Recap: The Blitz is in full force and Tante Aimee and Feter Dan found a place to send Bayla, Mimi, Sophie, and the children. Bayla really doesn’t want to go.
“Bayla, please don’t say anything to the others. There are still so many arrangements that will have to be made that it may not be for months.”
“Where are you sending us?”
“America. I have a second cousin in Missouri. She offered to take you, Sophie, and Mimi.”
“But I don’t want to go. We all don’t want to leave.”
“It’s till this dreadful bombing stops,” Tante Aimee said. “Sophie can’t exercise properly. The whole situation is terrible. And I need to find a place for Fraidy, Benny, and Aliza.”
“They can’t come with us?”
“No, she only has accommodations for you three.”
“They need us. I just brought Aliza here. Benny’s so attached to Mimi and Fraidy. I can’t leave my baby sister again.”
Just then as if on cue a siren blared. “Quick, get the children.”
Sophie hobbled in with Fraidy and Aliza.
Mimi was holding Benny’s hand.
The siren screamed louder.
“Hurry,” Tante Aimee guided the younger children out the door.
We all sat huddled in the shelter listening to the wailing siren. Aliza put her hands on her ears. Then she threw her arms around me and buried her face in my lap. I tried to calm her. My whole body was shaking.
Benny was holding Kot. “It’s okay, Kot,” he was whispering to his pet and patting her back.
There was that terrible loud whistle. A bomb had dropped nearby. Feter Dan and Tante Aimee exchanged worried glances.
There was that hushed wait. The terrible expectation of an explosion. Then kaboom. The blast shook the Anderson Shelter. The door blew open.
Feter Dan pulled it closed.
Tante Aimee was crying and saying T’hilim. Mimi’s face was pale in the light of the flashlight that she quickly extinguished. She was hugging Benny tightly. Sophie held Fraidy.
“It’s good it exploded,” Feter Dan said. “An unexploded bomb is even more dangerous.”
“I just pray no one was injured,” Tante Aimee whispered.
The shelter was pitch dark. We didn’t want to give the German planes a lighted target.
There was another whistling noise. I began reciting T’hilim. How long could this go on? How many bombs would they throw?
“Let’s put the children to sleep,” Tante Aimee whispered.
None of us moved. It was too dark and I felt literally frozen in fear.
Mimi was the first to start unrolling the beds. Another thundering boom. This one sounded way too close. The whole shelter shook and Benny and Fraidy began screaming. “Shhh!” Tante Aimee whispered loudly. “We don’t want the bad people to hear where we are.”
This quieted them.
Aliza was hiccupping with silent sobs. She was holding me so tight I almost couldn’t breathe.
These poor children. How dare these monsters do this to innocent children!
Eventually the bombing stopped and everyone settled down to sleep. The air mattress was uncomfortable, but I kept listening for more bombs and then, when I closed my eyes, I thought about having to leave and my eyes flew open again.
I was finally reunited with my baby sister and now we had to be separated again. War was so cruel. I had to stop my negative thoughts. Think of what you are thankful for. I felt like that was what Mama would say to me right now. Wasn’t I lucky? I was living in a house with my loving relatives. Some children were here on their own with strangers or, worse, children were being sent to their death right now. I had to stop thinking about that.
The night wore on. Tante Aimee crept near me. She saw I was tossing and turning. She whispered in my ear. I knew she was trying to divert my thoughts. “We need to start thinking of our recipes for Chanukah. I have to modify my doughnut recipe this year.”
“Not enough oil or sugar?”
We spoke about doughnut recipes and Chanukah memories all in soft whispers until I finally felt myself relaxing into sleep.
The next day, we were back inside the house. Towards evening, Tante Aimee motioned to me. “Come to the kitchen and help me find some recipes we can make.”
Chanukah was still three weeks away.
