EDITH'S EARLY LIFE
by Daniel Headrick, her son
To the descendants of Edith,
When I was a child, my mother seemed to me like a little old lady. She was a very good cook and housekeeper who also liked to play the piano, paint watercolors, and visit picturesque little towns. But later I found out that before she became a stay-at-home mom and Hausfrau, she had been an adventurous young woman who made many trips across the Atlantic and traveled all over Europe and met many famous people, among them Albert Einstein, Maurice Ravel, and Warren Harding, to drop a few names, a very different person from the mom I knew!
Recently, my curiosity got the better of me, and I decided to find out what I could about her early life. But how? Two obvious sources of information were sitting on our bookshelves: Cecil's memoirs and hundreds of photographs that I had diligently assembled into albums. In addition, there were those mysterious boxes of letters, clippings, and miscellaneous papers that had ended up in my attic. I had long avoided looking into those boxes - except to search for photos - because I knew the papers they contained had been dumped into them helter-skelter, and that most of them were letters Cecil's sister Lucy had written to him everyday for most of his life. Yet, when I was rummaging through the first of those boxes despairing of finding anything of value, I came across a short essay titled "Autobiography," written by Edith in 1934: the Mother Lode (forgive the pun).
So, with these documents and a few other bits and pieces, I have crafted, for your entertainment, the document that is attached below.
Unless otherwise indicated, the sections that are indented are copied or paraphrased from the following documents:
- a typewritten (but untitled, unsigned, and undated) document about Wolf Finkelstein;
- Edith's "My Autobiography" (written in 1934);
- Edith's travel diary for the years 1928-1929;
- an interview with Edith published in a column called "Woman of the Week" in the Stuttgart Military Post News in January 1950;
- "Cecil's Memoirs," Vol II, pp. 92 ff.;
- a memoir titled "The Sisters" written by Edith's younger sister Thérèse (the third of four) around 1970, and in which I have changed the names from her fictional ones to the real ones;
- and other sources, as indicated.
In italics: photos from the albums "Edith and Her Family to 1930" and "1931 to 1945."
Edith's father, Wolf Finkelstein, was born in Kalish (Russian Poland) on September 22, 1872, and died in Bay Shore, Long Island, N.Y., on September 30, 1945. His parents, Chaim Finkelstein and Yetta Sachs, lived at various times in Lodz (Russian Poland) and Odessa (Russia). Around 1884, Wolf's family moved to Jerusalem.
According to the unsigned document:
Wolf got off the boat when it stopped in Constantinople as he did not wish to go to Jerusalem. He was about 12 years old then. Left the boat and stepped into a rowboat, unseen from his parents. Then when they saw him, he told them that if they wanted to see him live, they should let him remain in Constantinople; otherwise he would throw himself into the sea. Had but a few pennies in his pocket. After a day or two, he found work as an apprentice for a tailor specializing in men's vests. . . . Wolf remained as apprentice to above mentioned tailor for about a year and a half. . . . Then he left him, went to work for a ladies' tailor, making coats. . . worked there a year and a half. . . . About 18 years old. After leaving this place, opened his own shop in section of Constantinople called Galata. . . . About six months later, moved to a store on one of the main thoroughfares of Const'ple (Galata). At the same time, opened another store in Varna (Bulgaria). . . About 1894, lived through an earthquake. Shortly thereafter, went into bankruptcy. . . .
According to Edith's "My Autobiography"
My parents' home was in Constantinople where my father had lived since he was fourteen, having fled from Russia with his family during one of the numerous pogroms of the end of the last century [19th]. His parents, pious Jews, had gone to Palestine to end their days in the Holy Land, and they had taken their youngest children with them, but my father, always an independent spirit, refused to accompany them and remained in Constantinople. At eighteen, he was already at the head of a successful business.
Her mother, Seraphine Hirsch, was born in Snyatin (Ukraine) on March 9, 1876, and died in
Washington, DC, on June 29, 1948. (She sometimes spelled her name Serafina.)
My mother's life, before she met and married my father, had been even more adventurous than his. Born in a small village of Bukovina, at the eastern end of the Carpathian mountains, she was but five years old when her mother died, and her father soon took another wife, a very young woman, who so maltreated the children of the first bed that they were compelled to leave home, and later scattered over the face of Europe. My mother lived with one relative and another, in one town or another, now in Austria, now in Roumania until she grew old enough to earn her living. She then went to live with her eldest sister whose husband, a musician, was the conductor of a small orchestra which travelled from town to town in the Balkans, giving concerts. My mother was taught the viola by my uncle and played in his orchestra for a while, but she did not like it. She then became the impresario for the little troupe and was sent ahead to secure engagements. She was blessed with a special gift for languages, and in these early years traveling about, she acquired most of the ten or eleven languages she speaks today. After a few years she went to Budapest where she earned her livelihood by teaching French. Three years later she returned to Turkey and obtained a position as French companion in the harem of a wealthy Pasha, a Turkish General.
Raphael Hirsch (father of Seraphine) with his second wife and children
Wolf and Seraphine were married in Constantinople on June 9, 1901. They had 5 children: Edith (born in
Salonika on July 10, 1902); Renée (born in Constantinople in1904); Charles (born and died in 1906);
Thérèse (born in Paris in 1908), and Marie (born in Paris in 1909).
In July 1902, Seraphine traveled from Constantinople to Salonika (now Thessaloniki), which was then Turkish territory, to stay with her older sister Augusta ("Gusta") Madier, whose husband Gedalia was a band leader of chamber music.
EDITH'S EARLY LIFE (1902-1905)
I was born in Salonica, formerly in Turkey, now Greece, July 10, 1902. There was an earthquake at the time, and my mother, who had gone to stay with her sister for the "Big Event", was carried out for greater safety into the garden adjoining my aunt's house. From the garden she could see the sea, and little ducks and chicks ran merrily about and under her bed. Everyone was greatly frightened, and worried much about my mother, but she was blissfully unaware of the danger. Whether the seismic shocks occurred before, during or after my birth I am not in a position to say, and my mother's recollections by this time are rather vague, but at any rate it is one of the stories to which, as far as I can remember, I often listened with much glee.
