Coming to America
By Sally Horwitz
After the Second World War
I found myself in Bamberg, Germany working for the Judenrat, 'Jewish
Family Service'. In January 1945, I, along with my two sisters, Manya
and Franya, were freed from the concentration camps by the Russians.
I tried to return to my home town of Zwolen in Poland, but there was
no home, no family, and only a handful of frightened Jews there. At
this time the Poles were on a rampage against returning Jewish survivors.
A pogrom was underway in Kielc, 45 kilometers away. I barely escaped
with my life and returned shakily to where we had been liberated and
where the Russians maintained control. This was the city of Czestochowa
Poland, as the rest of Eastern Europe was in complete chaos and most
of the Jews had to get out of the Russian occupied zone. All the existing
confusion made it possible to cross over boarders into the American
zone of Occupied Germany and to reach Bamberg. My brother in-law, Leon
Glick, who had married my sister Manya, after the war, had some good
friends in Bamberg who also hailed from Czestochowa, his home town.
One of them was Jacob (Yonkel Pepper) who, along with his wife, Helene,
(Henye), became very dear to me during the four years we lived in Bamberg-without
belonging to any country. The Peppers were among the first of us to
leave for America. An uncle of Helene, Jack Jacobowitz (of Jack's Bakery),
had signed the required papers to bring them to "Nef Haven"
early in 1948.
As soon as the Peppers settled themselves in New Haven they started
the process of getting papers for their home town landsleit and included
me in their efforts. So in July 1949, a number of us started to move
out, but not all together, nor at the same time. My turn to go came
up and I took a train to the port of Bremerhaven. It took at least two
weeks until a place was found for me on the troop transport ship Marlin
Marlene that was bringing American soldiers to Germany and going back
to the Unites States with refugees. I was one of those refugees and
I was alone. Because I was single, I was separated from my sister Mary
(Manya) and her family. They left on another ship a day after my departure.
My other sister, Francis (Franya), was also married by this time and
scheduled for St. Louis. Not only was I alone, but I was also frightened.
I thought I never would make it to America, what with the ship being
so full of Ukrainians and only a handful of Jews among them. I was sure
that they would kill us all and throw us overboard. It was a scary period
of two weeks during the time we were crossing the Atlantic.
Finally on July 15, during the night, we were standing together on deck
to see all the lights as we neared New York. Then we sighted that Lady,
holding high the torch, who was telling us, "You are safe, you
are free, no one can harm you." All night we watched the twinkling
lights, which we later found out were from the lights of thousands and
thousands of cars. In the morning we went through customs - and I hate
to tell you - I had nothing, but nothing, to declare!
Some ladies from the Joint Distribution Committee were waiting at the
dock. They were calling out my name, "Sala Finkelstein". They
packed me and the few other Jews from the ship into a couple of taxis
and were taking us to the railroad station. As we rode I was able to
see a little of New York. It was hot and humid and the city certainly
was not too "clean". I was flabbergasted at it all - at the
tall buildings and at so many people of all colors and shapes.
And there, out of some huge wall, a man's face suddenly appeared with
smoke rings coming out of his mouth. This was Times Square. We hadn't
eaten all day. The taxis stopped for us at a cafeteria, but I could
not eat. I was too excited and the smells must have gotten to me. Never
had I seen so much food! Almost everyone on the Marlin Marlene had become
seasick coming across the ocean, but I hadn't. Only now did I become
At last the ladies from the Joint got me to Grand Central Station and
physically put me on a train going to New Haven, all by myself. What
I recall mostly about the ride to New Haven was looking out of the dirty
windows and seeing lines upon lies of underwear and other clothing floating
up in the air between the tall tenement buildings. It was puzzling.
Clothes lines, and how they worked, had to be explained to me.
While on the train I had time to reflect about what had happened in
the past and to think and worry about what awaited me in New Haven and
in this country. Some American Jewish soldiers had made contact with
me at the Judenrat
and had become friendly and helpful to us. They briefed us about the
United States and brought us magazines to look over. In one of the magazines
I saw an article about New Haven, except that it was really about Yale
University in New Haven, and how the Yale football team had elected
its first black captain, Levi Jackson. Then my thought turned to the
Peppers, hoping that they had not forgotten me and would be waiting
at the station.
They were there! Thank G-d they did not forget. There was Helene, looking
very much pregnant; Eva and Leon Kruger; a handsome young Irishman named
Billy; and of course 'Yonkel' Jack Pepper himself. They had spread themselves
along the platform to make sure that I would not get lost. I spend my
first few days and nights in this county at the Peppers, along with
my sister, her husband, and their 18-month old baby, Esther. They had
arrived in New Haven a day later than I, from Boston. Jack and Helene
put us at ease. Not only did we meet many newcomers at their house,
but Helene soon began stuffing us with food we hadn't seen in about
ten years. She kept all kind of cheeses on the table along with herring,
sour cream, and of course, ice cream.
