I found the book Crossing: A journal of survival and resistance in World War II among my mother's books, when I was about age seventeen. I see, now, that it is inscribed to her ("Kathy... to continue the dialogue. Affectionately - Jan Yoors, July 1971"). At the time, the book meant a great deal to me, both because of the work itself and for personal reasons.
Yoors, born in Belguim in 1922, was the son of artists. At age 12, he left home, with his parents' consent, to live and travel with a band of Romany, or gypsies. (More about this I would learn when I read Yoors' 1967 book, The Gypsies.) Crossing dealt chiefly with his and his tribe's surviving Nazi-occupied Europe; how they were hunted down by the Gestapo; how Yoors persuaded many in the tribe to join the resistance, and how -- and this I will never forget -- the Romany would sometimes sneak into concentration camps in order to sabotage from within. To say the story was gripping is very much an understatement.
There were other reasons, however, that I was so taken with Yoors and the gypsies. I had recently left one life I had been leading, and was trying to be reabsorbed into the life I had originally left. It wasn't working. I felt the perenial outsider, comfortable no place. I wanted very much no home to go to, I stayed outside all the time, walking, wandering. I wanted to be a gypsy, probably not an unusual fantasy for a teenager. I thought, however, I had some claim: I learned, from Yoors's books, that the gypsies adopted certain surnames, Cooper and Smith (which makes sense for traveling people, to work on metal pots and with horses), Evans, Luda or Louda... my great-grandmother's last name was Luda, sometimes spelled Louda. She'd come from Bohemia. There was also the root of my own last name. Let me tell you, these were enough for me.
I wanted to be brave, as brave as Yoors had described himself and his tribe being. I wanted to need nobody. I spent a few months trying to learn Romany, and have just now found tucked into the pages of Crossing notes that I wrote, translated phrases useful (Zhan le Devlasa tai sastismasa - "Go with God and in good health") and less useful (Te avel angla I Mule - "In honor of the ancestral spirit, the Mule."). I held on to the idea that I was part gypsy for the better part of a decade. If there is any truth to it, it is lost to time.
That said, the photo below is of a gypsy girl, and I must say, I think our faces near identical.