Paul Morgenstein. Collection

Bijkomende meta info

This collection consists of a pre-war and two post-war photos of Paul Morgenstein as well as his audiovisual testimony. In this interview Paul Morgenstein talks about: his pre-war life in Antwerp, Belgium ; the family fleeing to De Panne, Dunkirk and Calais in 1940 ; Paul's journey to the United Kingdom and his life during the bombardments in 1940-1942 ; his journey to Canada and later on to Cuba in 1942 ; his life in Cuba as a member of the diamond industry and the Jewish Antwerpian enclave in Havana in 1942-1947 ; his migration to New York, United States, in 1947.
Content Date
Paul Morgenstein and his granddaughter Ayelet Lerner
Physical characteristics and technical requirements
Digitally stored at Kazerne Dossin
Family of Paul Morgenstein, Private collection, United States of America and Belgium
Digital copy available as collection KD_00531 at Kazerne Dossin
Level of description
Extent and medium
1 interview (7 parts - 1 hour 29 minutes), 3 photos
Related units of description
Information regarding the Jewish Antwerpian enclave in Cuba can also be found in the Cuba's Forgotten Jewels collection (KD_00527) and the Marion Finkels-Kreith collection (KD_00526).
Administrative and biographical
Paul Morgenstein was born on November 25th 1928 in Antwerp, Belgium. Paul’s father, Solomon alias Shlomo Morgenstein (born on August 17th 1903 in Rozan, Poland), had migrated there from Poland with his family during the First World War and it was in Antwerp that he would meet and marry his wife, Sarah Segal (born on July 16th 1907 in Riminoff, Poland), while working in the diamond industry. Paul would become the first of three siblings. His sister Myriam was born on August 8th 1933, his brother Henry on May 14th 1938. The young family lived at the Vosstraat in Borgerhout, a predominately Jewish neighbourhood of Antwerp. Paul attended the Tachkemoni school and had a normal childhood during the years before the war.
On May 10th 1940 Nazi-Germany invaded Belgium and Paul’s parents decided to flee Antwerp. The extended family loaded three cars and headed to the Belgian coastal town De Panne. After ten days and witnessing the French retreat, the family started to move as far away from Germany as possible, fleeing on foot towards Dunkirk, France. It was during the walk to Calais that British troops, seeing Paul’s mother weary, carrying 2 year old Henry offered them and Myriam a lift to Calais. When Paul and his father arrived at the Port of Calais, Paul’s father had to make a quick decision to send Paul along with three aunts and three cousins on a British boat that was accepting only women and children. His father would stay behind to look for his wife, Myriam and Henry. Paul would remain separated from his parents and siblings for the next two years.
The British generously received Paul and his relatives; allocating them a home in the London suburb Surbiton, which was directly on the German bombing route to the British capital. Paul remembers this time vividly - the fear and frequency of the bombings and running to shelters dictated his life. He attended school for two years and learned English. The family undertook regular trips to London, where an uncle lived. Paul even celebrated his Bar Mitzvah in Finsbury Park, London, in November 1941.
In early 1942 Paul’s aunts received news that his parents and siblings had been able to get to Cuba. With no possibility of transportation available in or out of the UK, Paul’s aunt & uncle were able to arrange for the family to get onto a Greek merchant-cargo ship in March of 1942. The ship was part of a 27-ship convoy sailing to Canada. The family knew the journey was dangerous but Paul also remembers the time on the boat as an exciting time. The family reached Nova Scotia, Canada after a month at sea. It was only then that they learned they had sailed on one of only three ships that safely arrived across the Atlantic.
The family settled in Montreal as they eagerly awaited United States transit visas. They then travelled by train to New York City and Miami where they finally boarded a flight to Havana, Cuba, where Paul would finally reunite with his parents and siblings after two years apart. Paul remembers his time in Havana very fondly, describing a lively social life, a Spanish and English education, free time spent going to concerts and his active involvement at the Zionist Youth Movement Hashomer Hadati. He would be in class with Salomon and Lily Birnbaum, and be led at the Movement by Abraham (Bram) Fischler - all from Antwerp. At the age of 15, Paul’s father arranged for him to become an apprentice at a friend’s diamond factory and learn how to cut diamonds in the heart of Havana.
The Morgenstein family remained in Havana until March 1947, when they obtained a visa for the United States. They moved and settled in New York City, where Paul continued working cleaving diamonds from home. He made the decision to continue his high school education in New York where he was able to obtain his diploma and subsequently go to College during the evening. He started his own business with a friend shortly after selling diamonds on the road.
Paul married the American, Paula Langer on June 13th 1954. They have two daughters - Joy Lerner and Robin Fischer, three granddaughters – Shiri Reznik, Ayelet Lerner and Lisa Lerner and three great-grandchildren – Jade Susswein, Adam Reznik and Ella Reznik. Paul would go on to become a highly successful and reputable businessman in the diamond industry in New York, Antwerp and Tel-Aviv. Paul Morgenstein passed away on December 1st 2018. His diamond legacy is continued by his children Joy and Gavriel Lerner and granddaughter Ayelet Lerner.
Paul Morgenstein was interviewed by his daughter Joy Morgenstein-Lerner and his granddaughter Ayelet Lerner a few months before his death. On Sunday 3 February 2019, Ayelet Lerner entrusted a copy of the interview to Kazerne Dossin during a storytelling conference held at the FelixArchief in Antwerp, organised by the Vredescentrum. Paul’s family was inspired to make the donation after participating in a reunion on 26 January 2019 of former Jewish refugees from Antwerp who survived the war in Cuba.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Ayelet Lerner, granddaughter of Paul Morgenstein, 2019

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