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Chapter 6

The Wedding

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Serafina made a dress for me out of some old white coat from America. She also made a veil out of a white lace curtain. (Can you imagine?) We went to a professional photographer in town and had portraits made before the wedding.

We had about 20 people at the wedding and a Rabbi who performed the ceremony. Everything was over in about an hour.

I was married. I had someone who loved me. The sun was finally shining on me and life was finally good. I would never be alone with this wonderful man in my life.

In Bucharest, Salo worked selling shoe supplies to local shoemakers.Our “honeymoon” was spent in a small room in a bed that barely contained room for both of us, especially since Salo was almost 6 feet tall. We cuddled and then held each other for a long time in an embrace, kissing and touching each other. Exploring our bodies was exciting for me, yet I was always self-conscious about my body. I was very shy and, of course, inexperienced in the ways of love.

Salo was very gentle and sensitive about by shyness, and by the time the morning sun's rays were streaming through the window we knew that we would never be apart.

In November 1947 we got a visa to go from Romania to Bolivia through an uncle of mine. The visa had a stopover in Paris. That was how we were able to go to Paris.

I remember when we first got to Paris! What a beautiful city! We arrived with nothing but a few clothes and some noodles and we had to stay in a hotel from the minute we landed in Paris. My sister hadn't seen me in 10 years, but since I had caught a cold on the train ride to Paris, she was afraid I would get her children sick and she sent us to a cheap hotel in Montrouge, a suburb of Paris.

When I wanted to speak to her, my brother-in-law Carl intervened and said he didn't want her to get upset by listening to my story. When I was alone with her, she never wanted to hear anything about what happened to me in the camps. I thought I would be able to share everything I went through with her, but she never wanted to listen.

Even later in life, she told me that she always thought I was with my boyfriend Peretz who helped me in the camps, even though he wasn't anywhere near me during the war. She had no clue of the horrors I saw, how sick and starved I was, or anything else.

She never asked about our parents or brother. All her life, she never asked. In the small hotel room there wasn't even a place to cook and we had no food. For the first couple of days we ate at my sister's place, and then one day, I overheard her saying to her husband, “They're here already.” That was it. I vowed not to return to eat there again. We had some mildewed noodles we had brought with us from Romania and I cooked that keeping the pot above a candle that finally heated it up enough to eat it. The next couple of days we were practically starving, but we refused to go back to my sister's place.

Paris isn't so beautiful when you're starving, don't speak the language and have hardly any money. Salo was very proud and didn't want any handouts. We would starve first before accepting charity from anyone.When they were in Moghilev his father and his sister died. And Salo and his brother Bubi did everything they could to bring food for his sister's baby. Neither he nor his brother got typhus. He only developed a huge abcess on his thigh that was full of pus. It was lanced and he believed that's how he was saved. They had very little food and they made cornmeal cooked in water, no milk, but somehow David survived. So did his sister Mitzi who took care of the baby with her mother who also survived.

They returned to Czernovits after the war and the Russians sent him to the Urals to work in the mines for a year. The Russians took him away accusing him of being with the Germans even though he was in concentration camp. The conditions in those mines were so terrible that some people pierced their ears to avoid going to work. His brother sent him some counterfeit papers saying he was supposed to get another job in Czernovits so they released him from the mines and he came home. He began working in an alcohol factory where he became the manager. His brother in the meantime became a printer.

Salo got into a serious depression when word came that his mother had died in Romania when we were in Paris. He felt guilty that he left her. She was only about 66 years old when she passed away.

His bouts of depression continued and it impacted our marriage in many ways.Here we were in a new country where he couldn't speak the language, he was not allowed to look for a job because he was a refugee and his mother just died. Luckily Carl got him a job packing radios in a factory at the place where he worked as an engineer. Salo made very little money. We had barely enough to pay our rent in the hotel and to eat.

I didn't need a lot of food having survived the camps, but one day I awoke and felt nauseous and didn't really know why, so I got worried. I had missed my period, but at that time, I hardly menstruated anyway, so I didn't really think about it. I told Salo, and he said, “I think you should see a doctor.” He was very worried I might get sick. So we went to a local doctor who was a friend of my brother in law.

The doctor was very kind and examined me. And guess what? “You're pregnant,” he announced. We looked at each other and then we both began to laugh. We couldn't stop. Here we were poor, starving, and now expecting our first baby!

I was so happy! I knew I had to get some protein to eat, so Salo came home with herring. That was about the only thing we could afford on his small income. So that was the protein that I ate while I was pregnant.

