Miriam Feder home


Carole–what was it like to get to America?

I was so relieved to be here. Excited to be here, not just relieved. I’d been waiting to start my life here and I was going to be an American—100%. I wanted to come for such a long time and when Katy invited me, I was ready. I was sad to leave my family but I really thought they would follow before long. I couldn’t imagine—nobody could have imagined—the horrible things that would follow.

I was so young, so energetic and so repressed by my environment that I couldn’t imagine anything bad happening to me here or that there might be things I wouldn’t know or couldn’t figure out. I thought the hard part would be learning English. I had taken my family for granted—I think most children do that. I didn’t realize how important it is to have a safe place with a family. I didn’t realize that I wouldn’t have that anymore—a place where I’d always be accepted, where they’d love me, tolerate me, and take care of me as best they could. I think maybe I had already lost some of that because increasingly Germany was dangerous whenever I left my home. In New York I was rid of those dangers. I didn’t think about the dangers anyone would encounter living in New York like traffic or crime.

I had friends who were protected by their family. I saw how nice that was, how it was easier in so many ways, but then I got to really live in New York and that was what I wanted.The girls who lived at home in their little neighborhoods seemed a little simple; I was really living.

I did well with the few English lessons I had from the Catholic Priest before I left. But it was different trying to do everything in English, especially when everything else was new too.

New York is so impersonal. That was good and bad. I could hide my problems because no one on the street really cared about me and my problems. But then that’s also very lonely. I was lucky I was so young and resilient.

I lived with Katy and Charlie. I could speak German at home with them—they spoke German a lot of the time and there were people all over New York who spoke German. But at work, at the Israel’s house, I had to understand everything in English. These weren’t difficult things—what to make for dinner, how many people, arrangements for the baby. When I knew all of that I was bored by that job.I’d take the baby to the park and all the other girls who took care of babies were immigrant girls too. They spoke Polish or Russian or Spanish. They had no education and I couldn’t practice my English with them. I didn’t want people like that for friends. I wanted to get on with it.

Then I kept house for the Feldmans. They were an elderly Jewish couple in Brooklyn. They were very nice to me. They loaned me money that I sent off to Uruguay to someone who was supposed to get a visa for Mama and Daddy and Ilsa. I can’t remember all the details but it was a lot of money. It took me a long time to work and pay back that loan and of course it was just a scam, a con. We never got visas for them. It was impossible. After Germany invaded Poland in ’39 it was impossible for anyone to leave.

The letters stopped completely then. Finally my letters would come back, unopened. I wanted to have the money ready if I could ever get them out. I learned: you always have to be ready and act fast. I guess I did that with everything that ever happened to me after that time. That’s how I married your father too.