Tante Aimee was smiling and happily thumbing through recipes, so I tried to follow her upbeat lead. She pointed to a chocolate doughnut recipe. I helped her think of substitutes for some of the ingredients when the alarm blared again. I gazed outside. The sun had set, so it seemed like that was the signal for the Germans to attack.
Tante Aimee herded us all into the shelter. We slammed the door shut just as a horrible whistling noise blew right next to us. The whole shelter shook and shook. I wondered if it would explode. I held my ears and davened.
I heard Tante Aimee whispering to Feter Dan. “We have to get the children out of England fast, Dan.”
“Yes, I will look for some places for the younger ones. Perhaps we can find someone in Switzerland.”
The next morning, we found the beautiful lily garden in front of the house trampled. Lilies all lay scattered, pink and ruby petals torn to shreds. Debris from a nearby roof had fallen on the lovely garden. Tante Aimee stood surveying the damage with a stoic expression. Anger welled inside of me. “The lilies!”
She nodded and put her arm around me. “We will plant new ones.”
The nights and days blurred together during that scary time. Schools were meeting in buildings like churches or community centers. We didn’t even go to school. Tante Aimee was too frightened to have us leave the house.
She gave us books and taught us herself.
Chanukah came, but we spent most of the holiday in the shelter and, though the chocolate doughnuts came out well despite the substitute ingredients, I really missed my parents. And, I was nervous about leaving for America.
“Last Chanukah, Papa brought our menorah to the zoo. We lit it in our hiding spot in the villa. It was so nice to see our shiny menorah again,” Mimi said.
I thought of our family menorah and sighed. “I hope they’re all right.”
“The Zabinskis are so resourceful and brave. They are hiding them and Hashem is watching.”
I was always in awe of Mimi’s strong emunah.
Tante Aimee came into the room. “Girls, there’s something important I need to tell you. Sophie, Mimi, Bayla know this already. She overheard us talking about it. We have a second cousin in America. She lives on a farm in Missouri and she offered for you to come to get away from all these bombs.”
“What about you and Tatty?” Sophie’s face was turning red.
“We’ll come later when we can. Tatty can’t leave the home guard now and I don’t want to go without him.”
“But you’ll send us without you?” Sophie’s eyes brimmed with tears.
Tante Aimee put her arms around Sophie. “Sweetheart, it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, but I don’t want you here in the line of fire.” She explained that her second cousin Riva was only able to take the three of us and not the younger children.
“That’s mean!” Sophie said. “She should take all of us.”
“She needs your help on the farm,” she explained. “There wouldn’t be anyone to watch the children.”
Missouri. I’d heard of that place before, but when? It was as I was trying to sleep between loud booms and whistling bombs that I realized where I’d heard it. Dr. Laurent. He was going to Missouri. How strange that a huge country like the United States and of all the places, we were heading to the same place he was planning to go.
I joked with Sophie. ”If we need a doctor, we can call Dr. Laurent’s uncle.”
Sophie didn’t laugh. “Who is this cousin Riva? I never heard you mention her. She can’t be that nice if she wants us to come work on the farm and she won’t take the little kids, too. I could watch them. We could take turns. I bet she’s a mean old witch.”
“Sophie!” Tante Aimee said. “No lashon ha’ra. Please don’t do that. She is kind enough to say you can come.”
“When are we going?” Mimi asked.
“As soon as Feter Dan can obtain the tickets. It’s not so easy, so it may be a while.”
Mimi confided in me later. “I want to get away. The bombs and loud noises are so scary. I can’t sleep. But I was on that long boat ride to get here. It was so rocky. I was throwing up the whole time. I hate boat rides and this one will really be long.”
To be continued…
Susie Garber is the author of Secrets in Disguise (Menucha Publishers 2020), 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). Fiction serial in The Jewish Press – Falling Star (2019), article in the Winter 2019 Jewish Action Magazine. She contributes to the community column for the Queens Jewish Link and writes freelance for Hamodia. She works as a writing consultant in many yeshivos and teaches creative writing to students of all ages.