By that time, we had moved to a second hotel that had a kitchen with a hot plate with two burners and somehow I managed to cook. I even baked a cake in a pot on top of the burner that actually came out quite delicious and I gave some to Salo to bring to his co-workers. They all loved it!

As my pregnancy advanced, I knew I would need diapers and clothes for the baby. I went to a Jewish organization where they were distributing clothes from America. I was eight months pregnant and standing for an hour to get something and all I came home with was one diaper. Then I got some diapers from my sister.

When I started having labor pains, I went by bus to the nearest hospital. I came there and they sent me in a taxi with a drunk woman to a different hospital because they didn't have room for me.

Finally, we got to the hospital. I was in labor about 24 hours and just when I was ready to give birth nobody was around. I didn't know what I was supposed to do. I kept pulling the baby back instead of pushing it out and finally some nurses arrived. Finally, they helped me get the baby out!

Charlotte was born on the 7th of June, 1949. She didn't breathe when she was born. I heard them working on her for a while and then finally she cried! I was so afraid that she would have had some brain damage because it took her minutes to breathe. They brought her to me to nurse her and she hardly sucked on my breast. I instinctively knew there was something wrong. She didn't look like a healthy baby.After 11 days, they sent me home with her.

I saw she wasn't gaining any weight and I had rented a scale that I put on the kitchen table in my house to weigh her every day. When I saw she continued to not suck my milk or drink anything else I tried to coax her into drinking, I went to the clinic and they administered some fluids in her shoulder. Her shoulder blew up from the fluids and still nothing changed.

After that day I decided I had to see a specialist.

I found out who was one of the top pediatricians in Paris. The doctor was a lovely woman who looked at Charlotte and told me the sad news; she had to be hospitalized immediately.

When I came to visit the baby the next day, I found her with her head all bandaged up. They told me that she had a serious ear infection and needed to have a double mastoidectomy. They could not reach me by phone to let me know because the hotel had no phone.

I was devastated. We never thought that she would ever be a normal baby with normal hearing. While she was in the hospital, a few days later, one of Salo's cousins who lived in Paris came to visit and she told Salo, maybe it would be better if the baby didn't survive. Salo never spoke to her again. I didn't know Salo would take it that hard.

Charlotte stayed in the hospital for 2 and a half months. Penicillin had recently been discovered and the poor baby was injected every four hours with shots. She was like a pin cushion covered on all her little skinny legs with injections. I went every day to see her by bus and subway, a trip that took about an hour each way. The hospital, Salpetriere, was gigantic – almost a city in itself - and the children's ward was miles from the entrance. It took a half-hour to get there. One day, I ran into the room where Charlotte was staying and the bassinet was empty. I became hysterical and ran to the nurses asking, “Where is my baby? Where is she?”

“There was a child in a nearby bed that developed smallpox and we had to move her into quarantine,” said the nurse. It was difficult to comprehend the woman's voice through the roaring in my head. I must have looked totally insane thinking that on top of everything else, now my poor baby also would have to worry about developing smallpox?

Then I remembered that we all were given smallpox vaccinations before I left for Paris, so finally they allowed me to see Charlotte again. I stood vigil by her bedside every day watching her and praying that she recover.

After 2 ½ months in the hospital, she was almost three months old my prayers were answered. I took Charlotte home and tried to take the best care of her that I could. I remember hoping I would never have to see the inside of a hospital again. The smell of antiseptic, the white walls, the linoleum floors – all of it made me nauseous.

I remember squeezing the blood out of steaks that we couldn't afford to buy just to give her some protein to help her get stronger.

By the time she was seven months old, she was a beautiful baby girl with curly blonde hair and I found out then that I was pregnant again!

I had an easy pregnancy, but I had to carry Charlotte around everywhere. When she was about a year old, the doctors said her bones were too weak and she shouldn't walk. So I was very pregnant with my second child, carrying Charlotte around everywhere.

In October, 1950, my son Michael was born. After his birth, I was in the hospital for eleven days, where they kept me in bed.

After 11 days, I came home with my baby and I felt a sharp pain in my chest. I called the doctor who examined me. I looked at his face and he was ash gray. I asked him “Do I have a blood clot?”I don't know where that idea came into my head.

He said, “We will take care of it.” He put me to bed and he told me not to even move a finger until he sees me again the next day. It was impossible to lie that still in bed. After three days, he decided to send me to the hospital. It turned out that I had an embolism in a serious spot: right near my heart. They started a protocol of heparin to dissolve the blood clot.I stayed there from the end of October to right before Christmas of that year.My husband had to take care of the two babies without me and go to work.

