At the age of 19, my mother married a 34-year-old doctor named Abraham. Her father’s name was also Abraham so her husband became known by his initials, A.O.
She and A.O. decided to honeymoon in Russia so Mom could meet her mother’s sister and the rest of the family who had never moved to America. It was 1936. They took an ocean liner, the elegant ‘Normandie’, to France and took a train through Europe to Russia. The train had to go through Nazi Germany to get to Russia. At the time, Jews traveling in Europe were already getting nervous.
Mom and her first husband, A.O.
At one of the stops just before entering Germany, A.O. decided to get off the train and get sandwiches for himself and his bride. It took longer than expected and as he came back out onto the tracks, holding the sandwiches, the train was just pulling out of the station. He had both of their ‘papers’ with him. So Mom was now entering Nazi Germany alone, with no papers!
The Nazi officers got on at the next stop and started questioning everyone. Mom and A.O. had struck up a conversation with another passenger, who was German or Austrian. Mom found him and told him her predicament. She was panicked, needless to say and he agreed to help her out.
When the German officers got to Mom, she and the good Samaritan tried to explain her situation. Husband with papers, getting sandwiches, missed train, etc. The Germans insisted on searching Mom’s luggage, which she happily agreed to. While they were still talking, quite tensely, there was a commotion outside the train. Mom stuck her head out the window and saw an incredible sight. There was a railroad hand car, pulling up behind the train, carrying a train employee and A.O., still holding the sandwiches!
Old fashioned railroad hand car
A.O., who spoke German, had been able to get someone at the train station to help him rescue his young bride in the only way available to them. It was a daring and a timely rescue. A.O. got back on the train, produced their papers and the German’s left, confused perhaps, but satisfied.
That’s not quite the end of the story. A.O. later told Mom that, unbeknownst to her, he had been smuggling information, in his suitcase, for the Russian government! He was a member of the Communist Party and he was acting as a courier between the party in the U.S. and Russia. Needless to say, if the Germans had found A.O’s hidden documents, I would not have been born.
Mom and A.O.
Mom was furious at A.O. for putting her in a potentially dangerous situation. He should never have agreed to carry ‘spy’ documents on his honeymoon and exposed Mom to such jeopardy.
I always loved this story though because it’s the closest thing I’ve ever been to a real life cloak and dagger drama. Cue the credits and the spy movie music!