How would you know it was time to leave? If evil swept through your state, your nation, if powerful men had decided you and your kind were somehow undesirable, if anger and hatred were spreading like wildfire – how would you decide it was time? What one last act would make you decide to walk out the door, lock it behind you, and know you could probably never return? And how would you find the courage?
These questions haunt me as I continue reading The Postmistress, this story of intersecting lives in 1941. Listen as Frankie Bard, the intrepid American journalist, ponders these same things while she travels between London and Lyons, trying to “get the story”:
You have to imagine walking out of your house or apartment and closing the door and never going back. In your hands are a suitcase and maybe a shopping bag filled with a piece of sausage, some cheese perhaps, whatever you were allotted in the store, something to tide you over, you hope, until you reach the border. In the suitcase, if you are a Jew, are two changes of clothes and your papers. You have a window of escape you are shooting for. If you are one of the very lucky ones, you have an American visa. More likely, you have a visa for Cuba, or Argentina, or Brazil. You have ninety days to reach your destination or the visas expire. But you have to get on a train. And cross Europe to get to the boats at Lisbon or Bordeaux. You have ninety days, and the trains are few and full. Everywhere.
Imagine people without houses, without the frame and mortar and brick around them, floating out here, trying to swim as hard as they can to get away. You have to imagine that there is right now, in Europe, a sea of people moving. If one of you were to write them a letter, you have to understand, there is nowhere a letter would find them –
How would you know it was time to jump into that sea?