From Social Services in Paris, they sent a nurse for 8 hours a day until he got home from work.He had to take care of the babies all night.

My sister didn't want to help me at all. She wanted to take Charlotte, but Salo said if she can't take both children, he would rather keep them home himself.He wanted her to take Michael, the baby, but she didn't want to.

When I went to the hospital and Michael was just about two weeks old, he couldn't be weaned from mother's milk suddenly, so Carl had to get mother's milk from the hospital every day in a bottle so Michael could be weaned gradually until he could drink formula. I was in the hospital and cried all the time.I missed my babies and worried about them every minute.

One day, the doctor came and told me, “If you keep crying, you'll never see your children again.”

They were treating me with heparin, a blood thinner that had just been approved that year for medical use. I got the shots every three hours in my vein and they had to check the clotting of my blood all the time.

The hospital was a hematology hospital specializing in blood diseases. People were dying of leukemia all around me. I was in a big ward with about twenty patients.

Around Christmas time, they sent me home. Charlotte was a beautiful child of 19 months. And Michael was 3 months old. My doctor was so happy to see me alive that he invited me out to a beautiful restaurant for dinner.

It was the first time I ate in a restaurant in Paris. I felt so happy and alive- finally! It was a wonderful day! I was helped a lot by the health system in France so I did not have to pay for the children's delivery and my stay in the hospital and Charlotte's stay in the hospital for 2 ½ months. The French were very generous in that way; no one could get sick in Paris, no matter how poor, without receiving medical attention. That's one of the most amazing things about Europe.

In the summers, Social Services in Paris sent us to the country so my children could get fresh air and be in the outdoors. My husband stayed in Paris to work, but we enjoyed ourselves in a monastery somewhere in the country where they had quarters for single mothers with children. We were treated very well and for the first time the children saw a live turkey and learned to say “les dindons,” the French word for turkey.

A year later, we applied for a visa to the United States and since we were born in Russian-occupied territory, we were able to get in with the existing quota.

In December, 1951, we came to the United States on the General Muir, a military ship that came back empty from Europe after transporting soldiers to Europe and where a lot of refugees were transported to the United States.

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The boat supported American forces in Europe and on eastward crossings of the Atlantic brought back to the U.S. thousands of refugees from Europe under the International Refugee Organization.

It was a miserable ship. My children refused to eat any of the food they served. The trip lasted ten days. I was in a cabin given to me because I had the children, and my husband was in a different part of the ship with men only. He couldn't come to see me and help me with the children. When there was a fire drill at night, I had to put life preservers on the children and myself and then carry both of them up to the deck. It was quite an ordeal! Most women got very sick with sea sickness and were lying on the floor vomiting. I willed myself not to get sick because I knew I had to take care of my babies. They told us through the megaphone that if we move together with the ship it will help us not get seasick, so I did that and I was okay.

I was feeding Charlotte and Michael scraped apples, because he wouldn't drink the milk that was condensed milk and he hated the smell of it. Charlotte would walk around in a long bathroom I had made for her and saying “Le Capitaine,” looking for him everywhere. She was a flirt at a very young age and loved men in uniforms.

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Finally after ten days we landed on Ellis Island; then we had go through the medical screening. I was asked, “Were you ever a prostitute?” a question I thought totally inappropriate. Then finally we got clearance to leave and my sister and my aunt Rosa met us at the dock.

The first thing I said was, “Get me something to eat for the children.”

When we arrived in New York my husband said, “We have to kiss the ground of this country and try to make a new life here.” He became an extremely proud American who was very patriotic and cherished becoming an American citizen. We decided our children would be very educated because we missed out on our education because of the war.

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The minute we found an apartment to live in, Salo went out looking for a job. Our uncle Jacob paid for our first month's rent, but my husband wanted to start working right away. Somehow he found the subway, figured out how to get into Brooklyn and looked all day. I was worried he wouldn't be able to find his way home not speaking a word of English and with the subways so confusing to maneuver. He came home and said, “I found a job.” He found a job in Brooklyn in a handbag factory and he was starting the next day.

After a few days of work he got a metal splinter in his eye and couldn't go to work the next day. At that time he earned 75 cents an hour and we were both very happy that he was working. He lost that job. Since his family was always in the restaurant business in Romania, I suggested he learn something about the business. He decided to go to Bartending School and become a bartender.

