There was still a lot of fear in the town and we did not go out except in groups of three or four. The Germans were still in town, but they no longer interfered in anything. From the balcony of the "Tzukunft" the red flag still flew and we were able to give out hot meals to those who were in need. One day, as I was approaching the offices, I saw that the flag had been torn down and the flagpole was being broken up into small pieces. As I approached, I saw a Polish officer coming down the stairs with a revolver in his hand and crying out that all the Jews should be shot like mad dogs. I found out that he had demanded the flag be taken down and when those in the office had refused, he rushed up with some others and had done so himself. We felt that a pogrom would be carried out against these offices and for several nights we kept a watch there. But after several weeks, the Polish government decided that the office be closed. First they sent a large group of men to destroy everything. Fortunately, we were not hurt too much when this happened. We met and realized; that we would again have to go underground. Many restrictions and repressive measures were again instituted and often I was afraid to go home to sleep on a regular basis, as they were often looking to arrest me. I was sent to Warsaw, where a party meeting was to be held. There was more order in the larger cities than the smaller towns, but even there we had many more restrictions than we were already accustomed to. In the city we saw a lot of the regular Polish army. Not all of them had uniforms, for there were not enough to go around, but they did all have guns. Many only wore a military hat or had stripes on the sleeves to show the military insignia. There were still several streets that were controlled and patrolled by the Germans, where they were located, until they could leave for home.
In a short while the Germans left entirely and then a new war broke out, between the Poles and the Russians. The Poles were not really ready to fight another war, but they had tremendous amounts of arms that the Germans had left behind and besides they had to fight the Red Communists. General Foche came with his staff to help plan the strategy. The public was not aware of this until much later. Meanwhile the Russian Army won one victory after another and it soon became clear that this was the same strategy to draw them into long supply lines and to trap them. The Polish army kept withdrawing and soon they were again on the far side of the Vistula River near Wloclawek. The bridge was again destroyed and the city came under the bombardment from the Russian guns. The civilian population did the best that it could, hiding in cellars and wherever possible. But the Poles, no matter what trouble they were in, did not forget the Jews. They were grabbed from their hiding places to dig trenches at the front and to fight fires that were ignited by the bombardments. The shelling still continued and there were many casualties among these people. Even with all the dangers around us there was a curiosity to see what was going on. I remember that once my father
came running in breathless. He had been grabbed by one of the soldiers to help fight a fire near the bridge, and while he was there he had seen some Russians on our side of the river. The Poles had seen them also and had run away in fright. This gave him the opportunity to escape and to run home. With the Russians again in town, we went and hid in the barn. It was not as safe as being in the house if a bomb fell nearby, but we felt that the barn was safer with the Russians coming back. Suddenly we heard the voices of several Polish soldiers. They asked that we hide them as the rest were pulling out and they did not want to go. They had already left their rifles leaning against the house. We left the barn with the soldiers there and we went back to the house, where at least it was more comfortable and decided that what would be would be. Suddenly we heard shouts and cries from all sides that the Russian front had broken at Mlawa and that they were in full retreat. The soldiers who had moments before asked for a hiding place, grabbed their guns and became heroes again. Now everyone started to run to the river, declaring that this was the master plan of the French General Joffe. The Russians had come to the gates of Warsaw and had controlled the entire west bank of the Vistula finally stopping at Mlawa. Part of the Russian army crossed into Germany and were wiped out there and the other part was destroyed by the Poles. We were not entirely happy that this had come about because of the extreme Polish anti Semitism that existed. When we finally reestablished contact with those areas that had been controlled by the Bolsheviks, we learned how they behaved. In the beginning they established the old systems. Pogroms, looting and robbery were the order. But the later forces that came established order and there were strong penalties for not treating the population properly. In some areas, they even shot soldiers for not acting properly. Wherever the army went they immediately played the International. This was told to us by comrades from Lipno and Sierpc. In the middle of the night, when they were hiding in fear from the Poles, they suddenly heard the International being played . It seemed the greatest miracle that could happen. In the morning they came out of hiding and were very happy that the Russian Army was here and that soon there would be "Socialism" in Poland. In every town, the commander of the Russians gathered the peasants and asked if their landowners had been good to them or not. The peasants soon figured out that it would be better for them to say "bad". The owners were immediately arrested and shot. In Plotsk, when they took the town, they were extremely taken over with the ways of the victors. Looting and rape were very common and most of the sorrow fell on the Jews of that town. The main part of the army did not get there and so they did as they wanted. We also heard of many different things that the new victors said. At one time they even said that the Jews were Trotsky's "brothers" and should be helped. The front moved further and further away and the Poles began to say that a miracle had happened at the Vistula, not that the strategy of the general staff had saved Poland. With this a new wave of anti- Semitism moved across the land. A new story went around that all the Jews were Bolsheviks and that the Jews were the ones that had ordered the shooting of many of the Poles. Also the repressions against the Bund increased.
