Maks's Recollections



Maks Rothstein

Maks Rothstein

I was born in Poland in 1910 during unstable times, politically and economically. Naturally, the Jew is ultimately to blame for all of the host country’s ills. Consequently, the situation gave rise to pogroms targeting Jews.

Routinely, after school I would help my parents who were struggling in their retail business selling dry goods. This experience was very instructive for me insofar as I was introduced to the realities of life, struggling to pay bills and living up to responsibilities that are imposed upon oneself. It is my firm belief that a person’s success is contingent on more than just favorable circumstances and opportunities presenting themselves. Being guided by the Almighty and acting in an honest and upright manner—Derech HaYosher—enhances one’s prospects for success.

Since my earliest memories, I was one who saw the serious side of life rather than the fun loving side, (spending time skiing, bicycling or socializing with friends). In line with that I attended a public high school with only two Jewish colleagues and took up courses in accounting, bookkeeping, mathematics, typing and stenography to ensure a measure of security in my life.

With less than two years left to my graduation of the four-year program an event transpired which was to alter the course of my life. I was sitting in a mathematics class, turned to a colleague of mine, Ostrovsky, and made a negative comment regarding our professor. The professor gave an oral exam and not a written exam. I felt that written exams would facilitate a more optimal concentration level vis-à-vis an oral exam. Unbeknownst to me, Ostrovsky headed to the director of the school and I was summarily suspended from school for the balance of the school year. I was now in a desperate situation. I could not bear the thought of having to begin the coming school year demoted—bereft of friends, ashamed of my misfortune and alienated by all.

Family GroupAs it happened, my father’s brother was visiting with us from Berlin. Given my predicament and the fact that my uncle was childless, he pleaded with my parents. “Give me Maks and you will have a lot of nachas from him, as he will be very successful in life. I will take care of him because his chances in Poland are not good.” My parents were in a quandary as to whether to go along with my uncle’s proposal. They turned to the Sassover Rebbe for advice and the Rebbe in fact concurred with my uncle’s proposal and gave me a blessing to go. Because they trusted in the blessing, my parents allowed me to go.

So at the tender age of sixteen I found myself in Berlin working as a salesman for my uncle’s very successful business. Though I was marketing embroideries rather than woman’s clothing, I successfully adapted marketing methods gleaned from my prior experience working with my parents.

During the next several years, I was somewhat uneasy about the fact that I was in Germany without any legal papers. However those feelings were set aside and masked by my success in business. All this came to an abrupt end with the rise of Hitler Yimach Shmo.

One day I was witness to a horrific scene across the street from my apartment. The Nazis stormed the apartment of a Shoichet, breaking windows, heaving furniture into the street, and spilling innocent Jewish blood, which was flowing down the front steps, I was utterly traumatized. I couldn’t even remotely consider sleeping in my apartment that night. I quickly contacted a cousin residing elsewhere in that city, seeking permission to sleep over for just one night. The next day I again set my eyes on Polish soil—in Lvov, back to my roots.

Upon my return, I quickly realized the grim financial situation that my parents endured. There was no light in their home, because there was no money to pay the bills. I keenly sized up the situation and attributed their dismal plight to faulty business practices. Firstly, instead of buying directly from the manufacturers in Warsaw, they dealt with a salesman who needed to realize a handsome profit in order to support his own family. They were unable to buy directly from the manufacturer because they did not have the cash on hand to pay for the merchandise. Secondly, they were forced to buy on credit, which also raised the price. Blessed with a touch of business acumen, savings in my pocket and compassion in my heart, I was determined to extricate my parents from the financial quagmire that beset them. Immediately I infused cash into the business, paid off outstanding debts, eliminated the middleman, and paid in cash for goods purchased directly from the manufacturer. In effect, I took sole control of the business operation. I was able to secure discounts to the tune of close to seventy percent in return for cash payments. Naturally, I was able to realize substantial profits while simultaneously underselling the competition, who were in the same shoes that my parents had been until now. In addition, I would run timely “Ausferkaufs”—liquidation sales. It was then that my wheel of fortune turned.

