Statue Of Liberty
Previous: Serpa Pinto. See previous chapters at bottom left
The Serpa Pinto majestically sailed into New York harbor early on a sunny morning on Sep 24, 1941. We all stood at the railing mystified by the sheer beauty of the calm waters and shoreline. Suddenly someone yelled The Statue Of Liberty. I spun my head to the right and was completely blinded by the powerful vision standing so close to us with her arm uplifted in welcome. Tears welled up in my eyes. Sneaking a look to my sides I did not see a dry eye. These were not tears of sadness, rather of incredible relief. We had heard so many stories of how this vision protected you once you went by her and there right in front of me there was no reason to doubt all those folk tales were true. To this day anytime I give a presentation and mention this moment my eyes tear up and I feel the exact same relief.
As I glanced down I noticed either a govt patrol boat or elaborate motor boat followed at our side. We were headed to a berth on Staten Island. Before reaching our berth the boat slowed to a stop and the small motor boat was attached to a ladder at our side. A troop of men and women mounted the ladder many with cameras slung over their shoulders. All of the kids in our group were called into a large open space on the deck and the reporters lined up opposite us. Brilliant flash guns began to brighten our space as the reporters shot our pictures over and over. Many of the reporters were able to corner some of the kids and peppered them with questions. All to no avail. Only one of the older kids had some elementary knowledge of English.
Nevertheless we were all delighted to be the center of this friendly attention. As the day progressed and the boat was firmly tied to the dock scores of relatives for most of the kids went thru a grueling vetting of who they were and then left with their long separated children. When only a dozen or so were left including me and Wolfgang we became very depressed thinking about our own parents who we were certain we would soon come to find us.Wolfgang and I and the other children without relatives were escorted to a chartered bus and driven to Pleasantville, NJ to the Pleasantville Cottage School. This orphanage was a truly beautiful live in school. Some 20 self contained cottages held all the orphans. We were assigned to a cottage which like the others had a full sized kitchen, dormitory, play rooms and, a school room.
We looked forward to being placed with a foster family. People from all over NJ and NY states came to see us and slowly our group dwindled. We were informed that if we were un-placeable within 30 days we would be shipped back to Europe. Well that certainly put a strain on us. Now we had the fear of being returned to NAZI rule as our time rushed toward the 30 day deadline. 20 days and only 5 of us left. 25 days and 3 of us left. Finally only Wolfgang and I were the last with only 2 days to go.
Amazingly on the last day we joined different families in New York city with incredible relief.
I was placed in PS 78 Bx in 4th grade. I was the oldest in my class and suffered non-stop taunting. I was given daily speech lessons. My foster family ruled that I must speak English or they would not respond to my requests.
Murray Sprung, a onetime war crimes prosecutor, Manhattan-based international lawyer and plain Pop to a generation of orphaned boys and girls, died on Monday, Nov 2, 1995, at Beth Israel Medical Center in Manhattan. A resident of the Upper West Side, he was 92. Pop Sprung began the annual summer vacation retreat for the orphaned Jewish children at Lake Stahahe in Bear Mountains, NY.
The summer retreats consisted of two camps, Wakitan and Wehaha, Wakitan for boys and Wehaha for girls. The camps were right across from each other on Lake Stahahe. My first summer at Wakitan was around 1942 for two weeks. Every two weeks a new group of orphans were bused in and the other campers bused back to NY.
I was excited to find Wolfgang on one of the buses. We spent hours discussing our foster parents and our new lives.
Erich Thorn one of our friends from the older kids from France had been hired as the garbage boy by Pop Sprung. His job was to bring clean garbage cans into the mess hall before every meal and clean the cans every morning after the garbage truck had collected the contents. Eric asked me to be his assistant for my last week that first year.
It was sad to leave the wonders of living in the camp after a short two weeks. The next year Wolfgang and I were both back. But Eric was unable to come. Pop Sprung who had watched me helping Eric the year before asked me if I would like to be garbage boy. I eagerly told him YES and asked him if Wolfgang could be my assistant. One of the privileges of being garbage boys was we became staff and could stay for the entire summer.
Camp Wakitan staff picture.
Wolfgang and I front row. All the young guys were counselors that lived in small bungalows with the boys in their care. Back row right center is our cook, Mr. Mc White. The ladies are Camp Wakitan staff.
So Wolfgang and I became the official Camp Wakitan garbage boys. The three years we spent at Camp Wakitan were some of the best years of our lives.
I lost track of Wolfgang and did not know he changed his name nor what a monumental leader of the Rock and Roll world he became. I only found out in late 1990 after his death