I was fourteen when I found my first job. My mother was friendly with the local chemist, Ruta Strachowska, who was looking for a babysitter for her five-year-old boy, Paul. Mrs. S. was a middle-aged Jewish lady of about my height, with eyes that crinkled up when she laughed, which she did surprisingly often. My mother told me that she had escaped from Poland during the war by swimming across the River Dnieper to Russia at the dead of night, with Nazi soldiers shooting at her as they ordered her to stop. My mother would never have made up anything so incredible, so I believed her, but it was difficult, looking at Mrs. Strachowska’s pixie face and the dumpy figure she had now, to imagine her going for a swim anywhere.
She owned the tiny chemist’s in a row of small shops not far from our house. The bell would ring as you entered, and she’d appear Continue reading →
My father was stranded in England after World War II. So he wasn’t an immigrant, exactly – he hadn’t made a plan to leave Poland for better things. I suppose, technically, he was a refugee.
What he had done, before the world went to war, was to leave his homeland in 1938 to work in Toulouse, in south-western France, for a year. He was an agricultural economist, and at 25, had no ties to prevent him from going. He worked for the Ministry of Agriculture, and they assigned him to the Polish consulate in Toulouse, to give him some gravitas. His French is excellent, although the regional accent of that corner of the country can be hard to understand.
I have a couple of photos of him from that time. Here he comes, strolling along a French street, sporting a beret, hoping to blend in. But the camera Continue reading →