The eastern route to Seattle
Manfred and Laura Selig
Manfred born 1902, Germany. Died 1992.
Laura born 1907, Germany. Died 2003.
Arrived in Washington, 1939Listen to the oral history
In 1939, Manfred Selig came to America. Then, almost immediately, he turned around and went back to Germany. He and his wife Laura, and their two children Bertelle and Martin, had already escaped from the town of Arnstein, where his neighbor had delivered the news that the Nazis had labeled the Seligs as “undesirable.” They had spent time in Frankfurt, where Manfred worked as a baker so he could work at night and hide during the day.
“I remember my mother coming down the stairs [and]
telling the people, ‘He’s not coming today,’” Manfred’s son Martin recalls. “And I believe that was the day we decided we were leaving.”
The plan was that the family would emigrate to America through France. But during that quick sojourn to the U.S., where Manfred had secured passports and visas, France fell to the Nazi regime.
“We couldn’t go to the west anymore. [We] had to go to the east,” Martin says.
So they went through Warsaw, then they got on a train, which took them through North Korea, then to South Korea. They got on a boat that crossed the Sea of Japan, and they stopped in Japan, but they didn’t have to stay long.
Then, finally, the Seligs sailed to America. Once settled in Seattle, the family struggled to get going, but compared to Germany they did okay.
“The struggle that my parents had was really not what you’d call a struggle,” Martin says. “This is just something they had to do. They had absolutely no choices.”
Manfred, who had been a relatively successful salesman in Germany, used those skills to sell textiles door to door. He and Laura eventually opened a fine linen store, Selig’s Linen Shop, which they kept open for about eight years. The store and the family’s existence centered around the Central District.
“We had a tiny little place…and then I remember right before my Bar Mitzvah we moved to the house at 803 32nd Avenue South,” Martin remembers. “They lived there forever. And they would go to the linen shop, which was on 23rd and Jackson, back and forth.”
Manfred later distributed children’s clothing with Empire Children’s Wear throughout the Northwest until his retirement at age 65.