Forward written late 1990s by Gilbert KRAINE (born KREISBERG), father of Sarah (Sally) Kraine MARQUIGNY:
The Unpublished Autobiography of
Jacob Nussen "Jack" KREISBERG (1887 - 1967)
written ca. 1960
Copyright © 2001
When the eleventh hour has arrived, one should not wait until the last hour has started its ominous tick tock. Much before or as soon as possible, sit down and think hard as far back as ones memory may take one, reflect and give a true account of all the things, good, bad or insignificant that did happen in ones lifetime. If fortunate and that lifespan has reached or surpassed the average of the period, days have turned in to weeks, weeks into months, months into years, many years beyond the earlier expectations of a sick childhood. Then there is a lot to think, reflect and write about. The good and the bad that one individual encountered and tasted in its full measure, the three and half decades of this century were only like a rudderless ship floundering on a turbulent ocean, that finally got safely to port. One can not help but think of the many millions of humans that suffered and died, not having had the good fortune to survive and reach port safely. And now sitting peacefully in my own home and writing about it, I wish to leave it as a memento for future generations to read and maybe derive some benefits.
|Jack Kreisberg ca. 1950|
I am sitting in the sun porch of the home that represents 40 years of combined work and savings. The old man of some 70 years could not help but reminisce and compare the difference of his childhood surroundings to the quiet and peaceful life of an August Saturday afternoon on this street, when all the people, the elders and the little children are away on their summer vacation. Who would believe that this is a part of the great city of 8 million people that is called New York! The quiet little one and two family houses, the trees in the street, the gardens surrounding the houses, the flowers that represent the pride of the womenfolk. Credit is due them for the many hours of continuous work and care that gardens and flowers require. Lovely and peaceful Tryon Avenue, neat and clean. On one side Woodlawn Cemetary, not only as resting place for the departed, but also a beautiful park. On the other side are the parks and playgrounds for the children and the babies, and the great medical center, the Montefiore Hospital.
How different from the old Mitzrayan Street where he was born and grew up. So many years have passed, so many things have happened in those 70 long years, but everything of that childhood was in front of him, as if he were looking at it straight in the face and living it all over again. The little village that was poor and desolate. The houses that could not be called homes. Crowded with people, animals and fowl, dirty and filthy, but the dirt and filth belonged to Mitzrayan Street. Whole families of ten lived in one room, cooking, eating and sleeping. The normally natural things of life, that had to be attended to in the nighttime, had to be done in the family pot, to be emptied in the morning in the adjoining empty lot next to the house.
The village had only one outhouse next to the steam bath. Heavy rains or floods would wash the dirt away and carry it to the river, where, in the summer, people would go bathing. No wonder all the contagious diseases from typhoid to diphtheria and cholera prevailed. The people were never safe or free of the terrible diseases. Yet the natural surroundings were beautiful. On the one side of the River Pruth were the mountains and beautiful forest as far as the eye could see. The mountains and forest would rise one above the other. How beautiful, cool, and inviting they were. On the other side of the river was the big city of Czernowitz. Sloping down from a small mountain, the houses beautiful, the metal roofs glittering in the sun, luring the folks down in the valley to come and see and admire its beauty. But it was a long way to walk. The fare cost money, merely ten cents, but who had ten cents to waste, so most people walked. He remembered when his older sister took him to the big city. The Grand Duke and future Emperor came for a visit and there was to be a big parade--but the long walk, and then up that mountain. He was tired and fell asleep in the street and they had to walk back home not having seen the parade of the Grand Duke. It was very disappointing.
Some years earlier, his oldest brother Morris had to walk to the big city and bring back some medicine and a steam lamp so that Joel, the barber, could cure him of that terrible sickness. He could not breathe and that cruel man with the beard took the long handled brush and went down his throat. How many times, he does not remember, but he saved his life. The same man with the beard who, a few years later, was to be his teacher when he became a barber's apprentice. He remembers when the same oldest brother counted out so many silver Guldens on the table, before he went away on a long voyage, on a train and then on a ship to a new land. There he would not have to be a soldier and could earn more money as a tailor than at home or in Bucharest.
In this half Asiatic village, there was one building. It was like a palace. In there lived the Wonder Baby and his family. Only at prayer time could he be seen walking from his secluded home with his assistants to the Temple, and afterwards, back again, speaking to nobody, and nobody daring to go close enough to see him.
All these pictures are so lively before him as if they were happening today. If one asked him what he did two weeks ago on a certain day, he could not remember, but here on this peaceful street, seventy years later, everything is so clear before him as if everything would be happening just now.
THE SCHOOL YEARS
In the village, there was one school, a gentile school that only taught in German. Very few Jews sent their children to that school, but a Baron Hirsh school was where most of the Jewish children were to go. The picture was very clear in his mind when, one morning, his mother gave him a wood framed "Tablet" and a pencil and sent him off to school with these words: "Here goes my Doctor". What a school that was, and what a doctor he turned out to be.
Most of the children were poorly dressed and in the summer, no one wore shoes. Many did not have any for the winter either. When in the early Fall, the weather turned cold and rain mingled with snow, the school gave out shoes, but there were 120 children in that class and teacher did not have enough shoes for every child, so he was left without. After a time, he caught a cold, pneumonia set in. Months of sickness followed. The first year of school was a total loss.
The next two or three years were not any better, no books, no writing paper. "Your Father is a merchant", the teacher would say, "he should buy them". Poor man, he would get up at 3 or 4 o'clock in the morning, mostly walking on for miles and miles trying to buy a cow or two to bring them to the market, and very often not making enough profit so that Mother could buy the flour to bake the bread that had to last until next Friday. Thursday and Friday was in his memory, a day of continuous hunger, when the bread was gone. Nothing could fill the youngsters stomach.
After the third year in the Baron Hirsh School was a failure, he decided to transfer to the Gentile School. He still remembers the expression of the new teacher's face when he saw the report card of the old school. He told the teacher that he had no books or paper to study. He was a friendly man and smilingly gave him books and paper and said, "We shall try".
Most children of this school were of different nationalities, Polish, Ruthenian, Roumanian, Jewish and none could speak German. Some from the outlying districts had to walk miles and miles to be in the class room at 8 o'clock in the morning. The German language was hard for them to grasp and to learn, and when the four years were over, they could hardly pass, and then went to some apprenticeship in all kinds of trades.
He was left to learn barbering. Mother had her will and insisted that a trade is better than jobbing. You can always earn a living. How right she was! He was to find this out in later years. So Joel the barber, the Man with the Beard who had saved his life, became his boss for the next two years. At 11 years of age, a new phase in life opened up.
THE YEARS OF APPRENTICESHIP
Joel R. had two sons and they did the barbering. He was busy doctoring the sick and ailing in the village, more so than the real doctor who was also the Mayor. Seldom would he bother himself with the sick. He would send them to Joel the Barber, and Joel would examine them or go to their homes, determine what was ailing them, make the medicine and often treat them, all for a few pennies. If they could pay.
Joel's two sons were the teachers. When they were working on the customers, he could stand at the side and watch. Otherwise, he would run the errands, do the cleaning or cater to the whims or wishes of the two lazy daughters who did nothing but sit around, waiting and hoping for some man to come around and marry them. After two years of his three year apprenticeship, he left and went to the big city to find a job, but soon found out that he needed a Working Man's Book showing that he had finished his apprenticeship. Joel was a good soul, and after some time of talking and pleading by his Mother, he gave his ok to such a book.
At 13 years of age, he was a full fledged Barber's Assistant. In the big city, the pay was poor. Some meager meals and sleeping accommodations were thoughtfully provided in the barber shop. The long days and evening, waiting for a customer, were tedious and boring. So one tried to read the newspapers or anything one could find, only to discover that the little he had learned in the four years of school was all forgotten.
So he had to start with spelling, and then making a word, and then a sentence out of the different words. And so he became aware that America and Spain were at war. America was where three of his brothers and two of his sisters had gone; but in America, the men did not have to be soldiers, so they said when the brothers left. Whatever happened, his parents could not read and would not know, so he did not worry. When he came home to visit and spend the half-day that he had free once a week, Mother had heard about it and was crying, cursing Columbus who took her children from her. Mothers are short sighted, but they are Mothers. Trembling with hidden fear. How long will the only, and the last son remain with her, but never saying word, only hoping against hope that he would not go away and leave her. She soon found out differently, when a job 200 miles away by train was offered to him. This is only by train, not over the water, the big ocean, and the boss pays the railroad fare, so she consented, knowing very well that nothing can stop the young birds and they will come back.