Six weeks later, Seraphine and Edith took the train back to Constantinople.
My first recollections of those early childhood years in Constantinople are very few but nonetheless vivid. I remember clearly standing near the bay window of our dining room looking for the "Bear man" who came regularly on certain days, leading a tamed bear on a chain, singing and begging. I also remember going up on the roof of our house with my mother on sunny days. We were living in Pera, the European quarter of Constantinople, and from the roof one could see the Golden Horn. We had a Greek servant at the time and my parents also spoke Greek to each other, so that Greek was the first language I spoke, although my mother also taught me a few German songs and rhymes.
Then another child was born but soon died, and a third came and then a fourth, one every eighteen months in fact. On the other hand, my father's business began to decline and he decided to try his luck elsewhere. We went to Smyrna where my aunt lived, and there I became ill, first with typhoid fever, then with pneumonia. Things were going from bad to worse.
GROWING UP IN PARIS, 1905-1918
In "My Autobiography," Edith wrote:
My father resolved to go to Paris. I was then not quite five years old, my sister Renée was two, and the little boy who was but a few months old died shortly upon our arrival. Then followed many years of struggle for my parents, for soon two more children came and two more mouths had to be fed. I remember walking with my mother one day and being stopped on the street by some person asking me whether I was born in Tunis or Algeria - I was so dark. Later, in kindergarten and in elementary school, little girls, to tease me, would call me "Turquoise" (meaning Turkish) or "Youpine" (dirty Jew), and would tell me to go back and eat macaroni in my own country (Why macaroni? I thought, I am not Italian). And so at an early age I became conscious of the fact that I was a "foreigner", an "outsider" and I had my first experience of anti-semitism.
My early school years on the whole were very pleasant. As the little girls of the different grades in elementary school wore a different color ribbon in their hair, my greatest ambition - when I was wearing a red ribbon - was to wear a blue one, and when wearing a blue one, to wear a white one, so as to be known as a "big" girl and be allowed to play in the "big girls' yard."
In "The Sisters," Thérèse wrote:
We believed that Edith, the oldest girl, was the prettiest, most gifted of us all. As the first born, she was the most appreciated and most loved by our parent. The rest of us did get our share of attention, but the feelings were dissipated as child after child came and all of them girls.
Going back in my mind to the time years ago when we were all at home in Paris, France, I see Edith sitting down at the dining room table doing her homework in her notebook and illustrating it with some of her very beautiful drawings, scenes of history copied faithfully from her textbook. The outlines were in ink and the details within it in water colors. To me she was a prodigy as I watched with amazement how her pen formed soldiers, generals, horses and background scenery. When allowed I browsed through her many notebooks and admired the fine even handwriting, the elaborate capital letters and the extraordinarily real pictures. Of course, she was at the top of her class. By comparison, I was way down at the bottom, so you can imagine the pride I felt that a sister of mine did such brilliant work.
I was too young to understand that she was the mainstay of our mother, the one to whom the latter confided all the troubles that the family experienced, and we were trouble prone as a family. A restless man was our father who consistently chose business partners who ruined him, with the result that the family finances toppled over more often than not. Edith had to grow up quickly in such circumstances to act as a buffer between the parents. . .
In his "Memoirs," Cecil wrote:
Edith went to school there for nine years. Sometimes she was taunted for being Jewish, and when the war broke out in 1914 she was taunted quite a bit for being Turkish! However, up to the outbreak of the war, her life was characterized by excellent school work. She was the brightest pupil in the class. She learned the names of all the rivers of France and where they flowed! Her arithmetic and spelling and grammar were all perfect. She was given a most solid academic foundation. Her mother was strong on education and gave her daughters strong encouragement in book-learning.
Edith did not drop out of school with the completion of the eighth grade. For some pupils provision was made for attendance in the ninth grade. It was a rigorous course and must have included literature and history. The war was on. Edith had a great deal of work to do at home but she persevered with academic work and did a good job of it, winning books as prizes.
Edith also helped her mother with the household. Edith once carried Marie down the stairs on her shoulders, slipped and fell into a window pane and cut quite a scar on her forehead. She covered the scar with bangs until it became less conspicuous with time.
Edith received her "Certificat d'Études Primaires" on June 28, 1915.
SUMMERS BEFORE THE WAR
Most wonderful, however, were the Summer vacations. Through some social service agency my mother would get the name of some very reliable peasant woman and would send us to stay with her for the Summer months. Thus I spent one Summer in Normandy, the apple orchard of France. It was my first experience of life in the country, of fields and trees and animals, and I took great pride in the wooden shoes I was wearing like all the peasant children. Another Summer I spent in the Auvergne Mountains in central France, a country whose soil is too poor for extensive agriculture and where sheep raising is the principal industry. It is in that region that Roquefort cheese is made, of ewes' milk, and the sheepskins are sold to the glove manufacturing centers of Grenoble and Millau. However, because the peasants' income from sheep raising is so meagre, the women add to the family income by making lace - pillow lace - for which the neighboring city of Le Puy is so famous. They carry their pillows and bobbins around with them everywhere they go, all day long, and while they gossip with their neighbors or herd the sheep, their deft fingers fly.
Then there were Summers spent with my mother at the seashore, on the northern coast, near Calais, delightful days of playing in the sand and splashing in the water. Four o'clock in the afternoon was always eagerly awaited, for it was the hour when the old man with the she-goats would come along the beach, offering the warm foamy milk to accompany the children's traditional "goûter" [snack] of roll or bread and a "tablette" (bar) of chocolate."
DURING WORLD WAR ONE
Then came the war. My father was at that time a Turkish citizen. When, after a few months, Turkey joined the side of the Entente [correction: Central Powers], my father was sent to a concentration camp, and only after months of untiring efforts on the part of my mother was he released and allowed to go to Spain. And so my mother was left alone with four little girls ranging from twelve to four, and a business to take care of, and no friends, for we were "enemies", and all the neighbors, who had been most friendly before, now snubbed us.
