As Charlotte, my mother, entered her teens, the person she most admired kept aloof of her. Eldest sister Herma, five years her senior, was consumed with her social life. Her best friend, a girl named Thea, daughter of my grandparents’ closest friends the Matzners, would arrange trysts for Herma, standing lookout when she would meet a boy. Herma’s attentions turned to her piano teacher, a Serbian painter named Borislav Bogdanovich, and it was certain her parents would disapprove, so she relied on Thea to provide cover. But Thea’s own love life intervened, forcing Herma to confide in her younger sister. There began a life-long conspiratorial relationship, a bond neither Charlotte nor Herma ever grew out of, fortified by tragedy.
Herma and Borislav were married and had a gorgeous child Anthony (Tonka), in whom the sun rose and set for both of them. Before he was two, the child died in a freak accident. In later years, whenever Herma told the story, she told it with Charlotte in the room at the time witnessing her horror; when Charlotte told it, she was nowhere near. In either case, Herma very nearly succumbed to her loss, and her marriage suffered as well. But history intervened, and there was no time for self-absorption or meandering through the stages of grief; Hitler necessitated yet another move.
Pregnant with her second child, Herma helped Borislav assist her father in making arrangements to get the family out. Thanks to a network that depended on Borislav’s Serbian ties and aided by Papa’s French connections and multiple relatives already in America, the family was able to emigrate fairly swiftly, and, in 1939 all but Papa arrived in New York; he went to Cuba, where he stayed until he had transferred his Polish citizenship and could gain entry to the U.S.