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All That Was: Chapter Forty-Four - More Abandoned Plans

...a famous American rabbi on his way to a congress in Basil, Switzerland, was invited to dinner to the Hepner household. Such distinguished guests would eat only at the table of respected, well-known members of the Orthodox Jewish community.

As befitted the extraordinary event, Mutti prepared a very special wholly Kosher meal. The Fleischig set of porcelain and corresponding silver cutlery were all laid out on the white starched tablecloth. The wine glasses gleamed. Everyone felt a little nervous with anticipation.

Minutes before the eminent rabbi arrived, Mutti returned to the kitchen to begin the gentle reheating of the main course - a goulash, I suspect. To her utter horror she found their spoiled-rotten, rusty cat, Miquette, relishing the stew directly from the pot. Once the cat had touched the stew, the food could not be salvaged. For dinner the honoured guest was served two boiled eggs with bread and butter...

Lusia Przybyszewicz gets a job in Paris working for the trade union movement, but Australia now beckons.

To read earlier chapters of Lusia's wonderful and dramatic life story clivk on All That Was in the menu on this page. The book is available from Lusia at PO 404 Vaucluse, NSW 2030, Australia ("25 Australian, plus postage).

We came back to Paris before the end of school holidays. News awaited me there that the Polish Government had suspended the payment of scholarships abroad for the new university year. Students were advised to return to Poland if they wished to pursue their studies.

Seeing that for me the very idea of going back to my former homeland was unthinkable, this latest bombshell meant that I had to abandon all my plans. I had no other means of support. Things looked very grim for a while. I did not wish to unduly alarm uncle Joseph in Sydney, before I explored other possibilities.

By then I had some wonderful friends in Paris. After I consulted with them, we arrived at a consensus. It was decided that I should try to find a job. If I were successful, I should then be able to combine work with some form of study.
There was a general call to action stations! Muttilein arranged several interviews for me at which the Jewish bosses communicated mainly in German. She also tried to find me a position in their own fur business. Michael looked for an opening in his uncle's vast empire. Laure tried to find me a post in the trade unions, where she was working and had good connections.

In the end Laure's bid was the successful one. My job with the trade unions (la Confederation Generale du Travail, better known as la C.G.T.) was to start on 1st September, 46. I felt relieved once again, and I began at once to make all the necessary adjustments before embracing my new vocation. The most difficult task I encountered, was obtaining the illusive Carte d'Identite de Travailleur Etranger, (a work permit for migrants).

Mutti invited me to move in permanently with the Hepner family. They offered me my own room on the second floor of their spacious home. It was great! I secured a Certificate of Attainment from Ecole Scientia, but my further quest for matters scientific had to be put on hold while I made a mental switch to the Socialist ideals and the rights of the working class. The assignment was engrossing.

At that early stage of their post-war struggle the Communists shared their offices at 213 rue La Fayette, with the Socialists. Soon after my departure for Australia, they split. The Socialists formed la Force Ouvriere.

In my new job I shared with two French girls the responsibility for preparing graphs and statistical averages of the economic and industrial development in the country. We were also accountable for cutting out and filing the relevant articles from the daily newspapers. The union leaders used this material as they saw fit. The big bosses had their offices in the same building. On my errands to distribute the material I met the most important political figures of the Left.

Some of the graphs involved statistics and numerical data, well beyond my comprehension. Whenever I needed help to interpret this material, Kali usually came to the rescue.

The three of us worked hard in a dingy little office. The central heating was out of order, and we were freezing. This state of affairs gave the French girls an excuse to keep the windows of the stuffy room shut. Once, when I hinted that we could become victims of an apoplexy attack, the more stubborn of the two French girls retorted that she would rather die from such an attack than from the cold.

My wages were not only adequate, but they were also tax free, due to the nature of my employment. The two-hour lunch break was another bonus. We ate at the trade union's own canteen. We were served good, nourishing meals, with pinard thrown in at a very reasonable price.

The highlight of my career in this job was an invitation to participate in the weekly 'Diners Economiques.' At these dinners we enjoyed wonderful fare while listening to speeches given by the leading French economists of the Left. After the meal I was often called upon to translate ad lib the addresses of various visiting trade unionists from Polish and German into French.

I found these activities enormously stimulating and enlightening. In fact, they gave me the idea of trying my luck one day as an interpreter for the United Nations. That dream, like many others, remained unfulfilled. Still, for the time being at least, I was gainfully employed, and I therefore managed to avert a major disaster.
Not everyone amongst my friends fared so well that autumn.

