Concordia University MIGS

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In 1944, word was spreading that the Russian government was sending young men and women to work in Siberia. Only families who were expecting babies were exempt. On July 14, 1945 I came home from a friend’s house to find my mother was not at home. I kept knocking at our door, but the door was locked and no one was answering. Our neighbour heard me and opened her door. “Come in, Rachel,” she said, “your parents have a surprise for you. You have a baby sister. Wait here with me until your father comes to pick you up.” A baby sister. I was shocked. I had not been told that my mother was expecting a baby.

I stood with my father outside the hospital and the nurse showed us the baby through the window. I looked down at the tiny face and began to feel love for her. I was proud and felt very lucky to have a beautiful baby sister. She was blond with curly hair and big blue eyes, just like my Bubbie Frida, for whom she had been named. I loved being allowed to take care of her and tried to help my mother as much as possible.

The war was completely over by this time and my father decided to move our family back to Kolomyja. I did not like this decision. Kolomyja brought back horrible memories of the Ghetto. The loss of Uncle Velvel, Bubbie Frida and Zeyde Eli. Yet my father was determined to return to familiar surroundings.

I missed Chernowitz terribly. I missed Luci. Again, I relied on my memories to see me through. I would remember all the adventures we had together. How we had contracted Scarlet Fever together and were kept in the same bed during the illness. As soon as my mother would leave the room, we would take turns jumping on the door and swinging from it. We would spend the whole day swinging on the wooden door, not resting.

I remembered staying in bed with my mother on the days when Bubbie Yetta washed our only set of clothing. I remember the clothing I had worn in the war, in shreds, full of lice and not worth saving. My mother had destroyed them. Did not want reminders of the nightmare we had lived. Aunt Mina kept Luci’s as a memento.

Most of all I missed going to the cinema with Luci. We would go almost every day. If our parents did not want to give us money we tried to frighten them and told them we would report their cruelty to the police and that always seemed to work. Inside the cinema we would run to sit in the front row. When the lights were turned down before the movie started, Luci and I would huddle together and hold hands, fighting our fear of the dark, waiting for the first flickers of light on the screen.

When we arrived in Kolomayja, we were given a small house on Zamkowa Street, number 6, and we began to put our lives together. My father began to look for ways to make money and embarked on a small business repairing watches for Russian soldiers. He was not a watchmaker but he would play around with the mechanisms and somehow make the watches work again. After a short time, he put a sign in our window, "Watch Repair" and people in the city began bringing him their watches. My father was happy. He was able to support his family and was rebuilding his life.

Shortly after we settled into our new home, many Jewish families who had lived in Kolomyja before the war returned from Russia to look for their loved ones. From our own community, we were among the very few who had survived the German occupation. One of those who did return was a young woman, Regina Dankner. She had lived in Kolomyja before the war with her parents and sister. But she had escaped to Russia alone. None of her family had survived. Uncle Shiko remembered her. She was very pretty with thick black braids and dimples on both cheeks. Shiko and Regina were a perfect match and were very quickly married.

Before the war, Kolomyja had belonged to Poland. After the war the borders had changed and Kolomyja belonged to Russia. My father discovered that since we were Polish citizens before the war, we now had the choice either to return to Poland or remain in Russia and apply for citizenship. The decision was made to return to Poland and to leave Kolomyja. Everyone who survived the Holocaust in the bunker with us decided to go back to Poland, including my new aunt, Regina.

It was the winter of 1946. We owned practically nothing and so it was very easy to pack. But my father had not forgotten what Velvel had told him in the Ghetto. Velvel had buried his violin near our house in Turka just before the Germans forced us from our home. Now, before we left Russia, my father and uncle Shiko knew they had to go and find the violin.

One clear night they walked out to the main road leading to the village of Turka. They were lucky enough to be picked up by a military truck that would take them the distance they need to travel. As they approached their childhood home they both began to shake, their hearts beating wildly. My father knew approximately where the violin was buried and went straight to the side of the house near the fence where the old walnut tree was still standing. They began to dig. Under the fence, finally, they found it. Holding his breath my father picked up the Kilim-wrapped violin and looked at his brother. Together they ran to the main road. We greeted them with great relief and much excitement. My father walked into the living room, put the Kilim-wrapped violin on a chair and, choking back the tears said, “This is all we have left of Velvel.” Now the emotions which he had managed to hold in until he reached home burst from him as he broke down and wept. Velvel’s final wish had been fulfilled. We unwrapped the Kilim and opened the violin case for the first time.

The case and the bow were almost rotten, but the violin itself was damaged in only one tiny spot. As my father turned the precious instrument in his hands, we could clearly see the word Steiner written on the neck. Along with the violin Velvel had put several baby pictures of me and a few photos of other people in the case. There was a picture of my mother and me when I was six months old, a picture of Bubbie Yetta sitting with me on the grass in my Bubbie Frida’s garden. There was a picture of my father, Uncle Moses and me when I was one year old, and one of my Aunt Mina, her two cousins and me when I was four years old. Finally, a picture of Uncle Velvel alone, wearing his beautiful and colourful embroidered shirt. Looking at the pictures of Velvel, everyone was amazed at how much I had grown to resemble him. It made me proud to look like him.

At the bottom of the stack there was one other photo. A picture of Velvel’s cousin, Minka. Beside her, a young girl. A friend? Blonde. Pretty. Both of them laughing and holding hands.



It was a difficult, week long journey back to Poland. We were travelling, crowded together with other survivors going home, on a cargo train. The inside of the train was a shock to me and looked rather more suitable for farm animals than for humans. There were big sliding doors but no windows. At each end of the car, on the floor, were kerosene lamps, which helped to light the space when the door was closed. The air in the train car was dense with cigarette smoke and only when the train stopped at each station would the door be slid wide open to let in the fresh air and the light of day. It was at these times that passengers could get out to relieve themselves and wash their hands and faces. Children, however, were not allowed to leave the train in case they would wander off, so I used the chamber pot, which my father would empty at each stop. Everywhere, the floor was littered with mattresses and blankets on which we sat and lay down to sleep. Each family was responsible for themselves. My father, being a very practical man, had brought along canned food. We had canned meat, sardines, juices, dark rye bread, and two large containers of drinking water, which we used only sparingly.

The days dragged by. Most of the time on the train, Luci and I played with my little sister Frida. We invented games to entertain and distract her, blowing air onto her soft little cheeks whenever she cried. Luci, Frida, and I were an alliance, as Luci and I had been before Frida was born. Although Frida was my sister, it was always the three of us. Cousins. Sisters. Friends.

At other times, I occupied myself observing the people around me. I realized during these observations that the people we were sharing the train with were very unusual. There was a wild little girl, a bit younger than I, who was always jumping around and screaming to be left alone in the corner. I will never forget how she looked. She had long, thick, black hair that covered her face and hands. Her parents explained that they had given her to a Ukrainian peasant family at the beginning of the war and that they themselves had survived hiding in the forests and villages. After the war, they returned to reclaim their daughter to find that she did not remember them and resisted their attempts to explain who they were. Nothing helped, and finally, they had to use force to remove her from the Ukrainian family.

