“There was quite a traffic in bread,” Steinberg remembered, “fresh bread, dry bread, all kinds of bread. Grass and herbs, a bit of onion,” all were scrounged to make “bread soup, bread pies.” He thought himself lucky to be sent there in May, when it was warm and easy to forage.
The main problem for the detainees was how to pass the time. There was a large garden in front of the house, and prisoners were permitted to walk in it. They could see the townspeople through the fence, particularly the women, “virgins full of passion … all those bulging THE PLACE TO GO 4 страница curves ready to explode: bosoms, backsides, and so forth.” Apparently some of the girls looked back at the prisoners. Many years later, one who lived next door to the Villa Tonelli remembered the “romantic young man who fascinated all the girls on account of his good looks.” They flirted through the fence, calling for Paulo, the Italianization of Saulo, the nickname Steinberg was given by his friends in Milan, or Saulino, as Ada had called him before she coined the lover’s nickname Olino, or “mi Olino caro.” The “enforced abstinence” within the camp made Saul pine for Ada: “Adina, always thinking THE PLACE TO GO 4 страница of her. At nights I put my head under the covers and start to think. I greet her, Hi Adina … poor dear Adina, I love her very much.”
There was an interesting collection of fellow prisoners, and intellectual and cultural life flourished as well as it could under such circumstances. Steinberg befriended two of the prisoners who were Austrian Jews: the violinist Alois Gogg, who became a professor of music and director of a symphony orchestra in Wisconsin under the name of Milton Weber, and Walter Frankl, the architect and elder brother of the famed neurologist/psychiatrist Dr. Victor THE PLACE TO GO 4 страница Frankl. When the inmates came up with the idea to send something sarcastic to Mussolini to “thank” him for the minuscule daily food allowance, Frankl made a tongue-in-cheek drawing that showed the Villa Tonelli surrounded by small blocked-in spaces where each prisoner could write his name. They intended sarcasm with a proclamation of the word Duce! at the top of the page in large block capitals, followed by a statement that the detainees were profoundly grateful for the stipend and wished to offer their stupendous thanks for such a magnanimous gesture of “human treatment.” Their sarcasm THE PLACE TO GO 4 страница continued as they saluted Mussolini again at the end with another large block of capitals: “Viva l’Italia!”
Steinberg spent his first few days reading books that others had brought with them, especially those he found in the English language. He liked Huckleberry Finn, particularly the part where “Tom Sawyer takes off his hat as if taking the lid off a box of sleepy butterflies.” It may have been one of the earliest images that sparked his imagination for so many of the drawings that showed startling objects erupting from inside a person’s head. But THE PLACE TO GO 4 страница he soon tired of reading, and when he became acquainted with a number of prisoners who had worked in journalism or the arts and who were still trying to practice their professions from prison, he knew he needed to follow their lead and get to work. He was beginning to settle into the place, even getting used to smoking Popolari, a coarse brand of Italian cigarettes. He bought a brush and some paints and within ten days had finished a “still life on a table in the foreground, in the background, rooms, families, the usual things. The self-portrait THE PLACE TO GO 4 страница on the table, not bad, all a little messy and confusing in color.”
He had begun to draw dal vero whatever he saw in San Vittore, and he continued with passionate intensity in Tortoreto. At San Vittore, to conserve paper, he had put three drawings on one page. On the left was his cell, number 111 on the second floor of San Vittore, with everything in the room carefully labeled and explained. He wrote the names of his cellmates on the mattresses on the floor, noting that two were made of straw but his was not. In the center on the THE PLACE TO GO 4 страница cell floor was the carefully labeled water jug, washbowl, soup dish, and wine carafe. In the middle drawing, a shadowy outline of a man stares wistfully up at a large barred window, and in the right-hand drawing Steinberg surrounded a barred cell seen from the exterior with writing that depicts the hours when everything happens in the prison: milk at eight, soup at eleven, and three bed checks at night. At Tortoreto he was in Room No. 2, a large dormitory with ten other prisoners. He drew it in stark black outline, depicting dejected male figures sitting on beds THE PLACE TO GO 4 страница with their few belongings hanging limply on the walls behind them. Here and there, several desk tables and chairs are scattered. The aura is one of nothing to do but kill time, and there is an intense impression of tired, bored men, waiting for something to happen. By May 28, Saul noted in his diary that he had sent two tempera drawings to Aldo and if he did not soon leave, he would “die of heartbreak.”
Actually, heartbreak or toothache—he was not sure which would get him first. He had suffered, and would continue to suffer throughout his life THE PLACE TO GO 4 страница, from every sort of problem with his teeth. When the pain was too severe to endure, prisoners were allowed to go to the dentist in Tortoreto Alto. Steinberg had had several cavities filled by this dentist, but the pain persisted, and a week later he was convinced it might kill him. Naturally, this was the exact moment when his travel dominos all lined up perfectly and were ready to fall.
HIS AMERICAN RELATIVES HAD PREVIOUSLY MADE contact with an Italian group known by the acronym DELASEM (Delegazione per l’Assistenza degli Emigranti Ebrei, the Delegation for the Assistance of Jewish THE PLACE TO GO 4 страница Emigrants) and were hopeful that an on-site Italian organization could assist them. DELASEM, created by the Union of Italian Jewish Communities in 1939, carried official government authorization for the purpose of assisting Jews in Italy (whether Italian or foreign) to leave the country. Neither Steinberg nor his relatives ever mentioned that he received financial help from DELASEM, but he did receive the group’s advice and assistance throughout the time he tried to leave. Nothing much came of it before he went to Tortoreto, and he had all but given up on it.