Many of the comrades were arrested. I went and hid out and when the police came for me I was not at home. There was also a new decree passed that all men under the age of 40 were to be examined for the military and would be mobilized. I now had the choice of being arrested and going to prison
or being drafted into the Polish army. I had managed to escape from the Russian tsar, the Germans had chased me and now I was being sought by the Poles. I was at the home of my friend Tarentchick when I got the idea that maybe I should go to America. I said that I had an uncle there and that I should write him and ask for a ticket and some money. Esther, Tarentchik's wife, immediately said that this was a wonderful idea and brought me pen and paper but told me that I should not be too amazed if nothing came from there. The uncle might be related only up to the pocket-book. But I was very proud of my family and told them that this would not happen with me. I told them that my uncle Motel Silberstein had already written to my parents to send all of the children to America. That way the children would be able to work here and be able to support the parents in their old age. They also had said my parents should come, but they were entirely against this. In addition my uncle was willing to send money to get all this started. My mother never wanted to hear about this. Her expression was that a child that went to America was as good as dead, for they would never be seen again. She would never allow one of her children to go to America. But we convinced her that the choices were not many. Either go to prison, be drafted into the Polish army or remain in hiding, which I would not be able to do forever. If I were picked up for anything, than certainly I would be sent away for a long time. The "failler" that I had done to evade the Russian army would not work without the help of someone within the medical examination group and that was too difficult now. I passed the medical examination and was given a month to report for service. Fortunately during this time I received a reply from my uncle Motel. He sent me two hundred dollars and said I should come as soon as possible. A little while before his letter arrived, I had married Ryva.
We gave into the request of both families that we have a wedding ceremony. This took place on December 31,1919 (on a Wednesday). We walked around town that day and did not tell any of our friends or family where we were going. We were sitting in a café on the main street as it was getting dark and had actually forgotten all about it. One of our friends found us there and said that the family and rabbi were waiting for us to start the ceremony. My father was sick from and infection caused by a nail that had gone into his foot while he was walking in the street. So the ceremony was held in the house next to his bed. With great effort he participated but he could not get out of bed. The rabbi, Yehudah Leib Kovolsky, who knew me very well, performed the ceremony. He was a very religious man and a Zionist and I was a Bundist. Very often we would meet and have discussions on political, Polish and in general Jewish-worker's questions. After the ceremony, he remained and added to the festivities with his good wit and humor. It was very seldom that he bothered to remain after he had performed his duties. Usually he left right after the service but here he felt very much at home. After the prayer that was said after the meal, he joked that now would be an appropriate time to also sing the "Bundishe Shvue" (Oath of the Bund). Most of our friends wondered where we had gone to that evening and went looking where we usually were. Some found out that it was our wedding day. Opposite our house was a building with a balcony running around the outside. They went there and watched the wedding from there. After that they came down and joined the family and we had a very lively time. As far as I can remember, amongst the comrades that were there were Hersh Buks, Kalman and Mania Rosen, Levien Schwartz, Chella Hiller (who later married Levien Schwartz) and
Max Rosenthal. After the wedding was all over we accompanied Ryva's brother to
the train. We put an announcement in the "Leben's Frage" and
contributed 100 marks. Through announcements in the paper the many
organizations and friends replied with their best wishes and congratulations.
In this way everybody knew about our wedding and the paper also managed to gain.
We lived with my parents in Wloclawek at that time. First there was the question of my emigrating and second there was the big problem of a housing shortage that still continued. My father's foot did not get better and eventually the doctor said that he would have to perform an operation as the infection was spreading. If it went much further, then my father's life would be threatened. This was a very stressful time as everyone was really afraid of going to a hospital. It was decided that Dr. Bartcivkoski would do the operation, even though we felt he was an anti-Semite. He was still the best in town and that consideration came first. I stayed with my father the entire time he was in the hospital before the operation to help calm him down. He said his prayers and always maintained the thought "God will help". I was with him when they gave him the anesthetic and I only left when they wheeled him into the operating room. A minute later I heard him cry out and wanted to rush in, but the door was locked. I bit my lips and sweat and tears poured from my face. A young doctor asked why I was sitting there crying and I explained that my father was being operated on and I had heard him cry out, even though he was supposed to be under the anesthetic. Was it possible that they were not giving him enough? He was a nice man and told me that it was a good thing that he was able to cry out. Otherwise he could be dead. He was "crying "out in his sleep and did not really feel the pain. I did not want to believe him at first, but the time he took with me calmed me down and reassured me. It seemed as if the operation was taking forever but in an hour the doors opened and he was brought out on a wheeled bed. This made a terrible impression on me. His face looked so pale that I thought he had died, but I soon saw that his lips were moving as if he were still saying the prayers he had started before they took him in. I went with them to see them transfer him to a regular bed. They let me stay at his side the whole time and warned me not to say anything to him until they gave me permission. One of the nurses came over and told me that the operation had gone very well and I should not be nervous or worried for my father would soon be out of the hospital. It took maybe another hour and my father awoke and with a smile on his face pressed my hand. He saw the tears flowing from my eyes and with great effort told me "Don't cry, nothing hurts me." Later he confirmed what the young doctor had said, that he had not felt any pain during the entire time and he did not know that he had cried out. Another doctor explained that the cries were from a nerve reaction, that the person being operated on did not feel anything.
