A Golden Land

Mauricy Mark, who would be my grandfather, was having bittersweet feelings that day in 1939, when he would leave his city, his country, and his continent, to live in America.

My grandfather was born on May 27, 1930, to Joseph and Mollie Mark, in Rohatyn, Poland. The Marks were an upper-middle class family, and owned a nice house with a tin roof and a wood floor, luxury items in their small village. They also had a live-in maid, Hankah, who was a loving person in my grandfather's life. My great-great-great-grandfather, Hillel Mark, was Mauricy's father's father. He was a well respected man in their village, and a fine wheel wright. He gained village respect through his kindness, his selfless acts, and his fine craftsmanship. He was one of the few Jews who could own land. From him, the Marks gained a certain degree of respect as a family. However, status does not matter to an anti-Semite.

In these pre-World War II days, anti-Semitism was fierce, and was present in Rohatyn. My grandfather was teased, and sneered at. He was called a "Zyd Parech", a lousy Jew. He had snowballs thrown at him. In this troubled time, all his parents could do was comfort him, and tell him to "try not to get them mad." As my grandfather wrote, "I didn't know it then, but anti-Semitism was a way of life, and we just had to cope."

In 1937, when things were bad, a chance arose to immigrate to America, the golden land. Mollie's (Mauricy's mother) father, Rebbe Chaim Dovid Gabe and her two sisters, Rose and Siliviaand her brother, Moe, were in America, and they wanted her and the rest of the family to join them. They somehow managed to secure tickets. Although this was a grand opportunity to escape the plague of anti-Semitism, Mauricy's father, Joseph, was uncertain. His business was good, and so was his father's. Why should they leave? When Hillel expressed unwillingness to leave, it was a veto on the plans. The Marks were in Rohatyn to stay, or so they thought.

In 1938, someone burned down the Rohatyn synagogue. Jews were routinely beaten. Windows were broken. Anti-Semitism was becoming as commonplace as the potato, a routine part of all Jew's lives. Still, both Joseph and Hillel held out, and would not immigrate. They only waited for it to get better. They were afraid though, for they were protected only by the mutual respect of Hillel. They would have Hillel's apprentice escort them for ordinary errands, and would rely on a Christian neighbor for the return trip. However, this difficulty was wearing everyone's patience thin. One cold winter's evening, Mollie and Joseph talked the whole night, and Mollie finally persuaded Joseph to let the family immigrate. Hillel would not be swayed so easily. Although they begged him to come, he refused, saying only that he was too old to start over, and that no one would want to harm him.

That winter was a rush of paperwork, of passport photos, of packing, and of saying good-byes. In the spring of 1939, nine-year-old Mauricy Mark and his family left their hometown forever, knowing they would never see Hillel again. When Hitler's army marched on Poland, the Jews of Rohatyn were captured. Hillel, along with 467 other Jews, was shot in a massacre, and buried in a mass grave. A memorial marks the site where they died.

The trip to the boat took the Marks to Warsaw, and then to the port of Gdynia. Finally, they boarded. The boat ride at first was full of fear, which quickly changed to wonder. My grandfather saw the ocean for the first time, and also got aquainted with electricity. He snuck on to first class, and was amazed at how different it was. After stopping at Halifax, on April 6, 1939, they arrived in New York City. They were claimed like luggage, and put throughout the troubles of Ellis Island. They were examined by doctors, and tested, and made to fill out more forms. Then, they were processed in Hoboken, New Jersey. In that building at one point, they were all cramped into a small room, after coming out of a medium sized one. After waiting for a few seconds, the doors opened again. My grandfather was amazed, because someone had moved the furniture, repainted the room, and even made it bigger! He had just gotten off of his first elevator. His family was picked up by their aunt, who told my grandfather that his name would now be Murray, not Mauricy. He was outraged, and told her, "I came all this way to America just to change my name!" He then got in big trouble. After a long voyage, they settled down, for what turned out to be a successful life in New York City. The only regrettable thing was that Hillel could not be with them, to live in the golden land.

[written by Jacob Taber]