Peter Gordon

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This oral history interview is the third in a three-part series with Peter Gordon in Chapel Hill, North Carolina on 25 January 2019. Peter Gordon narrates the WWII migration story of his father, Samuel Chrabolowski Gordon (“Sam Gordon”), who was born to a Jewish family in Poland. Sam Gordon escaped Nazi persecution by migrating to Mexico, where he served as the doctor of a refugee camp in León, Guanajuato for three years before eventually settling in the United States. In the first interview, Peter Gordon begins his father’s story in the 1930s when Sam Gordon served in the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War and attended medical school in Montpellier, France. In 1942, as Nazi occupation threatened the lives of Jews living in France, Sam Gordon, his wife Beata Babad, and son Andre Chrabolowski escaped from Marseille by boat after securing an entrance visa to Mexico. The second interview covers Sam Gordon’s experiences in Mexico from 1943 through the summer of 1946, where he became the head doctor at a camp (Colonia Santa Rosa) for Polish refugees in León, Guanajuato, and where Beata Babad started a writing career in the Communist party. In this third interview, Peter Gordon narrates his father’s emigration and permanent settlement in the United States in Washington, D.C. Peter Gordon is Professor in the Cognitive Psychology Program within the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience at UNC Chapel Hill. The interview was conducted in Davie Hall on the UNC campus by Hannah Gill, Associate Director of the Institute for the Study of the Americas and Principal Investigator of the New Roots/Nuevas Raíces Oral Histories.



Hannah Gill: It is January 25, 2019. This is Hannah Gill here with Peter Gordon. Thank you, Peter. We are going to continue part three of Peter's oral history. All right, Peter would you like to get started? I think we left off right as your father was about to leave the Santa Rosa colony.
Peter Gordon: [00:00:32] Ok. I think that I left off saying that the Santa Rosa colony had it served its purpose, but what to do in the end was not clear. That was a very hard time. The original intention of the Mexican government in providing refuge to the Poles was that they would leave Mexico after World War II was over and presumably, return to Poland. Of course, Poland fell within the Soviet's sphere of influence and the Poles at Santa Rosa had been horribly treated by the Soviets, and they, for the most part, were not willing to return to Poland. The Mexican government recognized the new communist government in Poland in summer of 1945, close to a year and a half before the colony was really completely dissolved. Eventually the Mexican government decided they would not forcibly repatriate the Poles to Poland. They could stay in Mexico as legal residents or go wherever they wished. I believe I said that around fifty returned to Poland but the rest came to the United States, remained in Mexico, or some young women went to Canada to marry Poles in Canada with whom they had corresponded.
It is notable that the Mexican government had changed. Cárdenas had been a very ardent socialist. Ávila Camacho, who was president at the time that the decision was made, was more conservative, but he balanced the treatment of people in a humane way. In particular, the Polish legation in Mexico had been representatives of the Polish government in exile. They were basically stuck as individuals. They were not able or willing to go back to Poland. They were living in Mexico, and it wasn't clear who would take them. The Mexican government said they could stay too. That was a humane act.
My father went to the United States. There's a document that says that relatives of his in DC, where he ultimately ended up, had a men's haberdashery business and they guaranteed his subsistence. On May 21st, in 1946, my father entered the United States at the port of Laredo, Texas, taking with him all of his worldly possessions, including these documents, on a Greyhound bus from León to Chicago. He went to Chicago because his mother's family was there and he had been in some touch with them. His records include a certificate indicating that he had registered for the selective service. It is dated May 28th of '46, when he was just seven days in the country. Clearly, that was an issue that men were expected to be registered for the draft, even if they weren't citizens. There are selective service records up to 1952 at which point he was still classified as 1A, even though he was forty years old. In Chicago he visited his mother's family for a while. Then he traveled to New York to visit other family members, to get a job and to try to become certified as a doctor in the US. He arrived in New York on the train at Penn Station. As the family story goes, he needed a job so he bought the New York Times. He could not speak English at that point but he could read it. He found an ad for a doctor at the Hebrew Home for the Aged. They wanted a doctor that spoke both Spanish and Yiddish. They had both Ashkenazi Jews, Jews from Eastern Europe who spoke Yiddish, and Spanish Jews, well Sephardic Jews who spoke Spanish. They needed a doctor who spoke both. The story goes on that he called them and they started to explain how to get to where they were. And then they said, “no just stay where you are, we'll come get you.” So he lived in New York and he worked at the Hebrew Home for the Aged. He could not practice medicine yet, but there's a certificate that says he was authorized to issue death certificates and things like that. No one was too concerned about it. He got his medical degree from Montpellier recognized in the United States. He also began his training in Psychiatry. He had completed his internship, or he had done an internship in Nimes in France, but he had been practicing medicine probably without being fully trained as a specialist.
