First sample of the book I am proposing to publish
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TIME LINE of the ESCAPE STORY
|If you are on a dialup connection and want to open the maps before you start reading the story (so you can disconnect while you read), click on each box below. Or, if you are on broadband, you can open them as they come in the story.|
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For the record, and because it is interesting, Fayge Bayle
Morgenstein (born 1863), had 11 children, in almost every case, at three year intervals.
This story deals with the four youngest & the second oldest.
|1. Yitzchak Velvel 1878||7. (Still born child) 1896|
|2. Esther Malka 1881||8. Nachuma (Chumtze) 1898|
|3. Chaim Bearish 1884||9. Schloimo 1903|
|4. Moishe Yosef 1887||10. Chiel 1906|
|5. Menachem Mendel 1890||11. Tzipora 1909|
|6. Nicholea 1893|
The Morgenstein family members that appear in
with their ages at the start in 1940.
Click here for a separate window of this tree
| Bubeshe 77
(Fayge Bayle Morgenstein)
m. Yakov Pesach
2. Esther Malkah 58
| 1. Chaim Leb m. Gitty
2. Yechiel Bear
| 8. Nachumah (Chumtche) 42
m. Chaskell Kaufman
| 1. (Big) Paul 16
2. Morris 13
| 9. Schloimo 37
m. Sara 32
| 1. Paul 12
2. Myriam 7
3. Henry 2 (the author)
| 10. Chiel 35
| 1. (Big) Henry 7
2. Ruth 5
| 11. Tzipora 31
m. Schmiel Monde
| 1. Helen 7
2. Esther 6
Rusjen & Elek PARNES (Sarah Morgenstein's niece
Uncle Benno (MARGULIES) -- married Fanny Segal (Sarah Morgenstein's sister)
Esther DE PARIS
SCHWERGOLD family -- (Father-Mother-Son, Sabine)
I am writing this story in order to be corrected. I remember none of this. So please, all of you who remember this story, correct me or add to this. If you know anyone involved in this story, pass on this flawed narrative so that they may correct and add.
As I write this narrative my father is no longer alive to tell his story, or comment on the story told by others. This accounts for the fact that he is not quoted, and there are no memories attributed directly to him. It is unfortunate that we did not record his story before he died more than thirty years ago.
The central question asked by all who were not there is "Why did you not run away when you heard all the rumors?" There are many answers to that question but here are a few.
The family had already run away from Poland to Belgium. Poland was the country that persecuted Jews, killed Jews for no discernible reason. All of you have heard of "Pogroms" - a periodic "wiping out" of Jews. Pogroms occurred with some frequency in Poland. The whole family desperately wanted to leave Poland and after WWI there was a gradual migration to Belgium.
Belgium, particularly Antwerp Belgium, welcomed Jews because Jews were productive members of a particularly lucrative industry, the diamond industry. Up until the 1930s Amsterdam was the diamond capital of the world, but Antwerp enacted some favourable-to-diamond-cutters tax laws and in the mid 1930s the diamond capital of the world shifted to Antwerp, Belgium. Something like 75% of the people in the diamond trade were Jews.
The migration from Poland to Belgium was slow, painstaking. For instance, once my Uncle Chiel finished his apprenticeship and was earning a meager living, he urged my father to come to Antwerp and become an apprentice - a diamond cutter. Uncle Chiel supported his brother, Schloimo my father, for as long as it took him to learn the trade. Once he learned, they became life-long business partners in the diamond trade. Another such an apprentice in the diamond trade was my mother. My father met my mother when she was learning to cut diamonds and he soon "retired" her by marrying her.
Antwerp, Belgium, had a huge, somewhat segregated, community of prospering Jews. Life was good. "Big" Henry, Uncle Chiels son, remembers that he lived in a building across the street from a lovely park. My mother recalls walks in the park with her children - and the children were always accompanied by a Nanny. Big Henry remembers his family employed a Jewish Czechoslovakian girl. Basically, we were middle class, upper middle class citizens, who were leading comfortable lives. We thought about possibly leaving Antwerp, but what country would accept Jews, especially Jews with Polish passports? It was very difficult to become a Belgian Citizen; it required an act of Congress. The world was full of countries that were hostile to Jews. Belgium welcomed Jews. That was one of the reasons we did not run away even in 1938 when the Germans attacked Poland and conquered Poland.
Another reason we did not flee is that we had this false belief that if war broke out we could flee to the coastal town of DePanne (known to my family by its French name: LaPanne). During WWI the Germans did not occupy LaPanne. We felt LaPanne was so far away from Germany that we could stay there for years before the Germans pushed through to LaPanne.
GERMAN INVASION MAPS 1 + 2
May10, 1940 to early June1940 THE FIRST ATTEMPT TO ESCAPE
ANTWERP - DE PANNE ("La Panne" in French)
FRANCE: DUNQUERKE - CALAIS - BOULOGNE - ARDRES
The Germans attacked Belgium & France on Friday May 10th, 1940. "Big" Henry (almost 7 years old) remembers waking up early in the morning (5 a.m.?) and hearing bombs being dropped on the city of Antwerp. We waited a couple of days and then on Sunday May 12 we packed up, piled into taxis and headed for the town of LaPanne, roughly 100 miles away, at the very edge of Belgium, near the coast and near France (See Map). A great many members of the family fled: my Uncle Chiel Morgenstein, his wife Charlotte & his children "big" Henry and Ruth, my father Schloime Morgenstein, my mother Sarah, my brother "little" Paul," my sister Myriam, our maid & I (Henry, 2), my aunt Tzipora Mond, her husband Schmiel and her children Helen & Esther, my aunt Chumtche Kaufmann, her husband Chaskell & their sons "big Paul," and Maurice, my aunt Malka Pressberg & family, Elek & Rosjen Parness and my paternal Grandmother Bubeshe (78 years old). We all traveled to LaPanne where we actually rented an apartment, but it soon became clear that the German Blitzkrieg (lightning fast military warfare) would conquer Belgium and France in record time. My brother Paul remembers seeing the soldiers go to the front to fight on Monday & Tuesday. On Wednesday and Thursday the flow of soldiers was in the opposite direction, fleeing from the front. On Friday we all left LaPanne.
What follows is a somewhat jumbled report because at several stages the family was split apart. Basically the route is from LaPanne, across the Belgian-French border first to Dunkirk, then to Calais (& Boulogne), then South of Calais to a farm in the farming region of Andres near the small town (population 10,000) of Ardres & finally back home to Antwerp.
The families fleeing LaPanne found no vehicles and we all began walking towards the French border, which was roughly five miles away. The scene you must imagine is the one youve seen in movies: roads clogged with thousands & thousands of refugees all fleeing from the fighting at the front. (For a vivid description of the chaos on the roads see Ian McEwan's novel, Atonement)
Friday night (May 17, 1940) most of the refugees managed to get to the border between Belgium and France and they slept outdoors in what were probably the ruins of an old castle. Uncle Chiel remembers getting to the border between Belgium & France and being refused entry into France (My brother Paul says there was chaos - no "borders" existed). At the border, Chiel says we were refused entry into France partly because we had Polish passports. Uncle Chiel said "How can you do this. I am a Polish citizen. I am going to France and I will probably be called up to the Polish Army because France & Poland are fighting the Germans and how can I be called up to the Polish Army & fight for France while my family are not there." A day later, after much talking, they were allowed through to France.
At the French border, Uncle Chiel managed to find a vehicle that was able to take his whole family (his wife Charlotte, his daughter Ruth who was sick with the measles, his son Henry & his mother, Bubeshe, who was 77 years old), but there was no room in the cab for Chiel or the Jewish-Czechoslovakian maid. Uncle Chiel paid the driver 10,000 Francs (roughly equal to $3,300 in 2002) to take them 200 miles south, to Paris, France. We had a relative (Esther De Paris) in Paris, France. Soon it became clear they were not going to be able to make it all the way to Paris, nevertheless, the driver of the vehicle, who left them in the middle of a field, refused to give back any part of the 10,000 francs.
Before the family was split apart, they made plans to meet in Dunkirk.
May 17-27 1940 TZIPORA MONDS FAMILY
DE PANNE - DUNQUERKE - CALAIS MAP 4
Tzipora, Schmiel, Helen & Esther started to walk from Depanne, but because they had two small children they were picked up by a Dutch lorry full of soldiers. They were taken to Dunkirk (15 miles from Depanne) where they stayed in a Nunnery overnight. The children were small (6 & 7) and they were given small beds to sleep in. Helen remembers that they stayed in a cellar. She said "The Nuns were praying and the bombs were dropping." Dunkirk was being heavily shelled as everything was converging on Dunkirk. They left Dunkirk the next day heading for Calais, which was more than thirty miles away (See Map). They walked and Helen remembers being machine-gunned twice by low-flying airplanes, once on the road in Ardres. One of the times they were machine gunned they were the only people on the road. Another time the planes swooped very low and everyone ran off the road and hid behind a hill. They stayed overnight in a barn in Ardres. Helen remembers that the barn had a metal roof. After staying there one night they left and went to Calais to try to get on a boat. On the road to Calais Tzipora seems to remember that they met Chiel perhaps at a bus stop. She also remembers walking part of the way with Chiel and that he couldnt walk properly: he had some pain in his shoes. Tzipora also remembers that he was without Charlotte & that Charlotte left messages everywhere.
