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A Moment of Great Joy

By Susan Warsinger

After two weeks of sailing on the Atlantic Ocean, the Serpa Pinto moved deliberately towards the shore of our new destination, the United States of America. The 50 immigrant children, including my brother Joe and me, were informed that early the next morning we would be cruising past the Statue of Liberty. The instructions were that we should be at the bow of the ship, on the port side, before 6 a.m. in order to obtain a good view. We understood that this statue was the universal symbol of freedom and represented the United States itself.

On the morning of September 24, 1941, every one of the children who embarked the ship in Portugal stood at the railing waiting with anticipation to view the grand lady. To our immense disappointment, the dawn was covered with a heavy fog, so dense that we could not glimpse our hands in front of our eyes. However, at the exact time that we were scheduled to pass the statue, the rising sun must have kissed the fog, because the mist rose like a theater curtain, slowly and carefully. It seemed like everything that we suffered between 1933 and 1941 suddenly faded away with the fog. The feeling of surviving and freedom washed over us like a gentle warm wave that would keep us safe. Joe still remembers it now as a feeling of total ecstasy that is deeply ingrained in his nervous system. We sailed into the harbor on 42nd Street and saw our father on the pier, and we knew that we were safe.

I was so happy to be in the United States with my parents and my younger brother Ernest, far away from the persecution of the Jewish people in Germany. I felt safe while I was learning how to be an American girl. However, I witnessed that freedom was not granted to everyone at that time. I saw that our democracy was not perfect. I observed the mistakes our government and our citizens were making. Many of these mistakes were eventually resolved. Some of them are still being resolved. We have to continually keep striving to improve the needs of our ever-changing society. It is difficult to maintain a perfect democracy. I feel what is happening now is temporary, and I am optimistic that a new norm is coming. We have to unite our country by working together at the government level and with the lay people. We have to handle our differences in a humanitarian way and be open to differing opinions. We have to recognize human dignity and equality and commit to the sanctity of all human life. I have a good feeling about us, and I will never give up on this country that helped my family members become thoughtful, valuable, and positive members of society who have contributed so much of their talents to the United States.

Many years have passed since my brother and I first glimpsed the Statue of Liberty, which is meant to be a beacon of hope for a better world. We disembarked in New York at the beginning of a Jewish New Year. On this Jewish New Year, 2020, we will again eat apples for healing and honey for a sweet year, as has been the custom for Jews all over the world for hundreds of years. Let us wish that the coronavirus, which has been plaguing us for many months, will soon vanish from our entire globe. Let us have a sweet year and have moments of great joy with each other.

© 2020, Susan Warsinger. The text, images, and audio and video clips on this website are available for limited non-commercial, educational, and personal use only, or for fair use as defined in the United States copyright laws.