by Harry Lazarus (Tenafly, NJ)
Interviewed by Bruce Black
When I was growing up, I used to love listening to my grandfather, Harry Lazarus, z”l, retell stories about his childhood in Zharnov and how he made his way to America. Before his death a number of years ago, I recorded one of our story-telling sessions in his apartment in Tenafly, NJ. In this segment, he describes how he made his way from Europe to America.
BB: So you came to the Jewish section of Berlin?
HL: I came there with another two boys, and the people came over and said, “What’s the matter with you?” And I told them the story that I ran away and I wanted to go back to Vienna.
And they said, “All right, we’ll buy you the ticket. You’ll go to Czechoslovakia and from there you’ll go to Vienna.”
And I said, “A ticket? That’s very nice.”
But when we came to Czechoslovakia, the inspectors looked up and asked, “Where’s your passport?”
I said, “I have no passport. I just got a worker’s book that shows I worked in Vienna.”
They said, “That’s not a passport.”
So they kept me there, again arrested in Czechoslovakia. If I wouldn’t have the book, the inspectors said they’d send me back to Poland. But I had the book showing that I had worked in Vienna, so they sent me back to Berlin.
They sent me back to Berlin with a soldier on the train. Back to Berlin.
BB: And when you got back to Berlin?
HL: I came back to Berlin and went again to the Jewish section, and they said, “All right, we’re going to buy you a ticket to go the other way through Dresden.”
They bought a ticket to go to Dresden. We went to Dresden. We went down, me and another boy, we had a few pieces bread, and we came there.
And we met a boy there, and I said, “You should smuggle us over to Vienna.”
And he said, “All right, I’ll go in and ask my father.”
If his father went along, he would smuggle us over to Vienna. Not to Vienna, but to the border. And that’s what happened, you know? He smuggled us over the border, and then I took a train and went back to Vienna. And I was in Vienna.
That was the terrible time I had when I went to visit Zharnov.
BB: Where was your brother, Manny, during all of this?
HL: He was in Vienna. He didn’t go. I was the only one who went crazy.
BB: Did he know the trouble you were in?
HL: He didn’t know, but he found out when I came back to Vienna.
BB: Once you were back in Vienna, what did you do?
HL: A little while later we ran away to Paris.
BB: You and Manny? You didn’t need special papers to get to Paris?
HL: We couldn’t get passports. So, I bought a passport in a Polish consul. And that was my trouble. I bought a passport.
And the fellow says, “What should I write in?”
And I heard in America they needed engineers. So I told him, “Write in that I’m an engineer.” And Manny wrote in that he was a tailor. If I would write in that I am a baker, I would be safe. But I wrote in an engineer.
And I had the passport, you know. And in Paris we were about three months there. We kept on going to the consul and going again, and we had to wait, and every time he told us we needed something from America to prove that we got there somebody in the country.
We got letters from Izzy and everybody but the consul didn’t recognize it. So we were about three months in Paris and we spent a lot of money there. And then I decided, “Well, if we can’t go to America, we’re going to go to Canada.” So I got somebody, you know, and he made me out to go to Canada. I gave him some money, you know, and he made me up to go to Canada.
BB: So you went straight from Paris to Canada?
HL: We decided that we got a brother in England that we’re going to go to England to visit him and from England we’re going to go to Canada.
We came to England and he was very nice to us. He was a tailor, too, and Manny worked for him a little bit and me, I wanted to go there to work in a bakery, but I couldn’t do nothing.
Anyhow, we were there about two weeks and decided that we should go to Canada. We bought tickets, you know, to go to Canada. When we came to Canada, they let Manny out, they let my brother out, but me? They arrested me.
BB: Arrested you? Why?
HL: Because I wrote that I’m an engineer. They said, “What kind of engineer are you?” So they kept me back, and I was there, not just me, it was about fifty boys they kept back. We were in a prison, a house, and Manny wrote letters to Meir, to my brother Meir in New York.
He told him if they sent me back to Poland, they’d kill me.
So Meir was a very good person. He decided to come to Canada and take me out from there. He came to Canada, you know, he took me to the consul, and he said, “He’s in the bakery business and he’s all right.”
He said that he was going to take me into the bakery, but the Americans wouldn’t give me the okay to go there. Just because I said I was an engineer. They thought I was a liar, a Communist or something. They wouldn’t give me an entry visa.
So Meir paid for a lawyer to take me out. He paid $500 for the food while I was there, and he paid a lawyer $200 to take me out. And then I had to pay some money, you know, to a fellow to smuggle me over to America.
And that’s what it was. I went on the train and I went to a farmer about 4 o’clock in the morning and he put in a horse and wagon and he took me over.
I thought he was going to throw me down somewhere in the woods. It was winter, you know? But he took me over and he showed me the station, Over there, he said, you have to buy a ticket to New York.
That’s all I knew. Meir spent about $1,000, you know, my brother Meir. He spent about $1,000 to take me out of Canada.
When I came to the station, I said, “Ticket to New York.” And they gave me a ticket.
Next: Finding romance in New York…