My day that has lived in infamy,
October 13, 1942
Eighty years ago, October 13, 1942 the German Gestapo and French security police, the Milice Francaise, broke the door to enter our apartment in Paris, France while I was hidden in an all-girl school as a just turned six-year-old boy, one of two boys of the same age in the school. Once in, they arrested my thirty-five-year-old father and took him to the first prison in Paris. His transgression was that he was part of a group of 12 men that evacuated Jews from France, plus he had converted to Catholicism from his Jewish birth.
He was transferred to two other prisons before being loaded aboard a train on February 12, 1943 with 998 other unfortunates, ranging from three years of age to ninety-two; to be shuttled and to arrive at the Auschwitz concentration camp on February 13, 1943. There he was examined and found to be ineligible for work, he had lost part of a lung as a tuberculosis patient at the age of twenty-two, so he was placed in one of three lines. One was set aside for forced labor, one for attractive women, and the final one with the majority of prisoners, for the gas chambers.
Most of this information after his arrest, I found out from the Holocaust Museum in 1997.
My day of a new beginning, October 13, 1946.
Four years later to the day, October 13, 1946, there was a certain amount of relief and joy for my mother and me. We were aboard the USS Washington easing into the New York harbor. It turned out to be with more anguish. Our passport had expired on October 13, 1946 the day of our arrival but unable to dock that day. The Customs agent curtly told my mother that we had to return to France. For her that was the last straw. After four years of heartache, my mother at 5’2” stood up to the 6’ something Customs agent and told him we had sold everything and used all of our money to come to New York and would not have a place to live if we had to go back. She then said that we had been in the New York harbor for a full day at anchor, waiting for a berth to dock the ship so “that should count!” Isn’t the harbor in the United States, and the anchor was in the soil of this country. It was not our fault that the long shoremen were on strike, the ship was there and we were there. His famous words etched in my mind even though I didn’t understand them, was “oh, all right, you can stay!”
Surprisingly, each year on this date since; I have a vision of an emaciated young boy in short pants, standing back, not understanding a word of what was happening, but knowing that it was not what my mother wanted to hear for us. The customs agent smiled as he said something that I didn’t understand, but it had to be good. Hurriedly, she took my hand and headed for the gangplank. She searched the crowd on the dock looking for a face that she had not seen in twenty-five years. Dr. and Mrs. Moore had written that they would come from California to meet our ship. Mama, finally saw a now balding man, wildly waving a colored handkerchief; standing next to him was a grey haired, very prim looking lady, barely raising her hand in a reserved greeting.
A few feet away, standing on a steel post holding up the roof, was another man also waiving a handkerchief. Edwin Law, had been a student at the Sorbonne, the University of Paris at the same time that my mother was a student there. He lived in Connecticut and had brought his father to also meet us. He was to be called Uncle Abe. The two groups didn’t know each other but met there and each group was pulling to take us with them. We all ended up in Uncle Abe’s 1939 Packard going to Shelton, Connecticut.
First, he stopped at an Automat, to show us a wonderful, new type of restaurant with rows of small, gleaming, chrome and glass doors where you put money in a slot, opened a door and pulled out your choice of a meal consisting of beans or macaroni and several other choices. Further down the row you had a choice of apple or cherry pie. This was New York in America, it was wonderful!
A seventy-miles drive along the Merritt Parkway later, we arrived at a beautiful two-story home on a hill with a large two car garage. I ended up shuttling across country several times to three different homes before ending up at Uncle Abe’s house for my last two years of high school and an after-school job in his factory. He was insistent that nothing came free in this world; he had to work when he came to this country and see what it got him, so I should do the same. Thanks Uncle Abe! I never asked for something for nothing.
Eighty years later today; how I wished that my father had lived and been able to come with us to this new, “What a country!”