Suddenly, on May 30—and THE PLACE TO GO 4 страница on his unlucky day, a Friday—he received a telegram from DELASEM telling him that his Portuguese visa had arrived. There was no mention of a transit visa for Spain (although it came a few days later), and he had just twenty days to get himself to Lisbon before everything expired. It meant that he had to fly, and a week of confusion followed until another Friday, June 6, when a letter from DELASEM in Rome led him to believe there was some question about his plane ticket. Steinberg was sure that, as it was Friday, there was still time for something bad THE PLACE TO GO 4 страница to happen.
He was calmer the next morning when he heard someone shouting his name from the street. It was his fellow prisoner Alois Gogg, joyous because they would both be allowed to leave for Rome the next day. That night their fellow prisoners gave them a royal send-off. First there was dinner, for which they pooled all their resources. Then they presented Steinberg with another of Walter Frankl’s drawings of the Villa Tonelli, signed by all his fellow internees. After that, Gogg gave them a muted violin concert—in the dark, as lights were THE PLACE TO GO 4 страница turned off at nine o’clock, after which prisoners were supposed to be quiet.
In his little book of reminiscences, Reflections and Shadows, Steinberg wrote that everyone walked with him and Gogg and their police guard as far as they were allowed, to the edge of the station, where the two were escorted onto a train bound for Rome. As it passed by the villa, all those left behind were up on the roof or at the windows, waving everything white they could find, including sheets and towels. In the wartime “Journal, 1940–42,” however, he tells a different story.
Instead of going THE PLACE TO GO 4 страница directly to Rome with Gogg, Steinberg got off at the next station and boarded the night train coming from Rome and went to Milan to spend a day with Ada. He made the trip “seated with all the perils, police, documents,” but arrived without incident and went directly to the Grillo. While he was in bed with Ada, Natalina Cavazza did his laundry, scolding him for taking such shabby clothes and worn-out socks to America in his one small suitcase. The next night he got back on the train, and this time he did go THE PLACE TO GO 4 страница to Rome, to “a crowded train, a nameless hotel … saved from minute to minute by a miracle.” He stayed at the Hotel Pomezia on the Via dei Chiavari near the gate to the old Jewish Ghetto, in a room he shared with Gogg, where he drew another of his stark pencil drawings, as if he needed to fix every feature of it firmly in his mind so it would stay there forever.
In later years Steinberg liked to tell a more dramatic story about how he fled—that he had no exit visas and “slightly falsified” them with a THE PLACE TO GO 4 страница rubber stamp of his own making. In truth he had all the proper travel documents, affidavits, and visas that were required, and thanks to his Italian friends, he was flush with money. On June 16 he and Gogg were allowed to board the Ala Littoria flight that took them to Lisbon via Barcelona and Madrid. They stayed in Lisbon until June 20, at the Hotel Tivoli on the appropriately named Avenida Liberdade. Gogg, who was sailing on a later ship, came to the pier with another released internee named Isler, and they waved goodbye to Steinberg as he boarded the Excalibur, a THE PLACE TO GO 4 страница ship of the American Export Line, with his small suitcase and two dollars in American money.
On June 21, Hitler declared war on Russia; on June 22, the ship picked up fourteen Dutch sailors who had been in a lifeboat for fifteen days after their ship had been torpedoed; on June 23, they stopped in the Azores to allow “eight clandestine passengers” to disembark. After that it was a straight shot to New York on rough seas, and on July 1 the Excalibur sailed into New York Harbor. Cesar Civita was there with the New York Steinberg family, but they were not able to THE PLACE TO GO 4 страница do more than greet Saul briefly. Henrietta Danson noticed sadly that his little valise contained only an extra shirt, a pair of socks, and an apple he had taken from the ship’s dining room.
Despite Harry Steinberg’s plea to Mrs. Reyher of the Dominican Settlement Association that Saul be allowed to stay with his relatives until his departure, they were not even allowed to take him into Manhattan for an afternoon of sightseeing. He could only greet them before customs guards hustled him off to the barracks on Ellis Island, where he was interned until the ship THE PLACE TO GO 4 страница for the Dominican Republic was ready to sail. He spent his first American Fourth of July there, so close to the New York he had dreamed of but still so far away that he could not even see the famed Manhattan skyline. By the time he sailed, Civita had joined the Dansons and Steinbergs to outfit him with everything he might need, including lightweight clothing and leather oxfords, the first he had ever worn. They also supplied him with an English dictionary, writing and drawing supplies, and, most important of all, various unguents and insect repellents to ward off tropical THE PLACE TO GO 4 страница diseases.
“They’ve brought me everything,” he wrote to his parents. “They are all very nice and polite and very attentive.” He told Rosa and Moritz that he wanted to start working as soon as he landed, as he believed he had the “hope and potential to succeed.” It was a brave boast made just before he boarded a ship on July 5, to sail off to a life he could not even begin to fathom.