When Brooklyn-born Barnard graduate Kathy Ross travels to post–World War II Berlin to help displaced refugees, she never expects to fall instantly, irrevocably in love. But David Kohn, a young American physician, is tormented by the deaths of his parents in the Holocaust, and uncertain about the future. Kathy impulsively marries David’s cousin Phil—a decision that will have far-reaching consequences for everyone involved. The charismatic heir apparent to a fur empire, Phil gives Kathy everything she could ever want, including a cherished son. But through the years—even as she forges her own career—Kathy is haunted by her yearning for the one man she can’t forget.
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Always and Forever
By Cynthia Freeman
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1990 Cynthia Freeman Survivor's Trust
All rights reserved.
Kathy Ross awakened early one unexpectedly sultry October morning in 1945 with an instant realization that it was to be a landmark day. She lay motionless, and for a few moments her sometimes hazel, sometimes green eyes remained closed. But her thoughts raced forward to nightfall, when she would board an ocean liner en route to Southampton, England, the first stop to her ultimate destination of Hamburg, Germany. For once in her life, she thought with satisfaction, she was about to do something useful.
Every school day of the past four years, when she had climbed down from their apartment above the family's candy store on Thirteenth Avenue in Borough Park, Brooklyn, she had battled guilty feelings over the fact that she was on her way to classes at Barnard when she ought to have been enrolled in the WACS and doing something for her country.
For all her first-generation American patriotism, her mother had been hysterical when Kathy first mentioned joining up. Her father had been speechless with fear. Their baby—their only child—off to fight in the war? Aunt Sophie, the family's Rock of Gibraltar, had persuaded her that it would be more sensible to stay home and earn a college degree, then go to Columbia at night for a master's in social work.
"In the WACS you could be killed," Aunt Sophie had said matter-of-factly, with the faintest trace of a German accent. "This way, even if you quit work at sixty-five, you can contribute over forty years of service to people who'll need you. One thing you have to learn, Kathy," Aunt Sophie had admonished, but with love in her voice, "you must see the whole picture, then decide what to do."
Only Aunt Sophie truly understood why she was sailing tonight with a volunteer group out to help resettle some of those millions just released from such horror spots as Belsen and Auschwitz and Dachau. Aunt Sophie understood Kathy's obsessive need to contribute to the world in which she lived.
For Aunt Sophie the war had evoked a very personal pain. She had been born in Germany and had expected to spend her life there, until her father abruptly moved the family to New York City. And Kathy knew she felt a fierce pride that her grandniece was among those eager to help the victims of Hitler and the Nazis. Somewhere in Germany the Rosses had left behind cousins. How many had died in the concentration camps? Long ago Aunt Sophie had lost touch with family in Germany.
Aunt Sophie—in truth, her Great-Aunt Sophie—had been part of the immediate family since before she was born. Dad's mother and his Aunt Dora had both died in their early sixties, before Kathy was born. Like herself, Dad had been an only child. Aunt Dora's two daughters had moved to California, and in their new-found prosperity preferred to forget their cousin in Brooklyn who ran a small candy store that dealt in pennies.
Aunt Sophie was, to his knowledge, Dad's only surviving relative other than the California cousins. She had taken care of the apartment and cooked and watched over their only child while Kathy's parents put in the required sixteen hours a day in the candy store. Small and seemingly fragile at seventy-seven, though the years rested lightly on her, she continued to be the family's strength in time of crisis.
Kathy pulled herself up in bed, taking guilty pleasure in sleeping late this morning. She had quit her job as a law office receptionist the week before, in order to allow herself the luxury of a few days off. The leader of their group had been blunt in warning them of the heavy workload that lay ahead.
"You'll see sights that will turn you sick, horrible examples of man's inhumanity to man. Sights we must make sure never come to be again." Brian Holmes had been a war correspondent with the American forces that had liberated the concentration camp at Belsen in April. "You'll work till you drop because there's so much that has to be done."
For a while it had appeared that their project would never get off the ground, but Brian had been persistent. Europe was in chaos. The presence of relief organizations was desperately needed. Finally, he was able to pull the right strings. Bureaucratic red tape was cut. The group acquired passage to Europe, though Kathy had refrained from telling her parents that there was serious concern about the return trip, with every inch of space on ships from Europe to America slated for returning GIs.
Conscious now of the unseasonable heat, of her perspiration-dampened pajama top, Kathy left her bed and crossed the tiny bedroom to head for the shower. Dad had opened the store at six. Mom always joined him an hour later. Only Kathy and Aunt Sophie were in the apartment. They and the voice of WNEW radio, she thought with a flicker of humor. Aunt Sophie was addicted to the radio.
"Kathy?" Her aunt's voice drifted to her above the mid-morning radio news.
"I'm going to shower," Kathy called back, reaching for a cap to cover her lush, dark, shoulder-length hair. "God, what a hot night."
"I've got fresh coffee perking," Sophie reported. "And I'll put up the French toast the minute you tell me you're out of the shower."