The next day we took my father home. When the first bandage change was made by a "feltsher" (similar to a registered nurse) I had to hold my father's foot still. I looked at the foot and had to get a strong grip on myself not to faint then and there. From the ankle up there were holes that seemed to go right through the foot, that were larger than a Russian silver ruble. While the bandages were being changed, my father suffered great pains and I had to hold the foot very firmly and not squeeze it, or it would start bleeding again. The Feltsher had to clean it out with a carbolic solution, put iodine on
and then bandage the wounds anew. Even now I feel my skin crawl as I remember these events and the grimaces of pain that crossed my dear father's face during that time. It took many weeks before the leg healed and when he finally tried to stand on it, the pain was very great. We again called the doctor. He said that the outside had healed too fast and that there was still infection within the leg. They again took him to the hospital and operated and this time it was a complete success. It was a long time before he could walk comfortably. The good thing about this was that no matter how hard he had to work and as difficult as his life was and all the things that he had to go through, his heart and entire body were in excellent shape and was able to carry the burdens that were placed upon it. I believe that if their circumstances were not so difficult, people with his constitution could have lived very long lives indeed.
I will now return to describe events from the time the money arrived from America. We had to devise a way for me to leave the country. To go legally was doubly impossible for me. First, because my pass was stamped showing I had to serve in the army soon, second because the police were still looking for me due to my political activities. Several comrades were already sitting in prison in Wloclawek. I believe that amongst them by that time were Hersh Buks, Shlomah Hiller (Chella Hiller's brother) and Chiamovitch. Tarentchick had been able to escape. We also heard that Levien's father, who had his own small boat (a barge) had been able to smuggle Levien (Leo), Max and Sender Rosenthal to Danzig. This boat was now in Bramberg (which now belongs to Poland) and Mrs. Schwartz told me to go there and I would also be smuggled across the border. So this is the way it was finally decided I would proceed. I said my farewells to the family and my new wife Ryva and left for Bramberg. I went to the waterfront and inquired where I could find Mr. Schwartz and was told that he had just left, but there were several places that I could catch up with him. I ran across the fields to the first place where he had to stop and found that he was already gone from there. So I ran on and finally came to a draw-bridge and waited there for him to arrive. Soon the boat arrived and Mr. Schwartz saw me standing there. Without a word, he knew why I was waiting for him, but at the time there was nothing that could be done. He was afraid that the man he had working would run to the police as soon as he knew that I was coming aboard. I went to a café and sat down to have a bite to eat and rest a while. My feet were killing me by this time and I waited for a train to take me back to Wloclawek.
The Schwartz's had a friend named Wolfstone, who was working for the Polish army. How they became acquainted with him I do not know. He had been a spy for the Russian tsar, had served the Germans and now was working with the Polish army. Mrs. Schwartz went to speak to him and try to get him to help me cross the border. Yes, he was willing to get me the necessary documents that would allow me to cross the border without trouble. The cost was 1,000 marks (German) and would take a few weeks. We agreed to this. Meanwhile I told my friend Kalman about my travel plans. We called a meeting of the Bund committee and took up several subjects for action at various times. But I did not undertake to do anything, as I was not certain when I would be leaving. One of the comrades, Wishogradski got very angry with me because I suddenly would not undertake any of the
work that was being reviewed. I made some excuses and left. A short while later, I received a message to go over to the Schwartz's house so I took the money required and went over. Wolfstone was already sitting there. He had a pass made out for me from the Ministry of Trade in Warsaw. I became the assistant to the representative of the Ministry and was being sent to Danzig to buy leather. The papers stated that I was to be given whatever help I required to purchase and bring these items back to Poland. The document was covered with stamps and seals from the various offices that were involved as well as the signatures of the various officials. The man saw that I doubted the ability of these papers to get me out of the country, they looked too good to be true. He assured me that they were actually legal, that this pass was one that he had applied for in my name and that because of the nature of his work, no one had questioned the need for him to have an assistant. He then offered that I pay him nothing at this time, that he would accompany me into Danzig and when I was safely across the border and out of Polish hands, I would then give him the money. The pass was made out for a four week period, and so we agreed that I would call him a few days before I wanted to leave and we would embark upon the trip. This gave me a little while to leisurely complete my personal business in town. It hurt me that I could not say good-by to all the comrades with whom I had worked. That would have been too dangerous in case the authorities found about it. Not only that I was going to escape from them but the manner in which I was going. The exception of course was my beloved friend Kalman, to whom I was always able to tell the most secret things. I was also determined that I would not leave without saying good-by to the comrades who were imprisoned. This he was very much against for two reasons. First the authorities were still looking for me and second because I was supposed to have reported for military service a long time ago. But I went anyway and was able to see comrade Buks. A guard stood near us and we were only allowed to speak in Polish. But I had the idea that I should bribe the guard to leave us for a little while. I did not want to do so directly and therefore pulled my hand-kerchief from my pocket and "accidentally" dropped a 5 mark note. I asked him if it was his and if he replied no, then I would put it back into my pocket. But naturally, the note was his and he turned away a bit. We were able to converse in Yiddish and instead of ten minutes, we had a good half hour together. I could not tell him that I was leaving, but when we did say our good byes I said that we should meet under free conditions some time in the future. He knew I had been planning to leave for some time and he also felt that my remaining time in Poland was very short.