May 17 to early June 1940 CHIEL MORGENSTEINS FAMILY & BUBESHE
DE PANNE - DUNQUERKE - BOULOGNE MAP 5
Big Henry remembers that he, his mother & his sister stopped in Dunkirk and hid, for a day or so, in the deep recesses of a church basement. Church basements, which were deep underground, acted as bomb shelters for weary refugees. From Dunkirk they made their way to Boulogne, which was roughly 50 miles away (See Map). Ruth was quite sick and they took Ruth to a hospital. She only stayed in the hospital for a day or so because Charlotte heard the hospital was going to be evacuated. Charlotte purchased a baby buggy, snuck in to the hospital, and secretly wheeled Ruth out. She had to "sneak" Ruth out because the hospital authorities felt Ruth was too sick to move out of the hospital. (Name of Hospital? -- ask Ruth)
Henry remembers that once again they hid in a church basement. This time they stayed there for two nights. He remembers being fed hot Campbells soup. When they emerged the Germans had overrun Boulogne (May 23) and the air was full of gunpowder smoke. He vaguely remembers scenes of people being marched off with hands raised in the air.
This part of the family stayed in Boulogne for a number of days. One day, while standing on a bread line, Henry remembers seeing a man riding by on a bicycle. It was Uncle Chiel, desperately searching for his family. They were reunited and Uncle Chiel then brought them back to join the rest of us who at this point were staying with a farmer named Quehanne near the town of Ardres (south of Calais).
May 17-27 1940 SCHLOIME MORGENSTEINS FAMILY
DE PANNE - CALAIS
Myriam and Paul remember that they were forced to carry gas masks around their necks. The gas masks were heavy. Myriam pleaded to be allowed to take off the gas mask. Soon they were allowed to discard the gas masks and they did so. As we were trudging along on the way to Dunkirk, a friend of my fathers came along with a car he had somehow managed to acquire and he offered my family a ride. He had never learned to drive (Myriam remembers Pa & Ma mumbling "does he know how to drive?"). He careened all over the road and we ended up in a ditch. My sister vividly remembers the car with its two right wheels in the ditch and subsequent futile efforts to pull the car (with horses?) out of the ditch . We had to abandon the car and we continued walking.
Myriam also remembers she was very hungry and asked my mother for food. My mother was a typical Jewish mother who was always forcing food on her children. Myriam says - and my mother agrees - that my mother had never ever heard her daughter ask for food. My mother was shocked & offered Myriam some dry cookies, the only food available. Myriam said no. She said she wanted meat & potatoes.
On the second day of our journey from LaPanne to Calais (a distance of 40 plus miles), a farmers cart picked up my mother my sister & I, but not my father & brother. The agreement was that we would find each other in Calais. My mother, my sister & I were thus separated from all the others who were trudging towards Calais. When my mother, my sister & I arrived in Calais we found a city under siege, under very heavy bombardment by the Germans.
By some method that we cannot recall, we and a large number of other refugees found shelter in a big room. It was night-time, and there were so many people in the room that there was not enough room for people to lie down. Myriam remembers being put on a table where she was able to sleep a little. The next morning my mother decided it was not safe to stay, and she split from the family, left Calais, took a one day journey away from the coast southwards.
At some point in this journey my sister remembers that she was very, very hungry, and my mother did not know where to go or what to do. She remembers a British soldier who gave us his ration of SPAM to eat. My mother fed it to me & my sister. It was the most delicious thing she had ever eaten. Halfway through her portion my sister stopped, offered it to my mother, which was an astonishing thing for a hungry seven year old to do. My mother refused to eat.
My mother decided that although it was safer where we were than it was in Calais which was under heavy siege, she had to get back to Calais & find my father & the rest of the family. After much pleading & arguing she persuaded a British convoy of military trucks heading north to Calais to let us go with them. As we lumbered north, the convoy was under constant & relentless attacks and strafing by German airplanes. My sister remembers one occasion where all the troops scurried off the trucks and dove into the trenches, leaving my mother, my sister and I sitting on the hard benches inside the truck.
When my mother my sister & I arrived back in Calais my mother met someone she knew who told her that he/she knew where my father was, or had recently seen him. My sister remembers the scene where they finally found each other and fell into each others arms. Calais was under siege and my father took us to the cellar where he and others (including Uncle Chiel?) had sought shelter. We stayed there until Calais fell to the Germans, May 27, 1940.
May 17-271940 ZIPORA MOND, PAUL MORGENSTEIN, CHUMTCHE, & OTHERS
CALAIS, FRANCE - SURBITON, ENGLAND MAP 6
Earlier on, when my father & brother arrived in Calais before Calais fell to the Germans, my father looked for us & could not find us. When Chiel arrived in Calais, he looked for his family and could not find them. In a cellar (or in a school), on a blackboard, or a wall, he saw what looked like Charlottes handwriting saying "Chiel, we are going to Esthers." He understood that to be a cousin in Paris called Esther-de-Paris, so he planned to go to Paris.
The next day many members of the family went to the port in Calais to try to board the boats leaving for England. Tzipora and Helen remember staying in a cellar overnight the night before they came to the port in Calais. They seem to remember that Uncle Chiel was there with them. When they got to the port Helen remembers that above them, in the air, dogfights were going on.
My aunt Tzipora remembers that first of all they (and others from Antwerp, Belgium) cued up for a big boat, but they all had to leave because the boat couldnt take any civilians; the big boat took only soldiers. There was a woman there who had been born in England and she went to the captain and said she was British, she wanted to go to England. They directed her to a little merchant navy ship, "a little one, very low" Tzipora said. "We all followed her. She was British. They had to help a British subject," Tzipora said. "We were very lucky. It didnt take very long." In two hours they arrived in Folkestone, England.
Tziporas husband was not allowed to board the boat. They told Tzipora that the men would come on the next boat, but they never came on the next boat. Many months later Schmiel, and Gity & Chaim Pressberg, tried to cross at the Swiss border. The Swiss guards caught them & would not allow them in. Gity pleaded, cried piteously, & she & Chaim were let in. They not only denied Schmiel Mond (Tzipora's husband) entrance, they handed him over to the Germans. This was not unusual behaviour for the Swiss. Tziporas husband perished in the concentration camps.
Malka Pressberg was allowed on the boat, but not her husband or her children. Her husband and one child died in the concentration camps. Two sons survived the war. Chumtze & her youngest son Morris boarded the boat but Chaskell, & her older son Paul, were not allowed to board the boat. Paul recalls that when they tried to get on the boat they were told "You are not a child & you are not a woman. Please step back."
Meanwhile my father and brother had also arrived in Calais and my father put my brother on a boat with my brothers Nanny, Clara a Czechoslovakian Jew who, once she came to England, left the family and married a Hungarian (or Czechoslovakian) and settled in England. (Tzipora seems to remember that my father & my brother were separated and that only Clara and Paul were in Calais.) Paul was placed in the care of Chumtze (my fathers sister) and Malka Pressberg. Malkas children were not allowed on the boat. Gitty could have come on the boat but she chose not to because her husband was not allowed on the boat. The boat went to Folkestone, England and eventually the family settled in Surbiton for two years. Their story will be told in more detail later. Meanwhile my father set out to look for his wife and children and Uncle Chiel also set out to look for his family.
May 17-27 CHIEL MORGENSTEIN SEARCHES FOR HIS FAMILY
Uncle Chiel went from one town to another desperately searching for his family. During this period he was in a lorry and was told that if he can find gasoline he will be able to go with the people, or he would be able to get the lorry and the people will take a car. Uncle Chiel looked hard but could not buy any gasoline.
At one point, in Calais, Uncle Chiel approached some British soldiers and asked them if he could buy some gasoline from them. He said that he had two 80 year old women in the car & he needed gasoline. The British soldier told him to come back at 1 p.m. and speak to their officer. He came back at 1 p.m., and talked to the British officer. The officer said he could not give him even one drop of gasoline because he was waiting there to receive orders about where to go to next. The British troops were being evacuated. "Even if my mother asked me for gasoline I could not give it to her," he was told.
Uncle Chiel wanted to explain more, but the officer turned around & left. As soon as Uncle Chiel was alone, he was approached by two French Secret Service men in civilian clothes. They asked Chiel for his papers and Chiel showed them his Polish passport. They were suspicious. "Where are you going? What are you doing? Aha, you are Polish, you parachuted down. You are a German spy." Uncle Chiel said "No, he is from Antwerp. He is not a spy. He is innocent." The man said, "We shot five Polish passport holders. They also said they were innocent and we shot them." Uncle Chiel said, "I dont think I will be the sixth one."
They took him to French Police headquarters where a man began interrogating him. Uncle Chiel said, "I live in Antwerp. Here is my citizens card. I just paid my electricity; I just paid my telephone bill. I am here now trying to get to Paris. I am not a spy. I am a Polish citizen who has lived in Belgium for a great many years." Uncle Chiel said he did not let the man ask many questions. He tried to convince the man that he was dealing "with a Schmoe." Finally the man said, "Filez le camp" (Get out).
Before he left, Uncle Chiel turned up his collar (though it was summer). The two French Secret Service men were waiting for him outside. Uncle Chiel said, "See, I am a free man." They said "Jaurai ta pau (We will have your skin)."
May 27-June 4, 1940 AFTER CALAIS FELL TO THE GERMANS
CALAIS (minus Charlotte & children)
During this chaotic period somehow many members of the family found each other (Chiel Morgenstein, Chaskell & Paul, Rosjen & Elek Parnes) and shortly thereafter a group of around forty Jews gathered together and hid in a basement. This was after Calais had fallen to the Germans. They were in this basement for around twenty four hours without food or water.
They knew they had to go out & get water. Chiel stuck his head out of the basement and saw German troops just outside the basement. One of them saw him and came to the basement and said to all of them "Alle Raus" (Everybody out). Uncle Chiel remembers how splendid they looked: dressed, shaved, as if they were going to a ball. They looked like the archetypal blond blue-eyed German conquering hero. All the Jews emerged from the basement & Uncle Chiel (or my father) said he forgot his hat. He asked whether he could go back to get his hat. The German said he wouldnt need his hat. The Jews were sure they were being marched off to be killed: only dead men dont need hats.
Paul Kaufmann, who was part of this group, remembered hearing that the Germans killed every tenth person, so as he marched along he was constantly counting to make sure he wasnt the tenth or twentieth in line.
