New York City - Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattan Bridge
By Vivienne Gucwa
It's hard for me not to get emotional when I view New York City from
certain vantage points. As the child of immigrant to the United
States, I have always carried with me the weight of what these views
meant in a grander sense.
My mother was born in Poland right before the start of World War II.
The war hit Poland hard with most of its population sent off to
concentration camps. Her family was split up due to a transgression
involving my grandfather and a loaf of bread (or a pig, there are a
host of different tales surrounding this moment in time). My
grandfather ended up in a concentration camp and my grandmother and
her two daughters ended up in a labor camp. The family spent a few
years enduring torture and horrific circumstances in a variety of
When the war was about to end, my grandfather heard a rumor that his
concentration camp would be burned to the ground in a matter of weeks
and with what I can only imagine to be no less than steel resolve, he
and a couple of the other men in the camp spent a few weeks digging a
hole under a fence in the camp to escape the camp.
I have played the tales I was told tearfully throughout the years over
and over in my mind and it's still hard for me to imagine the feeling
that my grandfather must have felt when he came across the American Red
Cross who must have seemed like a fantastical beacon of hope after
years of what he had just endured.
Severely malnourished and skeletal, the American Red Cross gave him a
bicycle and a rough idea of where the rest of the remaining labor
camps were. He took what little energy he had left and rode that
bicycle through the scattered remnants of camps clinging to the hope
that he would find my grandmother.
And he did.
What are the chances of something like that?
I don't know.
But I do know that my grandfather's next steps were to use his former
ties as a merchant marine to secure a way for the family to make it to
the United States. It took a lot of negotiation but he was able to
move my grandmother, my mother, and her sister to Detroit where many
Eastern European war survivors were moving.
And so my mother, malnourished and traumatized at the tender age of 9
years old, started her life over in the United States in a community
that did everything in their power to lavish food and love on those
who made it out of the horrors of World War II into the open arms of
the promised land of mid-twentieth century America.
She spent her teenage years watching Hollywood musicals and longing
for life in the Big Apple where anything seemed possible.
And so, after she fell head over heels in love with my father at the tender
age of 19 years old, they married and took the paltry amount of money
they had and moved to New York City without looking back.
We would visit my uncle Dan in Brooklyn Heights when I was little. He
was an eccentric, larger-than-life figure who painted
impressionist-style paintings of the Brooklyn and Manhattan waterfront
since he had a near perfect view of the Brooklyn Bridge.
And I would run to the window in his office when we visited, careful
to not knock over his easel, and stare at the Brooklyn Bridge with
My mother would come over and hold my hand. Her eyes would well-up
with tears and we would stand there silently.
I knew that this view meant the world to her.
And it meant the world to me because I knew that just to be in front
of the amalgam of her teenage desires after everything she went
through during the war, anything was possible for me,
in this city of dreams.
Taken yesterday from the 72nd floor of 4 World Trade Center with the
A7. It's a view of the Brooklyn Bridge, Manhattan Bridge, Manhattan,
and Brooklyn from above.
*It's my mother I have to thank for my steady diet of musicals growing up. In fact, my first passive NYC geography lesson was gleaned from the musical On the Town when Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly and Jules Munshin sing: " New York, New York, it's a wonderful town. The Bronx is up but the Battery's down", part of a fabulously absurd yet fantastic musical sequence accompanied by great views of 1940s New York City.
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