What can I tell you! In case you could not guess, it was not long before
I started to burst out of my clothes. I just did not stop eating. There
was so much food, yet I was afraid that it all would disappear. It took
sometime until I realized that food would be there for the next day,
and the the next.
The Peppers lived on Washington Avenue on the second floor. They had
a great front porch and had all of their electricity coming out of one
hanging light fixture in the kitchen. It seemed that every refugee in
town came to the Peppers, and because the summer was so hot, everyone
headed to the porch. If we would have known how old and sagging the
porch was, I doubt if we would have crowded to get on it. The floor
of the house was not any better. But the hospitality of Jack and Helene
was wonderfully warm and there always were goodies for everybody. After
two weeks my sister, her family, and I moved in to a single room of
a second floor flat on Button Street; one room for my sister, her husband,
her daughter, a crib, all of our belongings, and me. Benny Kerson, old,
hard of hearing, and weak in sight, wandered around the rest of the
rooms. I slept on a sofa. That was the best that the Jewish Family Service
and Mr. Offenbach could do at the time.
It wasn't long after my coming to New Haven that I began wondering why
the Jewish community was ignoring us. Not having seen a normal family
home in years, I was curious to see how people lived here, but not one
person asked me to his or her house. It was Irish Billy, able to speak
Yiddish better than any American born Jew, who first took me out. With
him I had my first encounter with pizza and other Italian dishes. He
also ushered me around world famous Yale University and the historic
New Haven Green. It was an Italian girl, Dolores, who brought me by
bus to Savin Rock where she treated me to my first hot dog.
Soon I was placed in a job with the Rosenberg Bakery on Legion Avenue
The Jewish Family Service put me there knowing that I was multilingual
and could handle shoppers of all backgrounds who came to Legion Avenue
from all over the area. My work hours were late, especially on Thursday
and Saturday nights. At first I would walk home from Legion Avenue,
at night, all the way to Button Street in the Hill section, not something
anyone would think of dong today.
A young man named Mort Horwitz (whos' family was from Kurenitz) Worked
with his father next door in their dry goods store, Horwitz House. He
volunteered to take me home and then continued to do so regularly. It
had to be straight back to Button Street, because my brother-in-law,
Leon, would be waiting for me, and no nonsense. Before I knew what hit
me, we were going out steadily.
Mort could understand Yiddish but wasn't much good at speaking the language.
I was the reverse with English. Yet we managed very well. For one of
our first dates Mort, asked me to go to a Yale football game with him.
To me, football was fussball as played in Germany and all of Europe,
which I always had enjoyed watching. Mort pointed out that Levi Jackson
would be playing, which added to my excitement. What did I see! Men
running around in tight pants, jumping on each other. There was no ball
in sight. It was hidden most of the time. In fact, there wasn't much
in the way of the feet being used much at all. Suddenly everyone stood
up and screamed "touchdown," and the band started playing.
It took me a while to understand football and to realize that in this
country, fussball is called "soccer."
Early on I started going to night school, but soon switched to day classes.
All I wanted to do was to learn English and to become a US citizen.
I hadn't thought of marriage. Back in Bamberg some young men tried to
stroshe )threaten) me that I never would find a man in America and that
I should get married before departing. They proved wrong. Within weeks
I was engaged, and became a bride in less than a year.
My engagement party took place at the Button Street address, on Thanksgiving
Day, in the midst of a terrible ice storm. On April 16 1950, Morton
and were getting married in the studio of the late rabbi Leizer Gorelik
on George Street. I was all of 21 years old. I believe in the Yiddish
word bashert; it has worked out fine. We went on an educational honeymoon.
In my citizen classes, I had learned much of American history and wanted
to see those places about which I had studied. So, our honeymoon took
us to New York, Philadelphia, and Washington. Mort's family was helpful
in getting me to adjust. What was surprising was how well I was accepted
by not only his mother, father, and brothers, bt also by his ants, uncles,
and cousins. They visited
me at every opportunity, especially at our first home on 45 Truman Street
in the Hill section of New Haven, not too far from Button Street. We
had purchased a partnership share of a two-family house and moved in
downstairs. A fine gentleman, Kuni Lebedeker, was our partner and lived
on the second floor with his wife. Both were quite elderly and ill,
but became very interested in my welfare, sometimes too much. They listened
to the radio constantly and blasted away in particular when, daily,
the Lone Ranger came on with his "Hi-Ho Silver."
There, on Truman Street, I met a very nice group of young people who
were my age. There was Shirley Plotnick who took me grocery shopping
and showed me what to buy. Also, she and Hilda Geller introduced me
to Mah Jong.
Non-Jews, close to me on the street, were the Kennys, the Turners, and
Trofie from the corner grocery store. But my first friendship, and one
that turned out to be long and wonderfully lasting, was with Tiby Leginsky.
