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13 Is My Lucky Number
Story of fighter in Warsaw Uprising in WW II
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This book describes life in Warsaw under Nazi occupation 1939-1944, the creation of the Ghetto, preparations for the Warsaw Uprising, fighting in the Uprising, prisoner-of-war camp Stalag IVB, experiences as a liaison officer with the U.S.Army in occupied Germany, life in England and later United States in the 1950's and 1960's.
Excerpts from "Thirteen Is My Lucky Number"
Several years after the events described in previous excerpts, the Biegas finally reached the
United States and lived a number of years in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and Deerfield, Illinois. Several chapters describe the building of a new life, creating a family and a
career. They also include descriptions of life in America in the Fifties and Sixties from the
viewpoint of an immigrant.
This next fragment is from Chapter 11, a description of Fort Wayne, Indiana in the Fifties.
One of the problems of living out in the country in those days was the lack of telephones. We had
a ten party line serving everyone in the subdivision. Unfortunately one of our neighbors, Mary
Duncombe, spent hours talking on the phone, and it was never possible for me to call home.
When Lili wanted to call out, she had to plead with Mary.
"Mary, could you please get off the line? I have to make a call."
She did, Lili made her call,
then a few minutes later Mary had the line tied up again! She had six children of her own and Lili
couldn't understand how she managed to find the time to gossip so much.
Although we lived two miles outside the city limits, close to state highway 24, it was very
convenient for those of us who worked at the (General Electric) Broadway or Taylor Street
plants. It took me only 10 minutes to drive from home to the plant parking lot. When Lili needed
the car, she took me to work and then picked me up in the evening. Later, when the Rademakers
also moved to Langford Oaks, Lee and I shared rides. At Times Corners, where we turned off
Highway 24 to go into the subdivision, there was a service station and small grocery store which
served well for any urgent shopping. We did all our other shopping downtown which was only 10
minute drive. Wolf and Dessauer was the big department store of Fort Wayne, a three story
building occupying a quarter block on Calhoun Street. There we had an account since we first
moved from Detroit. "Plastic" money didn't exist yet. You had an account at the stores where you
did most of your shopping and received monthly bills from each one. This is how small grocery
stores fought the chain supermarkets; they gave accounts to their regular, credit-worthy
customers. The supermarkets had lower prices but were run strictly on a cash basis. There were
no discount stores in those days. For small items the cheapest stores were Woolworths and
Kresge, called dime stores. Back in the early 1950's nothing at a dime store cost more than a dollar.
Fort Wayne was a quiet, conservative and prosperous community in the 50's. Quiet,
pollution-free electric trolley buses provided fast transportation from all the older residential
neighborhoods to downtown and the major industries. Unfortunately, the increased prosperity and
cheap gasoline induced more and more people to drive their cars downtown and parking was
becoming a problem and traffic jams became prevalent. The downtown streets were all one-way,
but the traffic lights were set so that it was necessary to stop at each intersection. Fort Wayne was
one of the few cities in America to provide competing electric utility services. One was Fort
Wayne Light & Power, operated by the municipality, and in those days it still ran its own power
station. The other was Indiana & Michigan Electric Company. We lived outside the city and paid
substantially more for electricity than city-dwellers did; we had no choice.
The residential streets were lined with old trees until the elm disease killed many of them.
Opportunities for relaxation in the open air were provided by numerous parks with well
maintained flower beds, picnic and sport facilities. A new covered stadium provided a venue for
the popular local basketball team, the Zollner Pistons (today the Detroit Pistons) and for a newly
organized ice-hockey team. The city was served by the Pennsylvania Railroad main line from
Chicago to Pittsburgh and New York with frequent trains. A new airport provided convenient
plane service in all directions, including a daily non-stop to the New York area's Newark Airport.
The city was expanding outward to new housing developments, and at the end of the decade the
first big suburban shopping center opened up. The first ominous signs of future problems
appeared in the second half of the 50's when some of the industries that sustained the prosperity
started moving out.
