CHAPTER 5: MY FIRST ADULT YEARS
 
Ria Koens, in Den
Haag.  Dec. 1945
Again, I started a whole new life. Carrying my faithful little brown suitcase, I went to Den Haag. The Koens family was very down to earth. They were a wonderful, warmhearted people. Mr. Koens was rather sickly and very quiet but he never complained. Mrs. Koens was more eager to talk but the hard years had carved many wrinkles in her face. Most exchanges took place between the two daughters, Ria and Dora, and me. They were much older than I was but I did not have much trouble conversing with them. Ria, the older sister, was an outstanding soprano. Later she turned into a Mezzo soprano and she performed in many countries in Europe. My mother, who had such a classical musical background, and Ria must have had an exciting relationship while my mother was living with them during the war years. Whenever Mother visited me while I lived with the Koens family, she always spent hours accompanying Ria on the piano and coaching her with the musical interpretation. My favorite time was when they were rehearsing songs by Mahler and Schubert. And I also enjoyed hearing Ria practice scales and intervals, which she did for many hours every day. Most people probably would not enjoy that but I did the same on the flute and I liked hearing her modulate her voice.
With Dora I had an entirely different relationship. She was not a strong but a very interesting young lady. Often she had to stay home from work and then we would have long talks. She also had an unusual talent. One evening she went to a seance and the person leading it approached her and told her that she was an exceptionally strong "medium." That surprised Dora because she had never experienced anything like that before. Sometime later she tried contacting the "spirits" alone at home and within minutes she made contact. This all occurred before I came into the picture. She never did it professionally but within the family circle she frequently had "seances." She did it in several different ways. Sometimes she put a small footstool on the table. She put one hand on it and in a short time the footstool started to move. Then she went though the alphabet and the footstool came down at the table when she came to a certain letter. In this way sentences were formed that somehow made sense. There was no trick involved. She invited me to try to hold the footstool down but that was utterly impossible. Occasionally, the spirit would be angry and then the footstool would come down with a loud bang. At other times, when we had the whole family and my mother around the table, she laid one hand on the table and the table gave the signal. It was a heavy table and nobody else was picking it up. It was impossible to keep it down! Another technique was working with a "Luigi board." We simply took two thin wooden sticks in the form of a cross and a piece of cardboard with the alphabet and numbers on it. The "spirit" moved that around to the appropriate letter or number. None of us liked that so we stopped doing it.
Dora Koens, 1945.

What kind of "spirits" (for lack of a better word) would visit us? Interestingly, they were mostly famous opera singers. Sometimes they "performed;" the table would move around as they spelled out the words of the aria in the original language, French, Italian, English or German. Dora definitely was not a linguist, so whatever it was, it was fascinating and it was strong. One evening a famous Dutch tenor, who had recently died, came and we had a very interesting conversation with him discussing his previous life. On another occasion, when my mother was present, the spirit said that he was Hans, my oldest brother, who had never returned after the war. Of course, my mother was very upset and she wanted proof. Then he asked her to play a melody on the piano which had been one of his favorites and which he used to play before the war. That was one of the few unhappy seances we had. Usually, it was interesting and even sometimes funny. Eventually there came a time that they wanted to advise Dora and try to influence her life. This became gradually more annoying and after a while she decided to stop that activity.

I needed to find work as soon as possible. Somebody suggested that I should try to find something with the government. It was during this time of my life that I discovered a talent of which I was unaware until that moment but which I often used during the rest of my life. During the interview I was asked if I had any experience with office work and I answered "yes" even though I had never seen the inside of an office. "Could I type?" Again I said "yes" but this time I felt that I had to qualify it so I said "not very fast but I could improve very quickly." And that is how I landed in the office of the Waterworks Ministry. It really went very well. I caught on quickly with all the statistical calculations. My co -workers laughed at my typing. I only used two fingers of each hand but I managed to type fairly fast and with little or no mistakes. I was very proud of myself. I did not make much money but I regularly managed to send some to my mother. I do not remember if I paid the Fam. Koens or that my mother sent them money. I am forever grateful to them for giving me the opportunity to become more or less independent. It gave me some confidence.

One day we went on an inspection tour of a section of the Rotterdam Harbor, the largest harbor in Europe. I was all excited as we traveled to Rotterdam and I saw the enormous cranes and ships in the harbor. My thrill was cut short when we approached a tall wooden scaffold which stretched for a long way over the water. We climbed very high and then we walked over these wooden planks with nothing but water under us. I did not know then that I had a terrible fear of heights but it seemed to me that we went on for miles and that the scaffolding was hundreds of feet high. In great trepidation I told my supervisor that I was getting dizzy. They helped me down quickly. I thought that I would get fired on the spot but the supervisor told me that I would not have to do that again. It was really very nice of him but from then on I felt insecure at my work and I decided to quit. I had worked there for about one year.