There are some things about that time that are notable. First of all, his family was all killed except for his sister Masha. Masha had been in medical school in France, as well. She was at the University of Paris.
She had married a French man, which probably gave her some degree of protection. She escaped occupied France by climbing over the Pyrenees into Spain. Spain was politically repressive but was somewhat accepting of humanitarian refugees and did not simply reject Jews. From Spain she went to Casablanca, from Casablanca she went to Algeria. She spent a long time in Algeria and then returned to Paris.
There is a translation, and I don’t know where the original is, of a letter that my father got in April of 1947 from what I gather is one of the few survivors from his city, Bielsk, in Poland. This is my father's handwriting "As a memento in order not to forget your beloved father, Hilke. May he rest in peace. He was murdered in 1942 at the hand of the German Hitler bandits.” The memento was a photograph of the volunteer fire department in Bielsk. I'm not sure which one is my grandfather. It looks like around the most mundane, ordinary, civic activity that you could perform. At that point, this was probably in the teens or the twenties that he was, simply accepted in that town, and probably there was not a Jewish and a non-Jewish volunteer fire brigade. They were dressed up for the fire brigade.
Hannah: What is that arrow?
Peter: [00:12:21] Oh, that must be my grandfather, yes. The wording of the letter is interesting to me because it refers to the German Hitler bandits. It seems to me that people are most vulnerable when either government is essentially criminal or when the government can’t do anything about criminals. So the German government, when they went outside of Germany, and in many respects inside of Germany, simply operated as bandits. They were not restrained by any notion of property, any notion of needing to treat anyone with any decency. I think that is really what causes people to be refugees if there's no recourse against banditry. That to me is a telling aspect of this situation, of particularly the Central American migrants now, and some Mexican migrants who really are faced with banditry.
My father did travel back to Mexico. There's documentation that he visited Mexico in '47, a year after he had come to the United States. Presumably, he went there to visit his son, Andre. That is evidence that he had a strong connection to Mexico. In 1950 and 1951, he had correspondence with people in Mexico about whether he would be permitted to come back to Mexico. He has a letter here from a lawyer in Mexico City with whom he had spoken to previously. It begins, "Muy estimado Señor" (Very dear sir), "Me recuerdo perfectamente de usted y sus asuntos" (I recall you and your issues perfectly). So, he wasn't the typical case. He was memorable even in that era when many people had been displaced and had remarkable stories. The lawyer then describes what he would need to do to try regain admittance to Mexico in a permanent way and to be naturalized in Mexico. It would be expensive and it wasn’t guaranteed, but the lawyer seems to think that it could be done. Other letters are from a friend of his from Zacapuaxtla, Benjamin Gúzman. It includes some fond remembrances of times together, but talks about what it would take for my father to return to Mexico and be able to stay there on a permanent basis. I'm not sure how all that got resolved and why he didn't go back to Mexico, but at least a part of the reason is that in 1950 his first wife, his divorced wife, Beata, joined the party and returned to Poland. She took their son, Andre, with her, of course. That certainly took away one reason --- the presence of his son -- for wanting to return to Mexico.
