I wish I had asked more questions but I grew up in a post Holocaust family who were in a rush to create new lives and stories of family history were tossed off like some excess birthday balloons.
But my parents’ arrival in America was a well told tale.
They immigrated on June 25, 1949.
They often repeated the date.
After the war, they had waited in Occupied Germany for over four years until their applications were approved.
My mother’s paternal aunt had immigrated to the US in the 1920s. When she discovered that her nieces had survived the war, she rushed to rescue them. Though she was of modest means, she signed Affidavits of Support for all of them. One by one, they left Germany for the United States.
My parents married in February, 1948 in a place (optimistically) called Cafe Tel Aviv in Waldstadt, Germany. Their first child was born the next year.
And they waited.
Finally, in March, 1949, they were told to gather their belongings and move to Munich to prepare for departure.
They were going by airplane. Neither of them had ever ridden in a plane.
The trip took 24 hours, with a stop in Shannon, Ireland.
And they arrived in Idlewild airport (later renamed JFK) in Jamaica, Queens, NY.
“It was a very hot day,” my father related.
He was wearing heavy wool trousers that had been fine in Germany but were tortuous in New York that June day.
My mother held a 3-month-old baby.
It had been a long and difficult flight.
She was facing a great unknown, hobbled perhaps by fear and recent memories.
She spoke no English.
Then, all of a sudden, a man, noticing her distress, motioned for her to come over to a machine. He placed some coins in a slot and a bottle of Coke rolled out.
“He was a black man,” she said.
My mother was a woman of few words. I think she was telling me that she knew that black people in America had been subject to the same sort of discrimination experienced by the Jews in Europe and here, were two kindred and kindly spirits, recognizing those qualities in each other.
I believe that mother’s oldest sister was at the airport to greet them. She and her husband had arrived the previous year. I later wondered at how my aunt and uncle who spoke little English managed to negotiate the subways and buses to the airport but I also knew, that in my family, relatives did these things for each other.
My parents were processed and transported by “The Joint” (Joint Distribution Committee, a Jewish philanthropic organization) to a hotel on New York’s Riverside Drive where they stayed for six weeks until they could rent an apartment near my aunt in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
My mother used to tell me that she would sit on a bench with her baby, looking at the Hudson River rushing by, wondering about her future.
She tried to adjust. She went to a local store to buy bananas but the shopkeeper, confounded by her English gave her “Bon Ami”, a household cleanser.
She was confused by everyone calling her name (or so she thought.) They would say (what sounded to her) “Fifth Evenue”, “Sixth Evenue.” (Her name was Chava or Eva. Its affectionate form was ”Evenue”.)
My father, who had worked for the United States Army motor pool in Germany, spoke some English.
He found a job the day after their arrival.
Although he was a trained and experienced truck and auto mechanic, the first job he could find was that of a laborer.
It lasted a few weeks and then he began to get better jobs.
Within two years he and his brother and brother-in-law, (who had later immigrated) bought a used truck. He, refurbished the engine and they started a moving business which grew over the years.
So, my parents’ adventures began.
Neither of them ever forgot their arrival in America.
June 25th was their July 4th.
Years later, they met a woman who was vacationing in their Catskill Mountains hotel and after a few inquiries, realized that they had been on the same airplane landing at Idlewild that June day.
You would have thought they had found a relative.