With $5, a Wing and a Prayer
Many Polish Jews survived Nazi annihilation by fleeing to Russia. My mother’s whole family, due to her brother’s foresight, escaped to Russia. My father was not so lucky, he was the only one of his whole family to flee Poland, and the only one to survive.
In 1945, when the war ended, my mom’s family (except for her brother who was sent to the “trud army ”), came back to Poland. My dad also returned around the same time. Since it was not safe to settle in their home towns, completely depleted of Jewish population, most survivors went to few large cities, forfeiting their family homes and property. My parents ended up in Wroclaw, formerly a German city known as Breslau, much of it destroyed in the war. They married, and I was born in 1948.
Jewish Life in Poland
After the war, the Jewish community in Wroclaw tried to establish a Jewish life for themselves and their children. Our city had one of the few Jewish schools in Poland, which I attended through high school graduation. We were not allowed to learn Hebrew or have religious education. But we learned Yiddish, and Jewish history.
In addition to a Jewish school, for high holidays we attended a beautiful nineteenth-century German synagogue, “The White Stork Synagogue”, which was not burned down by the Nazis, only because it was attached to office and apartment buildings.
The Polish Jewish community, with financial help from Jewish American organizations, organized sleep away summer camps for kids from all over Poland. That’s how I met Jewish kids from other cities.
It all sounds very nice, but it was not always so. There were many instances of anti-Semitism including local kids calling us names or throwing stones at us. Life under communism was not easy. Not only were there food shortages, but anything of daily use was extremely hard to get. The black market flourished.
From 1951 to 1956, emigration from Poland was not allowed. In 1956, coinciding with the Hungarian uprising, the borders opened, and most of my Jewish schoolmates immigrated to Israel. We were also preparing to leave, but my dad got sick and needed surgery. By the time he recuperated, the borders were closed again.
In 1967 – 1969, an “anti-Zionist” (anti–Semitic) campaign in Poland lead to a second opening of the borders, and an emigration of most of the Jews from Poland.
We left in October of 1968; I was almost 20 years old. A Jewish agency arranged a work contract for my dad with a company in Cincinnati. My dad worked for this company until he retired. Poles allowed emigrants to take only $5.00 per person. My dad smuggled out an additional $100. Jews emigrating from Poland were harassed and aggressively searched, so he was terrified. Luckily, the border patrol did not find this money, or he would have ended up in a Polish jail. We came to America with $120.
Poles also took away our citizenship. For five years, until we received U.S. citizenship, my family and I were stateless. We were refugees.
A Good Life
I’ve been here 50 years. After arriving, I went back to school, graduated and got married. Later I got an MBA. I met my husband Ben, when I was here just three days. His background was similar to mine. His parents were Polish Jews, who fled to Russia, survived in Siberia, then relocated to Kazakhstan where Benny was born. After the war they came back to Poland, then immigrated to Israel. In 1967 Benny immigrated to the U.S.
We were married 48 years. Benny died suddenly last May. We have two great kids. My daughter is a doctor here in Cincinnati; my son is a founder of a start-up in San Francisco. I have three wonderful grandkids, and a fourth on the way. I have a great group of friends with a long history, for some of us it’s friendship going back almost fifty years.