IT WAS THE BEST OF TIMES...
FLORA NESS AT THE 1939 WORLD'S FAIR
Flushing Meadows Park
Flushing, New York
The columnar building,
to her left, in the background, represents the United States
Not seen, in front of the building, is a flat and rectangular
open area named
“The Court of Peace.”
IT WAS THE BEST OF TIMES, IT WAS THE WORST OF
It was the summer of 1938. Harry and Flora Ness'
first child was going to be married. The family
traveled by bus from their home in Brooklyn to Washington, D.C.
where their son had been living, so they could meet his
fiancée for the first time. More than thirty years
before, both Harry and Flora, both single and teenagers
at the time, had managed to emigrate from Russian Poland, leaving
the only home they had ever known, escaping a life that
could only promise them a future of daily persecution
and a poor standard of living. They probably envisioned
for themselves and the family they hoped to have, a
better life in the United States. They wished for a life
free from discrimination, with liberty and greater
opportunities to improve their lot in life. Many of
their kin had emigrated before them, but some of their
loved ones, for one reason or the other, stayed behind,
unaware of the tragic events that would occur to their
families and so many others during World War II. Harry and Flora
never discussed their lives in Eastern Europe with their
family, nor did they ever talk about the families they
left behind. Surely they had kept up with the goings-on
back in Poland by reading Jewish newspapers such as the
Forward, and learned about the horrible events
that were occurring there at the time, and probably felt
a sense of helplessness, knowing that they could do
nothing to stop what was happening.
THE EVIAN CONFERENCE
Less that a week before the wedding of their first
child, President Franklin D. Roosevelt had met with
delegates from thirty-two countries in the French resort
town of Evian to discuss what they could do to
help alleviate the Jewish refugee problem that existed
in Europe. One in four German Jews had already left Nazi
Germany. What countries could Jews flee to? The U.S.
Immigration Act of 1924 was still enforced. Quotas had
been placed on the number of immigrants that would be
allowed to enter the United States. The U.S. was still
suffering from the throes of the Great Depression, and
many Americans feared that the new immigrants would
compete with them for jobs, and that they would also
overburden the social programs that had been set up to
help the many who were in need. During the conference in
Evian, France, representatives from the attending
countries all stood up and expressed their sympathy for
the refugees, but most countries, including the United
States and Great Britain, said they could do very
THE NEW YORK WORLD'S FAIR
In 1939, American business put together this World’s Fair in
Flushing Meadows Park in Queens, New York. The theme was
“Building the World of Tomorrow.” Still during the time of the
Depression, they introduced new materials and technologies,
e.g. the television, and tried to give all Americans a dreamy
glimpse of what the future would be, even though the future
would soon include a world engulfed in another war.
Was it the "dawn of a new day"?
1939, Flora took her Oath of Allegiance and became a United
States citizen. What a proud day that must of been for her. She was
thankful that she had emigrated from her home and Poland, but
her departure was bittersweet because she had to leave her
mother and four brothers behind. Three of her brothers would
eventually immigrate to the United States before the war.
On September 17 of the same year, a short time after my
grandmother visited the World’s Fair, Germany invaded Poland.
Just ten days later, the Polish Army surrendered. Thousands
upon thousands of Polish Jews fled to the Russian zone, as
Russia and Germany had divided Poland once again. Warsaw, once
home to more than 350,000 Jews, fell. Over one-third of Polish
Jewish soldiers were killed, and the remainder were captured,
with a similar fate awaiting them in captivity. The following
spring, Jews were forced into “ghettos,” separated out from
the general population. Of the 3.3 million Jews living in
Poland, only one in eleven would survive.
On July 10, 1941, in the town of Jedwabne, Poland, home to
1,600 Jews, including my grandmother’s mother Sheina Gitel and
her only son Zalman and whatever family he might have
had, most likely perished in the pogrom there, as did most all
their fellow Jews.
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