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Excerpts from

“Sala's Gift: My Mother's Holocaust Story”

by Ann Kirschner

sal01.jpg [24 KB] - Young Sala
Young Sala

Raizel's writing jumped from subject to subject, and her script betrayed her anxieties. For long letters, Raizel often drafted first on a separate piece of paper before mailing a clean copy. She filled her pages with a range of handwriting styles, varying from an ornate and italic calligraphy, to small, neatly formed letters, as precise and compact as a typewriter. But lately, her writing had become erratic. The more she rambled about dancing and celebrating, the more suspicious Sala became. Raizel was filling up too many pages with too few words; such profligacy of paper was unusual – and alarming. She was crossing words out. Was this a deliberate signal, a jumble of codes and innuendo, or did the messy papers suggest a disorder of another kind?

April 24, 1941


If you would know how much we would like to send you good news. Oh! how you would enjoy it. And maybe it will really happen. How wonderful it would be if we would one day be happy. You are not against that, right?

Do you know why I write so much? Because as long as you read, we are together. Sala! Write to us a lot, a lot. If you have the opportunity, don't let it pass, always write …

Dear mother is making potatoes. I must remember to eat, although for two days I haven't felt well. God forbid that I am sick. I just need to eat more. My heart is beating a bit too fast today, but I am already much better.

You asked if we longed for your shouting? What do you mean? Imagine, now I sleep with dear mother. Are you envious? I think so.

You are not yet free of me. Why do you say that you write on the floor? Don't you have a chair? That too interests us. Everything! Everything! Are you already tired of me? Maybe I will remember something else. Don't laugh at me, even though this is not so nicely written. Every second, I remember something else, and then something else, so that you will have more to mull over. What you probably want is for me to irritate you. So I do it for your sake.

[Our niece] Salusia has new shoes … [my student] sends regards.

Fond regards and kisses from our dear parents. Greetings from your sisters.


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In fact, there were grievous scenes at home, a collision of problems on too many fronts. Sala pieced together the story with help from her friends.

Another of her sisters, Laya Dina, and her husband, David, had been captured in a roundup. Ever resourceful, David had wrangled yet another reprieve and was back at home, but they feared that he would be taken again. Most pitiful of all, Moniek, Laya Dina's little boy, had contracted pneumonia and was dangerously ill with a high fever. There was no money for medicine.

Moniek began to recover. Raizel was relieved, but the approach of the Passover holiday brought fresh reminders of their family's pitiful state.

April 24, 1941


… First of all, [Moniek] is out of danger. Thank God, thank God. Oh Sala, if you could see him, how he looks … but it doesn't matter. The crisis is over … the child lay in bed for more than one week, with a temperature of over 104 degrees, but finally, finally. I can't give you more details. If you knew how it upset our dear mother that I am writing to you about the child … he should only now regain his strength … I read your card to him, and he enjoyed it very much. He asks only why you write so little.

Well, Sala, you wanted to know about our [Passover]. You can imagine the scene, how it was for our dear father, who used to come home in the evening after prayers at the synagogue. He broke out in such a painful weeping that he was not able to say a word. So, there was complete silence during the whole Seder.

You may wonder if it's possible that we had everything prepared for the holiday. It's over, and we will do better next time. For matzo, we had just enough coupons. Even if we had more, we couldn't have eaten, because Moniek was so very sick …


David was not the only one who had been seized on the street. Sala learned from her friends that deportations were increasing in randomness and violence throughout Sosnowiec. Her friend Sala Rabinowicz said that her two brothers were visiting “Mrs. Skladowa” and might be Sala's “guest” soon, a coded message that meant that they were being held in the transit camp at Skladowa Street and were being sent to Geppersdorf. “We are all dazed … and hardly get together,” her friends wrote in a group letter in early May. There were constant references to the rampant inflation and the difficulty of finding any form of employment. Even Bela Kohn, the most affluent of her friends, sounded worried. She and her brother and sister were still working with their father in the family store on the main street of Sosnowiec, but the store had been taken over by Nazi managers. “We have had various problems,” she noted, without going into details.

