October 19, 2008
By Susan Warsinger
My biggest dream upon coming to the United States from France was to become an American citizen because I thought that if I was a citizen, all of my memories of the Holocaust would disappear.
I went to the public schools in Washington, D.C., and I did not get a sense of belonging because I felt the other students were secretly making fun of me because I was an immigrant and could not speak English properly. Much later I went to the University of Maryland and I did not get a sense of belonging there because I thought my peers were superior to me. I had boyfriends who provided me with no sense of belonging because many of them were also refugees from Europe. When I met my future husband, a third-generation American, I started to feel safe. I married this tall and handsome American man who had been in the United States Army but I still remembered my experiences in Europe, even though I tried to put them in the back of my mind.
I became pregnant with my first child while I was working in the Executive Office of the President on Pennsylvania Avenue located next to the White House. The office was situated where the State Department had been during the Holocaust. The Bureau of the Budget, my place of employment, occupied the first and second floors of this grand old building which had marble staircases and small elevators located throughout. The Joint Committee of Economic Advisors and the conference rooms were on the third and fourth floors. I was in the ninth month of my pregnancy when it was necessary for me to ascend to the third floor on some errand. Since I was not in shape to climb the marble staircase, I went to the small elevator next to my office which was not used very often, pushed the up button, and when the doors opened, there was our president, Harry S. Truman, with one of his security guards!
All three of us were shocked upon seeing each other. The security guard probably thought that he needed to adjust the elevator so that when he was escorting the President, the doors of the elevator would not open upon request of the public. I thought President Truman, who was a very folksy politician and who had a lot of charming ways about him, wanted to tell me that it was okay to have interrupted his journey up to the fourth floor. For me, that instant was a major turning point in how I felt about myself. Even though I had been a citizen of the United States for some time, I wondered how a child who had been in the Holocaust could come face-to-face with the President of the United States. There must be some order and perfection in the world after all. The incident took only a moment. The guard asked me to please wait for the elevator to return, but before the doors closed President Truman wished me good luck with my baby.
I knew then that my child and my future children, my husband, and I would be safe and live in a society where we belonged.
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