When Otto Feller came to Milwaukee in 1965, he had only ten dollars and a self-described lovely singing voice.
Fifty-seven years later, The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany recognized Otto Feller’s 100th birthday on June 22, 2022. The Conference has asked for a flag to be flown in his honor above the U.S. Capitol. This act serves to commemorate Otto’s rebuilding his life after the Holocaust, and as a reminder to stand up to bigotry, according to the Conference.
At a forced labor camp in Romania in his teens, Otto experienced first-hand the reverberations of the Holocaust. Not long before then, he was prohibited from going to school for being Jewish. Instead, he became head of a print and design department.
After leaving the labor camp, Jewish organization Sochnut planned to place him and his wife in Israel. However, Otto wanted to be with his mother and sister in the United States, so he contacted the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society to change the placement.
For eight years, Otto and Agnes were not permitted to leave Italy. “You were considered an enemy to go to another country,” Feller said. Finally, a Milwaukee Jewish service organization paid for Feller’s food and home in Milwaukee.
In America, Feller worked at a shirt-printing business. He may have been more accepted as a Jew in Milwaukee, but he was more accepted for his talents in Romania, for instance singing for congregations and leading 120 professional choir members. “They recognized me,” Feller said.
In Romania, he and his wife, Agnes, couldn’t have a Jewish wedding for fear of risking their jobs. They’ve been married for 72 years, and they were as Jewish then as they are now.
When asked if he’d like to tell American Jews anything today, he said: “They don’t appreciate the life they have here and they should be happy that they are here in America and not in other countries.” Although Feller grew up during a period of immense antisemitism, he is “very much” proud to be Jewish. Although he’s grateful to be in America, he recognizes that it is “in the history” for discrimination to repeat itself.
Feller also talked about the punishment he underwent at his labor camp. When he was sick, they put him in a cemetery for two weeks with no bed and no windows. “It was unbelievable that I survived,” Feller said.
“I’m very grateful to you, what you’re doing for me,” he said, referring to the work that publications like the Chronicle do to share survivors’ stories.
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To celebrate Holocaust survivor Otto Feller’s 100th birthday, the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany has requested that Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin fly an American flag over the United States Capitol in his honor. According to the Conference, Feller is to receive the flag, as well as a certificate from the senator a few weeks after the flag is flown.