A Tribute in Memory of Solomon (Mundi) and Lily (his devoted wife and best friend) Bergstein
The episode is from their departure in Shanghai, where their lives had been saved during the Holocaust, before they received their papers to immigrate to America.
“Bergstein, Bergstein”, continued to resound as the refrain from an echo of the hundreds of grateful farewell-wishers at the shore, as the ship pulled out of Shanghai Harbour.
A chapter had ended. With his wife, Lily, at his side, Solomon, or Mundi, as he was affectionately called, was leaving the transit camp that had given them both refuge, when no other corner of the world had offered their fleeing bodies a haven from Nazi Austria, although their souls had always been anchored to each other.
No one had ever made a public commotion about either of them since their student days. Now, Mundi had found acclaim for what he had done, singlehandedly, in establishing an apothecary where he worked day and night to attend to the first-aid needs, as well as to the medicine, he could concoct by himself from items in the camp, or purchase from the Chinese authorities, to attend to the pain or illnesses of the refugees as best he could.
He negotiated, transacted, bargained, pleaded or simply prayed that he be able to find the supplies, needed.
As he heard his name repeated over and over, tears slid down his cheeks, like drops of medication, he so often counted to cure others. He looked at the first ocean ahead on his journey to New York, a haven finally offered by U.S. authorities to Jews, after too long a wait which had cost so many, their lives.
They both continued to wave goodbye as their family name began to swirl with the waves, the engine of the ship and the prevailing winds.
Now in their early forties, both realized that they would not be known to others and that again, they would be strangers. That did not cause either of them any pain. The anguish, both felt, was for those killed in Europe and those who remained, who, as yet, were waiting for visas to safe havens. Mundi, also, thought of his makeshift apothecary and the young pharmacist, whom he trained, not in pharmacology, but in perseverance, that was necessary to obtain medical supplies through any channel or contact available.
As the last of the well-wishers were seen, he embraced Lily, and by his silence and her reciprocal response, all was understood.
… The tea biscuits, strawberry jam and teabags in the pantry of their apartment were a sign of the same meticulous care that had been shown throughout their lives, whether in the apothecary in Vienna or in Shanghai, in his pharmacy in New York or in her kitchen cupboard, now, specifically prepared, awaiting for our arrival.
My brother and I shared the treat left for us when we came to bury Lily, who had but recently described the Shanghai harbour scene of fifty-two years earlier. Nothing gave her solace, since Mundi’s departure in his sleep, three years previously, to the shore to which she eagerly awaited to sail to rejoin him.
As her ship was now drawing closer, he now waited at the port and calls of “Bergstein, Bergstein”, were heard again.