When they came to a crossroads Chiel (he took Roussiene with him) approached a German soldier and asked where do they have to go. A kind German soldier, who saw that there were many women & children in our group, said "Gehen sie zum Teufel, aber gehen sie nicht nach links, dorten grosse schlechte sein. Gehen sie richte." (Go to the devil, but dont go left because there is much slaughter there. Go down the right fork of the road). Uncle Chiel ran over to the people (perhaps sixty) and said "Kinder, we are free. We can go everywhere, we can even go to the Devil."
Early June 1940 THE FAMILY RE-UNITED IN FRANCE
CALAIS - ANDRES - ARDRES MAP 7
While the massive evacuation (& slaughter) of the British Army was taking place, we were sleeping in a farmhouse (with the rats, my sister said). The farmhouse was in Andres, roughly ten miles south of Calais (See Map 7). The kind farmer would take no money. He allowed us to shelter in his barn, sleeping on straw. Paul Kaufmann remembered the name of the farmer as Quehan. (Many years later Ruth went back and found this farm). My sister remembers the milking of cows, drinking raw milk (pretty awful stuff), and playing games on the farm with Uncle Chiels two children, Henry & Ruthie, who joined us after we were on the farm a few days.
We think this is when the following incident occurred. The incident definitely occurred but when it occurred is in question. When my mother was out on a walk two German soldiers beckoned to my mother and me. My mother was petrified. She couldnt disobey but she was sure they knew we were Jews, and if I opened my mouth I would speak Yiddish, the only language I knew, and they would know for sure that we were Jews. My mother could not refuse to go over to them but she was petrified with fear. When she got to them, they said "Open zie Tasche" (Open your pocketbook). They then put in bars of chocolate & cake for cute two year old Henry who fortunately said nothing.
Uncle Chiel remembers going to a nearby town to pick up bread. He used to get a double portion. He said he lived with a family, but they kept threatening to give him only a single portion because they said he did not live with a family. The next day they did give him a double portion, but they continued to threaten him. Finally Uncle Chiel went over to the girl & said, "Stop threatening me because it makes me sick. Either give me one portion or two portions." She said "Okay. Youll get two portions." Chiel said the two portions were enough for everybody.
Soon after Chiel arrived at the farm he went to look for his family because he was told by a friend (Blut) that Blut, who had come by car from Boulogne, had seen Charlotte with a baby carriage in Boulogne. Chiel then knew that Charlotte was not in Paris but in Boulogne, which was roughly twenty miles away. Chiel was told that Boulogne was being bombarded but he had to go fetch his family - his mother, his wife & children. He & two others (Elek Parnes & Bram Laub, who was also looking for his family) borrowed bicycles. They got a lift most of the way towards Boulogne. They were dropped off outside town, but from there the road to Boulogne was downhill. Chiel met a young man he knew from Antwerp who said he had seen Charlotte at a certain street with a pram. When Chiel went to that area he went by the bread line & he remembers hearing his son Henry yell "Daddy, Daddy." At this point the Germans had already occupied Boulogne.
He stayed in Boulogne two-three days & then he rented a big station wagon (with driver because Chiel could not drive) & took his family to join all of us at the farm in Ardres.
After they had been on the farm about three weeks the Germans issued a decree (Ucass?): they told everybody to "go back home." Uncle Chiel rented a big truck that could hold thirty people, but some people were not able to return to Antwerp because they had a Yellow card which is a temporary card (three months). We had a green card which allowed us to return to Belgium. Uncle Chiel remembers sitting in the front of the truck and everybody asking them, "Where are you going? Where are you going?" "We are going home. We are going home," Chiel screamed back to them.
GERMAN OCCUPIED ANTWERP, BELGIUM
July 1940 to May 1941
We went back to Antwerp, Belgium, and led relatively normal lives. My mother remembers that when she got back she had no clothes. She had left the luggage at a railroad station that had been destroyed. She had to borrow clothes from Aunt Charlotte. When I told this story to my classroom full of students, they wondered what it was like to live in a country under German rule. I explained that it was very much like living under "American rule" in America. We dont often see the officials in charge. They leave us alone to carry on our daily tasks. When a famous novelist in the 19th century asked the people in Paris what it was like to live under "German occupation" (he was doing research for a novel he was about to write) the Parisians were puzzled: they almost could not remember the period when they lived under "German occupation," though it was only a few years earlier. Daily life is seldom affected by a change in those "officially in charge." Nevertheless Myriam remembers that we lived in fear & the fear got worse & worse.
You must remember that it is in the best interest of the conquering army to keep life going on as usual. The conquered country will then supply the conquerors (in this case the German Army which was gearing up for an invasion of England) with food, clothing, ammunition, taxes. The Germans did not round up the Jews and kill them. In a sense, they lulled the Jewish population into a false sense of security. Still, there was a sense of foreboding. There were restrictions, curfews, curbs on what Jews could do. For instance, Jews could not leave the city. But, in general, life went on as usual. We, in the diamond business, continued to deal in diamonds.
A friend of mine remembers seeing a "TV Special" that documented what eventually happened to all the Jews who did not flee German-occupied Antwerp, Belgium. They were told to pack up some belongings to take with them on what they were led to believe was a vacation. They were placed on a luxury train whose final stop was a concentration camp.
Life was not totally normal in German occupied Belgium. Big Henry remembers that the Allies bombed Antwerp. He remembers that all the street lights were "dimmed" - they were blue, barely visible. My sister remembers that the British bombed the city almost every night, sometimes several times during one night. We lived near the airport (we later moved away from this frequently bombed area) and the Allies often bombed the airport.
My sister remembers switching schools after we moved to Lange Leem Straat. She also remembers my father would gesture at the airplanes & say "Over here, bomb over here." My mother says I used to wake up and say "ssbombst."
One night Myriam remembers they got up several times, went to the bomb shelter, came back to sleep. At one point she woke up with the sound of the "all clear" and found everyone returning from the bomb shelter. She was ok but she asked why they hadnt woken her. My father & mother said she was sleeping so soundly, they didnt have the heart to wake her. She was deeply hurt. She felt they had abandoned her.
Myriam remembers a strange & scary tram (trolley) trip. It was past curfew time, early evening. My father needed to deliver a package (probably diamonds) to his brother Chiel. My father could not go out but he felt that a young girl, Myriam who was seven, would not be questioned. He said she knew how to get to Chiel by trolley. She should go & deliver the package. Myriam said she knew how to get there but she had never taken the trolley trip all by herself. My father said she would be safe, she knew how, she must deliver the package. Myriam was seven years old and very, very, scared, but she did it, she "delivered the goods."
There were other signs that life was not normal in German occupied Antwerp, Belgium. Shortly after we returned to Antwerp, the Germans told all the Jews that they must give a full account of their assets: all diamonds, all cash. The Germans made a written record and then they allowed the Jews to return the diamonds to the vault & they then handed back the keys to the vault. All Jews gave a false account: they hid some diamonds, hid some cash. Unfortunately there was a squealer among the Jews and the first people he squealed on were my uncle Chiel & my father Schloimo.
The very afternoon after they gave an account of their assets, while they were having dinner at the diamond club, a man came and said "Mr. Morgenstein you have to come tomorrow morning to the safe. You forgot to sign it (the paper detailing the assets they owned)." At night, before diamond dealers go home, they lock up their diamonds in a vault which is usually located in the cellar of the building they do business in. In the morning, before they go up to the office, they take their diamonds out of the vault.
My father & my Uncle came the next morning and signed the papers. As they were about to leave the soldier said "Oh no, Eine .Somebody told us that you have diamonds & gold that you didnt declare." Uncle Chiel said "I have declared whatever I had and it is all there where you recorded it." The soldier said "Later today we will go to your home and we will check it." That very day Uncle Chiel had borrowed $200 (roughly $2,700 in 2002) so that he would have some ready cash and he put it in a drawer in his apartment. His mother saw him putting "something" safely away.
The soldier said "You wait here until I finish with my business and then we will go to your home." The German soldier badgered them, questioned them, threatened them; "If you tell us the truth now we will not punish you. If we find out you lied we will punish you." Uncle Chiel, who is a joker, said "I am like a woman. Once I have undressed and shown you all, there is no more to show." The German answered, "Laugh, laugh. We will see how you laugh in the concentration camp." The soldier told them to stay there and that later in the day he would take them back to their apartment & search their apartment.
As they sat there and waited others came to pick up their diamonds. A friend of Uncle Chiels who had already been cleared saw them sitting there and asked: "Why are you sitting here?" Uncle Chiel said "I dont know. I havent got the slightest idea." As he turned away Uncle Chiel said to him "Go to my mother and tell her to put away the Chametz." The German soldier heard Chiel say something and came over and said "What were you talking to him. You are not allowed to talk!" Uncle Chiel said "He asked me why I am sitting here and I told him I dont know." The soldier told him not to say anything to any one for the rest of the day.
Mr. Horowitz, the man Chiel had whispered to, was very scared. After all, he was in a German occupied country. What if he went to the apartment & German soldiers were there and arrested him. But he felt an obligation to Chiel. So he went to the apartment building, walked around it a few times, saw no German soldiers. He went up to the third floor apartment, and said to Chiels mother: "Chiel ut gezookt - Er hot dorten Schvereikeiten (Chiel said --hes got problems back there) - that you should clean out the Chametz." She said, "Ooh, der chametz, Ich hob gesen, er hot gehat epes .is se gegangen ." "Oh, I saw he had something " She went and saw where he placed the money and the books from the office (records of the business)
She took the books and the cash and went to a non-Jewish friend who ran the greengrocer store around the corner. She gave him the package and asked him to please hold on to it until she asked for it back. The friend took the package, asked no questions.
