||The Road Home begins in a Polish
town where Rachel and Monika play games and share dreams and the world seems to
be a lovely and secure place for two fourteen-year-old friends...
The Road turns into a world of
dread and darkness, as Rachel must confront those who would harm her and
learns of her own friends betrayal...
The Road takes Rachel to a strange
new world, to a religious school in the sleepy English village of Shefford, and
to a strange new life the life of an observant Jew...
The Road divides and Rachel must
choose between this new and compelling path and the
dream she'd held on to for so
The Road Home is a poignant and
beautifully written novel
of choices and challenges, of a
girl coming of age under the clouds of war and with the promise of a wonderful
new life in store for her.
The Road Home
Copyright © 2002 by Aviva Cytryn
TARGUM PRESS, INC.
Distributed by: FELDHEIM PUBLISHERS
202 Airport Executive Park Nanuet, NY 10954
For my grandparents,
Mr. and Mrs. Harry and Paula Cytryn
two of the survivors
While the characters in this novel are fictitious, the events of the
Kindertransport and the evacuation of the Jewish Secondary School to
Shefford are all based upon fact. To the best of my knowledge, all place
names are real with the exception of the Professional Arts School in
Poland and Holbourne Park. All dates mentioned
correspond to actual events in European history.
First and foremost, to my grandparents, Rabbi Dr. and Mrs. Walter and
Nellie Orenstien, for their encouragement and enthusiasm from the onset
of this project and for taking the journey with me to the finish. My
grandfather, a successful author in his own right, for offering me
invaluable advice regarding the publishing of this book, and my
grandmother, Nellie, a true master of the English language, for reading
through the entire novel and editing it, more than once and more than
twice. May you both share many more happy years together and merit much
joy from your children and grandchildren.
Thanks also to my editor, Miriam Zakon for your remarkable patience,
brilliant intuitions, and increasing ability to challenge me as a
writer. I'd also like to extend my thanks to the entire staff at Targum
for their commitment to this project.
I am especially indebted to William "Fred" Hoffman for keeping this
book honest, for taking me back to Poland 1939 and recreating it for me
historically, socially, and linguistically in this novel. Thank you for
putting so much time, effort, and spirit into this work. I couldn't have
done it without you.
To all my Polish friends Lukasz Salwinski, Katarzyna Grycza, Barbara
Luszczynska, Eve Jankowicz, and Onna for your invaluable input in
serving as my Polish-language consultants.
To Deborah Oppenheimer, Academy Award-winning producer of Into the Arms
of Strangers, a wonderful, informative documentary, and for filling me
in on whatever gaps remained.
I'd like to thank Kurt and Margarete Goldberger of the Kindertransport
Organization for their assistance.
To Willy and Berti Herzka, who went on the original transport as
children thank you for giving me of your time and providing me with a
real-life source of information.
To my friend, Tova Greene Lansky for making a wonderful "Monika."
To all my British friends Sabrina Gradoni, Piers Conner, and the rest
who insisted on remaining anonymous for your careful checking over of
the manuscript and making sure my British English was perfect, and to
Hugh M. Hamilton for all your help with the old British telephone
I'd like to thank everyone from the Royal College of Music in London
especially Pam Thompson, Peter Horton, and Peter Hewitt for educating
me on the fine points of the music world of the 1930s.
To Sheila Schwebel for taking me back to Poland and giving me the
opportunity to visit some of the places I wrote about. It was an
unforgettable experience for which I will always be grateful.
And finally, to my loving family: My parents, Mr. and Mrs. Abe and
Leslie Cytryn, for their unconditional love and support you mean the
world to me. My sister Shani, who is more than just a sister, and her
husband, Danny, for his friendship and encouragement. And Sholi, for
making me so happy.
I would like to take this opportunity to express my deep gratitude to
God for bringing me to this day and allowing me to use the gifts of
self-expression He has bestowed upon me in reaching this achievement. It
is my fervent hope that through the reading of this novel, my readers
will be infused with a renewed commitment to God and a love for His
Life passes neither in days nor hours, but in moments. Moments which,
rushing past us, take on the path of our future as surely as they slip
into our past. Yet how rarely do we pause to examine that path, to
consider whether the road we have chosen is of our own making or simply
one upon which we drift along with eyes closed?
