Chapter 22

Our apartment was assigned to another family.  “Ciocia” and her sister were permitted to stay in one room and to use the kitchen and the bathroom. They took possession of a part of our furniture. We were able to sell the rest. Ciocia  sold the dental office equipment and it helped her to live well for the rest of her life. When she died, her sister Jadwiga, our housekeeper, stayed in the room. We supported her  by sending  10 dollars bills included in a letter.

The evening before Christmas Eve we walked out from our home, with a small luggage, the only one permitted to carry on the plane. For me it was a very traumatic event. I can see it, as I would watch a movie. The next tenant and his family were sitting on the stairs, leading to the apartment. They were there to prevent anyone to move in. I walked out first leading Roman. “Ciocia “ walked with Mary. Sam closed the procession. The housekeeper Jadwiga helped us to the taxi. The trip to Warsaw was overnight. We had a sleeper for our family.  We arrived to Warsaw in the morning. We had a room reserved  in a  hotel. While we were resting, Sam went to arrange contacts with the custom clerks at the airport. He was able to arrange for an easy search of our luggage. The luggage was overweight and Sam arranged for a permit for the additional luggage. Finally we left the hotel for the airport.

“Ciocia” went with us to the gate. It was a very difficult moment to say goodbye to a person who was a mother to us for over 9 years.

We passed through customx and we were on the other side waiting to board the plane. We used the Belgian airline Sabena. Our children were tired. Roman was very quiet. Mary carried on a conversation with any one who wanted to talk. Most of the people waiting were tired and not too talkative. Everyone was always afraid to tell something that could be considered to be “illegal”. About 1 hour later Sam was called to the office of the airport security.  I was frightened, but for the sake of the children I kept my cool. He returned and I had to go to the office. The request was that we give them one ticket to be used by a foreigner, traveling from Moscow. When we tried to disagree, the authorities told us that our luggage would have to go through a special custom search. Finally, very tired, we relented and everyone was allowed to board the plane. It was a direct flight from Warsaw to Brussels with a refueling stop in Prague. Mary was seated in front of us with an internationally known violinist returning from a concert tour in Soviet Union. Sam had a window sit. I had an aisle seat . I was holding Roman. Poor baby  Roman fell asleep after the plane took off. In spite of our exhaustion, we were in high spirits. Sam more than I. He was sure that he would be able to take care of us. I felt as if I had lost my footing. I was not sure of anything in the future. In Prague, during  refueling, every one was ordered to leave the plane. Speaking French, I persuaded the plane attendants to allow me to stay with Roman asleep on my lap. After a while the passengers were permitted to board. Sam returned with Mary. Sam was happy and sure of his ability to take care of us.

After a few hours, we landed in Belgium. We had to change planes to Paris. My knowledge of French was very helpful. Mary and Roman, both, spoke French. I did not mention that in addition to a governess, the children had a French teacher 2 times a week and a piano teacher.  Mary was somewhat cranky. It was the middle of the night. Roman was good. I was in a haze. Sam had his hands full.  He was not able to communicate without our help. We arrived in Paris before sunrise. My brother-in-law, Michel Garber was there to meet us. As I recall, we left our heavy luggage in storage and we took a carryon only. Ella and her family arrived in Paris in October  They stayed in a small hotel, not far from the Eiffel tower. They had a room with a kitchenette.

They reserved for us a small room in the same cheap and dirty hotel, but there was no kitchenette and no food was allowed.   The room had one large bed and a small and narrow sofa. There was a wash basin with running water. The toilet was in the corridor. It was the French style.  Foot rests but no seat, one without a seat. The children refused to use it. We settled down to have a nap. The transition from the luxury of a home with two maids and all facilities to the dirty small hotel was difficult. The concierge was our enemy from the very beginning. She knew that she would not receive tips.  I felt degraded but not Sam. He was happy to be free.

