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Life and Folklore

by Mordechai Scheinfeld

Translated from Hebrew by Gabrielle Cooper


Yosl Nassias takes a beating from Asher Zelig

When I was 11 years old, it became my fate to be the breadwinner of the family; this was during the first world war. My father was dead, my two brothers were in hiding far from home in order to avoid being drafted into the army, and I was forced to help my mother run the business.

We owned the Town Hall building that stood on the hill in the middle of the town, and housed within it were most of the shops of Mizoch. Misters Nemirover, Pogorilzer and my uncle, Herzl Scheinfeld, began a partnership with us and merchandised everything they could lay their hands on.

As a young child, my job was to travel with the Ukrainian carters to the city of Slavuta[1], to buy and bring back oil for the public and the army. That work was considered easy enough and suitable for me. However, the truth was this was hard, exhausting, serious, and dangerous work. In addition to road trouble, frequent checks on behalf of police officers and the army, and the beatings I would take at every one of these checks, I had to watch the carters “with seven eyes”[2] so they would not drag me away from the precious liquid. On one of these trips I was able to bring brandy instead of petroleum. Our partners praised me greatly for this ‘operation’ and I successfully repeated it many times. The profit was large and considerable, and we all became very rich. Because I was the main cause of that success, I proved myself a knowledgeable and experienced trader, and I was given the trade in leather and in haberdashery.

The expert in these goods in our town was Yosl Nassias, and with him I arranged all of the purchasing. The goods were purchased in the nearby towns of Verkhiv[3] and Tuchyn[4]. We would travel there of course, but only in horse-drawn carts, on dirty, dilapidated roads, as was customary in those days. However, while it was possible to reach Verkhiv by direct roads, it was impossible to reach Tuchyn without crossing the Horyn River[5] on a floating bridge.

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To this day I remember the great impression crossing the river on the floating bridge made on me. I am always sorry that it lasted such little time. In almost every conversation I have, I mention the story of the floating bridge. I never tire of telling it; the horses standing harnessed to the carts, with their heads in their food sacks. They eat contentedly, and we sit on the cart, as we continue travelling…

On one of our visits to Tuchyn, we arrived at the hostel of Zlata, which we called Zlatopolska, to stay overnight. There we came across a young man and woman with their escorts who had arranged to meet there for an introductory matchmaking meeting. We invited them to our table and spun lively conversation with the other diners. The prospective groom sat silently, and hardly a single word left his mouth. I noticed his escort urging him to participate in the conversation and not sit like a dummy.

The first and almost the only speaker was of course Yosl. He didn't allow anyone else to lead the conversation. He spoke on and on, with and without a point, almost without stopping. The prospective groom, apparently wanting to seem like someone knowledgeable about matters of cities and towns, turned suddenly to Yosl and said it seemed to him that they had already met once in the city of Lvov[6]. It is possible that Yosl would have confirmed the words of the suitor, because he loved to seem in company like a worldly man. However, my presence interfered. He knew that if he confirmed that he had been in Lvov, I would immediately point out his mistake, because he had never been to Lvov before. Therefore, Yosl told that suitor that it was very possible they had already met in a different city, maybe in Odessa[7] or in another city, but that he was just getting ready to travel to Lvov for the first time in his life. I would have taken the opportunity of his admission to undermine him, but we were in fact travelling to Lvov in the coming days to make connections and trade with leather merchants in the city. After a few days we arrived at the train station in Ozerna. Yosl stood in line to purchase train tickets. He returned all radiant from happiness and told me that if it weren't for his ability to deal with the clerks, we wouldn't have obtained train tickets. I knew his weakness for boasting, so I added some praise and compliments on his great ability and knowledge…

Yosl also loved small and cheap pranks such as tying the tassels of prayer shawls together, so that they would slap the cheek or ear of a worshipper intentionally, and when they looked, he would make the face of ‘one who does not know how to ask.’[8] Or he would tickle the head of another while he was engaged in complicated calculations or looking at a book, or praying the Amidah,[9]

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and enjoy how the other would hit himself in rage, trying unsuccessfully to kill or repel the seemingly bothersome fly…

Once we were inside the train traveling to Lvov, he walked down the corridor, peering into all the compartments, searching for acquaintances or just other Jews to spin idle conversation with. I sat in the compartment next to the window and perused the newspaper. I enjoyed the ride itself, in the swaying and upholstered compartment. Suddenly I heard the ringing of slaps on the cheek, and the voice of Yosl begging for forgiveness in Polish. I went out and saw a burly goy[10] beating Yosl and shouting, “ugly, miserable Zhid,[11] I will teach you a lesson!” And in contrast, Yosl's weeping voice claimed: “but I thought you were Asher Zelig”. I barely got Yosl out of the hands of the angry Pole and brought him into our compartment. After calming down a little bit he told me that on his walk in the train corridor he noticed, much to his delight, that Asher Zelig from Mizoch was stretched out on one of the compartment benches, snoring. Yosl did not think much, entered the compartment, rolled up his right-hand sleeve, and with all his might landed a blow on the buttocks of Asher Zelig. To his astonishment - standing in front of him was not Asher Zelig, but rather an angry face with a large mustache … His explanations did not help. He shouted “but I thought that you were Asher Zelig” while enduring beatings.


The adventures of Lvov

We arrived in Lvov. It was early evening. The impression of the large city erased from our hearts the ‘Asher Zelig’ incident. We walked a little on the main streets of the city. When the shops closed, we started to look for a place to sleep. We did not know the city, and annoyingly, all of the hotels we wanted to stay in were full. At one hostel they promised us a place to sleep after 12 o'clock at night. Having no other choices, we agreed. Since there were four more hours until the appointed time, we again took to the streets of the city. By way of our walking, we arrived at the theater building. We bought tickets and went inside. Immediately at the entrance the usher stopped and said that he would take our coats to the coat-check. Yosl was wearing an expensive fur coat and was scared to leave it in unsafe hands. The ushers stood their ground, so Yosl handed the coats to coat-check, but he sat close to the door in the theater hall so he could keep an eye on his fur… the screen was raised and the show began. Here we realized we had fallen into a second trap; we thought that the show was in Yiddish (and how would it be possible otherwise?) but here everything was happening in Polish. Needless to say, we could not understand much from the show.