And so that was his first train trip, 200 miles on wooden benches, nothing to eat and not a drop of water to drink. When the train stopped, a horse and wagon had to drive over a river on a long wooden bridge, but there was no water in the river, only a long and wide dry riverbed. "Do not worry" a travel companion said, "When waters come, this river can not hold them. The bridge is swept away and they have to rebuild it."
"And how does one get the train?", he asked.
"One has to have patience and wait," he answered.
In this village, the name he could not remember, maybe it was Wishnetz, his boss, was the only barber. Unlike his former Boss, Joel R who really had a great deal of medical knowledge and was a good diagnostician, this one was only a barber, but on occasions he pulled teeth. Whereas Joel stood in back of the patient when he pulled a tooth, he stood in front and I had to hold the patient's head from the back. It was all a part of the job if one wanted to hold on to it. And it was the only way out for sufferers to find relief from a painful and aching tooth. There was no anaesthesia. Only the sure and quick movement of the experienced hand.
Life was very dull in the village of Wishnez. The people spoke only Ruthenian and he understood very little of their language. The contact with people, especially girls, was limited. The native boys were not the ones to permit outsiders, not Jewish boys anyway, to mingle with their girls. So the young man of about fourteen years packed his belongings and went home to his parents but only for a little while.
Before he had time to renew his old friendships, another job far away in the mountains was offered to him. He decided to take it and see for himself how beautiful the villages surrounded by soaring mountains and pine forest really could be. It was a revelation how beautiful and peaceful the lower Carpathians could be especially on an early summer morning. But to get there was an ordeal. The transportation and travelling that only the young and hardy boy could take and the next day think nothing of it. The train crawled around and up those mountains hissing and puffing, but after a few hours had to stop and take a rest. The man refilled the boilers with water, reloaded the piles of wood and then started the laborious work and up those mountains again. The destination of the train was Dornawatra, but he had to get off in Gurahumora. Today, so many years have gone by and for the life of him he could not tell what those names meant or in what language they had their origins. Then he did not care. All he cared for at that time was to get off at the right station and not to miss Gurahumora.
It was just midnight when he arrived. The village was dark and not a living thing was in the streets. The Stationmaster gave him the direction and when he got there, the barbershop was closed and dark. He knew the man whose place he was to take over would be in there sleeping. He responded to the knocking on the door and let the newcomer in "make yourself as comfortable as you can" he said, the eyes still half closed. "Nobody knew when you are coming, or I would have been waiting for you at the station. You don't know how happy I am. Now I can leave and go home to see my people. It is so long since I have seen them. By the way, what is your name? Are you from Czernowitz?"
Before the newcomer could answer an avalanche poured forth from him. One could feel how anxious and lonely the young man was. He could not have been more than 17 or 18 years old. His features were fine, his smile pleasant his hair was black, thick and curly. "Did you say your name was Jacob, he repeated? Look Jacob, this is going to be your bed tomorrow. In the morning you get up at seven o clock. You put the bedding in back of the couch so when the boss comes everything is cleared away. Don't worry he is a nice man. He is educated too. He keeps the books for most of the business people. You will like him so let us go to sleep the few hour we have left." He crawled under the blankets and was soon asleep.
Jacob the newcomer sat himself in one of the barber chairs but could not sleep a wink. Sat there thinking and wondering. In the morning, Mr. Tauber, the boss, came in looking at the newcomer. He said "My brother-in- law spoke very highly of your parents and I am sure that we will get along fine".
Mr. Tauber was a fine looking man, tall slender and neatly dressed. His masculine features, high forehead, black shining eyes and strong chin bore evidence of his high intelligence. "You must be hungry," and turning to the older assistant he said, "Go to my sisters house. She will give you both breakfast."
On the way back from breakfast, the older man remarked with a sigh of relief, "Oh will I be glad to be home again and bite into a piece of old hard bread or dunk it in the coffee instead of that old Mamaliga and washwater she calls coffee. And watch out, he warned, do not sit next to the Father at mealtime. When his little baby pees and it hits your plate, you must not disturb him or move away and what is more you have to finish eating. Not to finish is bad for the health and future of the child so the father claims." When he saw the amazed expression on Jacob's face he tried to reassure him saying he is so much older and stronger it may hit his Mothers plate and then she will have to finish the meal!
The boss, Mr. Tauber traveled far in his youth as far as Lemberg and while working as a barber, he went to night school and studied bookkeeping of which he now was making good use, earning some extra money. He spoke German, Polish, Roumanian and had quite a few books. The newcomer picked out a few of them to read only to discover how pitiful little he could read and understand. When Mr. Tauber saw the struggling effort his new helper made to read and understand, he came and helped him, whenever there was a free hour and there were many free hours. That was one feature of barber shops in small villages. The customers did not crowd them too much.
The boss and his friends played many games of chess. The customers waited until the game was over enjoying the role of kibitzer and then being taken care. There was one older gentlemen, a mountain of a man, tall broad shouldered and strong. He came often to play chess. When he had to wait while the boss was busy, he showed the young newcomer how the game is played. Before long he played the game well enough to checkmate the old gentleman, but he was a poor loser and would not play with him any more saying with a twinkle in his eyes if you would shave and cut as well, you would be an expert.
The news about the Russo-Japanese War was very scarce as there was no local newspaper. The newspapers from the big city Czernowitz was always a day or two late. The neighbors waited impatiently to have peek or listening to those that could read to know the latest about the war. When the Russian Admiral Korapacktin lost the Naval battle defeated by the Japanese Admiral Kato, one fellow casually remarked what suffering and misery this war would bring to the Russian people and especially the Jewish population in Russia. The pogroms that followed, the thousands of refuges that flocked across the border into the Bukovina that lay next to the Russian frontier. The inhabitants themselves so poor and destitute, tried to help those poor souls in finding food and shelter.
It was during those years when a young woman they called Esther appeared in the Workers Circle and lectured on Jewish literature in Russia. It was an inspiring revelation to sit there and listen to Esther's lectures and recitations from different Jewish writers. No one could find out where she lived or what her real name was. Soon afterwards, she was gone. Nobody knew where or what became of her, but she was a great inspiration especially to Jacob the barber even today a half century or longer since then. He still can see Esther standing there talking to the boys and girls. Some could not even read or write. Soon after that, they enrolled in classes for night school to learn to read and write.
She was soon replaced by a Mme Tatiana Grigorowitsh, the wife of a Social Democrat, a member of the Austrian Parliament. She was a Russian and spoke and lectured beautifully in German. The dimples in her cheeks, her smile, the eyes and well shaped forehead was a perfect image of the Mona Lisa. That striking resemblance came to him many years later when he visited the Louvre in Paris and saw the real Mona Lisa.
Her husband was of Roumanian nationality. A tall skinny and sickly man. He became the first elected Member of Parliament after the right to vote was given to the Austrian people. He was a poor speaker to hold the attention of an audience. Rumors had it that his maiden speech in the House was a flop and that most of the members walked out before his speech was over. How could such a lovely woman, so gifted in manner and speech, become the partner of such an unpleasant and gruff personality and be happy, but she was at least outwardly. In front of other people, she was a very happy personality. It was fortunate for the young barber that these two lovely people, Esther and Tatyana, crossed his path in his early youth.
This all happened after the return from his traveling adventure to two Polish cities, Stanislow and Lemberg. They were both rat and lice infested and so he decided that Czernowitz was, with all its shortcomings, still better and worthwhile to try again. Maybe things, living and working conditions will be better to a certain extent. His hopes and aspirations were fulfilled.
It was in Czernowitz that he met and made friends with a young fellow barber, Jacob Gingold. It is now over half a century and in his reminiscing, he was wondering what became of J. Gingold. He was a small chap, under 5 feet, but strong and healthy. In the First World War, he was drafted into the Army and became a prisoner of war by the Russians. After the war ended, he decided to remain and marry a Russian girl. He was wondering if he was still alive and if their thoughts were crossing one and another on wings of hope. Every night after work, they would meet and read the poems that his friend's puny efforts wrote during the idle hours of the day. His interest and encouragement were very helpful. He would say, "Keep it up my friend. Some day you will be great." How right or wrong he was, only time will tell.
