Recap: Mrs. Zabinski dismissed her cook and found someone who, she felt, was more trustworthy. Papa went with Jan to rescue more Jews from the ghetto. He had a knapsack with pistols in the bottom and a Nazi stopped him.
I thought of the two pistols Papa had hidden in that knapsack. If the German found them, that would be the end of Papa’s life. I started saying T’hilim by heart. Mama took my hand. She was davening, too.
“Open it now!” The German officer barked.
“I can’t open it with my hands up,” Papa’s voice was surprisingly calm. “You can look inside if you want to see.”
I wanted to peek from the glass terrace but I didn’t dare. I pictured the Nazi opening the backpack. I bit my lip and closed my eyes. “Please, Hashem, please don’t let him see the pistols.”
The man must have touched the inside and then he withdrew his hand. “A dead rabbit?” he laughed.
“My family’s supper. We have to eat something.”
The Nazi grumbled and we heard the stomp of his boots as he moved away. I realized it was a blessing that Papa didn’t look Jewish, with his blonde hair, reddish beard, and blue eyes.
“Baruch Hashem!” Mama was crying. We hugged. Later that night, Papa returned with Mr. Zabinski and some people they had rescued from the ghetto. There was a young husband and wife named Feinstein, and there was a woman named Magdalena Gross. Mrs. Zabinski showed the Feinsteins to a room in the back. She embraced Mrs. Gross. “Magdalena, my friend, I am so happy you are safe.”
“Your husband is a hero.”
“And you, my friend, are supposed to be sculpting our zoo animals.” Mrs. Zabinski wiped away a tear. I’d never seen her cry before. “The animals are mostly gone. The Germans killed them mercilessly.”
Mrs. Gross shook her head. She put her arm on her friend’s shoulder. “I am so sorry, Antonina. You loved them.”
“So, you will have to sculpt a pig or perhaps a stray duck by the pond.”
“A duck suits me fine, but I don’t know if I should venture out there.”
“No problem. Rys will bring the duck to you in your hiding spot.”
Mama met Mrs. Gross. They spoke about art and they both became instant friends. Later that afternoon, Mrs. Zabinski played the Chopin Prelude so we all knew to stay perfectly still and quiet.
Suddenly, we heard the front door open and a loud voice shouted in German: “We need meat. You must give us pigs now.”
Mrs. Zabinski’s calm voice replied, “Yes, of course. We will gather up the pigs for you. How many do you need?”
“My men are hungry. We want you to have a car load.”
The Nazi’s steel boots clicked on the floor as he stomped away. The door closed.
We all stayed frozen, waiting for the signal to be able to breathe again.
I could hear Rys outside, singing and running around with Morys. I sensed he shouldn’t be outside right now with that German soldier so close.
Suddenly, Rys burst into the living room. I heard him crying hysterically. “Mama, the Nazi took Morys. They took him away. They’re going to kill him.”
I felt a catch in my throat. Poor Rys. He was so attached to his pet.
A little later, Mrs. Zabinski played the Bach Invention Number Four on the piano and we all traipsed downstairs. Rys was seated on the couch. His eyes were red from crying. Mr. Zabinski had walked in and he was sitting near his son, trying to calm him.
I looked around the room, wishing there was something I could do to help him feel better. I spotted a couple of Ovaltine boxes on top of the fireplace. I was thinking that a cup of hot cocoa might help him feel better. As I reached for the box, Mr. Zabinski rushed over and shouted at me. “No! Don’t touch that!”
I glanced at Mama. I felt so embarrassed. “I’m sorry; I didn’t mean to do anything. I just thought a cup of hot cocoa––”
He spoke more calmly. “I keep things for repairing the zoo in those containers. I didn’t mean to yell, but I appreciate if you don’t touch them, please.”
I understood by the look on his face and the frantic way he yelled that there was something else in those containers besides things for repairing the zoo.
To be continued…
Susie Garber is the author of Denver Dreams, a novel (Jerusalem Publications, 2009), Memorable Characters…Magnificent Stories (Scholastic, 2002), Befriend (Menucha Publishers, 2013), The Road Less Traveled (Feldheim, 2015), fiction serials and features in various magazines including A Bridge in Time, historical fiction serial (Binyan Magazine, 2017). She writes the community column for The Queens Jewish Link and she writes freelance for Hamodia. She works as a writing consultant in many yeshivahs and she teaches creative writing to students of all ages.