There was also a very pretty, sixteen-year-old girl whom Luci and I greatly admired. Sonia had a beautiful round face with dimples in her cheeks, big brown eyes, and a small straight nose. Her thick, brown hair curled gently around her shoulders. Best of all, I loved her smile that set off her beautiful small teeth. She told Luci and I that she had no family and had survived the Nazis alone. She soon became the centre of attention for the whole group in our car. Particularly, a young man travelling with his uncle, who began showering her with compliments and openly hugging and kissing her. He announced that he had fallen madly in love with her and asked for her hand in marriage. She agreed at once. How, I wondered, could she accept a stranger’s proposal? Two days later an older man in the presence of witnesses married them on the train as Luci and I stood excitedly watching. Now she would have someone to care for her and she wouldn’t have to be alone in the world.

The strangest of all those in the train was an old man who sat next to me. He had taken a liking to me and kept calling me over to sit on his lap. He made me very uneasy and something told me not to go near him. He was very skinny and had a terrible, congestive cough. Whenever he had a coughing spell, he would spit up a pile of sputum on the floor beside him and it made me sick. I was angry that he would not leave me alone and wished that my parents were paying more attention to what was happening. Finally, reluctantly, feeling obliged to be polite, I sat beside him while he talked to me, occasionally, hugging me.

At last we arrived in the city of Bytom, in an area of Poland called Upper Silesia. My father registered at the Jewish Congress and we were given an apartment in a tall dark grey building on Powstancow Ghetta Street. Shiko and Regina also moved into our building, two floors below us and Luci’s family moved into an apartment building further down the street.

Within a few days of our arrival in Bytom I became very ill. I began coughing badly, could not catch my breath and developed a high fever. My parents gave me aspirin but it did not help. The cough persisted and became very painful. Shiko, who worked as a doctor’s aide, tried to treat me with Banki. This treatment consisted of soaking a piece of cotton in alcohol and inserting it through the narrow opening of small round glass jar. The cotton was then lit and the glass jar immediately applied to the back where the flame died as the seal did not allow oxygen to enter. This then created a vacuum and sucked out the poisons through the skin. Several Banki were applied to my back at the same time. This procedure was painful and left my skin swollen, red and hot.

I could not attend school and was in bed constantly. I had no appetite, was losing weight, and became malnourished. Finally, I had reached such a critical stage that my family thought I would not survive. The Banki were not helping and my family sat around my bed crying and praying. Through my fever and illness I could hear them saying, “After all she has been through and has survived, we’re are not going to lose her now.”

Early the next morning my father found a Jewish doctor, Dr. Tuszkiewicz, who was a lung specialist and I was taken to his clinic. He was kind and friendly as he checked my lungs, took x-rays, and blood tests. He promised that he would help me. To my father, however, he spoke very seriously. I was afraid that he was telling him that there was no cure for me. After speaking to my father for a while he told me that he would be working on my case with another Jewish doctor, Dr. Brzeski. Together, the two doctors came to the same diagnosis. Tuberculosis. The man on the train, who my father later found out had died two months after our trip together, had infected me.

I needed daily intra-muscular injections in my thighs, which would be given to me by Dr. Brzeski personally. They were terribly painful. My father always took me, but when he had to go out of town on business, he would ask Aunt Mina to take me. She would walk with me to the doctor’s office holding my hand the whole time. On the way we always passed a bakery, and Aunt Mina would say, “If you promise to behave and take the needles like a grown-up girl, I will buy you any pastry you chose on the way home.” Of course, I promised. Each day after my difficult visit to the doctor, Aunt Mina would take me into the bakery where I would ask for a cream custard pastry called Napoleon. It smelled so good and gave me such comfort as I held it in my hands.

Almost as bad as the needles was the fact that I had to be isolated from the rest of the family, especially Frida and my mother. My mother was very occupied with Frida and worried about her becoming infected. It upset me that I could not be close to my mother and that she did not lie down beside me and tell me stories as she used to in the bunker. I missed her hugging me and was hurt by the fact that she never came with me for my needles. When I asked her to come instead of Aunt Mina, she would tell me, “I cannot leave Frida. You will be alright.” My father, on the other hand, was very caring during my illness and was not afraid of getting infected. He would lie down next to me in bed and cuddle with me, comforting me with stories. He insisted that my mother prepare concoctions of raw egg yoke and sugar called gogl-mogl every day. He believed that this would relieve my throat, raw from the constant coughing. Every day he would remind her, “Sara, did you make Rachel her special drink today? It wouldn’t hurt even if she had it a few time a day.”

During this time my father and Shiko were trying to find a way to make a living. My father was always very resourceful and so they both traveled back to Kolomyja several times to buy a variety of goods such as leather purses, perfumes, socks, cigarettes and a variety of canned foods that they would bring back for Aunt Regina to sell in the marketplace.

My father, returning from one of these trips, brought me a raincoat that he had bought especially for me. I had never owned a raincoat before. How excited I was by this tiny black and white checkered coat. Every day I waited impatiently for the rain.

One night, after I was already in bed, our friend and neighbour, Baruch, came to visit. He was standing at the door, soaked to the bone and said to my mother, “What a downpour! There isn’t a dry thread on my body.” I immediately jumped out of bed and reached for my raincoat. I begged Baruch to come downstairs with me and stand in the entrance to the building so that I could walk in the rain. Wonderful man. He stood in the doorway for over an hour as I marched back and forth on the sidewalk in my new raincoat.

When I finally recovered from my illness, the two doctors who had cared for me advised my father that the climate in Upper Silesia was very bad for people with lung problems. Bytom was a coal mining city and the charcoal dust in the air was deadly for my lungs. They suggested that we move as soon as possible. Dr. Brzeski promised that he would visit us often to monitor my health and provide any further advice.

Wroclaw was a large city with many Jews and a good school. My father had found a nice furnished apartment there and a delicatessen store nearby that he and Shiko could run together. It was 1947. I was twelve years old, my sister Frida was two years old and our family, Shiko’s family, Mina’s family and our dear friend Baruch prepared to move yet again.



Wroclaw had belonged to Germany before the war when it had been called Breslau. A dreary place with the occasional grey, dark building still standing amid the ruins of war. Our apartment had belonged to a German family before the war who fled Poland after the war and moved back to Germany. It was nicely furnished. The dining room had a huge oak table surrounded by ten leather-covered chairs and two high back matching chairs with arms. The china cabinet and hutches were filled with crystal, and in the centre of the cabinet was a mirror. My parents had lovely white antique French provincial bedroom furniture and my uncle Shiko and aunt Regina had a cherry wood bedroom.

The living room was very cozy. It had a white coloured brick fireplace in the corner near the entrance. Between the two large windows facing the street stood an antique desk. Over the desk on the wall hung a small grandfather clock. On the other side of the room along the wall stood a bookcase. My mother had a photographer enlarge a photo of Velvel that we found in the violin case and she hung it in the living room. When I was fifteen years old, a coloured portrait was taken of me and it was placed under the portrait of Velvel on the wall.