In around 1950, he moved from New York to a suburb in Baltimore, Catonsville, Maryland. He worked at Spring Grove State Hospital, continuing his training, I presume. That was a famous, or notorious, mental hospital. They were notorious because one of the doctors there was a specialist in lobotomies and he did them quite freely. I don't think my father had much to do with that. He was not that kind of psychiatrist.
That's where my father met my mother. She was from Catonsville and had gone to college, majored in English, and then had gotten some training as a psychiatric social worker and worked at the hospital. At some point, they moved to the District.
In 1953, my father was naturalized as a US citizen. My mother says that if he had not been accepted as a US citizen, he would not have stayed in the United States. He wasn't going to stay in a country where he wasn't a citizen. Subsequently, they were married, in 1954. They, I don't know if it was their honeymoon, but they went to Mexico after that. I have some documents that relate to furniture and paintings that they bought in Mexico. These are them. A receipt to Doctor Samuel C. Gordon for paintings in August of 1954. The various shipping places. There are also customs documents. The paintings were primitives in oil. I still have most of them. Not all of them. They were in my parent's house. Also the furniture.
Hannah: It looks like they bought a lot of furniture and that's what you grew up in a house with, this Mexican furniture.
Peter: Yes, yes. It's mid-century modern. It's the real deal. They presumably bought it because it was relatively inexpensive. As anyone, starting out knows furniture is expensive. I don't know when or where my father got it, but he had a drawing by David Siqueiros, a signed lithograph. Siqueiros was one of the great painters in Mexico of that era. Along with Diego Rivera, he was a muralist but he also did a series of lithographs of a mad dog and my father had one. Siqueiros was from Irapuato. Unfortunately, my brother invoked his older brother privileges claimed the lithograph. We found out later that our children were terrified of the mad dog upstairs in their grandmother's house. Siqueiros is notable because he was forced to leave Mexico for a while because he tried to kill Trotsky. He was doing that at the behest of the Stalinists. He didn't have much use for Trotsky. I don't know if having the Siqueiros drawing was an ideological statement by my father [inaudible 00:24:26]. Siqueiros failed to kill Trotsky because he and his conspirators were simply too drunk, at least according to the recent biopic. He was forced to leave Mexico for a while but they took him back.
My father and mother moved to Washington, D.C. My brother was born in March of 1956, I was born in August of 1957. My father worked very hard. I think he was making up for lost time. I did have the sense that he was looking to make life as good as possible for himself and for his family. He had a private practice, with his office in our house. It had its own entrance into an aboveground part of what was attached to the basement. My father was very European. I do recall that frequently my mother and father would eat dinner in the dining room after my brother and I had eaten dinner in the kitchen. We would maybe go in to see them at the end of dinner. That was the way he thought it should be done. He was also very affectionate. You can see in the pictures of Santa Rosa that he's often holding a child. He was very affectionate with me. He occasionally had a temper. I think that was some disagreement with my mother or he just couldn't really control his temper at times. My mother firmly believed that children should do whatever they wanted to and should not have their spirits contained. I think my father agreed with that in principle but sometimes couldn't act that way.
My father died when I was 8. So I have some memories of him, but not that many. They're sort of random. As a psychologist, I don't even necessarily believe they're all that valid, but they're what I have. I do recall being a little bit embarrassed, feeling like I didn't fit in because my father didn't fit in. While I grew up in a fairly sophisticated area, and a fairly Jewish area, my father did not do things like teach me how to throw a baseball. He was also older than the other children's fathers. I think that kids want to fit in, and I felt that. I also knew his story in rough outline and was proud of it, as much as I could be, as much as I could understand the story. My father and mother had a conventional relationship for that time. My mother stopped working after she married my father and she had my brother and me. My mother had grown up in Catonsville, but her family was from the Eastern shore of Maryland, from Salisbury. My mother had grown up going to the beach. My mother took my father to the beach and they bought some property in the middle of what was then nowhere. The Bay Bridge had been announced, but it hadn't been built yet. They built a little cottage, and by little cottage, I mean little cottage. Nothing like the McMansions you find at the beach today. My mother would take my brother and me to the beach every summer. We would spend the whole summer at the beach and my father would come down on the weekends. A lot of my memories of him do come from the beach. Also, I think that I've seen more pictures probably, of him at the beach, which may be part of why I remember it. I remember him giving us anatomy lessons on the crab. What do crabs have? Two penises. My father would like to point that out.