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And so, we had little interest in it. Yosl was obsessed with his fur which was in the coat-check, and every few moments he opened the door to glance at the fur in the coat-check. This annoyed the viewers, and as a result of their protests he was taken out of the hall. Yosl was pleased about this, because he received his precious fur in exactly the same condition that he had delivered it. We continued walking around the city until midnight, and then we returned to the hostel. We received for the both of us one wide bed in a single room. We undressed and went to sleep. Yosl did not let me fall asleep. He returned and said to me that without his knowledge of how to deal with the clerks, we would not be resting in bed now. When I asked him to let me sleep, he began to tickle me and fight with me. It only ended when the bed broke beneath us and we found ourselves on the floor… This scared both of us and we began to think about how to fix the appearance of the bed, at least enough for until we left the hostel. Yosl went down to the yard, found some bricks there, and brought them up into the room. We put the bricks in place of the broken legs, made the bed, lowered the cover to the floor, so the legs were not visible, and we lay on the floor… In the morning as soon as we heard the gate opening and the workers arriving, we paid and left the place quickly. After we ate breakfast, we went looking for acquaintances according to the addresses we had. At 10 o'clock we arrived at the apartment of a relative of Yosl's wife. On the main entrance was written: “the entrance is around the back.” We walked around and the door was locked there too. We jiggled the lock this way and that and the door did not open. Then Yosl said, “Mottel, give me a hand.” Together we pressed on the door and the door opened. A ladder used for painting was leaning against the door and fell. The ladder fell on a cupboard and broke the glassware inside it. There was a commotion. Women came out from the neighboring apartments, scared and shouting, and it was only by a miracle that we escaped from that place.

After we arrived safely to the street side our spirits changed, we decided from now on not to go anywhere alone. We had the address of one cafe, where we needed to meet with a trusted person, who would guide us in our shopping. We decided from now on to only travel in the city with this person. We barely found the place. There we ate our hearts out, met with the man we wanted, and with his help we left Lvov in peace and with successful purchases.


The Mischief of R.[12] Yitzchak Baraz (Itzik Chukralnik)

My cousin Chone loved sleeping outside on hot summer nights, on a cart padded with fragrant hay. The cart would stand down by the town hall, with stones or bricks under the wheels so it would not roll downhill.

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R. Yitzchak once came to that place in the morning, took out the bricks from underneath the cart wheels, and it rolled downhill and came to stand in the middle of the market. After a short time, the market was filled with local farmers and city women who came to purchase their necessities from the farmers. The noise that arose in the market woke up Chone and he thought that he was by his home. He got up from the cart, rolled up his shirt, took off his underwear, and scratched himself with enjoyment… The women were surprised at this sight and became angry: It was so early and already the circus clowns had arrived…

* * *

R. Asher was rich in assets and almost all the Jews in the city made a living from him and were dependent on him. His son, Yishayahu Gilberg, studied and trained in Odessa, saw the big world, and also acquired education and manners. Every time he came to the house of R. Yitzchak, he would complain and complain about the boredom in town, the lack of cultured society, and his longing for the big city of Odessa. R. Yitzchak decided to teach the young man Yishayahu a lesson, and prove to him that Mizoch was in fact a nice and interesting town, and that he too might miss it and its people.

One day when Yishayahu came to his house and started, as usual, to complain of boredom in the town, R. Yitzchak invited him to travel with him to a nearby village, where he needed to make arrangements for a trivial matter, and meanwhile Yishayahu could alleviate his boredom. Since R. Yitzchak promised that the trip would not last longer than half an hour, Yishayahu agreed to his offer willingly.

Instead of half an hour, the trip lasted half a week. R. Yitzchak walked around villages and towns and did not respond to any of Yishayahu's complaints or objections. Only when Yishayahu said that he missed Mizoch, and that all he wanted to do was be back home already, did he order the carter to return to Mizoch. Since then, Yishayahu has not spoken in condemnation of his hometown, Mizoch.

* * *

Mottel the Stingy was very rich. His stinginess was as considerable as his wealth. He was sparing with his words and dressed like one of the poor. In the town they whispered that Mottel only had one pair of long pants to wear, for both the weekdays and the Sabbath. R. Yitzchak decided to check this and did so as usual with a clever prank.

In the morning of a cool autumn day he snuck into Mottel's house and took the pants that were lying on the chair and stuffed them into the chimney pipe. After he returned home, Mottel woke up from his sleep and told him that he needed to go immediately out of the town with him in order to buy a cartload of grain at a very cheap price.

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One of his acquaintances brought grain for his competitor Katz, but since in his heart he had resentment for Katz, he appealed to the farmer to sell his goods to Mottel from now on. He urged Mottel to get dressed as quickly as possible and in the meantime, he went out to ensure that the farmer would not reach Katz. R. Yitzchak came out and Mottel jumped out of bed as quickly as a snake bites to dress and run to arrange the purchase. He did not find his pants in their usual place. He started to run around the room searching in all the crannies, and when he did not find the pants he called his wife for help, but to no avail. In the meantime, R. Yitzchak returned to the house and Mottel had to go back to bed, because he was ashamed to walk around the room in his underwear. When asked why he wasn't dressed he began to stutter and said that he didn't feel well. He was attacked by stomach pain which he felt in his head. R. Yitzchak pretended to be worried and said that he was going to get the Polish doctor. Mottel was forced to reveal the truth, for fear that R. Yitzchak would really bring the Polish doctor, and that his ‘cold’ would cost him lots of money.

R. Yitzchak advised that he should wear his Shabbat pants for a little while, since the deal would be worthwhile. Mottel's wife intervened and admitted that the pants that disappeared were the only ones that Mottel had… R. Yitzchak ‘found’ the pants under a cupboard. Mottel dressed quickly and they both went to the place where they were supposed to meet the farmer. They both searched and called the farmer's name aloud, but it was all in vain. Many days passed and Mottel continued to regret that the bargain had fallen into his competitors' hands because of the pants.

* * *

A tale of two ‘different things’

A home industry producing schnapps, called in Ukrainian ‘samogon,’ developed in our community during the time of the first world war. The whole population was very eager after alcohol became difficult to obtain, and started making it instead. Raw material was available, many jumped at the chance for an easy profit, and there were more than enough customers for endless products. We also became experts in making samogon.

The authorities of course prohibited making or selling samogon. First of all, they didn't want competition in this operation and second, they also feared for the health of the population. So, we produced samogon in hiding, far away and not seen by the community.

Our workshop for this illegal industry was located outside of town in the house of Rachel from the village Pivche (Rachel the Pivcher). We produced the schnapps at night and the waste liquid was stored in barrels.

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We could not spill the solution, because the smell would spread far and wide, and we would be discovered.

Once two pigs from a nearby village arrived and emptied a barrel filled with the solution. They got drunk from the solution and fell like the dead next to the house. We sensed this quickly and with the help of Zvi Truchler, we loaded up the drunk pigs into a sleigh, drove about 10 kilometers and threw them into the pit of the village Kunyn. Besides us, no one knew about this.