At the end of the day the German Sergeant (?) and two other soldiers went first to search my fathers apartment. Myriam and my mother remember the search well, the anxiety, the fear. They came, they looked, they searched; the fear was awful. Myriam thinks it is this incident that precipitated the second departure, the second attempt to escape. From this incident on something was different, something had changed.
The Germans left and went on to search Chiels apartment. When they came in the front door my grandmother caught my uncles eye and gave an imperceptible nod so my uncle knew he was safe. The Sergeant searched & searched & found nothing. He asked "where is the third man (Uncle Chaskell)?" Uncle Chiel said Uncle Chaskell usually comes here at six oclock to visit my mother.
They sat down in the kitchen and Uncle Chiel asked them if they wanted a cup of tea. The soldier said "Nein." Since they lived near the airport Uncle Chiel asked if it was dangerous to live near the airport. The soldier said, "Gehen sie sehr oft zum Airport? (Do you go very often to the airport?)" Uncle Chiel suddenly realized he opened the wrong door. The man might think he was a spy. Uncle Chiel said "No. I am just curious if Im not in danger here." The soldier said "Its not very safe here, but if a bomb falls its no difference where it falls." The German sat & he sat & then he said "All right we wont wait any more for the third man. Tell him he should come to the Diamantschteller and he should sign the document."
We were lucky because as the informer turned in more & more of the Jews, the Germans stopped caring whether they found anything or not, they just demanded payment from every Jew they searched.
We lived in German occupied Belgium for approximately eight months. Leaving Antwerp was dangerous. All the proper papers had to be "manufactured." You had to pay for them. Some people despaired. Elek Parnes said "We lost the war." Uncle Chiel replied "War is like a poker game. As long as you have your feet under the table there are no winners. For the time being England does not make peace." That was approximately October 1940 and it was at that time that Uncle Chiel remembers Churchill delivering a speech wherein he said "We will never make peace with Germany. We will continue the war if we lose our Island we will continue the fight from our colonies."
At that point Uncle Chiel told his mother that he must leave. "I cannot visualize that Germany would allow young people to sit here and fabricate diamonds. They will send us away from Antwerp. If I would know that I remain here in Antwerp I would stay here the whole war, but I dont think we will stay here. Out of Antwerp we are lost. And therefore we have to leave Belgium."
Uncle Chiel wanted to leave but the others (my father, Chaskell ) were reluctant. They were afraid that if they were caught with false papers they would be shot. However they all accepted that plans must be made. Uncle Chiel heard from Nathan Lew that "If you have the proper papers you can leave the country." They were told that the proper papers were Visas to go to Spain. Uncle Chiel said to me: "How do you get a visa to go to Spain? Me nemt a Macher und me gibt em fifzik toysand franc und zol er [you get a fixer and you give him 50,000 francs (Equals $16,500 in 2002) and he should ]. The Macher is gefuren aher & gefuren ahin. The macher hot gurnisht gemacht (The fixer went here, went there. The fixer fixed nothing). Und est ist shoin Januar und est ist shoin February (and it's already January & it's already February) and time is running out."
Uncle Chiel said: "We didnt suffer anything. The only thing is Schmiel went on a bus and a Nazi told him to put out a cigarette. And my mother got a notice that she was going to be deported from Antwerp to Mechelin to a concentration camp so I went to the Diamantschteller and they said she is written down here but you dont have to worry."
Finally my Uncle on my mothers side (Benno Margulies) decided he must check out the rumors, and though he knew he was risking his life (Jews were not allowed to travel), he took a train from Antwerp to Paris to see what he could find out. My mother said there were Jews who were suddenly disappearing from Antwerp, but these were Jews who ran away and were never heard from again. She never expected to see Uncle Benno alive again so when he returned a couple of weeks later and walked through the door my mother said it was like seeing a ghost.
When Benno returned to Antwerp Uncle Chiel said to him "Bist Meshugga? (Are you crazy?)" Benno was once again risking his life by returning to Antwerp. Benno said he could get Spanish Visas in Paris. He wanted people to give him their passports and he would then get them Spanish Visas. Everybody was reluctant to part with their passports but they gave him money and transcriptions of the passports and asked him to try to acquire Transit Visas to go to Spain. At this point - 1941 - Jews were still being allowed to leave German occupied territory if they had the proper papers: exit Visas from the Nazis and proper visas from their destination country.
(One story I heard - and at this point I cannot remember who told it to me or how I can verify it - is that the only country still officially accepting Jewish immigrants was Albania. When I told this "Escape Story" to my classes in Traverse City Michigan I always stressed the fact that many other nations in the world -- America among them -- were in part responsible for Hitler's "Final Solution," the decision to kill all Jews. At first Hitler simply told Jews to leave, leave without their belonginmgs, without their assets, but just leave. Jews were allowed to leave Germany & German occupied territory. But the rest of the world had "quotas" for Jews and their immigration quotas were filled. So Hitler came up with "The Final solution."
When my Uncle Benno Margulies was in Paris he went to the Albanian Ambassador, to try to gain entrance to the only country that still accepted Jews, but the Ambassador told him he had just received word from the Germans that he should not accept any more Jewish immigrants. The Germans had come up with "The Final Solution." Of course Uncle Benno did not know about "The Final Solution." Historically this is correct because the Germans came up with "The Final Solution" in 1941, which is when Uncle Benno was in Paris.
Uncle Benno dropped to his knees, pleaded with the Ambassador to tell him where he could obtain passport papers. He said to the Ambassador that Jews were in grave danger and the Ambassador must tell him where he can acquire the proper papers. After much pleading the Ambassador relented and told him.)
In April Uncle Chiel (and the others) received a postcard from Paris, from the Spanish Consulate, saying that there is a Visa waiting and they should come to Paris to pick it up. Uncle Chiel decided "Ich fur (Im going)," but others (among them my father) were very reluctant and Chiel said, "Eer kent teen vus er wilt. Ich feel as der eart brent inter mir (You can do what you want. I feel the earth is burning under me)." My grandmother (& others) helped my father pack and made sure he would leave. Chiel & Chaskell & Schloimo made plans to leave separately because it would be too suspicious if they all left together. Chiel & Chaskell were to leave on Saturday and we were to leave shortly thereafter but my mother delayed our departure.
My mother had wet laundry on the line & she wanted to wait for the laundry to dry before she left. I tell you this because my mother laughed, self-consciously, when I mentioned this detail when I was telling this story to a class of students and she was sitting in, listening. She said she did not think the situation was that desperate. You need to understand that in 1941 people were not fully aware of the danger. Myriam remembers the day we found out - in Cuba - that the Germans were systematically exterminating Jews. We were devastated!
Big Henry remembers the tearful farewell between Uncle Chiel & Bubeshe. Bubeshe was too old to try to escape. ( "De Mama hot gezugt. Vus ken geschen a Frau fun nine un ziebezig? Mir darfen efsher loifen. Vi ken ich Loifen? (She said: What can happen to a woman of seventy nine? We might have to run. How can I run? Its better if I stay with Fishler)." They knew they would probably never see each other again. In a Videocassette recording made for the Holocaust Memorial, recalling this tearful farewell brought tears to Henrys eyes. We found out later that Bubeshe was killed in a concentration camp. Many years later, in the Yad Vashem, Holocaust Museum in Israel, Myriams daughter Karen saw Fayge Bayles (my grandmothers) name on a list of those deported to one of the concentration camps. The Germans were meticulous record keepers.
My other grandmother (my mothers mother) stayed in Belgium the entire war. Early on her husband, Bonpapa, died in hospital. He probably had prostrate cancer. Soon thereafter the son who remained with her, Joseph who was in a wheelchair, died when he fell out of the wheelchair. Bomama, my mother's mother was bereft, devastated, rudderless. She was standing at a tram stop, clearly very distressed. A woman (who turned out to be a prostitute) approached her, asked her if she could be of any help. This woman, and her cohorts, hid her in their house of prostitution. They brought her food daily. These prostitutes risked their lives to hide an old lady on the top floor of their house of prostitution. After the war my grandmother came to live with us in New York City. She frequently sent packages back to Antwerp, Belgium - a small thank you to the ladies of "ill repute" who risked their lives to save an old lady.
May - June 1941 THE SECOND ATTEMPT TO ESCAPE
BELGIUM: ANTWERP - BRUXELLES
FRANCE: PARIS - ST. JEAN DE LUZ - HENDAYE
SPAIN: BILBAO - MADRID - BILBAO - VIGO
Uncle Chiel explained that they left "De officiele Varre, fuftzen Toisend Dollar. Dus is geven asach gelt (the official stock of diamonds, 15,000 dollars, that was a lot of money back then -- roughly $200,000 in 2002)" because they (especially Chaskell) were afraid to be caught with the diamonds they had officially declared to the Germans. They also felt this was something that Bubeshe and others could use if they needed to escape.
Uncle Chiels family (Charlotte, Henry, Ruth) & Chaskell & Paul went to Bruxelles (30 miles away) and took a train from there to Paris (200 miles away -- See Map). The train was packed with soldiers. Two Nazi soldiers got up and gave their seats to Henry (7) & Ruth (5). Henry remembers his father told them to speak only French or Flemish to each other - not English. Because Charlotte, their mother, had been raised in England, their at-home-language was English. When Henry went to the bathroom Ruth accompanied him & when they returned the Nazi soldiers gave them back their seats. Chiel said "Yedes mull as der zug hot sich geshtelt hob ich gemeint, ot ot ot zei kimmen intz arunternemen (Every time the train stopped I thought, now, now, now they are coming to take us off). They did take someone off and he yelled Ca cest notre Calvert (This is our Calvary).
Uncle Chiel & Aunt Charlotte stood the whole time. At one point the train was at a standstill for a half hour. Uncle Chiel was sure they would be taken off the train But they got through and came to Paris. They stayed at Esther de Paris, but she was not there.
