Our life in the United
I arrived in this country on June
12, 1938, aboard the SS Manhattan from Southampton, England, after having spent about 2
weeks in London with my parents who had come there to see me off. After my departure they
returned to Frankfurt.
For the first 2 weeks I stayed with the
Marlow family in Montclair, N.J., who had been nice enough to provide the affidavit which
enabled me to immigrate into the U.S. In these days it was necessary to have a sponsor
provide an "Affidavit of support" to assure that the prospective immigrant would
not become a public charge. Mrs. Marlow was a descendant of one of the 17 Schlesinger
children who had come to the U.S. around the year 1850.
Harry Marlow and his wife Gabrielle had
passed through Frankfurt during a trip to Europe in 1928 and had stopped there to see
whether anyone was left from the family. They stayed at our house for a few nights and
kept in contact with the family ever since. Harry Marlow was a naval architect and moved
to Texas in 1940.
I then rented a room at 171 W. 81st Street
in Manhattan, where I stayed until 1940. Since my assets consisted of only about $250, it
was imperative to start earning a living as soon as only possible. In 1938 the depression
was still on, with millions of people out of work and very few jobs available. It was
necessary to pound the streets from morning until night in search of any kind of work.
My first job was as a photographer, it
lasted just one day and in the evening I was fired. I had to work with a huge 8" x
10" wooden camera, the likes of which I had never seen, which I had to lug around the
city with its huge wooden tripod. Shortly thereafter I was able to obtain a position as
import clerk and linguist with an import firm, the Elite Import Co. on West 15th Street in
New York City, where I had to handle the correspondence with suppliers in France and
Germany and take care of the customs clearance of shipments from these countries. My
salary was $15 per week, which was not bad at all for this time. I was well able to manage
on this salary. I paid $7 per week for a nice room including breakfast and dinner,
newspapers were 2 cents, subway fare 5 cents, and for 10 cents I was able to get a
delicious lunch with coffee. As a matter of fact, I was able to save 1 to 2 dollars per
In 1939, after the war had started in
Europe, all import activities of course came to an end, and I had to look for work again.
Through friends of the Marlow family I was able to obtain a job at the factory of the
Jewel Lamp Company in East Newark, N.J. I started out as a sweeper and had to do any heavy
or dirty job required, from sweeping the floors and cleaning the toilets to unloading the
big trucks. The legal minimum wage at this time was 35 cents per hour, and this is what I
I was very proud when, in 1940, 1 had to pay
my first income tax. It amounted to $4.38 for my earnings in 1939.
Working conditions in these days were
appalling. There were no government regulations pertaining to safety in a place of work.
The high speed machines had no guards to protect the operator, so there were constant
injuries to the workers, nor was there any disability or worker's compensation insurance.
If you were injured in a factory, it was just your hard luck and nobody cared.
Fringe benefits just did not exist, no paid
holidays or vacations nor sick leave, even if you were injured in the factory. I'll never
forget the women's toilets which had no partitions for privacy, and the foreman could walk
in as he pleased to chase out the girls if he felt that they spent too much time there.
While I certainly did not like the work I
had to do, I sincerely believe that in the long run it did me a lot of good, since it
knocked out of me any feelings of arrogance or superiority I might have brought along from
our nice and very comfortable background in Frankfurt. Although this work came as quite a
shock, it taught me that even the humblest work and the lowliest station on the economic
scale have no bearing whatsoever on the value of a person.
After a while we, the workers, started to
organize a union. This had to be done in secret, meetings were held in basements or in
outlying areas of the city. If any of the bosses would have gotten wind of this activity,
we would have been fired on the spot and blacklisted in the state of New Jersey. After
some months had gone by, in the later stages with some violence, the union was voted in
and conditions improved considerably.
By this time I had moved to Newark, and
within a few weeks after I had started work in the factory, I enrolled in evening courses
at the Bloomfield Vocational School. I took up tool and diemaking and learned to operate
heavy machine tools. Surprisingly, I caught on very quickly, in spite of the fact that in
Frankfurt I had never even used a hammer or done anything which resembled manual labor. I
was soon promoted to work in the machine and tool shop as a toolmaker at the very
respectable pay of $.75 per hour, or $30 weekly.
My personal life during these 2 years had
been very lonely, with long hours at the factory and my studies at night at the Newark
Engineering College where I had by then enrolled. In addition to the homework necessary
for school, there was a lot of correspondence with friends and relatives in Europe to be
taken care of. They had been left behind and were desperately trying to get out; most of
them were not successful and perished.
In 1941 I occasionally took part in little
excursions sponsored by the "New World Club," which consisted of refugees from
Germany and Austria. At one of the hikes to the Cherry Lane Reservation in East Orange,
N.J., I was fortunate in meeting a lovely young lady from Vienna by the name of Relly
Seeman. We got along very well and soon started to hike by ourselves.
We were married on June 14, 1942. Our
wedding, in the basement of a little synagogue on Snetiker Avenue in East New York,
Brooklyn, was, to say the least, very simple, since none of us had any money. The only
thing which still stands out in our mind to this day was when the band surprised us by
playing the toreador march as we walked down the aisle. And on our honeymoon somewhere in
Connecticut, I took sick with a very heavy cold and fever. But, as bad as the wedding was,
it surely proved to be successful, and I consider it to be the best thing that ever
happened to both of us.
