ISRAEL AT 40
Four Detroiters recall Israel's fight for independence
For Henry Remington, life in
Austria had become exceedingly
dangerous. He remembers a pleasant
day when he was drinking coffee at a
he Vienna cafes were smoky, sidewalk cafe. He looked around, "and
the men were elegant and the I saw red flags with swastikas and pic-
women were flashy. It was a tures of Hitler's face everywhere," he
life of rich romanticism, ciga- says. "They were on every house and
rette holders studded with every roof — billions of flags. The whole
rhinestones and sparkling chandeliers. country was red."
But in the late 1930s, the decadence
Remington began his flight. He
that characterized Vienna began to traveled from country to country, settl-
sputter and crackle, like a movie that ing temporarily in Italy. But as Italy
melts under the intense heat of the film became more and more tangled if the
projector. In its place came the sound of facist web, the Jewish Remington realiz-
pounding boots of the Nazi army and ed he had to find haven outside the
signs that read: "Juden Und Hundt ver- country.
boten" (Jews and dogs forbidden). By
Looking for a visa to anywhere,
1938, Austria belonged to Adolf Hitler. Remington roamed the streets with
Greta Grossman, an 18-year-old rows of embassies.
Austrian Jew, knew it was time to get
"I went from one consulate to
out. So she and her brother and sister another looking for a visa," he says. "I
dressed like farmers and boarded a thought I could go to England or France
train for Czechoslovakia.
or some other country — only not back
Greta's ultimate destination was to to Austria."
be the Jewish homeland. But her
Remington even ventured into the
journey there would be fraught with Albanian Embassy, where he managed
to convince authorities that he wanted
Greta, her brother and sister were to vacation in Albania. "But at the last
riding along the bumpy tracks when minute they asked 'Sind Sie Jude?' (Are
Czech authorities paused before them. you Jewish?)," Remington recalls. "And
With no passports, and knowing not a I couldn't say I'm not?'
single word of Czech, Greta and her
Finally, Remington was able to
family were easy targets. They were ar- secure a six-week visa to
rested and taken to jail.
Czechoslovakia. When his visa — and
Relegated to a tiny cell with no his money — ran out, he appealed to the
toilet or bed, young Greta asked the Jewish council of Czechoslovakia. He
jailkeeper if she might leave the cell to was given two dollars, "which was a
help with chores. The matron agreed. very skinny living to make. It was
Greta escaped when her captor enough to eat a piece of bread; maybe
wasn't looking. She ran wild into drink a cup of coffee."
freedom, hiding wherever she could.
Greta Grossman and Remington
Finally, she found a position caring for
the child of a well-established Jewish met at the Jewish council of
Czechoslovakia. The two learned of an
As Greta was wandering through illegal journey that would be made to
Czechoslovakia, the man. she would one Palestine, and planned their departure.
On March 12, 1938, Henry and
day marry was preparing to leave his
Vienna home. His ultimate destination, Greta stepped onto a small boat. They
sailed throughout Europe, eventually
too, would be the Jewish homeland.
joining a large cargo ship of 713
refugees headed for Palestine.
It was an agonizing journey. The
rat-infested boat was overcrowded and
disease was rampant. Men and women
spent their days picking lice out of their
hair; the only way they could kill the
vermin was by dousing their heads with
kerosene, which burned horribly. On
board there was no food or drinking
water — just moldy crackers. The trip
lasted 119 days.
Mrs. Remington remembers that
several people died along the way. "We
cried so much, it was horrible:'
Nor did the trouble cease when the
boat approached the shores of Palestine.
It was late at night. Everyone was
silent. Suddenly, a shot blasted through
the air. The British called out. The
passengers would not be allowed to
The captain didn't argue. He turn-
ed the ship around and headed for the
port of his home, Greece.
A very unusual thing happened in
Athens. The Jewish community there,
hearing of the refugees' situation,
secured another boat. And so Greta
Grossman and Henry Remington, along
with several hundred other European
Jews, were sent off again, back to
Palestine. This time they made it.
Mrs. Remington recalls that the
travelers transferred to a small, rotting
boat as they approached the shore. The
vessel was so leaky that the men had
to use their dinner bowls to scoop sea
water out from the bottom. Even the
British could see that the boat could not
make another journey, she says.
She also remembers the Jews in
Haifa pleading with the British
authorities to let the refugees ashore.
"It was the happiest day of our
lives," Mrs. Remington says. "When we
came to Israel — that was happiness."
It was a happy, but not an easy, life.
Not long after their arrival, Remington
and Greta Grossman began searching
They went to Beit Galim, a small
town near Haifa, and were married in
1939. After settling with his new wife
in a shack that had no bathroom and
no running water, Remington went door
to door, volunteering to do virtually any
kind of job. "I do everything what you
can imagine to make a living," he says.
He found work building air-raid
shelters. Each day, he carried
200-pound bags of construction
materials on his shoulders. He earned
80 cents a day, "and I was very lucky
and happy to get 80 cents a day," Rem-
By chance, Remington managed to
get a small camera. Although not train-
ed as a photographer, he set up a studio
with a man from Germany who lived
nearby. With that camera, Remington
says, "from a poor man became a rich
He took pictures of everything and
everyone — many of which he still has
today. Pulling stacks of pictures from an
old box, Mrs. Remington points to one
of a smiling baby, another of a wedding
and a third of an Arab youth, the bulg-
ing muscles in his arms held high.
Israel became a state 10 years after
the Remingtons' arrival. The couple
remembers well the day of in-
dependence — and how the occupying
British army behaved.
Piece by piece, the English dumped
their property into the ocean. Mrs. Rem-
ington remembers that even such items
as pianos, tables and chairs were dragg-
ed to the shore and thrown in the water,
lest they be of some use to the Jewish
residents of the new state.
British food, too, was tossed
haphazardly into the water.
Less than two years after Israel
became a state, the Remingtons came
to the United States and settled in
Detroit, where they still reside.
THE FIRST DECADE
OUT OF THE ASHES: Buchenwald survivors arrive
in Palestine, 1945.
AT LAST, A HOMELAND: During Israel's first three
years, 750,000 immigrants arrived, doubling its
FRIDAY, APRIL 22, 1988
FROM THE OUTSET, AT WAR: David Ben-Gurion surveys the troops during War
of Independence, 1948.