There were no discount stores yet, but if one tried, it was possible to buy big-ticket items
with a discount. A couple of mail-order companies had sprung up. One could get this catalog
from the Credit Union. Later on, they would mail catalogs to registered regular customers. The
discount prices were not actually printed but were coded. We bought our silver ware and some
other Christmas presents from one of these outlets. When it came time to buy furniture for our
new house, we discovered that a small furniture store in a tiny village about 15 miles from Fort
Wayne would let you select furniture from their manufacturer's catalogs, and allow you to buy at
only a few percentage points above the wholesale price. Then the furniture was delivered directly
to home from the manufacturer. Strictly speaking this was illegal because archaic laws regulating
retail prices were still in existence, supposedly to make it fair for every-body. These laws
protected the small stores from the competition of large chains which bought in huge quantities
and could therefore obtain large quantity discounts from the manufacturers.
The next fragment, from Chapter 13, describes an event that occurred in Deerfield, Illinois,
in the Sixties.
For a couple of years we had a lot of excitement. In the mid 60's the farmland on the east side of
Wilmot Road became available for sale. The village wanted to buy the land for a park, swimming
pool and a sports complex. A bond issue was floated but had to be approved by the voters. At the
November election the Bond issue was voted down by the older residents who still commanded a
majority. The farmland stayed vacant. But some out-of-town corporation prepared plans for a
housing development with about one hundred homes in the 30 to 40 thousand bracket. The plans
were presented at a village council meeting for approval and, in spite of opposition from those
who still wanted the swimming pool and park, they were approved.
Suddenly a bombshell burst on the community. The corporation had inserted a secret
covenant into the property deeds which required that the majority of the houses had to be
purchased by blacks. I learned about this from our neighbor from across the street, Mort Siegel.
He came over to our house to complain about the perfidy of the Democrats (he was one himself),
who secretly were carrying out a plot to bring Blacks into pristine white Deerfield. I listened to the
whole story, which was news to me.
Then I got angry with him and exclaimed, "Mort! You should be ashamed of yourself. Only
a few years ago, you, a Jew, would not have been allowed to buy a property in Deerfield. Now
you want to deny some people, whose skin happens to be black, the right to buy a house here?"
"We have to worry about the value of our property," he parried.
"Mort, the only person that can reduce the value of your property is you yourself, and
others like you, if you create a panic. Remember, the houses they are planning to build are not
slums; they are houses equal in value and size to what we have now. Who is going to buy them?
Only black professionals who can afford this kind of house."
"But," he argued, "how do we know that they won't change the zoning to allow small,
cheap housing on tiny lots to be built right in our backyard?"
"O.K., Mort," I said,"that is what we have to fight for, not to allow the zoning laws to be
changed. Forget the color of the skin or the religion or nationality of the people who will buy the
houses. But I don't think we have to worry about it. Hasn't the zoning for the development
already been approved by the village council? They have already started construction on three
houses along Wilmot Road, just north of the Episcopalian church."
"Well, yes, that's how the scheme came to light," he explained. "The pastor of some church
on the south side of Chicago was chosen to be the first to move into one of these three houses.
Apparently he wasn't very excited about moving into a house in Deerfield, 40 miles away from his
church and congregation. He came to visit the pastor of the Episcopalian church and talked about
the whole project."
As it turned out, Mort worried unnecessarily. The Episcopalian pastor, in turn, told
somebody on the village council. Within a few days a special meeting of the village council was
called, then a special election to approve the bond issue to purchase the property. This time the
bond issue was approved overwhelmingly. I am not sure of the details, but I believe that the
original option to buy the farmer's property had not yet expired. In any case, within weeks the
entire property was purchased by the Parks Department of the
Village of Deerfield.
The Development Corporation (the principal officers were rumored to be Eleanor
Roosevelt and Senator Adlai Stevenson) immediately went to the courts. The matter dragged on
for a couple of years, going as far as the Supreme Court. The same courts that had ruled just a
couple of years earlier that it was illegal to have restrictive covenants to prevent property from
being sold to a Black or a Jew, now ruled it to be equally illegal to have restrictions that permitted
only Blacks to buy a property.