Soon, the German planes began to fly over Paris every night, and to throw bombs. Awakened by the
sound of the siren we would run down to the cellar for shelter. People no longer undressed to go to
bed, and streets and homes were dark. During the day, the "Big Bertha" made itself heard, for the
Germans were advancing upon Paris - it was before the first battle of the Marne - and soon the
civilian population was urged to leave Paris. The panic, the stampede at the railroad stations I shall
never forget. My mother asked a ticket agent for tickets "anywhere". As he happened to be a native of
Château-du-Loir, a village in the department of the Sarthe, northwest of the Château country, he sent
us there and we left that very evening. We arrived late in the night at a little station in open country,
with no idea where to go. Hotels there were none. Fortunately, there were some people at the station,
a farmer and his wife, and they offered us the hospitality of their home for the night. The next day
they helped us find a little house adjoining the farm of a friend of theirs. The kindness and generosity
of this farmer, M. Blanchard, was boundless. In spite of my mother's most vehement protests he
loaded us with gifts every day: milk and eggs and fruits and vegetables. He did not know we were
"enemies"; to him we were "refugees".
Château-du-Loir is interesting for its houses, most of which are built within natural caves, and its vineyards - for this is the country of the famous wines of Anjou - which grow above the caves, on top of the houses so to speak; one has to climb a ladder or roughly hewn stairway cut into the rock to get there.
When the Germans had retreated we returned to Paris and the war which, at first it was firmly believed would end before Christmas, dragged on and on. There were ration cards now for bread and milk and coal and almost everything else, and one had to wait in line for hours and hours. When the Germans again menaced Paris in 1917, we again went to Château-du-Loir. My sisters were left with the Blanchard family and my mother and I returned to Paris a week later for I did not want to miss school, although school in those days meant mostly knitting and sewing for the soldiers. The German army had been driven back but the bombardment by plane did not cease. I remember how, one morning, on my way to school, I heard a crash of such intensity that I thought the bomb had fallen right onto our own street, on our very house perhaps. I ran wildly back to see whether my mother was still alive. She was, thank God; the bomb had fallen a few blocks further. I went back to school. One became accustomed to the explosion of bombs - that went on for months - and grew callous as long as they did not fall too near.
We are vintage World War 1; our experiences go that far back. At its onset, our father left for America, we to follow later. I understand that his loyalty to France and the war was questionable. He was one to speak out on whatever he thought was wrong, and how much better he would remedy the situation. It was his open criticism that caused him to flee. So we were left: a mother, four daughters, a business, and an ongoing war. The war increasing in magnitude, our mother sent us four children to a small town in Normandy where she had rented a house and where Edith would act as our keeper. It was great to be in the country where no walls were higher than one's own, where one could wander at will. There were no boundaries; the country roads and fields stretched for miles and miles as far as the eyes could see. . . . Edith did well as housekeeper. She bought fresh bread, butter, eggs from the local farmers, and these were delicious; the rest of the food she purchased from some place or other...
One night Marie awoke with a deadly fear in her heart, she insisted there was a prowler in the house. She woke up Edith who in turn awakened the rest of us. Edith lit a candle and all four girls in our white nightgowns and our black pigtails . . . went past every room in single file from Edith on in order of age. . . Had we met someone suspicious I think we would have fallen into a dead faint. We needed our mother so badly or in her place any adult we could trust.
When our mother came to visit us the following Sunday we related our tale of woe. She understood. We packed our belongings and left. It was mentally healthier for us to be exposed to the rigors of war with her than to imagined fears in the night without her. . . .
By then she was 16 and it was time to go to work. She was apprenticed to a milliner and learned to sew and construct hats. But not for long. Soon she was learning stenography and typing and worked in an office in Paris.
NEW YORK AND WASHINGTON, 1918-1925
Wolf emigrated to the United States in 1917, followed a year later by the family.
Toward the end of 1918 my mother finally succeeded in securing a visa to join my father who had left Spain for the United States, and we arrived here just as the war was ending.
From ellisisland.org: Seraphine, "Ida" (Edith), Thérèse, "Rosalie" (Renée), and Marie arrived on the
S.S."Rochambeau" on October 18, 1918.
In 1918, their immigration papers were approved in Washington, and the family joined Wolf in New York. Wolf was already in the Bronx and established. They landed at Ellis Island during the influenza epidemic.
The Madier family took them in, and Nettie Madier (later Munk) became a sort of older sister and godmother and close friend of Edith's. Her friends and some relatives played important rôles in Edith's life. Her best and closest friend was Ruth Fischman, who proved to be a close friend for life. She was the first acquaintance that Edith made when she landed at Ellis Island. Ruth taught her diligently the English language and later went with her often to concerts and lectures.
In New York, Edith had a lot of scurrying to do to learn English. She had to take a job in a millinery sweat shop, where language was not so important. She stayed there only a few weeks. But in a few weeks she got a job in the French Consulate General in New York, where she did not need to know English very well. She was secretary to the vice-consul from February 1919 to July 1920.
During her years at the French Consulate, Edith learned English with great energy and effort. During that time Edith must have eaten several French-English dictionaries! I have never met a person so familiar with a dictionary and with the spelling and meaning of words to equal Edith's accomplishment. She knew more words and how to spell them than anyone I have ever known. She was truly bilingual in French and English, and later when I met her in Berlin she was making great strides in learning German. Later she added Spanish to the list of languages and could get along quite well in Spanish.
And then the war was over. We had left France a month before the Armistice was signed, and were reunited with our father in New York City. Edith was sixteen year old with a good French education and proficient in that language's stenography and typing; the latter two subjects thanks to a mother who foresaw the future for a transplanted older girl.
With her mother in tow, Edith went to the offices of the French Consulate General to seek advice and possible job placement for herself. Apparently the impression they created of a young girl still with a hair bow and a solicitous mother brought results. Edith was hired as a typist in the Consulate, and there she learned to grow up. She discarded the ribbon and wore her clothes in the fashion of the day.
