In first person… Search for freedom ends in U.S.

When Fiorello La Guardia, the flamboyant mayor of New York, was asked why he was so reticent about being part Jewish, he replied, "Being half Jewish ain't enough to brag about."

As a former displaced person, I grew up in my native Austria in the '20s and '30s, always painfully aware of my Jewishness, even before the Nazis overran the country. In school there was constant abuse, and Jews were barred from employment in national institutions, such as the railway and postal service. Universities had the rule of numerus clausus — only 2 percent of students could be Jewish.

In 1939 my parents, sister and I fled to Shanghai, the only place on earth that would let us — and approximately 20,000 other escapees — enter without a visa. Even though we endured eight difficult years, we were finally among our own and could openly enjoy full expression of our rich Jewish heritage. Although Honkew, the suburb where most of us settled, had been destroyed in the Sino-Japanese hostilities starting in 1937, the refugees had soon rebuilt it, starting up restaurants, coffeehouses and stores.

I married in Shanghai and, after another five years in Bolivia, we settled in the United States. Here, our three sons operate a sporting goods store, from which I am semi-retired.

Just as the state of Israel has become a fully recognized nation among nations, I, at age 76, have been able to enjoy being a full member of society, with complete dignity.