When Kalman heard I had been to the prison he was very angry because of the danger that I had placed myself in. But soon he got over it as I had returned without any problems. I was happy that I had met with at least one of those imprisoned and knew that the others would find out about it and have their morale raised at least a little bit. There was very little else that I could do for them at this time. We decided we would have a meeting of the entire executive committee the night before I was to leave. Again we had to be extremely careful as the police maintained a large spy network to ferret out any subversive activities. The ten of us met that night at the home of Comrade Tendler. We discussed the form the organization had to take now. Many of our comrades were in jail and the police activities against us were increasingly getting stronger. In addition, many of the men had been
drafted into the army. This changed the entire method that we could use to continue our political activities. Towards the end, Kalman said we would have to elect a new secretary, as it was impossible for me to remain in Wloclawek, hiding the way I was and I was going to another town to hid out. Everyone knew the need and accepted the idea without any questions being raised. That I was leaving the country was not mentioned at all. Someone else was appointed and after several more topics, the meeting was ready to end. One of the comrades insisted the ideas that he had regarding the reorganization of the party be discussed that night, but it was getting too late and it was decided that this should be reviewed the following night. I assured everyone, that no matter where I was I would remain in contact with the Bund in Wloclawek. No one had any idea that I would not be at that meeting. Hopefully, I would already be safely out of the country by then and on my way to America. We said our good byes as usual and quietly left the house by ones and twos. Kalman came with me to my house and I told him about the paper that I would use to cross the border. Our parting was a very hard thing to do. He repeated several times "Who knows if we will ever see each other again?" He cried and his tears were mixed with mine on our faces. When we separated and I turned to look at him again he did also and we fell upon each other and embraced again for the last time.
When I came into the house I found that my mother and Ryva were still up. There was a large suitcase they had packed with all my clothes. I wondered how I would be able to get all this past the border inspectors. What excuse could I use for taking so much along if I were only going for a few days? Would I be stopped and denied permission to leave at the last moment? This question and many others kept running through my head and there were no easy answers on what to do. The tension in the house was very great. No one really slept that night and in the morning the departure was a nightmare. I still remember the faces of my dear mother and father and how she took me around and washed my face with her tears. How many fears she had because of me these last few years. From 1910, the time of my first arrest until now, 1920, when I was leaving her and would probably never see her again. She had gone through many great changes in the world and a lot of personal worries and problems because of my actions. And now came this terrible parting. We really had to be very quiet so that no one outside would hear the noise and wonder what was happening. We did not want to call attention to my leaving. My father took the suitcase out and left. Ryva and I went to the train alone. Ostensibly we were going for a walk by ourselves. We walked towards the train and on the way we met comrades who were also out on this very nice day. We greeted them as usual and did not mention to anyone that this might be the last time I would see them. At the train I met my father who had already bought a round trip ticket and had also put my valise on board. At this time we said our farewells and I boarded just as the train was starting up. Ryva was to come to Danzig the next day and meet me there. She was permitted to travel freely as there were no restrictions on her pass. Just before I got on board the train I saw that Paula Schwartz (Levien's sister) was there with her friend Wolfstone and they were getting on board too. She had decided to come along in case there were any unexpected happenings, she would be able to report back. On the train, Wolfstone again assured me that there would not be any problems. The paper was entirely legal and so it actually was. When the Polish border guards saw the paper with all the stamps, seals and
signatures, they did not question me and let me through without even opening the valise. We went into town and finished the deal with Wolfstone. He took back the document and I gave him the money as agreed. I thanked Paula for her thoughtfulness and kindness in coming along and they took the next train back to Wloclawek. The next day Ryva came and brought some more money, in case I needed anything extra along the way. She had borrowed it from her older sister. We spent several days enjoying ourselves in Danzig and arranged the trip to Berlin. From Danzig it was not possible to travel to the United States. We spent some time with Abraham Tarentchick who was also hiding out from the Polish authorities.
But one night, I said my good-by to Ryva and with great care not to be seen, went aboard the ship that would smuggle me into Germany. This boat was going to Svinemunda (East Prussia). Several other illegal passengers came aboard and we were put into a small space under several cases and cartons, in the hold of the ship, with other cargo. There was no air circulation and the space was very small. Even though it was winter, we were soon all sweating. We remained there until customs was finished and then we were allowed out and were able to mix with the others on board. The next day at about ten in the morning, we landed at Svinemunda and were able to leave with the others as though we were residents of that city. This was not a small city and I remember that it was very clean. Here I parted from the other illegal travelers, cleaned myself up and bought a ticket to Berlin. After resting and eating, I was able to board the train and by nightfall was in that large city.
