As a kid, I hated filling out legal or school forms.
One particular question on those forms irked me the most.
Not the one about my religion.
The one that read: “Place of Birth”
You see, I was born in Feldafing, West Germany.
And answering that question always led to a bunch of new questions and some odd looks.
“You were born in that nation of the bad guys, Hitler and the Nazis?”
“You were born in a country where my dad fought and killed German soldiers?”
“What are you doing in the United States?”
I explained that a good portion of my family was murdered in Poland by the Nazis and the rest thrown in concentration camps where they were almost killed because they were Jews.
Of course these facts, always led to more questions and more puzzled looks.
“Why did the Nazis hate the Jews so much that they murdered them?”
“Why did you family choose to come to America?”
I explained that I was born after the war ended— in 1949.
That I was nine-months old when my parents and I left Germany for New York City.
That we traveled across the Atlantic on an ocean liner.
That as we approached New York harbor, my dad held me up and pointed my eyes in the direction of the Statue of Liberty.
That I wondered, “Had my dad and mom teared up when they saw Lady Liberty?”
Had my dad said to my mom, “We made it—to the land of freedom, justice, liberty and opportunity.”
And that I got my U.S. citizenship papers when I was six-years old.
How I wished I didn’t have to go through this rigmarole.
How I wished these scrutinizers’ eyes didn’t seem to question my loyalty.
How I wished I had been born in some American town.
Thanks to the limited attention span of my inquisitors the questions usually stopped.
Which was a good thing.
I had very little information left to give.
Especially, when it came to the questions about why the Nazis wanted to eradicate us.
I knew almost nothing about Feldafing—other than the two sentences my mom had told me.
“Mort, you were born in a Bavarian hospital which was situated next to a golf course.
I watched General Dwight Eisenhower play golf on that golf course.”
I wondered, “Had my dad picked me up and pointed me in the direction of the general?”
Did he say, “Son, you’re looking at one of the greatest generals of the Twentieth Century.”
I never said my parents were “displaced persons” because I had no idea what a displaced person was.
As an adult I learned:
Feldafing was in the American zone of occupied Germany;
It was the first all-Jewish displaced person camp—housing at least 4,000 survivors;
That in the fall of 1945, Generals Eisenhower and Patton toured the camp;
By Passover 1951, 1,585 Jewish DPs remained in the camp;
That the Feldafing DP camp closed in 1953.
My mom, dad, maternal grandparents and aunt were part of that 4,000.
I joined the family on May 16, 1949.
A displaced newborn looking for a country to call home.
I never thought of myself as a displaced person or as a German.
But every time I talked about my place of birth I tasted alienation.
But now, when I say my”birth-place” rigmarol, I add two more sentences,
“My parents made one of the best decisions in their lives, and mine, when they decided to become Americans.
Choosing to live in a land blessed with freedom, liberty, justice, and opportunity.”