Published online by Cambridge University Press: 07 September 2018
On the Spanish border we were asked to open our suitcase and the handbag containing our toiletries. The customs officer was an old, lean, ash-gray man wearing leather gloves despite the heat. He searched the handbag, and, finding nothing that interested him, turned to the suitcase, in which there were 25 packs of cigarettes I was trying to smuggle. I had assumed that our miserable-looking emigrant's baggage wouldn't be searched. The French cigarettes were very cheap sincetabac noir, grown in France and Algiers, didn't appeal to the German occupying forces.
The suitcase was a treasure trove for the man. He felt inside and found two packs. Cigarettes were expensive in Spain, and the Spanish love black tobacco. The man went into a state of feverish excitement. He emptied the entire contents with trembling hands and turned every piece of clothing inside-out, stacking the cigarettes in a pile to the left. We were standing to his right. Our son Wolfgang stood between the handbag and the suitcase, in front of the growing mountain of cigarettes. After watching for a short time, he slowly and calmly slid a few of the packs into the already searched handbag. The man didn't notice him, he was too busy searching the lining of the suitcase. We couldn't give our son a sign to stop immediately, for this would have caught the man's attention. We watched in agonized fear. We had heard that the Border Control, aware of its indisputable power, could take away an emigrant's papers at any provocation, calling one of the guards massed around the checkpoint to take the victim to a Spanish detention camp.
The man looked up just as Wolfgang shut the handbag. He confiscated the cigarettes left on the table and marked the suitcase with chalk. We took our baggage and crossed the checkpoint into Spain with half of my cigarettes.
Barcelona with its bright lights and display windows amazed us aft er the wartime blackout of the French cities.