The payments from Schmelt and Merin were increasingly rare. Raizel bemoaned the absence of even these meager wages and was struggling to earn some money by tutoring students in Yiddish and Hebrew. She also alerted Sala to a new mail regulation: all letters would henceforth identify the writer and recipient as Jews by adding the middle name of Sara or Israel. Soon even the gravestones in the Jewish cemetery were required to include these middle names.

May 12, 1941

Dear Sala,

… Don't worry, we are healthy and we are eating. It's interesting, Sala, why the community office hasn't paid us anything for seven weeks. I don't know why. They say here that where you are, you get paid, is that true? We need the money very badly. But what can one do? I work with father a little. Blima doesn't have any work …

Don't wonder when you see that I sign my name as Sara. We have to now: every woman must add Sara [to her name] and every man must add Israel.


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Unbeknownst to Sala and her family, the boundaries of the war continued to shift and expand. In the spring of 1941, German forces were engaged in North Africa against British and Australian armies. The Nazis had invaded Greece and Yugoslavia. Now three million Nazi troops were looking eastward, to Russia. On June 22, Hitler attacked his former ally and his army began the drive toward Moscow, followed closely by Nazi death squads who swept up the Jewish men, women, and children along their route and executed them in mass, open-air shootings.

In the Nazi camp at Geppersdorf, the spring thaw initiated an accelerated pace of construction on the highway. More officers and guards kept arriving, which increased Sala's workload. All of her mending was still done by hand, and she could barely keep up. The long-awaited sewing machine had not yet arrived.

One morning, two guards came in and told her that she must leave the camp immediately with them. Frightened, but distracted by the novelty of riding in a car, she caught a glimpse of the town of Geppersdorf through the window. They drove along the long and charming main street, which was divided by a narrow strip of grass. The houses were mostly two-story buildings, colored in soft hues of goldenrod, pale pink, and light green. Just past the main square, they parked in front of a picturesque cottage.

A sign on the door announced the residence of “W. Pachta, Tailor.” The door was opened by a heavy-set, middle-aged woman, her hair neatly coiled. She introduced herself as Mrs. Anna Pachta, and cordially welcomed the guards inside. They pointed to Sala, still standing outside the door with her basket, the regulation blue and white armband wrapped around her sleeve. She was introduced as the Jewish seamstress who would be working on the Pachtas' extra sewing machine, an arrangement struck between Mr. Wilhelm Pachta and Ackerman, the head of Geppersdorf. The guards left.

Mrs. Pachta asked her name and brought her a cup of tea and a plate of cake; Sala's eyes watered from the unexpected sweetness of the food and the simple kindness of her hostess. She looked with eagerness at the solid furnishings, the abundant decorations, and the well-appointed workshop, where brightly colored fabric samples and threads were hanging from every inch of wall space.

sal01b.jpg [19KB] - Elfriede Pachta
Elfriede Pachta

Soon they were joined by Elfriede, Mrs. Pachta's daughter, a pleasant-faced young woman in her early twenties, who walked with a pronounced limp. Elfriede placed Sala at one of the sewing machines. They worked side by side while Elfriede talked about her family and showed her photos of all of them, including her brother Herbert. Her father would be returning soon from a trip to the city of Breslau, Elfriede explained, and he would be so delighted to meet their new seamstress. Her brother was also away, but she offered no explanation of his whereabouts.

They finished their work and still had time before Sala had to return to the camp. Elfriede and her mother piled a plate high with fresh food, and she ate gratefully. When the guards arrived, she was sitting quietly by the front door, the uniforms folded neatly back in the basket.

Like her chance meeting with Ala at the train station, Sala's assignment to the Pachtas' cottage was a lifesaving piece of luck. Raizel began to add blessings in her letters for the Pachtas. She had no good news of her own to report.

May 17, 1941

Dear Sala,

At the moment, I am at Laya Dina's with [a friend]. Sala, you asked why we are writing so rarely. Don't be shocked, Mother was sick but, thank God, she is well again. Besides we are getting ready for the day when you will have other guests. So if you don't get mail from us, don't be worried, it's just that my head is not “with it.”

