Peter Daniels was born in Berlin, Germany on July 8th, 1936. His parents, both Jewish, were together only briefly: Peter’s father fled to Shanghai with his family in 1938, and Peter was raised by his single working mother. At age 4, Peter was no longer allowed to attend his kindergarten because of his Jewish status. As it was too hard to find someone to look after him, because the law prevented non-Jews from working for Jewish people, his mother was forced to leave him alone at home all day while she worked. Since Peter’s maternal grandmother was born Christian, his mother was protected legally as a Mischling. They were able to stay in Berlin until 1943 when all Mischling were arrested and deported.
Peter and his mother were then sent to Theresienstadt ghetto in Czechoslovakia, where Peter lived in the children’s barracks. He was 7 years old at the time and worked loading and unloading trucks and performing petty slave labor with other children. When Theresienstadt was liberated by the Soviets in 1945, Peter was one of approximately 100 children still alive in the ghetto.
After liberation, Peter and his mother returned to Berlin but found it in ruins. They were accepted into a displaced persons’ camp in Deggendorf, Germany. In school there, Peter faced extreme anti-Semitism from German classmates who blamed him for the war and the destruction it had caused. His mother married another survivor in the DP camp in 1945, and Peter’s half-sister was born the next year. In August 1947, Peter and his family arrived in the lower east side of Manhattan. Peter left home at age 14 to work odd jobs around the country. He enlisted in the US Navy at 22, finished high school, and went on to receive college and graduate degrees. He went into business, and worked in Germany before settling in Los Angeles in 1973. Peter retired at age 64 and speaks to groups about his experiences.
Surviving the Holocaust: Stories of Life
An ongoing project of KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles
and Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust in Pan Pacific Park