But what if we were to stop to take stock of each precious moment
before it passes? Might we finally come to see the countless forks in
the road that shapes a life? And, seeing the choices we have made,
choose another path?
July 1950 Camelot Village The Tower of London
How ironic that when I'd finally see her again it would be at another
wall. It was she who had suggested the place over the phone. The Tower
of London, built sometime in the eleventh century, had originally served
as the royal residence of William the Conqueror and later as a jail. Now
it was a popular tourist attraction. Finding it shouldn't be a problem
for either of us, she had said.
But I hadn't been thinking about the tourist spot. My head had still
been reeling from the initial shock of hearing that voice, her voice, on
the other end of the line. The call had come out of nowhere. It had been
completely unexpected, sending me backward through the prism of the
And now I was going to see her again.
I promise you, when the war is over, we will meet again.
We will meet again.
We will meet again.
It's been almost ten years now, but I can still hear her say those
words. Nearly a decade has passed, yet I still remember exactly how her
eyes looked at our fateful last meeting all mixed up with fear and
naivetÙ and hope and promise... Now I was going to see her again.
Would she recognize me? Would she accept me now, after everything we'd
been through, after all that had changed?
Would she understand? How could she really, when I barely understood it
I recognized her right away, even after all this time. She still had the
same loose, blonde hair, that stubborn lock that always fell into her
brilliant blue eyes, the same crooked nose from that bicycle accident.
She wasn't looking at anyone, just smoothing the cracks on the wall with
I approached her tentatively.
I tried again, stepping closer. "Monika!"
She turned around and stared at me for a long time, then closed her
"It's me," I whispered.
Her eyes filled with tears. "You're here!"
I nodded, and it was an awkward few minutes while we studied each
"Did you get my letters?" "All of them."
"I had been worried that maybe you hadn't, you know, because of the war
and " A sob welled up in my throat, and I choked on my words. She, too,
was crying. I relished her embrace as our tears mingled. Then she
carefully withdrew herself from my arms, and we began to talk.
She had left Poland only a few months after our last encounter by the
wall. She had moved to France and married. It ended in divorce, and she
was now working in Rome as a producer.
"So tell me," she said. "Are you still Rachel? The Rachel I remember?"
She stared at my long sleeves and high neckline in puzzlement.
I sighed. Here it comes. I spoke for what seemed like hours. I began
with everything I had done and everyone I had met since that fateful
night at the wall. I told her about Shefford. I told her about Beth.
When I finished, she took my hand in hers and curled her fingers around
my palm, as she had done so many years ago. "Two different worlds," she
said sadly. "It's no use, you and I."
My stomach lurched, and I swallowed hard. "Then this is goodbye, Monika?
She nodded, curtly wished me the best of luck, then got up, turned
around, and walked out of my life. She never looked back once.
I have, though.
Sometimes the past clutches at my heart and penetrates so deeply into my
soul that all I can do is look back. And remember.
A town in western Poland
The sun glistened off the bright blue waters. I brushed away a sweaty
lock of hair that was plastered against my forehead. "Shouldn't we head
back now? I'm so hot I could melt!"
Monika smiled and laughed wickedly. "We've only been rowing for half an
hour. If you'd start using those muscles of yours, we could be at Coral
Grove in ten minutes."
I groaned. How did she manage to look so cool and pretty in this brutal
"We could have walked. In fact, you were the one who suggested this
lovely boat ride so "
"Yes, I did, and now I pay the price. I would give my two front teeth
right now for a tall glass of lemonade with ice. I'd give "
"How about giving me some muscle? If you stop rowing, we'll get turned
around and start heading off course."
"That was the idea."
Monika sighed. "Do you honestly want to go back?"
