My current client is a delight to interview.
He is short, with a wispy white beard, his back slightly hunched. He leads me to his meticulously organized office, not a paper out of place. Organized space, organized mind, I think. And he is. But he doesn’t just tell his story. He is there, he can see himself right there in Poland, coming off the train that led him out of the USSR in 1946, only months before they slammed shut for decades to come.
And he traveled–from Poland to Czechoslovakia, to Paris to Belgium, in a world just recovering from the carnage that was WW11. He came to a point where he was stuck in Belgium and need to travel to Paris to get the highly coveted visa to America.
In his words:
There was only one option. I needed to smuggle myself into Paris. There were a lot of small towns on the border of France and Belgium where half the town was divided between the two countries. In fact, there were homes and cafes where the entrance was in Belgium and the yard in France. My father found the address of a cafe whose owner helped people cross the border for the right price. When we arrived at the cafe, the worker knew immediately that we weren’t there to eat or drink–we were obviously Jewish in a non-kosher cafe. He took us to the back, but the owner shook his head. “Too many police,” he said. “Come back another day.”
The next time we came, sometime in May of 1947, the surrounding area was clear of police. “Follow me at a distance,” the owner instructed. I followed him until we reached the city of Lille, a large metropolis near the border. He put me on the train to Paris and that was it. I was traveling alone, but at fourteen, I was no longer a child. I knew I’d find my way around.
Fourteen years old. That blew me away. At fourteen years of age I was also traveling. But rather differently I would say. It was a trip to Israel, purely for pleasure (and a little education to please our parents) in a tightly chaperoned group with leaders who didn’t quite think we were no longer children.
(Me at age 14, Masada, Israel.)
Smuggling myself across a border? Not in a million years.
What were you like at age fourteen? Tell us in the comments below!