The Bakery Born in a Kitchen Oven – Freund Baking Company

Story provided by Gladis Barker

Back in the 1850’s when Mrs. Moritz Freund baked Bohemian rye bread for her South St. Louis neighbors, she had no inkling she was starting an institution that was to become a lasting part of St. Louis tradition. Freund Olde Tyme Rye Bread – baked according to Mrs. Freund’s Old World recipe – has been part of the social history of St. Louis. One interesting fact was that Mrs. Freund oven was heated by cordwood supplied by a bearded, struggling farmer who was later to become President of the United States – Ulysses S. Grant!

Her bread was welcomed by the Union Army soldiers at Jefferson Barracks during the Civil War, and by succeeding generations of soldiers until the post was closed after World War II.

The famous Freund rye bread was present at a wide range of important social events and establishments. When the Veiled Prophet made its first visit to St. Louis in 1878, Freund bread had an honored place on the menu of the first queen. It showed up at the fabulous St. Louis World’s Fair where visitors praised the Freund bread and rolls served in every pavilion and booth. In the 1880’s and ‘90’s at the famous outdoor beer gardens, patrons feasted on hearty sandwiches made with Freund rye bread.

A familiar sight was seeing the Freund horse-drawn wagons rolling from the bakery adjoining the family home at 913 Soulard Street to deliver bread and rolls to St. Louis restaurants. The bakery remained at the Soulard location for six generations.  In 1921 the bakery was moved to a larger facility at Taylor and Chouteau and the wagons were replaced by a fleet of modern trucks which distributed the wealth of Freund ovens – bread, rolls, cakes, pies and sweet goods – to customers throughout Greater St. Louis and a nine-state area in the Midwest.

The bakery remained in the Freund family for four generations, run by sons and grandsons. In 1972, the bakery was finally taken over by an outside corporate baking organization and the bakery lost its family identity. But even though the Freund bakery name was lost, it has left an important mark on St. Louis history.

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Hilda Lebedun: Part II

Story was recorded at the Covenant House on May 20, 2008, by Michael Naclerio.

Six months later we were told to get our blankets and our bowls. We marched about six Kilometers past the guard towers with the men with machine guns pointed at us. That’s how I met Mengele. Dr. Mengele was tall, but not that tall. His hair was light and he wore boots up to his knees. He had these piercing blue eyes. My sister and I were in line, and we saw many people going left. We knew what that meant. We promised to stay together. I went first up to the desk. Mengele asked my name and the country I came from. I had no hair, I was shaved and I was clinging to my blanket and my bowl. He then said to me, “Repeat my name, Dr. Joseph Mengele.” I did and he asked, “How do you speak German so well?” I told him that my mother had taught me as a child, and he said, “Ok. I’m going to tell you something else. Whenever you speak to me or to one of us superior people, better than you lousy Jews, in German you must announce your name, your position and you must ask for permission to approach us. Repeat.” I was lucky I repeated it correctly, and he pushed me to the right with his stick. My sister got through without any problems.  There were about 3,000 women there, and only about half got through.

After we got through the line and into the camp, we had role call. The day was very hazy, and it was drizzly, but when the sun came out, I looked into the distance and I said to her “There are barracks, some kind, but I see chimneys.” She says “What kind of chimneys?” I said “the smokestacks,” and she relied, “Oh my god, Hilda, where are we?” And I just said, “I don’t know. I don’t know.”

Luckily we were both assigned to Barracks one. When we stood role call again, an educated Polish woman asked who spoke German. I immediately volunteered, and got another job as a scribe and cleaning woman. She was part of a group of political prisoners, and the Germans treated them better than us stinking, dirty, rotten Jews, so they let me use their latrine and running water.

There were thousands coming each day.  We found out about the gas chambers and the crematoria. The Jewish people had to push the people in and pull the people out of the chambers.  They had to gas their mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters.  They thought, “We are burning all the other Jews, that way they won’t dispose of us so fast.” We heard that many of the men committed suicide when they saw they had to gas their family. 

I was also a punished prisoner. There was a woman whose mother was catholic and her father was Jewish. She used to say, “I went to a catholic school! I went to a convent! Why wouldn’t my mother leave that dirty rotten Jew?” I said to her “What are you doing talking against another prisoner? Another poor, miserable prisoner like you? I can tell you something, they have a saying those Germans. ‘They like the treason, but they hate the traitor.’—you can’t help yourself for long.” I was taken away and beaten. They put a big red cross on my uniform to show that I was punished.

