The New Captain
The Best Laid Plans ...
The Plastic Fantastic
Ode to a Bush Stone Curlew
The Garden of Serenity
Cut and Thrust
Ode to Mount Wellington
Dreams go by Contraries
List of 2002 stories
In 1956, I and my friend went on a tour of Australia and New Zealand from the U.K. We travelled through the Panama, stopping at different places along the way. We had visited Bilboa, Acapalco with a side trip to Mexico and other places.
Life on board had been entertaining and all that one could wish for. We elected to go to the second sitting for lunch and dinner because this gave us time to enjoy all the activities that were provided on board. We joined in most activities, cricket, quoits and the mile walk around the ship. Of an evening we would dress for dinner and would go dancing if there was any or else go into the taverns where live music could be heard. We would sit talking to other young people who gathered there every night expounding the rights and wrongs of the world. It was a trip of a life-time with many exciting things to do.
Our table companions disembarked at Melbourne, Australia and Wellington, New Zealand. On the return journey to the U.K. we again elected to go to the second sitting for our meals, We were placed at the Ship-Surgeon's table. There were eight of us at the table, the surgeon, a middle-aged couple and their two sons, my friend and I and a Mrs Zonaben. As I am not a good sailor I spent most of the first week on deck. It's a good way to lose weight without trying. So I never met my table companions until the second week out, although my friend had kept me informed about what was going on.
When finally showing my face in the dining room for meals, it took no time at all to become acquainted with everyone. I couldn't make out why everyone was watching me so closely when our dinner arrived. Initially I thought they were worried I would be sea sick, but it wasn't that at all. They were waiting for my reaction to the antics of Mrs Zonaben. Once our meal arrived and the bread rolls were placed on the table Mrs Zonaben's arm shot out in front of me. I obviously reacted as the rest of the table had when they had experienced the same thing for the first time. Looking at the rest of the table without saying anything, I could see they were all trying not to laugh. Once Mrs Zonaben had left the table everyone started to talk at once. Mrs Zonaben, in some respects, was isolated at the table.
Mrs Zonaben never looked a happy person and we named her Mrs Sunshine. Not even rude comments, one or other of us made, would deter Mrs Zonaben from taking the bread rolls first. She was able to take all the barbs that were directed at her without a flicker of distress. It was only later, that by chance, I was walking by Mrs Zonaben's cabin and saw her sitting there. I asked her if she was going ashore when we reached port. She replied that she wasn't getting off the ship until she reached England. I asked why not and she responded that she didn't feel safe.
Looking at her I said, "But you have travelled half way around the world."
"Yes," she said. "But have not been on any of the tours."
It was then that she began to explain her reasons for not getting off the ship. She had been in Buchenwald concentration camp and had seen her parents and sister shot before her eyes. At the end the war, had seen all the empty suitcases stacked in sheds. At that stage, Mrs Zonaben rolled up her sleeve to show me the stamp which she was given as she arrived at the camp. Mrs Zonaben went on to say that she was aware of everyone making comments about her wanting the bread rolls as soon as they arrived at the table. She said it was something she couldn't stop herself doing.
I commented, "Is that why you break your cigarettes in half and place them in the tin you aways carry?
"Yes," she said. "The tin is the only thing I have left of my father. It was his tobacco tin."
Mrs Zonaben and I finished up talking for several hours. Then my friend came looking for me and joined in the conversation. When we finally left Mrs Zonaben we both apologised for not understanding her situation. We met up with the others at our table and told them where we had been. We also told them about Mrs Zonaben's circumstances which made us all feel ashamed and embarrassed. From that day on, one or other of us would gladly hand the bread rolls to Mrs Zonaben. There were plenty of them, and if we had gone short we could have asked for more.
I often wondered whether Mrs Zonaben returned to Australia or finally went to live in Israel where she had a cousin, whom she use to live close by in Germany prior to World War Two. Her cousin was the only living relative she had and whom she was meeting in England.
Whilst I have forgotten the name of the ship I have never ever forgotten Mrs Zonaben or the stamp that was imprinted on her left arm with her number on it; or the way she used to break her cigarettes in half, and grab the rolls out of the bread-basket. Perhaps, had I been in Buchenwald and had been deprived of the basic human rights and the necessities of life and virtually starved out of existence, then I may have reacted in a like manner and grabbed the food. For they say it is the survival of the fittest.