In the morning, a rumor spread in town that two ‘other things’ were found killed in the pit of Kunyn. The nickname ‘other thing’ in Mizoch was aimed at pigs and also at pigs that walk on two legs. Immediately the rumor said that it was two gentiles (goyim) found killed in the Kunyn pit. When the knowledge reached the police, a group of armed cops went to the place for investigation. Instead of dead people they found two fat pigs in a deep sleep… The policemen were very happy, brought the pigs to Lundowski the butcher and held a proper feast. In the morning the father of the police chief came and complained that two pigs had disappeared from his pen. However, no one saw the connection between the missing pigs and those found 10 kilometers from the pig pen of the complainant. Since then, the schnapps solution has been thoroughly guarded lest the pigs enjoy it.

* * *

Cancelled blessing

My Rabbi, the late R. Shlomo Finias, was a very devout Jew, hot-headed, and known for his obsessiveness. He customarily drank tea from the kettle that the Rabbi's wife prepared, at regular hours. He never departed from that custom. His favorite time to drink tea was the hour between the afternoon and evening prayer service. In that hour - while drinking tea - he would test our knowledge of what we learned in classes that day, and give us a proper beating for not knowing.

Among the students of Rabbi Shlomo, who rests in heaven, was the son of the town Rabbi, R. Hanoch - Mottel the Cat. Mottel was incredibly naughty. He would disrupt the life of the Rabbi and his wife, and each time the Rabbi put him back in his place he increased his naughtiness.

Once when R. Shlomo put the kettle on the table to drink tea during the hour of Mincha,[13] he was called outside by his wife. Mottel the Naughty grabbed the kettle and emptied his urine into it…

After a few minutes the Rabbi returned, and poured from the kettle into a hot cup,

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blessed aloud and sipped with pleasure. Immediately his face twisted and he started to spit. We burst into a huge laugh. After we had all received a decent beating, we told the Rabbi what Mottel had done. Then he grabbed Mottel's head and shouted: Woe is me! I have blessed in vain…


He got the final say

Hayim the Postman and Ashraka Olicker competed among themselves for a specific place in the cemetery “after 120.” After a prolonged quarrel about this, they agreed between them that the person who would get the spot would be the first to go the way of all flesh. Fate wished that Hayim the Postman die first and a large crowd attended the funeral, among them the ‘competitor’ Ashraka Olicker. After the sealing of the grave, Mottel the Mild-mannered approached and said to him: “Oh, Ashraka! He got the final say, ha!”


How Lukacs went from an enemy to a friend

The policeman Lukacs fulfilled his role strictly and it was impossible to bribe him. In his position as deputy chief of police he also oversaw with seven eyes the rest of the policemen behaving harshly toward Jews. He demonstrated his disgust toward Jews and in almost all conversations he introduced himself as a hater of Jews. My mother suffered especially from him, because the tavern that was under her management could not be in compliance with all of Lukacs' increasingly tough laws… When she was not given an explanation that made sense, and pleas and attempts to bribe him did not work, she decided to change him in a very unique way. Knowing correctly that Lukacs would not agree to dine at her table, she requested that a Polish acquaintance arrange for Lukacs, on her account, a feast fit for a king. Lukacs no longer knew how to distinguish between the cursed Haman and the blessed Mordechai,[14] and he was brought to our tavern. Here he sipped a few more cups of drink, which worsened him, and he fell helplessly to the floor. Mother then called to us for help, and we moved the drunkard into a special room and laid him down on a white bed, after removing his dirty clothes.

That night he was guarded by my mother. She cleaned and ironed Lukacs's clothes. Every time she peeked into his room to see if he had awakened from his intoxication.

In the late hours of the morning Lukacs awoke. My mother wished him a good morning and served him tea with lemon. In response to his question of how he got there,

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my mother told him that she had found him rolling in the street, dirty and screaming. She apologized that she had allowed herself to do what she did, but added that seeing him in that condition, which was unusual, apparently, he had had a drink too many and had gotten drunk. Since that was not according to his status, people that would see him would find it disgraceful, so she decided and dared to take him home, with her son's help. She assured him that besides her family no one had seen him drunk.

When Mother handed him his clothes, cleaned and ironed, he could not restrain his feelings and said that he was wrong in his attitude toward the Jews, that he had thought they were crooks, greedy, and hated goyim.

Since then, he has become a friend of ours and changed his hostile attitude toward Jews.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. Slavuta, approx. 60 km east of Mizoch. Return
  2. Seven is a recurring religious symbolic number, and ‘seven eyes’ appears multiple times in the Bible in reference to the Seven Spirits of God. Return
  3. Verkhiv, approx. 15 km east of Mizoch Return
  4. Tuchyn, approx. 60 km NE of Mizoch. Return
  5. Horyn River is found about 1 km west of Tuchyn. Return
  6. Lvov, now Lviv in Western Ukraine. Return
  7. Odesa, major city in southern Ukraine, on the Black Sea Return
  8. ‘The one who does not know how to ask’ refers to one of the four types of children present at the Passover seder, who is either too young or too uninterested to understand the religious significance of the seder. Return
  9. The Amidah is also called “the 18” and is part of the daily prayer service Return
  10. Gentile or non-Jew Return
  11. Derogatory Slavic term for Jews Return
  12. R., abbrev for Reb, a traditional Jewish title or form of address, corresponding to Mr. Return
  13. Jewish afternoon prayer service. Return
  14. Haman is the villain, and Mordechai the hero of the Purim story in the Book of Esther. However, this particular line makes reference to a verse from Megillah 7b:7 “Rava said: A person is obligated to become intoxicated with wine on Purim until he is so intoxicated that he does not know how to distinguish between cursed is Haman and blessed is Mordecai.” Return

Pages from My Diary
From the series, “The Man and his Hobbies”

by Isaac Braz

Translation from Hebrew by Corey Feuer and Nida Kiali

May 1941

I worked vigorously in order to sit my second-semester law exams. I am immersed first and foremost in my studies; I have no downtime to engage with my surroundings. I have not even been reading the newspaper. Things are happening in the world – but I do not know about them.

June 21, 1941

I successfully passed the last exam. I am ecstatic. As soon as I received the test results, I ran like crazy to Marisha's house, took her to a cafe, and then took her on a trip.

That night was enchanted. The sky was studded with stars and the smell of flowers imbued the air with the intoxicating essence of summer. We returned home late. Her kiss lingered on my lips for a long time after.

June 22, 1941

I turn over in bed and ask to sleep for a little while longer; I returned home later than normal. Suddenly, the maid bursts into my room.

“Mr. Isaac, the war has broken out.”

I try to dispel the rheum from my eyes.

“I just heard the news,” she continues excitedly. “The Germans surprise-invaded Soviet Russia without declaring war first.

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“You can surely imagine what war would look like these days. These chemical weapons, all the new inventions, the giant airplanes – really more like flying fortresses! And my only son will be forced to go to the terrible battlefront… no, I will not be able to stand all these horrors!”

I comforted her as much as I could. I told her that it was not that terrible, that the war would pass very quickly, and everything would soon be calm once again. She calmed down, for she believed in what I said as though it was the word of God, and she returned to her room.

