There’s not much good I can say for 1943. Mim worried about Paulwe all did. The few letters from him in the Pacific frightened her, and it was worse when two weeks went by and there were no letters. She fought anxiety by throwing herself into volunteer work with the Korematsu case and with the Double V campaign.
Have you heard about Double V? The blackswe said “Negroes” then as a sign of respectstarted the Double V campaign to remind Americans that we were fighting for victory against fascism abroad and against racial prejudice at home. You can see why Mim got involved.
“When Paul gets back from the war, I want show him that I’ve fought for democracy and freedom in California,” she told me. “Starting with the Jim Crow conditions in the shipyards.”
By 1943, people had flooded the Bay Area to build battleships for the military. With so many men away fighting, and piles of money pouring in from the government, blacks and women had a chance to make good money for a change. Remember Rosie the Riveter? Real Rosies worked in Kaiser’s shipyards. Rachel took a part-time shift to make extra money. Henry was too busy at the Lab with his hush-hush military project.
We still couldn’t buy a lot, though, because of rationing. Sugar, shoes, gasoline, meat. You name it and we did with less or did without. Hans kept all our bikes in working order, because new bikes were impossible to find and bike parts got scarcer every day. I ate a lot of Cheerioats then. You call them Cheerios now. Cheerioats had as a mascot, a perky, pigtailed cartoon girl named Cheeri O’Leary. I couldnt stand her, but the cereal was good.
I have so many memories of Passover, 1943, but I’ll keep this short. Easter was right in the middle of Passover week that year. Mim insisted that we all get together for a seder at her place. Hans and Henry came, of course. I think neither of them had celebrated Passover before, but, as Henry reminded us, the Last Supper was a seder. Henry was a practicing Lutheran, you see. Hans was a member of the Dutch Reformed Church in name only.
The seder includes four glasses of wine. Ephraim liked the sweet kosher Manischewitz version (I don’t recommend it), and that night he had lots of it. He drank before the seder, and during the seder, and after the seder. His drinking had little to do with the holiday. He was belligerent one minute and blubbering the next. Sidney was furious, but I think the rest of us understood. We’d heard that the Nazis were rounding up the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto and sending them to concentration camps. To their deaths, although I didn’t believe it then. Ephraim did.
“Bialystok is next,” he said, thumping the table. “They will kill us all!”
I knew that Ephraim had survived the 1906 pogrom in Bialystok. Tragically, Ephraim was right about 1943. A couple of months after the horrors at the Warsaw ghetto, the Nazis liquidated the ghetto in Bialystok. In both places the Jews fought back, but there was no stopping the holocaust.
Mim told me that all summer, Ephraim got drunk nearly every evening after work. She woke up at night to his shouting in Yiddish or Polish, or to his screams. He dragged himself to the print shop the next morning, but by September Alonzo, his main typographer, handled all the important business.
Ephraim refused to go to High Holiday services that fall. “God has abandoned us,” he told me. “How can I pray?”
Rachel was Ephraim’s main source of comfort despite her marriage to Henry. She had graduated with a business degree that June, and given up her shipyard job in September, when she was about six months pregnant. Rachel spent as much time as she could with her father. Sometime he’d call her Rivka, mistaking her for the sister who escaped Bialystok with him. Poor Rachel, she ached to see her father in such a miserable state.
Christmas and Hanukkah coincided that year. Rachel was huge with child. Mim was stretched thin. The celebratory meal fell to me. Back in ’43, we women did most of the cooking. No one except Sidney was up for feasting, and since Sidney didn’t have an extra ration book, we settled on holiday pancakes. I fried up potato latkes, and Hans helped me to make thick Dutch pancakes with apples and cinnamon. We had canned peaches, as I recall, and sour cream. And Christmas cookies that Henry brought from one of this colleagues at the Lab.
Henry also brought this postcard from his mother. The front reads Welcome to Helsingør! It’s Hamlet’s castle from the place in Denmark Shakespeare called Elsinor. The postcard reads:
Love to your wife and to her family. Uncle Niels is on vacation. The relatives of your dear Uncle Fried are planning trips to Helsingør. We in the sewing club wish them godspeed.”
Henry insisted that the note was in code. “She’s writing in English especially for you,” he said. “I have no Uncle Niels. That’s got to be Niels Bohr, the Danish physicist. They say at the Lab that he’s been smuggled out to help us with our project. ”
Ephraim was skeptical. “And Uncle Fried?”
“That must be Chief Rabbi Max Friediger. Everyone in Copenhagen knows him. His relatives must be the Jews. Helsingør is on the coast, a short boat ride to freedom in Sweden.”
“And the sewing club?”
Henry shrugged. “I don’t know.” He was right, as we found out later. Henry’s cousin, who was a member of the “sewing club,” was killed by the Nazis for smuggling Jews out of Denmark.