Health and Safety

Life in the new apartment became normal, to the extent that life under the Nazis was ever normal.  However, as I had really known no other way of living because earlier I had been too young to be conscious of it, this was normal for me.  The adults disappeared from the apartment for much of the day and reappeared in the evening.

I had no idea what they were doing, whether they were working, looking for work, or just spending the day playing cards in some café, which some of them probably did, as card playing was one of the ways of making money, and my mother was particularly talented at rummy.  Actually, I didn’t care, as long as there was enough food, which was always my primary concern.

We children, Fella, Norbert and I were generally left to our own devices, and that wasn’t bad at all, as we spent the time playing in the apartment or outside in the street.  The adults were worried about us, but they just couldn’t keep us cooped up in the apartment for days, although there were some real dangers in the street unrelated to the Nazis, such as cars, trucks, motorcycles and other conveyances.

One afternoon, while playing in the street, I was struck by a bicycle of all things.  No big deal, you might think, but in this case it was a very big deal, because one of the bike’s pedals had gouged out a chunk of flesh from my leg, and it bled profusely.  What was my mother to do?  You’d think that simply taking me to the hospital would have been the reasonable thing to do, but it really wasn’t that simple, as hospitals were forbidden to treat Jews, and there was the chance that hospital personnel would report us to the Gestapo.  However, because of all the blood, my mother felt she had no choice, she had to take a chance, and so she took me to St. Pierre, the local hospital, where they did whatever was needed to stop the bleeding and sent us home without reporting us to the Gestapo.

The problem was similar when I developed appendicitis. Should we again take a chance on being reported to the Nazis?  In this case, there simply was no way of avoiding the hospital and so, that’s where I wound up and stayed for weeks on end. I have no idea how long I was kept in the hospital.  Appendectomies were not as simple in 1940 as they are today, although they may not be all that simple today either, when I think about it.  When they did mine, I developed an infection.  Whatever they had as an anti-biotic in those days, it wasn’t Penicillin, and the infection just spread and got worse.

Each day, morning and evening, the nurse would jab my buttocks with a hypodermic which really hurt. However, as an act of mercy, she alternated buttocks, and while that didn’t make it painfree, it did alleviate the pain of the jabbing somewhat, and eventually I did get better.  When I came out of the hospital, I could no longer walk, I don’t know why.  Possibly it was the result of too much “bed rest,” or the result of all those injections, but anyway, I had to learn to walk all over again.  And that was what I focused on, because living “normally” also meant going to kindergarten and my Aunt Paula’s for part of the day.

A.L.

About AlexLevy

Dr. Alex Levy is a retired English teacher who survived World War II and the “Final Solution” by hiding in a Catholic orphanage for girls in Belgium for several years.

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