Sometimes in life you have the opportunity to meet the most incredible people.
Last night Carl and I took one of his clients out for dinner. I didn’t know Sarah. She’s Australian but for many years has lived in New York and is currently here in Sydney on personal matters. As she and Carl have been communicating via email and text messages, we thought it would be nice to share a meal while she’s in Sydney.
We met at an Italian restaurant at 7pm. I’d heard her father was an artist so I gave Sarah a couple of books written by my cousin about her mother who was a well-known Australian water-colour artist.
As Sarah flipped through the pages of one of the books that contained images of my great-aunt’s paintings she said, ‘I know these paintings, I’ve seen them before; they’re very familiar to me’. And after a few more minutes of studying the images she said, ‘I know why. My father exhibited with your great-aunt. They must have known each other’.
Isn’t that a coincidence! Unbelievable.
So I asked Sarah about her father.
He was born a Jew in Poland in 1921 and at the age of 19 was put in the Warsaw Ghetto. Conditions were terrible there with Germans being allowed a ration of 2,600 calories per day but those deemed ‘sub-human’ only allowed 180 calories. He and his brother escaped from the Ghetto and found work and accommodation on farms. Her father was always good with his hands and he believed this is why the farmers, who must have known he was Jewish, gave him work. At some stage he and his brother were captured and put in a concentration camp. They found a way to escape but were re-captured. He continually found ways to escape but would be re-captured and during the Nazi occupation he ended up in 19 different concentration camps.
He survived the war and immediately after being liberated the American Red Cross set up a place where Jews could be together and this is where he met his future wife who was an Auschwitz survivor. I asked Sarah how it was her mother had survived Auschwitz and she shrugged and said there’s no explanation except she must have experienced a miracle because her mother’s sister had been gassed and all other family members had also been murdered.
Her father and his brother were ready to go to any country that would take them and they arrived in Australia in 1950 and lived in a one-bedroom flat in Bondi. Two years later her mother arrived and her parents married, had two children and all five of them continued to live in the tiny flat. And they worked hard.
Sarah’s father found a job in the rag trade and her mother worked as a seamstress. One night her father cut out a pattern for a skirt and her mother sewed it. He took the finished garment into work with him and showed it to his employer who said, ‘I’ll order 30 of them’. And so this resilient and resourceful couple’s clothing business began.
At the age of three Sarah asked for piano lessons. By the time she was around 10 years old her father was looking for a very proficient teacher for her. He found one in a rambling federation home in Mosman and Sarah and her new teacher had a great relationship and Sarah’s piano playing improved immensely.
One day the piano teacher rang Sarah’s father totally distraught and told him she had to shut down her business as she had been served with an eviction notice and had just 13 days to move out. Anonymously, Sarah’s father, who was not only resilient and resourceful but generous, bought the home allowing the piano teacher to continue living there and run her business.
That was around 30 years ago and the piano teacher lived there until she no longer needed the home. Sarah went on to become a graduate of the Conservatorium of Music and then the Juilliard School in New York. Today she is one of the world’s most highly regarded concert pianists.
Recently, the rambling federation home where Sarah spent so many years having lessons was sold. The new owners plan to restore it to its former glory.
Sarah’s father is still alive but is in his 90′s. I said to her, ‘We get old too quickly’. And she said, ‘Yes, but I’m going to keep my parents alive by writing their story’.
And that’s a book I’ll buy without hesitation.