Chapter Thirteen: My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean
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Gidon “In 1948, my mother and I got on a train to France and spent three days in Paris. I don't remember much of that time except eating bananas. I had not ever before seen or tasted one, and I ate them until I got sick! Then we got on the S. S. America, which was a beautiful boat. I never had been on such a ship, of course. They even had a swimming pool. I learned how to swim, even though my mother was totally against it. She was afraid of water and swimming because of an incident years before. I remember I had to sneak out of our cabin into the swimming pool, and I taught myself to swim without her finding out.
Julie "The S.S. America had an interesting career. Built in 1939, later used by the US Navy to transport troops, the most massive espionage bust in US history, the Duquesne Ring, had two Nazi spies working on the ship's crew in 1941. As with most great vessels, the S.S. America changed hands over time, and long after Gidon took it to his new life, in 1994, the ship ran aground in the Canary Islands. According to Google Maps, recently, it's disappeared from view except at low tide.
Gidon was, of course, unaware of the ship’s past – or future. All he knew, after having had a delightful yet disastrous encounter with bananas, and having taught himself to swim while onboard, is that “When I got to America and passed the Statue of Liberty, I was so disappointed! It was much smaller than I thought it would be!”
While Gidon had one experience, his mother, naturally, was having another. It's not hard for me to imagine how frightening it must have been for Doris to disembark in Brooklyn in 1948, a widow, suffering from the shock and grief of her experience and the knowledge that her family was murdered. And she has her now thirteen-year-old son at her side, looking to her for cues and guidance."
In After Such Knowledge: Memory, History, and the Legacy of the Holocaust, Eva Hoffman writes:
“…emigration is an enormous psychic upheaval under any circumstances. It involves great, wholesale losses: of one’s familiar landscapes, friends, professional affiliations,; but also of those less palpable but salient substances that constitute, to a large extent, one’s psychic home – of language, a webswork of cultural habits, ties with the past. Perhaps even ties with the dead.”