I didn't. I would go with Monika anyplace she would take me. We'd been
friends for only six months, yet I still had to rub my eyes and blink
every time I looked at her. I could hardly believe that beautiful,
popular Monika had chosen me to be her friend. Her best friend at that!
I recalled how our friendship began. As I pulled my oars through the
churning waters, my mind drifted back to last winter.
Papa handed me a bag. "Here, take this. Inside are a number of forms to
give in at school and your lunch." He touched my shoulder. "Don't worry
if you have a hard time adjusting at first. There's nothing to be
frightened about. Just do as they say and you'll be fine."
I reassured Papa that I'd be all right, but inside I was trembling. Why
worry Papa, though? He had enough on his mind.
I had left for school early so as not to embarrass myself by coming late
on the very first day, but the nearer I got to the schoolyard, the less
1 could bring myself to go any further. Everyone was walking and
chatting in groups of two, three, four...and I was the outsider.
I felt terribly self-conscious. My uniform hadn't been ready on time,
and that made it even worse. Papa had assured me that no one would
notice, but I saw that all the girls were clad in matching navy pleated
skirts and white blouses. The boys were similarly clothed in navy pants
or shorts and white shirts with a tie. My hair, too, was all wrong. No
one had long hair like I did, tied back in a braid. They all wore short,
fashionable hairstyles. To say I felt out of place would be a gross
As I neared the school, I noticed a pretty, petite girl standing
by herself under a tree. I wondered if this was her first day, too.
"Excuse me, can you tell me are you new here?"
I turned in surprise. It was her! I was so startled to hear her speak to
me that I had to ask her to repeat herself.
"Y...yes, I am. I mean, I'm new at school. We moved here from Lublin in
the summer. Are you new, too?" I asked hopefully. Maybe she was just as
nervous as I was. Maybe she had no one to talk to. We could be recluses
together. We could
"Me? New? I've been here since I was in diapers." She threw her head
back and laughed. Her blonde hair rippled in the sunlight. Standing
next to her, I felt plain-looking and dull.
"But never mind that," she went on. "Did you find out what class you got
"First year gimnasium."
"Good! Same as me. Come and I'll show you where the class meets."
That's how I first got to know Monika. Rather than the dreaded
experience I had anticipated, my first day at the new school was
exciting and my confidence returned. I joined the chorus, learned
gymnastics, and even made honors. I formed many friendships, of course,
but there was no one like Monika, and I was very possessive of her.
"Are you dreaming?" Monika was waving a wet oar in front of
my face. "We're almost at Coral Grove."
I blinked and the boat lurched. "What was that?"
"The water's gotten a bit choppy. Come help me turn this
thing. The grove is just to our left."
Coral Grove. That wasn't its real name. We called it that because of
the unusual coral color of the surrounding trees that led us to the
grove in the first place. We stumbled upon it by accident one day when
we were hiking. We saw a path, followed it, and there it was.
The grove was surrounded by a wall of medium height made up of stones
big enough and strong enough to get a secure foothold. You could climb
over it to get inside, but on rainy days the stones were slippery so we
used the wrought-iron gate. Once you got inside, the world vanished.
Struck by the awesome beauty of the orange clump of trees nestled in a
garden of every type flower you can imagine, all the troubles of the
outside world fell away, not daring to enter such a perfect place.
A few feet away from the garden was a small hut. It was hidden at first,
because of the numerous gnarled weeds, but one sunny day Monika and 1
brought garden shears and kept at it until we got a glimpse of the
It was not attractive. Years of wind, rain, and sheer neglect had left
their mark, but it had a strong foundation. Monika considered it
beautiful. She said she admired the hut's resolve to survive at all
costs, to brave the elements and stand up against it all. Monika called
that true beauty.
Over time we swept the hut, trimmed the flowers, and watered the grass.
Still, as much as we loved to sit among the fragrant flowers and seek
shelter in the hut, nothing in the grove took the place of the wall.
The wall marked the outskirts of the grove. Wide and sturdy, high enough
so that neighboring trees could rest their branches on it, it served as
a fortress of sorts, blocking out unwanted critters, yet protecting that
which grew inside it.
