Suspense! That’s what brings readers back again and again. If you want your readers to keep reading, you have to give them a reason to go to the next paragraph, turn the page or come back a month later. That’s why I ended my blog last month the way I did.
What did happen to Abram? He had the visa. He could come to America right away. Why did he insist on stopping off in Switzerland first? And, most of all, why did he never get to America?
Abram tried. He really did. His plan was to go from Beirut to Geneva by train.
I just finished looking at a Google Map of the area. I can’t imagine what made him think he could pull it off. He was a Jew, in the middle of World War II. He’d have to travel from Beirut, Lebanon to Aleppo in Syria and then on to Istanbul, Turkey. From Istanbul, he’d have to pass through Bulgaria, Serbia, Croatia to Trieste, Italy. Then it would be a relatively short shot to Geneva.
This is a journey of over 2,395 miles. It’s the same distance as from San Francisco, California to St. Petersburg, Florida. Only he’d have to travel through seven countries, all of them either at war or on the edge, and most of them on Hitler’s side. Today, when I put the information into Google, it said, “We could not calculate directions between Beirut, Lebanon and Geneva, Switzerland.”
I would love to know what he was thinking. How did he plan to do it? Why did he even want to?
Traveling by train, all that distance, would be difficult. How many days would it take? Where would he sleep? How would he pay for his tickets and food? Money was already a problem in Beirut. He wouldn’t be able to travel first class like in the past. And, at his age, he was in his sixties…
I wonder, was Abram ever frightened as he planned his journey? Did he feel overwhelmed? Did he worry that he wouldn’t be able to do it?
To try to figure out how Abram might have planned it, I did a little research on my computer. If I wanted to make the trip today, I’d have to take a bus or taxi from Beirut (A on the map) to Aleppo (B). That’s 186 miles. Then I’d take the train to Istanbul (C) for 768 miles. After that I’d travel for another 991 miles by train to Trieste (D). From there it would be 450 miles more to Geneva (E) and he would have made it!
But I’d be doing it as an American on an American passport. Abram was doing it in late 1941 as a Jew with an American visa that could be dangerous for him to show until he boarded the ship because the countries he was passing through were controlled by the Nazis.
Germany’s puppet government in France controlled Lebanon and Syria until the Allied Invasion of July, 1941. Turkey was neutral in 1941 but Hitler had taken Bulgaria on March 1, Croatia on April 10 and Serbia on April 17. Abram didn’t start out until sometime after June.
What was he planning to use for papers? What acceptable reason could he give for traveling? How did he disguise himself so he could blend in with the other travelers? How did he get enough sleep and to eat so he could function?
The one thing he did have going for him, besides his American visa, was that he spoke a number of languages: Romanian, German, French, English, Italian and probably Yiddish.
Looking at the map, I still can’t believe it that Abram made it as far as he did. He must have been very brave, determined and resourceful. He had a lot of guts. He made it most of the way. He was so close. Then he had bad luck, very bad luck.
Somewhere on the train between Serbia and Italy some Nazis found him. He had almost made it to Trieste, only half a day’s travel from Geneva.
The Red Cross finally found out the truth but not until after the war was over. So for years my parents and Grandma and Papa wrote, telephoned and cabled the Red Cross and anyone else they thought could find Abram and help him come to America. They always believed he was still alive until the night the telegram came.
It was a Sunday in 1948 or ’49. There was a knock at our door. It was Western Union. The messenger had gone to my grandparents’ apartment in Pacific Heights first, and when no one answered, their neighbors told the messenger that every Sunday night Grandma and Papa went to their daughter’s house out by the ocean. They gave him the address. The telegram was from the Red Cross.
I remember my father coming into the dining room, taking my brother’s and my dinner plates, telling us to bring our glasses of milk, and come with him. He took us to our room, put the plates on the floor and turned on the radio to the “Lone Ranger”. Dad told us to stay in the room, keep the door closed and listen to the program. He’d come back and get us.
I remember thinking, this is strange. We were never allowed to bring food to our room or listen to the radio during dinner.
Then I heard my Grandmother scream. I can hear it today in my imagination as I write this. It was so loud and so sad and it came again and again, drowning out “The Lone Ranger”.
I could hear Papa saying, “Clara, Clara”, over and over.
The telegram was from the Red Cross. It said that Abram had taken the train to Switzerland. Somewhere, along the way, just before Trieste, Nazi soldiers had boarded it and found him. When they got to Trieste they took him off and to a hotel room. There they robbed and killed him. All this had happened in 1941. He’d been dead all this time and we never knew.
Why, once he had the visa to America, didn’t he come right away? Why did he insist on making this long, dangerous journey to Switzerland first?
We may never know for sure. But I don’t think it was what he told the family: He was sick and wanted to see a doctor to help him get well before he came to America. I think he had a much bigger, more important reason, one that would make him, a man in his sixties, a Jew in a world at war, make this 2,395 mile journey first.
Next month I’ll write about what I think his reason was.