Carol Jean Delmar has written the recently published Serenade, a moving memoir of her parents’ love story and their journey from Vienna and Prague to Cuba and the United States as they fled the Nazis.Her father was an opera singer and his musical talent kept him and the author’s mother one step ahead of the restrictions and violence against European Jews. Ms. Delmar relied on her father’s taped account as well as diligent research and travel to relate her parents’ struggles and triumphs as refugees. The book contains detailed documentation of passports and letters, photos, and extensive musical references, but reads more like a novel than a typical work of non-fiction.
Ms. Delmar’s book contains several mentions of JDC and HIAS. To learn more about Triscornia, the camp that detained her parents when they arrived in Havana in February, 1939, the author traveled to Cuba. She met Maritza Corrales, a Cuban historian and writer who had secured a document about Triscornia from JDC. After visiting the former site and using details from the JDC document, Ms. Delmar described the camp’s deplorable conditions: “Many people had amoebic dysentery and what was described as ‘seasonal grippe.’ There were cases of whooping cough, jaundice, and incidences of heart problems. There were bedbugs and lice. The Joint Relief Committee was sending one thousand oranges and one thousand bananas or pineapples to Triscornia each day, and eggs, sardines, milk, and butter. The organization was also providing valuable medication to the sick.”
While they were at Triscornia, Ms. Delmar’s parents met with a representative from HIAS. He explained what it would take to get them out of the camp. They had to leave a thousand-dollar security deposit with the Cuban government, which would be returned to them when they left Cuba. According to Ms. Delmar, this was the way the Cubans ensured that the refugees would not remain in Cuba. Cuba soon established strict new immigration laws and there was a massive demonstration of 40,000 Cubans against Jewish immigration. The protesters feared that immigrants would take the limited jobs that were available in Cuba.
On May 27, 1939, while the author’s parents were still in Cuba, a ship called the Saint Louis arrived in Havana’s port and was turned away. It contained 900 European refugees who had boarded in Hamburg. The ship’s captain and representatives from the JDC and the Joint Relief Committee in Havana held negotiations with Cuba’s President Bru, but he refused to let the passengers disembark. The ship returned to Europe.
After their release from Triscornia, Ms. Delmar’s parents lived for several months in Havana in a rented apartment until they received American visas. When the visas came through, the couple travelled to New York and stayed there for about a year. HIAS helped them to relocate to Knoxville, Tennessee in February, 1941. The organization paid for moving expenses “and then some” to help the couple resettle. Ms. Delmar’s father planned to teach singing there because he lost his voice in Havana due to the trauma of being forced to leave his homeland, climate changes, and allergies. When they arrived in Knoxville, HIAS had a Jewish couple meet them at the train. The couple found them an apartment and loaned them furniture.
In her chapter notes, Ms. Delmar explains her references to HIAS: “That is the organization that was so invaluable to my parents. It is the organization they always felt indebted to. However, I have read articles and documents that show the incredible efforts made by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and the Jewish Relief Committee. So I must mention them all here with my gratitude.”
Ms. Delmar’s father went on to become an award-winning costumer, designer and studio executive in Hollywood on such films and television series as Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments and The Untouchables starring Robert Stack. Her parents rose above their Holocaust losses to live the American dream.
Ms. Delmar’s book is available for purchase at http://www.serenadethememoir.com/.