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Monthly Memoirs Thursday, 06/01/2023

Immigrating to the United States

June 2023 Monthly Memoir

In 1951, I immigrated to the United States from Israel at the age of 6.  My granduncle, Max Bornstein, who owned a textile mill in Paterson, sponsored my parents and me to come to Paterson, giving us three months free rent for an apartment at 450 Market Street.
Coming in June, as my parents immediately had to go to work, I was left alone, so I spent each day in a barber shop below our apartment watching Hopalong Cassidy and Roy Rogers on a black-white TV.  
My name on my birth certificate and what they had to use in my school was Viktor Bornsztajn. No American could pronounce it.  It was changed to Victor Borden when I was 11 and I became a U.S citizen. 

In September, my first day of school at School 15 on top of Sandy Hill Park, because I spoke no English, I was placed in first grade, a class I had already completed in Israel.  The school's principal asked Mrs. Atkins, an 8th grade teacher, who was the only Jewish teacher in the entire school to come to speak to me.  As she was talking to me, it was as though someone from Mars was asking me questions.  I had no understanding of what she was saying. Finally, she turned to the principal and told him I wasn't Jewish.  The reason why is that she spoke to me in Yiddish, a language I did not understand.  I spoke Hebrew and Polish. Years later, Mrs. Atkins came to my Bar Mitzvah held in Barnert Temple, then located in Paterson
I was the only Jew for many years at School 15.  I was bullied, called a kike, and Jew-boy. on occasion as I walked home from school I was beaten.  Many days, even in pure sun above, I carried an umbrella to school as a way to protect me. But I do want to say that to this day I have friends from School 15 that I am in contact with. Skipping one and a half years of elementary school, I started Eastside High School in January 1958 two months before my 13th birthday.  Eastside was a phenomenal experience.  For my first half year I still lived across the school on Market Street. Then, we moved to East 33rd Street.  My next door neighbor, Steve Haft, was my best friend.  I pledged Sigma Phi which had a great impact on my life. Finally, I felt I was a Jew.
In January 1962, I graduated and went to Temple University in Philadelphia where I met my future wife. It will be 57 years that we are married in June. We have two daughters and five grandchildren.  I went to medical school, Hahnemann Medical College, and became an Obstetrician-Gynecologist, eventually delivering over 4000 babies. After my residency in Baltimore, I served two active years in the Air Force (USAF) as a major during the Viet Nam war.

After my discharge, my wife, two children and I moved to Englewood where I set up my medical practice. A year later we moved to Norwood where we lived for 32 years.  Today we live in Old Tappan.
In the 1980's I was very much involved in two organizations, the National Council For Soviet Jewry and the Union of Councils For Soviet Jewry.  Their goals were to assist Soviet Jews, also known as Refusniks, who were being prevented by the Soviet government from being allowed to leave and emigrate to Israel. 
I made three clandestine trips to the USSR, one in 1985 with my wife, a second in 1987 with six other physicians and the last one in 1989 with another doctor to try and provide comfort and support to Refusniks.  Eventually over one million Jews left the USSR for Israel and the United States.  During those trips we posed as tourists but our goals and activities were anything but what tourists had or did.

I am a 2G, a second generation, son of two Holocaust survivors. My parents survived by escaping from the German occupied part of Poland to the Soviet occupied Polish land.  Two months after their escape, Stalin had them together with almost 200,000 other Polish Jews interned in a slave labor camp above the Arctic Circle in Siberia.  There they were enslaved as lumberjacks for close to three years before being let go. After months of travel and 9 months living in a DPW camp outside of Teheran, Persia, they ultimately made it into Palestine in 1944.  Exactly nine months later I was born.
In my retirement, I spend many days giving lectures about the Holocaust and my parents' story to multiple high schools, universities, and libraries.  That broadens my life. 
In summary, Paterson was a vital portion of my life. Thanks to my friends who supported who I am and was.  
Victor Borden, M.D.. JHSNJ Member

Victor with his parents, as a toddler and as a teenager
Victor at age 6
Victor as a cub scout
Victor 's Bar Mitzvah picture and reception
Escape From the Holocaust