Berlin made a very great impression on me. After Warsaw, this was the largest city I had ever been in. I had addresses of several comrades from Wloclawek whom I figured I could approach for a place to stay. But as luck would have it, I met one of my friends and he took me to his room. By the next morning, everybody from my home town knew I had arrived in Berlin. I wrote to the comrades in Warsaw to have them tell those who were interested that I had safely crossed the borders. I received a quick reply from them that everything else was proceeding well and hoped we would soon be able to meet again in Poland. The group from Wloclawek was very sympathetic towards me and showed me great devotion. They made a "banquet" that was attended by those of all the political parties present. We took many group pictures, made great toasts and had a wonderful time. In general life was very good in Berlin. There were many Jewish cultural activities as well as events on the political scene from all the different parties involved. My friend, Izbitski, who was living in Magdenberg sent me several telegrams to come and see him as he could not come to Berlin. I went there and stayed with him for two days. He did not know what he could do for me. We went to the opera one night and to a German play the next and we talked the whole day long. There was a feeling that we would not get to see each other after this visit. In this town there also lived Anja Tzerenovitch, who was not living with her first husband, Volesh. We had at one time had a "death decree" against him, but Comrade Kalman had prevailed upon us not to go through with it. Volesh was now in America and she was living here with a young man called Kviet. She was a very good comrade and a fine person and not at all suited to this Volesh. As we walked about the streets of Magdenberg, talking about my imminent departure to America, we met this Anja. She told me that if I were ever to meet with Volesh in
America I was not to tell him anything about her. She did not want to hear from him again and certainly I was not to give him her address. We said our farewells and I went to take the train back to Berlin.
The plans for the trip to America were under way. For me to go directly to America was impossible. I could not get a visa from Poland, Russia or Germany to go to America. The first thing that had to be done was to show that I was a "White Russian". This was obtained from a "White Russian" who had set up an office in Berlin. A visa for Canada was very easy to obtain and that was applied for. After having the visa in hand, it was simply a matter of buying a boat ticket for any ship that left from Antwerp, Belgium. On the way we went through Cologne, Germany and had to cross another border check point. This was controlled by the English, but since I had a visa for Canada, I did not have any trouble. I arrived in Brussels and had to wait a few hours for the train to continue. I ran around the city to get a "smell" of what it was like and got back on the train just in time for the ride to Antwerp.
We arrived in the evening and I was wondering where I would get a place to sleep, when I heard my name being called out. I looked around and saw a young man, about 25 years old, coming towards me. He said that he had recognized me right away. I told him I did not know him. This was the first time that I had seen him and he must have confused me with someone else. He acknowledged this was so but that he had seen a picture of me at my brother's house in Paris. He had been there to visit my brother Alex and his wife Anna before going to America and had been told I was arriving in a few days. He had met every train that come from Berlin and had been calling out my name for two days now. This time he noticed that someone at least turned around and it was very easy to recognize me. He took me to the hotel where he was staying and I got a fine room. He had come to Antwerp with very little money and I lent him some, which he repaid me some time later when he was living in Detroit. Leaving Antwerp did not present many difficulties, except that we had to wait ten days before the boat was ready to sail. Then we found out that we needed addresses of people we were going to. These would be responsible for us. There were "agents" that were providing addresses for about $ 25.00 each. By that time Levien Schwartz's brother, Zavtcha (Sydney), had also arrived from Berlin and the three of us sat down and figured out that we could provide our own addresses. We submitted these to the shipping office. The next day we boarded the ship, congratulated ourselves on having saved so much money and sailed away. The ship was not a large one and was called the "Grampion". The trip took 12 days and it was quite a stormy one and the ship tossed about like a cork. I was not seasick except for one meal and so spent the time in reading and getting acquainted with the other passengers. When we had been at sea for about 10 days, we heard a rumor that all immigrants had to have $ 50.00 on them before they would be permitted to land. When we had boarded the ship, we had been told that all we needed was $ 25.00. Zavtcha did not have any money and I had given him the $25.00 to show when he boarded the ship. We protested that the ruling was not fair, that we had been told to provide certain sums when we went aboard and now in the middle of the ocean the amounts had been changed. They told us that the rule went into affect as soon as it was passed, not when we wanted. When we landed in Quebec we went through the immigration
process with all its inspections and formalities. The last stop was for the money inspection. Later I found that this rule was bent and broken in many instances. Since the rule had just passed a short while before, many of the inspectors were allowing those that were short to go through. Zavtcha was one of those that made it through and my luck was to come up against a German who went strictly by the rule. At that time I still had over two thousand German marks with me that were worth much more than then the $ 50.00 required, as well as $25.00 in American money. I tried to argue with him that I had only to go to a local bank and exchange the marks and then I would have more then enough, but he would not hear of it and sent me to the left. Almost half of the people that had been on the boat were now being detained because of the lack of funds. On the other side of the chain fence, we could see people who had come on the previous boat and did not have enough money or were otherwise being held and now were to be sent back to Antwerp on the same ship that we had crossed on. They cried out their tales of woe, of the terrible jails they had been held in, as if they were the worst criminals. I became very discouraged by this. I had not wanted to exchange the marks in Berlin, as I figured that I would be able to send them back to Ryva after I had entered the States. Also, I saw that if I had not lent out so much and if I had not spent so much, I would not be in this terrible situation. There was nothing I could do at this point except be miserable. We heard that we would be sent to Montreal and there the final decision would be made regarding sending us back. We went through several prisons on the way to Montreal and there we were placed in another, large "house for criminals". It seemed as if there were thousands of people waiting and everyone had to pass before a judge, who would make the determination. Very few were allowed