Michal's Destiny, p.23Roberta Kagan
Next, Hitler proclaimed himself Fuhrer and declared that the armed forces must now swear allegiance to him.
Then in 1935 the first set of Nuremburg laws were passed. They included over one hundred and twenty laws denying Jews their civil rights. Under “The Law for the Protection of German Blood and Honor,” Jews were now considered a separate race. Judaism was no longer determined by religion or practice of religion. Now it was decided by ancestry and was determined by the government to be a race rather than a religion. Marriages and sexual relations between Aryans and Jews were now strictly forbidden by law.
Lotti and Lev were walking a dangerous tightrope. Lotti’s father came to see her and made another appeal to her to divorce Lev and return to her family before she found herself in serious trouble with the Nazi party. Lotti refused.
As Hitler’s anti-Semitic views became more commonplace, they began to affect the Jewish children attending public schools. They were ridiculed not only by the other children but by the teachers who were no longer the adults that they could trust. Many children were afraid to go to school; they were singled out in their classes called names, accused of crimes they did not commit, and deemed a pariah on society. Walking home was even more dangerous; the boys in the Hitler youth waited outside to physically assault them. These young children knew that they could not turn to anyone for help; the principal and the teachers would not defend them.
Taavi was watching as the world was descending into Hell right before his eyes. Even before Adolf Hitler had been appointed chancellor and given himself complete power to make laws, Taavi had an uneasy nagging voice in the back of his mind warning him to beware. Michal told Taavi that she was beginning to feel threatened when she went out of the house. The boys of the Hitler Youth taunted her and she couldn’t be sure that they wouldn’t physically attack her. And she said she was very worried about the children at school. Perhaps they should leave Germany, Michal suggested. Maybe they should try to go to America. Taavi thought about what she said. But he’d worked hard and built his business and his life in Germany. In fact, he was known throughout the country for crafting the finest of furniture. Jews and Gentiles alike came to his store and placed custom orders. If he left Europe, he would have to start over again at thirty-nine. It would be a daunting task. Besides, it was hard to get into America, very hard. America was in a depression as well and her president, who was President Roosevelt, was limiting immigration because he wanted to create jobs and rebuild the American economy. If the country was flooded with refugees, they would need work. Roosevelt wanted to make sure his own people were employed before he opened the doors to others.
Taavi didn’t know what to do. He didn’t like to see Michal afraid, so he made light of the situation and told Michal not to worry. He said that he was sure that it would pass. Germany was too educated and civilized a country to accept this for very long. This was just a temporary problem. He told her, smiling and patting her shoulder reassuringly, that it would work itself out. But at night when Michal lay breathing softly and evenly beside him, Taavi’s heart was growing heavier every day with fear.
An Olympic stadium was erected to host the Olympics in Berlin. Hitler declared that no Jewish athletes would be allowed to compete. The U.S. threatened to boycott, but Hitler stood strong in his stance and only two athletes with some Jewish ancestry were allowed to participate.
The United States didn’t keep their threat; they did not boycott. Instead, they sent an Olympic team. After Hitler bragged about the superiority and unbeatable athletic prowess of his Aryan race, to his chagrin, Jesse Owens, a black American track star, took most of the medals. Owens proved that there was no basis for Hitler’s superior race ideology. And, of course, Adolf Hitler was furious.
Alina and Lotti remained close friends throughout the years. They spent as much time together as was possible. Lotti became very involved in her volunteer work at the Jewish Orphanage. Sometimes, with Michal’s permission, Lotti took Alina to work with her, where Alina helped the other children learn to read and write. Alina emulated Lotti. She wore her hair the same as Lotti’s, borrowed Lotti’s lipstick, and spent endless hours at Lotti’s apartment doing her homework.
Alina’s sixteenth birthday was an event that Lotti and Michal were very excited to plan. They decided to have a surprise party at Lotti’s apartment. Michal baked a cake. Lotti prepared all of Alina’s favorite foods, and they invited all of Alina’s friends from school. Lotti called Alina and invited her out for lunch for her birthday.
“Come to my house and we can leave together from here. Dress up a little because I want to go to a nice restaurant. It’s not every day that a girl turns sixteen.”
“You don’t have to take me out,” Alina said.
“I know that; I want to take you out. Be here on Sunday afternoon at about noon. Would that be alright?”
“Yes, of course. Are you sure you want to do this?”
“Of course I am, silly.”
Alina was completely overcome when all of her friends were waiting at Lotti’s house. They yelled surprise and Alina’s hand went to her throat. She felt tears run down her cheeks and, at the same time, she’d never felt so happy.
There were piles of gifts on the coffee table in the living room, but when Lotti gave Alina a tube of lipstick all her own, Alina hugged her tightly. Then Lotti and Lev gave Alina an envelope with money for her for college.
Michal and Taavi gave Alina a beautiful gold Star of David with a small sapphire in the center. It was beautiful. Michal kissed her daughter’s cheek as she helped her to close the clasp.
