June 14, 2007
My father, who was not a hero
He left his mark fighting in the Shoah, spearheading postwar relief efforts, aiding migration to Palestine - and on me
(Page 2 - Previous Page)When members of the underground were arrested and tortured and asked to reveal their leader, they answered "Glick" (regardless of whether he worked with them or not). As a result, the Nazis and Hungarian Arrow Cross police put a price of 500 marks on my father's head for his capture, arrest or death.
For many months, my father never slept twice in the same apartment and was constantly on the move. At one point, they had to move him to the surrounding countryside because the search for him became too intense and too dangerous to other members of the unit.
Forging identity documents also caused him to meet with Raoul Wallenberg. When Wallenberg issued 100 Swedish protective passes, my father's group would forge several hundred copies. Concerned that the Nazis would see a problem in there being so many "Swedish" citizens of Hungary, Wallenberg requested a meeting with my father. My father explained that the more Swedish passes, real or forged, the more lives saved. Wallenberg assented to the forgery operation.
In later years, my father would say that he admired Wallenberg for putting his own life at risk when he didn't have to. He witnessed Wallenberg standing up to the Nazi authorities and personally going to the train transport platform to pull people off the trains and out of the lines that meant certain death, declaring them "Swedish citizens."
The last time he saw Wallenberg was in January 1945, a few days after the Russian army liberated Budapest. A few days later, he heard that the Russians had arrested Wallenberg. My father always believed that Wallenberg died in a Russian jail, not only because his experience with the Russians had taught him of their brutality but also because he knew of their ineptitude and believed that were Wallenberg alive, he would have somehow sent a message from his cell to the right channels to free him.
After the war, my father went to Vienna, where he convinced the occupying authorities to designate the former Rothschild Hospital, which had been used as a prison during the war, as a center for Jewish refugees under his leadership.
The International Committee for Jewish refugees and Former Inmates of Concentration Camps was created as a result, with my father as its president, to represent the Jews in Austria.
Between 1945 and 1951, the Rothschild Hospital would help more than 200,000 Jews get medical attention and vocational training and aid them in finding new lives by providing emigration visas. Men, women, families, orphaned children, famous rabbis, the religious and the atheists, the young and the old, the infirm and the healthy - all passed through the Rothschild Hospital.
As president, he wielded great power. He dealt with the four occupying powers --and the American Army officials in particular - as well as Jewish and American relief agencies, such as the Joint Distribution Committee and the Red Cross. He also was involved with securing visas to foreign countries.
I am under the impression that my father earned little salary for doing all this, but at a time when many survivors had nothing, he had an apartment, a car and access to supplies and rations. He was a big shot - "the king of the Jews."
As president of the International Committee, he attended the first post-war Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland, in 1946. During this period, he was also active in the Briha, facilitating illegal immigration to Palestine, helping to arrange transports and smuggle arms, for which Israel awarded him the Ot Haganah in 1967 and the State Fighter's Award in 1988. In 1949, he was one of the pallbearers when Theodore Herzl was disinterred in Vienna and flown to be buried in the new State of Israel. In 1952, he emigrated to the United States.
All this happened before I was born. In my memory, however, the father I was born to was an immigrant, a greenhorn, a Polish Jew who wanted to have nothing to do with his Polish heritage (asked where he came from, he would often say "Galicia" or some term that referred to the Austro-Hungarian empire, or he might say "Lemberg," as if the city were a country). My mother, a Hungarian, had met my father in Vienna after the war. They were trying to make a life in New York, trying to make a living in America, the best country in the world.
What did I know of my father's experience during the Shoah? How did I learn it? What did my father tell me and when? How did it affect me then and to this day?
For the first five years of my life, we lived in an apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan on West End Avenue. All the other kids I knew and played with were the children of European Jews. We lived there because another Polish Jewish couple had told my parents about the apartment. Most of my parents' friends were either Hungarian, Polish or Austrian survivors. My maternal grandmother, Adrienne Bogner, lived two blocks away.
Even at that early age, I had some notion, some vague consciousness, that a war had occurred in Europe. The Nazis were the bad guys. We, the former Europeans, the Jewish ones, had outsmarted them, had bested the German Nazis and won (I was a little confused about Germans and Nazis, because all the parents I knew spoke German but were not Nazis, but all the Nazis spoke German).
I knew that my father had played some role in this, that he had been a spy for the good guys. I had some impression that he had blown up bridges or committed acts of sabotage against the Nazis. I can say that even as a 5-year-old, my understanding of what had occurred was not that 6 million Jews had died, but that 6 million survived and that the Nazis had been defeated.
My father conveyed a sense that, having survived as he had, having accomplished what he had, there was no challenge he could not meet. And no goal that, as a native-born American citizen, I could not achieve.