to remain at this time. Most were being sent back to Antwerp or the other ports they had come from. I waited five days until my name was called to appear before this judge. During this time, I had learned that there was a woman living in Montreal who had come from Wloclawek, she had been here for some time and knew my sisters and parents very well. When she found out that I was detained, she was able to hire a lawyer to represent me and see that I was released. I was called before the justices, there were several that were sitting on the bench, together with an interpreter. As I came in, a young man approached and said to me in Yiddish that he would see that I was released. The judges looked through all the papers, including those from the ship. And now there arose the problem with the address that I had made up in Antwerp. But now I had a good address in Montreal for the woman Jaffe. And sure enough this was the first question that was asked, how did I get this address. I told them that my father had been corresponding with a cousin and I had gotten the address from some of the letters. They said this was impossible, as there was no such street in Montreal and probably not in all of Canada. I said that possibly I had made a mistake in copying the address since I was not familiar with English, but I did have the address of my friends, the Jaffe's, and showed it to them right away. This information was passed around and the proper notations were made about the new address and then came the question of money. I told them that while I had been in their jail I had to buy some food to live on as what was provided was too terrible to eat. Now I only had $ 15.00 left but I also had over 2,000 marks that I could exchange in the bank in Montreal. The lawyer was able to show that these marks were worth more that $ 100.00 and that as soon as I was released he would go with me to make this exchange. The court allowed that this was all right and I was permitted to
remain in Canada. My lawyer told me in Yiddish "Put your feet on your shoulders and run". Which I did. I ran up the four floors, grabbed my suitcase, said a quick good-bye to my "friends" in prison and ran out the front door. The change from the inside was so strong that for a moment I just stood stunned. I had finally arrived, or almost arrived, at the goal I had been striving to reach for so long. But my sense quickly returned and I saw a cart with a horse and driver and showed the address on the paper and was soon taken over to the house the Jaffe's lived in. They already knew that I had been freed, as the lawyer had been by to tell them. The getting to know each other and the joy of being free were very great. They treated me like a long lost member of the family and I went with them from place to place where "banquets" and teas were made for, me. They were a very large family and everyone had to meet me. They made a very good impression on me as being very sympathetic people. I wrote letters back to Poland to let the family know what the situation was with me; that I had arrived at the first goal and sent letters to friends who had already arrived in New York. Now came the problem of how to get over the border and end up in New York City. There were many "agents" who arranged the means of crossing the border. I met with several other men and arranged with one of these "machers" that he would take us across for a certain sum of money. On the agreed day we were to meet with him and he would undertake to see us across the border as well as accompanying us into New York. It was agreed that we would pay him $ 50.00 each but the money would only be paid only when we were safely in the city. There were 6 of us in this group and one morning we left on an early train that took us to the end of the line. There we were met by this man and he had a sled with a horse. He took us some distance and we went through a small town and into a farmer's house. We were told that during the ride on the sled, we had crossed into the United States, but were still very close to the border.
We now waited for a train that was to arrive at another town, since this one was not on the line. While sitting in the house waiting, the family was all around us. They looked upon us as a very low form of life. We did not understand what they were talking about, but could tell from the way they looked at us. We did get something to eat and drink, as this was part of the arrangement that was made and soon we were on our way again. We climbed back into the wagon and soon it started to rain. We huddled close to try and keep warm but we did not have anything to cover ourselves with. We were soon drenched to the bone. We rode like this throughout the day and about eleven o'clock at night arrived at a small train station. We entered and sat down on the benches. The water ran from us in streams and we literally flooded the little station. In addition to the ticket-seller, there were three others there and they looked at us with great suspicion. When our agent went over to buy the tickets for all of us, their suspicions were confirmed that we were crossing into the United States illegally. I noticed that one of them went over to the telephone and called someone but what he said then I, of course, did not understand. Hopefully any action that could be taken would be too late. Soon the train arrived and we went with our leader. We took seats in different sections and were given English papers to "read" and hold. We all felt much better on the train. It was warm and our clothes were drying out. From the looks of the other passengers we felt they knew that we were illegal immigrants and this worried us somewhat. In this way we rode into Plattsberg (N.Y.). As soon as the doors
opened, several men came in and started questioning everyone. We did not know any English and soon the six of us, together with our leader and another man were taken off the train and locked up in a room in the station. We understood that our plan had fallen through. Our "agent" spoke to us and pleaded that we deny knowing him, as it would be very bad and he would be jailed for a long time for having tried to bring us in. We all agreed to this as we now also felt sorry for him. The next morning, we were all taken by car for, questioning. We were asked who had been our leader and we all denied that we had one. We were on our own. He was being held apart, since he could speak English. The guard who was involved with us spoke German and he told us that this was always happening and most of the time they did catch those that came in illegally. He knew that we had someone to bring us over as there was no way that we would have gotten as far as we did on our own. We would now be turned over to the Canadian authorities and then our problems would be with them. The Americans were not interested in punishing us. That would be done in Canada. The one they did want was the one who had helped us. After lunch we were taken to the train by the interpreter and he told us that even though he was in civilian clothes, he was a police officer and showed us his badge. He said he would be with us and that he was the one that would turn us over to the Canadian police. He did not want the people on the train to know that we were prisoners and tried to make us feel more comfortable. He said that as long as we did not try to escape, we were not in any serious trouble. If we did try then it would go very hard with us. His attitude and calmness had a strong affect