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Michals destiny, p.26
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       Michal's Destiny, p.26

           Roberta Kagan
 
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  “Mama, Papa, Alina and I have something to tell you.”

  “NU? So tell us already? Why the suspense?” Benny’s father said, smiling.

  “We have decided to get married.”

  “Mazel Tov!” his mother said and got up and hugged Alina. Then his father did the same. “Welcome to our family.”

  “I was thinking that once we are married Alina would move in here with us.”

  “Oy, such a blessing!” his father smiled.

  Living with her in-laws? What had she expected? Of course they would have to move in with them. The family still needed Benny’s salary to survive. They seemed nice enough, didn’t they? Everything was moving so fast. Her future mother-in-law was hugging her.

  “Yes, a blessing,” her future father-in-law said.

  Alina and Benny were betrothed.

  It was that easy. She’d changed her life with just a few words. For the better? That remained to be seen. Benny put his arm around Alina as they walked towards her apartment.

  “My folks like you; I can tell,” he said, squeezing her shoulder. She pulled her coat closer around her body. A chilly wind moved a paper bag that someone had left on the sidewalk. Soon it would be winter and Alina could already feel the coming of the season. She’d always disliked winter. It was too still; it had always felt like a time of death to her, a time when nothing grew, nothing lived.

  “They’re very nice, Benny.”

  “So, you like them too? I’m so glad. I was worried that you might not like them.” A big smile came over his face. “Now, we just have to tell your parents. Do you think they’ll be happy about it?”

  Alina opened her mouth to speak, but before she had a chance to say a word, their conversation was interrupted by a loud crash that sounded like a giant picture window had been shattered. It was followed by lots of noise and commotion. Somewhere in the direction in which they were walking, which was towards Alina’s home and the Jewish sector of town, people were shouting angry curses, some were screaming, there were terrible cries of terror, and, above all of it, they heard the crashing of glass. The smell of something burning began to waft through the air. Alina’s eyes burned; she rubbed them, then she saw black smoke pouring out of the top of the synagogue. “Our temple, the temple that we go to on the high holidays … it’s on fire.” Alina looked at Benny in disbelief.

  “OH, MY GOD!” Benny said. “A fire must have started. That’s what the noise is all about.”

  Alina and Benny rounded the corner and began to run towards the synagogue. They weren’t sure if other buildings near the synagogue had caught fire and they wanted to help. The streets were filled with people running in all directions. Some of them Alina recognized as her neighbors, but mostly they were teenage boys and young men in brown Nazi uniforms. The Nazis were shouting and singing a song with strange lyrics that Alina had never heard before. From the bits and pieces that Alina could decipher, they were singing something like, “If Jewish blood spurts from a knife, then all will go well.” What was happening? Was this a pogrom like the ones her parents had talked about? She felt a pang of fear shoot through her. This had to be a nightmare; it couldn’t be really happening.

  “What the hell is going on here?” Benny said, not directly to Alina, but just voicing his inner feelings.

  “Let’s get to my apartment quickly. We should get inside and out of the street.” Alina grabbed Benny’s arm and started pulling him quickly towards her home.

  The Nazis had clubs and bats, and they seemed to be having a good time bashing the windows of all the businesses. Even from several yards down the street, Alina could see that her father’s shop had been vandalized. She had no idea how bad the damage was, but glass from the window was scattered all over the sidewalk and the wooden door lay crushed on the street. Alina pulled Benny harder and finally they got to the building where she lived. It looked as if the shop was entirely destroyed. Alina searched her purse for the keys to her apartment upstairs. But her hands were shaking so badly that she couldn’t find them. Across the road, an old woman was crying and screaming in Yiddish. Two young boys in the uniforms of the brown shirts were beating her husband to death with a club.

  Alina’s fingers found the key. She put it into the door and it opened.

  Benny turned to Alina. “Get in the house. I’ll be upstairs in a few minutes.”

  She was afraid for him. “No, Benny, don’t go over there. You don’t even have a weapon. They’ll hurt you!”

  “Get inside.” He pushed her.

  “Benny!”

  Alina was too late. Benny was already across the street. He’d taken the bat away from one of the boys and had begun to hit him with it. The other boy called out for his friends and, before Benny could turn around, he was surrounded by Nazis. Alina was screaming, but she didn’t cross the street and go to Benny or go inside. She was frozen and unable to move. All that was unfolding before her was too horrible to be real. This had to be a bad dream.

  Her father came rushing out of the building. Taavi and Michal heard Alina screaming; they heard the chaos and the breaking glass. “Get upstairs,” Taavi said to Alina. “Now.”

  “I can’t. Look, Papa. Those boys across the street … they’re hurting Benny.…”

  “Go upstairs. Do as I say. I’ll take care of it. Now, go.”

