Long-time Berkeley resident Herta Bregoff died peacefully in her home on June 26. She was born Herta Maas in 1922 in Karlsruhe, Baden Province, Germany.
Her family had lived there for several generations and had a comfortable living situation. Although they were Jewish, they were not religious and considered themselves thoroughly German. Therefore when Hitler came to power, Herta’s parents, Rolf and Dora, did not see themselves in danger and continued to live in Karlsruhe. Herta’s older siblings, Eva, Henry and Trudel, did not share this view, and since they were all young adults, made their way to the United States.
So Herta was left alone with her parents and then when she was 16, was expelled from school due to her Jewish heritage. This was a very difficult time for her, since her future was uncertain, and her parents were powerless to help the situation. Rolf and Dora did not want Herta to worry, so they did not discuss the political upheaval in Germany with her. It wasn’t until 1971, when Herta was reading her father’s papers, that she learned that Rolf had worked diligently during this time to arrange for them to leave Germany, but was unsuccessful.
When Herta was 18, the Nazis came to her house and gave the family 20 minutes to collect their belongings; they were forced to board a train out of Karlsruhe. Unlike most German Jews, the Jews of Baden were not shipped to Poland, but instead to southern France. They spent the winter there in a camp called Gurs, living in barracks, having to bathe at an outside spigot, and unsure of their destiny. It rained a lot that winter so the camp was usually a sea of mud. Herta’s father died of dysentery in Gurs and was buried there.
Meanwhile, Dora’s older children, who were already in the United States, were working hard to have Dora and Herta join them. After many months, sponsors were found, forms were completed, and fees paid to officials.
Dora and Herta, along with others with American sponsors, were allowed to leave Gurs and took a train to Marseilles. There they stayed in hotels while they tried to get visas. They then took a train to Lisbon, Portugal, and boarded the ship Nyassa to New York City. Many Karlsruhe families had already settled in Berkeley, so Herta and her mother went directly there, where they were reunited with Eva, Henry and Trudel.
Although Herta had not been able to graduate from high school, UC Berkeley allowed her to attend there. She graduated from UC with a B.S. in Chemistry. At UC she met Bill Bregoff, who had just finished his Army service in the Philippines. They were married in 1948. Herta went on to get a Ph.D. in Chemistry from Washington University in St. Louis, while Bill earned his dental degree there. They returned to California and settled in the South Bay. Bill started a dental practice in Hayward, and they soon bought a house in Castro Valley. Herta had her first daughter, Naomi, in 1954. In 1958, Miriam was born. In 1965, Herta earned her teaching degree from Cal State Hayward and soon started teaching elementary school.
Herta and Bill decided to move back to Berkeley in 1969, where they bought a house in the Elmwood District. Dora lived five blocks away, and they visited her often until her death in 1971. The same year, Bill and Herta separated, but they would remain friends throughout her life. Herta decided to change careers, and started nursing school at the age of 50. She worked as a registered nurse at Fairmont hospital for 17 years.
Due to the painful memories of Germany, for 30 years Herta did not return, although her siblings made several trips back. Herta made a very brief trip with Bill and her children in 1971. In 1976, a childhood friend came to Berkeley, and convinced Herta to visit her in Switzerland, which she did in 1979. In 1986, her former elementary school classmates from Karlsruhe had a 50th class reunion, and they paid for her trip there. Herta had a wonderful time and made several more trips to Germany and other parts of Europe. She corresponded with many of her former classmates for the rest of her life.
Herta had two grandchildren, Forrest and Esther, from her daughter Miriam in Alaska. She saw them yearly, either in Berkeley or in Alaska. They looked forward to packages from her, which always included chocolate. On one trip to Alaska, she taught herself to cross-country ski, as she hadn’t had the chance to learn while growing up in Germany.
Herta’s experience in Nazi Germany caused her to always feel that nothing in life was certain, and to try to help others less fortunate than herself. She was very generous to her family and friends, volunteered at St. Vincent de Paul, and gave to many charities. She spent very little money on herself, and rarely asked others for help. As her health began to fail, her friends called her often and tried to help her as much as she would allow. Although petite in size, she had incredible inner strength, and will be missed by all who knew her.›