Now, Sala, don't be upset that we have not sent you a parcel yet. We'll try to take care of that today. I would much rather not have told you, but we haven't had the money for packages until now. I'm just bringing this up to explain why we haven't sent you any food. Now we're sending you just some cookies. Please write us what you need most, because if we get something from the community, we will send it to you right away. But since we have no money, we have to know what you need most. We are very eager for you to get something from us.

And then we spend every minute in great anticipation of your visit over the holidays. Oh, how Mother and all of us will rejoice!

Please give our regards to the entire Pachta family and convey our thanks for how well they take care of you.

Otherwise, there is nothing new, we are all well, thank God. We have only a little work, Blima has no work at all. Moniek has recovered, thank God … Salusia asks why you write her so little.

Regards and kisses,

P. S. Regards to Ala. We're waiting for you.

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The Pachta family wanted to know everything about her family, and their sympathy revived her. When Raizel wrote that Moniek, and now their mother, had fallen seriously ill, the Pachtas mailed money to her parents in a letter that arrived in Sosnowiec like a gift from heaven. They followed up with a special gift for her niece Salusia.

May 21, 1941

Dear Sala!

What a surprise, how totally unexpected – and then, the doll! I was, as usual, visiting Laya Dina and someone told me that a young girl was at our home and brought this package for us.

I'm going to try and give you a lot of reading to do! I will convey everything exactly and clearly, so that you will think you are at home.

The most important thing at the moment for you and for all of us is that dear mother is better, she already has gotten out of bed for the second time, a miracle for us.

[We had a visitor] who told us about you and Ala, that she is everything for you in that strange place, and that means so much to us. Therefore, on behalf of dear mother, be more obedient, don't do anything to upset her, show your appreciation, because it is very bad when one is forced to be away from one's home, unprotected and far from all that is familiar. So hold on to [Ala] and guard her like the apple of your eye, because she is a treasure for you. Remember, listen to her. Don't do anything to aggravate her …

Salusia plays with her baby doll very carefully: she's afraid to disturb it. She asked me to thank you. And please thank the Pachta family for sending it. Even more thanks to them from dear mother for their conscientious supervision. May God repay them for their care of you.


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When Mr. Pachta returned from his travels, he was just as welcoming as his wife and daughter, although more reserved. She continued to wonder about Herbert, the missing son. They never talked about him, although once, she thought she heard them whispering his name. As she waited for the guards in the afternoon, she sometimes studied the framed photograph of a clean-faced man who was younger than Elfriede, somewhat stern in countenance, but with the same fair hair and pleasing features.

She began to feel that she had been blessed with a second family, this one proudly German and gentile and sincere in their concern for her welfare. This was not the reunion for which she prayed, but she was grateful.

On a warm day in June, she arrived at the Pachta home with her usual basket of mending. The door had hardly shut behind the guards when Elfriede announced that the weather was much too fine to spend indoors. She and her mother had a secret plan for the day.

The Pachtas were proud of their old family and their position as the tailors of Geppersdorf, and they wanted her to see their charming little village. Sadly, the sewing machines are broken today, Elfriede declared, draping a uniform over the machine, and removing Sala's blue and white armband. Let's walk into town, she said, as if it were the most natural thing in the world.

Sala allowed herself to be swept away by Elfriede's enthusiasm. They started at the village square. She was suitably impressed by the old brick and stone Catholic church that stood in the middle of the square and listened dutifully to Elfriede's proud recitation of its six-hundred-year history. They continued along the main shopping street. It seemed impossible that such things existed, a world of summer gaiety and prosperity, not a cloud in the sky, not a Jew in the street – except one. They passed a group of German soldiers. Mrs. Pachta took her by the arm and they entered a grocery store where they bought provisions for supper. When she looked back, the soldiers were gone. The grocer walked with them outside his shop, where he remained, keeping his eye on the shoemaker across the way, who stood at his door with his hands in his pockets. What would the Pachtas' neighbors have thought if they knew that their silent visitor was the daughter of Rabbi Josef Garncarz?