WASHINGTON AND EUROPE, 1920-1927
After a year and a half at the French Consulate, Edith was called to Washington by the State Department as a translator and stenographer for special conferences.
Edith was excellent at whatever she undertook. As a secretary she was tops. When an international conference opening in Washington D.C. required the services of a French steno-typist and translator, the Consulate nominated her. Debates and sleepless night for the parents. How could a young girl go by herself into a faraway, intriguing city such as Washington? However, she went, lived in the Y.W.C.A. and sent most of her money home. After that sojourn, she came and went as she pleased. . .
From October 1920 to May 1921, Edith was French stenographer-translator for the U.S. Department of State at the International Conference on Electrical Communications in Washington.
Between November 1921 and June, 1922, she was French stenographer-translator for the U.S.
Department of State at the International Conference on the Limitation of Armaments (also known as the Washington Naval Conference).
Between April 1923 and July 1924, Edith worked as a French-English secretary-translator for Abel Reggio, an importer down near South Ferry, New York. The work was hard in the sense that she was always busy. Sometimes, she had to stay overtime. She was paid very well, and could get her job back when she returned from Europe.
After a few years of this, tiring of the olive oil and dried fruit business, I resolved to spend my savings on a trip to Europe. I sailed with a friend and for four months we traveled through England, France and Italy.
In the summer [and fall], Edith traveled to France, Italy, and Greece. She and her friend Sarah (later Sarah Wein) would go to Europe and travel together. To be able to travel, Edith would have to give up one job after another.
European trips were now on for vacations. On the first of several to Paris she came back as a chic Parisienne, perfumed, daringly dressed as women did in France with a volatile personality superimposed upon her own to act the rôle convincingly.
In the fall of 1924, Edith visited her cousins in the Hirsch family (cousins on her mother's side) in Strasbourg, then returned to New York on the S.S. "Rochambeau," an ocean liner of the French Line that sailed sailed from Le Havre on 21 October 1924; the ship's manifest lists "Edith Finkelstein, secretary, Greek citizen, permanent resident of New York City."
In September 1925, Edith was French stenographer-translator for the U.S. Department of State at the French Debt Commission (part of the Foreign Debt Commission, established April 1922).
In 1925, she was at the 69th Congress of the Inter-Parliamentary Union in Geneva.
Edith became a naturalized American citizen on January 28, 1927.
EDITH'S CULTURAL INTERESTS
Edith's cultural orientation was French, French, French. Her loyalty to French was best illustrated by her use of French with her sons when they were at home, from childhood till college! If I came home, when the children were small, as long as we lived in the US, we all used German; when I was away, the others spoke French. Once when I came into a room where Cedric and Daniel were playing, they were conversing in French. I did not say a word, but when they saw me, they switched over and began to converse in German. That was in the fall of 1944, when Cedric was seven years of age and Daniel was three!
Edith was such an assiduous book-worm that she was accepted at Hunter College night classes in 1920 at the age of 18, with only nine years of schooling, even though she had not completed high school. However, her knowledge was sufficient! Between 1924 and 1928, although she lived and worked in Washington for a lot of the time, she completed two years toward her B.A. degree there. She also attended the New School for Social Research in New York. She completed her college work for a B.A. after we were married and failed only one of her required courses: trigonometry, which she retook, doing the problems as prescribed in exercises , and without understanding just why she solved them.
Edith was an assiduous attendant at the N.Y. Philharmonic concerts at Carnegie Hall and quite often she was present at the Metropolitan Opera. No wonder: Nettie Madier and Ruth Fischman were both professional piano teachers and both had high cultural interests, mostly in music.
Edith read very much. Her reading was prodigious: French literature, world literature. On the subway to work, Edith "consumed" hundreds of books. There was hardly a classic that she missed. Reading so much started when she was in grade school in Paris. On the subway to work at the tip of Manhattan (the family lived in the Bronx) and on the way home, she read voraciously!! Both in French and English, and after we were married she read German books, particularly by Jewish authors who were much read in Germany before Hitler. Edith would follow the stories well - her knowledge of words and expressions was extensive. At work for many years she had relied upon dictionaries, and her vocabulary was very great!
EDITH'S PROFESSIONAL LIFE, 1926-29
From 1926 to 1929, Edith worked in the agency of Sol Hurok ["the Great Engager of Foreign Musicians"]. She worked on publicity and French-English correspondence for Bogue-Laberge Concert Management Bureau in New York [another name for Sol Hurok's bureau?] There she met many of the world's greatest musicians: Arthur Honegger, Maurice Ravel, and Darius Milhaud.
The Stuttgart Military Post News wrote in January 1950:
One of her most interesting positions . . . was with a Concert Management Bureau where she worked at organizing and publicizing American concert tours for famous French musicians, among them the composer Maurice Ravel. She was his private secretary during his New York visit. He was one of the friendliest, most modest and unassuming men she ever met.
Between December 1928 and January 1929, Edith was a stenographer-translator for the U.S. Department
of State at the Conference of American States on Arbitration and Conciliation in Washington:
In April 1929, Edith traveled to London on the S.S. "America". From April to June, 1929, she was in
London as a translator at the International Conference on the Safety of Life at Sea. There she saw
Princess Elizabeth (now Elizabeth II) as a child being wheeled around the parks in the neighborhood of
Buckingham Palace. Along with the rest of the American delegation, she attended a reception given by
the Duke and Dutchess of York, later the King and Queen of England.
From July to August 1929, Edith worked as a translator and stenographer for the U.S. Department of State
at the International Conference on Red Cross and Prisoners of War in Geneva.
She also traveled to France, Belgium, Spain, Germany, Czechoslovakia, Switzerland, Poland, Hungary, the U.K., and Austria.
