Can you imagine the most mythical moment of your childhood? That moment when everything changes and you know that going forward you will be profoundly different, that your life as you once knew it would be over. My father Emile was born in Paris -- his father an American ex-patriot and his mother a beautiful young Jewish woman -- anxious to leave her working class origins behind her. They lived in a fashionable area of Paris, and my father and his sister Rosine studied ballet at the Paris Ballet Opera House. By the time he was a teenager, my father was on his way to becoming a principal dancer.
Then WWII happened and the Occupation of France in collaboration with the Vichy Government happened and my father's life as a dancer was shattered. They were Jews and so no longer welcomed at the Opera House. For the last six months of his life in Paris not one friend would speak them -- they would cross the street to avoid him for fear of his pariah status rubbing off on them. My father rose very early in the morning before curfew and slipped through streets unseen in order to be first in the bread lines.
My Grandfather had been out of the country on business when the Germans invaded and was unable to return to France. But he was able to provide the children with American passports through the embassy. My grandmother and the children traveled to Portugal where they were promised passage on a cargo ship, the SS Excambion that was carrying a number of dignitaries (Madame Curie's daughter on her way to try and convince the US to enter the war on behalf of the Jews, and Isaiah Berlin and his future wife) and many Jewish children traveling alone to relatives in the US.
The photo above is a still from a short film of the refugees arriving in NYC in January, 1941. Someone sent the link to the film to me knowing my father's history, and asked "See anyone you know?" In the opening shot two young teens turn to face the camera and there they are -- my father at about 15 and his sister about 14. Later in the film, there is a close up of the two of them leaning out to take in the sight of NYC and the Statue of Liberty.
This moment was very important to my father and he spoke of it often, included it in his poetry. So how amazing is it that some 70 years later and 21 years after his death this film surfaces, and I can see him again as a young man leaning into the sun, into his future. Yeah, you know I cried when I saw it.