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  • Jack Bowerman

She Escaped From the Nazis and Landed at Baker

Updated: Jul 23, 2022

Much of the information in this post came from an interview with Julianna Glass Lerner conducted by Jerry Weakley in 2001.


Julianna Glass grew up in Vienna, Austria the second child of Arthur and Josephine Fischl Glass. Born on July 22, 1927, she enjoyed a normal childhood, going to public school and playing in the park with friends. Most of her close friends were Jewish like herself, but she never experienced discrimination. All that changed on March 13, 1938, the date of the Anschluss – the annexation of Austria by Germany.


Anschluss was a popular idea in both Germany and Austria prior to 1933 because Austria was experiencing a severe economic crisis. However, when Hitler rose to power in Germany the idea of unification with Nazi Germany became less popular. German and Austrian Nazis began an aggressive campaign to convince the Austrian populace to support unification, and in 1934 they attempted a coup to take over the Austrian government but were defeated. In 1938 the Austrian chancellor announced that there would be a referendum on the question of unification, but Hitler did not trust the outcome of the vote and he ordered an invasion of Austria the day before the referendum and was unopposed by the Austrian army. Julianna remembered the night of March 13 because there were slogans painted on the sidewalk and there was a beautiful torchlight march by the Nazis in celebration of unification.


Things changed dramatically after the Anschluss. Julianna was kept home from school and Jewish kids were not allowed to play in the park. When she returned to public school every class started with Heil Hitler. Later Jewish kids were segregated and could only attend Jewish schools. Jews couldn’t shop in non-Jewish stores and vice versa. Julianna’s parents hired a tutor to teach her English


Julianna’s father was a successful businessman, but that all changed in November 1938. Kristallnacht (Night of the Broken Glass or literally, Crystal Night) took place on the 9th and 10th. Windows and signs of Jewish businesses were smashed, and all the synagogues were destroyed. The Nazis took over her father’s business. The torturing and killing of Jews began. The Nazis arrested her 17-year-old brother as well as her father. They were housed in a stable because there was no where else to put them, and they were beaten on the way in. Her brother was let out after two days and her mother was able to prove that they had the resources to leave Austria, so they let her father out.


They made the decision to leave Austria but getting out was not as easy as climbing on an airplane. You had to have a connection in the country you wanted to go to who would vouch for you and you had to have a quota number. The only family they had living outside of Austria was Julianna's father’s brother who was in France. He was working on trying to get them out when he was arrested and sent to a concentration camp in France. They hit upon the idea of writing to everyone in America with the same last name. They got a letter back from a Russian Jewish family that lived in Brooklyn, but the family didn’t have much money. Money was not issue for Julianna’s family because her father had an import/export business and had money outside the country so the family in Brooklyn said they would vouch for them, but they still had wait for their quota number. Her brother was able to get out to England. They packed up their furniture and sent it to Hamburg. When their quota number came up, they caught a flight from Vienna to Amsterdam fearful the whole time that the plane would be forced to land short of Amsterdam and they would be taken off. They made it to Amsterdam and from there to London.


A family in England took them in temporarily and they stayed about a year. She vividly remembered that all the kids were issued gas masks there. Finally, they were able to book passage on a ship to America in steerage. They boarded the MV Georgic in Liverpool on January 30, 1940 and arrived in New York 0n February 11. They met the man that had signed an affidavit to vouch for them, Harry Glass, who they described on the ship manifest as a ”cousin” even though he was no relation and ended up living in Brooklyn where Harry lived. Shortly after arriving they moved to Queens. There were girls in high school in Queens that recognized her accent because they were from Vienna, and they became friends and introduced her to a whole group of Viennese immigrants. They didn’t know American sports: baseball, football, and basketball so they played sports they knew like soccer, and although they could speak English they struggled with American English. As was the case with most girls in high school, she was taught secretarial skills like typing and she learned shorthand in both English and German. When America entered the war, her brother and her future husband were drafted, but they could not be sent overseas unless they were citizens, so they were immediately made citizens. The Jewish immigrant soldiers were in high demand because they knew languages and could ski.


There was an organization designed to help recent immigrants and her father found out about Baker through this office. Julianna applied to Baker, and she was very pleased to be accepted. Baker was very good about bringing in students with diverse backgrounds. Upon arriving on campus, the reaction of some of the other students was “are you sure you are Jewish? You don’t look Jewish.” She was asked to speak at various village churches around Kansas. People had never met a Jew and didn’t know anything about them. She lived in Wood Hall and later in Stone Hall. She had a job on campus working for Professor Frank Ezra Wolfe and learned about real estate and the geography of Kansas. Her typing and shorthand skills came in handy because Professor Wolfe had a Dictaphone. She never experienced discrimination at Baker, and she was invited to Thanksgiving and other holidays at students’ homes. While the students were wonderful, and she got along with them well, they were apologetic because in those days the sororities would not admit Jews (Greek organization policies are different today). She studied languages at Baker for a year and a half, but she eventually ran out of courses to take in her major and was forced to transfer to continue her studies. Her best memories of her college days were from Baker. She was in plays, and she was an angel in a photo in the yearbook.


Julianna went to Queens College, one of the branches of City University of New York, and finished her bachelor’s degree. She became a German translator in New York for the Navy. She was also a secretary and worked for the president of a Latin American book club which allowed her to travel all over Latin America. On March 3, 1949, she married Maximilian Lerner. She was let go from her job because in those days you could not continue to work as a secretary if you were married. Maximilian was an executive in the import/export business. Julianna was able to find a job as a translator at a bank until they decided to start a family. They had three kids: David (1952), Shereen (1955) and Tom (1958) and Julianna became a stay-at-home mom. When the kids were old enough, she went back to school to study for a master’s degree in the language department at Queens College. She loved teaching as an adjunct professor. She wanted to continue teaching but needed a PhD, so she continued and received that degree. When she and Maximilian divorced, she got a lump sum settlement and had enough money to go back to school. She got a degree in investment and finance and went to work as a trader on Wall Street. She wanted find the time to continue teaching and she quit Wall Street and went back to being a translator and part time teacher. She worked for Citibank and JP Morgan in the translation department before she retired.


In retirement, Julianna looked to make a major change in her life. In 1994 Julianna accomplished a dream when she moved to Albuquerque where she loved the environment and the culture. She also found another purpose in life talking about intolerance and hatred and began to speak in churches and other places. She was instrumental in the founding of the New Mexico Holocaust and Intolerance Museum and Study Center in Albuquerque and was also connected to the National Holocaust Museum in DC. She was co-founder of the Sonja’s Legacy Foundation, an exhibit highlighting the life and death of her cousins during the Holocaust. She traveled to schools around the state of New Mexico to teach about the Holocaust and broaden understanding and acceptance among people of different backgrounds.


Julianna was a scholar, educator, public servant, and philosopher. She was fluent in English, German and French and spoke some Spanish and Italian. She was a survivor of three different battles with cancer and started cancer survivors support groups in New York and New Mexico. According to her daughter Shereen “she deeply loved her children and children-in-laws, and to truly know her was to bask in her unmitigated joy and delight in her relationships with each of her seven grandchildren.’ Her most important contribution was how she “used the Holocaust as a way to talk about intolerance, how it can breed and why we need to be more tolerant of each other.”


Julianna died August 29, 2010

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