One evening, after the classes of writing and reading by Mme. Tatiana was over, she asked everyone to recite a poem by memory that they have learned during the past months. She insisted that there should be no repeats. When it came to his turn, he recited one of his own poems, but in Jewish. The title was Chumitz where during the Easter holidays, a poor Jewish women and her child, hungry and starving, find a loaf of bread, but sooner go hungry than to break the law.
Mme. Tatyana wanted to know who wrote it. After the class was over, she asked him to come to her house and bring everything that he wrote along. She was surprised that most of them were in German. "Why not in Jewish" she asked? And he answered, he had to learn one or the other as both are not very familiar, and so he decided on German, hoping that in time to come he will improve. After some valuable advice and corrections, she gave him a German dictionary to study and keep. If she is alive still and should these pages ever come to her attention, he would like her to know how grateful he is even to this day for her kind help.
The times were uncertain. Rumors of war filled the people with apprehension and fear. The peasants, old and young, left their work on the farms of big estates to emigrate to the US and Canada. The ones that were settled there let their kin know how wonderful and happy they were. The emigration, especially of the younger peasants, became so great that the government tried to stop it and made it difficult to obtain passports. The exodus was still going strong when he decided on his next adventure to go to the great city of Vienna, the capital of Austria and from there perhaps to Berlin, Germany. But there was a problem. He knew the sorrow and pain his parents would suffer if he told them that he was leaving. The best way out was to write them when he got there. So when everything was arranged and settled, he went home as on his regular Sunday afternoon visit, stayed until the evening, then left home, never to go back again. The next day, late at night with his true and loyal friend only to say good-bye, he left Czernowitz. The shock to his old parents, as the letters that he later received told him, was unbearably great
THE TWO ASPIRING BUT LONELY YEARS
The arrival in Vienna in the early morning hours on a midwinter's day, was anything but what the young traveler expected. The city was inside and outside, misty and old. The people that he encountered and asked for information were not the kind and friendly type for which the Viennese had a good reputation. But why worry? In and hour or so he will be in the office of the employees Trade Association and his membership card promised all possible assistance to all the colleagues.
It was a small office in a big building where all the trade unions had offices. The reception was not the open arm welcome as expected. One of the unemployed colleagues who was seeking work, told him where he might find a half of a room to rent. It was a room with two beds. One bed was free and to be had. That was better than being in the street.
To get a job and find out that the living and working conditions in this big city, the capital of the Austrian Empire were as bad as at home and in some instances, even worse, was a real disappointment. The lectures by a Dr. Renner and other prominent men and the chance to visit the historical and art museums were great compensations and worth all of the little sacrifices and inconveniences in ones young life.
Travelling in Europe in the days before the First World War was not difficult. One did not have to worry about the passports or visa as one has to today. All one needed was the fare money and one could go to any foreign country except Russia, but who wanted to go there? So the young man, by now used to travelling hopped on a train for Berlin. Nobody said anything about the weather or cared to ask what the weather will be and so he arrived in Berlin in the midst of the biggest blizzard they ever had. It was no picnic. Few of the travelers dared to venture outside of the railroad station. A Red Cap that he spoke to asking information where he could find lodging gave him an address not far away from the station. Fortunately the woman proprietor had a large room. Two beds were taken and one was free. So again he was lucky. He had a roof over his head and a bed to sleep in. During the daytime he had the room all to himself. The other two tenants were working and came home only at night, so he could read and write or take a nap when he felt like with nobody to interfere or disturb him. The only problem was food and eats. One had to be very economical with the little money he had left after the train fare and the rooms lodging that had to be paid a full week in advance.
There was on the Alexanderplatz, a large beerhall. For about ten cents one could get a glass of beer and a hotdog and all the fresh rolls one could eat. There were no seats, only standing around large tables. The place was always crowded. Nobody watched if one took a few rolls in ones pocket. Many did, to make an extra meal of it later on.
The city was clean, the gardens beautiful. Nobody dared to drop a piece of paper in the streets, even when there was no policeman to be seen. It became second nature of the people to obey the law. The museums were nice, but no comparison to the ones he saw in Vienna. Life in Berlin was pleasant during the few months that he stayed there. Of course, one could feel a certain amount of anti-semitism, but not as much as one encountered in Vienna.
Winter and the cold days were a thing of the past, Spring came and the beautiful and warm days were greatly appreciated. One could see the mass of people streaming out of their homes going boating and picnicking. It was in the early days of May that he received a letter from his brother Adolph with a ship's ticket all paid for to come to New York. The letter told him when the ship was leaving Antwerp for New York. The time was short.
On arriving in Antwerp, he had to board immediately and no medical examination was made. The second class accommodations were wonderful and luxurious. The food was good, the weather fine but very windy. His eyes became red and inflamed. When the ship arrived in New York, the Doctor of the Immigration Authority refused to let him land and sent him to Ellis Island. It was heart breaking to see his family after so many years for the first time and not to be permitted to join them and the new home they had prepared for him. He was especially sorry for his brother who spent his hard earned dollars to pay for the ticket working by day as a carpenter and studying at night to become a lawyer.
Only the new and young immigrants who never had a chance in the old country could endure so many hardships striving to make a new career, a new life for themselves. Adolph and he wanted so very much that his younger brother should have the same opportunity. Well, it was not to be. The time came and family was there with the children to say good-bye. Only after passing the Statue of Liberty, that was blind to his suffering and stone deaf to his prayers and supplications, was he permitted to mingle with the other passengers.
There was an older man on the boat, going back home who tried to console him. Don't despair. Life is very hard in New York. You can be just as poor and lonely in the big city of New York as at home. Poor old man. To learn a new language at that age is hard. You can not transplant an old tree into new soil, but he, was a new sapling trying to root in a new country. For the old it is hard, but when one is young it would be easier to learn to be assimilated, to be lost in the melting pot of so many nationalities and emerge a new American. But for him, this was not to be. May be years later after passing the crucible test of living and working for many years in foreign land and among different peoples, most of them good and helpful.
The most pressing problem was to cure the ailment of his eyes. The best place is Paris the Doctor in Antwerp hinted. He met another young chap, a Russian, by trade a cap maker who aspired to become and actor in a Jewish theater in NY and had managed to get to Antwerp, but failing to get on a ship there, was re-routing his course to Paris first, then London and from there to New York. So they both hitched a train ride from Antwerp to Lille and from there to Paris, without any money. Nobody has ever duplicated that, but those boys from Russia knew how to do it.
They both arrived one summer day early in the morning in Paris with no money, only an address of some lodging house. They walked and walked many miles with left and right turns until they reached their destination. After breakfast, the owner of the lodging house told them that she had room for only one and as the Russian boy was a relative, so he naturally had the preference. Paris, the great city of light and beauty, does not strike the stranger as such, especially when for pecuniary reasons, he had to seek quarters in the poorer sections.
He found a room in a side street hotel. The smell was suffocating as just before, they had it sprayed with some chemical to get rid of the bedbugs. It was a poorly furnished room with only a small bed, a chair and table, a basin with a jug of water and a small towel, that was changed once a week. But it was a room out of the sweltering summer heat and a place to sleep. Having settled himself in the new surrounding, the most pressing problem was to find a job. That was not easy, not knowing or speaking French. A Mr. Amenot, a kind and friendly man at the Confederation of Labor, soon got a weekend job for him in the suburbs, Saturdays from 7 AM to 11 PM at night, and Sundays from 7 AM to 5 PM. The travelling by bus took one and a half hours or more each way. On a Saturday, he gave nearly 20 hours to his job, so when he came home at last, he was very tired and it was difficult to get up the next morning.
The eyes were in bad shape so he went to the Rothschild Eye Hospital for an examination. After some tests, a nurse put some drops in his eyes that were like burning fire. Those treatments were applied twice a week for many months, but the progress was not as expected. They still swelled and became inflamed when exposed to a draft or wind. One eye specialist of Polish descent, his name he has forgotten, was very famous for his skill in operating to remove such infections of the eyes. He did a good job. He did it all in his own office and never asked for pay. A grateful "thank you doctor" was all he got. It did not make any difference how many times one came back after the operation for him to see if everything was all right. But how did he pay his expenses? That must have been the practice of the medical profession at that time. To help those free of charge that could not afford to pay.