Acting out of self-defense, my competition “arranged” for me to serve in the Polish army for eighteen months. Thus, they succeeded in eliminating the threat that I posed to them.

During my stay in the army, I was fortunate to be a beneficiary of an actual ness min hashomayim—a miracle from Heaven. Out of appreciation for my sacrifice on his behalf, my father stationed himself near my army station throughout my army stay. Daily, at about 5:00 or so he would make contact with me. One day a local tailor approached him and asked my father as to whether he needed any assistance. My father related to the tailor the plight that he found himself in because I had been the life-blood of his business. The tailor professed to have the solution to the dilemma. Since he did tailoring for the army officers, thus befriending them, the tailor handed my father a pill with the instruction that I take it at 8:00 in the morning. At 11:00 when the army physician routinely checks the soldiers that are ailing, I was to see the doctor. Upon relating to the doctor that I was feeling quite sickly, the doctor would find—due to the pill—a rapid heartbeat. This, said the tailor, should secure my release.

My father eagerly took the pill and gave it to me with the aforementioned instructions. I took the pill from my father with every intention to take the pill as per my father’s instructions. I alighted the staircase to my barracks with every intention to swallow the pill, but that wasn’t to happen. Without even realizing what I was doing, I flushed it down the toilet. Less than half an hour elapsed and an alarm rang out in our quarters. That meant that I, along with eleven comrades, was to stand at our bedside at attention. A Major, Captain, and Sergeant entered our quarters frisking everyone including me. At this time, it occurred to me that they were really in search of the pill that I was about to take. They demanded to know where the pill was located... Upon my subsequent investigation, it was revealed that the “sympathetic” tailor was in fact an agent for army intelligence that had hatched the plot to frame the Jew. This is just one manifestation of my belief that the Almighty is with me. Had they found the pill on me, I would have been jailed for two years, and would have had to start my tour of duty from the beginning—another eighteen months in the military.

Another appalling incident occurred during my stay that will remain etched in my memory. I was in a company together with merely three other Jews. Our sergeant, Brzowski, was a notorious and rabid Anti-Semite. For example, no matter how meticulous we—the Jewish boys—would maintain the cleanliness of our rifles, it sill never made the grade. “Clear as a mirror” wouldn’t suffice for him. As Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur were approaching, chances for release to pray in a Synagogue were virtually none since we weren’t “deserving” of this privilege. I, on my own, decided to go AWOL (absent without leave)—an infraction that translated into two years of military prison and beginning my eighteen months service all over again.

Upon my return I was immediately remanded to the prison quarters, stripped of my belt and shoelaces to avert the possibility of suicide. I was given a “plush” bed of straw to sleep on. Oddly I recall enjoying an angelic sleep that night, on the eve of an impending disastrous court martial proceeding on the morrow. Facing an utterly imposing and stern panel of judges at the court-martial proceeding consisting of a Major, Captain and Sergeant Brzowski, I was now challenged to present a compelling defense on my behalf. I eloquently articulated to the panel that as a Polish citizen dutifully serving my nation in the army, I should be entitled to a rudimentary right that every civilian prisoner is accorded by the Polish Constitution—namely the right to pray in House of Prayer on a religious holiday. The Major visibly touched by my emotionally charged argument, turned to Brzowski to ascertain whether in fact we were dealing with a High Holiday. Brzowski begrudgingly nodded in confirmation, and to the consternation of all present I was sentenced to a mere eight days in a room where I was to sleep on hay.

Upon my release from the army, I quickly came to the stark realization that my future didn’t hold any promise in Lemberg. My uncle from Berlin again entered the scene with a renewed invitation to join him again, and convinced me that I would again be successful. I then proceeded to go to Krakow to obtain a visa for my return to Germany. However, at that point in time the consulate refused to issue a visa to a Jew. I then tried to obtain a visa in the border city of Katowice, Poland—but to no avail. In retrospect, I can see the Divine Hand orchestrating all my moves to ensure my survival and not to share in the horrific fate of my entire immediate and extended family, at the hands of the fiendish Nazis. Had I not suffered at the hands of my competitors in Lemberg, I would have not had any reason to leave Poland—and my ultimate fate would have been sealed.