I felt that I had had enough of being independent so I said good bye to the Koens family and returned to Eindhoven. Now followed two of the happiest years of my life in Holland. The government built small houses especially for families like ours. The subsidized rent was a mere twenty five guilders per month. The house was new and modern with all the latest appliances. It had three small bedrooms and a small living room and kitchen. But it was lovely and light and it was situated at the edge of town with only farmland behind us. There was no garden in the front but in the back we had a small garden which within one year was filled with small trees and all kinds of flowers. Mother gave the smallest room to me as my private study. Was I ever proud! I could close the door and study the flute as much as I wanted and, if I wished, I could have privacy for the first time in my life. Mother and I got along very well so I spent the evenings with her in the living room. By this time we had some furniture. The living room was really very warm and cozy.

I found work at the Philips factory. Again I applied my newly found talent and I told the interviewer about the great experience I had working in a government office and that I was a good typist. So, I started my second "career" as a typist. Now I was lucky. My typing was too slow but I made no mistakes, so within a short time they removed me from the typist pool and made me a supervisor! I had my own desk and I had to give work to the typists and inspect their work! Even with that quick promotion I made only one hundred and twenty five guilders every two weeks which was the equivalent of about thirty dollars. I handed that all to my mother who gave me five guilders per week as pocket money. I felt like a millionaire! Occasionally we went out and I accompanied Mother everywhere.

Since the end of the war we had every few years a visit from the only surviving brother of my mother. His name was Maurice Swaab. Before the war he had had a diamond factory in Amsterdam and in Antwerp (Belgium). In 1939, when things were getting bad, he closed both factories, took his diamonds and money, his wife, Tante Lies and his three sons and first went to England, later to New York. There he opened another diamond factory. He was very successful. Whenever he visited us it was quite an event. He brought things for us and he had a car! He re-opened the factory in Antwerp where he had a manager and he probably left a car there which he used whenever he was in Europe. In those days only a few rich people in Holland were able to afford a new car, so we were really thrilled to get a ride in my uncle's car. He was a great photographer and he inspired me to get into that hobby which gave me much pleasure during my whole life. Either he or my mother gave me a little box camera and with that I made some beautiful pictures. On a visit to Belgium I took a picture in Ghent which was so beautiful that his Belgium factory manager, who was also an artist, made a painting from it. I really felt honored.

One day, soon after I returned to Eindhoven we discussed the possibility of emigrating to America with Uncle Maurice. I had seen some movies of America and I was impressed. Jacques also talked that day about it. We meant for the whole family to emigrate. Uncle said that he would have to be a guarantor for us and that he could do that only for one at a time. After one was settled he would be the guarantor for the next one.

I do not know what Jacques was doing about it but I jumped at the opportunity. I talked it over with my mother and with some knowledgeable people and before long I went to Rotterdam for a day to apply for a visa to America. There I learned to my consternation that there was a quota system and that it would be about two years before my turn would come. I received much help from an organization called the H.I.A.S. They advised me of the steps I needed to take. I filled out the appropriate forms and went back to Eindhoven and to my work in the office.

I spent the next two years preparing for my emigration to America. I read about New York and I always got excited when I saw a movie or a newsreel which showed scenes of New York City. During another visit by Uncle Maurice he talked more concretely about my approaching move. He promised me a job and said that I could stay in his house, at least for a short while. I must mention that Aunt Lies, his wife, never accompanied him during his trips to Holland. I barely remembered her. I believe that I saw her only once or twice before I met her again in America.

These last years in Eindhoven were pleasant enough. My work was steady and my social life was improving. I joined a bicycle club, a bridge club and an Esperanto organization. The latter I helped organize. With my knowledge of Latin, Greek, German and French it was easy for me to learn Esperanto. I was on the board of the budding organization. I am not certain but I believe I was the secretary. Anyway, I helped organize a trip to Denmark where we were guests of the Aarhus Esperanto Club. That was one of the many highlights of those days.
 

The bridge club met regularly but there I made no social contacts. The bicycle club, however, gave me great pleasure. Nearly every Sunday we went on a day long bike ride with picnics and a lot of fun. It was a healthy and fun activity and for the first time I felt comfortable with some of the young men and women; I even got to know one young lady fairly well but our relationship was strictly platonic.

It seems strange to me now that I still felt very uncomfortable around the Jewish youth. One reason may be that none of these were my age. They were all older. One must realize that not many young Jews survived the war but the few that did were my brother's age and older. I strung along with them and I was amazed at their easy banter and laughter. I had a hard time keeping up with that. Religiously I was totally un-involved. I felt ill at ease the few times I went to the synagogue. The people I had loved were not there anymore and the few who survived seemed distant to me even though I had known them as a child.
 