The wall was my favorite part of the grove, although I couldn't say for
sure why that was so. Maybe it was the strength it radiated, being so
solid and strong. Perhaps it was the privacy it guaranteed us, its
supreme height protecting us from pesky nosy bodies. Perhaps it was
simply because it was such a part of my friendship with Monika. Going to
Coral Grove. Talking together by the wall. It said "us."
We pulled the boat onto the bank. "So what do you want to do today?
Gardening? Or should we just relax and pretend that school doesn't start
next week and we'll have summer holiday forever."
Monika shrugged and gave me a grin. "But even on summer holiday, you
probably have something to talk about. You always do. Whether it's
problems with school or politics, there's always something you need to
turn over in your mind."
That's me. I'm an analyzer. I'm not one of those people who are so
carefree that they don't realize their troubles until they're gone. I
have to think everything over, cut it up into a million pieces, stare at
them for days, and then paste them all back together and think about
them some more.
"Something is bothering Papa."
"Your father? But I thought you said he was much better now that his
business is prospering. And you said that he smiles more and he..."
Papa went through a very difficult time when Mama passed away two years
ago. She contracted pneumonia and couldn't get rid of it. Papa didn't
say much for months after. He spent most of his days buried in his
books. He took it terribly hard. Mama meant everything to him.
I also felt the loss deeply. I still do. She's the first person I see
when I wake up in the morning, her picture displayed opposite my bed.
But I also sense her in all that is beautiful in my world. I can smell
her among the fragrances of my garden. I can feel her warmth on a summer
day. I hear her in my music. There are days that I can actually feel her
presence, and I know that in so many ways she has never truly left me.
It was hard at the beginning, though. I felt as if I had lost Papa, too.
I wanted to reach out to him, but I never knew what to say. I thought
that just by being there I could make Papa feel better and at the same
time draw my own strength from his. But Papa had retreated into a shell
from which nothing could bring him out. Not even me. I felt like the
biggest failure. It was worse than blanking out at a music recital.
Worse than moving away from Lublin. I wasn't good enough for Papa. He
didn't want me. I had failed him as a daughter.
As I grew older, I began to understand more and stopped resenting Papa
and Mama for leaving me. When Papa's interest in his work at the
publishing company came back to life, bringing with it a new, laughing,
loving Papa, I was overjoyed. Still, those hard times had left a dull
ache in my heart.
Monika's friendship was a blessing. She filled the void in me with her
humor, her impulsiveness, her unconditional acceptance. Each day I felt
the aching subside until the pain no longer existed except as a
I had confided my worries over Papa to Monika how I feared that he
might never emerge from his shell. Recently, as Papa had begun gradually
getting better, I expressed my relief to Monika, too. But now I had
"Monika, Papa's been telling me that he's nervous about what's happening
to Jews in Germany and other parts of Europe. He said there are rumors
of Jews being pulled out of their homes during the night and taken to
some unknown destination."
I had to tread very carefully here. While Monika and her family had
made their homes in Poland for decades now, they were actually German
in origin. Monika could trace her ancestry back to the nineteenth
century, when Poland was invaded and divided up among the empires of
Russia, Prussia, and Austria. Her ancestors had been among the many
Germans who had resettled in the western part of Poland, an area long
ruled by the Germans.
Her eyes never left my face as I spoke. Big, beautiful, and so blue,
they expressed her inner soul. I could always tell what Monika was
thinking by looking into her eyes. Now they seemed strangely dull and
"I don't see what this has to do with you, Rachel. Neither you nor your
Papa are religious."
No, we were not religious. But we were Jews. Papa's parents, my
grandparents, were very religious. But Papa rebelled when he was a
teenager and left his parents' way of life. It was a time that left Papa
with painful memories, and he hardly ever talked about it. My
grandparents had passed away while I was still an infant, so I knew
little about Papa's youth.