In the mornings my father would go to the market place. It was considered a gathering place for people to discuss politics, exchange ideas, and look for missing friends and relatives. One morning, my father happened upon Jozef and Rozalia Beck who, he discovered, were living on a farm in the village of Lutynia, near Wroclaw. He brought them back to our house. Finally he would have the chance to repay Jozef and Rozalia for all that they sacrificed for us during the war. He offered to help Jozef buy some farm equipment that he needed badly. We would continue to see them. They would come to visit us in the city and we often visited them on the farm. Our families, who had forged an extraordinary relationship during extraordinary times, were now very close again and our deep and caring friendship continued for a long time.

My father also discovered that Dr. Neider and his wife Jadwiga were living in Wroclaw. As he was the man who had assaulted me in the bunker, I had tried to push what he did to me out of my mind but it was extremely difficult considering that my parents saw him frequently. When he would come to our house to visit, he was very affectionate with me and would find every opportunity to compliment me and treat me as if I were somehow more important to him than the others. I shrank at his touch. Tried to stay away. In my heart I could never forgive him for the damage he had done to me at such a horrific time and at such a tender stage in my childhood.

When we arrived in Wroclaw it was late fall and the school year had already begun. One morning my aunt Mina dropped by with Luci and announced that she was enrolling Luci at the Shalom Aleichem Jewish School. If you want,” aunt Mina said, “I could take Rachel along too and register her at the school.” “Good,” my mother replied, “sign Rachel up too. I can’t leave the baby alone.”

It was very difficult for me on the first day of school to be without my mother. I was nervous about meeting the new teachers and children, but as always, my mother had her ready excuse - Frida. It was painful to feel as though I was unimportant to her. I was beginning to see a pattern. Any issue that had to do directly with me was taken care of by my father or, if he was not available, aunt Mina. How I envied Luci that first day as we walked to school. Her mother cared about her.

When we arrived at the school for registration, we met the principal, Mr. Tencer. Aunt Mina explained to him how Luci and I had lost the years during the Holocaust, and that we did not know the alphabet and would need a lot of help catching up to our appropriate grade level. Mr. Tencer decided to put both Luci and me in grade three, even though he felt that we should be in grade one. He did not want us to feel uncomfortable with smaller children. He told us that there were other students in the school who had survived the war in Russia and that they were also academically delayed. He took both of us to our seats. Luci went happily to her seat, but I remained standing at the door. The principal turned to me and asked me to join the class, telling me that very soon I would make a lot of new friends. I was very upset. I was a year older than Luci and we would be in the same grade.

I did not move. I would not set foot in that class. Realizing that something was very wrong, Mr. Tencer took me out to the corridor. Talking to me very gently, he said, “Rachel, why don’t you want to be in the same class as your cousin Luci?” Shyly I answered, “I am a year older than she is and I should be in a higher grade.” Smilingly, he bent down and patted my shoulder. “You are right, Rachel. What do you think about grade four?” I nodded my head and without hesitation followed him into the grade four class.


Even though that was a difficult first day for me, I knew that an exciting new world was opening up for me. I soon felt very comfortable at the school, being with other Jewish children and being able to use my Jewish name, Rachel. But the horror of the world I had known in the Ghetto and the bunker still lived inside me.

It took me an hour and a half to get to and from school each day. A mile long walk to the streetcar from home, a 30 minute streetcar ride to my first transfer and another 30 minute streetcar ride. Finally, another mile long walk past rubble. And a cemetery.

We lived on Dworcowa Street, near the main train station of the city. This street, like so many others, had been destroyed by the war. The school, on Grabiszynska Street, was also in a section of the city that had been devastated by the bombing. Everywhere there were signs of bullet holes in the buildings that had remained standing and the rubble of those that had not survived. Every day I passed the reminders. Ruins of bombed out buildings. Bullet-ridden walls on the way to school. Tombstones. Too many memories flooded my mind.

Before long, though, I was settling into my new life at school. During class one afternoon, the principal came into our class and introduced a new boy. A boy with blue eyes and straight blond hair combed with a part on the side. On first sight, this boy made me very nervous. During the break he told us that his father was Jewish and that he had a German mother. I was shocked. How could our Jewish school have accepted him? My heart began to pound and I could feel an uncontrollable rage building in my chest. “He’s a German! He killed my family!” I screamed. “He murdered my uncle Velvel and all the children in the Ghetto. I don’t want him in my class.” I strained to kick him but some of the other children held me back. Every child in our class felt hatred and fear when they heard the word “German.” Every one of them understood what was happening to me. Some of the bigger boys in the class pounced on him and beat the new boy up very badly that day. We injured and humiliated him. He ran out of the class and never came back.

I graduated that year with excellent marks. The teachers were very proud of my accomplishments, but I was not satisfied. Still one grade behind my age group, I was determined to skip another year. Again, the principal was very understanding and told me to study during summer vacation. If I passed the test in September, he would allow me to skip grade five and go to grade six. Throughout the summer my father studied with me. He bought me A Thousand and One Stories by the Brothers Grimm and I would read stories aloud to him each night in Polish, quickly becoming fluent. I worked hard to excel in math, which was my favourite subject. Tirelessly, he practiced writing and reading in Yiddish with me. Suddenly summer turned into fall. I took the exam and passed. Grade six. The youngest in the class.


My father had great expectations for me. It was his mission in life to see me excel at everything. “Rachel,” he said to me one morning, “I want you to take violin lessons. Velvel left the violin for you. It is his legacy and it would mean a great deal to me if you would learn to play it just like he did.” I looked at my father in surprise. “But I don’t like the violin and don’t want to play it.” I could see that I had disappointed him. “Which instrument would you like to play, then?” he said softly. I hated disappointing him. “The piano,” I answered quickly. “Fine.” he replied, “Let's make a deal. I will get you a piano, but you will also learn to play the violin. Velvel was a very talented violinist. I believe that you can be as well. What do you say, my diamond?”

I was shocked by this sudden turn of events. I had to think it over. I finally decided that it was better to play both instruments than to play none at all. Before long my father had signed me up at the Hubert Music Conservatory and three men delivered a beautiful, black, shinny grand piano to our apartment.

Soon the lessons at the conservatory became a huge part of my life. Twice a week I would take violin lessons with Mr. Bindes, followed immediately by piano lessons with Mrs. Sneider. Soon more subjects were added to the instrument instruction: theory, rhythm, history of music and soon after, much more. Between music lessons and school I hardly had time for anything else. Sometimes I forgot that I was still a child.

I began to play concerts for company at home. My father’s eyes would well up with tears each time I played. On Shabbat, he would accompany me by singing songs from the Torah. He expected nothing less than outstanding performances from me and would become quite unhappy if I received a bad grade in school or did poorly at a recital. My mother, on the other hand, was strangely cool to my achievements. When I played for company she would interrupt, starting conversations almost deliberately to distract my audience. Angrily, I would sometimes stop playing altogether and leave the room.