Uncle Simon Swaab,
killled during Holocaust.
Brother of my mother,
father of Fietje Swaab.
One day my only surviving female cousin, who lived in Amsterdam, visited us and I fell head over heels in love with her. I remembered Fietje, the daughter of Oom Simon Swaab from one or two visits we made to Amsterdam when I was probably seven or nine years old. But now she was a beautiful young lady. She was the only survivor of her family. Her father, her mother and, I believe, two brothers all were killed during the Holocaust. She had been hidden by nuns in a cloister. It came as a shock to me that she had turned Catholic. Even though I had no strong religious feelings, I found it shocking that she had converted. Nevertheless, I seriously believe that, if I had stayed in Holland, I would have explored the possibility of marriage. As it was, I left soon after that visit. I did look her up in Amsterdam to say good bye before I left for America. She lived with a wonderful family who treated her like a daughter. Later she married a priest who had left the priesthood. She had a wonderful family life with him and his sisters ( all ex-nuns). Unfortunately, she got killed at a young age in a one car accident, in Germany, of all places. I always thought it ironic that she had escaped the German concentration camps but that she had to die in Germany after all.
Fietje Swaab-Dyker, April 1951
Mother, Jacques and I during a soiree.  Dec. 1950.
My musical life also greatly expanded during these two years. Playing for hours every week with my friend clavichord- player (unfortunately I forgot his name), I became quite proficient playing the flute and I received many invitations to play with chamber music groups. I especially liked the concerts I gave with my teacher playing duets in churches and once in a beautiful cathedral in Zaltbommel, some forty miles North of Eindhoven. Mother and I often went to concerts and operas and at home we often had trios, quartets or quintets in the evenings. Sometimes my brother Jacques joined us. He was a pretty good violinist.

So, life was good and relatively easy. Financially, we seemed to make ends meet and even to be able to afford some extras. One thing was always hanging over our heads: would anybody still return from the concentration camps, maybe even my brother Hans? But that was not to be.

We regularly received (I do not remember weekly or monthly) a newspaper sized publication in which the names of Jews killed in concentration camps were listed. These lists contained the names, places and dates of death. The Nazis, in their crazy efficiency, had kept records of every individual when he was deported, to which camp and where (not how) he had died. It was very difficult, especially for Mother, to see names of her family and relatives appearing, one after the other. There would be no one returning. The only name that never showed up was that of Hans and Mother never gave up hoping that some day he would return, maybe from behind the Communist Iron Curtain. It never happened.

One thing was good about this information: inheritance could now be settled because the order in which people had died was now officially known. As it was, my grandfather had owned a store on the Demer, the main shopping street in the center of Eindhoven. We received an inheritance from that property. In Holland the inheritance goes from grandfather to the children and then through my father, who had died in 1941 to the three grandchildren. My mother inherited Hans' share and Jacques and I shared the other two thirds. When I left Holland I gave my share of fl. 10000,00 to my mother.
 
And so the two years of waiting for my quota number to come up went by very fast and very pleasantly. Then one day the mail brought a very official looking envelope. I could not wait to open it. There it was: I was to come to Rotterdam to receive my final papers and instructions. I went the following day. Mother went with me. She must have been very apprehensive; her youngest son was preparing to leave her, the last one to go. She would be all alone. I did feel terrible for her but at the same time my adrenaline was flowing. I could hardly conceal my excitement when I received my official papers from the American consulate to immigrate to America! The time had come. That same day I booked passage on the New Amsterdam, the flagship of the Holland America line. The date was set for June 2nd, 1952. We immediately returned to Eindhoven and the next day I gave notice to my supervisor that I would be leaving soon.

Now I was anxious to leave Eindhoven. It had too many bad memories for me. I felt obliged to visit the families who had risked their lives in order to save mine and I did so at regular intervals. But at the same time I felt that too much was still left in the contact with the unpleasant past and I wanted to separate myself from that and start a new and hopefully a more normal life.

Me, Den Haag, Dec. 1951.

Before I knew it the day was there and I was packing my little brown suitcase, the same suitcase that had held my few belongings during the years in hiding. It did not hold much: an extra pair of pants, some shirts, some extra pieces of underwear, socks and one book: the biography of Mozart. I had quite a collection of books accumulated since I started working but I only had room for one book and that is the one I chose. Besides this little brown suitcase I took my flute and my little Brownie camera and twenty five guilders. Mother and Jacques accompanied me to Rotterdam, to the same harbor where three years earlier I had walked so fearfully on the scaffolds high above the water. But this time I was transported on a small tender to this large and wonderful ship, the New Amsterdam. It was so very hard to say good bye to my poor mother. I realized that I was leaving her now completely alone. I did not feel good about it, but I I knew that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity and Mother never discouraged me in any way. We all had tears in our eyes when the tender left the dock. But I have to admit that as I approached this enormous ship my eyes dried up very fast and my heart pounded with excitement. I had never before traveled so luxuriously. Of course, I had the smallest, lowest priced cabin on the ship, but to me it seemed the ultimate luxury. After I placed my little suitcase in the cabin I went back on deck to wave my last farewell to Jacques and Mother. I could see them way below and far away. They seemed so small. I waved to them and they waved back. But after a while I became impatient. I could not wait for the ship to leave and to be totally independent for the first time in my life.

Finally, the ship's horn gave the signal and slowly the dock disappeared. With a final wave to my family I started another entirely new life. I stayed on deck as long as I could see land and then I went down to explore the ship.

Next -> CHAPTER 6: MY LIFE IN THE NEW WORLD

Return to INDEX

Contents & Images, Copyright 2000 Fred Greenwood. All Rights Reserved.