BERLIN, FALL OF 1929 AND EARLY 1930
In late 1929, Edith enrolled in the Deutsches Institut für Ausländer auf die Universität Berlin (German Institute for Foreigners at the University of Berlin). She graduated in August 1930 with a Diplom certifying that she could teach German language, history, culture, and literature.
When my work in Geneva ended, I resolved to use the money I had saved to go to Germany, for I wanted to learn German. I spent a full year in Berlin, a year of intensive study. Besides attending courses at the University, I registered at the Institute for Foreigners, a department of the University of Berlin open exclusively to foreign students. People from all four corners of the globe assembled there: Brazilians and Koreans, Finns and South Africans. They were mostly people of adult years, professional people or artists. An atmosphere of real and sincere international amity pervaded the Institute. Foreign evenings of every sort were organized: Japanese evenings, Spanish evenings, etc., with native music and dances and costumes, inducing everyone to bring forth that which was best in the culture of his native country. The course of instruction was excellent; mornings devoted to language study, afternoons to illustrated lectures on German art, geography, history, literature, in one word "Deutsche Kultur". On Sundays long hikes were organized to the suburbs of Berlin, all woods and lakes, and on holidays longer trips to the South, or to the Baltic Coast, or the Rhine. During the Christmas vacation I took a long trip through South Germany. Nuremberg with its medieval houses covered with snow on a dusky December afternoon left in my mind an indelible image. How can I describe the beauty of Vienna, that jewel among European cities, and Budapest and Prague?
Again, during the spring vacation of two months between semesters, I made another tour of Germany - to the southeast this time. Rothemburg and Dinkelsbül, - left almost miraculously intact since the Middle Ages - Münich, Stuttgart, and Heidelberg buried under apple blossoms. When the new term began, I threw myself with renewed energy into my studies and at the end of the school year obtained the Institute's certificate of graduation, the diploma of teacher of German.
Since Edith knew French and English so well, she wanted to add German to her list, and she wanted to rest up from the heavy pressure of work. When she worked, she worked! . . . So she came to Berlin. Although when we were going together, she told me her parents spoke French and not Yiddish, I found out later that Yiddish was the lingua franca of the household when no outsiders were present. So Edith had only - and that was a big chore - to convert Yiddish into High German. In a way that was easy, in a way hard, because she was self-conscious of the danger of mixing her Yiddish in with her German at just the wrong moment! Anyway, she enrolled in a cram course in a special institute for foreigners, and she studied her lessons and those interminable exercises. Very Hard! I attended one session of the class she learned the most in, and it was a rigorous drill!!
The Stuttgart Military Post News (January 1950) wrote:
When her assignment in Geneva ended, she decided to invest her savings in a year's study at the University of Berlin. Besides attending courses in history and psychology, she enrolled in the Institute for Foreigners, studied German language and literature intensively and at the end of the year received the diploma of teacher of German. This was one of the most interesting and delightful years of her life. Berlin in 1930 was a brilliant and gay metropolis. Under den Linden and the Kurfuerstendamm, with their wonderful shops and outdoor cafés, were among the most famous thoroughfares in Europe.
5. In Wittemberg Platz, before office of Lokal Anzeiger one evening last Nov. night of the elections, I walked with Cecil and saw a mob insulting & pursuing old & poorly dressed Jewish woman.
Reason: probably did she say something in regard to the elections?
6. Shep Stone [a friend of Cecil's] told me that when he was in Nuremberg Xmas Day he went to a church to watch the services. Stayed in the back of the church. He was insulted and thrown out, because he did not kneel.
A VISIT TO LODZ IN APRIL 1929
In her diary of her trips around Europe, Edith wrote of her visit to her family in Lodz (Poland): Fri. 11 Left 6.20 pm for Lodz where arrived 6.30 am.
Sat. 12 Found Aunt Hilda [Hecht] in midst of prayer. She greeted me only after she had finished. . . No one expected me. Hurried breakfast (it had to over before 9) when bread should no longer be eaten. Met Uncle who came from Synagogue. . . Evening visited Familie Finkelberg: Uncle Pesser, Aunt Rosa, Yitta, Hermann, Willy & Maria (14). Returned to Hecht for the Seder. They - especially Aunt - were pleased that I was au courant with ceremony.
So, Apr. 13, from the Hotel, I went to Finkelberg, with whom I stayed during my sojourn in Lodz. They all sleep in large room separated in 2 by a thin wall. In one part the parents and Maria on a sofa and fold up beds; in the other, in one bed the boys in the other the older girl. Windows shut. WC downstairs just as nauseating. Of course no water in the house. Also in court to be pumped. Staircase, house, repulsive looking. Home inside, tho nice. . . Aunt & Uncle very charming. Very kind to me, Uncle especially. Second Seder at their house. During course of week met other members of family.
Went to Café Esplanade & Grand Café on Pietrkowska. Very nice, very elegant public. Women as expensively & elegantly dressed in Lodz as in New York, an astounding contrast with their surroundings.
Taxes 5% on selling price of goods, not profits. Jews no right to own land, to go to University. 75% of them merchants. 90% textile factories in hands Jews, therefore high taxes by Govmt So. Apr 20 11 pm. Left Lodz for Berlin. In the evening 20 people assembled at Finkelberg to bid me goodbye.
[Note: none of the people mentioned here were ever heard from again after the war; they probably
perished in the Holocaust.]
NEW YORK, LATE 1930
From the 1930 Census Report:
Wolf Finkelstein, born in Poland, spoke Yiddish
Seraphine Finkelstein, born in Austria, spoke Yiddish
Edith Finkelstein, born in Greece, spoke French
Thérèse Finkelstein, born in France, spoke French
Marie Finkelstein, born in France, spoke French
Renée Fantin, born in Turkey, spoke French
I returned to New York when the depression was in full swing. After a few months of forced idleness I again worked in Washington and in the Summer went to Mexico.