In Katowice, though I boarded with a cousin who lived on the outskirts, still in all I was dejected and forlorn and needed to occupy myself. Hashem guided me to a certain Café Monopol. Upon entering, I asked the elderly waiter/cashier to apprise me as to whom the customers were. They struck me as upper class professionals such as doctors and lawyers who appeared to be very relaxed. The clerk inquired as to my motive for questioning. I then explained to him that I hailed from Lvov (Lemberg) and was interested in being gainfully employed. Upon hearing that, he recommended that I approach a certain Dr. Pollack who was sitting at one of the tables. Dr. Pollack, having received a doctorate in economics, was a well-respected representative of a firm in Warsaw that was marketing radios—a novelty at that time. I introduced myself as an experienced salesman in the hope that I would find favor in his eyes. However, upon hearing that I had no prior experience or expertise in this field, he initially declined my request to work for him. Upon my insistence, he ultimately acceded to my request, providing me with a catalogue and various conditions of sale—such as deferred payments, etc.

Upon entering the street I turned to Hashem for guidance for my next move. As I was gazing, my eyes set upon a beautiful, well-kept villa and I started walking towards it. In order to enhance the prospects of a successful sale, I instantaneously fabricated a sales pitch. After having done this, I walked up the path and gingerly knocked on this door. A woman opened the door and wailed curiously for me to explain the reason for my visit. I successfully convinced her to take advantage of an offer she just couldn’t refuse. There was this special promotion whereby she could have the radio installed free of charge for one week’s time for her use and enjoyment. She would be under no obligation to buy, yet should she be interested in purchasing the radio; the financing arrangement would be very favorable.

Hurriedly. I returned to Dr. Pollack with great excitement but also with a dilemma on my hands. Dr. Pollack did not authorize me to offer free installation for a week’s trial usage. I decided to tell Dr. Pollack that I found a customer however, they won’t complete the sale based on the catalogue alone. I need to provide a live demonstration of a functioning radio and to that end I need a mechanic to tune the radio properly. Though he was reluctant at first I finally cajoled him in helping me facilitate my first sale.

Upon my return to the customer with the radio in hand and mechanic at my side, things really went my way. The mechanic set the stone inside the radio in the proper position. The music was loud and clear and I convinced the woman to purchase the radio immediately—forfeiting her option to a free trial for one week. By doing so, I avoided a potentially disastrous fallout with Dr. Pollack over my unauthorized offer her a free trial week. This very scenario, radio in hand and mechanic in tow, repeated itself daily and I met with much success. Here again Hashem wanted me to succeed—and so it was.

Despite my financial success, I was reluctant to stay in Poland. Because immigration to Italy required a passport only, without a visa, I decided to travel to Trieste, Italy. My thinking at the time was that the people of Trieste probably speak German, as Trieste was once part of Austria. However, upon arrival in the train station at this Northern Italian city, I was taken by surprise. Nobody seemed to understand German nor Yiddish and I certainly didn’t understand Italian. Understandably, I was afraid to venture forth as I had neither a language to go on nor a destination to go.

Again, the Ribono Shel Olam sent a certain Mr. Fogel my way. He even had a car availing him at the station and offered to take me to a kosher Penzion for room and board. Upon entering Mrs. Dicker, the proprietor, greeted me rather warmly but informed me that there were no vacancies whatsoever. I pleaded with her, that due to the language barrier, she must accommodate me in some way. She ended up converting a storage room into makeshift bedroom. I must say still it suited me fine.

After I showered and refreshed myself, I exited only to meet Mrs. Dicker crying. “Yiddishe kinder valgeren zich arim” (Jewish children are wandering about), she sobbed. I then asked her, “How much money would I need to support myself?” She quickly responded that according to my pathetic standard of living that ten liras would suffice. However, she added that I could certainly earn thousands of liras a day. I responded with the age-old adage, “Fun dan mol in guts oiren” (from your mouth to G-d’s ears). As I made my way to leave since I wasn’t going to spend money on an expensive meal, Mrs. Dicker detained me. She insisted that I enter the beautifully appointed dining room and she instructed me to sit down near a Polish Jew named David Freibrun. In the course of conversation with him, he told me that he had a license to import cutlery from Germany. He would import cutlery and sell it to hotels. He invited me to join his venture as a salesman. He recommended that I sell in Northern Italy where they spoke German. In the interim I would also become proficient in the Italian language, which obviously would be advantageous to me. Again I met with a great deal of success.

