Recap: a Jewish artist comes to hide at the zoo. The Nazis barge in, demanding pig meat, and some of them kill Rys’ pet pig.
The house was growing chilly. The shiny parquet floors and stone white walls were beautiful, but they didn’t absorb any heat. The Zabinskis had little coal or fuel to heat the enormous villa. We huddled together for warmth. Each family had a small space mostly taken up with cots that we folded up during the day. They had provided us with a few bookcase shelves to keep our belongings. I missed my room and our house, but I was grateful to be safe here. I heard Magdalena whispering to my mother one night.
“It’s so dangerous now in the ghetto. The Nazis can come at any time and start rounding people up and taking them away.”
“Where do they take them?” Mama asked.
“They say they are taking them to work camps, but I’ve heard rumors of death camps.”
“And if they catch someone rescuing Jews?” Mama whispered.
“The signs are posted everywhere: death by firing squad.”
I shivered and asked Hashem to keep Papa and Mr. Zabinski safe when they went into the ghetto. I knew from the calendar that Mama had brought with her that Chanukah was this week. I tried to think about past Chanukahs and not think about the scary things I’d just heard.
The next day, Rys came upstairs clutching a badger. It was a strange-looking, brown, furry animal. It looked a little like a rat. It had a pointy head and short ears and a furry short tail. Rys never spoke about the pig the Germans killed, but I knew he was still troubled by the loss. “Can you help me with my homework?” he asked.
I helped him with his arithmetic. When we were done, he handed me the badger to hold.
One day, Papa came back from his day out with Mr. Zabinski and he had the old twinkle in his eye. I hadn’t realized it was missing until just then.
He announced to me and Mama, “I brought you a surprise from home.” He was hiding something behind his back.
“You shouldn’t have gone back in the house. Yosef, it’s dangerous.”
Papa brought his arm in front of him and he was holding our beautiful silver Chanukah menorah. “I buried it deep in our backyard. I’d marked the spot with some rocks so I could dig it up.”
Mama’s eyes filled with tears. “Thank you, it will feel more like home now this Chanukah, but you shouldn’t have risked––”
Papa held out a flask of oil. “We will do the mitzvah properly the best we can, and everyone here can participate with us.”
The Miller girls were eyeing our menorah. Their parents joined the group of people all staring at it. Benny took my hand. “I want to light it.”
“Yes, Benny, you will, when it’s Chanukah.”
I felt lightness inside, like everything would have to be okay now that Hashem let us have our menorah.
Papa whispered to Mama, “Sarah, I was careful. We’ll have to light far from any windows. I brought something else.” He handed Mama our skillet and our big soup pot, and a bag of potatoes and an onion. “I dug them up from the garden. We just need some apples for applesauce.”
“Where will we get those?”
“Jan is looking for some for us.”
The next few days we spent creating Chanukah cards and decorations. The bare walls of our narrow hideout were filled with the children’s drawings of menorahs and dreidels.
On the first night of Chanukah, Mrs. Zabinski played the Bach invention IV. When we came downstairs, we discovered that Mrs. Zabinski had set aside a corner in the kitchen for us, and Papa kashered one of the burners, so we could make the latkes tonight. I had practiced Chanukah songs with the children when we were downstairs and I could play my flute. We lit the menorah in the kitchen in a food closet so no one would see it. How opposite of what the mitzvah was supposed to be, I mused, but Hashem would understand. We had no choice this year. Watching the glow on the little children’s faces, I felt so grateful. Benny’s eyes were bright with excitement. Despite the fact we were not in our homes, there was still a warmth and excitement in the air.
Mrs. Zabinski played a lively tune on the piano, and I followed along with my flute. I hovered near the menorah and watched the oil burn. I thought of Bayla and Shimon Zev and Bubby and Zeidy and Fraida who were nearby but not right with us. I missed them all so much. I tried to send thought messages to Bayla. Was she lighting with Sophie? How was her Chanukah in Paris?
After the oil extinguished, we all enjoyed Mama’s sizzling latkes. The Zabinskis kept complimenting them. “Delicious,” Mr. Zabinski said.
Mr. Zabinski had somehow managed to bring us a huge bag of apples, and Mama had made a giant pot of applesauce. We didn’t have any dreidels, but Magdalena surprised everyone. She had sculpted a small dreidel and fired it in the oven. Papa had written the Hebrew letters on it. It was a beautiful dreidel, the color of the sky in summer. We played until late into the night and then everyone went happily to sleep.
We were awakened by a loud knocking on the door.
I slept near Serina and the twin girls. Benny slept near Magdalena. We all sat up. No one moved.
We heard Mrs. Zabinski opening the door.
“Mr. Kowalski, good evening. Can we offer you some homemade applesauce?”
“No, thank you. I came to let you know that, though I wish we could help longer, it’s too dangerous. A Nazi was by, questioning our neighbor yesterday. They may come searching our homes any minute. I will bring back the little girl and her grandparents in an hour or so. I am waiting for the moon to cloud more. I am sorry, but I can’t take any chances for my family.”
Mr. Zabinski nodded.
The farmer left.
We were wide awake now. Fraidy and Bubby and Zeidy were coming back. I was glad but also afraid. It wasn’t good for Fraidy to come back now, as much as I missed her.
Mama scolded me. “Mimi, you will get sick if you don’t sleep. I’ll wake you when they come.”
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.