I grew up knowing that, and I pointed it out to my children. I do recall one time we went out sailing on the bay with my mother and some of her friends. My father did not go. They had a terrible time handling the boat, the adults did. I was a small child. Eventually, my father had to come out in a motor boat to tow us in on the sailboat. I recall that my father brought a ham sandwich for me because he assumed that I would be hungry. He probably could have fairly assumed that the adults would be hungry too but he didn't bring them anything. That’s a memory that I have.
My father had a heart attack at the beach. Not fatal. I don't remember exactly when it was but probably a few months before he died. Then I recall that summer, we didn’t spend at the beach but stayed in DC with him. My mother took care of him. He did work some but not much. In September of '65, when he was 54 years old, we heard him fall. I distinctly remember being in the kitchen in the house. My mother was getting us ready to go to school. I was eight and my brother was nine. We heard a loud thump upstairs.
My mother went up to him. My father had had another heart attack that killed him, and had fallen out of bed. There was a doctor who was actually visiting us, a Polish doctor. He tried to resuscitate my father but wasn't able to. I was eight years old. It’s very sad to think about.
Hannah: It's very sad.
Peter: [00:35:44] So that's really all I can say that my father, there are other people who I then met, who are part of this story. [Inaudible 00:35:58] I can talk about my Aunt Masha, who ended up living in Paris, in an apartment, that had ten rooms, including a living room that was two stories high with a glass wall looking out on the avenue. She lived there alone, I don't know what happened to her husband. She had gotten the apartment as part of their divorce. It was rent-controlled. The last time I went there was in the 1980s, it had not been painted since the 1950s. My wife and I had the good fortune of visiting Paris over Christmas in the coldest period in Paris in my lifetime. We went to visit Masha and she only had the heat turned on in two tiny rooms in this huge apartment. She referred to the two-story glass-walled living room as the "big fridge". She was a difficult person. She was also an interesting and charming person when she wanted to be. There was an indication of this in my father's correspondence before any of this started. His parents were sending him money in France to sustain himself in medical school and in the accompanying note they said “be sure that you know that we sent Masha the same exact amount, so that you can defend yourself” (laughter).
Hannah: Did they see each other again?
Peter: [00:39:01] Yeah, yeah. Well, my father went to Europe, at least once I believe, twice after he was a US citizen. He went to Western Europe but he never went to Poland. He, certainly visited his sister then and they corresponded. She was a really smart person but she clearly had suffered a lot. Her son, she had a son that was born around the same time that my brother Andre was born. He was born in occupied France. [inaudible 00:40:04] He became a doctor also. He was killed in the 1970s in a freak accident on the streets of Paris where a construction site experienced some failure, and a crane fell -- or something fell -- hit him and killed him. That of course did not help Masha. My recollection of Masha is really clearest, well she came to the States a number of times to visit us, but clearest from the 80s, not the 60s. The last family visit to Masha in Paris was in the 90s. By then they had finally pried the apartment away from her and she was in an old folk's home. She was not changed a bit. She found fault with everything that was done for her and fault with the food. And Jan, my wife, said the food was just marvelous. If you have to be in an old folk's home you should be in one in France. She ate every bite of it, even though she complained vehemently about it.