It wasn’t only with regard to my music that my mother and I had problems. Frida was becoming an issue. In the rare moments when I found some time to spend with friends, she would insist that I take care of Frida. Sometimes I would bring Frida with me to play with friends in our neighbourhood. Once, I was distracted for a moment and she wandered off. My mother flew into a panicked rage. Crying and screaming, she began to comb the streets looking for Frida. I attempted to help in her search but she chased me away, yelling, “If we don’t find her, you don’t have to bother coming home ever again. Just stay away from us.” I was devastated.

Incidents like this and others caused a great deal of bitterness between my mother and me. We argued constantly. Many nights I would go to bed without eating dinner just to avoid her tirades, her complaints that hurt and bewildered me. My father would quietly come to see me when he returned from work. “Please come with me to the kitchen,” he would say. “I bought some dry salami and fresh rolls. Your favourites. We could have a bite together. You know that I don’t like to eat alone.” His soft voice and tender concern made me feel protected and loved. I trusted what he felt for me.


In 1949, on New Years Day, my cousin Eli Milbauer was born. Uncle Shiko and Aunt Regina named their first-born son after Zeyde Eli. Finally, the two dearest people in the world to me had been renamed in a new generation. Again, I started to hear the names Eli and Frida around me and it was a comfort like no other.

I continued to do well at the music school and joined the string band where I played second fiddle. Proudly, my father would attend all the recitals. I was also making very good progress with my piano lessons and would perform at recitals, often getting standing ovations and wild applause from the crowds. Occasionally, I traveled to various venues to perform at special concerts and benefits. I was thrilled to be receiving so much attention. But secretly my wish was to play the Gypsy music I remembered so fondly from my childhood years. I told my teachers but they felt that it was too soon for me to be learning the Hungarian Czardas and insisted that I needed a lot more practice.

When I turned fifteen, though, I finally had my chance. There was a competition among the different schools for the best artistic performance. Rita Mirman was not in my class, but in my school. She was around my age and she was a very talented ballerina. Beautiful, with long black hair and black eyes, she reminded me of the young Gypsy girls of my childhood. Rita approached me when the competition was announced and asked if I could play a Czardas at the competition. “If you would play then I would dance a Gypsy dance.” She had read my mind. Immediately, I bought the sheet music for the Czardas by Monti, the Hungarian composer and told my piano teacher that she would have to help me practice this piece of music, which she did, to perfection. Rita and I practiced and dreamed of the competition. The day of the competition arrived. We presented our program and won first prize. After that we became almost famous in our town and were invited to perform our special program on many occasions.

After each performance I would lie in bed with my eyes closed and relive the vision of Rita dancing in her colourful Gypsy costume, a tambourine in her hand, me at the piano playing the Czardas. Music took me to another world, a world that reminded me of the Gypsies on our farm, dancing around the fire in their colourful outfits, the sounds of their music filling the air.


My father always tried to provide Frida and me with the things that we needed or wanted, even in those difficult times in Wroclaw. People had to stand in line for hours to buy clothing and shoes. And in the end had to be content with the wrong sizes and colours. But my father commissioned a shoemaker and a tailor to make shoes and clothing specially for Frida and me. Gray for Frida. Navy for me. A brocade Chinese housecoat had caught my fancy. He managed to find the perfect fabric. The tailor made me the most beautiful turquoise and gold housecoat, which I still have to this day. For my fifteenth birthday he bought me a brand new bicycle.

It was 1951 and I was now in grade nine. My relationship with Luci had changed. We rarely met anymore, only running into each other at school during breaks or at the Saturday night dances. As we grew older, we lost touch and no longer had common interests and mutual friends. Being involved with music and studies left me very little time for socializing. Besides, new relationships were taking the place of old ones.

At that time also, my teacher had placed the class into small study groups. Each group consisted of three students who lived near each other. My group consisted of two boys, Leon, Rita Mirman’s brother, a boy named Peter and myself. Our little trio reminded me of my friends, the Mecios, in my childhood village of Turka. All three of us really enjoyed working together and agreed to meet every day at my house between 7 and 9 o’clock in the evening.

After our first few study sessions, I could tell that Peter liked the warm atmosphere of our apartment and felt at home there. He would always mention how different his home was and while he was with me he didn’t even want to think about his house. I noticed that he began paying more attention to me at school. He would gently tug at my braids, and after school he would ask me to join him and his friends in a game of basketball or volleyball. Peter and I found very quickly that we had a lot in common. We even had the same violin teacher.

We began going out together and one evening, as we were coming home from an Italian movie staring Sophia Loren, Peter stopped and kissed me passionately. He wanted me to be his girlfriend. With my heart beating wildly, I accepted without a second thought. I had been dreaming of just that. After that night, when our little trio would finish our homework, Leon would leave and Peter would stay behind. We would practice different ways of kissing, copying the movie stars. Finally, I had a true friend. I was in love. For the first time in my life.



It was the spring of 1951. I was sixteen years old. My mother 44. I returned from school one afternoon to find my father standing by the living room window, praying. My mother, in bed, unconscious. Quietly, my father told me that he had called the medical clinic and that the doctor had been to see her. Had taken blood and urine test with him, assuring my father that this was not a serious situation. But she was unconscious. I was petrified.

With very few choices left, my father sent me to search for Dr. Neider. Panic stricken, I ran to the street. From the streetcar I saw him walking down the street. I jumped out of the moving streetcar, cars speeding by me, my legs like rubber. I rolled to the side of the road and landed directly at his feet. He looked down at me in disbelief. I could not speak and as he began to help me up, I could do nothing but wail and cry. I managed to articulate that my mother was sick and that he needed to come and see her right away.

When we arrived, Dr. Neider sniffed the air and said anxiously, “I smell acetone.” He immediately called an ambulance and my mother was taken to the hospital where Dr. Neider was the director. Tests showed that my mother had Diabetes and that she was in a Ketone induced coma. If untreated, this coma would lead to certain death. She was in a coma for three weeks. While Aunt Mina looked after Frida, my mother remained in the hospital hooked up to life support systems. Everything, from nourishment to insulin, was pumped through her veins. We had very little hope for her recovery. I would sit by her side, day after day, watching her pale face and dry, cold skin. Watching for any sign of life. After three long weeks, miraculously she regained consciousness.

When my mother was released from the hospital my father arranged a vacation for Aunt Regina, her son Eli, my cousin Luci, Frida, and me. This would give my mother time alone to recuperate. Yastarnia, on the Baltic Sea was beautiful. Dark purple and burgundy pansies fluttered in the breeze. Other vacationers strolled by, sunburned, relaxed and happy. The bay, always calm and warm. The Sea beyond, wild and strong. As the oldest, I took charge of Luci and Frida with whom I shared one room. Aunt Regina would take care of Eli in another.

The sea was just across from our hotel and we spent our mornings sun tanning and jumping in the waves of the Baltic. Making new friends. In the afternoons aunt Regina would take Frida and Eli for a walk along the avenue, which left Luci and me free to read our books on the benches along the boardwalk. Every morning we would come down to the bright, sunny dining room to eat and in the evenings we listened to music. It was unforgettable. But I missed Peter and wrote him many letters.