All was well until Mussolini entered his infamous pact with Hitler. The winds of Anti-Semitism started picking up with speed and intensity. Before we knew it, our German license to import cutlery was revoked. Here again, life’s roller coaster at work. Just a mere few months ago I had been so successful that I was an equal partner in the business, in fact I was outselling my boss, and as 1939 approached we knew it was time to move on.

We decided upon applying for a visa to Bolivia. There was a Sephardic Jewish consul, Marpulgo, who issued thousands of visas to anybody that would so much ask for one. Unfortunately, his maid’s boyfriend murdered him. (It wasn’t a politically motivated murder; it was simply a means to get to Marpulgo’s money). Though, at the time I thought that I have a valid Bolivian visa, Freibrun and I opted to apply for an English visa. Our reasoning was that access to England would not only provide us with a safe haven, it would likewise afford us concrete business opportunities.

We, Freibrun and I, decided to convince the English consulate to issue a visa so that we can open a market in Italy for English cutlery. We actually succeeded in obtaining a year’s visa enabling us to travel to and from. Acquiring a visa for a full year was considered quite a feat at that time.

Mussolini and his ilk were extremely diabolical when it came to treatment of Jews and their financial assets. Whereas the divestiture of the Jewish populace was greatly appreciated, the seizing and investing of Jewish capital for their sinister plans were even more appreciated. Hence, a Jewish émigré who carried any amount of cash beyond the bare minimum needed for immediate survival was subject to no less than a death sentence.

Over time I had amassed a small fortune and I needed desperately to find a way to safely transfer my assets beyond the Italian border. Again I decided to call upon my “savior” uncle from Berlin who by this time was safely ensconced in London. And again he was able to navigate me out of my morass. He contacted an acquaintance in Milan, a wealthy exporter of furs, to take care of my needs. I immediately traveled to Milan and met with the merchant in his office at his huge impressive store. He readily agreed to have my money sent with his couriers to Lugano, Switzerland, however, he would take a fifty-percent cut for the service. How obscene!

I had no choice in the matter and therefore begrudgingly agreed to the deal. I handed over my total fortune. He in turn took a ten lira Italian note and split it in half. He gave me one of the halves. He instructed me to be at Banco De Roma in Lugano, Switzerland (a city just over the northern border of Italy) on the following Tuesday at 12:00 midday. He said there would be a courier there with money in hand, waiting there with the other half of the ten lira note—which I would be able to corroborate through matching serial numbers indicated on both halves of the note. Much to my chagrin, the man never showed up! I tried again the next day but to no avail. A “no show,” no money and an Italian visa stamped “no return”—I was utterly mortified. I was in dire need to somehow return to Italy.

I turned to the Ribono Shel Oloam for direction. It then dawned upon me to visit the Jewish section of Lugano. Upon entering the office of a well to do man sitting at a huge desk, I was greeted in a very condescending and disdainful manner. “No money, we have no money,” he growled. I was quite offended and very “verbal” in expressing my feelings of indignation. Hearing a bit of a commotion ensuing, the man’s wife hurriedly entered the room to defuse the escalating tension. I explained to her that I was here simply to solicit advice concerning my pathetic situation, and not to solicit a donation of funds. From her position behind her husband she signaled to me to leave the room. She hastily prepared a letter for me to bring to the mayor of a small village bordering Northern Italy. I was to hand him the letter absent of any mention of my financial concerns. Wishing her well and following her instruction, I made my way to the mayor’s home. Once there, however, I was initially denied entry to the mayor’s office. As per the woman’s bidding, I mentioned that “Mary” had sent me. That immediately opened all doors in the fullest sense of the word. Upon being ushered into his office, I immediately explained that I had this letter from Mary and that I had an ailing brother in Milan. He was authorized to issue a simple letter, which effectively gave me unfettered access to and from Milan for an eight-day period.