The throat specialist too gave examinations and treatments to those that could not afford free of charge. When his tonsils had to be removed, he made the appointment for a Monday morning in the doctor's office. Without a nurse or any assistance, he proceeded to operate. The anaesthetic was a local injection by needle and the needle got stuck in the throat, but he skillfully managed to remove the same and proceeded with the operation as if nothing had happened. "Rest here for a while, then you can go home, but come back in a week. Should you bleed", he warned, "go quick to a hospital".
The following week's examination showed that everything was all right and the doctor wanted to make a date for the other tonsil to be taken out. It never did happen as he did not go back. He could swallow his food much better and his throat did not bother him any more, and now 50 years later, he still has one tonsil left and it does not bother him.
The ladies hairdressers in Paris were famous for their great skill and artistry in their profession. The demonstration and lectures by a Professor Long was very interesting in his minute explanations and his handling of the tools, at that time the marcel waving irons. Today this is an art out of practice and forgotten, but at that time very much in demand and skillfully practiced.
He took a job in the suburbs of Paris, Levaloi Perez, that he may learn and improve his knowledge in the profession. The pay as a barber was only the tips from the customers and two meals a day, lunch and supper. The meals were excellent so much so that two and three helpings were offered and always hungrily accepted by the young and foreign helper. He spent six months at that job. It was the longest six months. The trip to and from the job took nearly 4 hours every day. The working hours were from 7 AM to 8 and sometimes 9 PM, but the experience he gained and the improvement in the French language was worth everything, all the privations and sacrifices that it entailed.
It was time to make preparations for the next move. To go to London and learn English and from there to Canada if possible, perhaps to America. In London, 207 Charlotte Street was the focal point for all the Austrians and Germans that came to England. They were admitted to membership on presenting the Trade Union card. The Club was founded by the refugees after the 1870 anti socialist laws were enacted in Germany. It grew with the years to become like a day and evening home for the great influx of workers from all the continental countries and trades. Its members could enjoy all the privileges and there were many such as good and reasonably priced meals, the library that was big and had many interesting books, the many and different games, the lectures that were held often by the most prominent visitors of the international labor organizations. It was in those surroundings that the young traveler landed and got acquainted with another young man that was to guide and decide the trend of his future life.
He was having breakfast all by himself and on the opposite side sat the other party. He was a tall, skinny, slightly stooped young man with a Van Dyke beard looking at him with a question in his sharp eyes and visibly desiring some conversation. "Have you just arrived and where from?"
"Yes," he answered and added "from Paris".
"You are not French?"
"No Austrian. Won't you join me and have breakfast, or did you already have yours?" He was quite sure that he did not as the place had just opened up.
Instead of an answer, the stranger pointed to the inside of pocket and said "No money, broke".
"Join me, be my guest" said the newcomer. "My name is Jacob."
He sat down extending his hand "And my name is Emile. I am a ladies hairdresser, but presently out of a job."
"What a coincidence," said Jacob. "I am a hairdresser, too. Is it hard to get a job?"
"No" he said, "I am starting tomorrow. Yesterday, I lost all my money in the horse races. Next week at this time, you be my guest for breakfast, if by then you should not have a job, but good men have no difficulties. I will take you to the Employment Office right after we finish our breakfast and show you the ropes."
It is peculiar how a casual acquaintance made on the spur of the moment can lead to a relationship that will last a lifetime.
As he said, it was not difficult to find a job. His first one was in Southampton. Lodging he got by two sisters. They took in a few borders. Among them was an Englishman, well educated but hoitty and aloof the first few days. He spoke several languages and had not much money. He lived on an allowance or small income so a little extra income for English lessons was a welcome addition. The same Gentleman a few years later, during the first World War, became the Officer Censor on the Steamship ASCANIA and did not want to recognize his former roommate and pupil.
It was also in Southampton that the young traveler saw for the first time a black child. His facial characteristics were distinctly negro with black kinky hair. Surprised by the strange appearance, he got up from the lunch table leaving the Englishman alone and walked over to the window looking into the backyard where the child was playing all by himself. The Englishman motioned to him to come back to the table as the Mother of the child would dislike his curiosity. "But how and who is his Mother" he asked?
"One of the sisters" he said. Apologetically he added, "poor woman, she was engaged to a sailor, supposedly a Latin American. He never came back from his last voyage. Oh they take good care of him. He is in a private school and comes home to Mother on holidays and summer vacation."
Nobody would believe it to see these two sisters, blond and fairly good looking, sedate and not speaking to any of the boarders a word more than it was necessary. Going to church Sunday mornings, their hearts full of sorrow, no joy that should fill a Mothers heart in seeing her own child. How cruel can life be, he thought to himself.
After a few months in Southampton, he took a job in Brighton, a nice resort near the ocean. In the Fall and early Winter, it was not so pleasant. Only the rich and their beautiful homes that one could only see from the outside and the business people that catered to them and lived in seclusion and all by themselves. There was no recreation facilities for the young people except the Pubs to drink but he was not a drinker and more than one glass of beer he could not take. And then that insanitary habit of drinking from one another's glass. You order a glass of beer and while waiting, John and Bill and a half a dozen others offer you their glass to taste. One does not dare to offend so one tastes, and when the order is served custom demands that one offers the glass to them and so a half a dozen men had their lips in your glass before you had a chance to take a sip. It was impossible to go there.
And the unfortunate Hunditch Affair happened, where some burglary was committed or contemplated, and a watchman or policeman was killed. As his English was not so good, he could not get a clear picture of what had happened, but he could see and feel the change of attitude of his employer, blaming and cursing the foreigners. All foreigners should be chased out of England he insisted. He was a veteran of the Boer War and very patriotic. There was no sense in arguing or a possibility of reasoning with him. He was the boss, so again the young barber packed up and returned to London.
In the wintertime, London can be a very lonely and gloomy place for the foreigner. The Club in Charlotte Street was a God send. One could sit in the Library, warm and cozy, read or play a game of chess, discuss all kinds of topics, go down to the basement and do some bowling and if hungry, buy a smoke at the counter for little money. Although the club was German in every respect, it was also International and a focal point of all kinds of nationalities.
A little group of men and women lived in a house in the outskirts of the city. They invited the young man to visit them. The ladies especially wanted some advice about their hair. During the short time of one visit, one of the fellows bragged about his ability in shoplifting. Needless to say that was the only and last visit to that house. They did not think, especially the women, that it was a crime. There is so much stock in those stores, why not take where there is so much. That was their idea of share and share alike. It was not long afterwards that the house was raided and they landed in jail.
There was also that other fellow just arrived from some foreign country talking a good line boasting of all he did to make it better for all the Workers. He was broke, down and out. He needed a room to live for only a few days he said. A Doctor member of the Club had a house with living quarters back of his office and was good enough to let him have a room. The doctor came home one day and to find movers packing everything and loading it on trucks. When he remonstrated and was going to call the Police, they told him that they just bought all from the owner. "He was just here. Where the duce is he?" They called, but the slick article was gone. He was later caught and sent to jail. All kinds of human elements find means and ways to penetrate in the minds of the good and noble and to misuse the pity and goodness of others.
Fate or some other unknown power dictates man's actions and so on the impulse of the moment, our young traveler decided to go back to Paris. Not long afterwards, his acquaintance of the first breakfast in the Club came to Paris too and brought his young wife along to have their honeymoon in Paris. They decided to stay and make their home there. She was a Jewish girl, born in Russia and worked as a seamstress in London. By the way, he said, "I have a sister here in Paris and I would like you to meet her. She is a very nice girl" he added. Why not? Any young man would like to meet a nice girl and he was no exception, so he went to meet his friend's sister.
She was a young girl about 19 or 20 years old, with light complexion, brown eyes and long, blond, beautiful hair. She was really nice to look at. She was courteous and friendly. Her big brown eyes were full of sunshine as if trying to compete with the sun bright day of springtime in Paris. He was quickly captivated and dates followed dates with many hours full of happiness. Paris was no longer the lonely city of a year ago. Going to the museums, strolling in the parks especially but she most, trying to sing with the birds of the beauty of nature and the gladness of life.
He became very active attending lectures and taking part in the activities of the forthcoming International Conference of the Barbers and Ladies Hairdresser Unions. He was delegated to translate for and assist the German Delegation. It takes the courage of youth more that experience to stand in front of a big audience in a large auditorium and translate the speech of the Chairman of the Delegation, especially when the speech was not submitted in writing prior to delivery. The Compliments expressed by the French officials was gratifying and in a way was compensated by obtaining a better job in the center of the city where a little English and German was necessary on account of the tourist trade.