For the summer vacation Edith went back to New York City. . . Edith kept up a good correspondence - and she was at the dock with her mother Seraphine when my ship arrived in N.Y. Edith lived with her folks and we talked on the phone at least once a week during the fall of 1930. I was very tired of bachelorhood and wanted to get married. She was fed up with "butter and egg men" and with Jewish men, I think. Edith showed me once a picture of a handsome young man in a boat up near New Rochelle, N.Y. and said he was a butter-and-egg man. Now I believe that she was dating several young business-type Jewish men, that she was tired of their lack of breadth in cultural, especially literary, fields, that she felt hurt by one or more of them - and that a Gentile, academic type was her cup of tea. Anyway, my ethnic and professional background was more in line with her interests, which were highly academic and highly liberal intellectually.
I had every other weekend off. [Cecil was teaching at Manumit School in upstate New York] On my off-time I scurried to New York to see Edith. I can't recall where I stayed, but it was not with Edith and not at her home. We went several times to a Russian restaurant off Union Square at 14th Street and had had long talks.
One Sunday, she brought me to her home to meet her father and sisters Renée, Thérèse, and Marie. They lived in a nice apartment in the Bronx. The old man was not to be told by anyone that I wanted to marry his daughter; he was Jewish and we were not sure how he would react to the idea. I played along; it was all right with me to keep him in the dark. He could tell that I had an interest in Edith, but it really didn't seem to bother him - in public, in front of me. We spoke German; his German was quite good, and Maman's was even better. She boasted of speaking seven languages, from long living in the Balkans - and she was talented in language usage. She spoke several languages quite well but had a full command of none - but a good working knowledge. I think that when she read, it was usually French, whereas Wolf read Yiddish all the time - the newspapers.
Edith's mother was a sweet old lady, and Wolf (Papá) was a hard-working man of few words. For years we visited them every Sunday and I played pinochle with Papá and Uncle Gedalia Madier who came out of New York.
Edith's father, Wolf Finkelstein, was a clothing merchant. In the fall of 1929, her father owned three different stores (women's apparel) in the Bronx, and was reputed to be worth $250,000. The crash had not hit him yet. As the Depression destroyed the easy affluence and full employment of the previous years of prosperity, he lost one store after the other. Then, starting up a new store, poor Papá would go into bankruptcy again, rescuing what he could of the outmoded dresses for a new store! His trade - and Maman and Marie helped - was for the most part among the blacks on the edge of Harlem. They were looking for bargains. Finally, in 1938 or so, Wolf had to run a dry cleaning, repair shop down at about 101st Street. It was hot, hard work, but he would never quit. In about 1941 Eugen Weisz and Renée bought a house in Bay Shore - where the parents were settled down. There, in this house, Wolf repaired women's clothes until his death in 1945.
EDITH AND CECIL'S WEDDING, NEW YORK, JANUARY 10, 1931
My personal life reached a climax at Christmastime, 1930. By Christmas my nerves began to give way again; I became desperate; I was going to get married or kill myself, I said, and I meant it. I think we put off the wedding until I was "crazy to get married." During the Christmas vacation we set a date: 10 January 1931.
On 10 January 1931 I got up at about four o'clock in the morning - it was a very cold day - and walked into Pawling to catch the train. My feet got cold on the way, and I almost stopped, almost turned back, almost called off the deal!!! But I knew the danger or trying to find my way in life alone any longer. . . . So I went on!! We got the license in the Bronx; Edith paid for it because I was short of money! It cost two dollars. Then we caught the next subway to the court house at City Hall in downtown Manhattan. We had no witnesses, so two men in the office took a couple of dollars each and witnessed our marriage. It was a short and sweet ceremony. The judge of the peace told me to kiss the bride, but she said no. She was always shy about demonstrations of affection in public. So we kissed on the stairs! I could tell that she was glad to have a husband at last.
We checked in at the New Yorker Hotel, and immediately went out to eat. We ate lunch at a French restaurant, and it took us all afternoon. When we came back to the hotel, Edith suggested that we go for a walk.
Met Cecil at Bronx Borough Hall for license. Rushed down by subway to Municipal Bldg in order to get there before 12. Very impressive ceremony! Then lunch at DeWinters French Restaurant. Back to Fordham Station to get suitcases. Saw "Overture". Hotel New Yorker Room 3016.
Sunday stayed in. Lovely breakfast.
Eve. "Cameo" Russian film on Arabia. Up the Chrysler Building 65th floor.
Cecil left Monday morning at 5:30.
SUMMER 1931: EDITH AND CECIL'S HONEYMOON
In June of 1931, at the end of the school year, I wanted to go live in the mountains of East Tennessee. But Edith thought it would be better to hitch-hike to the Mexican border, take the train to Mexico City, spend a month, come home by way of Kansas. That we did.
We stopped at Greeneville on our way southwest. Uncle Byrd [Oscar Byrd Lovette (Dec. 20, 1871-July 6, 1934)], then a member of the House of Representatives in the U.S. Congress, received us in his office and gave Edith a big hug and kiss. He was the only aunt or uncle to kiss her, I think. The relatives were a bit cool but not overtly unfriendly. We stopped in at the office of the local newspaper, the Greenville Sun, to announce that the youngest son of Robert and Uona Lovette Headrick was in town! They printed the announcement! We must have slept at the home of my Aunt Leona [1870-1951] and Uncle Chal. Then we took off for Scottsboro, Alabama, without telling the Greenevillers.
In Scottsboro's jail there were three or four Negroes charged with having raped a white woman on a freight train near Scottsboro. The case was internationally publicized. Everyone knew the girl was a prostitute and had climbed into the freight car with the four men, then wanted to make an issue of it! When we checked in at a rooming house, we used pseudonyms. That must have been some sort of illegal act. Anyway, we asked so many questions about Scottsboro's Negroes in jail and discussed so much with the people at table that, the next morning, as we were about to catch a ride at the edge of town, we were picked up by the police and taken to jail! Edith was put in a cell by herself; she had only a wee mouse for company - said she liked that mouse. I was given a kangaroo court hearing by the prisoners in my group cell and I paid two dollars into their kitty to buy cigarettes. I wanted the jailer to send a telegram for me to my Uncle Byrd Lovette's office in Washington. After about three hours, they released us from jail and even carted us by auto to the end of the county. What they made an issue of were the Spanish books in our baggage and our hotel registration under false names. But by then Scottsboro had had so much bad publicity, the local big-wigs didn't want to tangle with a southern US Congressman! They never sent the telegram. OK, OK, we "radicals" were on our way. Not that we were "cured" of our rather weak tendencies toward activism!