We came home to find the apartment newly painted and bright. My mother, relaxed, sat by the window and embroidered new curtains for her kitchen. Peter came to see me the first evening we were back and as we strolled in the evening light he told me about his summer vacation at camp and I told him about the sea. We had missed each other. Summer was ending, we returned to school, and our threesome study group resumed its regular meetings.

Peter and I were able to share some of our deepest fears with each other. I would often tell him about my fear of the darkness and how I imagined the Germans chasing me. "Just check behind you," he would tell me softly. "You’ll see, sweet Rachel, they're not chasing you anymore.” He told me about his life at home. His stepfather. The little brother he was expected to care for all the time. He confided to me that, although they had never met me, his stepfather liked me very much, but his mother did not. She believed that Peter should not bother with a girl who was obviously too small to produce any children. Angrily I shouted, “But your mother has never seen me and does not even know me. How can she judge me so harshly?” Peter had no answer to that. “But I still love you,” was all he could say.

My size had touched a nerve. This was also a great concern for my father. All the females in my family were of medium height, but I remained the shortest at 4’-10’’. I was the same height I had been at age 10, just after the war. I was not really troubled by my height. At school, there were a few girls my height and with my friends I did not feel uncomfortable. My father, however, took it so seriously that he brought me to see an endocrinologist, Professor Ber, who lived in Lodz. When he heard my story of the war years he told us that he believed my growth had been stunted by the lack of sunlight I had endured and lying cramped in the bunker for so many years. The years of starvation had not helped.

Professor Ber took x-rays of my bones, many blood tests and made another appointment. My father was hopeful and happy that soon I would grow taller. For the follow-up appointment, my father and I took an airplane. It was my first time flying and I had to take time off school for the trip. Dr. Ber was hopeful. The tests had shown that there was space and that the bones still had a good chance to grow. He prescribed various medications for me to take. Hormones, some in the form of needles and some in the form of tablets. We were encouraged and I continued to see Professor Ber periodically until I turned eighteen years old, but I grew very little. Professor Ber’s last words to me were, "You are beautiful girl. One day your husband will carry you proudly in his arms."



1953. Stalin died. His death announcement came while I was in school and the reaction was quite emotional. It was our last year of high school. I was 18 years old. Peter, Leon and I had worked very hard and had accomplished a great deal, passing all our exams, written and oral, with excellent marks. Now to go on to higher education.

Being accepted to a university in the Communist system meant having to conform to special requirements and conditions. The most important of these was belonging to a farming or working class family. Since my parents and grandparents had come from a village and had been farmers, this was not a problem for me. The other requirement was far more difficult. Parents or the students applying had to be members of the Communist Party. My father had consistently resisted joining the communists, he wanted to remain politically neutral and so did the rest of my family. The final criterion was academic. I was lucky that my farming roots and my good marks were enough to gain me admittance to the Wroclaw Medical Academy. Peter applied to the Military School of Technology in Warsaw and Leon would attend the college in our city. Peter was the only one of us who would be leaving.

My parents threw me a surprise graduation party, inviting all of my friends and many of their friends as well. Dr. Neider was there. He approached me during the celebration, handed me a gift and whispered in my ear. “This silver compact is for you. Now that you are mature you will be allowed to put powder on your face.” He hugged me and kissed my cheek. I recoiled. He left me speechless and in shock although I would have liked to tell him. “You took care of my maturity in the bunker when I was seven.”

But when I looked at my parents’ faces I knew that they were proud of me and I felt very special. None of my friends' parents had made such a fuss for their graduations. My father, of course, asked me to play the violin and the piano for our guests. I was happy to do anything for him and to bask in his affection and pride.

When I had begun my studies at the Jewish school, there were 25 or 30 children in each classroom. As more Jews emigrated to Israel, though, there were fewer and fewer in the classes. By 1953 when I graduated high school, there were only 8 students in my graduating class. We were all very close then and remain so to this day.


During the following summer, my mother, Frida and I took a holiday in Miedzyzdroje, a resort on the Baltic Sea. My father worked in the city as a manager in a department store,. By the time fall came, I had mastered my mother’s daily insulin injections. She always complimented me on my steady hands. Strangely, the fact that she let me give her the injections made me feel good and reinforced my desire to become a doctor and help people in need. It also brought us closer together.

After summer vacation, Peter prepared to leave for school while I prepared for medical school. As we kissed goodbye and he held me in his arms, we promised to write each other constant detailed letters. “Rachel,” he told me, “I will miss you terribly. I treasure each moment that I spend with you. Just remember how much I love you and that, at winter break, we will be together again.”

The first semester of school was difficult but exciting. I worked hard, looked forward to winter break. I always worried that Peter’s mother would manage to turn him against me, but I told myself that Peter was strong and that his feelings for me were strong. He would be able to stand up to his mother.

Finally, winter break arrived. How I had been waiting to spend this time with him. I went to the hairdresser the day before Peter arrived. I felt excited, yet fearful. And couldn’t wait to see him. I wore the pearls that my father had given me and when the doorbell finally rang I was ready. My mother disappeared into the kitchen and my father occupied himself with Frida. I opened the door.

Peter brushed my cheek with a cool kiss, took off his coat and walked to the fireplace warming his cold hands. Excitedly, I flew to him, covering his face with kisses until I came to his lips. He pressed me close to his chest and our lips met in a long, breathless kiss. “I will never stop loving you,” he whispered into my ear. How I had been waiting to hear those words. “I’m so happy that you’re home," I whispered back. “Now we can spend every day together. I have so much to tell you, so many stories.”

Peter did not answer. Something was wrong. His eyes avoided me and then he blurted out the news. “I won’t be staying home for this winter holiday. I am leaving tomorrow morning for Klodzko for two weeks.” I turned to him in disbelief. “What are you going there for?” Turning his face away from me he said, “my stepfather’s brother lives there and he is always complaining that I never visit. So I have decided to visit him.” I could hardly believe what I was hearing. He had never told me about this uncle’s existence until this very moment. “Look at me Peter,” I said. “I know that you are hiding something from me.” He did not answer and I burst into tears. I suddenly realized that our relationship was over. The room began to spin. I could hardly catch my breath. I needed fresh air. I needed to calm down. I wiped the tears from my cheeks.

“Fine. I don’t need any explanations. It is very clear that you do not love me anymore. I don't want to waste any more of your precious time.” Stiffly he said, “I’m sorry, Rachel. I have to go now but I will stop by to see you before I return to school.” I could tell that he was not telling me everything, and those unspoken words stood between us like a brick wall. He picked up his coat and walked towards the door. At the door I looked at him and said quietly, “This is good-bye forever, Peter. Do not come by to see me. This door will never be open for you again.”