I arrived in Milan late that night and retreated quickly to a hotel out of fear of the roaming Nazis abound. The next morning as the business day began; I headed for the office of the furrier to obtain my money. As I approached the store, I noticed the furrier coming down the street flanked by two burly officers. Though I sensed something fishy, out of my sense of desperation, I callously disregarded all rationale and approached the furrier. He mumbled to me in Yiddish that he must defer my request to his wife at his home. I turned on my heels in amazement and disbelief that the officers didn’t interrogate me, and headed for the furrier’s home. Once there, his wife denied any knowledge whatsoever about the money owed to me. My nerves and temperament being tried once again, I raised my voice and was somewhat verbose. She then exited the room and quickly returned with a well wrapped package of valuables. The woman was aware that I usually ate by the local Shoichet and therefore instructed me to deliver this package to the Shoichet. The Shoichet wasn’t at all keen on accepting the package—but I had a mission to fulfill. I did some quick thinking by entering one of the bedrooms and stashing the package inside a Duchina/Perena (extremely robust down quilt). Within fifteen minutes or so, the furrier’s wife was knocking on the door asking for the return of her package. Upon promptly returning the package to her, she inquired as to how much money I was owed. Due to confusion and desperation, I quoted the amount I was promised on foreign soil, rather then the full amount due me on Italian soil. She immediately handed me the amount I requested. Whereas with the full amount there was no way that I could personally transfer the money out of the country safely, now I was able to neatly conceal the money under my collar.

Freibrun and I then headed to London via Berne, Switzerland by train. At the Swiss border, I successfully evaded the Italian authorities, though I was subject to an ostensibly thorough search. In retrospect, I’m forever grateful for sustaining punishment of capital rather than succumbing to capital punishment.

Once in Berne, my father, contacted and notified me of the impending marriage of my only sister. My father was counting on me to come through with the necessary funds to put together a respectable dowry to facilitate the marriage plans. Obviously, I opted for the gaping hole in my pocket over the gaping hole in my heart.

One day while in Berne, Freibrun, who was closer to me than a brother, said to me, “Ich hub shoIn oisgibitten dos dritter tsainerel” (I turned thirty already). He was indicating that it was time for him to marry. He decided to invest his fortune with his brother-in-law, who as an oil engineer in Poland. He parted ways and unfortunately, after having entered Poland, he couldn’t leave and ultimately perished together with six million others.

From Berne I proceeded to go to London where I was considered “A greener.” With little money left I needed to be very prudent to be able to survive and yet to be able to avail myself of lucrative propositions. Thus, I rented a room in a rundown neighborhood—the equivalent of Eldridge Street on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. My diet consisted primarily of bread and milk.

Again, I contacted my uncle from Berlin who was now residing in London and solicited his sagacious advice. He recommended that I contact the Chamber of Commerce. At my first appointment I identified myself simply as Mario and spoke a fluent Italian. The representative set me up with an upscale Italian firm, which operated out of Florence. It manufactured an array of imitation leather goods such as wallets, pocketbooks, etc. Again, I set out in a foreign country being orally speechless but with a heart full of prayer I then took the pragmatic step of enlisting the service of an old acquaintance that I met up with in Trieste. Mr. Liebling, a Viennese Jew who sold cotton goods in Trieste, was now also in London—without a job. He knew English—I had the wares—a match made in Heaven. We agreed to a fifty-fifty partnership. Our first stop was a big house (store) the equivalent of a Woolworth’s with many chain stores located in London, Manchester, Glasgow and Scotland. They were impressed with our merchandise and put in a big order with us. We then proceeded to smaller stores and again met with success. At about 2:00 pm my match turned to me and said he can’t continue and would like to meet with me this evening. Sensing something was awry, I anxiously waited for the meeting to get underway. Understandably, I suspended doing business for the day as my line of communication was out of service. At the meeting, he insisted that his name only should appear on any contract that we signed with clients. I dismissed that demand out of hand but in a conciliatory move, I offered to have an attorney draw up a contract between us. The deal would remain at fifty-fifty but my reasoning was that a legal contract between us would afford Liebling peace of mind. He declined my offer. I then decided to pursue the matter through a Rabbinical Court—Din Torah. The Rabbi issued a summons to both partners to appear within eight days. To my surprise, Liebling showed up at the scheduled time. I was somewhat apprehensive as to the impartiality of the trial being that Liebling was somewhat versed in Torah and Talmud whereas I was “Talmudically challenged” shall we say. The Rabbi totally allayed my fears after we both articulated our respective positions. He squarely came down on my side when he turned to Liebling and admonished him not to interfere with my livelihood. We then both shook hands and ceremoniously raised a handkerchief committing ourselves to respect the decision and to respect our heretofore friendship. However, the damage was already done. Liebling had already contacted Ernesta Cavalle, the director of the Florence outfit I was dealing with to cancel all my orders. Cavalle wrote to my contact at the Chamber of Commerce in London explaining that due to an inordinate amount of domestic demand, he couldn’t possibly fill my orders. Obviously my promising venture went asunder even before getting off the ground because I couldn’t honor my commitments to my clients. Thus my match made in Heaven was lit afire and went up in smoke!