I should finish talking about Masha with a story of when I visited her in '85. She refused to speak English to me. She was a polyglot, like my father was. She spoke quite a bit of English. She refused to speak English to me because I was her nephew and I should speak French. She knew I spoke a little bit of French; it was very hard. She would speak English to my wife, she would not speak English to me. I do remember her making a statement about politics “Tous les américains son comme ça,” “That the Americans just look straight ahead, they don't look left or right, and they miss things cause of that.” Clearly, her opinion. I have perhaps said too much about her oddness. I was one of her few remaining relatives. She was devoted to being my aunt. My brother spent more time in Europe with her. In fact, I think he lived with her for like a month when he was in college. She told me though that she would not feed him until he had practiced French. [Both laughing]Another person of interest is my father's first wife, Beata. She went back to Poland in 1950 and joined the Communist party. She wrote propaganda, according to my mother. She traveled around the world to Latin America. I have evidence of that, correspondence to my father from the early 1960s from Peru where she wrote propaganda for the communist party. She also, according to my mother, traveled to Indochina and wrote propaganda there too. She was of course a polyglot also, but I don't know that she spoke any East Asian languages. In Vietnam, French was a very common language so she presumably, if my mother is correct, wrote the propaganda in French.
My brother, Andre, was ten when his mother returned to Poland. Because she traveled so much, he was raised primarily by a Polish family that he lived with. I have a lot of letters in Polish from that family to my father. I will have them translated, if the handwriting looks legible. I expect that they're mostly mundane details, but they'll be the history of my family. There are a lot of letters from Beata to my father.
Some are handwritten, many are also typed. So I can with a dictionary and with the google translate, make some sense of them. They're mostly about Andre, but they're enough of them that maybe they are about something else too. There are also many letters from Andre. They're handwritten. The first one is in Spanish. And it begins in 1950, "Papacito", because Spanish is presumably his language was at that point.
Then they switch fairly soon to Polish. I don't know if he did spoke any Polish in Mexico or not.
If we go back a little bit, there are receipts for money that my father sent to them for food because in Poland in the 1950s food was not easy to come by. In 1966 or '67, the Poland had gone through a boom and a bust, so the Polish Communist Party to distract attention from its economic failures, expelled the remaining Jews in the Communist Party. Beata was expelled from the party, and expelled from the country. She went to Paris and I don't know exactly why the French accepted her, and accepted many other Poles who were expelled from the Communist party at that time, but at least part of it may have been a feeling of regret over World War II. She lived in Paris, she eventually married a French man. It's interesting to me that this person who lived through such a portion of history, when she was in her late 40s and maybe 50, began to write. I found some things that she's written. She completed three documents in French. This one is the only one the library had.
Hannah: Wow, it's in our library.
Peter: [00:50:54] It's in our library, yeah. It appears to be a thesis, hold on, I'm not positive. It's from the University of Paris and it's about the Chilean government, economic policy in Chile in the period of popular front. The popular front was the term that Soviets used to describe an effort to have all of the more left-wing organizations, even if they weren't communist, align to reject fascism. International participation in the Spanish Civil War was a part of the popular front resistance in Europe and the popular front apparently also existed in South America. I took the document out of the library not intending to read it but mostly just to try to figure out when she was in Chile. She says she was there around 1960 but that she is writing her analysis from documentary sources. It's about the economic reforms that happened in Chile, in the 30s and 40s and 50s. She wrote a similar publication about Peru. I have correspondence from her to my father about Andre that is postmarked from Peru.
Then there's a later book that talks a little bit about the Allende government in Chile. Salvador Allende was the president, or the prime minister of Chile, who died in the 1970s during a coup d’état. The Pinochet government took over Chile and killed Allende or he committed suicide; he was not going to live anyway. The CIA was complicit in the coup. I recall that after Allende had been killed, a former minister from Allende's government, Orlando Letelier, and a US citizen were killed in a car bombing in Sheridan Square, in Sheridan Circle in Washington, D.C. The location is part way between where I grew up and Georgetown, where I went to college. I drove by that place many times.
After she got these books out of her system, Beata turned to translating Mexican and Latin American literature into Polish. She translated Gabriel García Márquez' No One Writes to the Colonel to Polish. She translated a book by Elena Poniatowska called Here's to you Jesusa, which is an oral history of a Mexican woman who had quite a life. She fought in the Mexican Revolution and just described what it's like to be a woman in that circumstance. I don't know whether Beata knew Poniatowska, but she was a Pole, she is a Pole, and she lived in Mexico. Her family escaped Europe to Mexico before World War II started and she's a woman author. I certainly regret not having asked Beata about her life. I met her on a number of occasions, and spent some time with her when I was a teenager, but didn't realize until too late that she would have many things to say about those days.
