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Odd Wisconsin Archive

Cat Escaped the Nazis


Madison architect Herb DeLevie grew up in Stadtskanaal, Holland, where his father ran a successful business. Their large household was home to a number of pets, including an enormous black cat that adopted them.

"Before the war," DeLevie recalled, "before my father went into hiding, we had a great big black cat that appeared one day... This cat was a very independent cat. He just made himself at home no matter what, and was just a big, black, ugly cat.

"And my father once took this cat, because my mother didn't like it, took it out in the country on the back of his motorcycle and left it. A couple weeks later, the cat appeared again.

"Then he decided to drown the cat and he put it in the sack and threw it in the canal. And that afternoon the cat was basking in the sun.

"Then he tried the same thing again by putting it in a sack, tying the legs, and putting rocks in it. And that cat appeared again.

"So my dad says, 'That cat is here to stay.'"

Then in May 1940 the Germans invaded Holland. As a prominent Jewish family, the DeLevies were forced into hiding to escape liquidation. Herb spent much of his childhood like Anne Frank, concealed with relatives in a single room, fearing discovery and death.

"We were gone for three-and-a-half years. According to the neighbors, the cat disappeared the day the Germans came in and when we came back, that cat was sitting on the picnic table in the back yard. And that cat lived till about a year before we came to the States, when it died."

You can listen to DeLevie tell this story himself in our new collection of interviews with Holocaust survivors who settled in Wisconsin.

The DeLevie family came here in the spring of 1950. Herb graduated from Madison West High School in 1951 and enrolled in the University of Wisconsin. After a chance encounter with Frank Lloyd Wright at the Memorial Union, Herb was accepted at Taliesin in May 1953. After finishing his education and serving in the military, he moved to Los Angeles, but returned to Wisconsin in the mid-sixties. He opened an architectural firm in Madison, where he lived until his death from a brain tumor in 1989.

Listen to or read the complete interview with Herb DeLevie

Explore the collection of survivor interviews in both audio and text formats, including brief excerpts, photographs, a teachers' page, and a search application that retrieves topics across all 24 interviews.


:: Posted in Animals on January 31, 2010

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