A little while later, the head scribe of the camp, who was also Slovakian, told me that the next day, 100 high ranking civilians were coming to take us out of the camp to work in the special ammunitions factory. She told me to cover the cross with my jacket and come in a group with my sister. The next day we made it through the gate to the civilians and were being selected by the civilians. Luckily the man pointed at our group and asked for our names and numbers. I responded in German and he chose us for his factory. The head S.S. woman at the camp said to him, “That one may not go with you!” Then she ripped off my jacket revealing the big x, and continued, “She is a punished prisoner.” He asked her, “Who are you?” and she responded, “Well, I am the commander!” He responded, “I am the one who is above you. I want that woman! I don’t care what she did, but I want her. And if she is not in the front row tomorrow morning, do you know what’s going to happen to you? I have a gun too. You are not going to tell me, you low-life, what to do.”  The next morning, I was the first one in line.

We went to an ammunition factory in upper-Silesia, where we had to check bombs. We were all sabotaging the bombs, making sure they were not air-tight. We heard rumors about the Germans being beaten by the Russians from the east and the tummies from the west. Sure enough, several nights we had to go into the bomb shelter and the factory was bombed. Then we left, and we had death marches upon death marches. We ended up in Hamburg after death marches and rides in a coal train. We had bombardments, and one of the bombs hit the quarters where the German soldiers lived. Some of them were killed, and suddenly we didn’t see them anymore after the bombing, but we saw soldiers in other uniforms, who told us we were going to Denmark. The soldiers were “Home Security”—no more S.S.  The man who told me I would be free was missing an arm. We were told that they took all the able-bodied young men, as young as 16, and sent them to the front, but the wounded were in “Home Security.” We rode packed in trains all the way to the German border.

Hilda Lebedun: Part I

Story was recorded at the Covenant House on May 20, 2008, by Michael Naclerio.

I was born and raised in Czechoslovakia, in the Slovakia part. I had a beautiful family, one brother and two sisters. My father was a government employee. In the smallish city where I was born and raised, we were the only Jews, and we didn’t face much anti-Semitism. When my father went to Prague, he brought back the disturbing news that a person by the name of Hitler was starting problems in Germany and Austria, but we didn’t think anything of it. Nobody thought that Germany was so high up in technology and other things, and we didn’t hear about much. I only found about Krystallnacht when I was in a camp in Poland. Nothing was talked about.

In 1938, there were things starting to trickle down. We heard rumors that Hitler was going to get Czechoslovakia for nothing. We had great trains and uranium that Hitler needed. He then took over Poland very easily. When he occupied them, he interned all of the educated people, the ones who were leading the country. We found out things were going really bad when no Jewish children could go to school, and Jews couldn’t open new stores. That was hard for us to understand, because we didn’t usually feel much anti-Semitism. We sold the house so that the Germans wouldn’t take it, and we kept the money in the bank. We would take 50 crowns for the week and that would be it. Little by little we were put on a curfew, and we had to wear the Jewish star on our clothes. It was unbelievable what could happen to people when there was war, unrest and unemployment in the land. Since the government could not take care of its constituents, they needed somebody to place the blame on, and that was the Jews, because we were in the minority.

I married very young, and they took my husband first. They took men from 16 up to about 45 or 50, where we didn’t know. About two months later, they took my sister. Then two months after that, my parents got the notice, but not me. It turns out that the person in charge of the Slovakian party was my former high school principal. My parents suggested that I go to my grandmother’s house—she lived far away in the mountains—but I refused.  I went to my high school principal and asked why I had received no notice. He told me “Go to your grandmother’s house, hide.” I refused, I asked him to let me stay with my family.

I got the notice, and within 24 hours, we were in wagons on the way to a nearby big city. Our family was there waiting to be transported for two weeks. When we got to the train stations, right away we heard, “You damn, stinking, dirty, rotten Jews. We’re going to put you to work.” We rode to Auschwitz—packed 120 to a cattle car like sardines. In the early morning we stopped, and we jumped out to see S.S. men with machine guns and heard dogs barking. People were screaming. I looked back to see my father, but I was pushed with people that I never knew. We were marched towards the camp, and because I am farsighted, I could see the barbed wire and the towers. I heard the hum of the electric fence, a noise that I can still not get out of my mind. In the distance I saw a huge gate that read, “Arbeit macht frei,” (work will make you free). We went through the gate with the dogs barking and the S.S. men screaming. I kept on looking for my family, but I could not find them.

We came into the barracks, and we got into lines. They asked if anybody spoke German, and I immediately volunteered. They said, “Ok, stand here. You are going to tell them what I tell you. If you talk to us, you are going to talk to us in German.” We were dumped in a foul-smelling bath, then stripped naked. There were five Jewish men sitting there, and then they shaved us—everywhere there is hair on a human body. It was so degrading. We were pushed into the next room, given a generic uniform, shoes—clodhoppers, we called them—a blanket, and a bowl that we were told to guard with our life. They told us, “If you don’t have that bowl, you won’t get fed.” We stood for role call, and then we were marched to the barracks. That was how we got to Auschwitz.