Only then did I begin to ponder what was going on in the world. My parents – how were they taking the news? Were they not worried about my fate in the same way the maid worried about the fate of her son? No good will come from this war. It will destroy borders and raze the lands – and humanity will be forced to sow everything anew.

I walked in big strides around the room and a great flame burned in my head. War! War! A sort of masculine joy arose within me; I will also go to fight!

I hastily dressed myself and ran to Marisha. I did not find her in the house. “Where is she?” I ask the maid. “I do not know,” she responds. “She went out an hour ago and did not say where.”

I run to the university, running around floor after floor like a crazy person. I finally meet her at the administrative office, where she is arranging her papers before the journey to Rivne. We leave together in feverish discussion. After exchanging opinions about the situation, we begin making plans.

We came to a decision: we are traveling tomorrow. I part ways from her, as I also must arrange my papers before the journey. The city is buzzing like a beehive, it is impossible to escape the tumult. Crowding, congestion, excitement, an endless flow of cars. The whole town spilled onto the streets, and everyone is talking about the same topic: the war. There is already news from the battlefront: the Germans are approaching; the Russian defense is failing. What should be done, where to go, where to hide among the fascist surge about to engulf us?

I jump onto a meager buggy, harnessed to a lame horse, as it is the only vehicle I encounter on my path – and I travel to the law faculty's building. There is a long, twisting line in front of the door to the administrative office. Everyone is agitated, everyone is talking loudly. I wait until 5 p.m. and only then am I granted entrance into the administrative office.

Bad luck! At that exact moment, the sound of a siren erupts from the radio; German planes are approaching the city. Everyone stops their work and speeds downstairs,

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to the basement, as there are no anti-aircraft shelters yet. We crowd together there for close to two hours.

I breathe a sigh of relief as I exit into the fresh air – and return to the administrative office. This time they give me the papers without any more delays. I depart from there to go arrange personal matters, part from acquaintances, settle accounts, and prepare belongings for the journey. This went on until it was almost morning.

When I return home, I find on the table a hastily written note. I immediately recognize the handwriting and my fingers tremble as I bring the note closer to my eyes:

“I was at your place, I wanted to take you with me when I happened upon a car traveling straight to Rivne. Come by train immediately. I am waiting for you. Marisha”.

On the one hand, I am happy that she has at least already left the city, and on the other hand, I am afraid for her life. The radio announces that Germans have gotten very close over the last few hours: my only hope is that the journey will go peacefully.

My train departs at 2:30 p.m. I emotionally part from the maid and her son and head to the station. There I am informed that the train to Rivne is no longer departing because the Germans have taken over part of the route. The information hits me like thunder on a bright day.

What am I going to do? I will not be able to see my parents. I will not be by Marisha's side. At that moment, a group of students surrounds me, my classmates, they too residents of Rivne. We discuss the tragedy that has befallen us and decide to go together to Russia; there we will certainly meet our relatives. There, we explain to each other, we will be able to enter the ranks of the army. Those Germans would soon witness our wrath!

This is how my dreams of Lviv ended. The magnificent dances, the theaters, the cinemas, and the rest of the youthful experiences. The wild waves of war were about to hit the sides of my meager boat. Yet I do not harbor resentment toward this city; I had so many beautiful moments there.

My precious parents! My Marisha! I would give so much in order to know what was happening with them now.

And in the meantime, we stand at a crossroads. Where to go? We eventually choose to head out in the direction of Kyiv; after that we will see what to do next.

Thanks only to youthful energy, we manage to squeeze our way into the train car. The train is so full that there is zero space left within it. There was not enough room even for a pin. And the roofs – it is hard to describe

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what is going on there. Despite police intervention, new travelers are constantly being added. The train is overloaded; the engine exhales heavily and we begin to move forward very slowly. We arrive the next day in Kyiv. At the train station, I encounter my best friend, Vladek, who is also a student in the Faculty of Law. “What in God's name are you doing here?” I ask, astonished. “When did you arrive?”

We decide we will stay together from here on out, and we head to town to book a hotel room. It soon becomes clear to us that we were daydreaming; every hotel in the city is full. We are willing to pay more, but to no avail. Each hour, the money was losing its value.

In the end, after long hours waiting in shelters, fearing the German planes, we successfully find lodging in a privately-owned house. But first we must promise that we will leave there the next day. In return for this kindness, I part with a wonderful suit sewn from English. It troubled me to do it, but I had no choice. The money we had no longer held any value; I paid an almost-unreal sum of money for a small bit of bread. After all, one must eat. And also sleep. We are only human.

In the morning, Vladek hurries to town and tells me when he returns that travel by water through the Dnieper River is open to us. The authorities had stationed boats for the purpose of immigration. We pack our belongings and set off again.

Another surprise! On our way, we encounter a resident of my city, Asher Gilberg. My happiness knows no bounds: our group has grown, and we proceed! We depart, after a short stay, from Dnipropetrovsk[1] towards Kuybyshev[2]. Compared to other cities, life is still relatively quiet here. We decided to stay here a while.

Our first steps: to City Hall, in order to find out the residence options in the cities. The commissar politely explains to us that government officials are soon coming to the city and that all the empty rooms are already booked for them. On the other hand, he suggests that we go to the other adjacent villages, where suitable dwellings could certainly be found. “In a little while,” he tells us, “Leave here with a load of wheat to Bezymyanka[3]. If you want, I will give you a note for the local City Hall and recommend your reception of it.”

I did not believe that deep in the heart of Russia I would encounter people so kind. We received his suggestion with gratitude.

Several moments later, we are sitting in a truck. We thought that the driver would take us to a faraway place, but the vehicle stops after traveling only about 7 kilometers. Bezymyanka, it becomes apparent to us, is nothing but a kolkhoz. At the sight of the truck, a man holding a bundle of papers emerges from the kolkhoz's office.

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He hurls commands over his shoulder: the wheat must be unloaded at once, and do not delay the vehicle. It seemed he knew already we were coming given that he approached us without surprise and presented himself. After we gave him our documents, he sent us to our new place of residence.

It was a tiny, rickety hut. Inside was a table, two chairs, very old cooking utensils, and a bed with broken legs. It looked as though the family that previously lived in the house had hastily evacuated upon our coming. There were no windows, only two holes in the walls that reminded one of a prison from the Middle Ages.

The fact of the matter was that we were not all that surprised. We were ready for everything. We entered the hut happily.

Myronov – this was the name of the director of the kolkhoz – said that we would report to him the next day to receive jobs. He suggested that in the meantime we rest and gather strength for work. With intense physical labor, he informed us, we overcome the enemy and contribute to the victory of communism. It was clear that he had memorized these things many times. The propaganda speech continued for a long while, until I was gripped by nausea. Luckily, this speech was stopped by a not-ugly teenage girl. Of medium height, she entered the hut and brought us a basket of food – bread, eggs and other staples. We pounced on the contents of the basket as if they were treasure. In the last few days, we had not encountered any decent food.