Chiel said, "We arrived Sunday. Monday I went to the Spanish Consulate and got our Visa. But Schloimo wasnt able to leave Paris." They were all staying at Esther-de-Paris house, though she was not there. She was at her summer home in Grasse.
One piece of my familys luggage was delayed in transit & it was the piece of that luggage contained the diamonds we were smuggling. We had to wait for our luggage. My mother kept going to the railroad station to check on the luggage (my father feared he would be suspected, perhaps searched, so he sent my mother, an innocent looking woman). Finally she retrieved the luggage & fortunately, nothing was missing. The diamonds were hidden in the handles of the knives in the family cutlery. European knives have heavy, lead-filled handles. We extracted some of the lead and filled the handles with diamonds. At this point we sent the luggage (without the knives) to Grasse, to the summer home of Esther de Paris.
Chiel could not wait. As he said, the earth was burning under his feet and he could not wait any longer. On Thursday Chiel, Charlotte, Henry & Ruth & my Uncle Haskell & his son Paul Kaufmann went ahead. For a Jewish family on the run any delay was dangerous. They traveled on the train overnight and arrived at the border town of Hendaye, 500 miles away, on Friday. Right before Hendaye is the town of St. Jean-de-Luz. Big Henry remembers the shocking sight of street lights at night: they were so bright! Uncle Chiel had the address of a German whose "palm had been greased" (geshmeared), 5,000 francs per person (roughly $1,650 in 2002). A woman took the tens of thousands francs in payment (Chiel said that many years later he met this woman in New York City. She was a diamond cutter and her boyfriend, the German, was a refugee).
Chiel met them on Friday but the German said they could not cross on Friday because something had happened at the border crossing to Spain. The next day the German came and said they could cross that day. So they ate lunch and boarded the train. They seemed to be the only ones on the train going into Spain. Chiel saw a German soldier and once again he thought "ot, ot, ot me geit intz tzerignemen (they are going to take us back)." At the border at Hendaye there were both French and German border guards and Chiels son Henry had a "puzzle-map" of Europe. The French border guards were very suspicious and they questioned Chiel about the map. Chiel turned quite red and Henry remembers asking why his father was so red faced. Paul Kaufman stamped Henrys foot to keep him quiet. Everybody was quite nervous because the "Laissez Passer" papers were false and because, as Henry learned much later, diamonds were hidden in the hollow heels of his shoes. Eventually the German border guards allowed them to proceed.
They went to Bilbao, Spain (a further 100 miles) and tried to find passage on a ship but the ship leaving in a couple of weeks was fully booked up. Uncle Chiel then traveled to Madrid (200 miles away), hoping he could find something there. He ran across a man there, with a crippled son, who said he knew a "macher" (a fixer). Uncle Chiel went to this fixer who said "Yes, he could fix something for him. He could get him on a boat heading for Cuba." The man wanted money. Uncle Chiel said "If you take me to the Transatlantica (the boat company) and they say they have tickets for me, Ill pay you. But just like this? Anybody can say they have tickets for me." The man said "You are too difficult." Uncle Chiel said "I am not too difficult. I want to see something written down on paper."
After the war Uncle Chiel found out this "macher" was a German spy. He found this out from the "crippled" son who later became one of the Presidents of the diamond dealers club.
Earlier Uncle Chiel had gone to a bank to see if his letter of credit was good. The letter of credit was for $3,500 (roughly $46,000 in 2002). The bank said "Yes," the letter of credit was good. The man asked him "Where did you come from?" Chiel said "From Belgium." He said, "From Belgium? From occupied territory? How is life there?" Chiel said "Life is difficult, but if you have money you can buy everything." "How did you get out?" "If you have money, you can buy yourself out."
Uncle Chiel went back to Bilbao and went to the Transatlantica office. He found out the ship was sailing the next day and he went to the office to beg for passage on the ship. A man standing next to Chiel said "The director of the Transatlantica only understands Spanish. You talk to him in French or in Yiddish, he doesnt understand. Do you mind if I am your translator?" Chiel said "I would appreciate it." So Chiel talked & the man translated. The Director said, "What can I do? I dont have anything. Maybe tomorrow, when the boat goes away, there might be something."
When Uncle Chiel emerged from the office a man was standing there who was an official in the "refugee" program. He said to Chiel, "Do you know who your translator was?" Chiel said "No." The man said "He is the head of the Falanga (The Nazi - or Fascist - Party) in Spain." This Refugee program official said "the fact that you were asked to return tomorrow is a good sign, but if not, phone me tomorrow."
Uncle Chiel returned the next day and there was nothing. Uncle Chiel phoned the man who said "I cannot help you today because my little daughter has cumpleanos (birthday). But the boat comes here today at noon and then goes to Vigo. Make an Acte de pitiť." Chiel stopped him. "What is an Acte de pitiť?" "Take your wife & your two children and start crying. Ask him to write you a letter of recommendation to Vigo. Then take the overnight train to Vigo (roughly 500 miles away), and maybe there you will find a last berth on the boat."
Uncle Chiel went in and he did manage to get the man to write him a letter of recommendation. The man called in his secretary & dictated the letter. When he stepped out of the office the official from the refugee program who was outside the office the day before was once again outside the office. He asked Chiel what just happened & Chiel told him he just got a letter of recommendation. The man said "In Spanish?" Chiel said yes and that he couldnt understand a word of it. The man read it & said "You couldnt get a much better letter of recommendation. He writes Dear Captain Fano, the carrier of this letter is my personal friend and I will be indebted to you all my life if you will help my friend get tickets on the boat."
When Uncle Chiel emerged he found out that the train to Vigo just left. He went to a taxi stand and paid a man 1200 pesos (roughly $1,700 in 2002). The man came back with a small, broken down car which they loaded with the luggage. Their trip was over the Pyrenees. At some point in the trip the man said "Im afraid I wont make it." Uncle Chiel said "If you wont make it, I wont pay you." He said, "I will try." They got to the train station ten minutes before the train which took them, overnight, to Vigo.
They get to Vigo and Uncle Chiel wanted to get a hotel room and wash up. Charlotte says "No, we must go directly to the Transatlantica." They get there and the man asks "what do you need?" Uncle Chiel shows him the letter of recommendation. The man went in and gave the letter to the Captain who came out of the office and said "The friend of my friend is my friend. What can I do for you?" Chiel said "I need tickets." The captain said "If you came a half hour later I wouldnt have any. I have two tickets. One a First class ticket, a cabin, for you, and one a third class ticket for your wife & two children. How will you pay?" Chiel said, "I have a letter of Credit."
Uncle Chiel went to the bank and got the money and came back to pay. Chiel knew that the man would accept money for his favour, but how do you give him the money. Chiel said, "Im sure Captain that you have some favourite charity. If you will allow me I would like to contribute some money to your favourite charity." The man said "Thats very nice of you" and took Chiel into his office & gave him a receipt.
While Chiel was waiting for the boat (The Marquez de Comillas) he met the man with the crippled son who had recommended him to a "macher." The man said he smuggled himself out of Madrid because he found out the "macher" was a swindler but he had given the "macher" his passport and he didnt know what he would do now. Fortunately some fellow Jews managed to smuggle this man & his son unto a later boat. (Chiel said that a Priest was blackmailed into helping these two stowaways onto the boat. Someone took a picture of this Priest when his "skirt" blew up, and the Priest was bareassed. He was promised the negative of the picture if he helped smuggle these two onboard.)
The Laissez Passer papers they had were for Santo Domingo, but to get to Santo Domingo one had to pass through Cuba. They arrived in Cuba in June of 1941 and were in an "Ellis Island" kind of holding tank (Tiscornia) for a few days. They were only supposed to stay in Cuba for sixty days, but they bribed the authorities ($150 per person -- roughly $2,000 in 2002) and stayed in Havana, Cuba until after the war -1947.
May to August 1941
FRANCE: PARIS - HENDAYE - MERIGNAC - LA-LANDE-DES-MONTS MAP 9 & MAP 10
At this point I will pick up the story of my family (Schloime, Sarah, Myriam & Henry). We left Paris and headed for the border between German occupied France & Spain. This was Hendaye, 500 miles away, where Uncle Chiels family crossed into Spain. But the delay that occurred because of the lost luggage was an unbelievably costly delay. The day after Uncle Chiels family passed through, the Germans found out that our "Laissez Passer" papers were the wrong colour.
The story is somewhat complicated. A huge number of "Laissez Passer" papers were purchased in Antwerp, Belgium from the Consul to Santo Domingo. At first the Consul did not want to do it. He was afraid. They convinced him that probably the worst thing that would happen to him is that he would lose his job, and we were prepared to pay him enough money so that he could retire for life. What he did not tell the Jewish community is that he had sold them Laissez Passer cards that were about to be phased out. He sold us "pink coloured" papers and the new ones about to be issued were red in colour.
Uncle Chiel, and a great many other Jews, passed through with pink coloured papers. However, earlier one Jew tried to get through with the red "Laissez Passer" papers. He was arrested because his papers were the wrong colour. He knew his was the right colour, but if he said anything all the Jews with the "wrong" papers would be arrested. He kept quiet (all this information comes from Paul Kaufman who met this man later in Cuba). Meanwhile the Germans checked and found out his papers were valid and they let him go.
The Jews with pink papers soon learned they had the wrong papers and they destroyed their Laissez Passer papers. My father was told to shred his and flush it down the toilet. If he was caught with the pink papers (and some Jews were), he would be jailed immediately. This meant that instead of simply presenting papers and being allowed out, we had to try to smuggle across the border (near Hendaye) between occupied France and Spain.
It is perhaps in Hendaye that my mother remembers that there were other Jews waiting to be smuggled out, in particular another family my mother knew from Antwerp, Belgium, and this family felt they were privileged, they had more rights than we did. They had been born in Belgium and they demanded to be smuggled out first. They were smuggled out first, and they were caught by the Germans. My mother remembers that my father was on a hill watching, and that he saw them being taken off the train. He knew we were in deep trouble. He knew he had to somehow make alternate plans to get us out. It is perhaps at this point that my mother remembers the Jewish men getting together, meeting, making plans to get out.
