We Prepare for America

A Ketubah

At my Aunt Paula’s, I had met an old woman who had once been in America, and had returned to Europe because she didn’t like it.  What was the matter with that woman?  Was she crazy?  Everyone loved America!  However, truth be told, I didn’t want to go to America.  Yes, I knew it was the land of dreams, but I was fine where I was.  I liked my school, I liked my friends; so, why leave?  However, I was thirteen at the time, and when my mother decided, well, that was it.

My mother was a very straight-laced woman, who besides expecting me to turn into a better human being than I was prepared to be, also knew exactly how other people should and should not live.  Because she herself was a model of German, middle-class propriety, she expected the world to behave exactly as she did, but all that was about to change for her, mostly in the form of Max Gringer, whom I’ve mentioned before.

Some time after the death of Eva, Max’s wife, a “relationship” developed between him and my mother.  My mother was now pregnant, and Max refused to marry her.  Other than some terminal disease, I don’t know what could have happened to her that was worse. For her this was a total disaster, abortion being illegal, and this was the reason she was fleeing Europe and going to America.

We all know the usual reasons for people coming to America.  They wanted political freedom, religious freedom, or just a wonderful place with great opportunities to make money.  My mother tried to explain to me that America would have many more opportunities for a good life for me than old Europe, but I didn’t quite believe her.

I knew about the pregnancy mostly through her attempts at keeping it hidden, and the effort she expended getting a forged marriage certificate.  She did manage to obtain a forged “Ketubah”, a Jewish religious marriage certificate, which generally also required a civil certificate, which she couldn’t buy and which Max wouldn’t give her.  I don’t know anyone but my mother who came to America because she was pregnant.  I won’t even go into how she must have felt, and I must confess that at the time I was less than sympathetic.  It wasn’t one of the best moments of my life.

Going to America required considerable planning and money.  The planning involved obtaining sponsors in the United States, which with the help of Aunt Paula, she did.  They were a couple, distant relatives, who were known to Aunt Paula, but that neither one of us knew; yet they were willing to sponsor us.  Money was needed for tickets to the United States, and this was difficult to arrange, but she did manage it, getting enough money for the train and then the steamship that was to take us to the New World.  She even wound up with a $30 “surplus”, which was the total sum with which both of us arrived in New York some weeks later. Max, of course, refused to help.

I was told to prepare myself for the long voyage, and this I did in my usual practical way, by obtaining a copy of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” in French to be read on the trip.  This was summer, 1949.

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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2 Responses to We Prepare for America

  1. Jennie B. says:

    Do you have any idea why Max wouldn’t marry your mother? Did you ever ask Hela about it?

  2. AlexLevy says:

    You may not believe this, but marriage then was not as popular as it is in the US today. For men, it was to be avoided as long as possible. I also think that Max’s marriage to Eva had not been all that happy, and that could have provided a more specific reason. I never even thought of asking Hella, accepting my mother’s version, that he simply was a son-of-bitch who took advantage of her.

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