Epstein, Gabriel (1 of 7) National Life Story Collection: Architects' Lives

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  • Recording locations

    Interviewee's home, Paris

  • Interviewees

    Epstein, Gabriel, 1918- (speaker, male)

  • Interviewers

    Dillon, Niamh (speaker, female)

  • Abstract

    Part 1: Mentions his full name – how he likes to be known, mentions his parents’ names. Explains why his parents’ chose his name, the names of his three siblings. Gabriel Epstein [GE] is the youngest of the four. [00:03:00] GE born on 25 October 1918 in Duisburg, Germany – describes the town which was an industralised town on the Ruhr and Rhine, [00:4:32] describes his father who was a lawyer: mentions how scholarly he was, he wrote his thesis in Latin. Father was called Harry Epstein. The Epstein family had been in the lower Rhine for hundreds of years. [00:07:03] GE mentions going to the Gymnasium school. [00:08:18] Describes his father’s commitment to Zionism – GE’s grandfather opposed the Zionist movement - how Harry Epstein opposed the assimilation of German Jews into Germany – discusses the history of European Jews and the importance of having a Jewish state [00:11:45] compares this with other nationalist movements in the 19th century – his father’s feelings about Zionism. [00:13: 07] Describes his wider family’s feeling about Zionism, mentions the blue collecting tins at home to collect money for Zionism, father visited Palestine in 1913. [00:15:33] Describes the influx of Eastern European Jews into Germany after the First World War: the conflict/contrast between the more orthodox Jews and the assimilated German Jews – [00:18:00] Harry Epstein’s support for the recent Jewish immigrants – there is now a plaque commemorating his work in Duisburg and a plaza named after him. [00:20:34] GE describes his father’s left-wing politics: his association with prominent German intellectuals [00:22:36] Anecdote about his brother’s commitment to Zionism and GE’s desire for a new bicycle. Describes his family’s religious faith – how they were not orthodox. [00:25:03] GE’s bar mitzvah. Describes his sense of his father’s work – his father’s interest in walking – how GE would try and avoid these walks [00:30:44] his father’s frugality and lack of ostentation. GE contrasts his brother Emanuel’s acceptance of his father’s values, with his own more questioning view. Describes his brother Emanuel and his interest in science – GE’s lack of interest in books and school and his enjoyment in being outdoors. [00:35:49] Discusses his parents’ expectations, how he could never compete with his brother Emanuel. [00:38:00] Discusses his parents’ interest in the visual – visiting baroque buildings, his brother Theodore had ‘Vers une architecture’ (‘Towards a new architecture’) by Le Corbusier. [00:40:19] Describes in detail how GE came to meet the architect Erich Mendelsohn – explains how his father felt compelled to join the family’s department store during the difficult economic period in the 1920s. GE Describes how the business came under pressure as Hitler came to power – how the family was warned they should leave Germany. [00:48] Describes in detail the family leaving Germany for Belgium [00:50:23] anecdote about his first day at school in Belgium. The influence of living in Belgium in GE – his homesickness for Germany. [00:52] The journey to Palestine with his brother Emanuel – their schooling in Palestine, his unhappiness. [00:55:11] They then moved to Jerusalem to learn Hebrew, his parents and older brother Theodore then joined them in Jerusalem. [00:57:00] GE talks about joining the Haganah (Jewish defense organization) and explains his job as a morse operator. [00:59:35] Together with his friend Mischka they wanted to join the merchant navy – his parents’ dislike of this career choice. [00:61: 12] GE returning to think about becoming an architect, his mother introduced him to Erich Mendelsohn in Jersulem – describes his meeting with Mendelsohn and him becoming his apprentice. [00:63:00] Describes making architectural blueprints and models, GE decision to study architecture, Mendelsohn recommended the Architectural Association, which GE joined in 1938. [00:65] Trying to return to Jerusalem to be with his parents – discusses being in London in the late 1930s, mentions wanting to volunteer to fight in Spain during the civil war. [01:08:37] GE’s return to Jerusalem to work for Mendelsohn – GE was fired up by having been in London – worked on site. Mentions Mendelsohn’s character. GE meeting architect Heinz Rau (who was also German) describes his skills as an architect, GE decision to go to work for Heinz Rau, his [01:15:25] story about a mission with the Haganah that had a terrible outcome. [01:17:02] Positively describes Heinz Rau as a boss and a mentor. [01:21:18] Discusses growing up in Germany in the 1920s – tells anecdote about his Catholic neighbour who was sacked under the Nazi’s [01:24:10] his headmaster expressing his hatred of the Poles, GE memories of occupying French forces in the Ruhr. [01:26:11] Mentions letter from his Catholic headmaster Dr. Kessler expressing sympathy for their plight in 1933 – Kessler family was later persecuted under the Nazi’s. [00:88:26] His memories of German nationalism in the 1920s: anecdote about an anti-Semitic remark made to his brother. [01:32:47] Anecdote about the Reichstag fire – a teacher who was very left wing. GE remembers hearing Hitler had become Chancellor. [01:32: 30] Talks about the family department store in Duisburg: both sets of grandparents’ owned department stores (maternal grandparents were called Loewe) maternal grandmother’s involvement in staff care/human resources. Father’s department store called Cohen and Epstein, Harry Epstein did the publicity for the refurbished store by Mendelsohn. [01:40:02] GE Describes the re-modelled department store in Duisburg. [01:42:00] Story about family friend who emigrated to the Balearic Islands. [01:45:02] Mentions the house and business having to be sold at knock-down price – describes re-visiting their family house, [01:48:00] describes the house in detail. [01:52:00] Explains how sports were important: they learnt to swim, ride and had a gym GE was good at running. watching sausages being made in their kitchen. [01:59:04] Describes meals at his family home – discusses peoples attitudes to food in his childhood. GE First discovered the joys of food in Egypt – describes a meal of oysters and sole, describes enjoying food in Belgium. [02:03:04] Family holidays in Switzerland - how people never ate in restaurants. Describes going to the Zionist congress in Switzerland and hearing the leaders of the movement; meeting his first girlfriend and communicating in Latin, leaving because of the death of his grandmother. [02:09:31] GE going to boarding school in Switzerland: briefly meeting Thomas Mann, Erich Mendelsohn, Jacob Steinhardt: an artist who made a portrait of Harry Epstein. [02:14:27] Mentions Germany being the intellectual powerhouse of Europe at the time. GE going to the see the film, ‘The Jazz Singer’, going to the cinema despite his parents’ disapproval – seeing the film ‘Napoleon’. [02:19:51] His father Harry Epstein receiving a letter from Albert Einstein suggesting reacting against the Nazis. Discusses German intellectual life in the pre-war period – discusses his family’s interest in visual and literary life. [02:25:00] Explains how he only now reads in English: his son is an editor of ‘’L’Express’ (French newspaper). Describes languages he knew as a child (German, Hebrew, French, English): [02:31:00] meeting Julius Posener and discovering Hemingway.

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