She returned to the camp, eager to share her adventure with her closest friend, Ala Gertner, an older woman who had taken Sala under her wing.

But Ala had amazing news of her own. For months, they had discounted the rumors of a vacation. Raizel had been devouring these stories, hoping that her sister would be allowed to return for the Jewish New Year services in September. The rumors were true – except only for Ala.

Ala left in June. Sala Rabinowicz was the first to meet her.

June 18, 1941

Dear Sala!

We received your card, for which I thank you very much. You are upset that we write so little but the reason is that we can't write well in German. So our friends ask that I write this to you.

We learned a lot about you from Ala, nonetheless we would rather have a personal conversation with you.

Keep your eyes open and plan for tomorrow because we don't only live for today. We have a great future before us. Go down your path, the one that Ala shows you for your benefit. I believe that this one will be right. We don't have words for her, because she is such a wonderful person. It is such good fortune to be loved by someone like her. Think about and cherish all of this: good will come to you.

We are sending you some clothes, and also a few homemade cookies. So please write to us soon that you have received everything in good order.

Sala Rabinowicz

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Bela Kohn was the next friend to fall under Ala's spell.

June 23, 1941

Dear friend,

We were so pleased to meet your dear Ala. She is even nicer than you described her. She told us everything, and it was almost as if you were with us. We all liked her and now there is no need to wonder why you like her so much.

Dear, what is new with you? When we see you, we'll probably have to spend an entire year talking, and we will tell each other everything. Nothing new here, business as usual. We're working and time goes by. Ala reprimanded us for writing to you so rarely. She is right. I hope you will forgive us. You know us – although we are too lazy to write, we are always with you in our thoughts.

Kisses and regards to dear Ala. We were taken by her very much. All of my family also sends regards.


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Ala had smoothed her entry into the camp. Everything had been more bearable when they were together. It was wonderful that her friends were impressed by Ala, but no consolation to Sala, who missed her friend and lamented her new solitude. Other people had also been given permission to leave, but it never seemed to be her turn.

The Pachta family comforted her. They gave her some money to send home, the first time she had been able to do so. Raizel acknowledged the gift with gratitude and continued to be optimistic that she would see her sister again soon.

July 9, 1941

Dear Sala,

Oh, what a wonderful surprise to receive money from you for the first time! We are not only happy because you sent so much money, but because you must be gratified to have earned it with your own two hands.

But what can we do [about coming home]? Can you really not get time off for vacation? How terrible. But we keep hoping that you will come unexpectedly. This week it was rumored that you had come. Some people even said that they saw you. Perhaps they had a premonition of your arrival, may God grant us that this is true.

First, please thank the Pachta family on behalf of our dear parents, who cannot put their gratitude into words. May God give them a good life for being like parents to you.

Now you probably want to know what's happening at home, particularly the enormous inflation. The 10 RM [that you sent home] come in very handy… Otherwise, nothing new to impart.

At present, David is home. We are all well, thank God, the children too. They are so much looking forward to seeing you. Maybe, maybe. Now I'm concluding with kisses and regards from our dear parents and all of us. Special greetings to Miss Ala and the Pachta family.


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It was still more frustrating when Ala came back to Geppersdorf, settled in briefly, and then announced that she was leaving again. Apparently, she had found temporary employment at home. She promised to fight for Sala's release, but this additional leave had been arranged by Ala's family, and she could do nothing for her friend.

Sala's disappointments mounted when she learned that she was about to lose her precious connection to the Pachta family. The camp was finally receiving its own sewing machine, and there would be no excuse for her to travel. Days of nourishing food, civil conversation, and the gentle, caring ways of a generous family came to an end. On the last day, they kissed her warmly and gave her photographs to remember their time together. “To dearest little Sala, in memory of Geppersdorf,” wrote Elfriede. She and her parents promised to visit, showing her the official notification they received from Ackerman thanking them for their service to the Reich.

