Since my father was an American citizen living in Roumania, I automatically became an American citizen when I was born. My father left Roumania in 1936, and we intended to follow him as soon as possible.
In 1938, the Roumanian Nazi party invited the Germans to come and “advise” the Roumanian government, and that is when my mother, brother and I were not allowed to leave the country. As an American citizen, I had a passport of protection from the Swiss Legation during the Nazi occupation, and this passport had to be renewed every six months. My mother, brother and I lived in Bucharest through ten difficult years.
One night, we escaped through the window when the Nazi soldiers came for us by running through the back window while the soldiers were at the front door telling our maid that they wanted to see us. My mother went to the Swiss legation and told them that the Nazis had come for us, and someone from the Swiss Legation called the police to tell the people in charge that we could not be touched because we were under their protection.
We lived our lives as normally as possible, with the exception of our regular visit to the Swiss legation every six months for a new passport. When the Communists came, we continued to renew our life-protecting passport.
On Friday, Dec 21, 1945, an American soldier came to our home and told us that we would be repatriated to United States on the following Monday. After living in Bucharest for fourteen years and never expecting to leave, we could scarcely believe it.
As promised, the soldier came to our home Monday morning. It was still dark, and he escorted us to the train station and traveled with us to Constantza, a seaport on the Black Sea. During the train ride, my mother and the soldier exchanged money. She gave him all the Roumanian money she had, and the soldier gave her $35.00(U.S.). When we arrived in Constanza, the soldier brought us to a merchant-marine vessel called the Morris Sigmun and told us to board it. I found out later that the entire ship population had been asked to vote on whether they wanted us to come on board because they would have to vacate some cabins for us. My mother, brother and I used the infirmary as our cabin and a cabin as our dining room. We had never seen bunk beds before, so, of course, my brother and I insisted to taking the upper berths.
In addition to my family, there was another woman with three children; her husband had left just before the war, and she was stuck with her children in Bucharest, just like us. An additional family consisted of an American woman and her daughter; this mother had married a Roumanian man who turned out to be a Nazi, and she and her daughter were returning to their home. All of us were told that we were the first American citizens to be repatriated from Roumania.
My poor mother suffered from seasickness as soon as we sailed; however, she still came to the cabin, where we had our meals, because we refused to go without her. The person who served us was named William, and I will never forget him. He was the first black man I had ever seen. He was very kind to us and tried to teach us some English words. I vividly remember him drawing a picture of a telephone in a round circle to try to help us understand that, if we needed to make a phone call, we should look for that sign.
After traveling to Novorosisk (Russia) and stopping in Istanbul (Turkey), we finally arrived in Philadelphia. A social worker took us to the train station, since our destination was New York City. She asked my mother if she had money, and, when my mother looked in her purse, she started to cry. Before we left the ship, my mother had given William a tip to show her appreciation for all his help, but, because she was not familiar with the value of the bills, she had given William $20.00 instead of $5.00. The social worker took us back to the ship; after telling William the story, he gave my mother the $20.00, and she insisted that William accept $5.00. We went back to the train station, and the social worker explained to the conductor in charge of our train compartment that we did not speak English and that someone would be meeting us in New York.
When we arrived, the conductor took us to the information desk in Grand Central Station and left us there. After a long time, my mother realized that we had missed our connection. She started to speak to passersby; she spoke in seven languages, but no one responded until she tried to spoke Yiddish. Then, a man stopped and told her that he would be back soon. He returned with a policewoman, who took us in a taxi to the H.I.A.S. [Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society], where we spent our first night in New York City.
On the ride to our final destination, it was dark outside, and I became mesmerized by the lights on the storefronts. After living through blackouts in the evenings for so many years, it seemed truly like a miracle to see this brilliant light-show of different colors blinking.