“I’ll never take it off. Never,” Alina said. Taavi hugged his daughter.
Two days later, Alina asked Lotti to see if she would be eligible for a volunteer position at the orphanage. “I’ve always felt so needed here. I know why you do this,” Alina said to Lotti.
Since there was always a shortage of volunteers, Alina was welcomed. Three days a week, after school, she took the train to the large brick building where the orphans were housed. Sometimes, Alina spent the Sabbath with the children instead of going home to her family. The little orphans were so alone in the world, so needy of her attention that many of them had borne their way deep into her heart.
Michal hated it, but she still felt jealous of the relationship between Lotti and Alina. For some reason, no matter how hard Michal tried, Alina always kept her at a distance. The bond between Gilde and Alina was undeniable. Gilde loved her mother. And Alina adored her little sister from the first moment that she’d seen her. She treated Gilde like she was her daughter. And for that, Michal was happy. But Alina was cold to Michal.
Gilde was the ray of sunshine in their home. She was equally close to her parents and her sister. She was always making jokes or singing songs. If one of the family members was having a hard day, Gilde would do whatever she could to cheer them up.
During the years that Michal and Taavi were separated, Michal thought that she and Alina had been very close. But, as the years passed, Alina became like a stranger to Michal. There was no doubt in Michal’s mind that Alina loved her and that she loved her father too. In fact, Michal couldn’t complain about Taavi; he had proved to be a wonderful father. But something along the way had been lost between Alina and her mother, and Michal had no idea how to retrieve it.
Occasionally, Alina took Gilde with her to work. At ten, Gilde already had a flare for the theater. She loved to play school and create puppet shows using old socks to make puppets with the other children at the orphanage. Michal had taught her how to make the puppets and she’d taught everyone at the orphanage. Even though she was young, Gilde loved attention. In fact, she giggled when two of the twelve-year-old boys vied for her interest. The three of them had met the first time that Gilde came to the home for orphaned children with her sister. Elias was tall and slender, with deep dark eyes and short straight hair. He excelled at athletics
One afternoon, Gilde came to the orphanage directly from school. She took the subway alone, without stopping at home first. “I need to see my sister,” Gilde said to Elias. The skin around her left eye had begun to turn purple and yellow. The white of her eye was spotted with bright red blood and blood had crusted around a red cut on her top lip.
“What happened to you?” Elias asked. “You look like you fell down the stairs.”
“No … I got beat up on the playground during recess. I went in and told the teacher, but she refused to do anything to the kids that hit me. She said it was my fault. It wasn’t my fault, Elias. I didn’t do anything.”
“Did you tell your parents?” Shaul asked.
“Shut up, Shaul. Tell me who did this to you. What are the kids’ names? I’ll find them and I’ll beat the shit out of them,” Elias said, his fists were clenched.
“A group of kids. Boys and girls. I don’t know their names.”
“What the hell started it? What the hell did they hit you for?” Elias frowned.
“For being a Jew. And, no, I didn’t tell my parents. I came straight here. I didn’t want to upset my mother. If she saw me like this she would be sick.”
“I’m gonna sneak outta here and take a kitchen knife, then find them and stab ‘em. You’ll have to help me find them, Gilde; you’re gonna have to point them out to me,” Elias said, as he shook his head. He had a cigarette that he’d gotten through a friend who bought it on the black market. Leaning against the side of the building, away from the watchful eyes of the teachers, he lit it and began smoking.
“I can’t, Elias. I don’t want you to get into trouble. You’re not supposed to leave here without permission, and if you go and do something like that, you’ll end up in jail or worse. Forget it. I’m not going with you. I’m not pointing them out.”
Elias crossed his arms over his body. “Then how the hell can I help you? If we let them get away with it, they’ll keep doing shit like this.”
Gilde just shook her head. “No, Elias. I can’t help you do this.”
“Does it hurt?” Shaul asked.
“Yes. A lot.”
“I’m sorry that you got beat up. I wish I could do something to make you feel better.” Shaul touched her arm.
“Yeah, well, I wish I could live here at the orphanage and go to the Jewish school here with you two. I’d be much safer.”
“I wish you could too,” Shaul said.
Having spent a great deal of her free time at the orphanage, Alina decided that she wanted to become a teacher. She planned to finish school then go to university to study. At least, she hoped she would be permitted to go to school. More laws forbidding Jews their rights were being made every day. Things at her school had changed considerably. People who had been her friends for years were now avoiding her. Others were snubbing her, saying rude and offensive things. Evidence of the Nazi influence was everywhere. Boys she’d grown up with were now members of the Hitler Youth. Girls who she’d once giggled with at a lunch table when they were young children, now gathered to go to their meetings of the Bund Deutscher Madels. Alina didn’t want to upset her family, so she never talked to her parents or even Lotti about the terrible changes she was encountering every day. She just found herself avoiding her non-Jewish classmates and spending her time at her volunteer job. Where Alina had once had friends of all religious backgrounds, now, except for Lotti, she had only Jewish friends.