When his mother left Poland, my brother, Andre, tried to get permission from the United States. This was after my father had died. At this point the law had changed and the US had family-based immigration.
Hannah: Yep.
Peter: [00:57:55] So, my mother hired a lawyer to make the case that Andre was, my brother, but it did not work. They said that the relationship was too distant. That they would not let him immigrate. He was basically stuck in Poland. His education had all been in Poland. He had a law degree. That's not a very easily transferrable degree, unlike being a doctor as my mother would tell me. I could have been have been a doctor, but I only got a PhD. Looking through his documents makes me appreciate that my father's ability to survive was because he had a skill that was transferrable. After his mother left, Andre was in Poland and decided that he would convert to Catholicism. He married a Polish woman. They had two children, Eva and Agnieszka. They visited us on more than one occasion and I visited them. Andre and his wife, Yoanna, were divorced at some point and estranged a bit. The daughters have done very well. The mother continues to live. The daughters, one of them, works for an organization that tries to facilitate rapprochement or understanding between Poles of Jewish ancestry, and Poles of Catholic ancestry. But Poland is experiencing a lot of turmoil now. I did go to Poland twice. The first time was in 1985. This was right after the Solidarity labor movement had been crushed. Solidarity was the Polish movement that looked for liberalization of the communist economy. They had been repressed somewhat violently by the Polish government. It was a fairly dark time.
I remember a few things about that trip. I recall that I got to Poland in the summer and Yoanna and the girls were at the beach, so Andre wanted me to visit them at Gdańsk on the Baltic. They wanted me to see them. He wanted me to have a sleeping berth because he didn't want to take up a whole day taking the train to Gdańsk and didn't want me to have sit up all night in the car. The next morning after I had gotten to Poland the night before, we got up and he said ‘we've got to go get you a train ticket.’ So we go to the train station, or the travel agency, and there's a long line. It was almost like a bad movie, Andre says to me, 'Stand in the line, I'll go see what it's for.' He goes up, he comes back and says it's not this line. We go to stand in another line which is fortunately shorter. We're standing in the line seemingly, forever. There's a little plaque that Andre explains to me, that says they are going to take a break for fifteen minutes at eleven o'clock or something. I'm just timing it and thinking, you know, my God we're not going to make it, we're going to stand there another fifteen minutes while they go take a break! Miraculously, we got there in time. Of course, they're speaking Polish so I don't understand it but Andre is clearly not getting what he wants. He turns and explains this to me and says, they don't have any first-class tickets in the men's sleeping department, so he says, 'Okay, I've worked it out, I've gotten you a first-class ticket in the women's sleeping department,' and that was it.
We were walking around all day, showing me Warsaw. He's was talking to me about history, and he asks me what I think about Reagan, because Reagan was president then. I start telling him my opinion that Reagan's not a good president. He lets me say around a sentence and a half and he says, 'Reagan is great!' and that's because, in the view of the Poles, he stood up to the Soviets. To me it was all phony, but it meant a lot to them. We go around and we're looking at various things, and I will say that I felt no sense of roots whatsoever. There was a monument to a Polish priest who had been killed by the government because he had been part of Solidarity. And it was the most lovingly cared for, wonderful flowers everywhere. The man had died, he deserved the tribute. We went from there to see the memorial to the Warsaw ghetto uprising where the Jews had all been killed, the final Jews of Warsaw. There were weeds growing through the pavement, it was neglected. The people who remember that part of things were not there anymore.
Hannah: Yeah, right.
Peter: [01:07:09] I didn't feel resentment, I just felt nothing. So we get to the train station at night and Andre finally says to me 'So you've been sort of worried about this.' And of course I had been terrified.