She and her husband Izzy knew Mort, and on the first Yom Kippur night,
even before our engagement, they spotted us walking along Button Street
and pulled us into their car. We all went to a great post holiday dance
in Bridgeport. After that, Tiby and I became almost inseparable.
Tiby's mother lived a little way down the block on Button Street. She
was a great lady who practically adopted me into the close-knit Bixon
family.Mrs. Bixon acted as a mother to me, teaching me what and how
to cook as well as how to handle my new husband. Tiby, of blessed memory
shlepped me everywhere introducing me to people in different organizations
and making me participate in many community activities. We even got
pregnant with out firstborns together. Then Mrs. Bixon would feed me
while saying, "Ess, ess, 'siz goot far dem kind, ["Eat, eat,
it's good for the child."] Now, food came to my door. My neighbor,
Mr. Kaplan, sold fruit from his truck. Mr. Bellin drove around hawking
his watermelons, yelling "WaterMELOWN, sweeter than your mother-in-law."
There was also an egg man and a milk man, and in particular, there was
Nick, the fish man. Nick would drive slowly down the street blowing
his fish horn while all the cats of the neighborhood trailed in back
of his cart. Whenever he stopped all the wives would gather around to
make their selection. The first time I bought from hi, I waited for
my turn and then pointed to some nice, round, clean-looking objects.
Nick asked if I was new here and what my name was. I told him my name
was "Horwitz", so then he asked "do you keep kosher?"
I answered "yes."
So Nick, while pointed at what I had picked, said, "you can't have
that, you can't have that." He then showed me what a kosher-keeping
person was allowed to eat. Anyway, my refrigerator was always packed.
I would panic if I couldn't replace the empty spaces right away. Sweet
corn was one item that took a long time getting used to eating. In Europe,
corn was fed to the cattle. When Mort stated to court me, he introduced
me to his brothers Harold and Sidney and their wives. Harold's wife,
Ruth, was very ill and died shortly before my wedding. Her daughter,
Sharon, then was seven years old. I became attached o Sharon and she
to me. Her father worked long hours so whenever Mort and I had time
we would pick Sharon up and take her everywhere we went.
She became our chaperone. When I was pregnant for the first time, Sharon
remarked, "Oh, you have a Gerald McBoing-Boing in your stomach!"
She was referring to a cartoon character popular at that time. Now,
forty years later, Sharon Levinson had three Gerald McBoing-Boings of
her own and she is still an important part of our lives.
The years have skipped by. From Truman Street we moved to upper Chapel
Street in 1963. We have three grown married children and nine grandchildren,
all strong in their faith. Leonard, the oldest is a doctor, specializing
in bone marrow transplants, and lives in Cincinnati with his wife, Shelley,
and four children. Arthur is the associate publisher of the Detroit
Jewish News and the Atlanta Jewish Times, as well as connected to the
altimore Jewish Times. He and his wife, Gina, have three youngsters.
My daughter, Laurie, is the most recently married, living in Baltimore
with her husband, Danny Duhan, an Engineer. She is a Corporate Planner
and CPA at the Baltimore Gas and Electric Company and have two children.
I get a lot of naches from each and every one of them.
I made new friends on Chapel Street, too numerous to mention. Jeanne
Einhorn, more than anyone else has helped Americanize me, encouraging
me to get involved with PTAs, with the United Order of True Sisters,
and into some politics. Currently I belong to the Holocaust Survivors
Fellowship of New Haven, of which my good friend William Rosenberg is
president, the Jewish Historical Society of New Haven, B'Nai B'Rith,
and Congregation Bikur Cholim Sheveth Achim.
A lot happened to me before I came to this city, and much has taken
place since. Here I have recounted briefly my coming to America and
how I became absorbed in the Jewish community of New Haven. G-d Bless
America!About the Author: Sally Horwitz was born Salda Finkelstein in
Zwolen Poland, in 1928.
From 1941-1942, after the Germans had overrun Poland, she was forced
in to slave-labor on a farm in Policzna, and in 1942 was deported to
the concentration camp at Skarzysko-Kamienna. In 1944, with the advance
of the Russian Forces, she was moved to the concentration camp in Czestochowa.
After being liberated by the Russians in 1945 she was subjected, not
only to harsh Soviet rule, but also to the pogroms that erupted in Poland
Sally, with her two sisters (the only members of her entire family to
survive the war), and a group of fellow-survivors, escaped in the spring
of 1945 through the rugged mountains of southern Poland, Czechoslovakia,
and Austria, eventually making their way to Bamberg, Germany, in the
In Bamberg she worked for the Judenrat, registering and housing stateless
Jewish refugees. In 1949 she was brought to America and New Haven.She
has served as President of the local branch of the United States Order
of True Sisters, secretary of the Jewish Historical Society of New Haven,
and vice-president of the Holocaust Survivors Fellowship of the Greater
New Haven. In 1950 she married Morton Horwitz (A descendant of Kurenitz),
a native of New Haven. The couple has three children, Leonard, Arthur,
and Laurie, and nine grandchildren.