The greatest calamity that befell us all was the tragic death of I., of whom Michael was very fond. She perished at work in a fire that engulfed one of his uncle's offices. Michael was devastated and for a time incapable of coping with life's problems. During the time he was lost on some remote Palestinian beaches pondering his future, I was already in Australia. To extend his options, I obtained a Landing Permit for him just as my uncle did for me. Luckily for Michael, before long his situation in Paris changed for the better, so that in the end, he could safely consign the Permit to his file of memorabilia, where it still resides.

Next we received news that Alek was to be expelled from France for his political activities. He was deemed subversive by the French authorities of the time. Life in France was becoming tough for the foreigners, already dispossessed by the war. They kept drifting into the country in their thousands from all over Europe. Their arrival further compromised the economy. My position appeared reasonably secure for the time being, and I did not dare to jeopardize it by attempting to resume my studies.

Living with the Hepners gave a sense of stability to my life. Over time I began to know and understand Papa much better. He never quite came to terms with my name, Christine, but otherwise he related to me very well.

Particularly on Sabbath the family appreciated my presence in the household. I fulfilled the role of a Gentile; I answered the phone, turned the gas stove on and off for the Cholent and carried out all kinds of small chores that amounted to 'work'. Under the Jewish Law the other members of the household were not permitted to do such chores. Papa, unshaven, went on foot to and from the synagogue.

On one occasion a famous American rabbi on his way to a congress in Basil, Switzerland, was invited to dinner to the Hepner household. Such distinguished guests would eat only at the table of respected, well-known members of the Orthodox Jewish community.

As befitted the extraordinary event, Mutti prepared a very special wholly Kosher meal. The Fleischig set of porcelain and corresponding silver cutlery were all laid out on the white starched tablecloth. The wine glasses gleamed. Everyone felt a little nervous with anticipation.

Minutes before the eminent rabbi arrived, Mutti returned to the kitchen to begin the gentle reheating of the main course - a goulash, I suspect. To her utter horror she found their spoiled-rotten, rusty cat, Miquette, relishing the stew directly from the pot. Once the cat had touched the stew, the food could not be salvaged. For dinner the honoured guest was served two boiled eggs with bread and butter.

All of this time, I had maintained regular contact with Uncle Joseph in Australia. And yet I remained completely unaware of his long range plan to make me move to Sydney. I was therefore taken completely by surprise when, towards the end of autumn, I found a Landing Permit in the mail. It was issued on the 9th of August, 1946.

At first I did not quite know what to make of it. It was written in English. As I reviewed my uncle's letters, I understood little by little that he considered it his duty to bring me, his orphaned niece, out of Europe, to the New World. It was to be a surprise.

The good Doctor Friedrich had fed information to uncle Joseph. In all likelihood my uncle imagined my situation in Paris to be far more precarious than it really was. I further gathered from his letters that to obtain such a Permit he had to break through a wall of red tape. It had taken many months of his time. He felt justly proud of his achievement, and he had no doubt whatsoever that I would be equally delighted.

He also sent me a Polish-English dictionary, assuming, no doubt, that I would promptly enrol into an English language study course in preparation for my departure to Australia.

To say that I was flabbergasted by his offer would be a gross understatement. I could not grasp the thought of living in some distant land away from Paris, where all of my friends now resided. How could I leave this seat of Gallic spirit for which I had such deep affinity? How could I possibly accept this ultimate banishment?

I decided to play for time. The war in Indochina was just beginning. This caused many seaworthy passenger liners to be requisitioned. Under those conditions, booking a passage to Australia seemed, reassuringly, a long way off.

I thanked my uncle warmly for the Landing Permit. I explained at the same time that the current transport difficulties would without doubt cause a great delay to my eventual departure from France.

To express to him my gratitude and good faith, I did enrol in an American language school. Once a week I was taught to speak English, albeit with an American drawl. The result of my endeavours should have been obvious; when I eventually disembarked in Sydney, no one could understand a word I said!

In the meantime, I continued to live with the Hepners and to pursue all of my normal activities. However, behind the scenes troubles were slowly brewing. On the emotional front Kali was becoming a problem. He grew ever more persistent in his attentions. He loved me in a very possessive way, which filled me both with resentment and guilt. I did not quite know how to handle the situation without hurting him.

At work, with winter approaching, the Communists and the Socialists were increasingly at loggerheads. I realized that this conflict could have dire consequences for the security of my employment. Neither were my prospects for the future enhanced by the general malaise in the country.

Adding to my concerns, Mutti expressed the strong view that in the long run I would be much better off in Australia. She did not have much faith in the manoeuvres of the French politicians nor in their attempts to restore prosperity to the country.

With a heavy heart, in December 1946, I tentatively booked my passage from Marseilles to Sydney on the S/S Bir Hakeim.

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