My family was somewhat of an anomaly. I’ve already mentioned the fact that my parents didn’t get along, and that is putting it mildly. In Brussels my mother had fallen in love and was living with a man named Ferdi (once upon a time I knew his last name). He was a pleasant enough man, but I remember very little about him. I still have a photograph of him walking between my Aunt Trudi and my mother. Somewhat later, both he and my aunt were murdered by the Nazis, but that was still to come. In any case, my mother didn’t want my father to know anything about Ferdi, so that whenever I went off to visit my father my instructions from my mother were to tell him nothing, and if he asked, to tell him I didn’t know. I was all of five years old at the time, and I took this responsibility seriously. I never did mention Ferdi to my father, and I don’t remember whether he asked. I don’t think so.
Visiting my father at his apartment entailed walking all through the center of the bustling city, from the Gare du Midi to the Gare du Nord, and I have no idea of the real distance involved, but it was substantial. I enjoyed the walk, and I enjoyed my visits with my father. Sometimes he took me to a cafe just across from where he lived, and the smell of coffee, pastries and cakes, and cigarettes smoke was a pleasure for the rest of my life. Sometimes, my father wasn’t home when I showed up. Phones were a relative rarity in those days. When he wasn’t home, I’d take myself to the cafe where I could order a pastry and even a coffee and put it on my father’s tab. I don’t know whether anyone thought this odd at the time, a five-year-old walking into a cafe and making himself comfortable, but everyone was nice to me.
Sometimes my father took me to “Uncle” Richard’s apartment. Don’t know if the man was really my uncle, but he might have been a cousin’s of my father’s, and in any case, almost all adult men close to the family were “uncle.” Uncle Richard had been a glazier in Berlin, but at this time he and his family made a living rolling cigarettes by hand. Later the process was automated with mechanical rollers, but people were still needed for the little rollers. I also rolled cigarettes because there wasn’t this strict division between adults and children, and I was involved. But the atmosphere was always fun, with Uncle Richard doing little magic tricks. One of his tricks, as a matter of fact, was to fill a bottle with water and carefully balance it on my head. Then he told me to count to ten, and when I reached ten he would have a reward for me. When he removed his thumb from the top of the bottle it began to leak onto my head, as he had cut a small hole in its bottom. I never made it to ten, as the cold water unexpectedly streamed down my head and my face. I wish there was a point to this story, but there isn’t. I laughed almost as hard as everyone else in the room. I don’t think I have any other memories of my father at this period of my life, although possibly I should write a few words about my father’s parents, my grandparents, but probably a bit later will be better.