An uncle of Salo's was retired and wanted to give us some money, but Salo refused to accept anything. Then that uncle went to speak to some of his nephews who lived in New York and had businesses. One of them owned a small restaurant in the middle of Manhattan, and they hired Salo as a bartender. It was difficult for him because he didn't speak hardly any English, and also didn't understand about hometown sports like baseball. So he couldn't communicate much with his customers. But it worked out fine and he was happy with the job until the restaurant was sold.

He became unemployed for a long time in 1953. He could not find any job as a bartender on his own. He went to the Union and met with the Human Resources Department but everyone had their own favorites to send to a job. I went to Florida with the children while he looked for work and stayed with my aunt who had an apartment there.

My aunt had a son who was a high school graduate and she needed to go to New York to sell her house after being divorced from her husband. So she left me in charge of her son and gave me an allowance of $25 a week to support all of us.

Salo couldn't send me any money because he received very little unemployment insurance that he needed to pay the rent on our apartment and to feed himself.

I managed somehow to economize and feed all of us with the $25 a week out of which I had to give her son $10 allowance. Somehow I managed.

Raoul was to graduate from high school but decided not to attend his graduation ceremonies since his parents were not with him. After graduation, his mother sent him to live with his father in Austria for a few months and his father gave him some money. He traveled around Europe by himself and started showing symptoms of mental illness. Raoul enlisted in the Army and went to Japan and he had seizures while in Japan and the Army sent him home. One time when he was on a furlough from the Army he came to stay with us in the country in Monroe which is where he met his wife Linda. He continued his college education graduating from Queens College, but then his wife saw how ill he was and she divorced him. He became more depressed after the divorce, so he moved to Florida to be with his mother. He had no income and his mother couldn't live with him, so she rented a room for him and his condition deteriorated.

He gradually became more mentally ill and eventually was treated for schizophrenia facing a lifetime of psychotic breaks and difficulties. He remarried another woman and both of them became devout Jews for Jesus. Eventually he developed chest pains that were not correctly diagnosed at the VA Hospital in Florida leading to his death of lung cancer at a young age.

While we were in Miami, Michael got sick with an ear infection and I didn't have any money to take him to a doctor. I asked our neighbors to lend me $5 for the doctor and nobody would agree to give it to me. “Please help me,” I pleaded. “My baby is sick. I promise I will repay you as soon as I can.”

“Sorry,” was the standard reply.

I had to telephone Salo and somehow he was able to wire me some money to help Michael recover. I returned to New York after two months and Salo was still unemployed. One day, I dressed my children and I decided to take the subway to go and see the president of the Bartenders' Union.I went to his office and boldly asked the secretary if I could see him.He let me in with the two children sitting by the floor near the door.I told him our story -- that we were concentration camp survivors and we came here and for the past few months my husband was unemployed and I had no way to support our children. He was very impressed with me; even if my English was not that good.        

He made a phone call and the next day my husband was sent on a job in a big restaurant in the Port Authority Building. Salo became the manager of the entire restaurant –Mid City Restaurant -- including the bar, a bowling alley and a snack bar, with 11 bartenders that he supervised.

Salo never knew I went to the president of the Union to ask for help.

In 1961 the President of the Union found out I had a baby and sent a very nice gift for the baby – some leather booties for the baby that I still have.

Salo worked there until in 1976 when they sold the restaurant to a relative of the manager and then they fired him. He never worked again. He became so depressed that he wouldn't even look at restaurants or want to eat in any – even with the family.

When Michael and Charlotte were still little, I got a job in the movie theatre across the street from our apartment where I sold candy at the candy counter. The kids would sometimes come to watch the movies while I worked.

Then when I had Lisa, we decided to look for a bigger place to live and I encouraged Salo to buy a house. We put all of our savings into the down payment for the house and still borrowed a second mortgage from our aunt. When we moved in, we didn't even have money for a snow shovel when it snowed.

The house in Fresh Meadows had three bedrooms, so Charlotte and the baby would be in one of the bigger bedrooms and Michael would have his own room.

So I raised my children in that house. Since Lisa was 11 years younger than Michael she had two sets of parents – Charlotte and Michael and us. We all adored her.

The children all went on to become successful in their chosen fields: Charlotte as a publicist, Michael as an English teacher in high school and Lisa as a physician and medical director in a hospital in Maine. Now I have two grandchildren from Lisa – Stephen, 19 and Abby, 17 years old who also live in Maine.