The next day, we come to Myronov. “Good morning,” he greets us, “how did you sleep?”

“Very well, thanks,” I respond.

“Good. And now, guys, tell me something.” That's how he opened a conversation that continued for almost half a day.

What did we do in Poland? What were our parents' occupations? Do we like the emergence of the Soviet regime? What are our political views?

We of course presented ourselves as the sons of poor workers. We spiced up our story with complaints of capitalism's treatment of us, and we declared very solemn-facedly that we had impatiently waited for the Soviets to come free us.

Myronov nodded his head in satisfaction. “Great,” he said. “And now, you of course know that the Spring is approaching. Your first job will therefore be repairing the harvesting machinery.” Since that day, I was busy dismantling machines, screwing screws, and shoeing horses.

At first, I thought I was going crazy, that I would not be able to hold on with the hard work, but I gradually adjusted to the physical exertion involved and even to the

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terrible food served to us, the sort of garbage dishes that we would feed the pigs in Poland.

Our kolkhoz was considered large, since it had 350 people. We therefore had our own doctor, or, more accurately, a female doctor. Her name was Lidya Ivanonva and she had only that same year finished her studies. She was a wonderful girl, with intoxicating blue eyes and a pair of beautifully sculpted legs and red hair – the only part of her appearance that did not appeal to me. Since we became aware of her, she had never left our side. We were, after all, the only people in the kolkhoz at her cultural level and with whom she could chat and banter with as students do.

At first, I did not notice that she gave me more attention than others, but one evening, I came to understand what was going on. It happened like this:

We took a trip for our enjoyment and to forget the problems of the kolkhoz, when Lidya gradually shifted the conversation over to personal matters. She suddenly asked me, “Yitzchak, tell me honestly, have you ever had a girl?”

“Yes,” I replied succinctly.

“And where is she now?”

“I do not know.”

“Do you still love her?”


Although it was the evening, I could see in the moonlight that the girl was pale as whitewash. If not for her holding on to my arm, she would certainly have fallen. After a moment, she recovered – and wrapped her arms around my neck.

“But you also love me!” she called out, “Me more!”

I did not know how to reply. I was silent, however in order to calm her down, I answered her kiss with a kiss.

From that point everything was made crystal clear. Lidya constantly begged me to make her a wife and asserted to me in a thousand ways that the bachelor life in kolkhoz is not very pleasant. I was in emotional distress: I did not want to hurt her feelings and become her enemy, as I stuck to the principle that we must live with everyone in peace, but on the other hand, I could not erase Marisha's memory from my heart. And I could not replace Marisha with any other woman.

I decided to leave the kolkhoz and travel to Stalingrad[4], where I had the possibility

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of continuing my studies. After discussing this with Vladek and arranging my papers with Myronov, I went to part ways with Lidya.

It was not a pleasant parting. When I announced to her that I was leaving the kolkhoz, her face began to change color like a spotlight on a stage. She didn't say a thing, just threw herself onto the couch crying. Eventually, she raised her face, drenched in tears, and asked, “Why are you doing this, Yitzchak? Is it bad for you here?”

I responded that I was going only because of my studies and that all the rest was of no importance to me. I comforted her and told her that at the first opportunity I had, I would come for a visit.

I managed to escape from the kolkhoz, in which I had been for close to two months. I unfortunately had to part from my friend Asher, who decided to stay, as he had no firm plans for the future.

* * *

Volga! The wonderful Volga! We observe the magnificent river from the deck and admire its beauty and size. The evening wind carries the yellow-sided boat across the water's surface like a gilded arrow. The lit red lantern on the bow illuminated everything in an enchanting shade. We feasted our eyes on the wonderful view and lay down for a little nap. We must get up early the next day.

Stalingrad. We arrived at night, earlier than we had thought. We lie down to sleep at the port and place our bags beneath our heads. Even though we were lying on the hard ground, we immediately sank into slumber. I did not have the time to ask Vladek if he felt comfortable on his bed, as I already heard him snoring loudly; I slept well.

In the morning, we took our first steps on the university grounds. The secretary immediately directed us to the academics building and there, based on the papers in our hands, we were accepted as students into the university's Course B.

Several days later, when I had to an extent acclimated, I set out to tour the city. I was deeply impressed. Perfect roads, big display windows, tall houses. In a word, a beautiful city.

The appearance of the students was monotonous to the point of sadness. All of them received from time-to-time monochrome clothing items, made from the same fabric and cut in the same way. The clothes did not suit the men and looked ridiculous on the girls, but they did not feel like it. On the contrary, I felt like an outcast myself, as I still wore a fancy suit sewn in Poland, during the good days.

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I eventually hung my clothes in the closet and started dressing like them. This broke barriers that had still been standing between us: I was now just an equal among equals, and I quickly forged friendships with many of the students. With practice, I learned to address everyone in the first person. The formal Polish way of addressing people was considered here to be one of the dangerous capitalist customs.

In the evenings, the students would congregate in my room or would invite me to theirs and ask me to tell them about Poland. Everything interested them: the government, the lifestyle, Polish culture. So as not to fall into the hands of the secret police and not to be incarcerated on charges of distributing anti-Soviet propaganda, I tried to portray life at home as gloomily as possible and even made-up different kinds of little stories with my best imagination.

I forgot the spectacular balls in which I once took part, I forgot the smell of cologne and the smell of the perfume wafting from the women. I did not again have to worry which suit I would wear in the morning and which in the evening. Life smiled upon me.

During the student parties thrown from time to time, the hall was always packed wall to wall. The air was thick and steamy like in a bathhouse, but this did not bother anyone. On the contrary, the tightness allowed for you to fondle your girl and pretend you didn't know what your hands were doing.

One night, the students brought a jug of homemade vodka and got properly drunk with the girls. Following that, everyone got horizontal with echoing revelry. They were drunk to the point of not knowing who was doing what with whom – and they did not care…

Life continued like this until December, when it was announced that due to the crushing German attack, the university would relocate to Tashkent. I received the announcement with great joy: I had heard that a Polish army was organizing in Russia, was parked for the moment in Tashkent[5], and would soon head to Persia. I had a strong desire to enlist in this army's ranks and make it this way to the land of Israel, the wish of every young Jew from Poland. I hoped that I would be able to move from the Polish army to the Jewish Brigade and fight the enemy shoulder to shoulder with Jewish soldiers.

