I was ready to enter. Just one step at a time, the small and rotten stairs rustled when my feet touched it. Only tree little steps remained and I were on deck, on board on a big boat, not like the German boats, but the biggest boat I’ve ever been on. It was scary being alone on such a big boat, I didn’t know anyone, except from the captain who gave me a ticket to come along. The Captain was a friend of my father; but my father was taken by some German officers so I haven’t seen him for a while know. My mother died when I was born, so it’s just me. That’s why I decided to go to America. There my dreams would come true; I would be treated with justice.
This boat was made for travelling over the ocean back and forth. It brought vine from France to America. Beneath the top deck there were hundreds of boxes with vine. On the upper deck, it was a room where we could hang out and beds where we could sleep. What concerned me was that all the beds were taken, and still there remained a few people on deck.
As I walked into the room, where many families already had made their beds, a man with a uniform stopped me. He grabbed my arm so hard my feet started shaking, I begged him to stop. Whit one heaven blue eye, and one as dark as night he stared at me. First deeply in my eyes, then at the yellow star on my chest and so over my shoulder out on deck. He didn’t have to say anything more, I was used to this by now. Whit two years of war behind me I knew I weren’t allowed to do what normal people does. But here I expected it to be different. I thought we were going to the land of dreams, the promising land and I would be treated with respect. Maybe I hoped too much, I was still in France and should have known better.
A couple of hours later I could no longer see France, just the open sea. It was beautiful, the water and the clear sky mixed together into a blue dream. I fell asleep on something that had been a park bench. I had a beautiful dream; I entered Ellis Island, went across the U.S and got a job as a hotel manager.
My neck was stiff and I had a stomachache from all the waves. I’d only got a couple of hours sleep. The rest of the night I looked out in the night. It was totally black out, except from lights from the room. Again I felt alone. I was the only one with a yellow star and the only one out on deck.
As I fell in and out from dreams and nightmares, the man in uniform wakes me up. This time he had a cup of water. He handed it over to me. While I drank it up I looked around me. The other was awake and kids played out on deck. I handed over the empty cup and said ‘Merci, Monsieur’. The man nodded and gave me a new pair of trousers. That was a nice gesture I thought, I looked at myself and saw I had peed in my underwear. He pointed at a sign that said “Toilet”. I said ‘Merci’ a little embarrassed and changed into the new clothes.
Day in and day out I was caught up by my dreams. They were in my head all the time. I weren’t allowed to go inside, not even when the biggest storm almost flushed me overboard. I was tired and couldn’t do anything else than sleep. I couldn’t see other Jews, but some farmers and a very pretty and harassed woman that had rich clothes sat outside and amazed the view.
After about eleven days the captain came to see me. I was eating my daily bagel with water, the only food I got. The night before, he saw me sleep outside and wondered why I did so. I said I didn’t have another option. He talked to another man and came back. He brought me down a spiral staircase to the captain’s room. The room was magnificent, marvelous and wonderful.
The carpet on the floor was soft and I could feel my feet again. In the last tornado I lost my shoes and since then I have gone barefoot. There were two beds, the biggest had a cute red cat sleeping on the pillow. There were a little wash and a tiny bathroom which had wallpapers with birds. I was overwhelmed by all the food he gave me, but I needed some extra pounds. If I am not fit and healthy when I get to Ellis Island I can’t live in the United States.
Day and night starting to mix together and I often threw up several times a day. I spend most of my time down playing with my cat and dreaming about America. I couldn’t talk English so the captain gave me an English dictionary. I could say the basic hi, hello, how are you? What’s your name? Etc. I counted the days until we were coming to Ellis Island, and I was really looking forward to it.
Then the day arrived. I took a bath, and tried to dress up as good as I could underneath these circumstances. The Statue of Liberty was coming closer and closer. It was exactly like the photos I’ve seen in the newspaper. People took up American flags and waved to the statue. I had butterflies in my stomach, toes and ears. This is what I’ve waited for.
The boat stopped and made its place beside the wharf. We stepped down and entered a big area. People with dark blue uniforms and shiny shoes walked back and forth, they looked very busy. When everyone on the ship was out, we were ordered to stand on a line. Three men in uniforms started to the left and worked their way against me, I stood at the end of the line, in the right side. They looked at people’s feet, arms, nose, ears, hair, they checked absolutely everything! I started getting second thoughts when they ordered people into different groups. We hadn’t got any information or nothing. I checked the groups out. One group was only children and their mothers.
The second was old people and a couple in wheelchairs. A group with strongly looking men tried to look the fittest, they all looked pathetic. Then there was a group I didn’t want to look at. They looked so miserable and I felt an instant pain by looking at them. Suddenly the men stopped, the only person who hadn’t been checked was me. Again I felt treated bad. I thought I would be treated better in America, this did not look like my dream.
They had a discussion and said in English something I couldn’t understand. The group with mums and children looked happy and started hugging. The men were also happy, some of them walked over to their children and wives. The group of old people looked a little pale, and not exactly happy. I heard someone cry, and looked over to the group of poor and sick. They hugged each other and started walk back to the boat along with the old people.
A young boy, maybe sixteen or seventeen came closer. I said ‘hi’ the boy looked frightened. Some men laughed and pointed at me. I started to get shaky, I wanted to stay in America. I had no life at home. No friends, no family.
Now the boy was ten steps away from me. He took something out of his pocket and pointed it right against me. I didn’t have the time to think. He pulled the trigger. I got a glimpse of it; my father had one exactly like that at home. I tried it a couple of times, and I was used to the sound it makes, but all the time I got bad nightmares. This time I didn’t.