20th-century memories: WWII, birth of TV, moon walk

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Erna Neubauer was living with her husband in a bomb shelter in England on the night her water broke — a night that would long be remembered as both her "worst and best memory of the 20th century."

It was near the end of World War II. With contractions coming hard and fast, Neubauer was forced to leave the security of her shelter for the waiting ambulance ready to take her to the nearest hospital.

"My husband was not allowed to go. To this day I can still remember him standing there, watching me leave with tears in his eyes," said the 87-year-old who was born in Vienna and escaped to England during the war.

"There was a blackout that night so the ambulance was late. We arrived at the hospital just in time to see it get bombed down to the ground. Had we been just a few minutes earlier, I would have died in there and my precious son would never have been born," said Neubauer, who now lives at San Francisco's Jewish Home.

Speaking on a less personal level, 83-year-old Minnie Goldrath, a fellow resident of the Home, came up with a laundry list of her own "best and worst" picks of the century.

On her worst list: the stock market crash, the Great Depression, Adolf Hitler, Nazi concentration camps, Japanese internment camps, the Kennedy assassination, overpopulation, global warming, materialism, Watergate, Bosnia and the "whole Clinton impeachment thing."

Among the best: women's suffrage, Hitler's defeat, advances in science and technology, increased life span, the civil rights movement, space travel and the moon walk, the end of the Vietnam War, the sexual revolution, women's liberation and the end of apartheid,

Born in Chicago, Goldrath came to California in 1953 with her husband, raising three sons.

Also at the Home, 86-year-old Carl Rothblum said he is making some of his best memories of the 20th century right now, as one of the Home's most active residents and volunteers.

In his capacity as president of the residents' council, Rothblum is responsible for interviewing and writing articles about new residents for an in-house newsletter.

"There are so many marvelous people here that no one knows about. I've met doctors, artists, sculptors and entertainers from all over the world. I feel privileged to be able to get the word out," he said.

Another best of the century, Rothblum said, is the progression of technology. "I can still remember when we used to crowd into the homes of people rich enough to own a television and watch programs on these little…sets."

A native San Franciscan who is single (and "still looking"), Rothblum said he has had a great life filled with friends and fond memories. If he had to pick the worst of the century, though, he said it would have to be the Holocaust and World War II.

At Danville's Home for Jewish Parents, 91-year-old Bella Kempler couldn't agree more. Her older sister, along with her sister's entire family, perished in the Holocaust.

But she also has happy memories of her life in Krakow, Poland, where she was born in 1908, growing up as one of five children. She remembers her brother being accepted into medical school, the only Jew in their region to receive that distinction. And she remember her loving father. "I was his pet," she said.

Eighty-seven year-old Lucille Cooper , who lives in the Danville Home, also said World War II was a time of great distress for Jews and a tragic era in history.

"The whole world was torn apart through the madness of one man," said Cooper, a retired schoolteacher who was born in New York.

When asked about her best memory of the century, Cooper answered without hesitation — "meeting my husband."

"He went to college with my brother," she said. "We were introduced at a dance where we immediately hit it off. And then we just danced through life."

Unfortunately, that dance came to an abrupt end when Cooper's husband died at the untimely age of 43, leaving her to raise two children alone. Then she lost one son.

Despite the hardships and obstacles faced, Cooper has remained optimistic. "My son is my shining light. And his children have brought me so much joy. I'm a proud grandmother. What more could I ask for?"