8. Poland


During 1937, after 27 years in America, Dora sails to Europe. She wants to see Hrubiechev and her family once more. The travel is by way of Warsaw where she is to meet her sister Chaiya’s son, Reuben Katz who will accompany her to Hrubiechev. He is twenty-seven, living in Warsaw, and a successful antiques dealer. This is their first meeting, as Reuben was not yet born when Dora left for America.

Reuben doesn’t know what to make of this heavyset woman in her mid-fifties, but is favorably impressed by a little incident. As they walk down a Warsaw street, a young Polish anti-Semite calls out with some Jew-baiting. Dora doesn’t accept this, picks up a stick and heads over to him. The surprised man takes off and runs down the street. She gives chase but he is young and she is old. As the gap between them widens she takes aim with the stick and hurls it at the bigot. She misses, but Reuben will never forget this introduction to his Aunt.

When Dora reaches Hrubiechev it is a fond return home. Her stay will be with her sister, Chaiya, for two weeks. Chaiya now has five boys and a girl. Ella has two daughters. Dora is especially happy to see her youngest brother Solly, “the baby,” who now has a wife and two children of his own. She spends time with siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews, many of whom she sees for the first time. They, in turn are eager to see her and hear about the family’s American outpost. The visit is nostalgic, poignant and, considering an apprehensive European political situation, a happy homecoming.

The ambient political situation is a source of family gloom and worry. The Nazis now govern neighboring Germany with militaristic, expansionist, and violently anti-Semitic policies. Increasing signs of war scare everyone. War could bring hardship, maybe even as bad as the previous war. Nevertheless, Dora’s visit includes many animated rounds of dinners and re-introductions, toasts of wine, and posing for a stiff family portrait. Conversation is endless. The adventuress has returned and it is cause for excitement. But beneath it all the Krakauers have an anxious question: Can the New York part of the family help the rest of the family get out of Poland?

The answer is that the American branch is trying. However, the US’s isolationist attitude, its newly restrictive immigration policies, and even some measures of domestic anti-Semitism, create difficult obstacles. The United States won’t accept Jewish refugees. In the end the family’s efforts prove futile.

Meanwhile, back in New York Louis is taking care of the kids. The older ones, in their twenties, already have initiated themselves into the joys of Chinese food to their mother’s consternation. (It’s got pork, you know.) They see Dora’s absence as the chance to have Louis, long curious about this forbidden fruit, finally sample it. Louis isn’t as rigid as Dora about keeping kosher, and he make plans to go with them to “The Pageant,” the local Chinese eatery. Ida, age 15, overhears this and threatens “to tell momma when she gets back.” Such a brat! This stops Louis in his tracks.

Or so Ida thought. The older kids eventually take Louis for his illicit meal, but they have to conceal the transgression from Ida. So Louis has this one taste of Chinese food in his life. Does Louis like the food? Yes, he enjoys it greatly. But, of course, how could it be otherwise: Trayf or not, Jewish genes are predisposed to the stuff.

The Krakauers aren’t the only ones wanting to leave Poland. The desire to leave is widespread among Jews fearing a Nazi invasion. Very few are successful. One of Louis’s younger brothers does manage to leave Poland. Louis doesn’t know it because he hasn’t seen nor spoken to his brothers for almost thirty years; they have long lost track of each other. In 1938, Israel Joseph Brustman, living in Warsaw, acts on his concerns of impending war. Israel and his oldest son go to Australia, one of the few places in the world accepting European Jewish emigrants. He finds refuge in Melbourne and, in mid-1939, sends for his wife and family. In hindsight, Israel’s timing proves providential.

At decade’s end, on September 1,1939, the hellish nightmare that becomes World War II breaks loose. Germany invades Poland in a furious blitzkrieg from the west. Within days, Soviet Russia attacks Poland from the east. Hitler and Stalin have a secret pact to seize and divide Poland among themselves. A weak Poland soon collapses under the Nazi and Soviet onslaught. The pact specifies the Bug River as the line between German and Soviet territories, so the new boundary touches one side of Hrubiechev, the wrong side. The Red Army stops at the edge of the village, permitting the German army to enter. By the end of September, Nazis are the overlords of Hrubiechev.

Photo: Dora (center) with her family in Poland: sister Chaiya, her husband, Samuel, and six children on the left and rear; sister Ella at center right with her two children kneeling in front of her; brother Solly, standing at top right, with wife and two daughters in front of him. The young man standing next to Solly is Chaiya’s son Reuben Katz. Reuben’s sister Bella stands behind and between Dora and Chaiya. Nearly all will perish at the hands of the Nazis.

Continue to Part Nine

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