upon us. In addition, the fact that we did not know the language put us at a great disadvantage. In the morning we arrived in Albany and were taken into the station for breakfast. Then we found out that there had been three guards on the train with us and that we would have had no opportunity to escape. Good that no one tried. We were fed whatever we wanted and then taken by automobile to the courthouse. There we were placed in individual cells that were so small we could hardly turn around. Through the bars we could see that the agent was also here. He again said that we should say only we had come along with him, not that we had paid him any money. Nothing would happen to us here, we would soon be returned to Montreal. If it were known that he got paid for this action, then he might never see his wife and children again. We again agreed and when we were brought into court, that is the story we told. I don't know how much our testimony helped as I remember he received a "light" sentence of three years in jail. We felt really sorry for him. It is true that he did not get us into New York, but he would still lose so much of his life. We put a few dollars together and gave it to him. After that we were again taken to Plattsberg and put into a regular prison. But compared with the prisons I had been locked up in Poland, this was a palace. Clean beds to sleep on, hot and cold running water, showers that we could take every day. The food though, was not any good and we were not used to the kinds that they served. I could not eat more than the bread and some water. Others that tried to eat soon ended up being sick. We were certainly not used to it. We had no idea of how long we would be held like this and soon several days passed. The others began to think up different games to play with which to pass the time. Through the bars we saw the other prisoners and were able to talk to them through interpreters. There were two Polish prisoners who had been convicted of theft and they did most of the translating for us. Meanwhile I was getting worried about what I should do. I did not want to send a letter home because I was afraid of the
censors. At the same time I knew how anxious they were to hear news about me. We finally learned with great difficulty, that we would be held here for about four weeks and then be sent to Canada. I saw that I would not be able to survive this length time just on the bread and water and discussed the problem with the others. I told them that I was going to write to the leaders of the Jewish community. We knew there were Jews in town and therefore there had to be a group which was active in community and social affairs. Now we were part of their community, even though we were in prison. I wrote a long letter about our situation in jail, about the food and lack of anything to do and also about what had led us to be in this terrible condition. About the conditions that we had to live under during the 1914- 1918 war years, what we had suffered under the tsar and his Cossacks before and after the German occupation, the hunger and suffering under the German rule and the constant anti-Semitism from the Poles. After all these years we now wanted to live in a free land, become useful citizens and raise our children in peace, and now we were being held together with common criminals under these terrible conditions and were given food that was impossible for us to eat. We asked that if possible, they do something to get our release and that we did not have anyone else to turn to for any kind of help. We were strangers in a strange land. I did not have and address or stamps and did not know where to send the letter. I gave it to one of the guards and asked him to deliver it to someone in the Jewish community in town. After passing through the censor in the prison, as several guards knew German and could read the letter, it was sent on. The next day, when the gates opened for visitors, two men came in with baskets of food and fully cooked meals. They told us that they were happy to be able to help us and that anything that it was possible for them to do they would. And so they brought us food every day that we were there. The letter had been delivered to a rabbi. He called together the more prominent members of the community and had read it out to them. The women immediately undertook to cook meals for us for the entire time that we would be sitting so that we would not starve to death. They had appealed to the prison authorities that we be release into their care for the time that we were supposed to serve, but that had been denied. The other 5 that had been imprisoned with me were simple people, but very fine. They had looked upon me as someone from the "intelligentsia" and treated me with great respect. But after seeing and eating the results of the letter that I had written, their esteem knew no bounds. And the simpler that I tried to be in my actions with them , the more respect that they had for me. In this way three weeks passed and one day I heard the guards at the gate call my name. I went over to the door and saw a large man with gray hair standing there. He told me that he was my Uncle Weiss and that he had come all the way from New York to see me. Now that he had seen me everything was going to be "OK." and that he would be right back. I could not understand how he had found out that I was here in a Plattsberg prison. I knew that he was the husband of my mothers sister, but we had never received any letters from him. We knew that they were rich but not very sympathetic people. We only corresponded with the Uncle Mottle Silberstein. My father's sister was his wife and he was considered to be the good one. So why did this man come to be here? About an hour later, the full explanation came about. The door opened and my Uncle Weiss with a grand, manner entered the cell. He had many packages of different foods, salami, bread, sour pickles and other good things. With a grand gesture he told everyone to start eating and not to worry. That we had only one more
week to sit here and then we would be released and sent back to Canada. For the moment we were very depressed for we thought that he had arranged our release and that we would remain here as free citizens. But then we realized that this could not be done so quickly and we relaxed and accepted our immediate fate. We knew that we would be sent back to Canada but that would only mean that we would have another chance to make a try at some future date. We would be more experienced and have a better chance of getting through. I now had a chance to talk to my Uncle and I first asked how he had known where I was. He explained that the rabbi had sent a copy of my letter, together with a statement that there were Jews in trouble and that everyone had a duty to help, to the "Yiddish Togen Blatt" (Jewish Daily) in New York and that it had been reprinted there. My Uncle Mottle had seen it there and called him to see about getting help for me. He had come up and spoken to the members of the community and the rabbi and had been introduced to several lawyers and a judge. All of them explained that there was nothing that could be done unless I had a visa. They said that we would have to stay in Canada the required time and then apply for the visa. The law was very clear about this. Naturally this did not raise our spirits, as we were already well aware of the regulations. We said our good-byes and he called out as he was leaving "Don't worry. It will all work out."
