Two thirds of Dad’s family, mother and father included, were victims of Adolph Hitler’s final solution plans for my tribe. The funny thing was that, although he had already gone completely gray by the time I was born, Dad had blue eyes and blond hair.
As a young man, my father lived in Germany in the 1920s and 30s and when the situation became unbearable, he and his two brothers moved to Holland. There, while he became the working piglet of the three, one of them married into a rich family and the other one indulged in a bohemian lifestyle.
In 1942, when they heard that Amsterdam was about to fall, they knew that they had to run. Dad was aware that the “swastika boys” meant business. He had gone through the traumatizing experience of seeing his parents for the last time at the Polish frontier without even being able to approach them to say goodbye.
In the middle of the chaos, he bought tickets for a ship bound to the safety of the United Kingdom on that same day, but the youngest brother was nowhere to be found. They set out on a frantic search and, by the time they realized that there was no way of reaching him, the ship had already sailed.
In despair, Dad bought the first fishing boat he could find by the docks. In that precarious vessel, he and his brother’s family could row out to sea and wait for a larger vessel to pass by and rescue them. This never happened: ten long days and nights went by with no food or water aboard, and no other boat or sign of life in the open sea. Dad had resigned to the fact that he would not survive and carved his name on the wood.
The knowledge of their location and course depended on my fourteen year old cousin’s ability to read the stars, something he had learned while in the boy scouts. One morning, a military plane flew over them and he had the idea of using a mirror to reflect the sun into the pilot’s eyes. The idea worked and luckily the plane was British.
The pilot notified his command tower and a ship was sent out to rescue them. The crew had to move fast because they were close to a minefield – a delay of a couple of hours would have meant death, by explosion in the middle of the sea or by starvation. The rescue ship was attacked during the operation and several men were killed. My sympathy and admiration goes to the anonymous heroes who put their lives on the line so that my dad could continue living.
They were one of the first official war refugees in the UK and the story made the headlines. Their ordeal brought momentary fame and many dinner parties were held in their honor in the London Jewish community. In one of those events he met a Jewish “princess” half his age, and almost twice his height, from the Headquarters of British Jewry, Golders Green. They must have been an odd couple to look at, but it was war time and the night scene was not jumping if you were not a member of the Armed Forces.
The news traveled across the World and Eleanor Roosevelt got to know about the story and decided to adopt my two cousins. Her wish never happened because my uncle had second thoughts after the Nazis sunk the ship sent to get them. Instead, they went to school and excelled. After being awarded a prize for being the best pupil in the UK, my cousin joined the Dutch army in exile and in 1944, fought at the battle of Arnhem, memorably depicted in the movie “A Bridge Too Far”. Legend has it that he was one of the four survivors in a division of a thousand men. His sister was to become an accomplished sociologist and author in her new country.