The next day we were marched out for another role call, and somebody told me that somebody was waving to me from the other barracks. In the distance I looked and I saw my sister, so after the role-call was over, I was not supposed to go, but I went over and talked to her. Then we got foul-smelling scoop of soup, made out of rotten beets and rotten potatoes. It took me many years before I was able to eat beets and potatoes again.

Since I spoke German so well, a young Polish woman who had been interned by the S.S. asked me to come help her.  She told me I spoke German better than her, and she also needed somebody to help her talk to the Jews who didn’t speak their native languages. I no longer had to go out to the fields. I was given a sheet of paper to record everybody’s name. I also had to help clean the barracks, with only a shovel and a bucket—there were no floors. We were in Auschwitz proper about six or seven months.

In the meantime, my sister and I wondered what was happening to our brothers.They didn’t separate the mothers and the children, and we were told that they all went to another camp. About four months later we found out that the Germans took all of the mothers and children and disposed of them. My sister found out because the Germans kept immaculate records—my mother and my brothers had a GU, or gas sentence marking, by there names.

Jewish Immigration Monument in Forest Park

Story Submitted by Ed McGue

A monument commemorating the 300th anniversary of the first Jewish settlement in North America can be found in Forest Park at the corner of Kingshighway and Lindell Boulevard. The Jewish Immigration Monument consists of a stainless steel flagpole resting on a sculptured stone base. On the base, great freedoms inspired by biblical verses are inscribed including Freedom from Tyranny, Freedom of Religion, Freedom from Fear and War and Freedom from Want.

The monument was first dedicated on November 22, 1956, by a group of Jewish community leaders. It was then rededicated in 1989 after a $275,000 facelift which included the construction of a terraced granite base that would increase its visibility. Special lighting, benches and sidewalks were also added to Lopata Plaza surrounding the monument—named in honor of major contributors Lucy and Stanley Lopata.

Artist Carl Mose designed the limestone monument. In addition to the Jewish Immigration Monument, Mose created the St. Francis of Assisi monument that is also displayed in Forest Park and probably his most recognizable piece—the Stan Musial statue outside of Busch Stadium.

David T. Portman: Part III

Part III. Story was originally written by David Portman in 1979 and submitted in 2008 by David’s daughter-in-law, Carol Portman.

There were activities such as drama groups, social clubs, ballroom dancing, schools to teach reading, writing, English and athletics, but most interesting of all to me was a group known as the Alliance Military Cadets which was very popular. The number of youths who participated was so great that three companies had to be formed along with a rifle and bugle corps. We were taught how to handle a rifle, drill and keep in good physical condition. We were drilled by an Army Sergeant who came from Jefferson Barracks and each company had a staff of officers: major, captain, lieutenant, sergeant, etc. Walter Freund became a sponsor and led us in many activities. We went camping in Lakewood on the Gravois, Ladue, which was then a prairie, but mostly to Creve Coeur where we pitched our tents. We carried with us pots, pans and cooks who prepared food for the hundred or more who went camping with us on the weekends or on holidays. All the fellows carried their own camping equipment, traveling by street car and on the open end Creve Coeur trolley where we had so much fun. I believe that from these adventures came the development of the summer camps. The Y and JCCA began offering camping experiences, first Camp Hawthorne on the Lake of the Ozarks, and later Camp Sabra, which serves thousands of our present youngsters and oldsters.

During the westward travel of the Jewish population, the Jewish Alliance moved to 3645 Delmar Square, and a few years later became the YMHA, YWHA, where the activities continued. The Y joined with a group known as Jewish Community Center which was then located in the 3600 block of Page which had outgrown its quarters.

The two organizations merged and purchased property at Union and Enright where extraordinary community activities were offered: a swimming pool, a health club, and multiphased social activities. Some years later, this edifice also became too small, and ground was bought by forward-looking leaders who brought about the Jewish Community Center Association on Schuetz Road which provides excellent facilities for the entire Jewish community.

David T. Portman: Part II

Part II. Story was originally written by David Portman in 1979 and submitted in 2008 by David’s daughter-in-law, Carol Portman.

Westward Ho! We moved to 1217 North 15th Street, a tenement house which housed about eight to ten families, some facing 15th Street, others facing the alley. Our whole family ate and slept in the three rooms, doing the laundry in wash tubs and hanging it to dry on a rope pulley that was connected to the walls between the front and rear buildings. For ironing or pressing, irons were heated on top of a coal stove in the kitchen.

