1913 Leipheim, Germany
Erna was born in Leipheim, Germany.
Erna’s father fought for Germany in World War I.
Erna, her parents, and her four siblings moved to a small town of about 1,200 people. There were only 9 or 10 Jewish families there, but there was a small synagogue, and they had good relations with their neighbors. They lived on a small farm, and planted their own food and raised cattle.
Hitler assumed power, and neighbors and friends began to isolate those of the Jewish faith, Erna’s family included. People with guns stood in front of Erna’s father’s store and told people not to enter. Neighbors threatened the family with false accusations, charges that would send them immediately to prison.
Erna attended a town dance with a Christian young man on a Saturday, but during the dance, they announced “Jews are not allowed.” Trembling with fright, she left the dance. She never spoke to her date again.
While walking home from work, Erna witnessed men smashing windows of Jewish businesses. She also saw people going to listen to Hitler speak in a sports arena, with men in brown shirts outside. If someone asked if they were Jewish and they answered yes, they never knew what would happen to them.
Erna’s younger brother lost his speech from the flu. He lived in an institute for special needs children. The Nazis burnt down the building where the children were housed, and he was killed. Erna’s parents were not notified, and only found out through a letter from a family member who lived in the same town.
Seeing how terrible things were becoming, Erna and her younger sister Lily decided to leave. They contacted their relatives in the May family in Nashville.
March 2: Erna and Lily arrived in Nashville from Germany and lived with Mortimer and Gertrude May. They went to Watkins Institute Free Night School. They worked at the May family’s business, May Hosiery Mills, sorting cards. They waited for their parents to join them.
The rest of Erna’s family finally joined them in Nashville. Before leaving Germany, the government took away Erna’s parents’ house and business, leaving them with nothing. After they arrived, her father worked as a butcher and her mother took in boarders.
October: Fritz Preis came to Erna’s house and ate with them, and her father couldn’t get over how hungry he was. He was alone and lived in a boarding house.
January: Fritz Preis and Erna married. Fritz worked in a coal yard delivering soft coal.
Erna Preis died in Nashville on December 18.