Renia: A Holocaust Memoir

Table of Contents

Tickets to America.

Tickets to America.

New York. Leon and Morris met us in New York — the three of us were meeting Morris for the first time — then we all travelled by train from New York to Chicago. Rick was going on twelve at the time and Eva was six.

During his first months in the States, Leon had been staying with Morris, his wife Blanche and their family. He had found work at Century Industries, a glass factory, where he was earning seventy-five dollars a week. When the kids and I got there, we all moved into a one-bedroom apartment Leon had rented for us at 3137 West Lawrence, above a tavern in a Jewish neighbourhood in the north part of Chicago. The rent was ninety dollars a month. A cousin of Leon’s, who had a mattress factory, gave us beds for the kids and a mattress for us. My husband and I slept in the living room on a mattress, while the kids had the bedroom. The tavern below us had a large neon sign which never stopped blinking, making it difficult to fall sleep, especially for Leon and me sleeping in the front room.

Eva singing a Hebrew song on the ship S.S. Israel, on our way to America.

Eva singing a Hebrew song on the ship S.S. Israel, on our way to America.

At first, life in Chicago wasn’t much easier than it had been in Israel. Leon worked the day shift at the glass factory one week and the night shift the next. He was finding his work frustrating. Every worker knew how to do just one thing and was content with that. Leon knew how to do every job — after all, he’d run his own glass business — and his co-workers resented his knowledge. Not only was he not earning much money, getting back and forth from work was taking him two hours a day.

I felt lonely and depressed. During the day, Rick and Eva were off at school. I liked to read and couldn’t because I didn’t know English. (The Polish papers that were available in Chicago were poorly written and not worth the trouble.) People teased me about my English pronunciation. That used to upset me a lot; I’d only just arrived — what did they expect? The only people we knew at first were Leon’s brother and his cousins, Jack and Molly Ross. (Jack was wonderful, frequently acting as our chauffeur.) But in time we made some friends of our own and started to get used to the life.

There was a cousins club in Chicago which met once a month in somebody’s home. We played cards, we talked. We had a secretary and used to collect dues. Because there were a lot of children in the family, when a Jewish holiday came, we used to rent a place to make a Chanukah or a Purim party. The kids would perform for us. It was fun.

My intermediate certificate from night school. I was very proud to receive it.

My intermediate certificate from night school. I was very proud to receive it.

It didn’t take me long to see that we needed a little extra money so I began to think about finding a job. But what kind of job could I expect to find, speaking only a broken English and with few skills? Then, one of the cousins told me a beauty salon five minutes from where we lived needed a manicurist. I’d always liked doing fingernails for my friends so I applied for the job and got it. I was largely self-taught but soon I was very good. I worked every day except Monday, and twice a week until nine at night. On those days, I’d start later. I put my tips in a little green jar on my dresser so we would have money for special things like Chanukah presents and maybe a holiday. Meanwhile, I was also going to night school to learn English. Because I was working, Rick had to be in charge of taking Eva to school, bringing her home, giving her lunch and amusing her after school. He was very responsible.

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