Nineteen fifty, the half-way turning point of the Twentieth
Century, was also a major turning point for me. I graduated from
college, got my first post-college job, and went to Europe to live
for the next two years. I had planned to work in agriculture,
which I had studied at Penn State, but when offered the
opportunity to work with war refugees in Germany, I accepted.

My employer was the World's YMCANWCA, based in
Geneva, Switzerland, one of several organizations that provided
services to the millions of displaced persons, mostly Jews and
people from Eastern Europe, remaining in Germany after World
War II. I was assigned to work in a refugee resettlement center
near Hamburg, Germany.

Having graduated in late January 1950, I had two months to
get myself to Hamburg to begin work on April 1. The problem
was getting there. 1950 was a Catholic Holy Year and all ships
and the few airplanes that flew the Atlantic at that time were
booked solid with people going to Rome for Easter. For weeks I
tried to book passage with every travel agency I could find, with
no success. Some of them wouldn't even put me on the waiting

Determined to get to my new job on time, I went to New
York, got a room in a YMCA, and began knocking on the doors of
shipping companies and travel agencies. Nothing promising
turned up until a certain national event, perhaps I should say an
international event, happened.

Some months earlier a member of the Soviet Union's
delegation to the United Nations was arrested for spying on the
United States. Cold war tensions were high, with Joseph Stalin
still ruling the USSR, so this arrest got wide coverage in the
news media. When Valentin Gubichev was convicted, the
judge gave him the choice of a fifteen year jail sentence in the
United States or returning to the Soviet Union. Gubichev chose
the jail sentence, which people in the U.S. said showed that life
in an American jail was preferable to life in the Soviet Union.
The next day the convicted spy was visited in his jail cell by
Soviet Embassy officials, after which he changed his mind and
said he wanted to return to Russia. When the announcement
was made that Gubichev would be traveling on the Polish ship
Batory, many people who had booked passage on it cancelled
their reservations.

When I learned that people were opting out of sailing on
the Batory, I rushed to the nearest travel agency and bought a
ticket from New York to Southampton, England. I phoned my
parents to tell them I would be sailing in a couple of days, which
gave them little time to get from Pittsburgh to New York to see
me off.

The sailing date was March 21,1950, the first day of Spring.
Dad and Mother drove me to Pier 88 early in the morning only to
find that the entire dock area was crowded with spectators and
newspaper reporters wanting to see Valantin Gubichev being
deported. In those days, friends of passengers were allowed to
go aboard ship until shortly before sailing time, but on this
occasion only passengers with tickets and passports were
permitted on board. Fortunately, mother and dad got a good
place to stand on the pier where I could wave goodbye to them.
After all passengers were on board and the regular
gangplanks removed, we saw the handcuffed spy being led
across a special gangplank by men in black overcoats,
undoubtedly FBI agents. That was the last we ever saw of
Valantin Gubichev.

I had not fully realized what a big deal it was to be sailing
on this particular voyage of the Batory until I saw Pier 88 lined
with New York police from end to end. Even more, as the tugs
pulled us away from the pier three police boats drew nearby, to
escort us down the Hudson river When we readhed the harbor, a
police airplane (no helicopters in those days) began circling us.
Then as we left the harbor two Coast Guard cutters appeared and
followed us out into the Atlantic Ocean. The next day we were
"accompanied" by a U.S. Navy destroyer.

If all this saber rattling raised any doubts in my mind about
the trip I was embarking on, or about the Batory, they were
quickly put to rest. The entire five day voyage across the
Atlantic was as close to ideal as one could imagine. In fact, in
some ways it was too good because with so many people having
jumped ship, the galley was overstocked with food. This
resulted in the dining room waiters urging us to eat more than
we wanted and the crew bringing food to our staterooms
between meals.

Accommodations aboard the Batory were also, to say the
least, exceptional. When I bought my ticket, I was so happy to
get passage to Europe that any thought about cabin size or
location never entered my mind. It turned out that I was
assigned to a cabin for six that was occupied by only one Polish
man and myself.

Although the Batory was far from being a modern vessel, it
made the voyage across the north Atlantic without a hitch,
arriving in Southampton right on schedule. I went to London on
the so- called boat-train, spent a few days being shown that
wonderful city by good friends of the man who was responsible
for my getting the job in Germany, then sailed across the English
Channel to Holland, arriving in Hamburg on April 2,1950, only

one day late, to begin my new job.


A footnote: In London, I stayed at a bed-and-breakfast place
near the city center. One morning as I walked to the
Underground station I noticed people lined up along the street.
Wondering what was happening, I approached a "Bobby" (British
policeman) and asked him why so many people were lined up
along the street. He said that the queen was expected. I found
a place along the curb, and waited.

In only a few minutes three black Bentleys appeared. As they
passed by, I saw not only the queen, at that time Queen Mary,
but the future queen, who died recently at the age of 101, and
the two princesses, Margaret and Elizabeth, the present queen.
Not a bad hand - three queens.

When the Queen's entourage had passed, I boarded "the tube",
as the British call their subway, and got off at Hyde Park Station.
I walked up to the street level, proceeded to the curb, and,
while waiting for the traffic light to change, and saw another
black Bentley driving by. I looked in, and there was the Prime
Minister, Winston Churchill. Yes, he was smoking a cigar. Not
quite three queens and a king, but the next best thing.

Ren Renshaw. December 2006