We brought from Poland a hot plate and a pot to prepare food for the children. Roman was a very poor eater. I had to use different tricks to encourage him to open his mouth. Mary was no problem. She helped me to take care of her brother. It was the first time in their life that I took care of them. Mary, a 9-year-old girl, told me how to dress her brother and what to feed him. Sam left us with Ella and went to the Jewish part of the city to look for an apartment. He found some people he knew from before the war. They helped us in the search for an apartment. The following day we went to register with a Jewish relief organization “Cojasor”.  It was a section of HIAS for France. It was an excellent organization, well endowed. They offered  to pay the rent for the apartment and to give us enough money for very modest living expenses. Their staff was polite, professional, reasonable and friendly. It is not what we experienced when we came to New York. NYANA was treating all arrivals as cheats.  NAYANA was fighting the displaced families instead of understanding the difficult transition in their lives.  In my experience they were more receptive to crooks than to honest clients. It is America. One does not ask, one has to demand.  I was hurt by the social workers of NAYANA (the N.Y assoc for new Americans), but about it later.

We tried to find an apartment through ads in the newspapers. It was unrealistic. The only thing, the rental companies wanted, was money on the table before they would even show us an apartment. Then there was an Egyptian Jew employed by the HIAS. He showed us a so-called apartment. It was a filthy shack in the outskirts of Paris.

This section was inhabited by poor immigrants from Africa. There was garbage everywhere. Laundry was drying on the ropes stretched between the shacks. It looked like the pictures of the black ghetto in South Africa. I was frightened, the children were very tired. That was when Sam approached the people he knew from Krakow. The sublet we got was close to the Place de la Republique. It was a nice, furnished apartment, two rooms and a kitchen and a shower. The toilet was the French style stall in the hall outside the entrance door. We moved there immediately. We got our luggage from the storage. We did not have much, but we were able to shop in a nearby market, and to prepare home made meals. The owner of the apartment was living across the hall. He was a wheeler-dealer, with connections to the black market. His wife was a subcontractor to a sewing factory making skirts. She had  a few people working in their dining room. They had two girls. One was Mary’s age. We registered Mary at a public school. She hated it. The teachers, sensing that we had no money to buy them gifts, were not kind, mildly speaking. One day Mary was punished, because she dropped a bottle which broke. The children were supposed to carry empty milk bottles to school. Lunch was provided. The Jewish organization arranged for Roman’s admission to kindergarten.  Roman was frightened and Mary had to stay with him for the first few days. There was a car service collecting the children, but we had to pick him up after school. Roman was carsick and we always had to use a lot of persuasion to talk him into attending school. Later, when Andrew went to the same school, it was easier, but still not good.

We were in correspondence with “Ciocia” and Dr. Dominik. Dr Dominik sent us a small kilim.  I gave it to Mary.  It is on the wall in Mary and Harvey’s country home.

Our weekly routine was to visit HIAS, where we filled out the applications for entrance visas to the USA and to Australia. My cousin Lennie Markell helped me to get in touch with an organization helping  the resettlement of  foreign  medical graduates.  My friend in Australia Berek Segan, was working on a so-called “visa promise” to enter Australia. This arrangement was possible only if we were related, and we were not. However, he proved that I was related to someone he knew, and this man was generous enough to sign the needed papers. It was more than my own aunt Pola and Zalmen were willing to do.

There was another obstacle. We needed a prolongation of the French visa. In order to obtain any of the three we had to give up our Polish citizenship.  We did it without regret. In my papers you will find, the French documents that were necessary to stay in France for few months .We had no right to work and to earn money.

Our social life was limited to the crowd attending these two charitable institutions. There were like us, penniless and  supported by COJASOR and HIAS. The conversations were always about who is going where and when. Waiting for the mailman twice a day was a ritual.

