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The Great Escape:Part 4+5
On 15 August we arrived at Beaufort Port, Virginia. My brother and I were ecstatic. Even though we had no idea of where we were going to stay in Beaufort, we were happy to be in America.
We unloaded our suitcases from the boat. ‘Why don’t we help with the cargo, Fabian? We could earn some extra money?’Erik asked, as we watched a slim, frail man unload some boxes. ‘Why not?’ I agreed. We politely asked the frail man if he wanted help. He looked like we were babbling something he had no idea of. ‘I do not... not...speak...talk...German, yes...no,’ the man kept making signs and shaking and nodding his head.
I myself did not understand any word of English. I did know the basic ‘hello’, ‘goodbye’ and ‘how are you’, though. Unlike me, Erik had a chance to go to primary school in Oostende. So he knew a bit of English.
We...us, yes...want to help you, yes?’ Erik said in slight German accent nodding his head. ‘Oh, you want to help me...Mmm...Okay.’ the man said acceptingly. After our language barrier, we helped the man unload the boxes.
The air smelt so different in Beaufort, it smelt clean and fresh. There wasn’t any smell of spilt oil or burning coal. The sea had a deep blue colour and not a greyish one. The environment was clean for a dock.
After unloading fifteen boxes, the American man thanked us and gave each of us some awkward looking coin. We kept the coins in our pockets, wondering what we would do with them. We later discovered that these coins were two dollar coins.
Evening came quickly; Erik and I were beginning to worry about our stay in America. At the moment, we had nowhere else to go, so we stayed at the dock. We sat on our suitcases near what seemed to be an abandoned storage house.
It was around 8:30pm when a young man looked like he was in his late teens, approached us. ‘You two have been here for almost six hours since you arrived. Is anybody coming to get you?’ he inquisitively asked. Again the language barrier had made it difficult for us to understand what he was saying. ‘We don’t understand what you’re saying,’ I angrily said in German. Erik went a bit red, flushed with embarrassment. ‘Sorry...we cannot speak...talk, um, the English very well,’ Erik said apologising. ‘Do you speak German?’ the young man then asked us in German. We nodded our heads. Finally someone had understood us. ‘Who’s coming to pick you two up?’ ‘Nobody’s coming, we just came to America. We do not know a soul here,’ I replied in German.
‘Oh...why’d you come here then?’
‘To...to escape the war in Germany. You see we didn’t want to get called up in the army, so our parents sent us here,’ I explained.
‘We thought it would be better in peaceful place with no attacks or war whatsoever,’
‘Mm...True...so, what are your names? Are you brothers?’
‘Yes, we are brothers. He’s Fabian,’ I waved ‘and I’m Erik. Fabian is 16 and I’m 13 but our birthdays are in a couple of months so we are actually a year older-’
‘How do you know German, sir?’I asked breaking the conversation.
‘Well, you can call me Ed, short for Edmund. I am not a sir, yet. I was born in America to German parents. My parents left Germany in 1922. I grew up in America, so I speak English and German,’ Ed said. ‘So you’re from Germany?’Erik asked
‘Yes, sort of, I guess,’
We got to know much more about Ed. He was seventeen years old and worked part-time as a cargo carrier, helping to unload and load cargo out of and on to ships in Beaufort dock. He told us that his family lived in California before the Civil War. His father owned a big cotton farm which manufactured cotton threads and wool.
We told him that I was born in Germany and Erik was born in Croatia. We told him that our Papa owned a business in Europe and so we lived in Belgium where the main store operated. We couldn’t tell him the truth that we were Jews escaping the Nazi’s, I mean HE was GERMAN.
Ed then offered us to stay with his family, while we were in Beaufort. We accepted the offer. After all where else would we stay? God answered our prayers. We waited for Ed to finish his shift. After that we gathered our belongings and we caught a train. Trains in America looked sophisticated and comfortable. Ed told the conductor our stop and we entered the train. Erik and I were quite as mice when we saw coloured people at the back of the train. When I asked Ed why they sat there, he said that that was their spot and that they were at a lower than us.