Undeterred, I went back to my contact at the Chamber of Commerce and again I got a lucky break. The fellow exclaimed that there just developed an opening to represent an exclusive Italian company that used to provide leather products for the upper echelons of the Italian government. Moreover King Victorio Manueli—a predecessor of Benito Mussolini—was a customer of this firm. I eagerly signed on to sell their wares in London. However, determined to learn from my prior Liebling mistake, I decided to take the Almighty as my partner. Somehow, I would get around my language barrier—perhaps through writing, etc.

My first order of business was to become more comfortable with my wares—to become sort of a maven. So, I went up and down the streets of downtown London comparing their prices with the prices I was to be selling for. I quickly learned that my price was actually double when compared to the going rate in town! Instantly I became the maven—my material, quality craftsmanship, name label were superior to all the rest. Without further ado, I promptly headed for Bond Street (the equivalent of Park Avenue—Manhattan) and entered the prestigious house (firm) Charles B. Davis. Again, my business flourished as time went on. Though my commission was paid by England in British pounds with considerable delay due to technical reasons, it was an adversity that I was able to live with.

One day a top member of the firm decided that he wanted to visit with me. I couldn’t possibly invite him to my dilapidated flat, which I called home since I would surely lose his trust and favor in his eyes. So, I contacted the former landlady of my uncle from Berlin who had since emigrated to the U.S. She lived in a posh villa in a respectable neighborhood in London—Golders Green. I asked her if she could be so kind as to entertain my guest and myself in their home. She was most accommodating—not long after, my guest and myself were seated at my “aunts” home together with husband and two distributors around a sumptuous dinner table.

My business associate being impressed with me took me for a stroll and offered me cash to set up a small showroom in the most enviable of locations—Piccadilly Circle in the heart of London (the equivalent of Times Square).

I did however make a serious mistake by putting up a sign on my showroom stating—Maks Rothstein, proprietor. Having exposed my Jewish identity, I suffered the loss of numerous accounts. Yet, still in all, I was doing a thriving business—but once again life’s seesaw was at work. From the hi-style glamour and glitz from flashing Piccadilly Square I was soon catapulted to the doom and gloom of bombing and blackouts—London under siege of the bloodthirsty Nazis.

One day I was walking with my friend Gutter, a landsman from Krakow, and expressed my desire to leave England. I had reminded myself that I had this Bolivian visa issued by Marpulgo. Upon examining the visa. Gutter pointed out that it was lacking the official stamp stating the fee and was thus rendered invalid. Once again. I faced a daunting situation. I quickly went to Bloomsbury House—an agency designed to assist immigrants in need—and they put me in contact with Mr. Rothschild, a lawyer by profession. He was friendly with Astero, the Bolivian Consul, and arranged with Astero to have a visa signed and stamped. Buoyed by once again being on the upside of the see saw I decided it’s time to see the Sea.