Unfortunately for me, things played out differently. When I arrived in Tashkent, I was made aware that the army had set out on its way to Persia a while ago. Despite this, I did not lose hope, as I would still dawn a uniform in this war. From the newspapers and the radio, I learned of the events in Poland, of the horrors committed against the Jewish population, and the wrath suffocated me. I knew that I would never see my parents again; I knew that a couple of elderly people

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would not withstand these tortures. And thus, I decided to enlist in the Red Army and avenge my parents.

This plan also did not come to fruition. I was told that the Russians were not at all ready to accept into their ranks refugees from the West, although the authorities I had spoken to promised me that this would soon change. In the meantime, I had no choice but to grind my teeth and invest my youthful energy into my studies.

* * *

Tashkent. A big city, with 1.5 million residents, most of them Uzbeks and Russians, with a minority of them being Jewish, Armenian, Kyrgyz, and Azerbaijani.

The first thing that piqued my interest was the city's unique character. Tashkent was the first Eastern city I saw, both in the appearance of its homes and the appearance and behavior of its residents.

Most of Tashkent's residents make their livings from trade, here the flower on every branch. They take it upon themselves to outwit his friend, cheat him in matters of business, and to take the money from his pockets in ways both legal and illegal. Although the city was very big, its stores were devoid of goods and of people. The real commerce is concentrated in the market; there you can get all the things that were missing from the stores, buy ridiculous things at just as ridiculous prices, exchange money and meet friends. The place is also swarming with gangs of teenagers involved in stealing watches and wallets with so much agility that the local police failed in stopping them. It is my belief that the police sometimes purposely turn a blind eye because of bribes from the gangs. True or not, a visit to Tashkent's market is a multifaceted experience.

The Uzbeks are artists in all things relating to relentless haggling and deceiving. They can sell you anything, at a price much higher than the value of the object. Even if it is clear to you that they are squeezing money out of you for essentially nothing, you cannot resist the persuasive methods of these sneaky vendors. Despite their antics when it comes to commerce, the Uzbeks stand out in their knowledge of languages and the high level of culture in comparison to much of the rest of the population. Many of them obtain higher education, and their natural intelligence causes them to stand out in every area.

I had close ties to this stratum of the population, as my enrollment into the University of Tashkent obtained me many friends from among the Uzbeks. Here, they did not look at me like they would a stranger since I had learned in Stalingrad how to adjust to my classmates and already knew how to behave towards them.

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That being said, it was not easy for me to obtain residency authorization in Tashkent. The number of residents grew with the influx of refugees here, reaching up to 4.5 million. The crowdedness was awful, and the authorities requested to restrict as much as possible the number of new residents. Friends who came here before succeeded in getting the necessary license. I had no such luck. What will I do? I launch a campaign of badgering towards all the party and city authorities, starting in town and ending at the ministry, but all to no effect.

They send me from office to office. I spend half a day at the city registration office, standing patiently in line and waiting. Finally, I am let into the official in charge's room.

“I am very sorry,” he says to me, “but I will not be able to fulfill your request. You yourself have certainly seen overwhelming crowdedness here. We do not have space for any new people…”

I erupt in despair. “All of my friends from university are here,” I shout. “The professors with whom I studied were transferred here as well – and only for me there is no space? And this is the thanks I get for my partisan work and for being the secretary of my ward's Komosol?”

“If that is so,” he says to me indifferently, “why have you not gone to the party and asked them to intervene on your behalf?”

I have again hit a dead end. Meanwhile, I am out of money, have no place to sleep, and am starting to get a taste of hunger.

With no choice, I become a porter. I am paid 30 rubles for carrying a package, while a kilogram of bread costs 120. On the other hand, I can purchase an abundance of grapes for just 1.50 rubles. I therefore feed on fruits, but I soon discover that I cannot survive without bread. I have no more energy. The money that I earn is not enough to rent a room; I thus spend my nights in the market stalls.

Only on Wednesday do I find out that there is a possibility I can make an appeal before the president of the Uzbek Republic. I inform him of my request in writing, and I receive in the mail in return a courteous letter from the president's office. Attached to the letter is an invitation: I am to present myself to the president in two days for a personal conversation.

I arrive at his office on the designated day at 1 p.m., as is written in the invitation. They move me to a spacious waiting room, in which many people are already sitting. The hall is furnished with great taste. Diverse reading materials are on the tables – newspapers, weeklies, and leaflets. The walls are decorated with Western-style sculptures.

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I have not yet stopped examining my surroundings when they call my name. My heart starts to pound; not ever had I been in the company of such high-level people.

I enter. It is a modest room. On the walls are pictures of Lenin and Stalin. Behind the desk sits a man in his fifties smoking a cigarette. When I enter, he stands up immediately and extends his hand to me.

“Please sit,” he invites.

He then starts presenting me with questions that have nothing at all to do with my bothersome problem. He is interested in the lives of workers in Poland and asks that I tell him about them in detail. While we are talking, a pleasant girl in a white apron enters the room and asks if she can serve lunch?

“Of course,” he answers, “and please, Lidya, bring another portion for my student friend. Dine with me, won't you?” he asks me. I was more than a little embarrassed, but I could not refuse. I thanked him for his great generosity.

Hence, I eat lunch in the company of the president. It has been a long time since I tasted such wonderful flavors. When I swallowed the premium champagne, it awakened in me memories of days past, and only with difficulty did I hold back the tears in my eyes. Fool, I said to myself, why are you going to cry? You will not be able to change your situation this way.

Only after we finished lunch did President Akhunbabaev[6] ask why I had come. I begin to tell him about my past, my dedication to the party, and the predicament I am in right now. He listens and writes something down on a piece of paper. Then he hands me the note and says, “Please, comrade student, everything is in order.”

I thank him from the bottom of my heart and leave. Outside, I open the folded note and read:

“…Please immediately issue a residence permit within Tashkent and allocate a suitable place of residence…” Signed: President of the Uzbek Republic.

With the note in my hand, I swiftly ran to the city hall. I got there during their lunch break, and had to wait until 3 p.m. Eventually, the office opened - and I was again faced with the same clerk who had rudely rejected my request a few days ago.

“What did you come for?” he asks me, “If it's about the license, you can leave immediately. I have no time to argue with you, we don't have a residence, no…”

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“Fine,” I tell him quietly. “But I have a letter addressed to you.”

After reading the letter, the clerk became extremely accommodating. “Sit down, please,” he said, offering me a chair.

“I will immediately resolve the issue, he continued. “Haven't I told you that I would gladly handle your request… I'll take care of it right away, comrade!'

And indeed, a few moments later, I already had the license in my hand, along with a letter to the owner of the apartment in which a room was allocated for me. The owners of the apartment were Uzbeks. I got a furnished room that seemed to me like a palace.

* * *

From that moment on, I lacked nothing. I got acclimated to Tashkent and became very friendly with the homeowners, who treated me with kindness, typical of Uzbeks. They are the best hosts in the world! Even when they harbor hatred for a person within their home, they treat him with kindness as if he was a good friend.

