It was still dark that morning, but my father was first in a growing line outside a government office in a small Lithuanian town. It was September 2nd, 1939 and Hitler had invaded Poland the previous morning. Possessing a neutral South African passport, my father hoped to cross Poland and Germany and reach sanctuary in Switzerland. While nobody knew when South Africa would join the Allies, my father knew it was a matter of days or perhaps hours, at which point escape from Lithuania would be impossible. As it turned out, South Africa declared war against Germany on September 4th.
When the office opened, my father anxiously placed his passport, literally a magic carpet to safety, on to the counter and took a seat to wait. Every subsequent Jewish person, equally desperate to escape Lithuania, placed his passport upon my father’s and sat down in the waiting room. When the official finally arrived to grant exit visas, he started with the top passport and called out the name of the applicant. With a sinking heart, my father realized that the official would never reach his passport way down at the bottom.
Suddenly the official stood up. Placing one of his hands beneath the tall pile and the other at the top, he crossed his arms and inverted the pile. Reaching for what was now the top document, he called my father’s name.