What My Father Knew
On the morning of June 22, 1940 my mother, my elder brother, and I fled the Romanian city of Czernowitz to join my father in Bucharest. The signal for our departure was a phone call from one of my father’s former employees, a certain Boncescu, and it had not been entirely unexpected. Boncescu asked for Father and, when told that he was in the capital on business, instructed my mother to prepare a bag for the children and to take the next train there. She had two hours to pack. We left the house where I was born at 4 Urban Jarnik without good-byes. Years later the neighbors’ son described to me how he had come to visit my brother as they had arranged, but found the door bolted, his knock unanswered.
My father was by profession a chemical engineer. In 1934 he had been sent to Czernowitz by his Polish employer to build the first rubber factory in northern Romania, and within a year he had Caurum up and running (as it does to this day), employing between 600 and 900 workers in two or three shifts, producing rubber boots, hospital sheeting, tubing, bouncing balls for children. For his achievement he received a medal from King Carol. It was this medal, along with his skills of persuasion and probably significant bribes, that after two months in Bucharest, and on the condition of no return, finally secured for us the exit visas we needed to leave the country. Since my parents’ Polish papers would have doomed us, we traveled across Europe as stateless persons, with Lisbon as the port of departure and Montreal our final destination.
About the Author
Ruth R. Wisse is the Martin Peretz professor of Yiddish and professor of comparative literature at Harvard. She is the author most recently of Jews and Power (Nextbook/Schocken).