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More about Berta

The boat coming to America takes so long. I’m between: I’ve left Ilsa and I’m not yet with Carole. It feels terrible. I promised myself that I would never leave Ilsa again after she was sent from the Riga ghetto. But now I am on this boat in the middle of the ocean with no one, feeling so sick in my stomach. I cannot help wondering what will be, even though I tell myself the worst is over. No matter how bad it gets, I have seen the worst.

People are nice to me—they always are except when they were so horrible you cannot imagine. Even in camp, I found people who were nice to me. I would talk to them. Once I make some sort of connection with a person it is hard for him to be mean. When I saw the young baker in concentration camp, I complimented his rye bread and he told me where he learned to bake it. I knew his master and when I told him this, he began to give me extra rations of bread until that became too dangerous for him. It is only in this way, by connecting even to the hateful people—those female Gestapo —that I could survive in a world designed to kill me. It is always important to know how to survive. Hopefully I do not need these lessons so much where I go.

When I see New York and how Carole lives, how she has grown up, I am so sad her father is not alive to see. Here she is a woman. She takes such good care of me and of Ilsa. She is a real American. It is different from anything I know. I don’t know how she did it without a Mother or a Father and all the time having to make her own way. But she did. She learned fast. Now she is almost like a Mother to us.

She is different from the girl I knew. She is harder, quick to decide and to move and laugh and to get angry. All of New York is so quick. I guess she has to be that way. There is no maybe in New York.

After Ilsa is here a year or so, Carole asks us if we might like to move to an easier place—some place warmer, a little smaller, less crowded. She can have a position in Texas with a big store. When she writes for more information they tell her it is sunny and warm with plenty of space.

Carole is right, it is easier to live in Fort Worth Texas than in New York City and while many things are a great surprise to us, good things happen here.

There are not so many Jewish people in Fort Worth so they all know each other. We meet a few people and they are so friendly. I don’t speak so much English and it it hard to understand me sometimes. But still they are nice and want to include us in things. And then suddenly I have a date with a nice man—a widower—a Jewish man who owns clothing stores. Who am I to have a date with a man when I have two beautiful unmarried daughters? But this woman I met with Carole knew the man and he was coming to town and would I like to meet him, she asks? Sure I said and so I did and he proposed to me that same day.

This is the same thing that happened with my first husband. He met with me at my family’s home—thirty years ago now, more even–and asked me to marry him right away. I think it is not always like this. When Mr. Rosenbaum asked me, I told him I wanted his children to meet me first. I didn’t want them to resent that I should marry their father—sometimes grown children are like that—then I would have no peace. So he arranged for me to meet them—there are four children and they live in different cities all in Texas–and they all like me just fine. So we are married a month later when he came back to Fort Worth. That is certainly not something I expected when I wondered what the future would bring on the boat coming to New York. And it’s not what I imagined when Carole asked me if I wanted to move to Texas. That shows you, all that business is silly, really. You don’t know. You can’t know.

I moved with my new husband to his town, which is very small and far away from my daughters. He is the merchant in town and everyone knows him and respects him. When he brings back a new bride, everyone wants to meet me and welcome me to town. THere are parties and dinners and teas for the ladies. His son and daughter in law live in the town and are part of the business. They have a new son–their first child. I fit right in; now I’m a Grandma. We are the only Jewish people in the town but everyone is very nice to me.

I had never lived anywhere with such a strong sun before. I love having a yard and a home to care for. I have a dog and I when my husband goes for market in Dallas, I go with and shop for lovely clothes at Neiman Marcus.

I work sometimes in the store and I like that. I am trained, you know, as a merchant’s wife and I know how to do such things. And this way I get to know everyone and I learn more English. Also a little Spanish because so many people speak Spanish here. I go to luncheons with the ladies and they are nice to me. Sometimes they want to hear my story. My daughters don’t think I should talk about my experience in the war. They are afraid it hurts me all over again. I have nightmares. This is true. But I think these people should know what people are capable of and they are interested.

Now I am busy and don’t have time to be lonely. When I lived in New York I did feel lonely. It would be like the damp and get inside me when I was a little tired or unsure and the girls were at work. Then it was hard to get rid of it. I think all that busyness from everyone else made me lonely. Seeing everyone rushing and preparing made me miss the people I had lost. I would think about my poor husband who had been so strong and handsome. When I met him he just came home from the war and walked straight and tall like a soldier. The last time I saw him he could barely move, he was so weak and thin and covered with lice. What would he think of me in that crazy city, learning a new language when I am almost 60. But you do what you have to. If he could have lived, he would have done also.