An Australian pianist and a New York taxi driver

October 23, 2016 by  
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In 1983 Sydney pianist Sarah Grunstein, who had moved to NY to study at Juilliard, stepped onto the curb on West 57th St. There were 7 empty taxis coming along. She got into the first, an old yellow checker cab…

Sarag Grundstein

Sarah Grunstein

New York at the time was dangerous and racist, filled with street crime. Sarah asked the driver to please take her to East 78th. The driver, about 60 years old, began to drive, all the while staring at her in his rear view mirror. At every traffic light he turned around and stared at her more, entirely fixated. She was so uncomfortable she wanted to exit the cab and get into another. No time for that, she thought.

He asked her if she was from England. “No, Australia”, she replied. She realised that as he spoke he stared at her less, so she preferred to engage in conversation, feeling more comfortable with dialogue than this man’s prolonged stare.

The driver said, “I know people in Australia.” Sarah wondered, out of some 14 million, I wonder whom he knows. He mentioned five names. “Sorry sir,” she replied, “I don’t know any of those.”

Taxi-driver: Are you from Sydney or Melbourne?

Sarah: Sydney.

Taxi-driver: No wonder you don’t know those people, they are all from Melbourne.

I know two people in Sydney but I can’t remember their last names.

Sarah: That will make it a bit difficult. Who are they?

T-D: Rapping hands on steering wheel: … Last name, last name, what was their last name …. First names Hania and Bolek, I can’t remember their last name …

Sarah: Who are they?

T-D: Last name, last name, I don’t remember their last name. During the war I was in concentration camps with Bolek in Poland and Germany. Dachau, Bergen-Belsen, we were in several concentration camps together. He mentioned 5 concentration camps. Bolek came from Warsaw. We escaped, got captured again. After the war we were all together in a Red Cross Displaced Persons’ Camp in Eggenfelden, Germany. Hania and Bolek, they were at my engagement of my wife and myself in Eggenfelden. Then Hania went to Sweden. I don’t remember why she went to Sweden. Bolek tried to follow Hania to Sweden but  for some reason he couldn’t get there. Then Bolek got papers to Australia. So he sailed to Australia in 1949, and she followed him in 1950. Then they got married the next year. They had a dress factory. Bolek and Hania … I am trying to remember their last names … their last names …

[Sarah was shaking so much she thought the taxi should be swinging from side to side.]

Sarah (through the glass divider of the checker cab): Was their last name Grunstein?

T-D: What?

Sarah: Grunstein, was their last name Grunstein?

T-D: Grunstein! You know them!

Sarah: Excuse me sir, do you know those two people are my mother and father?

The driver slammed his foot on the brakes. He had just told Sarah her parents’ entire, detailed history from 1943-1951. She was still shaking.

Before she left the taxi, he said to her, “I didn’t know if you were in the entertainment business, but you look exactly like your mother.”

On the following Shabbat, at the taxi-driver’s home in Queens NY, he gave her photos of her mother and Uncle Jozef, taken at the taxi-drivers’ engagement, dating from Eggenfelden, 1946.

The story told in her words by Sarah Grunstein


On TUESDAY OCTOBER 25, 7.30pm, Sarah Grunstein performs Bach’s Goldberg Variations at the Sydney Opera House, Utzon Room.

© Sarah Grunstein 2016


3 Responses to “An Australian pianist and a New York taxi driver”
  1. Michael Barnett says:

    What a wonderful story. It brought a tear to my eye.

  2. Otto Waldmann says:

    If Bashevis Singer would have written the story ………………
    Most moving.

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