In the end, my uncle arrived, and the Batory and I parted ways. My life in the United States—which was to last two decades—had finally begun.

Long afterward, I was told that the crew, driven mad by worry, unable to persuade the company to let them go home, had resolved to mutiny, but since the penalty for mutiny when even one passenger is onboard is (or was then) substantially harsher than mutiny on a passenger-free vessel, there was no choice other than to wait till I left.

Everything that followed is another story. What belongs to this one is that, as I sat there in the lounge, miserably aware of the collective desire to be rid of me, yearning for my parents, wondering what I would do if no one came to fetch me, I had no notion that everyone else on the ship was doing their best to turn it around and go back to Poland—or that Poland was to become the cemetery of the Jews—or that I might have had to go back with them.

But now I know it, and in some way that knowledge changed the rest of my life, and me. In Cherbourg that day—though I would come to understand the full measure of its dangers and deliverances only long afterward—I learned that just beyond the horizon, the random, the inexplicable, even the miraculous might be waiting: a lesson that, in my neighborhood, has proved quite useful.


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