Wages were paid to the help by the tips the customer left. And if a patron paid the bill without dropping the tip in the collection box, it was up to the operator to say "Please don't forget to tip me". One operator with beard and mustache told a lady patron in slow and broken English, "Please madame, don't forget to kiss me", instead of to tip me. The Lady was highly insulted and furious. The lady receptionist came to ask what was wrong.
When the error was explained and apologies extended, the Lady could not stop laughing and remarked "I might have been tempted if it were not for those whiskers."
When after she had left and he found out what she had said, he said "I would shave them off if she were younger".
A few months later, the Tangier Affair happened. Germany sent a battleship to demonstrate her saber rattling and France was full of war rumors. Although the excitement subsided and everything seemed smooth on the surface, one could sense the tension that had developed in international relations. The military elements on both sides clamored for war, hoping to reap profits and glory. For over 40 years prior to the First World War, continental Europe had no major war and that was too long for some people.
It was during that time a very distressing affair befell his friend Emile and as his wife was expecting a baby, they decided to go back to London and settle there. He and his new found love, after long consideration of all the pros and cons, decided to go to London too and build a home for themselves.
It was not much of a home. A one room affair. Living, cooking and sleeping in one small room. All of the difficulties involved could have been overcome if only the Weather had not been so bad and devastating to his wife's health. The damp and badly heated rooms during a London Winter can be bad for people that are used to a milder mid European weather. And so from the very beginning, his wife's health was badly affected. In the early summer of 1914, after the Balkan War and its tragedies were supposedly settled, we decided that she should join her sister- in-law and spend the summer months at home with her parents in Alsace to recuperate and get well.
If only one had had the premonition what was going to follow that same year. A little separation for the sake of health would be a separation of six long, weary, and tragic years.
THE TRAGEDY OF SARAJEVO
The summer that year was exceptionally beautiful. The people in England and all over the World were happy and enjoying the peaceful pursuit of work and life as best they could. Nobody had any foreboding that a World War was to follow that unfortunate tragedy in a remote corner of the Balkans. Speakers in the Club such as young Karl Liebknecht and other leaders promised, there will be no war. "The Workers of the World will not tolerate the slaughter of millions to avenge the crime of one crazy irresponsible man."
Unfortunately, fate or the powers that be had their own way. And war did fall on Europe and the whole world, like the scourge of a black holocaust out of a clear sky. A veil of suspicion and mistrust fell on the citizens and their offsprings of the Central European states. Neighbors did not speak to them nor answer their greetings. All foreigners had to register and were looked on as potential spies.
After some reverses in the field of battle, the clamor and demand of the press in the name of the people that all the Germans and Austrians be interned was followed by wholesale arrest and internment. The majority of those that came to England were workers of different trades, tailors, waiter, barbers. They only came to have a little more freedom and to attain a little better standard of living than was possible at home. They were not mentally or intellectually fit or equipped to be utilized as spies. But there they were overnight, the most dangerous spies and a menace to the security of the state. Without any preparations for receiving and housing so many aliens, they were brought to the Police stations and from there to the Alexander Palace. It was a stone building with cement floors, no heating facilities, no place to sit, only the stone floor. Scarce any of them brought a blanket along to wrap themselves in and so try to keep warm. If they were not enemies, and 95% were not, they sure had all the reasons to become bitter and hateful towards England.
After a few weeks under those deplorable conditions, and also with the influx of new arrivals from all over the country, the first batch was transferred to tents in an open field not far away from London. There conditions were worse. The rainy season had started and in no time under the trampling feet of so many thousands, the field turned into a lake of mud. From there they were transferred to the ship ASCANIA. Although the same was not clean and infested with rats, at least it was dry and warm. It was there that the censor confiscated a novel by Emile Zola sent to him by his wife who had to remain in Alsace. The Chief Censor turned out to be none other than the Gentleman who was his roommate and former English teacher in Southampton. In confronting him, he would not acknowledge that they knew one another or had ever met. So deep rooted was his hate towards all the prisoners that he did not even answer his greeting.
The quarters on board ship are limited but in this instance, where so many were confined, quarters were cramped and dangerous to life and limb. The long winter months on board ship with its restrictions of movements and outdoor life were the hardest to bear. Many prisoners from the African colonies, suffering from malaria, died without obtaining the medical treatment they needed and should have had. In fairness, judgement on that score should be lenient, as the unpreparedness and shortages were characteristic of all liberal and non-militaristic governments and becomes in wartime, a near catastrophe. After an inspection by a neutral representative, the prisoners were transferred to another camp where German soldiers as prisoners of war were held.
The civilians were also so called friendly enemy aliens and included Czechs, Hungarians, Austrians and Poles. One day, a Czech civilian who had the courage to express his friendly feelings towards the Allies was merciless beaten by the German soldiers. An ambulance had to take him to a hospital. Some months later, they were shifted from the south to the north of England. After some more travelling and changes of camps, they finally landed on the Isle of Man.
Why this bleak and forlorn island is called so was beyond comprehension. The sun shone there only a few weeks during the summer and then not every day. Even when it does not rain, the sky is cloudy and overcast. The camp was located on the flatland between two hills and divided into 20 compounds each housing one thousand men with one hundred men in each barrack. Wooden bunks on top of one another and straw filled sacks were the beds to sleep on. That was the place where so many lived and so many died until the war ended.
To some people, solitary confinement would be preferable to living with so many people crowded in one room. One could at least read and think, live in peace and not see and hear that cumbersome commotion of so mixed an element. They certainly were not suitable to one another.
Jack in 1916. Civil Prisoner of War in England. Photographer: D.W.Kee, Shore Road, Peel, Isle of Man
There were many intelligent and educated men in the camp. A number of great artists that were torn out from their own environment. Finding themselves without the means or facilities to study or practice their great Art. There was that great Hungarian violinist who seldom practiced. At least nobody heard him, but when he played, how great and wonderful it was. And the cello player who spent hours and hours in the bath house, his feet on the damp and cold cement floor practicing that he may give the best in him, the same as when he played in the great halls of the capitals for the rich and royalty. He would always say some are gifted by nature and some have to practice hours and hours to attain the same perfection. Finally, through some friendly donation, the name of a Dr. Markel was mentioned, they assembled an orchestra and were lucky to have in their midst a great conductor whose name he could not remember of great ability and perseverance. They gave concerts once in a while and when they did, the Officers of the camp came to hear them play and pay them honor and respect.
In that camp, there were all kinds of characters. For instance, a Dr. Neuman from Berlin, a lulu if there ever was one. Forsaking his family and his good medical practice, he came to England just before the outbreak of the War only to be interned with the rest of the Germans. He tried to appear like a messiah. His long black hair and beard, a sheet of linen covering his body, sandals instead of shoes, reading and preaching Zararousta as the new found bible. It was rumored that Neuman was not his real name. After the war was over, a newspaper clipping mentioned that a doctor who lived as a derelict around Berlin, decided to leave civilization and settle on a island in the Pacific away from all mankind. One would not be surprised if it were not the same doctor.
The concentration of so many men good and bad in such a limited area with nothing to do brought on deterioration and excesses. Gambling and stealing from one another was rampant. Under the prevailing conditions, one would have been willing and happy to do some manual labor even without pay just to get away from it all. One day, a notice appeared on the bulletin board that friendly aliens may apply for work on farms. He was the first one to do so and signed the papers the command submitted, pledging to remain neutral and not do anything detrimental to the interests of England.
In the first batch, were five boys sent to the mainland on such a farm. After two days and nights of travelling they arrived in a village called Sutten. The big house was called Sutten Manor. It was a large estate and owned by a family named Courage. The manager, a Mr. King, was a nice sensible man, but when he heard on asking what they can do that three of the boys were waiters, one a tailor and the fifth a mans and lady's hairdresser, He gasped "My Lord! I asked for farmers and look what they do send, all kinds of trades, but not one Farmer."
It was late at night and he did not want to disturb the Lady of the House, so he said he would speak to her in the morning. In the meantime, he showed them the quarters, two rooms over the stables where they could stay. The next day, he came back and told them the Lady said he should try. After all, we are also human beings. They promised to do everything to the best of their abilities and he will not have cause to be sorry. And so they started a new career as farmer's helpers.
