Chapter 21

It was March. We were preparing for the trip to an unknown destination. We ordered 6 times 4 sets of embroidered duvets and pillow cases.  They were made to order by nuns, from the thinnest and the finest linen. We also ordered down blankets, custom made in silk. My children loved to use them in the USA. I gave away mine to Lillian, the housekeeper. They were still in a very good shape 40 years later. Sam ordered a few suits made to order by the tailor he used before the war. The entire wardrobe for all of us was made to order from English wool , French silk and fine Italian cotton The children also had their clothes made to order. They were not able to wear it in the States, since the style was totally different. While girls’ dresses were short in Europe, in the USA the girls wore  skirts below the knee and the boys wore long pants except for shorts in the summer. Our luggage arrived a year later and by that time they had outgrown the beautiful clothes made in Poland.

One day we received an official letter from the Government in Warsaw. Our passports were ready. Sam went to Warsaw to pick them up. It had taken 11 years to have the exit papers approved .We had to wait for a miracle.  The miracle was the peaceful Polish revolution in 1956.
Sam returned from Warsaw with the passports. He arrived early in the morning. I was still in bed. He was full of energy with a crazy plan how to get a visa to France.  He told me that because I speak French and because I am an attractive woman, I should go to the French consul and talk him into giving us a temporary visa. The truth was that I had an invitation to attend a medical convention in Paris but it was for a convention in 1956. We received the papers in 1957.
I dressed to look at my best and we went to the French Consulate. It happened that the consul was out of town and the vice consul was in charge. We flirted for a while and then he agreed to grant me a 3-month transient visa. But what about my husband and my two children ? I asked. He was a really nice person. He called in the secretary and he gave her an order to issue a 3 months transient visa for all 4 of us, based on the invitation that was outdated.  Initially the secretary told him that it is against the policy of the Consul. Lucky for us the Consul was away and she had to follow the order of the vice consul   She was very  unpleasant.

When I returned to the waiting room Sam was gone. I needed two sets of photos right away. The vice consul was in charge for this day only. Sam had a key to a cabinet where he kept important papers and also some photos. I walked to the center of the city, stopped at the cafe and some antique stores, where Sam liked to hang around. I found my husband and we found the needed photos. We returned to the consulate and we received the visa .We were happy and excited. We were all set except for the plane tickets. We were permitted to pay for the plane tickets in Polish currency. Sam decided to put in as much money as it is possible to buy the plane tickets. The unused tickets could be exchanged, or money reimbursed in any  country outside of the Iron Curtain.  Sam bought round trip tickets .to Tel Aviv .It was the only entrance visa we had .We were able to use the tickets for a trip from Paris to Israel and back to Paris. We were not able to cash the remaining part of the tickets. In the meantime the law had changed. We sent the tickets to our governess “ciocia” and she cashed them. She was able only to get as much as it was worth in Polish currency, which was not much. From the day we obtained the plane tickets, the preparation for the departure took off fast.