It is also perhaps when we were in Hendaye, waiting for the right time to try to smuggle our way across the border, that the following incident occurred. It could also be that it occurred when we were in Nice. No one is sure exactly when it occurred. One day my mother decided to use the cold cream jar and dropped it and shattered it. Unfortunately diamonds were hidden in the cold cream jar. My father was furious. Why did she have to choose this particular moment to use cold cream. My father had to go out and buy another cold cream jar.
When we, and the family Schwergold, finally attempted to cross the border into Spain, we were caught. My sister remembers the gendarme on a motorcycle who caught us. The group we were in happened to contain two British airplane pilots who had been strafing enemy territory in occupied France. Their plane had been shot down and they parachuted into enemy territory. Because we were caught with them, we were thrown into a "Prisoner of War" camp. The camp was called Merignac, in a town very near Bordeaux, which was roughly 150 miles from where we were caught.
We, and the Schwergolds, were the only Women & Children in the Merignac camp. All the others were soldiers or political prisoners, many of them North Africans. That is most likely where my sister contracted trachoma, an eye disease that in those times almost always led to blindness. (This was subsequently discovered on our arrival in Cuba and successfully treated). The camp in Merignac was pretty miserable and hygienic conditions were awful. The camp was surrounded by barbed wire and escape was impossible.
Many years later my sister returned to France to retrace part of the escape route, and to locate the two camps she had been in, one at Merignac and the other at Camp La-Lande-Des-Monts near Tours (See Map 10 of Internment Camps in France). She had trouble obtaining information about the camp at Merignac ("What camp at Merignac? Really, was there a camp in Merignac?") Few people knew anything about it. She went to a museum in Bordeaux devoted to the history of French partisans during the war, where she was informed that, yes, there was a camp at Merignac, but that our families could not have been there because it was strictly a camp for political prisoners. She insisted that her family WAS in that camp. She met with ignorance and thinly veiled hostility. The museum suggested she attempt a search of the archives of the city of Bordeaux (Merignac is now the Bordeaux airport).
The system at the Bordeaux archives is that you submitt your request for information to attendants dressed in white who do the archival search for you. As she watched others, she noted that the turn-around time was typically 5 minutes. When her turn came, she submitted her request for information about an interment camp at Merignac during World War II. She waited, and waited, and waited. She was about to leave, when the attendant finally returned empty-handed and very distressed. He was infinitely sorry; he had searched under every topic he could think of: Merignac, camp, interment, etc etc etc, and he found not a trace. He was deeply apologetic, but "je ne trouve rien - I find nothing!"
We pleaded with the authorities to move us elsewhere to a place that was more appropriate for a family, but they claimed that since we were caught with prisoners of war, we were prisoners of war. A Rabbi in the nearby city of Bordeaux interceded on our behalf and the Germans then transferred us to La-Lande-Des-Monts a "Forced Residence Camp" roughly 300 miles north and 14 kilometres east of Tours (See Map of Internment Camps in France). Myriam has a dim memory of the long train ride north.
In La-Lande-Des-Monts we were split up. All the men were in one section of the camp. They went to work every day but Sunday. The work was backbreaking work and my father was not a strong man and not accustomed to heavy labor. One of the men he knew from Belgium, Max Leiser, an "ox of a man," helped my father out, did the work for him. All but the youngest children were in bungalows in a different section of the camp. They were supervised by volunteer camp inmates and spent time doing things and singing songs. My sister particularly recalls one young woman, and one particular French song they sang (La Vie est Belle) about how beautiful life is despite the problems that enchain us. "Mes Amis La vie est belle malgre les paines qui nous enchaines (My friends Life is beautiful Despite the miseries which enchain us)." This was sung by a group of children many of whom were destined to die in the next few months.
My sister also remembers seeing cows in a nearby field through the window of the dinning hall where the children ate together. All the women and very young children (including me) were in other bungalows. During the day the women worked in the kitchen. My mother remembers hearing the children sing "La Vie est Belle." The little children were supervised.
The camp was not guarded, not fenced, and people had a right to move up to one mile out of the camp. The men were carefully guarded, watched & generally followed outside the camp. My father & Schwergold soon made plans to escape. Avrum Leiser, who did not have his family with him, had already escaped. He was a real operator, was still in the vicinity of the camp, and was in contact with us and helped us plan our escape. Every Sunday, the "free" day, my father and Schwergold went for a walk out of the camp to a nearby village. For five consecutive Sundays a French camp-guard followed them on a motorcycle to make sure they were not escaping. The guard became less & less conscientious about his surveillance. By the sixth Sunday the guard had stopped following them. It just so happened that the following Sunday, August 8, 1941, was my sisters eighth birthday. My father said to her that he did not have a present to give to her for her birthday, but that he was giving her a special gift that she would always remember.
August - November 1941 THE THIRD ATTEMPT TO ESCAPE
FRANCE: LA-LANDE-DES-MONTS - TOURS - NICE
SPAIN: MADRID - BILBAO MAP 13
[A side note. It was almost impossible to find a detailed map of Vichy France. We began with the internet, and after many hours of research, all I could find was a "colored block outline" (see Map 11) of the territory: almost no cities are detailed on the map. We went to the Southampton University Library and despite the fact that there were dozens of books about Vichy France, and dozens of books about Jews escaping from Belgium & France, not one book (not a single one!) contained a map of Vichy France that showed which cities were in the "occupied" zone, which cities were in the "unoccupied" zone. We did finally find a map that showed "The camps of Vichy France" in a book by Julian Jackson (See Map 10).
It almost seemed like a conspiracy to keep the exact outline vague, unspecified. Librarians seemed embarassed at their inability to help us. They contacted other librarians & professors in the history department and no one could help us locate anything but maps that gave "colored block outlines" of the area in question. Finally, with the help of our lodger in England, (Martin Leung, who took an interest in our search, who spent days looking at German & French sites on the the internet), my wife Jacqui was able to create a map by superimposing the colored blocks onto a real map. Maps 9 & 12 might be among the few maps in the world that gives a city by city, outline of Vichy France, 1940-1942.]
On the Sunday of Myriams eighth birthday, our family and the Schwergold family had ostensibly planned a birthday party for her. Instead a plan had been hatched for our escape. Sabine Schwergold (almost seven years old) and my sister were instructed to walk down the road to a meeting place. My sister recalls how distressed she was about having to do this without any adults who might protect her if anything went wrong. She asked what she should do if they were caught, and she was told not to worry because they dont pay much attention to children. My mother & Mrs Schwergold were to go for a walk in a different direction with me & the young Schwergold boy, and my father & Mr. Schwergold were to take their usual Sunday stroll. My mother recalls that we all met at a nearby bus stop, and we must then have taken a bus to Tours, which is roughly 50 miles away.
When we arrived in Tours, my mother said we arranged to stay with a Jewish family who lived in the city. My sister recalls that we were all very, very hungry, and that my father & Schwergold left to go to a cafe to get some milk & food. They returned white as ash -- sitting at a table in the cafe they had gone to was the head of the camp. He looked straight at them and recognized them. One version has it that Schwergold decided to bluff it out; he walked up to the head of the camp and wished him a lovely evening, pretending that there was nothing amiss. In any event, my father & Schwergold turned tail & ran.
Over & over & over I have heard my mother & others say they are puzzled that the head of the camp they escaped from did not turn them in. They are puzzled by this seeming act of kindness on the part of a man whose job it was to imprison Jews. We probably owe our lives to this man.
From that point on it was sheer panic. The family we had arranged to stay with told us we had to leave the next morning because it was too dangerous for them to harbor us. My mother recalls that we had train tickets to Paris that we tore up because we did not dare to use them. My sister clearly remembers being with my father & Schwergold in the train station in Tours (the others were elsewhere at the time) and the frantic debate between them as to what to do. Should they take a train to Paris? They decided not to because all trains would be checked for escapees. Should they buy train tickets for another destination? In the end, we did not take a train at all. The border between occupied France and unoccupied "Vichy" France (the "ligne de demarcacion") was very near Tours (roughly 20 kilometers to the SouthEast), and this would be our only chance to escape.
My sister feels "there is a big piece missing at this point." She recalls there had been an arrangement made with a Jewish driver to drive us from Tours to near the border between occupied France and Vichy France (see map of occupied-unoccupied France). She believes that this was arranged with the help of Avrum Leiser. We were "hot," however, and the man who was to drive us wanted to back out of the deal. She is not sure how it was arranged - maybe they offered him a great deal of money - but somebody did drive us to a farm near the "demarcation line" that evening. She remembers arriving very late -- near midnight. The farmer was such a kindly man! We all sat at a long, rustic, wooden table, drank his milk, and looked at the unfamiliar food which did not seem edible to us. The farmer urged us to eat; we were so hungry. She thought we were going to stay with this really marvelous man. My sister speculates that the farmer may well have been a member of the French Resistance. What he was doing for us was not at all safe.
We were exhausted. We went to sleep, and my sister thought we were going to be allowed to sleep all night. Not so. We were all woken before 3 a.m. (my sister says she was so tired! She did not want to move!), told to dress quickly, and we walked, and walked, and walked. We were going to try to smuggle across the border. My mother recalls there was an Allied soldier in our group who had no money to pay for himself, so my father was asked to pay for him. We came to a road: German soldiers were marching back & forth, back & forth, patrolling the border. When they had all gone all the way to the right and disappeared from sight, we made our move. My sister wonders whether the German soldiers had been bribed to be less than 100% effective. We clambered down a moat, across a road, across another moat, up a steep embankment, and then ran/ran/ran across an open field as fast as we could. She thinks there were "two smugglers" who led the escape. One of them carried me on his shoulders, and the other carried the little Schwergold boy. My sister also remembers telling my mother she needed to go to the bathroom. She was told to keep running and to just make in her pants. She remembers thinking "this must be serious if my mother is willing to let me make in my pants."