The children were sitting at the long tables doing their homework, while Alina was helping with the regular chores that had to be done.
Alina was folding a basket of clean laundry a few feet away from the rest of the children. If they needed help, she was right there to assist. A pile of white towels lay on the end of the long table. Alina began folding a sheet, just as Shaul came in. He raced to Alina.
“Your sister is outside. Some kids beat her up real bad. She’s looking for you.”
“Where is she?” Alina dropped the sheet to the floor.
Alina left all of the laundry on the table and rushed out behind Shaul.
When Alina saw Gilde and how badly she was hurt, Alina fell to her knees and hugged her baby sister. “What happened to you?”
“I got beat up. Some kids beat up on me for being a Jew.”
“Does Mama know that you’re here?”
“She’ll be worried. I have to call her. Then I’m going to leave here and take you home myself. Did you ride the subway here all alone?”
“You know better, Gilde. It’s dangerous for you to be doing that. You’re too young.” Alina shook her head, then she hugged her sister again. “Come on. Let’s get you cleaned up.”
Alina brought Gilde inside the building and sat her down on a small wooden chair. “Don’t go anywhere. I want to wash all that blood off your face. But first, I’m going to call Mama so she knows where you are. She’s probably going crazy with worry about you. I’ll be right back.”
Lotti came in and saw what had happened. She shook her head and tears came to the corners of her eyes when Gilde explained how she’d been hurt.
“Let me help. I’ll clean you up,” Lotti said. Then she went into the adjoining kitchen and got a rag and wet it with warm water. She came back and gently began to clean the blood off of Gilde’s face.
Alina came back into the room. “Lotti, I just called my mother. She knows that Gilde is here and that I am going to bring her home. I’m sorry I have to leave.”
“Of course. Is there anything I can do?”
“Oh, Alina …I’m so sorry,” Lotti said.
Alina took Gilde’s small hand in her own and both girls walked out of the building. Lotti watched them and wiped a tear from her cheek.
That night, the entire family gathered to discuss what had happened at school to Gilde.
Gilde told her parents everything. Then Alina added that she too had experienced a wave of anti-Semitism at school.
Taavi paced the room. He could not speak. Gilde was just a child. An innocent child. Michal watched her husband. She too was at a loss for words.
“She’s afraid to go to school tomorrow,” Michal finally said.
“I don’t blame her. But she has to go. If she doesn’t go, they’ll never stop making her life miserable. If they see she is weak, they’ll attack her all the time. She has to be stronger than they are. I’ll go to the school with her. I’ll talk to the teachers and tell them what happened. Maybe we can come up with a solution,” Taavi said.
He picked up the phone and called Lev. “I’ll be in to work late tomorrow. I have to take Gilde in to school and talk to the teachers about something. Can you just open the shop and wait for me?”
“Of course, Tav, don’t worry about the business. I’ll be there. You take care of your family.”
It was as Taavi had feared. He hoped he would be wrong, but he found that the teachers clearly didn’t care about Gilde’s safety. They were blatant anti-Semites, and had no problem telling Taavi what they thought of Jews. He did not leave Gilde at school that day. In
“Something else has to be arranged. She can’t go to that school,” Taavi whispered to Michal. He didn’t want Gilde to hear him.
“What are we going to do?”
“I have some ideas. But, let me think about it and I’ll talk to you when I get home from work tonight.”
That night, it was decided that Gilde would go to school at the Jewish Orphanage. Taavi would drop Gilde at Lotti’s home on his way to work in the morning. Then Lotti would take Gilde on the train with her to the orphanage, where she would go to school with the other Jewish children. Permission had to be granted from the authorities who ran the orphanage, but Lotti assured Michal and Taavi that she would be able to secure a place for Gilde.
And so the following week, Gilde began to attend school with the orphans. Since all of the students were Jewish, Gilde was safe from prejudice. And that was a relief for Michal and Taavi. Besides that, either Alina or Lotti were always available in case Gilde needed anything. When Gilde had attended public school, except for her love of music and theater, Gilde had always been a mediocre student. But since she’d changed schools, Gilde began to get better grades and even made the honor roll.
School became not only a place of learning, but a social outlet for Gilde. Every day, Gilde had lunch with her friends, Shaul and Elias. Then she returned to class, where no one mentioned that she was Jewish. After school, she waited in the main room and did her homework with the help of the other students and sometimes Alina, while she waited for Lotti to finish her work. And then Gilde took the train home with either Lotti or Alina or both.
Hitler decided that he must unite all German speaking people. He called this project Lebensraum, which means a natural development of a territory.
In March of 1938, Hitler took over Austria. The Austrian people welcomed the Nazis with open arms. It was a bloodless takeover that would come to be known as the Anschluss.
Michal's Destiny by Roberta Kagan / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes