Sunday, April 11, 2010

A trip to Paris, 1945

It is 1945, winter and my Grandmother is dying of cancer in Paris. Mom lived in Paris after they left Turkey, during the population exchange, with her whole family. When she married Pop, she moved to the States, in 1928. She had not seen her Mother since then.

She must go; she takes me with her…a chubby kid from Brooklyn.

We were pretty much the first of the civilians to be allowed to travel for personal reasons. We left on a big troop ship, virtually empty, it would return with thousands of troops on it.

We arrive at Le Havre. Mom has brought a trunk full of cigarettes for her family, it was better than money. I am eight years old; she tells me if the custom guys ask to tell them I smoke. She puts an open pack in my pocket. Nobody asks, at least I do not speak French, so I do not know if they did, or not.

Le Havre is a disaster, there are still German war prisoners working on clearing it up.

My uncle’s, Elias and Vassilis, the tailors, meet us. They were dressed in suits, looking good in spite of the situation. I had seen pictures of them before the war; they still had the spark they showed then. They were happy to see Mom.

The picture above is of them in 1928. Happier days.

The train to Paris leaves later in the evening, so we go to a movie. It's Alan Ladd, in a war movie, dubbed in French, and I am impressed that his French is so good.

When we get out of the movie house, it is dark. We head to the station and board the train to Paris. It is a long, slow, cold ride with sandwiches and sandy chocolate, and very little sleep for me. Mom and my uncles are chatting away.

It takes eight hours to Paris. Paris after the war was not the Paris of today; it was winter, bitter cold and foggy. Very depressing.

The family is all waiting for us; they have not seen my Mom in seventeen years. It is an amazing reunion with presents for them from us. They are so affectionate, so loving that we embrace and kiss, the tears flow.

My memory of my grandmother is horrible, a bump in the bed, she is almost dead. I burst into tears and it colors my whole trip. I am embarrassed that I acted like such a baby, but I was only eight and had never been close to death in anyway.

I meet a bunch of cousins, the war has just ended, and they have had a bad time with all the shortages.
We in America had hardly suffered. I am considered a little odd, cannot ride a bike, French kids are born on one, they teach me. I am not the best student, but they persist, and finally I am riding around the streets of Paris with them. Not quite a French kid, but almost.

We go all over, my aunt Fotini and my uncle’s show us Paris. Mom recalls her old days.

I vaguely remember the places, and years later, visiting Paris with my wife, recall lots of it.

I never spoke to her about my time there. She was amazed and a little suspicious, about my knowledge of Paris. It was a traumatic trip for me and I never spoke about it to anyone before.

I do remember a cousin that became a well-known singer, before his early death in an automobile accident; he would come to my uncle’s house and sing for us, he was great, handsome, full of life. Food, family, music, love and stories, they are Greeks after all.

The cigarettes were put to good use and black market stuff was available. Especially eggs, a real treat at the time.

I remember the trip home 3 months later, on a troop ship, with 5,000 troops and a few civilians, Mom and me.

They were great, the soldiers adopted me, and I sat in on 4-day marathon poker games, as well as getting medals, and a helmet or two.
It was a NY regiment, and they really made me feel special.

It was February, and as we pulled into NY waters, they claimed to be able to read my Fathers shop sign in Coney Island. “Paradise Luncheonette and Ice Cream Parlor”, Mom told them what it said and they convinced me they could read it, “strong binoculars,” they said.

Paris with Mom, not the happiest trip for me, but memorable, when I force myself to remember.


  1. thanks for sharing - I always remembered hearing more about the trip over and the return trip.

  2. We are in Paris, our first trip there together or so I thought. I want to visit the Eiffel tower so I check the map for directions and Greg says, "No need to do that, I know the way". Of course at first I thought he was joking, then I realized he meant it. He really knew how to get there, exactly how to get there. How is this possible?? At that moment the story unfolds and who wouldn't want to suppress that unfortunate memory.

  3. Very touching and a remarkable story told through the eyes of an innocent child.

    I can easily identify. Thanks.