For five years we lived in Newark, N.J.,
where we had a tiny, 2 room apartment in a corner of which there was an even tinier
kitchen, and all windows were facing a wall in the back of the building. Since there was a
desperate housing shortage in these days, we were indeed lucky to have this apartment.
Landlords at this time were reluctant to rent to young families who either had children or
were likely to have them in the not too distant future.
In view of all the shortages caused by the
war, it took several years to even get a telephone installed, and private cars were almost
unheard of. Until Bernie was born, Relly worked as a tool operator in a machine shop in
Bernie arrived on October 21, 1944, and was
followed by Bobby on May 28, 1948. When I took Relly to the hospital for Bobby's arrival,
we took a taxi and, of course, took Bernie along with us. This was the first time in his
life that Bernie had been in a car, and the ride to Beth Israel Hospital in Newark
impressed him tremendously. When some months later our 80 year old neighbor, Mrs.
Biederman, was seen taking a taxi, Bernie rushed to Relly, screaming, "Look, Ma, Mrs.
Biederman is having a baby," believing that one only took a taxi to have a baby.
Reverting back to 1941, when World War II
started to involve the U.S. with the attack on Pearl harbor on December 7th of this year,
I was still working as a tool and die maker at the Jewel Lamp Co. in Newark. Since the
company was doing a lot of work for the Navy, manufacturing the electrical fuses and fuse
indicators which showed which circuits were out of order, I was exempt from military
service. Within a few months I was put in charge of this department, with 50 to 75 people
working under my direction.
When the war was ended in 1945, we stayed in
Newark for a few more years until I joined Relly's brother Jim Seeman and became manager
of the wall covering manufacturing operation which he had started a year earlier. More
details about Jim Seeman and our working together will be found under the heading,
"The Seeman Family."
In 1948 we moved to an apartment in Trump's
Shorehaven Apartments on Bay Parkway at Gravend Bay. It was a very small apartment, but
with 2 bedrooms overlooking the boardwalk and ocean on the 4th floor. When the boys wanted
to play, they had to go downstairs by elevator. Playing on the lawns was strictly
prohibited. one day, looking out of the window, we saw Bobby on the lawn and a cop
approached to chase him away. Bobby, at the time about 2 years old, got very angry and
attacked the cop by throwing dirt and small stones at him. The cop retreated, and ever
since, Bobby was allowed to play on the lawn. At another time, the elevator got stuck for
about one hour with the two boys inside, one could hear their screaming for blocks, until
they were let out. After this, we resolved never to take a 4th floor apartment again.
A few years later, we moved to the Wavecrest
Apartments in Far Rockaway, where we had a somewhat larger two bedroom apartment right at
the beach, with a children's playground in front of our windows, but on the second floor.
The location of the apartment was just beautiful, all windows overlooking the ocean, and
we could go swimming in the ocean directly from our apartment.
One day, when a hurricane was predicted by
the weather forecast, Relly had gone out and bought new galoshes for the boys. Shortly
thereafter, a severe hurricane arrived with huge waves running up on the beach. Relly
could not find the children anywhere. Finally, in desperation, she looked out of the
window and in the distance saw two small figures walking hand in hand down the beach into
the towering waves. Rightly assuming that this could only be Bernie and Bobby being crazy
enough to be out in this weather, she raced down the stairs and got them back just in
time. Their explanation was: they wanted to see whether the galoshes really were
waterproof. I will not tell what happened to the two of them thereafter.
In 1955 we bought the house at 23-67
Bayswater Avenue, Far Rockaway. This was the time when the area the house was located in
what was considered "The Garden Spot of the Rockaways," a beautifully landscaped
section near the bay with mostly one-family homes. At the time we moved in, crime was
unheard of and one could leave the doors open all day. This is where Bernie and Bobby grew
up and lived until they were married.
The house was small by today's standards, 3
bedrooms, 1-1/2 baths, with a nice basement and garage, about the same size as the homes
of all our friends. We had a lovely garden, 220 feet deep with many big oaks and pine
trees, and in summer the garden was used for playing ball by Bernie and Bobby and their
The house was beautifully decorated, 2 large
hand-painted floral murals in the cathedral ceiling living room, other murals in the den
and bedroom, and lovely wallpaper in all other rooms and hallways. A large enclosed porch
was added in 1962, where we spent a lot of time from early spring until fall. We made
barbecues just about every weekend.
The Temple, Bayswater Jewish Center, was in
the next block, and we went there not only on the high holidays, but quite often on Friday
night or on Saturday. With Bobby, I got involved in the Boy Scout troop attached to the
temple and went on many hikes with the boys, sometimes overnight, sleeping in a tent.
The home movies I took from 1955 on were
transferred onto VCR tape, and Bernie and Bobby have a copy of this tape.
In summer we always went on vacation,
usually to the Adirondacks or New Hampshire, except in 1955 when we went via Paris to
Switzerland to London to meet our large family there.
After Bernie got married in 1967 and Bobby
in 1974, we, in 1978, decided to sell the house. The split level layout had become too
tiresome for us, and the neighborhood was rapidly declining with a lot of crime going on.
So when the corporation planned on moving the plant to Suffolk County, we decided to sell
the house and move to our present home in the Fairfield Condominium at St. James. We never
regretted this move.