How Would You Know?

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?

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7 thoughts on “How Would You Know?

  1. To think of being faced with the prospect of having to leave one’s home like this is overwhelming. I really want to read the book and appreciate your thoughts on it.

  2. I used to think of that a lot because my parents were kids when the war started but not when it ended and they were there. Strangely–letters would find you. My f still has a postcard from his sister that he got while he was in a camp. I don’t remember whether it was the concentration camp or the labour camp, but according to him the labour camp was worse. That boggles the mind.

  3. It’s unimaginable, isn’t it? When I get fretful about the problems I face, I have to stop and think that our generation knows nothing, but nothing, of real suffering. We’re almost too fortunate.

  4. It would be like dropping off the face of the earth…that horrible, lost-in-space feeling. This book was wonderfully evocative and brought up all kinds of feelings for me.

    I was a child during WWII, and still recall that my grandmother’s house connected with an “internment center.” I can visualize the barbed wire fence that separated us from “them” and the emotions that I felt.

    For those people, they’d not only dropped off the face of the world they’d known, but ended up in a hostile environment. War separates people into “us” and “them.”

  5. I marvel at courage. I marvel at those who feel stronger than the culture in which they were raised, and the foresight to know they have to leave. I’m not sure even a book, fiction or otherwise, can capture that spirit. Such books are, at least, eye openers.

  6. It’s too much for me to even begin to comprehend, leaving a whole life like that — walking away from everything that is whole, familiar and yours into the vast unknown. What a frightening time in history — and what brave people to have lived in and through it.

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