Someone picked us up and sped like hell to New Orleans that night. We were real tourists the next day in the old French Quarter of New Orleans!! The next stop, after we crossed the mighty Mississippi, was at the border at Laredo. There we heard that they were selling special round-trip tickets to Mexico City for $8.00, because of the celebration of the Lady of Guadalupe. At the first station in Mexico, maybe at Monterrey, the crowds of Mexicans that came up to the train scared Edith a bit; it was her first experience among dark-skinned people. I knew the Mexicans were friendly people, probably more law-abiding than people in our own large cities. She had no reason to be afraid; nothing happened. I went out among the people and bought ice-cream.
Edith and I enjoyed our month in Mexico City enormously. We also took a side trip to Cuernavaca, the city of eternal spring, and to Xochimilco, the park with all the water lilies and boat rides on lagoons. We bought a painting by a Mexican boy of about thirteen years - and we hung it for many years in our apartments. It was a street scene in Cuernavaca. After admiring Iztaccíhuatl and Popocatépetl, the highest peaks in Mexico, we returned to the capital.
I was so enamored by a large woolen hand-loomed blanket, about three by four meters in size, that I wanted to buy it. The design was that of the Aztec calendar, I think. Edith did not go for it because it was too heavy and warm to sleep under. So I said, I'll buy it and give it to Lucy. No, that wouldn't do; I could buy it with my money, but for us. I wonder if it is in my apartment now of if Rita and Daniel packed it to be sent to Alabama in 1970?
You may be interested in the extent to which Edith took an interest in religion. Wolf's father had been a rabbi in Poland, but I think Seraphine dropped all interest in religious exercises before her children were born. None of Wolf and Seraphine's children were given what are called Jewish names, like Sarah, etc. Their mother consciously drew the family away from orthodox Jewishness and into the secular but not Christian world. The Father was more conservative: he maintained the Seder services in his home till his death. I have not heard that the family went to the synagogue. If they did, it was in Paris and not often. Wolf made one concession to the secular world: every Sunday when they went for a walk, as is usual in Europe, he bought the kids a pork sausage. Edith never kept kosher. In fact, she told her kosher relatives of eating choucroute in Alsace, a meal with pork chops, pork sausage, and sauerkraut.
Neither of Edith's parents went to Friday night religious services. In her home the only religious exercise I saw was the annual dinner, called Seder, meaning Passover, to celebrate the departure of the Israelites from Egypt. On those occasions, Wolf Finkelstein read the text between courses. The meal was a two-hour event. The main dish was "gefüllte Fisch" - the little bones had been removed from the carp and there was a delicious stuffing! Edith and I always went to Seder.
When we married, both of us agreed that we did not and would not practice religion. Not until Edith was over sixty years of age did she join in with other Jews in public worship. In the last years of her life, Edith began to leave the "assimilation" approach to contacts and interests and to lean more heavily upon closer contacts with Jews. After we came to Europe, we attended the Air Force Seder dinner. But we went to Friday night service in the Air Force chapel only once.
EDITH PROFESSIONAL LIFE IN 1930 AND AFTER
Since she had bought a stenotype machine in Germany or France and had practised using it during the months when she was the bread winner, she had important assignments.
In October 1930, she was the French stenographic reporter for the Sixth International Road Congress in Washington.
That fall, she translated from German to English a year's course of lectures on "State Interventionism" by Dr. Hans Staudinger, professor of Economics at the New School in New York.
In April 1931, she was the French stenographic reporter for the Conference of the International Federation of the Blind in New York.
In May 1931, she was French the stenographic reporter for the International Chamber of Commerce Conference in Washington. There, she was assigned to take down by dictation an important speech by President Herbert Hoover. Her picture up on the stage with Hoover appeared in the papers.
Front page of The Washington Times (May 4, 1931) with headline: "Hoover Urges World Disarmament" with Edith taking dictation in foreground.
In November and December 1931, she was the French stenographic reporter for U.S. Department of State
at the International Court of Arbitration in Vienna.
In the winter of 1931-32, . . Edith got a call from Washington: There was to be a trial in Vienna. An American citizen had owned a railroad, I think it was, and he was suing the Egyptian gov't for damages caused by expropriation. The State Department had hired a Mr. Marriott to handle the stenographic record of the trial and had given him Edith's name and address. Egon and Thérèse were visiting in Vienna at the time, or Egon got a job with Marriott probably as a translator, and was sent to Vienna and Thérèse came too. And Renée joined the work group! . . . It was a cold winter in Vienna! Edith was gone about four months.
The Stuttgart Military Post News wrote:
She left for Vienna with the American delegation to an international court case. She recalls that they had offices in the Hofburg, the palace of the Habsburg rulers and, although the palace rooms were magnificent, they were extremely uncomfortable. The exquisitely wrought white and gold porcelain stoves high as the ceiling provided very little protection against the cold Viennese winter. It was very difficult to type with gloves on!
That same winter of 1931 I went to Vienna with the American delegates to an international tribunal of arbitration which had convened there to settle the claim of an Egyptian subject against the U.S. Government. Vienna, which had delighted me so much during my first visit, now won my heart completely. I could not tear myself away.
1932-1937: EDITH'S PERSONAL LIFE
In the spring of 1932 Edith had a regular and good job. We lived in a one-and-a-half room apartment in a huge yellow apartment house on Park Terrace West [New York City]. I came down from Pawling to live now for the first time all week, week-in-week-out, with Edith. Her parents lived down at the foot of the hill about 200 yards from us.