For months afterward, the Pachtas kept their promise. They came to the camp and walked directly to her room until late summer, when Geppersdorf was enclosed in barbed wire for the first time. After that, they stopped at the front gate and asked a guard to deliver their packages of food and clothing. Sala was allowed to accept the packages and to exchange a few words with them. New guards grew suspicious of a German family's interest in a Jewish seamstress, however. One day, the Pachtas stopped coming.

Sala's friends wrote to her about catching sight of Ala a few times. Finally the day came when Ala visited Raizel and her parents. It was strange to picture Ala on Kollataja Street, still more incongruous to think of her sister and her friend talking about her, sitting side by side, and sharing a single postcard that they composed together:

August 16, 1941

Dear Sala,

Imagine, while I am writing this, I am sitting with your true friend, Ala. I can see why she is so dear to you and why she deserves our greatest respect and appreciation. Miss Ala spent quite some time with us, she herself, in person! How much we love her, and we pray that she will always have a good life! She asked us to give you warm regards and says that she already sent you a parcel. Oh, we will write you a long letter. But now it's getting late, it's just [before the Sabbath], and Miss Ala also wants to write you something, shouldn't I let her? Now, warm regards from our dear parents and all of us.

Good Sabbath.
Your sister, Raizel

Dear Sarenka,

Here I am writing again. Your sister is with me. I was at your house for an hour. Your parents were very happy. I talked to your beloved father and mother, they are very dear. Sarenka, please send me a certificate right away, saying that you worked in Geppersdorf, and specify the dates. Have it signed by the senior [overseer] and by the Jewish Elder.

Today in the community office, I read your letter. Why don't I get mail from you?!?! Huh?

Warm regards,

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Sala took Ala's request of a certificate from camp as a good sign: perhaps it signified that she too was eligible for a vacation.

Sala had tried to prepare Ala for the grim reality of her family's one-room apartment, and perhaps that was why Ala had delayed, and visited first with Sala Rabinowicz and Bela Kohn.

Raizel wrote again the next day, this time without the restraint of Ala sitting beside her.

August 17, 1941

Dear Sala!

I finally found the time to write, but now, I have more time than usual. I quickly answered your letter so you wouldn't complain and be nervous. I wrote a postcard, and your loyal and dear Ala added some lines as well.

As you can see, Ala is back at home already. You're probably curious to know why Ala came to see us. We really didn't expect that she would show up since she was on leave and did not have enough time, even though I asked her so urgently. I was surprised when you wrote that we should visit her and invite her.

In any case, all that is over. One should only remember good things about a person. I only want to explain the reason why it seemed that we were not paying attention to her. I learned by chance [on Tuesday morning] that she had come already [on Monday night]. But even when I heard it from her mother, I didn't believe it. I thought if that's true, then they will let us know; if not, then I will not go to her. If they don't want her to see me, that's fine, then it's better not to go. And so matters stood. We have had enough disappointments …

Everyone knew that she had come home and asked if she had visited us, and we answered in various ways for the sake of appearances.

Then completely unexpectedly, this Friday the 15th of August between about 5 and 6 in the afternoon, I was sitting on the steps and mending dear mother's stockings, when I thought I saw the figure of Ala on the [second] floor, and before I really recognized her, I heard someone asking for the Garncarz family …

Oh yes! So, I was right, I had seen correctly. Naturally, I invited her into our room, and naturally, I didn't know what she thought. I figured that you would have prepared her about our apartment. It's better to have an idea about the reality so you aren't disappointed. From what I observed, Ala knew very little about what to expect from our apartment.

Okay. Now, you should know what Ala said. Well, really nothing special, only that she cannot live without you, and praised you so much that we really enjoyed it, and she eased our minds saying that you are doing well. But the thought that you are there now, without her, disturbs us. We know that such a friend as Ala is not to be found again among a thousand people.

All that you wrote about her was not a lie: we, too, finally see it …

She asked me if she could come with me to the post office and I consented. Then we went to her brother and she took out the package that she had prepared for you, and she showed me what she had put in, but we left late because we talked so much. That's why we stayed and wrote our postcard at her place. You are probably happy that she wrote something on it too. She wouldn't let me use my postcard, and told me to write on hers.