My mother remembers that I was a good, quiet, child, but the Schwergold child was a difficult child: he was always crying and making a lot of noise. She remembers walking next to the man carrying the Schwegold boy holding a bag of candy that night and, every time the Shwergold child opened his mouth, in went a piece of candy. He was a silent child that night. We succeeded in slipping across the "Ligne de Demarcacion" that night in darkness not long before the sun came up. My mother recalls sleeping in a barn shortly after that, and sleeping more soundly than she had in a very, very long time.
Many years later my sister went back to this area in France to look for the camp. The train station in Tours she recalled so well had just been rebuilt a very few years earlier. After a series of inquiries, she acquired a small book written about this "Forced Residence" camp in France. She found out that many escape attempts, some successful, had been made, but always by single people and younger couple without children. The Schwergold/Morgenstein escape was the first instance of a whole family escaping with children. (Was it perhaps the presence of children that caused the camp commander to not turn us in when he saw us illegally outside the camp?)
In August of 1941, perhaps two weeks after the Schwergold family & the Morgenstein family escaped, a triple barbed wire fence was erected around the perimeter of the entire camp. At that point the camp housed 515 people. Two months later, October of 1941, the men were rounded up & shipped to Drancy, the infamous camp from which people were later shipped east and exterminated. Almost immediately thereafter the women & children were also shipped to Drancy. The camp was closed in November of 1941 but soon thereafter it was reopened to inter Jews & Gypsies who were rounded up in France.
For refugees imprisoned in French internment camps, it was nearly impossible to navigate the visa application process, especially within the required time span. Many sought means of illegal emigration rather than approach the authorities in hope of receiving visa approval. By the end of 1941, most legal avenues of escape were closed, and by the summer of 1942, the Nazis began large-scale deportations of Jews from France to killing centers in occupied-Poland, primarily to Auschwitz.
Throughout the summer and fall of 1942, French police rounded up Jews, mainly those without French citizenship, in both the German-occupied and Vichy-governed zones. Throughout France, Jews were assembled in camps and then loaded onto cattle cars. They were deported first to the Drancy transit camp (northeast of Paris), which became the main center for deportations from France. During that year over 60 transports (carrying more than 40,000 Jews) left Drancy, mainly for the Auschwitz-Birkenau killing center.
We made it into Vichy France but we were still in danger because Vichy France co-operated with the Germans, and we were far away from the border with Spain, our eventual destination. We stayed at a hotel in the resort town of Nice for several weeks while we waited for my father to arrange papers that would allow us to get out of Vichy France. My mother recalls that though the hotel owners were sympathetic to the Nazis ( they were anti-Semites), they really liked Myriam and me, they were very nice to us. My mother remembers they even babysat us. My mother also remembers that early on while my father searched for papers, he fainted in the street. He was very weak. He had not eaten much in the Forced Residence camp and even after we got to Nice he shared his food with his children
After a few weeks (three?) in Nice, my father finally acquired the correct papers and at that point my mother took a train back to Grasse (only 30 miles away), to Esther de Paris ( a part of our family that was masquerading as non-Jews), to pick up our luggage. She was very scared. On one of the train trips, perhaps this one, my mother remembers being thoroughly searched: her hair was combed through, searched. From there we took a train that took us across the Pyrennes, out of France and into Spain. Myriam recalls uniformed men getting on the train and checking everyone's papers (and she remembers Pa's enormous sigh of relief when we passed muster). My mother remembers that the food on the train was wonderful but that she was so nervous that she could barely eat anything. We never got off the train until we arrived in Madrid. We stayed in Madrid only very briefly, and then traveled north to Bilbao.
Myriam remembers that when we got to Bilbao we stayed in a mouse ridden hotel, that we were very hungry, and that there was no bread. Every night we ate a "tart." Once in Bilbao we still needed to find a ship to take us out of Europe. Very few ships were sailing from Spain. My mother thinks she remembers that my father traveled to Madrid (200 miles away) to try to acquire passage on a boat to Cuba. In any case, after a few weeks of hunting he finally acquired the necessary tickets on the Magallanes that was sailing to Cuba. This was a Spanish ship that ostensibly was safe from German torpedoes. We embarked in Bilbao, the boat went to Vigo, and then westward to the New World. The trip across the ocean took three weeks. My father traveled in steerage. We traveled 2nd class. My sister remembers eating little white rolls, delicious little white rolls.
June - December 1942 - April 1947
When we got to Cuba we were put in their "Ellis Island" (Tiscornia). Uncle Chiel met us there, paid the authorities ($150 per person, roughly $2,000 in 2002) and we went to Havana, Cuba where we lived until 1947 when we emigrated to the States. When we first arrived in Cuba we had all the classic signs of vitamin deficiency: cracks at the corners of our moots, etc. In Havana the two families lived in the same apartment (for a little over a year?) until my brother arrived from England. At that point we moved out into a separate apartment.
Soon after we arrived in Havana my father sought "official" papers to function as a diamond dealer in Cuba. The Cuban officials came "for tea" & a discussion to my father & they made it clear that they expected a bribe. My father, a scrupulously honest man, refused to bribe them. He was not given the papers he needed and during the whole of his time in Havana, Cuba, he had to work for Chiel, who had bribed the proper authorities.
During WWII Havana, Cuba, had a flourishing Jewish community. (Isn't it astonishing that during WWII three Dictators -- Batista, Trujillo & Franco -- were the ones who granted asylum to Jews.) Before the war there were Jewish families in Havana, but during the war the community increased in size & there were probably over three hundred families in Havana. We lived well, flourished in the diamond business. We had maids, went on vacations in fashionable resorts. The children attended prestigious private schools. I remember going to Synagogue & I especially remember making a great "racket" (lots of noise) during Purim when Haman's name was read out.
The Children went to prestigious schools (Ruston Academy) where we learned English as well as Spanish because we planned to emigrate to the States as soon as we were allowed to. My mother told me that when my schoolmates at the "English School" came to my birthday party, many arrived in chauffered limousines because they were the sons & daughters of diplomats. I also vividly remember school picnics, and baseball games.
One day Uncle Chiel went to a bank in Cuba to get change for an American thousand dollar bill (roughly $13,000 in 2002), a bill he bought from an Orthodox Jew in Belgium and managed to smuggle through to Cuba. Uncle Chiel was arrested. It was a counterfeit bill. It turns out this Orthodox Jew sold a great many of these counterfeit thousand dollar bills and even boasted about it back in Belgium. He was eventually caught & killed by the Germans.
Uncle Chiel was in big trouble but he managed to convince the authorities that if he were a counterfeiter, he would be a fool to go to a bank to ask for change for the counterfeit bill. Uncle Chiel was released. The story appeared in a Cuban newspaper and Uncle Chiel was misquoted, misrepresented, and the Jewish community in Cuba was very angry at Chiel. Around forty or fifty years later Jake Kaufmanns son Morris met a Jew in Tucson, Arizona, who remembered this story in the Cuban newspaper.
For a number of reasons, as long as the war was on, nobody was allowed to come to the U.S. U.S. immigration policy was strict: many people were turned away. We spent the war, and two more years after that, in Havana, Cuba. After WWII almost all the Jews left and Havana, once again, had a relatively small Jewish community.
(We never thought it was because we were "Jews" that we were not allowed to enter the U.S., but just today (March 5, 2004) I am reading an article, in the New Yorker ("The Measure of America" by Claudia Roth Pierpoint, March 8, 2004), that makes it very clear that since 1921 immigration laws were stacked against Jews -- and Asians, and others "A law passed only three years earlier  reduced admission to three percent of every 'nation' in the U.S. population, based on the census of 1910. The new bill  reduced that figure to two per cent, and even this small number was limited to nations already present in 1890, a date chosen to keep the most despised immigrants out....As a result, all immigration from Japan was ended. (Chinese had been excluded since 1882). Immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe was reduced to a fraction of its former level; Jewish immigration was cut to nearly zero, with no allowance made for political refugees."
The man about whom this article is being written, the Jewish-German anthropologist Franz Boas, managed to get his sister out of Germany and into the U.S. before the outbreak of WWII, but "when his old teacher from the Jewish school in Minden asked for help there was nothing he could do; the quota was filled, he was told, for a long time to come." Ms Pierpoint wrote that in the early 1940's "New York was seeing fewer immigrants arrive than in any period since the eighteen thirties. The only expandable if unofficial quota was for those exceptionally accomplished individuals who were able to inspire heroic efforts of patronage, paperwork and endurance." [think Einstein, etc])
May 17, 1940 to March 1942
ENGLAND: SURBITON - N.LONDON - LIVERPOOL
WALES: CARMATHEN MAP 15
Earlier I told you about a group of people - my brother Paul Morgenstein & Clara (the Nanny) & Morris & Chumtze Kaufmann, Malka, and Tante Tzipora and Helen & Esther - who were evacuated from Dunkirk and taken to England in May of 1940.
When they arrived in Folkestone, England they were immediately loaded onto buses (30-40 buses) and taken on a two hour ride to a large hall full of food tables and told to eat as much as they wanted. Tzipora spoke of it as "a big party," and she seems to remember that it was in Wimbledon. Paul was very tired but he said the scene was surreal. After the chaos of a war-torn country he was in the presence of cool, calm, unruffled British organization and order. A minister gave them a welcome speech in which he made clear that they need not worry about food, money or lodging. They would all be given a place to live, enough food to eat and some spending money. They were given blankets and they slept there overnight. The next day they were taken to Surbiton, a suburb slightly south of London.