Mama had a religious background, too. Her parents had been quite
observant, and she herself had even kept what she considered a kosher
home. She had often tried to get Papa into synagogue, but he would not
go. He would tell me that I'd never suffer or be deprived of reaching
any goal in life because I was Jewish. Consequently we lived the same
way Monika's Roman Catholic family lived. You would never know that we
were Jewish. We even kept their holidays. I attended the same school as
Monika and learned everything there that she did. I knew very little
about Judaism. My heritage meant nothing to me.
Privately I sometimes wished it did. I believed that everyone was placed
on this earth to do something, to change or to make a change. I felt
that there must be some Higher Being conducting the vast orchestra that
is the world in which we live.
My heart would get these odd longings sometimes. I would cry for no
reason. I'd yearn desperately for something, yet I never knew where to
look for it, or even if it could be found. These spells, as 1 liked to
refer to them, came at the strangest times. Most often they came when I
was alone, but not necessarily when I was unhappy. They never seemed
associated with sadness but rather with emptiness.
One thing that brought on these spells was a recurring dream. I would
find myself in a room filled with people, but their faces were blank,
their voices silent, the surroundings unfamiliar. In the center stood a
woman. Around her stood children dressed beautifully with shining
faces, gazing up at the woman. One of them would slip a tiny hand into
hers, and the woman would smile. Everything was peaceful and calm.
Then the scene would transform. At first, all I could see were
two orange-red lights. I could never tell what they were at first,
except that they were so bright that they made my eyes smart. Then, as
always, the lights would recede and I could see what they were burning
candles decked in a pair of silver candlesticks.
I'd stare, mesmerized by the flames, as they grew larger and larger
until they enveloped me. Their warmth would surround me, and it was the
most pleasant feeling I had ever known. The flames seemed to burn away
the emptiness in my soul and fill me with what I had been missing my
I looked at Monika. "It does affect us. Even if someone is not
observant, he's still Jewish. And they know that."
"The people who are supposedly coming to arrest Jews. In some parts of
Europe Jews are getting fired from their jobs. They are under curfew.
After hours, they're not allowed to walk outside. I don't know very
much. I just know Papa is worried."
Monika moved from the nest of flowers to sit closer to me. "Listen,
nothing is happening here in Poland. Everything is okay here, and it
will continue to be."
"I'm not so sure. The Nazi party is gaining members and getting
stronger. It seems that a lot of people here agree with their ideas and
are going along with whatever they're doing.
"Oh, Monika! What if something does happen? What if we have to leave and
go somewhere else? I don't think I'd ever be able to live through
something like that. I'm a coward, Monika. I like everything to be
smooth and easy for me, and I never want to have any worries. I just
want to know the peace and security that I feel at this moment. I want
to need to believe that I'll always be safe."
Monika hesitated before replying. I think she knew that her
words were important to me now.
"I can't believe that there is anyone who goes through life without ever
feeling vulnerable. Perhaps fear is what gives us strength. Knowing how
susceptible we are, and realizing just how much of the future is beyond
our control, forces us to become strong. We have to make decisions every
day, never knowing for sure that they're the right ones. Could be we
won't ever find out. Things like that scare me, yes, but it's a comfort
to know that I'm not alone in this. We all have our fears you, me,
everyone. I don't think we're expected to overcome all of our fears. We
wouldn't be human then. I just think we have to accept that our fears
are a part of us. With this realization, there's nothing we can't live
through, as you put it."
Neither of us spoke after that. We just lay there, immersed in our own
thoughts, until the sky grew dark, signaling the end of another day.
The school Monika and I attended was called "gimnasium." The work was
demanding, but if I ever complained, Papa would remind me how lucky I
was to be going to school at
He had a point. Between 1772 and the end of the Great War in 1918,
Poland was invaded many times and divided up among the empires of
Russia, Prussia, and Austria. Each had its own setup for regulating
education. Generally people living in the west as we did an area
long ruled by the Germans, had greater opportunities because during the
partition era the Germans had built up the education infrastructure to a
greater extent than the other empires.
Before the Great War, it was mainly ethnic Germans who were able to
attend school. But after the war the school facilities, no longer
solely in the Germans' charge, became open to others, and Polish
children began to go to school.