Because we were delayed in sending the package, we had to wait until today, Monday. Should she have sent you stale baked goods? Unimaginable! So she waited and prepared fresh. Yes, that's Ala completely. She is concerned and cares about you, as her parents do about her. About our dear parents, unfortunately, sadly, we can only sigh. She should have success in her work, she is really a good person, she should reap goodness.

And something else: when she was at our house, imagine, she had cigarettes with her and left them for our dear father, even though we said that he had some, and really, it was true. No, she said, I made the cigarettes myself for your enjoyment. Is it possible to say enough about her in words? Probably not.

Oh, now I have to stop about all this. Nu, what else is new with you, do you feel well? Continue to stay cheerful and everything will be fine. Everything with us is as it was, we are healthy and hope for good news, and are happy that you are loved by all. We talk so often about you that you must often have the hiccups!*

Stay well, you will be drunk with my letter. A thousand kisses we send you, also from our parents, Laya Dina, David, and children. Salusia kisses you very much. Special greetings for Mr. Holtz. Good night. Be well. Convey our greetings, if possible, to the Pachta family.


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She was alone, without her sisters, her friends, and now she had lost Ala and the Pachta family. The time passed with unbearable slowness.

Raizel kept up a steady stream of letters that predicted her sister's imminent return.

September 11, 1941

Dearest Sala,

What is there to write when you are coming home any day now? If only you could stay, then you'd still get something out of life.

We received your card today and I never saw father cry so much. When I started reading it, I couldn't believe what I was reading and I choked on my tears, father started crying terribly, mother and [our sister] Blima, too, it was a terrible sight.

The holidays will be here soon and I know that you, my sister, wish to spend the time with us and you hope for a better life than you have had until now. How well you put that, Sala, and we all agree. Understand that we talk day and night of nothing but you and how much, how much we long to enclose you in our arms.

Yesterday I met Ala. We talked for a while and she said that everything will be all right and she consoled me by saying, “You will see, you will soon be together with your daughter and sister.”

May you always be with us …

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When Sala had almost given up hope, she was visited in her little sewing room by the same SA guard who had accompanied Merin's secretary, Fani Czarna, to the camp. Now they were both veterans, two of the few people who had been at Geppersdorf for nearly a year. At his request, she was sewing some miniature dresses for his granddaughter's doll as a Christmas present, and he came occasionally to check on her progress and exchange a few friendly words.

Her name was on the list for the return to Sosnowiec. He had come to give her the good news himself. She was afraid to believe it, but soon the official notification came from the Bureau. She would be home for three days. They warned her, however, that she must return or no one else would be allowed to have a vacation.

The next day, she was on her way back to Sosnowiec.

It had been a little less than a year since she left. More than one thousand Jews had been rounded up and sent to work camps. The restrictions imposed on those who remained in Sosnowiec – their numbers swelled by refugees from other parts of Poland – continued to tighten. Every week the rations decreased and police actions became more violent. Rumors flew about worse conditions in other parts of Poland, and about Nazi camps from which no one had ever returned.

As she entered the courtyard of her apartment building, she thought of how it looked just a year ago, when they still dared to celebrate the autumn festival of Sukkot. To fulfill the tradition of eating outdoors, it was the custom of the neighbors to set up dining tables in the open area. The women formed a human chain, passing plates and utensils from hand to hand until the food reached the men gathered in the courtyard. Her father presided regally over his modest table, proud and distinguished in his long, snowy beard and formal coat.

Today, the courtyard was deserted. She climbed the stairs and was home.

The embraces left her weak and dizzy. She looked from face to face: her sisters seemed so tired; her father looked like a man of one hundred and twenty years. Her mother never took her eyes away from her daughter but remained silent while Sala and her sisters chattered without taking a breath.