I contacted Grace Line for the first ship out of London for South America. I was notified that there were no more passenger ships leaving port but only one cargo ship. Upon further inquiry, I secured the only vacancy on the ship, which carried a total of four passengers.

The journey took several weeks—much longer than usual due to the perilous situation at sea. The German submarine Grafspie was roaming the waters sinking enemy ships that dared transverse the waters. Our vessel successfully evaded the long arm and murderous claws of the Nazi death machine. After passing the island of Bermuda I finally said goodbye to the Ocean of Despair and entered the Sea of Hope.

Maks at work.Maks' nice car

Upon my arrival in La Paz I quickly identified the distinct difference in the political as well as the atmospheric climate between London and La Paz. Whereas London was in the throes of war, La Paz was “business as usual”; whereas London was located somewhat below sea level, La Paz, I believe, is 12,500 feet above sea level, the highest capital in the world. I experienced great difficulty in acclimating to the thin air of La Paz. At first, I stayed in a hotel for approximately two weeks to try to condition myself before venturing forth so as to avoid overstraining myself. Eventually I realized that for a ridiculously low fee I could hire a car service to serve me a whole day—9:00 am to 5:00 pm for a month at a time. Though I had a hefty sum of British pounds to do business with, I unfortunately again was faced with a language barrier, this time around—Spanish. I decided to visit a café in town, which was frequented primarily by immigrants. Once there, I had made mention that I was from Poland and obviously spoke Polish. I was then introduced to a tall, nice young man from Warsaw and started conversing with him. In the course of a conversation, I mentioned that I had just recently arrived from England. He excitedly asked me if I had command of the English language. When I answered him in the affirmative, he promptly offered me a position in his business as a salesman. The very next morning I arrived at his warehouse where he dealt with the highest quality English imported woolens. He quickly cut four suit lengths as samples and sent me on my way. He insisted that I pay in full for the materials up front; so that I would thereby self-impose an absolute need to negotiate the sales. I certainly couldn’t disagree with the rationale, and acquiesced to the deal. Not having a clue where to turn to, I again beseeched the Almighty for help in the matter. I opened my eyes and thus decided to head for the Italian consulate being that I knew Italian. In retrospect—what chutzpa! At the consulate; there was a young Jewish German, Mayer Dommow, who initially refused me access to the ambassador. At that moment I blurted out. “Tell him that I’m here from London and that I would please like to meet with the ambassador.” It occurred to me to tell him that I hail from London and I must see the ambassador. The man relented and allowed me to enter. The ambassador greeted me rather warmly and I conversed with him in his mother tongue—Italian. I explained to him that I had on my person quality English woolens and was eager to offer him a deal that he couldn’t refuse. Upon inspecting the material, which was in fact impeccable English wool at its finest, he quickly summoned his consul and secretary to partake in his find. He took two cuts and protege and secretary took one apiece. Alas, I was cleaned out in virtually no time. Upon reassuring him that I had more, he advised me to contact the consul from Brazil who would certainly be interested in my wares. He also counseled me to exact a substantially higher price so as to realize a more handsome profit—knowing that the Brazilian was a man of means. I merrily took leave from the Italian consulate and returned to my supplier barely containing my exuberance. My boss was truly amazed and knew better than to ask me where I made my sales. He dutifully heeded my bidding and furnished me another five cuts of English cloth. I then headed for the Brazilian consulate and was equally successful. Over time I befriended the Brazilian Consul—Senior Figaderos. He was very “well connected,” and over time he helped me obtain many accounts until I was very “well connected.” As a matter of fact he urged me to marry his niece from Rio de Janeiro. He offered me exclusive perfumes—to no avail. He even promised me many cotton fields. Little did he realize the more cotton he offered, the more my ears were stuffed to the preposterous proposal.

Anglo American Trading House

In time I met a Jewish girl from Buenos Aires—Lola (Leah) Baumgarten, whose family was from a prestigious Jewish background. She had come to La Paz to visit her aunt, Mrs. Hocher, whose brother was my friend. In just about two weeks time we were engaged to married.