This didn't mean everything was wonderful. The officials who were in
charge of overseeing the education of Polish youth went to extreme
measures to suppress any sense of Polish identity and pride. Polish was
not spoken in school, only Russian or German.
Books written in Polish were banned. In 1880 a decision was reached in
Warsaw to permit the study of certain approved literature, but these
books were presented as foreign literature and taught in Russian
At that time there were over three million Jews in Poland nearly 10
percent of the total population. Many were engaged in industry and
handicrafts, over a third in trade and commerce, and a small percentage
in the professions. Papa himself worked in a publishing company.
Except for a thin stream of wealthy and upper-middle-class Jews, the
majority were lower-middle-class workers. The government's control of
economic life was accompanied by restrictive practices that succeeded in
impoverishing the Jewish community. A torrent of anti-Semitic
legislation and an official government policy of "evacuating" the Jews
from Poland was overwhelming many Jews, and quite a few had tried to
escape to Germany.
Yet, despite all that, there I was, a Polish Jewish fourteen-year-old
girl attending gimnasium, learning history and mathematics and sciences,
Papa would say, and he would marvel at how I dared complain about the
I walked to school every day, and I liked to get there ten minutes early
so I could meet Monika before our first class. Sometimes we would share
a pastry, but mostly we just used the opportunity to catch up on daily
news and events.
The teachers were very rigid and kept a well-disciplined class. The
attitude all around was serious. No misbehavior of any sort was
tolerated for long. If you broke any rules, you could get hit on the
knuckles or even expelled for days. And it would be up to you to make up
For students who excelled in academics, there was a special
ceremony where they would be honored and receive a book of poems or
history. After gimnasium we were expected to finish two years of liceum,
and then we could take an entrance exam to get into university. That was
my dream, to attend a renowned university and learn a profession with
which 1 could change the world. Monika would laugh at me, but she'd say
it was always good to have dreams.
School hours ended early, sometime between three and four, but many of
the students were involved in afternoon activities. Some took on jobs if
money was needed to help out at home. Others joined a youth group that
was offered by a local music and arts school. The school was called the
Professional Arts School, and its pupils were wholly committed to their
field. Some children from my town were full-time students at this
school. They attended their classes and learned ballet or music all in
the same building. The youth groups took place in the afternoon, when
various classes were open to students from gimnasjum and liceum,
offering lessons in art, music, and dance.
For the past two years, I had been attending a music class in which I
studied the violin. 1 had been playing the violin since I was four, and
it was a very big part of my life. I spent a good number of hours a day
practicing. Though I had dreams of excelling in some profession, I also
secretly longed to play the violin professionally.
My music was my way of expressing myself. It was my music, an expression
of my feelings. Some days there was nothing I couldn't do with my
violin. I saw myself playing for thousands, never missing a note. Those
were days when I felt confident, happy with who I was and what I was
doing. At other times, I felt angry. Things weren't working out. I was
disappointed. My music would match that frustration.
When I found out the Professional Arts School was holding auditions, I
could barely hold in my excitement. They were planning a show in the
summer, and members of the afternoon youth groups were invited to try
out. It meant a lot more practice time, but it was worth it. For me it
was a step in the direction of becoming a real performer.
Monika had to put up with my spending a lot more time with my violin and
a lot less time with her. She understood how important this was to me,
though, and often sat with me while I practiced, content just to watch
I spent a long time deciding what piece to play for my audition. I
wanted it to be a piece that I played well, but I also wanted to choose
one with which I could express myself. Finally I chose "Spring" from
Vivaldi's Four Seasons. The piece was moving in itself, and I could
play it well, but it was the actual season of spring that evoked so many
emotions in me. My mama died in winter, and for that reason I saw the
wintertime as a period of dread, a symbol of anguish. I failed to see
beauty in the harsh bitterness of winter the way some people could. The
cold had its way of snaking into my heart and making me feel like a
stone. I would wait endlessly for the winter months to go by, for the
sick children to heal, for my heart to thaw once again.
