Fritz Preis

Nashville, Tennessee

Born: 1912 Vienna, Austria

Refugee: Vienna, Austria

“Born and raised in Vienna, Austria, Fritz Preis was surrounded by antisemitism his entire life. As an adult, he worked as a mechanical engineer at a nightclub in Vienna, where he watched the horrors of antisemitism escalate. “You have two choices. You starve another day or you give them whatever they want…you didn’t have no right in any way, in any form. You’re absolutely nonexistent,” said Fritz. In 1938, he was forced to assist in separating Viennese Jewish children from their parents. When the Nazis occupied Vienna, his company car was commandeered to loot Jewish-owned stores, killing owners and workers in the process. Under Nazi decrees, all Jews lost their jobs. Fritz had seen enough.”

Fritz sought help from his former boss, whose brother, Jacob Strauss, was a doctor in New Jersey. With his help, he secured an affidavit allowing him to leave. In March of 1939, Fritz went with 600 skiers on a train to Switzerland. From there he made his way to the Netherlands, and took a small ship across the Atlantic.

Arriving at Ellis Island, Fritz found friends and work. A fan of American cowboy movies, he headed west, but his money ran out in Nashville. He was shocked to see segregated facilities. In Nashville, Fritz worked delivering coal. He met Erna Kahn and they married in 1940.

When Fritz came to the United States, his family remained in Europe. In 1941, Fritz received a delayed postcard from his father, who had been transported to Russia, saying “It’s very cold here and there is little to wear.” Fritz’s mother and aunt were sent to the concentration camp Theresienstadt.

In 1941 Fritz Preis became a United States citizen and remained in Nashville, Tennessee.