Kathy loved her aunt the way she loved her parents. Sometimes she felt closer to Aunt Sophie than to them. Despite her age, Kathy thought tenderly while she adjusted the water's temperature, Aunt Sophie was more modern in her thinking than Mom. Even in those long-ago days back in Berlin, Aunt Sophie had argued that women should have the right to vote. And here in New York in 1912 she had marched with other feminists down Fifth Avenue to declare the equality of women with men.
It had not been easy for Mom and Dad to see her through Barnard, even as a day student with a weekend job, Kathy reminded herself. Even though the Depression was over, Mom and Dad's income was more suited to Hunter or City College. Aunt Sophie had argued that she should go to a prestigious school, that good times were ahead and a degree from Barnard would be money in the bank. But Kathy had taken the first job offered to her at graduation because she had known it would be of short duration.
Kathy remembered the Depression. Those frightening times when Dad and Mom were terrified they would lose the store. When Aunt Sophie conjured up new ways to make potatoes and rice and spaghetti more appetizing. She wore the same two blouses and two sweaters through the last three years of elementary school. At first they were all too large, because Mom bought them to "grow into"—then they were embarrassingly small. But Mom had been proud that they never had to go on Home Relief. She had realized times were better, Kathy thought whimsically, when Dad started to bring home lox and bagels on Saturday nights to enjoy with the Sunday Times.
Kathy stood under the stinging spray of the shower and remembered how she and Marge—her best friend from Erasmus High—had been fascinated for a while in the late thirties by the fiery street-corner speakers who climbed atop wooden cartons on Thirteenth Avenue and talked about a world where no one went hungry. Once they had taken the subway to Columbus Circle on a Saturday night to blend with the hordes of humanity that roamed about the Circle, listening to first one soap-box orator and then another. It had seemed exciting and idealistic to hear such eloquence on behalf of the segment of the American population that Franklin Delano Roosevelt called "ill-fed, ill-housed, ill-clothed."
They had taken the subway into Manhattan for the May Day parade six years ago when veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, which had fought against Fascism in Spain, gave the marchers the Popular Front clenched-fist salute. This was one of the rare occasions when she had argued with Aunt Sophie.
"Idealistic fools," Aunt Sophie had said, scoffing at the Americans fighting against Fascism in Spain. "What's the difference, Fascism or Communism? Both are bad," she had said with contemptuous rejection. "The Russians don't like the Jews. I remember the stories I heard back in Berlin about what Czar Alexander III did to the Jews in Russia."
Kathy's father had told her how Aunt Sophie had left a young man she had loved behind in Berlin. He was a student who had fled Russia to save himself from persecution. Aunt Sophie had never married. She was always there to "help the family through a bad time."
Kathy stepped out of the shower when she heard the phone ring. Dripping wet, with a towel draped sarong fashion about her petite, slender body, she raced to respond.
"I'll get it," she called to her aunt and charged into the living room to pick up the phone. "Hello," she said breathlessly.
"I'll pick you up at two o'clock," Marge reported. "I finally convinced Joe he had to let me have the car to drive you to the pier, though he cried bitter tears about how much gas I'd use." Two of Marge's brothers stayed out of the army via defense jobs. The third was 4-F.
"Oh, wonderful. A taxi into town would have cost a fortune." Marge was picking her up at two o'clock, Kathy mentally noted, which would give them time for a long farewell. "I still wish you were going with us."
"I know," Marge sighed. "I gave it a lot of thought. It's not for me. But I'm going to get out of New York as soon as I've saved up enough to take me to San Francisco and to live on until I find a job. I've had all I can take of Mom telling me the only way for me to go is to marry and have eight kids—or to be a nun."
"Start saving, Marge." Kathy knew Marge was determined to escape from the tyranny of her mother and three brothers, all of whom lived in the pleasant three-story O'Hara family house on Fiftieth Street that had been converted in the dark Depression days to a three-apartment house.
"How's the group shaping up?" Marge asked. "Anybody really exciting?"
"If there was," Kathy laughed, "you'd be joining us." Marge had sat in on those first emotion-laden meetings at the West End bar favored by Barnard and Columbia students. The volunteer group was being financed by a syndicate of wealthy American Jews, impatient with delays of the various governments to cope with the problems of those released from the torture chambers of the Nazis. They had campaigned immediately among Columbia-Barnard seniors, known for their liberal leanings. "But they're really dedicated to the cause. Everybody's friendly. Except that one character, who rarely opens his mouth," Kathy conceded. "Probably he's still recovering from his residency at Bellevue." Everybody knew how hard interns and residents worked. Especially at Bellevue. "I think his name is David Kohn."
"Does your mother know?" Marge giggled. "She'd love to see her daughter married to a doctor."
"Marge, I'm not going on this trip in search of a husband. I have no intention of getting married for a long time, if ever. After this I have to settle down to working for my master's."