  “NO, Papa. Don’t go over there…”

  “Upstairs, now,” Taavi said and he gave Alina a warning stare. She obeyed him. Then Taavi ran across the street.

  From the window in their living room, Michal and her two girls could see across the street. Taavi was strong; he had beaten several of the boys down. Benny lay still in a pool of blood. Taavi hadn’t had a chance to go to him; he was still fighting. But now the police had arrived and Taavi was being arrested. Michal bit her lip so hard that she could taste the blood. Two officers with guns forced Taavi into the back of a police car. Michal wanted to run out after Taavi, to beg the police to let him go, but she dared not. It was far too dangerous to leave the girls alone. She held her daughters in her arms and the three of them trembled and wept. And still, the violence on the street continued throughout the night.

  Michal waited until morning for Taavi to return. But he didn’t, and finally Michal couldn’t bear the uncertainty any longer.

  “I’m going to the police station. I have to find out what they’ve done with your father.”

  “I’ll go with you, Mama,” Alina said.

  “No, please, you stay here and watch out for Gilde. Both of you stay inside. I’ll be home as soon as I can. Your father is a good person. He was only trying to defend Benny and the old man across the street. The police probably don’t know what happened. I’ll tell them. I’ll make the police understand. Wait for me here.”

  Alina sucked in her breath. Then she got up and hugged her mother. “Be careful, Mama,” she said.

  “I will. Watch your sister. Gilde, you listen to Alina; you do what she tells you and don’t argue. Now, you two, take care of each other until I get back. Promise me you’ll do as I say … both of you?”

  “Yes, Mama,” both girls said in unison.

  Then Michal walked out of the apartment and down the stairs. Gilde and Alina were looking out the window. Both girls’ hearts were pounding; they were afraid for Michal. Although it looked as if the perpetrators were gone, they couldn’t be sure. They stood there silently, watching their mother until she had walked so far away that they couldn’t see her anymore.

  Alina felt sick to her stomach. Benny’s body was still there on the sidewalk. He hadn’t moved and she was certain that he was dead. It was only right that she go to him, but she didn’t have the courage. And her own weakness and fear disgusted her.

  That fateful night in November of 1938 would be the beginning of a long descent into the darkest hour for the Jews, not only in Germany, but in all of Europe. It would be remembered forever as Kristallnacht, the night of the broken glass.

  Chapter 70

  Later t
hat morning, Lotti telephoned.

  “Alina? Are you alright? Is the family alright?”

  “I’m fine. But Benny? I don’t know what happened to Benny. He might be alive, but I don’t think so. I think he’s dead. I don’t know. He’s still lying in the street and there’s blood everywhere. Everywhere, Lotti. So much blood. You see, last night the synagogue burned and there was a fight on the street … and then the boys were hitting an old man and then Benny was fighting with the boys. Papa came out and then he was fighting too. And then Papa got arrested and Mama went to find him.” She was rambling, hyperventilating, she could hardly catch her breath.

  “Slow down; I can’t understand you. Are your parents there; can I speak to your mother?”

  “No, I’m trying to tell you that Papa got arrested. Mama left this morning; she went to the police station to find out where he is. Gilde is here with me. We are alone. Mama insisted that we stay here and wait for her.”

  “I’m coming over right away with Lev. Don’t leave the house.”

  “Are both of you all right?”

  “Yes, we’re fine. Shaken up, but fine. Stay put; don’t open the door for anyone. Do you understand me, Alina? We’ll be right over.”

  “Yes, Lotti. I understand.”

  As soon as Lotti walked in to the apartment, Alina rushed into her arms and broke down. “I’m so scared. It was the most terrible thing I’ve ever seen. Benny … a truck came and picked up his body a few minutes ago. He might be in a hospital. Or he might be dead. I just don’t know. I think he’s dead.…”

  “Shh, it’s all right.”

  Gilde walked over and lay her head against Lotti. “What are we going to do?”

  “Well, for right now, we are going to wait until Lev comes upstairs. He’s looking at your father’s store to see how bad the damage is.”

  Lotti sat on the sofa and both girls curled around her. She put a hand on each of their shoulders.

  There was a knock on the door a half hour later.

  “Lev?” Lotti said.

  “It’s me,” Lev answered.

  Alina got up and opened the door. Lev came in; his face was the color of bleached sand. “Everything is destroyed. Everything we were working on, all of our inventory. Everything.”

  Lotti nodded. “That should be the worst of it. Let’s just pray that Michal, Taavi, and Benny are all right.”

  When they had not heard from Michal or Taavi by nightfall, Lotti insisted that the girls leave a note for their parents and come to stay at her and Lev’s apartment.

  They packed small bags and left.

