Eva J. Paddock

 

Labels past and present

My number, a label ‘round my neck in kindertransport days,
when numbered children alone
were transported to foreign lands
to save their numbered lives,
my number, six   three   nine, 
has become a symbol, in my aging years, of vast significance.

The label, tattered, torn, misspelled,
yellowed from years passed,  from drawer dwelling and neglect,
lost sometime, and oft mislaid,
shared with interest , on occasion, but returned to oblivion always,
my label sits now, in shelf community,  framed,  affirmed, and absolute
in its blue and gold and flowers, touching the other pictures of my life.

A suitcase doesn’t mind the affixation of its numbers
on its way to somewhere known,
expecting, always, eager greeting at  the carousel,
and luggage labels still exist, leather
acrylic, in bright colors, special stripes,
codes  and places of destination.

But I, a former child, do mind the numbers on my  label,
traveling its way to place unknown the string still rubs my soul.
But now, in different light, the label boldly lives
declaring life’s truths on my  6 3  9 .
On that brown, tattered label
good lives with evil, past is in present,
a life was saved
declares my battered honorable label.

 

 

 

 

Liverpool Street Station
July 29, 1939.

The train stops.
Two hundred ‘Britisch Refugee Committee’
Labeled children
gather up
Aisles fill wth knotted, pushing travelers
Eager to get off their twenty-four hour caged hotel
Prague to London via ferry and Southampton.
The children get off the train fast

I sit and wait for spaces in the mob
For room through which to pass
For quiet before the unknown

Knapsack as ballast I reach the door and
See far below two metal grilled steps.
The hand-rail is high and slippery 
I lower myself to step two
But the platform stares.
It demands a jump
Too far for me.

Sixty years later I stare back
Resolved with deep breath, tightly held,
Minding the gap
I leap and
Alight the train

 

 

 

 

Number 639: The Britisch Refugee Committee.

639  A label hangs around my neck.
Fleischmann.  The Britisch Refugee Committee
Destination Liverpool Street Station.
A brown broken label, with a missing piece
and a misspelled word 
hangs on my neck.

639: this brown broken label with a missing piece
and its misspelled word,
in its imperfect whole, identifies me.

It hangs around my  neck.
and holds me  in its thrall:
Such  evidence of conflict  in reason,
such pure dichotomy, 
such unbelievable oppositions,
such diversities of meaning.
So much illogical logic.
Pure evil and so much good.

How can all rest so in one?
But on my label, they do.
639 is my number, my  label.

My brown, wrinkled label with a missing piece
and a misspelled word,
In its imperfect whole,  bears witness
It hangs still on my soul,
But I am here to honor and celebrate us all.

 

On March 15, 1939 Czechoslovakia was occupied by the Nazis. 
Through the interventions of dedicated individuals, politicians and private philanthropists, five trains carrying  six hundred Jewish children were allowed to leave for Britain. Some children  were taken into British foster homes, others lived in hostels, and boarding schools. In transit on the trains each child wore an identification label stating their number, name and  sponsoring organization.  On the British Refugee Committee labels, the word British was spelled Britisch.

 

 

 

 

Eva Paddock was born in Czechoslovakia in 1935.  Her mother was a physician and her father worked as a newspaper editor and political activist.  In July 1939 Eva and her sister Milena were sent to safety in England on the last Kindertransport train to leave Prague. The Czech kindertransports were masterminded and organized by Nicholas Winton, a young British banker.