La Poste – via a mysterious post card, past meets present

SS Chenonceaux – Valdik Holzer escape ship May 22, 1939

As a storyteller, I know we never are the sole author of anything that happens to us. During my nearly decade old writing journey, I’ve experienced many moments that appear to spring unexpectedly from the universe.  Recently, one such jolt arrived at my home via U.S. mail. Stamped “La Poste” on a white envelope with unrecognizable handwriting, the dispatch carried French postage stamps featuring two exotic landscape scenes—one from Egypt’s Siwa Oasis; the other a winter snowcap from Japan’s Mount Fuji.

As I carefully peeled the mysterious envelope open from one side, a vintage postcard revealed itself with a sepia-toned image of the S.S. Chenonceaux. My heart raced as I was on familiar terms with this steamship. From childhood stories, I’d learned on May 22, 1939, my Czech father had traveled on this ship as he sought refuge in Shanghai, China.

From 1938-41, nearly 20,000 European Jews fled to Shanghai, China,  more than in any other city in the world. For most of these refugees, because no visas were required, Shanghai provided a safe haven at a time when borders around the world were closed to the desperate Jews of Europe. After the Nazis had occupied the Czech lands, Dad departed from Marseilles, France when he fled Europe.

Through previous computer searches to learn about the ship’s history, I’d seen the boat’s image but never before in the form of an original postcard carrying a stranger’s indiscernible French handwriting from long ago. As I held the card in 2017, some seventy-eight years after Dad boarded the ship, there was no accompanying information as to whom mailed me the card.

As I admired the ship’s image for its significance in my life, I wondered how this postcard came to me.  I exist because my Jewish father was able to escape the Nazis and a fate that surely would have included death in the Holocaust. Perhaps it was sent from a French reader who’d uncovered my address after reading my debut book, Adventurers Against Their Will, which mentions the Chenonceaux.  Or was the mailing of this old card the reaction as a kind response to various social media posts through my blog, Twitter, or Facebook pages about my father and his friend’s refugee stories, a timely reminder of today’s migrant crisis?

I’ll likely never find the answer.  I only know I feel profound gratitude for one kind soul who decided to share a piece of significant family history when my Dad chose to seize a chance for life by taking the S.S. Chenonceaux to survival.

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