about four years. I am getting older every day. I have trouble moving, so it is hard for me to do the things I enjoy. Before, I did everything around the house. My health is okay but the latest thing is that I have trouble walking. It is really a nuisance. I get physical therapy but it doesn’t help much. I gave up driving a few months ago so that is another handicap.

I go to the Jewish Community Center twice a week for exercise. I don’t have any social network to speak of. I don’t have family. My closest friend is in Boston and the woman in my life is in Switzerland. We used to visit every few months but she is my age and we are at an age when we can no longer travel. However, we do keep in touch through Skype every other day or so.

I have two helpers who help me with cooking and grocery shopping. But I am losing them so I will see what I can do about that. I need someone about three hours every day.

I have a computer but I don’t do much with it except email. That helps to keep me from being isolated but it is no substitute. Being a man alone in the suburbs is not a good thing.

Everybody wants to have a good life, but you must be in a position to balance your talents and impulses with what is there.”

Interview conducted by New Jersey artist Janet Boltax for this exhibition.