With that I quickly shut the door and locked it. As I stood with my hand on the doorknob, his footsteps becoming fainter and fainter on the stairs, I knew that an important chapter of my life had just ended. The next morning, I woke to the sun stroking my face. My eyes were swollen and heavy, and a lump had settled in my throat from the night before. I tried to be strong. “Now I am free to devote all of my energy to school and to music.” At the breakfast table, my mother could see the change in me. “What happened last night?” The sobs burst from deep inside me. I couldn’t speak. My father could not stand to see me suffering. “Don’t torture yourself, my little Diamond," he told me, "it is not the end of your world. Your dream of love will still come true. Even if Peter doesn’t come back, the right person will.” Wordlessly, I stood up, put on my coat and went out into the snow for a long walk. Huge snowflakes fell onto my eyelashes, the air was fresh and cold and the sun was so strong it hurt my eyes. I walked the streets for many hours until my face and feet were frozen. When I realized how late it was, I started for home. My family was gentle and understanding with me, and they never mentioned Peter’s name again.

Winter vacation passed slowly. We lived near an Opera House and my father would often get weekend tickets for us to see an opera. Going to the opera became my favourite pastime and sometimes I would see an opera like Tosca several times. Occasionally, we would to the Polish Theatre and the Jewish Theatre to see a play directed by Ida Kaminska, the great Jewish theatre star. By the time school started again, I had begun to see my friends again, especially my best girl friend at the time, Erna Korc. She too had survived the war and understood so much about my past and me. We had known each other since grade four, and now both of us were studying medicine. From time to time, I would run into Leon. He would tell me that Peter had been keeping in touch with him, and that he wanted to see me again. Always, I would refuse.


By 1955, I was twenty, and beginning to settle back into my usual routine. My heart still ached for Peter but I hid my feelings. By this time our house was full of children. Uncle Shiko and aunt Regina had another little boy, Hanoch, born in 1954, and named for Regina's father. Frida was ten, and Eli six. I adored all the children but felt more like their caretaker than sister and cousin. I knew every single detail of their lives from the moment they were born, but they knew very little about my past and my childhood, all of them being born after the war. No one ever asked me and I did not volunteer. I had no privacy, but still felt isolated, keeping my memories and past bottled up inside me. As always, change enters our lives at the least expected moments, and so it was that year for me.

That September, a week before Rosh Hashana, I had a visit from an old friend, Baruch Kochman, whom we called Bucio. I had known Bucio since he had been Luci’s long-time boy friend and both Luci and my parents knew his family so well that he called my parents uncle and aunt. I had not seen him in over two years, since his breakup with Luci. When he came into the living room, settling himself comfortably into the large, brown leather chair, he seemed pleased to find that nothing had changed. He asked me about my studies, friends, Peter. It was good to see an old friend and to have someone care to ask. As I spoke, tears filled my eyes.

But when I asked about his life he seemed distracted. Turning his head to the clock he suddenly leapt up. “I have to run, Rachel, I’m sorry. I have a friend, Adam, arriving from Warsaw and I have to pick him up at the train station. I am afraid that I will be late." When he saw my disappointment he asked, "Why don’t you walk with me and we can continue our conversation?” I quickly grabbed my purse, fixed my hair and we were off.

The main station was within walking distance from my house and we walked quickly through the busy street. People rushed by in all directions and the streetcars were full and overflowing. We pushed our way through traffic and crossed the street to the train station. When we arrived, they were already announcing that the train from Warsaw was arriving on time.

Bucio was excited, walking back and forth, looking for his friend. It took a long time until all the passengers left the train. No Adam. Bucio was confused, perhaps he had misunderstood, perhaps he was meant to arrive tomorrow, not today. Disappointed, he put his arm around me and told me that he would take me home. As we walked, I wondered why Bucio was really in town. It all seemed so strange. When we reached the entrance to our building, he stopped. “Rachel, can I ask you a favour?” “Of course,” I said, curious now. “I must get back home now. But I will be back tomorrow. I hope that you don’t mind, but I gave Adam your address and told him that in case we will miss each other at the station that he could meet me at your house.” He kissed me lightly on the cheek and smiled. “Give my regards to your parents.”

"Wait" I called out after him, “don’t leave yet." I was curious now. He was acting very strangely. "Please stay for the evening. There is a dance tonight at the Jewish Students Club and I need a date. Please say that you will come with me.” He looked into my eyes. I smiled. I knew that he would not refuse.


My mother, happy to see Bucio, was, as always, ready for company. Ready to prepare dinner. She studied my face, looking for hints. I had suddenly come to life. I had not been this happy in a long while. I could tell that she was hoping something was developing here. "Bucio's staying and taking me to the dance tonight," I told her.

Throughout dinner, my father and Bucio talked. Frida, as always, tried to bring all eyes to her corner, arguing with mother, as usual, about finishing all the food on her plate. I drifted in and out of the conversation, contemplating the strange turn of events. I was confused by Bucio’s reluctance to talk about himself earlier. Why didn’t he answer any of my questions? I sensed that he was hiding something and hoped that I would be able to figure it all out by the end of the evening. It was a long time since I had been this excited.

Finally, when dessert and tea were served, I excused myself. Rushing to my bedroom, I took my favourite blue dress out of the closet. I had not worn it since Peter and I had broken up. With my royal blue, chamois-leather, high heels and my pearl necklace, I began to feel very festive. I checked my hair in the mirror, sprayed my favourite fragrance - Lily of the Valley. I was ready to go.

On the street, Bucio waved down a taxi. We settled into the car and Bucio explained to the driver that we were going to the Jewish Congress Building on Wlodkowica Street. The Jewish Congress in Wroclaw had been formed after the war to help Holocaust survivors pick up the tattered pieces of their lives. This building was a very important place for the Jews of this city. It housed many different activities; a space for ORT-sponsored adult technical courses (where Uncle Shiko learned his trade of watch repair and my Aunt Regina learned to sew men’s shirts and pajamas and women’s lingerie), a children’s nursery, and a space for groups and volunteer organizations to meet, and a musical group, called Orfeusz, practiced their mandolins here. In the courtyard there was a students’ hostel and, most importantly, an Orthodox Synagogue where Jewish families could gather and pray. During the High Holidays at Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, my family attended this synagogue, lighting candles on Yom Kippur for our dear ones who perished in the war. I looked forward to these times when I could meet my friends outside in the courtyard. It was as though I was a young girl, back in Turka.

Though it had already been ten years since the war ended, this area had still not taken on a new face. Most of the buildings had been completely destroyed during the war, and only a few partially destroyed buildings stood, stoically, here and there. Many families, my friend Erna’s included, had chosen to settle here, supporting their ceilings with iron beams and making the best of a battered area in order to establish a new home.

When we reached the tall, gray, bullet-ridden, stone building we could hear that the party had already begun. Swing music wafted through the street and high spirited voices greeted us as we rushed up the stairs and stood at the entrance, catching our breath, looking around for familiar faces. The large, rectangular room had a stage at one end with an old-fashioned, time-worn piano and a dark red, velvet curtain as a backdrop. The walls were decorated with pictures of important officials, in the center of which, Stalin, Lenin and Marx smiled down on us. Although it was very crowded with people happily standing around and sitting in little groups talking excitedly, Bucio found two chairs for us against the wall, near the window.