As winter neared its end, I'd seek out signs of spring. The first
melting of snow, the first budding of flowers, the first changes in the
climate... But for me the real changes didn't occur only in nature.
Along with the seasonal changes came a natural skip in my step. It
became easier to smile and remain cheerful. I could finally shed my
heavy outer clothes and felt light and breezy.
After classes on our first day of school, Monika and I went for a walk
through Coral Grove. We chatted about the new teachers, moaned about the
colossal amount of homework, and exchanged opinions about the seven new
pupils who had joined us this year. Then Monika asked me if I ever
thought much about the future.
"Well, what about the future? My career? My music? Our friendship?"
"In general. How do you picture yourself ten years from now?"
"I don't know. I see myself as a professional in my career, working hard
yet feeling successful, knowing that the work I do, my small portion, is
helping to make the world a better place. I see myself as an
accomplished musician, getting my chance to make the kind of music I've
always dreamed of making. And amid all this, I also have other dreams."
"Well, they're not actually dreams. They're more like feelings. Feelings
that I don't feel now, but wish I did, do you know what I mean?"
I struggled for words to explain. "Monika, do you always feel...safe?
Safe in a way that you know that you are where you're supposed to be,
and nothing in the world can harm you? Often I get the impression that
I'm supposed to be somewhere else or someone else. And that fate is
going to find me and bring me to where I should be."
Monika drew up her eyebrows in puzzlement. "Rachel, I'm not sure I
understand. Aren't you happy here? You have everything you could
possibly want good grades, an audition at a famous music school. And
you have a best friend."
Monika looked hurt. I got up and gave her a hug. "Oh, Monika, it's not
you! It's just that I feel that something is amiss. I
feel out of place at times, and I can't figure out why. You're right. I
do seem to have everything I want, and I treasure my gifts. Still, I'm
afraid. I'm frightened that the things I seek, the things that make me
happy, are not what I need to sustain me. I need something more.
"Don't think I'm selfish. I love my life. But don't you ever wonder why
we were given life? And what we are expected to do with it?"
Monika glared at me. "Rachel, you sound like all those religious
fanatics that are always questioning. Why this? Why that? Why not accept
what you have and realize that we were all given gifts? Life is what we
do with those gifts. Rachel, be the best musician the world has ever
seen. Go and become a doctor. Do anything your heart desires, because
you can. Once you begin to achieve what you've always wanted, you'll see
that these feelings will go away. You're so impatient, Rachel.
Everything takes time. You're not going to get anywhere overnight
except to tomorrow, that is."
I laughed. As we ate our picnic lunch, I told Monika that her words made
me feel better, but they didn't really. Somehow I knew that my feeling
of being lost did not come from impatience. It came from deep within,
from another place. I didn't know where this place was, but when I'd
find it, I'd know.
Monika got up and starting putting away the food. "We should head back
now. It's getting dark."
I nodded and helped her wrap up the picnic tablecloth. We each took a
bag and made our way out of the grove, through the iron gate, and down
the path to home.
It was Monika who suggested we stop by Mrs. Grucza's bakery on the way.
"I want to buy some sweet rolls," she said as we rounded the corner. The
bakery was one street ahead.
"I wonder if she has any lemon drops left."
When the bakery came into view, I couldn't believe my eyes. Monika
stifled a cry and turned away, shielding her face against the acrid
Our beloved bakery! Mrs. Grucza's sweet shop had been a landmark on
Walecznych Street for many years. Monika told me that even after the
blacksmith shop had closed down and the corner fruit market had turned
into a shoe store and long, long before old man Otto had ever started
selling flowers on Sunday mornings, Mrs. Grucza's bakery had been there.
Monika and I had been regular customers. We knew that if we came early
enough on Friday mornings, we could get rolls fresh from the oven
crispy on the outside and burning hot. Mrs. Grucza especially loved
Monika, who always kept her visits long, entertaining the old lady with
stories from school. As for me, I too loved Mrs. Grucza dearly. She knew
that I liked lemon drops best and always saved me the leftovers.