The day after the visit to the president, I went to the law faculty secretariat, where they immediately accepted me as one of the students and sent me to the university warehouse. There they gave me a new suit, shirt, and shoes. After I changed my clothes and removed the layer of filth that had accumulated on my body over the past few days, I felt like a different person.

Since then, I have visited the lectures every day between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m. Each of us also got a job in the afternoon in order to not burden the city. I was sent to work in a factory for bombs and grenades; As deputy manager of the worker's diner, where 2,500 people ate.

I felt that I had gradually regained my strength. I had plenty of food; Sometimes, I would even bring various groceries to friends whose situation was not as good as mine.

This is how things continued until the end of the semester. Then, instead of the long-awaited vacation, we were sent in groups to work the land.

On the farm I was sent to, I was given the opportunity to get to know the lives of the Uzbeks up close. For us Europeans, there were many new and strange things about them.

The Uzbek peasants do not usually master the Russian language, especially not the old generation. They still wear their national clothes, embroidered with colorful flowers. They don't like to work. Instead, they sit in their tea houses at all hours of the day and evening and sip boiling tea, without sugar. This allows them to bear the terrible heat that prevails in this region.

Sometimes I would be inclined to think that the Uzbeks are deathly afraid

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of manual labor. Women and children work in their place in the fields. They have no shortage of the latter: every Uzbek has several wives, who live peacefully among themselves. During my entire stay at the farm, I did not encounter any instance of competition or quarrels between the women.

The Uzbeks are a God-fearing and ritual-loving people. They hold the circumcision ceremony when a boy reaches the age of thirteen. The boy is then brought to the community's elders, and the revelry that follows the ceremony lasts for three days and three nights. Apart from the wedding, this is the most important ceremony in their lives.

During my stay at the farm, I had the chance to see an Uzbek wedding ceremony to which all the area residents were invited.

According to tradition, the bride is not allowed to meet her groom from the morning on. The latter fasts during the day, and the couple would meet only during the marriage ceremony. The congregation elects a sort of committee of five elderly women. They prepare a special room for the couple, and stand guard so that no one enters it. The young couple must spend the wedding night in this room, and the next day the women enter the room and check the sheets to see if the bride was indeed a virgin. If not, the young husband may annul his marriage and return his wife to her parent's house.

While the couple is in their room, the guests spend time outside, around a fire, and eat pilaf (a national dish made of rice, meat, and oils). The food is in a large bowl, and everyone must dip their hand and shove the rice in their mouth - otherwise, they will be considered an enemy of the family.

* * *

In such conditions - in the city during my studies and on the farm during my vacation - I lived until 1944.

I thought of my beloved parents, my sister, and Marisha always and everywhere. One painful question tormented me: are they still alive? Finally, I learned that the Red Army liberated our district. I immediately contacted the local authorities by phone, and after a few days of expectation, I received a telegram from my sister: she is alive and well and lives in Rivne.

I laughed, cried, jumped like a madman, ran to everyone I knew, and told them the wonderful news I had received. I thought I had no one left in the world - and my sister was there, alive and waiting for my return!

I began to arrange my papers frantically. And soon after, everything was ready; with a beating heart, I set off.

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I'm sitting on the train and can't believe my eyes. Through the train car's windows, the sandy fields of Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan pass before my eyes. I hear a locomotive horn, and the train enters the tunnel. Even before I have adjusted to the darkness, we are outside again, and a city unfolds before my eyes. I still don't know if all of this is happening in reality or if I'm dreaming: have I already left Tashkent, from the heart of Asia, and am I on my way home? Will I soon see my hometown, where I spent my best years, where I left everything dear to me?

My patience is running out. I travel for a day, two days, three, twelve. Finally, the train enters the Ukrainian lands. Snow-covered fields lie on both sides of the track - and my heart feels a pinch. Memories surface, the childhood games with snowballs, the enchanted rides on a sled pulled by a pair of horses, the skiing I loved so much. As if to anger me, it all reminds me of days that are forever gone…

The sixteenth day. We arrived in Kyiv. The train station is completely destroyed, but the traffic is as heavy as ever. We were told that we would stay here for about 24 hours. So, I go out to the platform - maybe I'll see a familiar face here…

There is no one. I wander from train car to train car, peering into the faces of passers-by, straining my ears to pick up snippets of conversation, but all in vain. The hours slowly go by. I'm tired.

The next day the train leaves from Kyiv. Home!

On January 5, 1945, at 11:30 a.m., the train arrives at Rivne. I get off the train - and I don't recognize my city. Everything here is ruined, barren, and abandoned. Not a soul in sight.

And is this Rivne, the city where I had my happy childhood, the town that was always buzzing with life? Now it is in a state of gloomy silence, like after a dead man's funeral.

I pick up my things and go to the address my sister mentioned in her letter. Approaching the place, I no longer control my nerves. My heart beats strongly as if it wanted to leap out of my chest, and my legs give out on me. For a moment, I fear I won't have the strength to reach the door.

With a trembling hand, I knock on the door: “Come in!” I hear from inside.

Inside the room a young girl sits, writing something. As I come in, she raises her head and looks at me. Asiya! My little sister Asiya!

We fall into each other's arms, cry, laugh, and kiss each other. I am not ashamed of my running tears. Asiya was a little girl

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when I last saw her–and now I hold a seventeen-year-old maiden in my arms.

When we calmed down a bit, we started telling each other about our past years. We didn't have much time; the news of my coming spread, and I still haven't had time to look at Asiya to my heart's content. The room was filled with people. The visits and conversations continued until late in the evening. Finally, the last of the guests left, and I was given the opportunity to chat freely with Asiya.

That night I slept on white and fragrant sheets for the first time since I left Tashkent. It took twenty-five days to get from distant Asia to Rivne.

The next day I went to Mizoch to look for the place where my old parents' house used to be. Much to my surprise, I found out that the house was standing strong - one of the few that survived in town - and that the dairy next to it also survived. However, everything seemed hopelessly neglected; No trace of our flower beds and fruit garden remained.

I entered the house trembling with excitement. I couldn't stay there long. A wave of memories flooded me, and I sobbed out loud as I went out into the street.

I almost ran away from that place and did not allow myself to look back. It was one of the hardest moments of my life. But man, as it turns out, can overcome everything. When I returned to Asiya and Rivne, I had already come to my senses and showed no sign of what had happened.

Life slowly returned to its course. The days have gone by quickly: every morning, I would stroll around to see the aftermath of the destruction with my own eyes. Every day I would hear new details about the murder of my people by the Ukrainians, about the destruction of entire cities and villages.

Finally, after three months of sitting in Rivne, I decided I had nothing more to look for there. I applied to move to Poland, and it was approved in a short time. I felt that I could no longer stay on this land, soaked in the blood of my innocent parents and relatives.

