Gunther Aron is a sculptor and jeweler who came to the United States in 1948 and studied at the Chicago Art Institute and Institute of Design. Aron grew up Jewish in Germany in the years preceding World War II, before being sent to trade school in England, which saved his life. For the annual Plaza Hanukkah celebration and menorah lighting (3-5 pm Sunday, Dec. 5. Free), Aron lights a 6-foot-tall welded-steel menorah he created. Following the celebration, Aron will donate the menorah to the New Mexico Holocaust & Intolerance Museum in Albuquerque.
GA: I was born in ’23. Hitler came to power in 1933 and so, by 1936, it was obvious that we had to emigrate. If you were a Jewish boy, you learned a trade, if you could. There were not a sufficient number of Jewish trade people, so they started the school [in Berlin]. In 1938, we had something called the Kristallnacht, which is sort of known to people. That is when they destroyed many of the Jewish homes and synagogues throughout Germany. The following year, I had a chance of transferring to some other school [in England]. We managed to get out just before war broke out.
The first few months, we stayed in an old military camp in England. It was an abandoned camp, so the army huts were still there. The people who lived there, maybe several hundred or so…were all Jewish men who went on to other places. After a few months, I transferred to the art school in Leeds. By this time, war had been declared, and the English government interned most of the boys—those who were over 18. The rest of them worked in munitions.
There was a small tool room, and we made tools for the aircraft industry: jigs and fixtures and things. And I remember one day…this is now ’41 and all the bombing was going on, and I had this German accent. I bought a raincoat from a friend. It needed cleaning so, during lunchtime, I took it to the cleaning store. There was a middle-aged lady and a young girl, and the young girl heard my accent. She asked me, ‘Where are you from?’ And I said, ‘Well, I’m from Germany.’ There was this dead silence. That was the time where London was being bombed. And then this friend I was with—‘Oh,’ he said, ‘actually, he’s from the German-speaking part of Switzerland.’ So I said, ‘Yes.’ And everyone breathed a sigh of relief.
I was a fire watcher. I worked in munitions and, in addition to that, we were also fire watchers. We had stirrup pumps and sandbags to put out incendiary bomb fires. None hit the house I was watching, and that was also very lucky because I was not a very competent fireman.
I never did go back. I lost most of my family except for my brother and his family, and a sister, who came to the United States—my sister via Shanghai.
I had a grandfather who lived here in the 1840s, not 1940s. He made some money. He was a trader, traded with Indians, was taken captive by Indians. He also traded with gold miners. For fun on Sundays, he used to pan for gold, not for making money. In fact, he came here twice.
We had a friend who was teaching French…so we invited ourselves for a week or so. We thought we’d drive up here. We were on this bus from the old airport in Albuquerque…and the bus broke down outside the Santa Ana reservation…A very fat lady arrived. She turned out to be a substitute teacher…She asked if we wanted to see the school. Right then the bus driver called and said we were ready to go, so we said, ‘We’ll be back on Monday.’ We rented a car…I was navigator, and we wound up in Lamy. We drove by this building, which turned out to be the schoolhouse, which
was for auction. So we called the school board, and we got it the day Martin Luther King was
I’m a secular Jew. I just like menorahs. That was an accident really—a happenstance, I should say. To make a little money, I was making candlesticks, jewelry and candlesticks. I used to add a candle and, finally, I wound up with candlesticks that had six candles and figured, if I add one more candle, I’ll have Hanukkah menorahs.