Escaping to the Mount: In Depth with Mrs. DePaolo

An interview with Mrs. DePaolo

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Escaping to the Mount: In Depth with Mrs. DePaolo

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On most days you can find Mrs. DePaolo in the basement, setting up labs or creating crime scenes for her Forensic Science or Ecology classes. Mrs. DePaolo is known for her energetic method of teaching which is shown through the various number of activities she incorporates into her lessons. She is always finding ways to keep her students entertained, whether it be through fake blood and murder mysteries, or using apples to represent the different layers of Earth; it is never a dull day in Mrs. Depaolo’s class. Most Mount students who do not take Holocaust class, know her as the kindhearted woman who is wise, hip, and more adapted to technology than a lot of us will ever be. However, when I sat down and interviewed her, I realized that there is more to our beloved teacher than meets the eye.

Bryce Greene: So I just wanted to know a little bit about you. I heard through the grapevine that you speak to the Holocaust classes about your family’s experience? Do you mind sharing that story?

Mrs. DePaolo:  No I don’t mind at all. I was born in Vienna, Austria. My mother was a nurse. She was Catholic and the youngest of five. My father was Jewish, he was a doctor and was the oldest of three boys. They met in a hospital in Vienna and this was at a time when Adolf Hitler was rising to power. It became apparent to my parents that it was not, number one, a good idea to be Jewish and number two, a good idea to be there. So when I was three, they had me baptized Catholic because they said “okay, you’re half Jewish, but as far as Germany is concerned you’re Jewish all the way through,” so I would have an easier time if I was Catholic like my mother. Although later, it became very obvious that pretty soon they were going to march into Austria and take over, therefore we started to make arrangements to leave there and come here to the United States.

She then went on to state that since the German government started to prevent Jews from traveling and practicing certain jobs, her mother, a non-Jew, had to be the one who made the plans to come overseas. Upon doing this, her parents ultimately decided that it was best to travel via an American ship because it was the least likely to be attacked by German submarines. The family used a shipping company called United States Airlines but noticed that they had to leave from Homberg, Germany since it was the only place from which boats were leaving and Austria was nowhere near an ocean. However, upon arriving to Homberg the family noticed that the boat, the George Washington, was full. Fortunately, a last minute phone call came through that a passenger had to cancel and with very little notice, the family took whatever they could carry and climbed aboard.

BG: Were you old enough to remember the voyage?

DP: Not really, my father kept a journal and I bring that when I talk to the Holocaust class and show them it. My father was a doctor… so his writing was pretty illegible. So I managed to translate it and I have it printed out. It took a week of traveling. I don’t remember too much of it except for the fact that a lot of people were seasick and I wasn’t. And apparently I had a really jolly time exploring the ship and enjoying myself. When we got to the area of New York, there was a really heavy fog, this was before radar, so we couldn’t see the direction of the port. So we had to wait, and it was a good twenty-four hours of fog. When the fog lifted then we started to head for the port and there was the Statue of Liberty! And everybody hopped on the deck to see this because this was the symbol of freedom. So then we went through Ellis Island, our name is on the wall there, we got in the car with my mother’s sister and her husband, whom we stayed with for a year and my very first meal was a hot dog.

After a brief discussion about our love for hot dogs, I asked Mrs. DePaolo if her parents ever expressed to her their feelings about having to drop everything and leave their home. To this question she responded that her parents completely sheltered her from any form of unpleasantness occurring overseas, recalling that she had a grandmother who her father had helped cross over to America, but not before losing her store to German soldiers. Completely engrossed in this interview, I took the chance to uncover some more fun facts about my interviewee, learning that she is both fluent in English and German, she has three kids, and that she only started teaching because it was convenient but grew to love it, even more so after coming to the Mount.

BG: Just for fun and also this is the last question because this was supposed to be a short interview… What would be your ideal crime?

DP: Oh, I’m going to give that away? [laughs together] Like crimes I have committed or crimes I would like to commit? [laughs]

BG: Either one works.

DP: Originally I would’ve said stabbing someone with an icicle but it’s been done, [laughs together] the weapon is gone. But anyway, not necessarily  my ideal crime but the ideal crime that I’ve run into was in an Alfred Hitchcock show… where a woman killed her husband by hitting him over the head with a frozen leg of a lamb which she then cooked and then fed to the detective which pretty much got rid of the evidence and no one suspected her which I think was the most fun crime that I’ve ever experienced.  

It was just like coming to Oz, it was just such a different world, a different environment. I love being here, I look forward to coming here every day.”

— on MSDA

To conclude, Mrs. DePaolo truly is a special character and we are blessed to have her share her ideas and passions with us on a daily basis. Earlier in the interview, Mrs. DePaolo shared her true feelings about the Mount. I asked how she came to teach here and it is something worth sharing with the rest of the Argosy audience:

DP: It was just like coming to Oz, it was just such a different world, a different environment. I love being here, I look forward to coming here every day.

And we look forward to seeing you too.

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