Throughout my stay in La Paz I had a particular affinity for Brazilians. I recall entertaining a certain Baron Didefe on weekends at my home where we would spend hours together playing chess, which was to me a superb form of relaxation.

As business progressed I eventually opened up The Anglo American Trading House, which was frequented by the most upper echelons of Bolivian society. The gamut of my clientele ranged from bank presidents, ambassadors, up to the President himself! The government would furnish me with a new car each year and voluntarily offered me an exchange rate which was a sheer bonanza—forty-five pesos to the dollar rather than the going rate of two hundred pesos for one dollar.

The last leg of my travels was to unfold in 1951. Approximately twelve years earlier I had sought to emigrate to the US—once again with the help of my uncle from Berlin. At that time—the late thirties—he was already in the US. He sent me an affidavit but I couldn’t make use of it being that the immigration quota for the Polish citizens had already been met.

In La Paz I had a good friend by the name of Dr. Goldstein. He had a brother in New York who was friendly with the former Senator of New York, Jacob K. Javits. Through Javits my friend obtained a visa and immigrated to America. Once there, unbeknownst to me, he solicited his brother’s help to intercede on my behalf and arrange a visa for my family through the Javits connection.

For some unknown reason the American consulate was wary of me and was reluctant to issue a visa out of fear that I may be involved in espionage! However, ultimately they came through.

At the time, I was in a quandary concerning my impending emigration. On one hand the political situation in Bolivia was quite precarious. Government coup d’états, revolutions, etc., were the order of the day. My wife ob”m wanted to join her family in the States and also wanted to provide a Jewish education for our daughter and son. On the other hand, I wasn’t eager to part with an established, successful, and thriving business. I recall having a friend—Mr. Keenan, an American representative of the Philco Co.—admonishing me to not make the move. He maintained that I would probably end up being a salesman at Macys at best.

However, my wife ob”m prevailed (as woman usually do). I hastily found a customer to buy the business at an extremely low price. He turned out to be a schlimazel—lacking all skills and any good luck needed to run a business. With his magic touch he managed to relegate a gold mine to the dustbins of bankruptcies in the space of three months time.

ShipboardUpon my arrival in New York, I contacted my uncle from Berlin, who lived on Broadway and 106th Street. Though I loved and admired my father, it was my uncle who I remembered so much more. Yet I always understood that father’s love for me was beyond comparison to that of anyone else—bar none.

My uncle arranged a room in the Hotel Alexandria. The rooms were hideous; the overall accommodations were simply intolerable. We had a noisy refrigerator, which sounded more like a Con Edison jackhammer at work. It had the uncanny ability to cool off food on the inside and cook up tense and frayed nerves on the outside. Having lived in an actual palace in La Paz my wife just couldn’t make the necessary adjustments—especially given the fact that another child was on the way. I needed to gain some return on the capital that I had accrued in Bolivia so that I would be able to purchase an apartment that would suit my needs.

At that time, a well-meaning friend of mine encouraged me to buy an apartment building located at 210 West 21st Street in Manhattan. In no time, it became obvious to me that the seemingly lucrative investment in the seven-story building containing thirty-five dwellings was actually a fiasco. The infrastructure was in poor condition and there was a very large first mortgage in addition to a hefty second mortgage on the building. Not one to be fazed at being confronted with a daunting challenge, I struggled for twenty-three years and ultimately persevered! I restored the physical and financial integrity of the property to near perfect condition and subsequently sold the building at a handsome profit. At this point in time I became highly knowledgeable, proficient, and was considered a “maven” in the real estate industry. Soon thereafter, I was approached by an investor who had the capital, yet was in need of the expertise that I had in mortgages, price, and overall viability of investment. And so it went from one venture to the next.

My experience has shown me that if one wants to succeed in the long term one must struggle. For only success which is duly earned will afford a person with the prudence needed to spend his money wisely. Conversely, one who didn’t work hard for his money is apt to squander it without proper discretion.


In summation. I acknowledge and humbly acclaim that it was Faith in G-D that was the bedrock and core of my success in life. My fervent wish and prayer is that I should live to see the people of ISRAEL LIVE IN TRUE PLACE, WITH THE COMING OF MESSIAH. AMEN.