Edith and I were given a Big Job translating a French novel by Louis-Charles Royer published by Greenberg Publisher called "The Harem." Edith would write the sentences from the French into English; I would put her English into standard, clear, polished English to give the same meaning; Edith would go over my sentences one by one and see if I had twisted or violated the meaning as it was in the original French.
Summer 1933 came and it was time for Edith and me to travel a bit! We bought a car for $25, drove to the mountains of western North Carolina, the southern end of the Blue Ridge and the Great Smokies. . . . We stopped in a small town just across the Georgia-North Carolina border, talked with folks about small farms for sale up on the mountain, were told that the Vinson family had a farm for sale: $300!! It lay far up on top of the mountain just north of Mount Rabun Bald.
Up the mountain we went, met Mr. B. Wilson . . . a scrawny old man with a fat wife and several friendly children. They showed us the little farm, about eleven acres, mostly woods, that lay on the top ridge that came north from Rabun Bald. We could look west toward the Great Smokies, the Cherokee Reservation country, and eastward to Yellow Mountain, a peak north of Highlands. The air was cool and clean, a little brook ran between the Vinson farm and the B. Wilson place. We bought the farm then and there! I think we borrowed a part of the money from Edith's mother Seraphine! We stayed up on the mountain ridge, 4000 ft. above sea level, in the cool breezes and showers, for a couple of weeks. We must have had a tent with us. We loved the air, the mountains, the people. That was the summer of 1933. We came back in 34, 35, 36!
Back in New York, Edith enrolled full time in Hunter College (mostly evening classes) and got her
B.A degree [in June 1935]. Her major was German.
We had moved over to St. Nicholas Avenue at about 153rd Street and paid $25 a month rent; Edith's father and mother were then without a store; they had gone into bankruptcy with about six different stores on the edges of Harlem by that time. They lived downstairs from us. Ours was a comfortable little one-and-a-half room apartment. It lay up on the hill above Yankee Stadium. The blacks were slowly, slowly moving into one block after another up St. Nicholas Avenue.
Again in New York, now looking for work, now translating articles or a book, now working for Jules Sauerwein, the French editor, during his frequent visits to New York. And always at Hunter College in the evening. Last Summer I roamed through the mountains of North Carolina, and in the Fall decided to enroll in the day sessions at Hunter College in order to get my degree. I hope to get it in June 1935, and after that, who knows? I should love to teach in Alaska, little Esquimeaux. . .
In November 1936, Edith wrote to Cecil's sister Lucy:
Last Summer, Lucy, you made a very wise remark one day. You said that as soon as you learned that Cecil had bought land, you knew that his radical activities had ceased to be of a very serious nature. Our dear brother and spouse has now gone a step further. He told me the other day, in all seriousness, that he belonged to the landed aristocracy, and, therefore, his paternalistic attitude toward the Wilsons was justified. I was flabbergasted! I said "What? I thought you were a farm boy, a peasant?" - "Oh no, my father and grandfather owned hundreds & hundreds of acres of land!" And so, after 5 years of marriage, I discovered all of a sudden that I, the daughter of a humble shopkeeper, had married into the aristocracy. It is as comical a situation as when Cecil, a penniless boy in Berlin courting a well-dressed, fur-coated dame living on her savings, discovered that she had eaten up all of said savings and that there was no money left for him!!
1932-1937: EDITH'S PROFESSIONAL LIFE
Between 1932 and 1935, Edith worked several months each year as French-English secretary for Henri Cassou, head of the Roquefort cheese industry in France; Jules Sauerwein, foreign editor of French daily "Le Matin"; and Pierre Denoyer, New York correspondent for the French daily "Le Petit Parisien". Between October 1935 and November 1936, she handled French-English correspondence for the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique (The French Line).
Between November 1936 and April 1937, she handled the publicity and French-English correspondence for the New York Committee for the 1937 Paris World's Fair (officially the "Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne").
After Cedric's birth on 16 June 1937, Edith did not work except to teach French for the University of Maryland at Bitburg Air Base in 1954-58 and at the Trier Base for about a year in 1958.
At the end of January, 1945, Cecil signed up with the government for duty with the "being groomed" occupation forces in Germany. Edith was quite strongly opposed to his going, leaving her with the two boys, ages seven and a half and three-and-a-half. But he thought it would not be long before she could come and he told her they would stay twenty years in Europe! The idea of giving the boys an education in Germany and France appealed to her and she "went along" with the idea. She and the boys moved from their house in Babylon to her parents' house in Bay Shore [both in Long Island, New York]. In January 1946, she and the boys came to live in Switzerland for six months, before an apartment was available in Berlin. And they stayed for twenty- four years and her dream of French and German education was fulfilled!
Edith began to lose her sight in 1968 and was not permitted surgery at the U.S.military hospital for a growth beneath her brain that began to press against her 'seeing nerve,' so I resigned as an air base education adviser and we moved to Innsbruck, Austria, for surgery.
Edith died from a blood clot following successful surgery on 3 July 1970. Lucy, Grace, and Elizabeth came to Innsbruck the very week of Edith's death. Daniel, Rita, and Isabelle (then 18 months old) had arrived in time to visit for hours with Edith the day before she died. At 18 months Isabelle uttered the first cry, when I came in to announce Edith's death. Daniel and I stood at her deathbed, arms around shoulders and wept.
When we lived in Innsbruck for about six months before her death we were in constant touch with the secretary of the organized Jewish organization in the Tyrol, where about sixty Jewish people lived. The chief of the Innsbruck office was one Paul Reitzer, a one-time sergeant in the US Army who dropped his citizenship when he married an Austrian woman. . . . He made all the arrangements for Edith's burial and looks after her grave. The burial took place in the Jewish cemetery in Innsbruck after a touching ceremony in which Rita led in prayers.
On her gravestone, I put a phrase or so in each of her principal languages - and in Hebrew for good measure. The gravestone is a bit showy among many simpler graves, I must admit.
["Geb." stands for "geboren," or born: Finkelstein was Edith's family name when she was born.]
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