Our life was disrupted at the end of February 1958. It was two nightmare days. The story was concerned with a mystery of missing two kilograms of gold.   It began in late evening when we returned home. Sam knew that the owner of the apartment was hiding small bricks of gold in our kitchen. It was illegal to own it in France. Gold in this form should be deposited in the bank. For Sam it was totally acceptable, because of his experience in Poland.  Sam knew that the owner of the rented apartment had access to it and that he was coming and going. Their laundry was hung to dry in our kitchen. Their maid was permitted to enter the apartment we occupied. The owners were named Rosenberg. They were from Poland. They had a housekeeper, a Polish woman She had been employed by Rosenberg for 2 years. They trusted her and considered her to be honest. The night the disaster happened, we came home and Sam checked the “hiding “ place in the kitchen and it was empty.  Sam noticed that the previous day a small package was deposited in the corner under the sink. The following morning Sam told  Rosenberg that the package was not there. He asked  the Rosenbergs if anyone took it out. It created incredible commotion. The package contained gold bricks. The Rosenbergs accused Sam of taking the gold. We did not know where to turn.  We were afraid to turn to the police because of our temporary visa. One of  Rosenberg’s friends came to me and told me that we should return the gold, otherwise we could face an arrest for stealing. Sam insisted that the maid could have taken it, but it was in vain. The Rosenbergs knew that we had a few hundred dollars in Switzerland in care of a man from Krakow. They phoned the man to alert him not to give us the money. They insisted that Sam had to reimburse them for the loss of more than  a thousand dollars. Ella took care of the children while we were trying to solve the puzzle. I was sure that Rosenberg lost the money in some kind of an illegal deal and by accusing us, hoped to recover his loss The man was dealing in the black market.

Sam had a different idea. He was sure that the maid took it. He approached the woman and he told her that she should return the gold because otherwise we will be expelled from France. In the evening the Rosenbergs, their relatives, Sam and I went to the police station.  The interrogating detective believed in our innocence. I did the talking. Sam did not know French.  For the first time of our life together, Sam was helpless and broken down. We went home totally destroyed. Sam lost his usual optimism. He was crying. I was holding him like a baby. Our world was collapsing. Early in the morning, we went to COJASOR to see the president of the organization. We told him the story. He believed us without reservation. He even offered legal help if needed. He suggested we see a rabbi of the area where most of the illegal  transactions took place. We arrived at the rabbi’s apartment about 1 p.m. The Rabbi was not at home. His wife asked us to wait. She knew the problem because she had a phone call from Cojasor. I was numb. We did not know what to do next. We went to the rabbi really to find out if the Rosenbergs are honest.  We also wanted to tell our side of the story. The Rabbi came and we were invited to his study. While we were there, he made a few phone calls. He turned to us and told that the gold was in the police station.  It had been brought there by the maid. I fainted. When I recovered the rabbi told us what happened. The maid took this gold and she felt sorry for us and returned it to the police. She had a Polish passport and was ready to go to Poland in a few days with the stolen gold. The police promised her immunity if the gold was returned. We were exhausted. We walked  along the Champs Elysee and even dared to spend money for a coffee. We picked up our children from Ella. The Rosenbergs came to apologize.  I refused to talk to any of them. Sam being a real saint accepted their apology. Shortly after this tragic episode, we received a permit to stay in France, a permit to go to Australia and a visa to USA. Our choice was the USA. The visa was granted, because of the Bronx Lebanon Hospital sponsorship. I was accepted to work as an intern.

In order to activate the visa we needed an affidavit from an American, a statement of responsibility. I wrote to my aunt Pola and her husband asking for help.  In the letter I assured them that we will be self-supporting and we will not ask for financial help. The answer was shocking. Pola told me that all Jews should go to Israel. Pola and Zalmen wrote that they would sponsor us if and when we deposited our money with them. I will never forget this letter. I did not give in. I wrote that we could change places.  They could go to Israel to face the uncertainty and we should start the life in the country of peace and prosperity. As far as our money is concerned, it was in Australia in  silver and in Israel.

At that time we still believed that we would recover it eventually. We got the affidavit signed by Zalmen and Pola Plotkin.

The other request was a health certificate from a physician of the American Embassy .We made an appointment. The date was set. Sam, the children and I went to the American Office for a medical examination. The doctor was a young man. He was very pleasant and reassuring. The chest X-rays taken, we were told to come the following day. The next day we sent children to school and we took a long walk to the American Embassy. The same physician came out to talk to us. Sam’s chest X-ray indicated a possibility of  healed  tuberculosis. Nobody with that kind of finding was allowed an entrance visa to USA. He directed Sam for reexamination. Another anxious 24 hours of waiting.  Repeated radiological examination showed no evidence of pathology.  Sam was healthy. The visas were granted.  The paperwork completed, we were ready to go.

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