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Jerzy and Nadzieja Klein relax on a bench while on vacation in prewar Poland.

Photograph | Digitized | Photograph Number: 95643

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    Jerzy and Nadzieja Klein relax on a bench while on vacation in prewar Poland.
    Jerzy and Nadzieja Klein relax on a bench while on vacation in prewar Poland.

    Overview

    Caption
    Jerzy and Nadzieja Klein relax on a bench while on vacation in prewar Poland.
    Date
    1939
    Locale
    Poland?
    Photo Credit
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Joan Finkelstein

    Rights & Restrictions

    Photo Source
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
    Copyright: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
    Provenance: Joan Finkelstein
    Source Record ID: Collections: 2009.376.1

    Keywords & Subjects

    Administrative Notes

    Biography
    Joan Kent Finkelstein (born Joanna (Joasia) Ludmila Klein) is the daughter of Jerzy Klein (later George John Kent) and Nadzieja Klein née Solomon (later Nadine Lillian Kent). Joan was born in November 1936 in Warsaw, and the family arrived in New York City in February 1941 ten months after leaving Warsaw in April 1940.

    Her mother (born in 1904) graduated from a humanistic Polish gymnasium, received her PhD from the University of Warsaw in comparative literature (1928), and then became chief foreign book critic for the avant garde periodical Literary News (Wiadomosci Literackie) for which she wrote a weekly column until the outbreak of WWII.

    Her father (born in 1901) graduated from a Russian scientific gymnasium, while simultaneously attending underground Polish schools, and subsequently completed his masters' degree in mechanical engineering at the Polytechnic Institute of Warsaw (1923). His parents were both dentists, who lived and practiced near the Jewish quarter of Warsaw and had among their patients many members of the Yiddish theater. Until 1939, Jerzy worked independently as an entrepreneur and engineer including among his undertakings the planning of a subway system for Warsaw and the installation of sound equipment for motion pictures throughout the towns of Poland, where movies were an emergent Jewish industry. During a stop-over in Berlin in 1935, he witnessed a Nazi parade and made eye contact with Hitler who was driving past in an open limousine; frightened by this encounter, he purchased a copy of Mein Kampf at the train station, read it on the train to Paris, and resolved to leave Europe. Upon Hitler's remilitarization of the Rhineland in 1936, Jerzy applied for American visas for his family and first learned of the quota system in US Immigration initiated in 1924.
    On September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland, which capitulated three weeks later, and the family then lived under German occupation. In January 1940, Joan's nanny, who had special privileges as a Volksdeutsch, returned from a Christmas visit to her family in Western Poland and warned the Kleins to leave. They lived outside the Jewish quarter on Marshalkowska Street in a building owned by her mother's aunt, Elizawieta Palcew. Having emigrated from Moscow to Poland as a young married woman and now widowed, she directed a lucrative shoe factory and kept money in American gold standard dollars (much of it at her home) because of her earlier exposures to inflation and currency gyrations. At age 74, she decided to leave with the Kleins as did one of Nadzieja's brothers with his family; however, Jerzy's parents decided to remain behind in Warsaw to care for a handicapped younger son. Jerzy contacted the Jewish-owned, Bundist, Orbis travel agency which was able to provide false papers for travel via a corrupt German official (Krakow), who sold all the necessary, real forms at $US 50 per set. Idealistically, Orbis required each purchaser of three sets of documents to provide funds for one additional set that Orbis would allocate to a Jew headed for Palestine. Just as the Kleins were about to receive their documents, the Germans raided the Orbis travel agency, closing it down and arresting its Jewish staff. The Kleins managed to retrieve their documents from the courier (who had been alerted to danger by the Polish, non-Jewish doorman at Orbis) and left Warsaw promptly after consigning nine packed steamer trunks and various suitcases for forwarding. These items form the basis of the collection donated to the Museum.

    On April 20, 1940, the seven family members left by train with exit permits for a round trip via Italy to Peru. With Joan and her parents, there were her mother's older brother, Zachar Solomon, his wife, Maryla, and their one-year-old son Andrew, and also Nadzieja's 74 year-old aunt, Elizawieta Palcew. From Warsaw, the train traveled via Vienna to Trieste. Thanks to a philanthropic Milanese Jewish banker (Fano) and along with several hundred other Jewish refugees then in Trieste, they obtained transit visas through Yugoslavia and Greece as well as entry permits into Turkey. Along the way, their train stopped in Salonika (Greece) in June 1940 where members of the Jewish community greeted them with food but urged them not to stay in so dangerous a place; indeed this community was soon destroyed.

    In Istanbul, Jerzy obtained a job teaching calculus and physics in English at the American Robert College, his first encounter with Americans. As part of the family's efforts to move on, a staff member of the Polish consulate attested that they were good Polish Catholics so they could apply for immigration visas for Brazil. However, the Kleins and Elizawieta Palcew obtained American visas, valid for only three months, during which time they needed to reach American soil or lose the visas. Nadzieja's brother and his family, who had no American visas, decided to immigrate to Palestine.
    From Istanbul, they were evacuated by train by the British passing to Baghdad (Iraq) and then on to Basra, where they boarded HMS Varella (December 1940) and spent a Dickensian style British Christmas on board as they traveled down the Persian Gulf. The ship stopped in Karachi before reaching Bombay (now Mumbai), India, where they disembarked. As an experienced engineer with study in England and a command of English, Jerzy was offered a professional position in Bombay, but he was determined to continue on to the United Sates.

    In January 1941 before America's entry into WW II, they boarded the USS President Harrison, an American ship in the midst of a round-the-world cruise, and thus reached American soil for the purposes of their expiring visas. Arriving in New York after a 40-day voyage that went around the southern tip of Africa, Jerzy initially went to work as a draftsman but soon obtained work as an engineer. He became the first Jewish engineer hired by Western Electric, the research and development arm of Bell System, the public utility that was then our US telephone company. In his free time, he devised an early sonar detection system for submarines which he patented and which helped the war effort. When the family obtained United States citizenship in 1946, they changed their name from Klein to Kent.

    Although Joan, her parents, and Elizawieta Palcew survived, Jerzy's parents (Herman and Regina Klein) perished in Treblinka in 1942, and his younger brother also died. Of Jerzy's 40 first cousins, all those who lived in Poland perished (37 first cousins). Nadzieja's father, Abraham Solomon died of starvation (1942), and her oldest brother, Leon, died of disease in fall 1940, both in the Warsaw ghetto, as attested in letters received during the war in New York City. Nadzieja's two other brothers survived, Zachar in Palestine/Israel, and Anatole/Tolek, the youngest, in Novosibirsk, Siberia.
    Record last modified:
    2010-12-29 00:00:00
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