By having a family, I felt that I had beaten the Nazis. The joy of having people I loved so deeply slowly erased the hurt and sadness in my heart about losing my brother and my loving parents. Nothing can erase or undo the terror and pain of those years. But with more and more positive memories being built day by day, year by year with my family and new friends in America, my life has become meaningful and the bad memories have dissipated. As I watched my children grow, assimilate with Americans and lead their own successful lives, I fear less for them and am more secure in knowing that my parenting helped them on their road.

I'm fully aware that I was over-protective of them, especially when they were young, but I couldn't help it.

I loved them so much and was afraid of anything hurting them. I wanted to spare them any pain, if I could. My worrying was a standard family joke – it was like I couldn't be happy unless I had something to worry about!

The war made me overly cautious of dangers that I wanted to prevent my children from experiencing. So when I asked them as teen-agers, “Where are you going? When will you be home?” It wasn't just to be nosy about their plans with their friends; it came from a deep-seated fear of something happening to them.

Luckily, nothing drastically hurtful happened to them in their lives. I feel so blessed for that alone. The years 1941 to 1944 were when the ghettos in Transnistria witnessed never before seen brutality. We went through all of the nightmares -- hunger, cold, homelessness, sickness and epidemics – that the sadistic Nazi German and Romanian murderers inflicted upon men, women and children. Most are now silenced, buried in mass graves without headstones.

According to Daniel Goldenhagen in his book about the complicity of ordinary Germans and their collaborators, he maintains that “ordinary Germans, not 'ordinary men' perpetrated the massacres and that these 'ordinary Germans' were, with only a few exceptions, not at all upset about the duties they performed. The perpetrators 'ordinary Germans' were animated by anti-Semitism, by a particular type of anti-Semitism that led them to conclude that Jews ought to die' and that stemmed from what he claims was a long-standing 'eliminationist anti-Semitic German political culture.”

According to the records in the Executive Summary Historical Findings and Recommendations in Yad Vashem, “Of all the allies of Nazi Germany, Romania bears responsibility for the deaths of more Jews than any country other than Germany itself. The murders committed in Iasi, Odessa, Bogdanovka, Domanovka, and Peciora, for example, were among the most hideous murders committed against Jews anywhere during the Holocaust. Romania committed genocide against the Jews. The survival of Jews in some parts of the country does not alter this reality.

In light of the factual record summarized in the Commission's report, efforts to rehabilitate the perpetrators of these crimes are particularly abhorrent and worrisome. Nowhere else in Europe has a mass murderer like Ion Antonescu, Hitler's faithful ally until the very end, been publicly honored as a national hero.”

The Romanians shared that anti-Semitism with the Germans and as my mother used to say, “They learned it from their mother's milk.” If you imagine that the country that brought us Mozart, Beethoven, Wagner, Einstein, Freud and some of the most talented writers in the world – Germany – would perpetrate these crimes against Jews and other minorities, then it appears that culture doesn't translate into humanity. Neither does morality supposedly taught in the churches and schools of these “cultured” peoples.

They used to talk about the “bad seed,” the genetic transmission of evil from one generation to the next. It is really my hope that this is not true. When it comes to anti-Semitism the only way we can ever prevent another Holocaust from happening is by bearing witness to what really happened and to teach that history in schools and to the educated world.

The few survivors who are left try to forget the experiences that led to the deaths of their parents and siblings – horrible, miserable deaths at the hands of demons. Their lives were ended too soon – much too soon.

The Final Solution had traveled with the fury of a blizzard leaving nothing but dead bodies in its wake. Men, women and children –even babies -- who would have become valuable contributors to the world – poets, scientists, teachers, doctors, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters – killed. Their lives were snuffed out by monsters who supported the madman Hitler in conditions so inhumane that people years later still refused to believe they occurred. Cut short too early in their lives by butchers of men, the world is that much poorer.

And if there is a God, He remained invisible and never showed His face throughout those years of slaughter.

There were many stories of survival .Yet all were the same. They were tales of horror. They experienced the greatest degradation known to mankind. Elie Wiesel sums it up as “this war was the most atrocious, the most brutal, and the deadliest in mankind's history.” Like many others of my generation, I heard how so many members of my family had been annihilated for no other reason other than being born Jewish.

Holocaust deniers? Anti-semites-- nothing else. The war was only too real for those who survived. And the only reason they did survive was to ensure that the world would never forget – Never again! The mantra of the survivors lives on.

 

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