As we sat down, the band started to play Besame Mucho, and Bucio asked me to dance. I reached for his hand, a big smile on my face, and we joined the dancers on the floor. I loved to dance, and enjoyed the compliments I always got. It was because of the Gypsies of my childhood. I would melt each time I heard the sentimental strains of their music, especially the violin, and remembered their vivacious and stirring dances. When the Rumba ended, Bucio led me back to my chair and I glanced around the room. I was watching the long counter where volunteers had spread out open-faced sandwiches, portions of gefilte fish, hot tea, and cold, bottled lemonade. It was then that I noticed my cousin, Luci and her current boyfriend, Abraham.

Abraham looked quite nervous, fidgeting with a cigarette, lighting it as he stood in conversation with his friends. Luci had seen me enter the room with Bucio and she had looked surprised and shocked, especially since I had told her that I would not be coming to the dance at all. Now, she stood next to Abraham, pretending not to have seen me, laughing a little too loudly, busy trying to call attention to herself and impress their friends.

As the band began to play a waltz, I asked Bucio to dance with me again. As we moved across the floor, I noticed some of my friends whispering and looking at us, but I didn’t care if there would be rumours. We looked good together. I danced all evening, not missing a single tune, either with Bucio, or occasionally with other friends. All evening, Bucio avoided Luci. He was nervous but I was having too good a time to take him seriously. At eleven o’clock, he turned to me and said, “Rachel, let me take you home now. I have to catch the midnight bus tonight to Legnica.” “Stay overnight at our place,” I begged, “I am having such a good time. Don’t spoil it. Let’s stay to the.....” Bucio didn’t wait for me to finish. There was something on his mind. “Rachel,” he stumbled, “I would love to stay but I can’t." Finally, he had to say it. "I don’t know how to tell you this....I’m a married man.” I couldn’t believe my ears. “Are you serious?” “Yes,” he said shyly. “Not only am I married but we’re expecting a child. I don’t know why I did not tell you sooner.”

Why had he kept this marriage a secret? Was he embarrassed because he had not invited me to the wedding? Why hadn’t he told Luci? I wanted to ask him all of these questions, but somehow couldn't. “I understand, Bucio. Go. I will stay until the end and get a ride home with Luci.”

After Bucio left, I joined Luci and her crowd. We spent the rest of the evening chatting and dancing and laughing, but she did not ask me about Bucio, or about how she felt seeing him again. I did not tell her his secret.

When the party broke at 3 o’clock in the morning, I was exhausted and settled quite happily into the back seat of Abraham’s car. I had called my mother earlier and told her that I would be sleeping at Luci’s. I was glad. There were no children there and on Sunday morning I could sleep in without any disturbances.

As I lay in the dark, falling asleep, the events of the entire incredible day went through my mind. For the first time in a long time I felt optimistic about the future. Someone would come along who would appreciate me just as I am and no one will be able to take him away from me. I lulled myself to sleep with the strong feeling that there were changes coming into my life. I had completely forgotten about Bucio’s friend, Adam Shtibel, who would be arriving at my house in the morning.


It has become a story that Adam has retold to our children and friends over the years. A simple adventure, our meeting has become a fable about fate and how random meetings become lives shared forever.

“It was a beautiful Sunday morning,” he always begins. “The air was alive with warmth and sunshine. Although it was still early September, the golden shades of autumn were already softly lending their charm to nature.”

The train had not been crowded and he had slept through the night on the upper compartment, where suitcases were usually stacked. Though this was not as comfortable as a bed, he was able to settle down for the long twelve-hour trip and awoke to the announcement of the train’s arrival. He was excited and ready for an interesting day in a new city.

When Adam reached the exit gate of the station, he looked around for his friend, Bucio. Not seeing him right away, he decided to wait a little. He bought a newspaper, Trybuna Ludu, to pass the time, agitated that Bucio might have forgotten to come. He quickly became impatient, and then suddenly remembered the address near the train station that Bucio had given him in case he wasn’t able to make it on time. This, Adam was sure, is where Bucio would be. After asking directions, he walked out into the morning.

“At six o’clock in the morning, the streets were still empty and quiet,” he continues to tell. “I was surprised at the state of the streets in this area where nothing had been repaired since the war. There wasn’t even a sidewalk. I walked in the middle of the road, stepping over the rubble, and wondered if I could possibly be in the right place. Stopping a passer-by, I asked again about the address, and about twenty minutes later I saw, in the distance, six-apartment building complexes I had been told to expect. “Finally!” I thought. As I came closer, I could see the many bullet holes in the brick walls of the buildings. Again, I looked at the instructions. Yes, this was it, “Dworcowa Street No. 4, Apartment 4.”

At the top of the stairs, Adam folded his beige trench coat over his left arm, held his newspaper in his right hand, and glancing at his watch, he noticed uneasily that it was only 7 am. He rang the doorbell, twice, and waited. When my mother opened the door, she was smiling. She knew that Adam would be coming and she was prepared.

“I am Adam Shtibel,” he said, “and I apologize for disturbing you so early in the morning.” “Please come in,” my mother said, motioning toward the living room. “Bucio was here yesterday and we have been expecting you. I’m sure he will be here soon.” Relaxed now that he had found the right place Adam was glad that there seemed to be nice people living here. He reached out for my mother’s hand and kissed it, as was a customary sign of respect to a lady in Poland.

As she always added at this point in the story, my mother was very impressed with this gentlemanly gesture. “None of Rachel’s friends were so courteous,” she would muse. He had captured her heart, right there and then. She showed him into Shiko’s small living room which was off to the side of the long hallway and separate from the other rooms.

“My name is Sara Milbauer," she said, "please make yourself at home and have a seat,” she told him, as she went off to the kitchen where Aunt Regina was waiting for her, curious about the stranger in the living room. They stood together, deciding what to do next. Where was Bucio? And why had Rachel not returned home yet?

Adam looked around the room, taking in the surroundings. The yellow canary chirped noisily in his cage on the wide windowsill. Who were these people? And where was Bucio? Even though he felt uncomfortable, he liked the cozy, warm atmosphere. Since childhood, when he had lost his entire family in the Holocaust, he had dreamed of being part of a happy family again. “Oh, how lucky Bucio is,” Adam thought in frustration, “if this is his girl friend’s family.” My mother returned to the stranger in the living room with freshly percolated coffee and hot cinnamon buns. She was very taken with him.

It was late morning when Bubbie Yetta awakened me. “Rachel, baby, get up. Remember that friend of Bucio’s from Warsaw? He's at your house, waiting.” I jumped up, suddenly remembering. Half asleep, I threw my clothes on and rushed out the door, nervous at this imposition.

Aunt Regina opened the door, and in a whisper, began to tell me about our guest. I told her I didn’t care about him and that I was going to tell him to wait for Bucio if he wanted to , but that I was going back to bed. When my mother joined us, both of them pressed me to keep him company until Bucio came. Telling me that it was not polite to ignore him. Grudgingly, I realized that even though I was very tired and looked a mess I had no choice. “Is he good looking, at least?” I asked, sarcastically. “See for yourself,” they whispered in unison. I knocked quietly on the living room door not to startle him, and entered. Our eyes met. “I’m Rachel,” I said, surprised at how handsome he was, and reached out to shake his hand.