Sutten Manor was a large estate of some 3000 acres. The village was small and belonged as part of the estate. The few stores catering to the tenants that were the workers hired by the estate for one year, also supplied the necessary things that they may need. The estate was more for pleasure than profit.
To the credit of the people, it must be said they were nice and considered trying to help us as much as possible, especially when they found out that one of the boys could cut hair. Otherwise they had to travel to the city of Winchester some distance away. It was also to the benefit of the boys when dealing with the baker and grocer. The rations were small and a few extra loaves of bread were a godsend to five hungry mouths.
The work at first was hard to the hands that never used anything heavier than a comb and shears but the coworkers were friendly and helpful to show how it could be done more efficiently and with less strain. When Lloyd George, the Prime Minister, insisted that all idle land had to be cultivated to increase the food supply, big tractors and cultivators arrived and the idle grassland on the estate was torn up and dried, then collected in big heaps and burned to get the land ready for the spring planting. There was plenty of work to do.
After the cutting and harvesting, the stalks were put on one another in big stacks covered with straw until the time came for threshing. Leaving it all outside in the field without any protection when the time came of threshing, there were some 200 or 300 rats in every stack. No wonder half of the grain was devoured by rodents. The Forester would have his dogs stationed in a circle and kill all the rats when they tried to escape. What a waste of labor and food, but storage bins, they did not have.
One day, the Master of the house, a colonel in the British Army came home on leave from France and sent order he would like to have his hair cut. That was the only time he had the occasion to set foot in the big house. He did not say much or ask any questions, only how he wishes his hair to be cut. When the job was finished, he handed him a small remuneration and asked if he the barber would mind to go to a friend, a General Watters about three miles away to cut his hair and shave him as he is sick and in bed.
That Sunday afternoon, it was raining , but he went there anyway. And after the haircut and shave was done, the General handed him a half a crown with the words, from one enemy to another. The Lady, his wife, must have noticed how inappropriate his remarks were. She knew that he was soaking wet as he was walking that long distance in the rain. Quickly, she followed and outside the room she said, would you care to have a cup of tea? Go downstairs and the cook will give you some. It was really nice of her and softened some of the bad feeling the General's remarks had brought on. She was a kindly Lady and a Mother too. She too had a son at the Front. On several successive Sundays in the afternoon, he went to perform the same service for the General and one time he came there as usual on Sunday afternoon and found the house closed and nobody inside. Later on, he heard that they have lost their only son, a young boy, no more that 22 years old. He was a flyer in France.
That was the last time he was near that house in Sutten scotney.
For nearly two years, he and the other four boys lived over the stables near the big house they called the Sutten Manor. In Summer and Winter, Spring and Fall, they worked from early morning till dusk. With the exception of certain annoying restrictions such as the 5 mile travelling limit, one had no reason to complain. On the contrary, they were satisfied and glad to be there. After the days work, the household chores such as cooking the meals and cleaning up, preparing the sandwiches for the next day, took quite a few hours. Although everyone contributed his share of time and labor, there was not much occasion for entertainment or opportunity for a change of environment that is very necessary for mental growth and to avoid stagnation. Playing cards or going to the pub, was not to his liking so all he could do was to go to his room read and write.
Some dear friends in London had sent him books by Goethe, Heine and others such as the hundred year war of the peasants in Germany that was long before the 30 year war of the Protestants. The rooms were not locked up when they were at work and it was certain that someone came there during their absence to investigate if not for curiosity, but certainly for safety reasons. So that they became aware that the barber and ladies hairdresser was reading classical literature.
The oldest son, a boy of 15 or 16 years, a student in some naval school, whenever he came home for the summer vacation, would come out and work in the field like the rest of the men, and during lunch time, sit himself next to him asking questions of a friendly nature. Why he said very slowly, "Why a young man with abilities and knowledge does work as a barber in civilian life and now as a farmers helper?"
"And why do you sir", he answered, "come here every day and work like the rest of us when you are on your vacation?"
"You want to know the truth", he said, "I need the money. I need pocket money and I get paid by Mr. King, the same as you. No we do not get an allowance. We get all we need in school for school purposes. We get credit, but outside, a fellow needs a few shillings, and this money I will save for when I go back to school."
It was a real revelation. Here the nephew of the famous Admiral Beatty and the son of wealthy parents such as the Courages, were known to be, working as a day laborer on his parents farm to earn some pocket money. It was a revelation. So many years later and under more pleasant conditions, he could not help thinking and wondering what became of young Master Courage. Did he follow in the footsteps of his famous uncle or just remained in the brewery business?
The correspondence with the outside world, his wife and parents was very poor. Nearly two years after his mother had passed away did he receive notice through the Red Cross. It was a very sad day for him. Not even a small secluded spot where one could retire and be all by himself with his past memories.
One day he was given to understand that he would have to go back to camp. The reason was a letter that he wrote to a friend of long standing. A man of high culture and historical knowledge. A wonderful lecturer. His name was Rudolph Rocker. Had he remained as a prisoner in camp, the letter would have gone through the censor without any trouble, but he was in the meantime released and was living in Holland. The letter was not of any importance, except expressing the best wishes on his liberation and hoping to see him again in the future. He had a reputation of being outspoken against war, but millions of people were and are against war. Only he had the ability and courage to speak and write against war. To be in correspondence with such a man was sufficient ground to be investigated.
Although after some explanations, everything seemed straightened out, he decided it would be better to leave the farm and go back to camp. The war could not last much longer anyway and then they all would be free. A few months later, the Armistice was declared, by not soon enough to spare him the trip back to the Isle of Man.
Everyone was sure the worst was over and soon they would be free. Free again and leave this wretched place. They had a different guess coming. It did not turn out to be that way. Although all were civilians, they were not considered as such and it took many months before a gradual release and transfer to their homeland was started. Even those who had their families living in England and some had sons in the English Army, could not remain in England. Such are the cruel outgrowths and consequences of war.
Many of the men did not return to their homeland. They fell victims to a contagious flu and found a resting place on the island. Maybe theirs was the better lot. They were spared and did not see the poverty, destitution and hunger that befell most all of Europe, especially Central and Eastern Europe. The transfer from England to Vienna, Austria took many weeks of discomfort and privation. In some places they found lodging in military barracks and were given some food. Especially in Germany but in Austria there was chaos. One could not find a place to sleep or buy a piece of bread for love or money. But for a piece of soap or other article of simple value, one could exchange for a loaf of bread. On his way to Vienna, he stayed over night by a friend, a fellow prisoner. His father had a small farm and did provide some wholesome meals during his stay of one day and night.
No one could describe the misery and desolation of the once beautiful city, Vienna, the capital of Austria. Eventually, he could rent a room from some people in the outlying district and to this day he is thankful to them for their kindness and help they little could afford. His second stay in Vienna, that lasted over a year, was the worst in his memory. There was no possibility of rejoining his wife in Alsace, that became French again. As an Austrian, he could not get permission to go there and for no price in the world would he have her come to him to share in the poverty and misery that befallen the once prosperous and beautiful city, Vienna. It was plain another way must be found where they could rejoin one another and live together.
Everybody that could possible do it, was trying to leave Austria and go to America. For him, that was impossible as America had not signed the peace treaty with Austria, but Cuba did and as an Austrian subject, he did obtain a visa. With that visa on his passport, he did get a transit visa through Switzerland and go to France as from there he intended to take passage on a ship to Cuba. Everything worked as planned. The schedule was take a train to Basel, stay over night, then take an early train to Strasbourg, Alsace and meet there with his wife. It worked out as planned.
So after six long years of separation, they were reunited again. If he had not expected to meet her at the station as it was prearranged, they would not have recognized one another. In those six years, how much suffering and worries one had to endure. It was a miracle for those that survived. The permission to stay until passage could be obtained was granted by the authorities because she was Alsatian. The six weeks that he stayed gave him a chance to regain his strength and the opportunity to see the country. The country is beautiful and rich in natural resources and the people are hard working. In the small communities, the business people have or rent small parcels or land that they cultivate and grow enough food for their own needs. He loved to go with them and help in the fields or travel to the markets where they sold their merchandise, mostly ceramics, an Alsatian specialty.
The time came too soon when he had to leave, to go to a different part of the world not knowing what it looked like nor what he will encounter there. Not having a friend nor knowing a soul, will he have a chance to find work? Not speaking or understanding Spanish, will he be able to find and establish a new home? Away from Europe's holocaust of tension and wars. That was all he wished and hoped to attain.
On the way to St. Nazarre from where the ship was to sail, he stopped off in Paris to see the city once more and perhaps meet some of his old friends. Paris was not the same. The city as he knew the good and bad memories of years gone by, was strange and cold. His friends, those that were still alive and at one time were so grateful for his help and cooperation at the convention before the war, were cool and not friendly. What war can do to people! It breaks their hearts and all traces of friendly human relations. Although he intended originally to stay a few days and rekindle the old love and friendship for the city and people, he decided to leave that same day for the seaport St. Nazarre. Better to stay the few days of waiting in a strange town where the people don't know you and you don't know them.
The voyage on the French liner to Havana took some ten or twelve days. The seas were calm and the sights beautiful. In one port, lots of Spanish immigrants boarded the ship. They were mostly seasonal workers for the sugar fields in Cuba. There were whole families with little children. and they were quite happy. He was fortunate to meet some nice Armenians. They were immigrating to Cuba to make a new start. Some had relatives, others only friends. To him they were a godsend. In those first trying days, the heat in the Summer especially, the month of August, is unsupportable for new arrivals from Europe. Their clothing is not suitable for tropical climates. All one cared for was water to drink and the more one drank, the more one needed to drink without quenching the thirst. The first night in Havana and the following weeks will remain in his memory as the same he experienced in the cold and blistering winter days in the unheated rooms in Vienna after his return from England.
Within a week and before his last few dollars were gone, he got a job as a lady's hairdresser. M. Moricyo, a Frenchman, who managed the then finest beauty salon in Havana was kind enough to give him work although in the Summer, they don't hire new help, he told him. He was grateful. At least he will have enough to rent a room and not go hungry. The days may look bleak and hopeless, but there is always a glimmer of sunshine that breaks through.
His first effort was to concentrate and learn some Spanish. To be able to communicate with the patrons speaking French made it much easier. He worked as a hairdresser for Casa Dubick and saved his pennies so that his wife may join him and build a home once more. The furnished room that he rented consisted of a bed without a mattress. Not very comfortable to sleep on but that is the way the natives sleep. It is supposed to be cooler. One chair and a small table.
The people of Cuba are of two classes, the rich and very rich, the poor and very poor. The very poor lived under desolate and deplorable conditions. Even in death the rich had their beautiful mausoleums and the poor a barren death field worst than Potters field. The vultures were always hovering around to pick up what the earth did not keep, especially after a heavy rain. Those sporadic showers with terrifying lightening and thunder came in matter of minutes out of a clear sky.
Cuba was very prosperous during the war. Not realizing that the end to that prosperity may be near, one rich banker, a Senor Mendoza, decided to build a new hotel outside the city. It was a beautiful structure with all the finest accommodations, but not in the right spot. The tourists did not flock there as expected and the whole venture was a failure. In the late fall, when the hotel first opened, his wife's brother, who also was his friend, came from New York to open the beauty salon. After a few months, he decided to go back to New York and handed the management of the same over to him to work and operate. As the season drew to an end, there were only few patrons left. To operate the hotel without great losses, it was evident that the hotel was going to close. Again, it was necessary to make the next move. New York loomed as the only and most desirable destination.
IN NEW YORK
Traveling by train from Key West to New York, one could not help but wonder why so much land lay empty and uncultivated. Miles and miles of good land, wild and neglected, empty and no people.
Paris is the capital of the world for beauty and pleasure, but New York City is the capital of the world for finance and business. It was bewildering and frightening to see that beehive of human activity, but New York was not alone a sightseeing objective for the newcomers. It was the focal point of a great desire for a reunion with brothers and sisters one has not seen since early childhood. After a few days stay with relatives, it was time too look for a job and find rooms for a new home. Will that be a successful and lasting attempt to establish a new home? Empty apartments were not to be had or so expensive beyond their reach. The only way was to buy the furniture of someone that had to sell and move in. That was what they did. It was a nice four room apartment not far away from the Bronx zoo. Although part of the money had to be borrowed to pay for the furniture, they were happy and grateful after all those years of separation and moving from one country to another. It was a blessing greatly appreciated to have your own home, to eat at your own table, to sit comfortably, read or write and sleep in your own bed. Only those who have lived though world war, its suffering and devastation will appreciate and cherish a peaceful and safe home.
Jobs were easily to be had. His first one was on 46th Street near Fifth Avenue. $45 dollars for a six day week from 9 AM to 6 PM. The owner, a Mr. August was a very efficient operator as a lady's hairdresser catering to an exclusive clientele, but he was a weak or sick man coming to the business in the morning late and half drunk. After shaking himself like a wet poodle, he would handle the customers politely, showing not a trace of his physical condition. When lunch time came, he would go in one of the empty booths, fill a water glass full of whiskey, and that was prohibition stuff, drink it as if it were water and go back to work, not taking a bit of food. No wonder he lost the business and at the end, did away with himself.
His second job was with the terminal BB. That was a big company with plenty of money and owned by a former barber, an Austrian immigrant by the name of Shueslrer, and was sponsored by the son-in-law of President Wilson. They opened the most luxurious BB at that time on 42nd street. Serving coffee and cake in the afternoon and a band playing. That lasted for about six weeks. They did a tremendous business. Through the sponsorship of his former patron, he became the biggest operator in the field, acquiring concessions in all the big hotels in New York City. It pays to be nice to the customers, even if they don't tip.
His next job was with a concern on Broadway and there he had the occasion to see a different face of life and people in New York City. Gambling in cards and playing the horses and stock market. Among the outstanding personalities were two ladies, one the wife of the then best known Wall Street gambler, Jesse Livermore, and the other, the wife of a big silk merchant.
On many occasions he went to the house of Jesse Livermore on Central Park West to dress the lady's hair. It was a beautiful and most luxurious home with many servants and chauffeurs. She was a tiny little woman with dark hair and he was six feet tall, blond and handsome. Their little boy was a little doll, especially after his blond hair was trimmed and the ends curled. She was a very generous and liberal person. She always did remember everyone in the shop and send presents on Christmas. To him she was very good, especially when his first child was born. Too bad that hard luck and misfortune befell such good people. Her friend who certainly was rich, but could not stop bragging and showing off and her husband too, lost all his money in the market crash and a few years later died a poor man.
He also thought of the nurse whose rich patient left her one 100,000 dollars when he died, in thanks for the good care she gave him as a nurse. Everyone in the shop was talking about what a lucky girl she was, but after a few years she was back working again as a nurse. All her money was gone, wiped out in the stock market crash.
One customer he still likes to remember, she was young tall girl studying to become an actress. She could hardly afford the price of a Marcel wave. They had many talks about the art of acting. He told her one day, "Miss Gehagen, you will be a great star and hope you will remember that your hairdresser said so". She really did have great success from the first night on Broadway. He had not seen her since then except many years later when she gave a concert in Carnegie Hall. He still thinks it is a pity she did not concentrate on and continue acting instead of concert singing.
After two years of continuous hard work, enough money was saved to start thinking of his own business. The hopes and ambitions of all young people to have their own business and work for a better secure future was then easier to attain than today. Rents were moderate and the beauty parlors were comfortable to work in but not so expensive and luxurious as today. So he and a partner started their own business on Broadway
That was the beginning of the seven prosperous years. Nobody thought that prosperity could or ever would come to an end. The opportunity to work and earn good money and be able to save and keep whatever one did earn. No worries that taxes and other high living expenses would eat up most of your hard earned gains, gave one the urge to work six days a week and as long as 12 to 14 hour a day, all year round. The dreams of yesteryear, a utopia for all mankind was a thing of the past. Work and living for the day was all that mattered . Writing or even reading poetry did not enter his mind as in the past. The birds that sing have no business to worry about. And so life went on. A new life where business and home and family were all that mattered. Who had time to think of the past, the poor and dark years of one's childhood, the years of wandering from hamlet to hamlet at home and then from country to country abroad, seeking work, a stranger and lonely. Of the first months of internment in England. The filthy and unhealthy conditions of the Alexander Palace, the ship ASCANIA, the Isle of Man, the dreary, cramped camp at Knot a Lo, the life and work on the farm and then return to a poor and devastated Europe and still a poorer homeland with no friends or family, the cold and hunger of Vienna. Who would think of a gloomy depressing past when one lived in the country of wealth and plenty? The land of milk and honey. If only the past would be in front of ones eyes all the time and years of peace and plenty would be more valued and appreciated. In life the past is easily forgotten. The wounds inflicted by wars and revolutions heal slowly, but they do heal.