He says to me, 'don't worry, we'll speak to the conductor, we'll speak to the hand of the conductor.' He says to me, 'Do you have a zloty note?' Zloty is the currency. You're forced to exchange hard currency back then, for zlotys, which were worthless outside of Poland. That's a way that the government of gets some money. So I hand him my 10,000 zloty note or whatever. He folds it up into little ball and he puts it in his hand. He is right there when the first-class men's car arrives and the conductor comes out. I see him talking to the conductor and I see their hands next to each other [laughing]. He hands this money to him, and then he says to me, 'Peter, this gentleman speaks perfect English. He'll take care of you, there's plenty of room in the men's car.' I shared a sleeping compartment with one upper and one lower berth, a two person compartment. The other person was clearly a party member. A member of the nomenklatura. He wasn't too happy to see me, but I had a ticket. The train car was like half-empty, they weren't selling those tickets to riff-raff. They were for the special people, and Andre knew that. He knew he could get me on the train. He was entitled to have a little fun with me, because my life really was a lot easier than his, much, much easier. I went to a town on the beach near Gdańsk and met Eva and Agnieszka. I had a very pleasurable time at the beach for a day or so. I did take the train back during the day to Warsaw. I can say that visiting Communist Poland made me reject any sentiments I had towards socialism. I mean I think it’s a matter of degree but complete state control of the economy meant that nothing was attractive, nothing was good, nothing, nothing, nothing. I kept on looking around and saying well I've seen places in the United States that are as unattractive as that is but it wasn't everything.
Hannah: Like in what way? Aesthetically?
Peter: [01:11:11] Well yes, aesthetically, that's really how to put it. Public places were not at all attractive, were not at all in any way nice. If you went inside people's homes, which I did some, they kept their homes well, but the public places, the public spaces, the stores, the train stations, everything was just so grim, so unappealing, so awful. Of course, Warsaw was destroyed during World War II, it was literally flattened. Then the poor country was rebuilt in Stalinist prefab. Everything was dreadful. I will say also that the economic comparison was not actually that unfavorable. I was, at that time, in my first job. I was an assistant professor at Harvard. I had a one-bedroom apartment in Cambridge, which I was lucky to have. Andre had a two-bedroom apartment, he had two children, but his apartment was the same size as mine. It was in fact as nice as mine. His car was, well I didn't have a car, he had a car. But the general atmosphere of Poland was just dreadful and I didn't really like learning that about myself. I'm exaggerating, I'm still one of those vaguely socialist professors, but I didn't like learning how much the idea that things should be relatively attractive and well-cared for meant to me. I did go back to Poland after '91, after communism had end. I do recall that one thing that was very different was that the food was much better. And the food had been, well I won't go there. The food was much better; I remember being taken to a pizza restaurant. Pizza would not have been something you would have eaten in the communist Poland. I was taken to a pizza restaurant and it was quite good. On walking out of the pizza restaurant there was an alley next to it and someone had spray-painted graffiti that said 'Fuck Pizza.' That was an indication that there was tremendous inequality. Poland has been successful economically but that inequality is probably a source of tension.
As I think about what I'm trying to learn and I think about all the documents I have, some of which I have been able to translate, some of which I haven't. Most of it I haven't. I think about the world today, I think about the struggles of migrants, about how lucky my life has been. I wasn't lucky to lose my father, but in terms of material success, in terms of opportunity, in terms of self-expression, I have been a very lucky person. It makes me aware of just how much of the world is not lucky and how much the current situation of migration, of the world, and particularly the United States, is really so tragic and so ungenerous. My father and his sister survived because of pluck and luck -- and the goodwill of many other people.
Without the goodwill of the Mexican government my father would not have survived. Without the goodwill of the Algerians, which were a colony but there must have been a lot of local influence, my aunt would not have survived. Without the goodwill of the Iranians, the Polish refugees in Santa Rosa would not have survived. That was not that long ago. It's within one generation. It just makes me feel that we need to be aware of how fragile our circumstances are and we need to be more generous to people who are facing tremendous hardship.
Hannah: Thank you. Thank you, Peter.
END OF TAPE [01:18:50]