Paul, Morris, Chumtze, Tzipora, Esther, Helen & Malcha lived in what Helen & Tzipora remember as a beautiful small terraced house in Surbiton for two years. There was an infant school nearby and other children had to wait four weeks to get into the school but someone interceded for this refugee family and they were immediately allowed into the school. Tzipora remembers they had a cupboard full of crockery that had been donated to them. Everyday the children took a cup to school (a lovely china cup that now would cost 20 pounds, Tzipora said) and they never brought the cups back. Helen remembers that Paul built a "Morrison Shelter" -- a steel table which you kept in the house. You were supposed to duck under this "bomb shelter" to protect you. It doubled as a dinning room table.
Tzipora also remembers that her children were given beautiful clothes, and beautiful books (which they read in two weeks, Tzipora said) by local ladies doing charity works. Paul, on the other hand, remembers being taken to a large hall filled with "Care" packages from America. Paul said that when he saw what Americans were prepared to give away - beautiful sweaters, clothing of all kind, an unimaginable range of goods - he knew he wanted to come to live in America, a country that must be unbelievably wealthy to be ready to give such things away.
A very rich family lived nearby: the Burberry Coat family. The wife used to come in and ask if our family needed anything. She once brought a pigeon that the husband shot and Tzipora cooked it for the children. Staying with this family was a young boy, an evacuee from London, who was part of the Burberry family. Tzipora remembers that whenever he came to their house he drank all the cream from all the little bottles of milk. Since Paul was the young boy (12) who had just arrived and knew French, he was asked to tutor the wife of the very rich man who manufactured Burberry raincoats. After just a few sessions Paul was there when the husband arrived, drunk out of his mind, and beat his wife senseless - while Paul was still in the room. Paul never returned.
Paul also remembers walking to school daily and hearing the German bombers overhead, on their way to bomb London. Sometimes (but rarely) they dropped their bombs on Surbiton. Helen & Tzipora remember that bombs dropped only at night. People used to shelter in the infant school, which was just down the road, until they heard the "all clear" -- and this meant that they were often in the shelter until late at night.
Helen remembers that Uncle Moishe invited the family to London, to his enormous house in Finsbury Park, for Pesach and they ended up spending most of the night in an air raid shelter. Tzipora said "we were not miserable." Aunt Malka used to get the hiccups, and she was praying, saying Thilim (Psalms). Jack & Alan (the young sons of Uncle Moishe) & Morris were sitting there having a great time, telling jokes. This was in Uncle Moishes big house, in a shelter in the basement. Helen said: "We got up the next day in the morning. and Jack went to the top of the house and found an incendiary bomb that didnt go off. He picked it up. I dont know why, but thats Jack. There were several in the back garden and several in the front garden." Jack took the bomb to the ARP (Air Raid Precaution center). Jack was in the home guard. He hadnt yet gone into the Army.
After two years in Surbiton the whole family moved to London. Paul was Barmitzved in London, at the Synagogue in Finsbury Park. Shortly after that Paul & Chumtze & Morris left to go to Cuba.
Shortly after the V2 rockets began landing in London (roughly 1944), Helen & Esther were sent away. Helen remembers that two such rockets landed near them. One, which fell just around the corner, in the middle of the road --it made an enormous crater -- broke all the windows in the house, and everything fell down in the kitchen. The cat was so upset, it disappeared. After eight days she came back.
Shortly after that rocket fell Helen & Esther went to Liverpool, Penny Lane in fact (See Map). They didnt stay there long. They came back to London, but it was still not safe. They were scheduled to go to a summer school in Wales, a Jewish boarding school. They ended up staying in Wales six weeks. Tzipora went twice to see them in Carmathen, Wales (See Map). It was a five hour journey (220 miles). There were no nurses there to watch the children and Tzipora remembers going there, after four weeks, to wash their hair.
On the way back, Helen remembers, "The trains were so unreliable. We got on the train in Carmathen, I was 12 years old and Esther must have been 10 1/2, and we stood in the corridor of the train for about eight hours, all the way to Paddington. The train was full of soldiers everywhere. We arrived in Paddington and there was nobody there to meet us because Mummy (Tzipora) had given up. So Esther and I made our way on by ourselves, and we got home and nobody was there because Mummy was at Uncle Moishes.
CANADA: HALIFAX - NOVA SCOTIA - MONTREAL
U.S.A.: NEW YORK - MIAMI - FLORIDA
Vichy France was not occupied by the Germans and once my father, mother, sister arrived in Cuba, we wrote to England, to Uncle Moishe & Helen, and suggested that Paul & Morris & Chumtze should join us in Cuba. However, these were dangerous times for boats on the high seas. German U-boats particularly targeted supply boats that went from England to Canada or the U.S.
The Greeks were the only ones willing to take the risk, and make the money. Chumtze found a Greek ship that was willing to take her and Morris & Paul to Canada. The price was very steep. They were smuggled onto the boat; they were the only civilians on the boats. Paul remembers that at one point he was allowed to steer the boat.
A flotilla of 27 boats left England for Canada: some 21 to 22 supply boats, three destroyers & some other, smaller ships, that were supposed to protect the supply boats from German U-boats. The boats took a northerly route, hoping that the U-boats would not risk icebergs, but the U-boats followed them, waited for a storm at sea, and when the flotilla of boats was widely dispersed, picked them off one by one. Of the twenty seven that set out, only three made it to Canada. Fortunately, they were on one of the three that arrived in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.
They tried to find a place to stay in Halifax, but it was wartime and no hotel rooms were available. Finally they found a friendly Jewish family that gave shelter to Chumtze, Paul & Morris. They tried to get the proper papers to go through the U.S. to Florida. They needed transit visas, and this could take a long time, and there was no guarantee that they would get such transit visas because the Americans were afraid that these "refugees" would simply stay in the U.S. They made plans to sail on a boat that would go to a small island near Cuba and from there go to Cuba. Such a boat sailed only once every six weeks.
The man Chumtze was staying with told her not to take the boat. He said that German spies fraternized with the sailors on such boats. They filled them full of booze and found out their sailing plans and then sunk the boats. Chumtze felt she could not stay with this total stranger indefinitely. He insisted. He said she must stay with him, and that it was all right. She was embarrassed, but she listened to him.
My brother Paul told me he was very disappointed. They went to watch the boat they had chosen not to take, sail away. They watched the boat & Paul remembers jumping up & down pleading with Chumtze, saying they should have taken the boat. At that time during the war German U-boats were coming within ten miles of the shore. As they watched, and before the boat was over the horizon, the boat was torpedoed. The German U-boat machine gunned survivors in the life boats and in the water. Of the 200 people on board, two survived. At that point Paul was very willing to take a train.
The man who housed Chumtze told her to go to the American Embassy and plead her case. He told her to cry, to plead, to make a nuisance of herself. She should say she had no plans to stay in the U.S. Her husband and other child were in Cuba. She only wanted to join them. She pleaded. She made a nuisance of herself. Eventually they relented and gave her permission to take a train to Florida. (I think they went via Montreal -- which would make the trip to Florida 2000 miles long.)
Paul remembers they stayed in New York City for two days, at the Victoria hotel at 54th and 5th Avenue. This is in April of 1942. He even remembers going to see the Empire State Building, and he remembers seeing the burned hull of the boat, the Normandy, that was tied up at the pier in New York. It had recently been burned -- an act of sabotage that made front page news. They left New York City and took a train to Florida and from there they took a plane to Cuba.
Paul Kaufmann told me that many years later he was invited to a wedding in Halifax. Chumtze asked him to try and look up the kind man who gave her shelter for several months during the war. Paul told his story to the man in charge of the seating for the wedding party. It so happened that the man in charge of the seating had done an unusual thing: he split each table into half the brides family, half the grooms family, and he told Paul the son of the very man he was seeking would be sitting at Pauls table.
When Paul told this man the story, saying he knew this man was very young and probably would not remember Chumtze & Paul & Morris, this man said: "How could I remember them? My house was a hotel during the war. I cant possibly remember any of the hundreds of people who stayed with us."
One story I heard (from Jake Kaufman) was about the months before the Germans attacked Belgium. They heard, on the radio, about Krystallnacht, the night Jewish stores in Germany were smashed and looted. They heard Hitlers voice on the radio (it was scary). The schools filled with Jewish refugee children. In schools they were taught to put on gas masks. In their buildings they met refugee families who told them horror stories. They also saw Reichstag uniforms on people in their buildings. They saw enough to scare them and they (The Kaufman family) left for South America before Belgium was attacked.
They took a small boat that had slightly over one hundred people on board and was headed for Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Jake, who was 13, remembers a troupe of German dancing women, "full-fleshed" women, who practiced their routine. Also on board was one part of the Herman family & the Schlesinger family
One story I heard about "the incident" that precipitated the escape of the Kaufman family is that Mr. Kaufman and a friend were window shopping and saw a beautiful pair of shoes. One man said to the other "those would be wonderful shoes to run away in, if we had to run away." And then it dawned on him, why wait until we "have to" run away. Lets run away now!
Back in Belgium a great many false stories circulated about the Kaufmanns who left. Some said they converted to Christianity. Others said one of the children had been bitten by a snake. The Jews in Belgium were consoling themselves for not having left.
>Jake Kaufman told me other stories (which I have on a tape and will, at some later date, transcribe). One story he told me involved a Jew who was eating in a restaurant when suddenly a German officer began yelling at him, singling him out in the restaurant, calling him all kinds of names. At one point during this ranting & raving the officer leaned over & whispered in this Jew's ear "Get out while you still can. You are in grave danger." And then the officer stormed out.
Another story I heard (from Paul Kaufmann) was about our false visas to Cuba. The Cuban Consul who "created" these papers wrote a whole set of instructions in Spanish. After Paul learned Spanish he read these instructions and saw that it said that we should not be allowed to stay in Cuba for more than thirty days.
Copyright © 2004 Henry Morgenstein