During prosperity, years of depression are not remembered and so were the years of 1929 to 40 when wealth, homes and many lives were wiped out. The men could not find work and their families were starving. Who cares to think of this terrible days today? Prosperity, the accumulation of wealth from the Second World War is booming and frugality and caution is thrown to the winds. Everybody is gambling as they did before in 1929. Banks and businesses that were supposedly as solid as the Rock of Gibraltar folded under the pressure of a collapsing stock market. Could such a calamity repeat itself today? What a horrible thought.
By that time, his family had grown to two children, a girl and a boy, so that they needed a larger home. With a good going business and no apprehension that the years ahead would bring on conditions where everything that he lived and worked for would be on the brink of a cataclysm. Only through the help of the RFC that took over the mortgage to the house and made the payments easier over a longer period of years could he save the house and home for his family.
In 1932, he helped organize the National Hairdressers Association. He gave a great deal of his time and efforts as a member, then served as first vice president for two years, followed by two years as President of the New York City unit. Working conditions in the profession deteriorated during the years of the depression to such a deplorable extent that the Labor Department of New York State had to step in and formulate a minimum wage and hour law.
During that time he was too preoccupied in that direction to have any time left to devote to his own needs and desire to read and write. The circle of the 7 lean years was not only financially and economically but also mentally and morally depressing to the people and the country, but more so to the self respect of the individual.
To illustrate how scarce money was, he remembered a young lady that later became a famous actress and film star, who did not have the 5 dollars to pay for services that normally would cost 20 dollars, but to her credit, may it be stated that when she became successful and her name and pictures were in all the papers and magazines, she still remained a pleasant and welcome patron.
WORLD WAR II
With the advent and successes of the Nazi regime in Germany, there were clashes of nationalities and races that never existed in the USA before. Business associates of Germans and Jews turned into enemies. Intermarriages between Germans and Jews that were quite numerous were undermined and dissolved to the detriment of the children and the loss of their homes, especially after the killings and the destruction of the Jews by the Nazis became known. Their business too suffered as his partner was German and sympathetic to the Nazis. They split up and separation broke the business that only a few years ago cost $20,000 dollars to rebuild. He had to start all over again, a new business in a new location. Prices and charges for the services tumbled to a minimum. One had to work harder and longer hours to make ends meet and eke out a living.
The invasion and conquest of Poland by the Nazis brought on the declaration of war by England and France. Although they earnestly tried to avoid entanglement in another war with Germany knowing very well how ill prepared they were. In spite of all the warning signals and evident preparations of a military nature by Germany, the two strongest democracies did very little to be able to withstand the onslaught that was coming. That at the end, Germany could not conquer France and England if America should get involved was from past experience uppermost in the minds of the German leaders. To be sure and find out, they sent over a professor to lecture in all the cities and find out how the Americans feel about it. When he came home, it was reported in the German newspapers, he honestly warned and told them "in the first World War, it took nearly three years before America became involved and this time it will not take three months". Yet the hoodlums that ruled a beguiled people went ahead just as the Kaiser did in 1914. Never in the history of all wars, was the bestial, cruel and willful destruction of the innocent non-combatant people so merciless practiced, especially against the Jews, as in the years of the Nazi regime.
It was just a day before his 54th birthday that the attack on Pearl Harbor took place. What a gloomy and tearful Sunday that was. Again, a great country was not careful nor prepared to meet the onslaught that fell on it that frightful Sunday. During the many years since he came to America, the original urge and inspiration that has been aslumber reappeared again and he wrote the poem, Tears and Sorrow, and many more to give expression to his inner feelings and abhorrence of war. Whereas in the First World war, he wrote in German, now he thought and wrote in English. Not for publication. He knew that was out of question, or a very remote possibility, but for his own personal pleasure and relief. The pains and sorrows that mankind suffered in the bitter years that followed could only be supported and made easier to bear when one spoke or wrote about them. If those four wall of his BBS could speak, they would bear witness to his continuous efforts in writing whenever he could find the time.
The Second World War to end all wars was over. Winners and losers could not count their losses in deaths, crippled and missing. The amount of their indebtedness was staggering. The children's children will have to pay that debt they never incurred. Although personally against war as an instrument of settling international disputes, he had wished he were young and strong so as to serve and help avenge the cruelties inflicted on the world by those responsible. But he was too old and their son too young, so they were spared the anguish and anxiety that so many parents had to endure.
The daughter after finishing college got a job with a shipbuilding company. The son after passing the exams became a cadet in the U S Coast Guard Academy. Again the little family's economy and finances were on a sound basis. The daughter got married and lived with soldier husband in Florida, but came home to give birth to a lovely little baby girl. Soon her husband was sent over to the Western Front in Europe and Grandma took care of the baby and the daughter took care of the business so that Grandpa may have a two weeks vacation in sunny Florida. After so many years of continuous working without a vacation, that was wonderful change and rest.
The plight of his sister and her two children that he had not seen for nearly 40 years was worrying him. After the Germans invaded their homeland, they became refugees in Russia. During the ordeal of the flight, her husband became sick and died, leaving her alone with two children. It was more so when packages of food and clothing that he send to them were returned because they could not pay the duty imposed by the government. Although a refugee, the boy had to serve in the Russian Army until the war ended. Only after the occupation of Berlin, was he permitted to rejoin his Mother and sister. They are now settled in Israel and happy to live in their own homeland.
Although as a third term candidate, FDR promised the people their sons shall not be involved in foreign wars, it was beyond his control, many claim otherwise, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. It was a pity that he who did so much to make the winning of the war possible, without sparing or considering his own health, did not live a little longer to see its successful conclusion. The day he died, a great man of far seeing vision had passed and leaving the country full of sorrow as on the fateful day of December 7, 1941. The great pass on, only the mediocre remain to play politics.
During the twenty years before the outbreak of the Second World War, his sole concern was to work to raise a family, build a home and give the children a better chance in life than he had. All the dreams of years gone by of reading and writing, of a cultural life he envisioned as a must in the European days before wars engulfed and destroyed it, was a thing of the past. All one knew and cared only to do was to work and make money. Money was the only considered measure of security and independence. The sorrows and tragedies following Pearl Harbor brought to life again that old uncontrollable urge of writing down on paper his thoughts and feelings and how hopeless and helpless the individual really is. Right or wrong, who is to judge? In the overwhelming surge of the masses, he is lost, becomes a helpless automate without a heart or feeling. The only and natural instinct to survive predominate.
If his writings are considered anti-social or revolutionary, he could not help it. It was the expression of deeply felt pity for mankind. Pity one has for the helpless individual. But for one lady that was his patron, he had deep felt sympathy when fate struck a heavy blow and took her young daughter in the prime of life. Known all over the world as the great actress of the American stage, but to the people who had the great fortune to know her as a lady in human relations, friendly and inauspicious. She would come for her services and not expecting the impossible, she would appreciate the courtesy and good workmanship we could give. Her mother who was a patron for many years before was instrumental in recommending her to our establishment.
It was during his second stay in Paris, when his friend Emile introduced him to his sister Lina, a smiling lovely girl with long blond hair and big brown eyes. They liked one another from the very beginning. They became sweethearts and within a year, they got married. they decided to move to England and lived in the same house where her brother and his wife had an apartment. It is now more than 47 years, a long time to go back and reappraise all that has happened. In those many years, the struggle and frustration of the first beginning to fix up a home, to live within the financial limitations. They both had very little money to start with, but when you are in love, nothing is impossible. If the First World War had not brought on that long cruel six years separation, they would have lived together in England or France, happy and peaceful, but under the prevailing conditions, to remain and live in Europe was impossible and so brought on the difficult task of emigrating to Cuba, to build a new home again there and then to find that the climate and living condition were not to be endured as they both got sick and then to start all over again in New York City. How else would they have reason to be grateful and appreciate the good and wonderful things that good fortune and hard work had bestowed on them. Good health, a nice home a wonderful family and two lovely grandchildren. What more could one wish? But give thanks and pray that it may last for many years to come.