Eva Yachnes’ adventures began at the age of six. Born in Vienna, Austria, in 1932, Jewish by birth, she was placed on a Kindertransport in 1938 by her grandmother to escape the growing threat of the Nazis. The Brits had begun, 80 years ago this month, transporting Jewish children from German-occupied countries to safety in England. Eva’s mother and father had already escaped. Her father had slipped across the Swiss border and on to France. Her mother had gotten a visa to be a cook in England and met Eva there, finding her because she had sewn her own name and address inside Eva’s coat!
Eva is one of only about 500 Kindertransport survivors left in the United States, according to NPR.
At 86, Eva is an adventurer still. She lives, for now, in The Williams Senior Residence, on West End Avenue and 95th Street. The building was sold by the Salvation Army to a luxury developer, with the provision that it be delivered empty. Eva must move. She has chosen to go to the new senior facility that the Salvation Army is building on 125th Street and Third Avenue, as soon as it is ready, which was supposed to be in December 2017; then, Spring, 2019; now, August or September. In its waning days, with the population down from about 300 in its heyday to about 80 today, Eva says The Williams is “like a ghost town.”
Living in limbo, pondering her future — with a different eye since falling in her apartment this year and breaking her right arm — Eva wrote the following essay, expressing her mixed feelings about leaving The Williams and the Upper West Side.
By Eva Yachnes
It happens every time I take a shower. As I climb over the bathtub rim, holding on to the grab bar on the back wall of the tub, I find myself wishing that I were already in the new Williams Residence for Seniors going up on East 125th Street. That building was designed with older people in mind. The apartments will have walk-in showers; the showers will have grab bars and fold-down benches so that we can sit down to wash our feet. I feel it even more when I get out of the shower because there is nothing in front of me stronger than a towel bar to hold on to.
But when I leave the building and walk up to Broadway, I wish that I would never have to leave this neighborhood. There’s Symphony Space with all its many attractions which range from the bar that has live entertainment some evenings, to the small theater that shows movies, to the larger theater that shows both live performances and films.
There are so many stores of every kind within a short walk on Broadway, Amsterdam Avenue, and Columbus Avenue. Every kind of food, in every price range from Whole Foods to Trader Joe’s is within a short distance from us, which is handy because we get only two meals a day unless we pay extra for the third meal. We have all the chain drugstores as well as some independent drug stores in the area.
There’s a Barnes and Noble bookstore as well as several independent book shops. Everything you might need from a clothing or hardware store can be had in the neighborhood. The new location offers far less availability and choice.
All we can see out of the ground-floor dining room windows here are the heads and torsos of passers-by, who occasionally stare in at us. In the new building, the dining room will be at the top of the building, so that there will be a view of rooftops and sky. It may not be the most exalted panorama, but it will beat our present outlook.
Here in the old building the apartments vary greatly in size. There are walk-in closets in luxury buildings that seem to be about the same size as our smallest studio apartments. In the new Williams there will be just three sizes of apartments: studio, large studio, and one bedroom. In this building not every apartment has any kind of cooking facility, but in the new one they all will.
Here we have a solarium full of plants, but that won’t be part of the new place. Here we have Riverside Park, which is a wonderful place for a leisurely stroll in the warm weather, but there are no parks near 125th Street; the closest one is Central Park at 110th Street.
This building is old and solidly built. Even when all the apartments were occupied I rarely heard any sounds from the other apartments. I’m sure that the Salvation Army won’t build as well as the older builders did—nobody does now.
However, in the new Williams we will have individual temperature controls in each apartment. If you’ve stayed in a hotel in the last few years you will know how that works. I look forward to not having an air-conditioning unit in my window blocking my view. Hopefully, with central air-conditioning, there won’t be a surcharge in the summer months for each AC unit as there is now.
On balance, I don’t know whether I want the new building to be ready quickly or not. I love the Upper West Side, but it will be fun to explore a new area. There may be delights in East Harlem that I now know nothing about. For me, the ideal situation would have been to have the new building in the old neighborhood. That isn’t what’s happening, so the only thing I can do is to go with reality and hope for the best.