I was left in a very depressed mood. I was sorry that I had signed my name to the letter and that he had come. His whole attitude left a very bad impression upon me. But it was too late to complain about it and we waited impatiently for the day to come when we would be sent back. And exactly 4 weeks after the time that we were locked up, we were told to get our belongings together and the same guard that brought us in came with two more agents and in two automobiles, we were taken back to the station. On the train the 6 of us sat together and it seemed that the guards did not even look at us. At the border the other 2 guards left and only the original guard remained. He told us that he would stay with us and turn us over to the Canadian immigration officers. They would then decide what to do with us. He said that it was possible that we would be sent back to Europe, under the new regulations so that was another thing for us to worry about now. Speaking in Polish, so that the guard would not understand, we made plans that when the train slowed down, we would make a dash for freedom, even if it meant fighting with the guard. We figured that since he was a official in the United States he did not have any authority in Canada and it would be some time before he could get help. As the train pulled into the station we prepared to make a dash and the guard noticed this and placed himself against the door. As the door opened, one of the others shoved him aside and we all ran out. The guard fell and hit his head so that he could not raise and alarm. We ran to where the wagons were and grabbed the first one and told him to hurry. I gave Jaffe's address and was the first one to be let off. I ran inside and found all the family together. They were indeed very, happy to see me again. They had known all about what had happened as the day after we were caught, the newspapers had carried stories about the capture.
Right away plans had to be made to cross over the border in a safer manner. It was decided that since one of the Jaffe's relatives was coming to see them from the States, in about two weeks, I would go with her. She and her husband lived in a small town near the border on the American side. I would
return with her to the stop on the Canadian side and there her husband would meet us and we would cross over with him. I would then stay with them until the further arrangements were made and I could safely leave. This town was a long ways off. The train tickets alone at that time cost $ 70.00. All this was to take place in Maine in a town called Caribou. From there I would go to an Uncle of theirs and stay as long as necessary. Several days later she arrived and spent the time visiting with the family and taking care of other things. When we were ready to leave, the family came to wish us success on this new trip. It was a very long ride and the woman saw the worry that showed on my face. She continuously spoke to me to calm me down and told me that now everything would work out well. Her husband would come and meet us at the train and from there we would cross over and go to their house. The only thing was that I was not to show myself in town at all. In this small town a strange face was immediately known to everybody and since there was not much else to do, everyone had to know all about the person. Where and when they had been born and everything that had happened since. The train arrived at the destination and her husband was there with a sled. We quickly climbed in and by using the country roads, were soon in their house on the American side. We washed up and ate a quick meal and I was surrounded by such warmth that I never felt that I was with strangers. I felt as if I had been with these kind people for years and that we were well acquainted. I was given a room in their large house, which also had their shoe-store and repair shop in the front. I wanted to help them with the work, but the husband did not want me near the shop. He was afraid that I would spoil the work and also that if I went near the sewing machine, I might break it, since it was not of the best. It was really a very old machine but that was all he could afford to have. But one day when they had gone out for a while, I went into the shop and did some of the work that was laying there. I had done quite a lot of the work that was there and when he returned and heard the machine running, he rushed in with a great fright. He was afraid I had ruined some of the work and that it would be impossible to fix. But when he saw the work I had done, he was astonished. He was not able to do such fine work nor as fast. The work that I was able to do for him also brought us closer and when it came time for me to leave there were tears of sorrow at our parting. Soon it was time to go to the station and we left at a time when there would not be a long wait for the train. He bought a ticket for himself for only one stop and one for me to the town of Caribou where his uncle would be waiting for me.
At this border town, when the train arrived all the doors were sealed and the American immigration checked everyone's papers. After that the doors were opened and everyone was free to get on or off. It was assumed here that all those getting on had passed through inspection or were American citizens. We got on and I was still frightened. The man kept talking to me, bolstering my morale and telling me that everything was in order and not to be concerned. In an hour or so I would be in his uncle's house and completely safe. At the first station when he got off, I said good-bye and waved to him through the window. I closed my eyes and made believe I was sleeping, so that no one could see how scared I was. When the train was approaching the station where I had to get off, I was already standing at the door, ready to jump off. As soon as I did I heard someone calling my name and turned around. I went over and identified myself. He grabbed my valise and got me quickly into his sled and
JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of
the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.
This web page created by Max Heffler
Copyright © 1999-2017 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 25 Aug 2005 by LA