The room was clean and held a warm memory in every corner, but little else. She had not fully understood until now: her family was still poorer at home than when she left, the food nearly as pitiful as in camp, the sense of anxiety swirling like a dank smell around the walls of the apartment. Only her niece Salusia glowed with energy and charm, almost too old for the wooden doll sent by the Pachta family, but she had eagerly brought it to the family reunion to be properly introduced to Aunt Sala.

Despite Raizel's strong protestations, she petitioned her parents to allow her to spend one precious night with her friends. Once again, they walked as a group to the home of Sala Rabinowicz. The city seemed like one giant camp. Streets that were once familiar were now forbidden, and her friends warned her to stay close to the buildings, in case they encountered any soldiers or police. They passed other Jews, all walking quickly to reach their destination before the curfew. Instead of armbands, they now wore the yellow Star of David.

She and her friends stayed up and talked all night. They asked Sala about Geppersdorf and listened attentively, but she felt the futility of explaining life at the camp even to them, her dearest friends. Not that hunger and fear were strangers to them, but they were home, still surrounded by familiar sights and sounds. On this special night of relative freedom and renewed friendship, she could not bear to evoke the loneliness and deprivation of the camp. She preferred to hear their tales of romance and marriage, haircuts and dresses. Although they were still only seventeen, they all had boyfriends. Married men were less likely to be deported, so matchmaking had accelerated to a breakneck pace. Gucia had met her beau in the local factory where she worked. Bela was nearly engaged, and Hela would soon be a bride. The rest of them were at earlier stages of courtship but expected to be married before long.

With great fanfare, they presented her with a recent photograph of the group. She was the only one missing.

Sala did not see Ala until the last day. Ala began by telling her gently what she already suspected: her friend would not be returning to the camp at all. After shuttling back and forth between Sosnowiec and Geppersdorf, Ala had been given a new position with Moses Merin, and would be moving into her own apartment in the nearby city of Bedzin. She had worked hard to bring Sala home for this vacation, and promised Sala's parents that she would never stop working on their daughter's behalf. She even raised the possibility of informally adopting and educating Sala after the war.

They walked to a local portrait studio. Sala's hair was gently curled and pulled back from her face, and she wore Blima's old houndstooth-trimmed jacket. She laughed when Ala embellished her outfit with the same braid-trimmed hat that she had worn at the train station on the day that they left for Geppersdorf. The photographer fussed over them, and finally posed the two women in profile, her clear-eyed gaze holding Ala's until the camera released them.

She returned home from the studio, her conscience pricked at how she had indulged in a night of laughter with her friends and a visit with Ala instead of devoting all her time to her parents and sisters. She went to the drawer and retrieved her bright coral blouse, but left her journal there, locking the drawer once again. Raizel gave her some family photographs of their brother, Moshe David, and his family. The time was so brief that she had not seen him, or their oldest sister, Miriam Chaya, who lived too far away to have visited during Sala's vacation.

They talked with feigned confidence about her next visit. It will come soon, she reassured them. But without a local job or an official waiver, Sala could not refuse to return to the camp. She had heard stories about other families who were arrested if a relative failed to report for forced labor duty. And she believed what she had been told – if she stayed behind, no one else would have their vacation. How could she deny another prisoner the joy of seeing family and friends? At least she had work at Geppersdorf. One more hungry mouth would only add to her parents' problems.

The farewell this time was portentous; it was impossible to pretend that they did not fear its finality. Her sisters and mother fell back when Josef Garncarz approached her. She knew that he would utter the words she most dreaded. As if to preempt them, she rushed forward with her response, saying “Yes, I will be back! I'm here now, aren't I? I was away – but I came back. Be strong, I will return!” But he went on, in a direct and solemn way that she would always remember. “My dear child. I will never see you again.” He put his hands on her head and blessed her for health, for life.

Raizel and Blima survived. Ala Gertner was one of four women hanged at Auschwitz on January 5, 1945 for her role in smuggling gunpowder to aid in an escape plan, the only armed uprising at the camp. Sala Rabinowicz, Bela Kohn, Laya Dina, David, Salusia, Moniek, and Sala's mother and father were killed. Moses Merin was killed. Nothing is known of the fate of the Pachta family.

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