We decided to leave Poland on Christmas Eve. We expected the custom service will not be as strict because of the Holy Night. In the meantime, Ella and Michel, also, received passports with a French visa. They left Poland in October. Sam and I traveled to Warsaw to help my sister with the customs. Sam believed in his ability to bribe anyone. Ella’s luggage was shipped to Haifa, since Michel wanted to settle in Israel. Our luggage was shipped to Le Havre. It was a temporary destination, because we did not know what the final destination would be. The law required that all the shipment should be in containers made of solid planks of wood.  Some were made large with the idea that the plank wood was expensive in Israel and the containers could be sold.  Our containers arrived in New York and we had problems disposing of them. Instead of being paid we had to pay for someone to take them. The only luggage of value, that made sense, was our collection of art, paintings and ivory. We had beautiful old silver .We had to leave it in Krakow. We were permitted to take 4 kilograms of silver. We took the candelabra, which I still have and some serving plates. We were allowed to take kilims, but Persian rugs had to be approved for export.  We were permitted to take out of Poland 5 dollars per person, it means 20 dollars for our family. We had to have a special permit for personal jewelry. I carried the real jewelry in a case mixed with the costume jewelry. I decided the custom clerk would not know the difference. We also smuggled 300 dollars in 3 bills, hidden in the down pillows. It seemed like a fortune to us, but it was not enough to live in New York for one-month .We were collectors of fine art.  The 19-th century paintings were Sam’s favorites. He could not resist ivory objects and antique silver. But our knowledge was limited. We were buying by instinct mostly. We also used advisors with knowledge of this kind of art. Each of the objects of art had to be approved for export by the Department of Culture. Here again Sam’s bribing talent became useful. Trying to get our money out of Poland created strange situations. For one example: Sam had a patient, a stone carver. He made grave stones for the Jewish cemetery. He was on his way to Austria and possibly Israel. He had a permit to take along the instruments of his trade and also the necessary materials, which included cemetery stones. Sam had an arrangement with this man. We gave him several bricks of melted silver. He drilled holes in the stones and stored the silver bricks inside. The accepted price for transportation was 10 % of the selling price on the arrival to the destination. Sam bought a set of silverware, unusual design with a crown. He melted it except for one soupspoon . When we came to NY and we showed this spoon  to a dealer in silver, he loved it. He asked to see the rest of the set.  We told him that it was melted into silver bricks and it was on the way to Australia.We learned that the spoon was made by Tiffany 1892. I still have it.  The silver bricks hidden in the gravestones traveled to Australia and we had to pay the man the difference in shipping cost. In Australia the price of silver was low, and about 2 years later after lengthy correspondence, and civil litigation we received only about 600 dollars. The silver we sent to Israel through someone we knew well was stolen. This man used it to buy an apartment in Israel. When we asked him to pay us back, his response was that we are wealthy and he is poor and he felt that being a” friend” allowed him to use our money to start his life in Israel. It was the way our fortune disappeared. We left a lot in Poland with a hope that “ciocia “ will be able to send it to us later. We never got it, but at least, she had enough to leave comfortably to the end. She died many years later of Parkinson’s Disease.  It was a strange situation in Poland when Jews were permitted to leave, but Poles were not able to travel. There was animosity and rumors were circulating that Jews are taking treasures out of Poland. The undercurrent created the renewal of anti-Jewish feelings. It was envy. But it was poisonous. Freedom has a high price. We changed a life of comfort to a life of poverty and unknown future, just to have freedom for our children. It was worth it. We left a police state for freedom .

An example of the life in a police state were the following incidents. And here again Sam was involved.  One very early morning, while everyone was still asleep, there was a knock at the door. “Ciocia” opened the front door and there was an uniformed policeman with a rifle to take Sam away. No explanation was given.  Sam got dressed and was taken away. It was about 6 a.m. We had a friend, a party member, and a district attorney with a lot of important contacts. I went to his office to wait for him. He arrived at 9 a.m. He was very helpful, and really upset about the incident. He was on the phone with different authorities for at least one hour. Finally he was told that the reason, they took Sam, was to be sure that he would appear in court as a witness for a completely insignificant trial. Sam never got a notice that he was called as a witness. Anyway, when I returned home Sam was there joking as usually and making fun about my fears.

Another incident was somewhat later. It was in the evening. Sam went to take a walk, while I was still working with a patient in the office. A bell rang. The maid opened the door. I heard commotion in the waiting room, knock at the door; our maid came in with concern on her face. There were about 5 secret service. They had a search warrant. I did not know what happened and why the search was ordered. I did not know where Sam was. One of the officers was so kind as to tell me that I should not worry. Although Sam was detained, nothing illegal was found on him. How could I not to be concerned with all the strangers going through our possessions?  I did not know what we have and what they are looking for. The search lasted several hours. Our maid knew where Sam was keeping valuables and she took it out off the reach of the police. Sam knew that I am afraid to have anything illegal. It is why he trusted the maid. The maid knew his hiding places. Sam returned home next day. The police officers became our patients. These incidents were within our last year in Poland. My anxiety attacks became worse. If Sam was late coming home, and he was never on time, I was going into attack of uncontrollable fear of losing him. This persisted as long as he was alive and then I lost him for good .I never went through the same kind of fear after Sam was gone. I am comfortable when I know where my children and my sister are. But this is a concern; the other was a pathological anxiety. I think I arrived to the time we were to leave home and to become refugees again.

Table of Contents

Previous | Next

Lida District Home Page

Jewishgen  | KehilaLinks

copyright 2002, Frances Dworecki M. D.
html by Irene Newhouse