My next stop: Lodz, the largest and most vibrant city in post-war Poland. A few days later, I got an excellent job at the military attorney's office. My job entails wearing an army uniform with three stars - but I prefer to stay in civilian clothes for safety reasons. Members of the fanatical partisan organization A.K.[7] are still roaming about.

The work gives me new strength. The depression of the last few months is gradually passing. My lifestyle now resembles the one I had before the war:

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dances, theaters, movies. I try to forget the hardships and tragedies I experienced in these unhappy years.

I also try to forget Marisha - but I cannot do so. I was convinced she had perished along with the others, but her memory never left my heart. A kind of voice that I could not subdue told me that I must not forget her, just as I must not forget my parents.

One day, while walking with Asiya on the main street of Lodz, I hear a woman's voice behind me calling, “Ignatz!” I don't linger, thinking it was meant for someone else.

“Ignatz!” The voice repeats.

I turn back…

Marisha! Giant hammers start pounding in my head, and some kind of strange mist appears before my eyes. If it weren't for Asiya supporting me, I would have surely fallen on the pavement. I felt my mouth was wide open - but I could not utter a single sound from my numbed throat.

I managed to recover with a great effort. I wanted to take her in my arms, crush her mouth with my lips - but the squeeze of Asiya's hand on my arm reminded me that we were on the street…

I invite Marisha to my apartment, which is nearby. A moment later, we sit in my room, deep in comfortable armchairs. My sister Asiya leaves us alone and goes out to make something to drink.

I look at my Marisha and see the years that have passed, reflecting on her face. With a heavy heart, I note that my beloved had changed a little. Those great braids that I loved so much are gone. The perfect figure that aroused the girls' envy had also gone away. In the picture that was kept in my heart, Marisha always wore her silk dress, made according to the Paris fashion - and now I see before me a ragged and tired girl with the hardships of war etched on her face.

However, all this does not diminish my joy even in the slightest. My Marisha is with me again, after I believed for so long that she was no longer alive - and my happiness knows no bounds. I thirstily drink her words. And Marisha says:

She was in Warsaw during the bloody uprising. She had fake documents, and no one knew about her being Jewish. After the suppression of the rebellion, she was sent to forced labor in Vienna, and with the liberation of Poland, she arrived in Lodz.

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Asiya calls us to the table. We taste the coffee and cakes she made, talk for a bit longer - and then Marisha gets up and says she has to go. Livelihood matters, she explains to me. She has to support herself somehow…

I accompany her home and memorize her address. As we part separate ways, I get the feeling that she was treating me with deliberate coldness, as if she wanted to drive me away.

Why? Maybe she's married and didn't want to tell me about it, or maybe engaged - or maybe she just doesn't love me anymore? Questions, unanswered questions…

That night I can't sleep. Marisha's image was constantly in my mind's eye. At two past midnight, I turn on the light on the bedside table and force myself to read a book. Thousands of thoughts swirl in my mind, keeping me restless. I wait impatiently for the morning.

After breakfast, I go to the city and buy high-heeled shoes and a lovely dress. Then, loaded with packages, happy as a child, I run to Marisha's house.

The door is opened by a chambermaid who asks me why I was there. “Can I see Miss Marisha?” I'm asking.

“Please, here's her room.” The maid disappears into the darkness of the corridor. I knock on Marisha's door.

She is alone and sitting at the table. Busy writing.

We shake hands like two strangers. I hand her my packages.

“For me?” she asks.

“I brought you some little things,” I say. “Why, you can't look so neglected. You must become the Marisha I knew once again - both on the outside and in your soul.”

”Ignatz… I am so glad you care for me, but please understand, I cannot accept these things without paying you for them - and I have no money…”

My heart was saddened. I feel that something is hidden behind her hesitation.

“Marisha,” I implore her, “I don't understand you. Haven't we known each other since childhood, you were a classmate - and my friend for many years. But let's not talk about that - even if you were just a girl from my town, I would still feel a moral obligation towards you.”

The diplomatic tone I used achieves its purpose. Marisha takes my presents and thanks me from the bottom of her heart. We exchange notes, talk

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About different topics - and finally, I turn to leave without talking to her about the most important thing to me - the intense love I have for her.

Before leaving, I invite her to an evening showing at the cinema, but she refuses, saying she has no free time in the evening. We, therefore, talk about meeting tomorrow afternoon at her apartment.

I decide to talk to her openly. The unclear situation we are in is not to my liking.

The next day, at 3 p.m., I show up at Marisha's. This time I don't waste time. After a short introduction, I ask for her hand.

Marisha bursts into terrible tears.

“Ignatz!” Where were you a few weeks ago? I thought about you all these years and waited for your return, not even for a moment did I believe that you were not alive. But some time ago, my faith grew weak. I met a man who fell in love with me – and we've been engaged for two weeks!”

Everything is clear to me now. I hear her sobbing and know that it's not too late. I feel that if I implore her repeatedly, Marisha will have a change of heart.

But I can't do that. I still have a shred of self-respect left in me, for I didn't stop thinking about Marisha despite all the disasters that happened to me. Many girls wanted me - but I remained loyal to Marisha. If her love is stronger than mine, I say to myself, she must come to me.

“Marisha! I have already told you about what has happened to me in recent years,” I tell her, “However, I would like to add this: always, wherever I was, I remembered and loved you. I love you now and will love you in the future. My feelings for you will never change: I'm the same as before the war and will remain so in the future.”

I breathe deeply and continue: “And now. I don't know if we will meet again one day. So, farewell - and accept my sincere good wishes for your new path.”

“Ignatz!” Marisha tries to stop me. “Wait… Don't go yet.” Her lips are trembling: she wants to say something more, but her throat won't let her.

“I'm very sorry, Marisha. But I don't have any more time to spare.” Standing on the doorstep, I add: “Tomorrow, I will get my documents in order and leave for Krakow - and from there, I will continue to The Land of Israel.” “As you see - we are going our separate ways.”



Translator's Footnotes

  1. Dnipropetrovsk, now Dnipro, city in Ukraine on the Dnipro River, 290 miles SE of Kyiv Return
  2. Kuybyshev, now Samara, city in Russia on the Volga River, 875 miles ENE of Dnipro. Return
  3. Bezymyanka, town on the outskirts of Kuybyshev. Return
  4. Stalingrad, now Volgograd, city on the Volga River 465 miles SW of Kuybyshev (Samara). Return
  5. Tashkent, capital of Uzbekistan, 1,680 miles ESE of Volgograd. Return
  6. Yuldash Akhunbabaev, a founding father and first head of state of the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic (Wiki) Return
  7. Armia Krajowa (Home Army), a resistance movement in German-occupied Poland in World War II. Aligned with the Polish government-in-exile, it was disbanded by the Soviet government. Return


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