When he said this I felt a sharp pain in my chest, as if an arrow went through my heart. I remembered how we, the Jews, were treated in Oostende. We’d been given separate buses, schools, neighbourhoods, etc. We never used the same facilities as the other non-Jews. I felt sorry for these coloured people, who Ed said were ‘black’ people. They were mistreated just because they were different. I wasn’t feeling so sure about how Ed would react if he knew that we were Jews.
We finally arrived at Ed’s house after two train rides. Ed’s house was a bungalow. The porch was made of wooden floorboards, and made sounds as if it was going to break under our weight, when we walked on it. ‘Papa, Mama, Rosie, ich bin jetzt home-Papa, Mama, Rosie, I’m home now’ Ed called out. ‘Why so late Edmund, I told you-’ Ed’s mother looked at us as she was opening the door. ‘Oh, hello boys, Ed made some friends did he?’ she spoke in fluent German, hers was much better than Ed’s. ‘Mama, meet Erik and Fabian. They just arrived today from Belgium, their Germans,’ Ed introduced us as we walked into the furnished home. It was warm and cosy. The sitting room we were in, had carpet. Ed told his mother our story and she didn’t seem to mind when he told her that we were staying with them. ‘Your friends should stay with us, but I’ll have to discuss this with your father, Edmund,’ she agreed with Ed.
Ed showed us to his bedroom where he set up two bunk beds for us. His room much bigger than mine back in Oostende. Erik and I had both had a warm shower and Ed’s mother, Mrs. Aushwitz, gave us rice with chicken gravy. The meal was so mouth-watering just by looking at it. I hadn’t had rice in a very long time. Erik and I repeatedly thanked Ed’s mother for our dinner, at one point she jokingly told us that if we didn’t stop thanking her so much, she wouldn’t get any breakfast. ‘At least, some people like my food, eh Edmund?’ she laughed.
Ed’s parents were very gracious to us and so we stayed with his family for a lot longer that we thought.
Hiding in America
I got a job with Ed’s father who owned a farm. He was very kind and fair to me; he paid me my wages each month, even though I was living under his roof.
Erik was made to attend the local in Beaufort with Ed’s sister, Rosie. The Aushwitz family treated us like we were part of their family. They were our adopted family.
While we lived with the family, I gradually began to learn more English. Ed’s mother even enrolled me into night classes at the high school she taught at, Here I learned how to write and read English.
It was very difficult for Erik and me to say our prayers because the family was Christian. If they had found out we were Jews we’d be in big trouble and we would have been kicked out of their house.
Yes ‘hiding’ in America.
When I turned eighteen on 17 March 1943, the Aushwitz family helped Erik and me to apply for permanent residency. The residency was approved by the American government. We were happy than ever. God was really on our side. I was astonished that we’d been able to become residents, when our intention was to ‘hide’ in America and go back to Belgium when the war was over.
Four months later Ed and I were appointed by the American Army. We were to leave for Germany in July to fight against German troops. America was an ally for Britain and they needed to help declare Austria. Germany too wanted to declare Austria as well. We were sent off by the rest of the Aushwitz family and my brother, who was 15 at the time.
We left on a train to Hampton, where the American Army base was. When we arrived at the base, we were given our uniforms and were located to a cabin. We were to start training early the next morning. I was confused because I had to fight against my country, Germany, and the army had black soldiers and they were treated just like the white soldiers. Ed said that they too were going to fight for the country and were regarded as heroes as well.
We left Hampton on 16 September 1943, on the S.S. Trinity vessel, equipped with two cargo storages of ammunition, two kitchens, five bathrooms and seventy-three compartments. Ed and I were having second thoughts about going to war. I, especially, was afraid of fighting against my fellow country me being shot at by them. I felt hopeless.