Published online by Cambridge University Press: 07 September 2018
The Statue of Liberty had been invisible to me in the yellow haze. I had also been unable to admire the famous city skyline, the silhouetted skyscrapers, because we had docked not in Manhattan but at a narrow, dirty pier in Brooklyn. The ship moved very slowly, almost standing still. I bent over the railing and saw a stream of used condoms float by in the brackish water. Then we halted. On the pier below us stood the theater critic of the Berlin Montag Morgen, Julius Bab, his long black beard lifting in the wind. I sat down on my suitcase. There was no going back. Emissaries from charity organizations came on board and offered lodging to passengers without money or a place to stay. After long formalities with the immigration officials, we stepped off the boat and into a taxi.
We drove through Brooklyn and over the endless, gloomy Brooklyn Bridge, oppressive to me with its thousands of tons of iron. Berlin's Kantstraße may not have been the height of beauty, nor certainly the sooty streets of industrial Upper Silesia, but the houses here, put up hastily for a quick profit, with their exposed fi re escapes attached to the façades and shapeless rooftop water tanks, were of a penetrating ugliness. The wide, flat faces of pedestrians, without the nuance of shadow and seeming to have no secret hidden behind them, were alien to me. All of these impressions came to me through the sticky, foul-smelling air and were altogether too much to take; I covered my eyes. It became clear later, through conversations with others, that the immigrants who had come directly from Berlin had an easier time adjusting to New York than those accustomed to the architectural harmony of Paris and to French living.
Our taxi let us off on upper Broadway in front of a small hotel. I stepped onto the street and a man pushed a printed flier into my hand. It was June 1941. Since I didn't understand a word of English—my high school studies had been in Latin, Greek, and French as a minor—I asked our friends who met us at the ship to translate.