“I’m Adam,” he said, looking up over his open newspaper and stretching out his hand. Strange, I thought, how I feel that I want to get to know him better. Suddenly, I wasn’t tired anymore. He stood up, his dark brown, almond-shaped eyes gazing at me out of a heart-shaped face. He had curly, thick black hair, combed up over his large forehead, and beautiful full lips. I looked at the shape of his hands and fingers and felt the urge to touch them and be touched by them. His voice rang in my ears and his warmth embraced me. I could not believe my reaction to this stranger in my living room.

My mother prepared a royal breakfast for us and I offered to show Adam the city. It was obvious to both of us now that Bucio would not be coming. I wanted to show him everything, especially the exhibition grounds where we could go on the rides. I knew that he could only stay until the last train left the city that night and I wanted to spend as much time with him as possible. We grabbed our coats and, holding hands, walked to the nearby park. We stopped at the bridge and watched the golden fish in the stream. Adam looked like a tourist in his dark brown suit and tie, his trench coat over his arm and his camera around his neck. He began taking pictures of me and asked a passing man to take pictures of both of us together. How quickly we seemed to have become a couple. My head was spinning.

“Oh Adam, this is going to be a great day!” I told him excitedly. We walked for a long time in the park and I told him about Bucio’s visit the day before the party. He told me about his life in Warsaw and about his struggle to hang on to his apartment. Even though it was only a one bedroom apartment it was considered too large for a single occupant by the communist authorities in charge of housing, who assigned living spaces by size. As I listened to him talk, I could sense that Adam was as taken with me as I was with him. How very different he was from Peter. He was strong and seemed so mature. I admired his ability to make serious decisions on his own and carry out his responsibilities with no guidance or help. I was fascinated by him.

Walking through the park, I felt very flattered that he felt comfortable enough with me to tell me about his ex-fiancee, Dora. She had recently broken up with him and cancelled their wedding. He told me that I looked very much like her but that my personality and character were very different from hers. He hadn’t felt this good for a long time, he told me. For the first time since the breakup, he confided, he was able to forget about Dora and feel happy. But he was afraid too, he said, afraid that something would happen and his chance at the happiness he might be discovering with me would be taken away. My heart beat wildly and I could hardly breathe as he spoke. I had just met this man and he was already afraid of losing me.

As Adam talked about himself, we walked slowly to the streetcar which would take us to the exhibition grounds on the outskirts of the city. That part of the city was new and carried no signs of war and destruction. Adam was very impressed with the grounds and especially admired the Public Hall, Hala Ludowa, which was in the center. At the focal point of the grounds, there was a huge round building that had the capacity to accommodate thousands of people and was the pride of Wroclaw. Equipped with a huge rotating stage that took up most of the interior, even the most famous performers appeared there. As I looked around, I thought back to that concert long ago when I played the Czardas and Rita had performed her gypsy dance on that very stage.

Adam and I strolled around. He took my hand, keeping me close to him. We had so much to tell each other. I forgot all about the rides and attractions around us, passing by them without notice. When we came to a bench, Adam spread his coat on the seat and asked me to sit down for a while. Holding my hands, he pulled me closer to him as he spoke. Usually, when I would listen to someone speak for a long time, eventually, I would find my mind wandering off into my own little daydreams. But with Adam I was attached to each and every word that he spoke.

We had become so engrossed in each other, in that single day, I had forgotten that Adam did not live in Wroclaw. Now it occurred to me that he would have to leave soon. As if he could read my mind, he put his head close to mine and began to speak quietly, “Rachel, there is no one else in my life. I cannot tell you everything about my life right now, but I will tell you everything in time. I have only one female friend, Wioletta. She lives with her grandmother but, officially, is registered at the authorities as living with me. There is nothing between us but the only way that I can keep my apartment is if the government thinks more than one person lives there. I want to hold on to this apartment for the day when, hopefully, I will be married and will need a large space for my family. Families that sign up for an apartment now are on waiting lists that last for years.”

As I listened to his story, I began to feel uneasy. I was strangely hurt when he mentioned the girl. How could I trust this complete stranger. Maybe they were living together. I should have known that this feeling was too good to be true. I would not build my hopes up and be hurt again. There was no point in listening any further and risking more pain.

“It’s getting late.....and dark,” Adam said, again reading my mind. “Let me take you home. I have to catch the ten o’clock train back. This way I’ll travel all night and be able to go straight to work from the station in the morning.” He looked closely at me and in a soft voice he asked, “Rachel, will you write me?” I did not answer and we headed back to the streetcar. On the hour long ride home I was afraid to be happy. I felt a great emptiness inside me and was already worried about how much I knew I would miss him when he left.

“He must have been a very interesting person,” my mother probed, “for you to have spent a whole day with him, especially since you were so tired this morning.”

Adam joined us for dinner and I sat quietly as my father and Uncle Shiko talked with Adam about his family and about work. He told them how his entire family had perished in the Holocaust and that he had been on his own since the age of 11. He had hid in forests, and villages, and had not known that the war had ended until 1947. Only by accident had he been discovered and brought to the Jewish Congress in Warsaw where he was taken to live in an orphanage. Later, when he was living at the students’ hostel in Warsaw, he had told his story to the representatives of the Jewish Historical Institute of Warsaw and they had recorded it in the archives. He told us about his only living relative, Gedaliusz, a distant cousin, who had survived the war in Russia and was now living with his family in Legnica. He visited them often and it was there that he met Bucio.

As I listened to him speak so openly and honestly, I looked around the table and could see that my family was as moved by Adam as I was. This was a boy who had been through a great deal and we could all relate to that. I felt my heart lightening. My mind was made up. I would fight for Adam. I felt suddenly very grown-up.

As if sensing the mood of everyone at the table, Adam suddenly changed the topic of conversation. He told us about all he had accomplished in the few years since the war ended. He had joined the Air Force and had become a pilot for the Yak 9 fighter planes. When he completed that course, he was among only ten other pilots chosen for training on the MIG 3, fighter jets. Unfortunately, a few weeks before the course was to begin, he was suddenly removed from the Military Base and told not to contact his colleagues again. The officials, he later found out, had checked on his past and had discovered that he had belonged to a Zionist Youth Organization, Shomer Hatzair, after the war. He had not told them about this and they took that to mean that he was somehow connected to Israel. For the authorities, this was enough proof that he posed a great threat to the security of the Polish Air Force.

Adam was devastated by his dismissal, but immediately, applied to a different civil airline company for work. He was bluntly told that he could never find work as a pilot for a civilian airline because he had been expelled from the Air Force. He was now working as a technician in a government factory building small airplanes. He had been taking special evening courses at the Technical Engineering School in Warsaw and had recently accepted an offer to work as an inspector of various electronic parts of the Telecommunications Company. “I make a good living,” he told us, “but I am very lonely.”



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