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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.

Copyright © 1996, 1997 B. C. Biega. All rights reserved.

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