Now I couldn't bear to look at it. The shop was covered with soot, the
once colorful curtains torn and gone to ashes. The windows had melted
and cracked; ugly gaping holes were left in their place. The foundation
had collapsed, and the shop now leaned precariously to the left. It
couldn't be more than minutes before it would crumble completely to the
The sign adorning the shop that read "Grucza's" had been slashed and
ripped off; in its place was a huge red swastika. Underneath someone
had sloppily scrawled, "Dreckige Judenl"
"I've never seen anything like this before, have you?" My
voice came out high-pitched and funny.
"The swastika, Rachel," she pointed out. "This is the Nazis' doing."
I gulped. "Nazis? Like the ones Papa keeps telling me about? The ones
that are hurting jews and "
"Oh, come on. We don't even know for sure that those rumors are true. Do
you even know any Jews who were taken away? See, you don't. It could all
be a lot of nonsense. No doubt this was done by some silly, hurtful
schoolboys who are too foolish to know better. Stop shaking, Rachel!
What's the matter with you?"
I was trembling uncontrollably. I couldn't look at the shop. But I knew
it was there, taunting me. It's not only in Germany. It is here, too.
They will come to Poland. Jews aren't safe anywhere.
Monika took my arm gently, and we turned to walk a different way. I
followed quickly. "Don't worry," she whispered. "You're not religious,
remember? To them you are a Roman Catholic, a gentile, just like me. We
will call on Mrs. Grucza tomorrow. It is truly a shame that this should
happen to dear Mrs. Grucza, but you are safe in Poland. You'll see. Your
papa will tell you the same thing. Go home and ask him."
When I got home, Papa was in his study, buried underneath a mound of
newspapers and books. He didn't see me come in. I hated to disturb Papa
while he was working, so I decided to eat something and talk to Papa
I took out a dinner roll with jam and some milk and sat down to eat.
Absent-mindedly 1 picked up a page of the Dziennik Poznanski (the Poznan
Daily), which had fallen on the floor, and skimmed the headlines. "Local
Hitler? My hands tightened on the paper. "Charismatic speech
yesterday...won over the hearts of thousands...Nazi political party
gains hundreds of new members..." That didn't sound so bad. It certainly
didn't sound like a man who was employing his powers to harm Jews.
Perhaps Monika was right. Maybe the rumors were just that rumors. I
laughed out loud at my imagination.
Papa came in and kissed my forehead. "What is so funny in the paper that
makes my Rachel laugh like this?"
"Nothing, Papa. I am just laughing at myself. I worry so much, like you,
Papa. It's nothing. Papa?"
"Remember the other evening when you were telling me about the Nazis?
Monika and I passed by Mrs. Grucza's old shop on the corner of
Walecznych. We saw that it had been burned down. By Nazis."
"There are no Nazis in Poland," Papa muttered.
"Papa, they painted a swastika on it."
Papa's face turned white.
I was feeling more and more uneasy. "Monika says it was schoolboys
playing pranks. We will call on Mrs. Grucza and find out."
Papa grabbed my shoulders. "Promise me, Rachel. Promise me you'll stay
away from Mrs. Grucza and her shop. You're not to walk near Walecznych
"All right. All right, Papa, I won't. But what is this? Why do you look
so pale? Is it because you are afraid of the Nazis? Look at the paper,
Papa. It doesn't seem like Hitler and his parties are monsters. It
portrays them as decent, human "
"Oh, Rachel, my daughter. How I want to protect you. Yet I know I cannot
shelter you. Don't read the newspaper. It will only confuse you, my
dear. Just listen to me. Stay away from Mrs. Grucza. Stay away from the
"I will, Papa. But please, I have to know. What is going on? Are we in
"My child, let me ask you something. Are you brave?"
I looked down at my hands, which were folded on my lap. "Not very,
"I think you are. If the time came for you to be brave, I think you'd be
quite brave. But it is easier to be courageous if you don't know
everything. So I have told you all that you need to know. I will tell
you nothing more. Just...be careful."
Papa bent to kiss my forehead. "I love you."
He turned and slowly climbed the stairs.