There was a grocery store on almost every block, Kosher butcher shops every few blocks and a neighborhood shopping center on Biddle Street from 12th to 18th Streets, where you could buy anything from a herring to a horse! Food stores, butcher shops, shoe stores, peddlers showing their piece goods, men’s and women’s clothing, children’s wearing apparel, fruit, novelties and anything you could want. It was all there. This was the start of specialty shops and many department stores. Komen had a bakery at 14th & Biddle; Jefferson Wohl (Sheenie Ike) had a shoe store for the complete family; the Reiters had a millinery shop for women; Krams were selling fish on Biddle Street. This was Biddle Market, where the farmers brought in their chickens, fruit, vegetables, etc. Some of the merchants who sold their wares to these farmers and to one another became affluent people and many of their offspring later became merchants, wholesalers, manufacturers and are established in businesses today. 

The population kept on growing and our people kept on going westwards to 16th Street, 17th Street and 18th Street. We moved to 18th and Division which was known as Kerry Patch. The ethnic background of this area consisted of Irish, Germans, Poles and a small number of Eastern European Jews; the area was truly a melting pot. We went to O’Fallon School at 15th and O’Fallon Streets, and when we grew a little older, walked a few blocks eastward to the Jewish Educational Alliance, a forerunner of the YMHA and YWHA. Settlement workers helped all underprivileged young and old to become oriented to living in this country. At that time, the Jewish Educational Alliance was headed by a young man named Oscar Leonard, who had trained a staff of workers.

David T. Portman: Part I

Part I. Story was originally written by David Portman in 1979 and submitted by David’s daughter-in-law, Carol Portman.

I am David Portman, 80 years of age. I arrived in St. Louis about 1905. A year prior, I landed at Ellis Island as an immigrant from Russia, together with my family members, consisting of my mother, an older brother, a younger brother and a sister. My father had emigrated from Russia a few years earlier and had settled in Kansas City where he had found employment as a tailor with Lord & Taylor, a woman’s apparel shop. After we moved from Kansas City to St. Louis, another brother and five sisters were born to our parents. Our first home was a flat at 11th and Washington Street, what is now Cole Street. We lived there for a few years before moving to 11th and Carr Streets, which residence can best be described as a tenement, housing about 20 families. There were 10 families on the first floor and 10 on the second floor, with a common porch for entering and leaving. Each flat consisted of three rooms. There was a water line in the middle of the floor on the outside porch where the tenants from one faucet, obtained their drinking water, clothes-washing water, and bathing water: clothes and body washing were both accomplished in the same galvanized tin tub. We had to keep the faucet running in cold weather in order to avoid freezing. There were no electric lights (or electricity) so we used kerosene lamps which had to be fitted every day, buying the kerosene from a street peddler who supplied the entire neighborhood from his tank filled with coal oil. The glass of the lamp had to be cleaned daily so that we could receive the maximum amount of light; we had a special jug just for the oil. For heat, we bought coal from a peddler which was used in the range that was also utilized for cooking. These needs were purchased daily.

Neighborhood stores abounded. There was a baker who supplied bread, bagels, sweet rolls and on Friday, chala. Across the street from the baker was “Raskas” who sold milk, cheese and dairy goods. We bought milk from a large container, bringing along our own pots and pans to carry it home in. The milk had to be boiled at home since it was not pasteurized. During the boiling process, a skim formed on top of the kettle which was considered a great delicacy. Ice was not available in those years; we didn’t even have ‘ice boxes’ to keep food cold; this advance was yet to come, although it wasn’t too long before we had an ‘ice box’.

The “out-house” was outside in the center of the yard. There were 10 or 15 partitions which were used in true community style by all the tenants year long. We had no flush bowls or fancy soft tissues and not much privacy.

Across the street on the west side of 11th Street, was the Fire Department. On alarm, three horses were led from their stalls to the steam pumper which was always ready to respond to the alarm of the fire and which was always stocked with straw shavings and cord wood. This fuel was used to generate steam to pump water from the hydrant closest to the site of the fire. The three horses ran abreast at full speed to fire, clanging their fire bell, with the firemen hanging on to the side of the engine or on the back of the boiler at the rear of the pumper. A supply wagon loaded with more cord wood and coal would follow the engine as a back-up measure in case the fire was a really bad conflagration requiring extra fuel.

The streets at that time were paved with red granite blocks or compacted rock. For transportation, street cars ran from all parts of the city, leading to the downtown area. The fare was then five cents, including transfers!

About this time, the City of St. Louis started buying a whole block of property from 10th to 11th Streets and Carr to Biddle Streets. This area included a salt warehouse, homes, tenements, stables and houses. It was to become Columbus Square, which would be a recreation spot for the people who lived in that area. There were ball grounds, a concrete wading pool for youngsters, stands for musical concerts, craft rooms and teachers who helped in various crafts. It would serve the poor people in this community who consisted mostly of Italians and Jews and who lived in very close harmony. There was a “Shul” on 9th and Wash Streets, also another one on 11th and Biddle, and another at 14th and Wash Streets where the people went to worship.