"I'll settle for a master who's good-looking and sexy and has a terrific job." Marge sighed. "That was what I hated about Hunter. No men. At least at Barnard you had all those Columbia guys."
"Not really. I was a commuter student." Marge had been a commuter at Hunter. "You know what happens. On Thursday or Friday evenings—depending upon class schedules—commuters take off for home. Maybe those in the dorms have some social life with Columbia guys."
"Kathy, breakfast." Sophie appeared in the doorway.
"See you at two," Kathy said hastily. "French toast calls."
Kathy and Marge tried to keep the conversation light, but Kathy knew her aunt was anxious about this trip overseas, even while she was proud of its purpose.
"I know the war's over," Sophie said with an apologetic smile, "but take care of yourself, darling." A tic in her left eyelid betrayed her concern that Kathy was about to put an ocean between them. "God knows how long before we'll see you again."
"Aunt Sophie, we're scheduled to be there four months," Kathy chided. "If I'd gone to college in the West, I would have been away that long between holidays."
"It's going to be a pain in the ass to get a ship home." Only when she was distressed did Sophie allow herself even the mildest profanity. "Look at all the soldiers who are trying to get home. Look at all the war brides who are trying to get here. Sure, it's easy enough going over—"
"Not that easy," Marge reproached. "They had to get priorities."
"Aunt Sophie, I'll get home all right," Kathy soothed and reached to hug her aunt. "And if I have the chance, I'll go to Berlin and say 'hello' for you."
"I could never set foot in Germany again," Sophie said sharply, all at once looking ten years older. "Not after Hitler. Not after what the Nazis did to the Jews."
"Aunt Sophie, it's over," Kathy said.
"For Jews it will never be over." Sophie's voice trembled. "No Jew must ever forget what happened in Nazi Germany. We must never let it happen again."
"I'd better go down to the store and say good-bye to Mom and Dad." Kathy broke the grim silence that engulfed them for a moment and reached to kiss her aunt with warmth. "They're still upset that I'm going."
"Ach." Sophie shrugged and forced a smile. "They've survived worse." She hesitated for a moment, her eyes over-bright. "If you do get to Berlin, have a cup of tea or coffee at a sidewalk cafe on the Kurfürstendamm. If any still stand."
Sophie remained still, watching Kathy head down the stairs. Her mind raced back through the years. She was fifteen again and in Berlin where she lived for almost six months. Papa had given up trying to support the family on the farm, and had moved in hopes that big-city medical care would improve Mama's health.
Papa had been so proud that his daughter had gone through the free, country district elementary school. For a year, before they had moved to Berlin, Sophie had worked as a domestic for a wealthy neighboring household. There she had learned a smattering of English. But in Berlin it was her job to take care of the flat and her mother.
Just the week before, two students from the university had moved into the flat across from the one she shared with her parents and two older sisters. From the first sight of one of the pair, a slender blue-eyed boy, she had been drawn to him. Again—in her mind—she was at the landing on their floor as the young men were mounting the stairs ...
Her heart pounded when her eyes met those of the blue-eyed young man, and she sensed a similar response in him.
"Excuse us, Fräulein," he said politely and smiled. "We are neighbors, yes?"
"Yes." Her own smile was dazzling.
Alex's friend Sigmund grinned in amusement as Alex introduced them both to Sophie. She was enthralled when Alex asked her to join him later at a nearby, beer garden. "I will meet you there," she said shyly.
Bidding the two young men a polite farewell, she hurried down the stairs and out into the street on her shopping mission. She would say nothing at home about meeting Alex Kohn at the beer garden this evening. She was not yet ready to reveal this new friendship to her family. Often in the evenings she went out for a walk, since by then the others were there to look after Mama, so her leaving would not provoke curiosity.
Papa disapproved of the university students because of their liberal attitudes. "Troublemakers, all of them, with their crazy ideas." In their flat she never talked about her fascination for the suffragists in England and the United States, who were fighting for the rights of women to vote.
With startling yet glorious swiftness, the romance between Sophie and Alex became the focal point of both their lives. Alex was so handsome, so sweet and gentle. And one day he would be a doctor. That would impress Mama and Papa. But before she could marry, she forced herself to explain to Alex, they would have to wait—in the Jewish tradition—until her older sisters had acquired husbands. When Alex protested, Sophie pointed out that he had much schooling ahead. They were young and had time. They could wait.
Sophie cried in Alex's arms with happiness when he presented her with an exquisite brooch—precious stones in a gold setting designed as a bow—that had belonged to his mother. He told her how his mother had given it to him when he'd had to flee from St. Petersburg because Alexander III had begun to persecute Jews and students, which put him at double risk.
"The pin was created by the jeweler who designed for the Czarina. Mama said I was to give it to my wife," he said tenderly. "Keep it close to your heart until the day we can be married."
Excerpted from Always and Forever by Cynthia Freeman. Copyright © 1990 Cynthia Freeman Survivor's Trust. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Not the best of Freeman's books. Story ok but not alot of action