  A week passed. Neither Michal nor Taavi returned. Alina stayed home from work with Gilde, who missed school. They barely ate. Neither of them had any appetite. By now, the streets were quiet. Only the damage that had been done was left. Blood still stained the sidewalk and broken glass shards littered the streets. The synagogue had burnt to the ground and the smell of fire and smoke still lingered in the air.

  “What are we going to do?” Gilde asked.

  “I don’t know. Keep waiting here at Lotti’s house for Mama to come back,” Alina said, and it sounded ridiculous even as she heard her own voice. “Gilde, I don’t know what else to do. I’m worried sick about our parents. I called Benny’s house. His mother is distraught. They have no idea what happened to Benny. God only knows where he is and if he is even alive.”

  Another week passed. Lotti could see that the girls were becoming frantic. She, too, was frantic, but she couldn’t let them know. If she broke down, they would have no one to lean on.

  “I think it’s best that you, Gilde, come back to school, and Alina, you come back to work with me. Our staying here at the apartment will not do anyone any good. The poor children at the orphanage will need us. Lev is here. He will be either here at the apartment or at your father’s shop, trying to put it back into order. Either way, when your parents return, they will either come through the shop to your apartment and see him, or they will call here because of the note.”

  “I don’t know if I can work,” Alina said.

  “I understand. But I believe it is what is best for you both right now.”

  The following day, Lotti and the two girls took the train to the orphanage. Gilde went to class and Alina went to work. No one questioned why they had been away for two weeks. Everyone knew what had happened.

  Lotti was right; working helped. Alina was busy and, for a few hours, her mind was too occupied to think. After the children had finished lunch, Alina and Lotti sat down at the end of one of the wooden tables to have something to eat. Lotti spoke in a very low voice.

  “There is something I have to discuss with you.”

  Alina nodded. “Have you heard something about my parents or Benny?”

  “No, it’s something else.”

  “All right, tell me.”

  “There is an organization, it’s called, ‘The Movement for the Care of Children from Germany’.” The people in charge of this group are in the process of arranging for all of the children from the orphanage to go to England.”

  “England?”

  “Yes, the plight of the Jewish children here was announced on the BBC and, from what I understand, five-hundred British families have offered to take them in.”

  “Really? That’s remarkable. And very kind.”

  “Yes, Alina, it is. And … I think we should send Gilde with them.”

  “My sister? When my parents return she will be in England?”

  “Alina, it’s not safe here for Jews. Gilde is a child. She has an opportunity to get out safely. If she stays … well, who knows what’s in store? Once this is all over, your parents can send for her and she will come back. But for now.…”

  “Gilde, all alone with strangers in England? Can I go with her? I can’t just let her go all alone.”

  “I tried to arrange for you to go too. I wanted you to go. I lied to them; I told them you were sixteen. But because you work here, they know your real age is eighteen and you’re too old to go.”

  “So Gilde will be all alone?”

  “She has friends from the orphanage who will also be going. Gilde will stay with a British family until things settle down here in Germany. Then she’ll come back.”

  “Lotti, I don’t know. I wish my parents were here to make the decision.”

  “There isn’t much time … only two weeks before the train leaves on December first. Before it’s too late, I want to sign her up. I’ve twisted things around to make them work in our favor. I made up a few things so that she would qualify. It was a little contrived, but technically, she is an orphan. She can go. Let her go, Alina…”

  Alina put her hand to her throat and shook her head. “I’m afraid.”

  “I know. So am I. But I believe in my heart that this is for the best.”

  “Will you help me talk to her about it? I know she won’t want to go.”

  “Yes, we’ll tell her together.”

  “OH … this is all too much for me. I’ve lost my entire family, and Benny too, all in a matter of one month.” Alina’s hands were shaking.

  “I know, but you have me and you have Lev … and we’ll take care of you until your family is all back together again. And it will be very soon, Alina. You’ll see. This madness can’t last long.”

  “Do you promise not to leave me?”

  “Of course I promise. Can I go ahead and make the arrangements for Gilde? Do I have your permission?”

  Alina nodded.

  “Good … Thank God you agree. Gilde will be on the first children’s transport out of Germany.”

  Chapter 71

  If Alina had considered changing her mind about sending her sister to England, she was assured that she was making the right choice because of what happened that night when she, Lotti, and Gilde got back to the apartment.

  Lev was waiting for them. It seemed he had aged twenty years in a few weeks. He sat at the kitchen table, staring out as if in a trance and wringing his
hat in his hands.

  “What is it?” Lotti ran to her husband and fell to her knees in front of him, so that she could look into his eyes.

  “They took the business.”

  “Who took the business?

  “The Nazis. Two men in uniform came and ordered that Taavi’s store be turned over to the Nazis.”

  “Did they offer any money?”

  “Nothing. In fact, if we want to survive, we must pay for all the damages that were done to the shop on Kristallnacht.”

  “What? That’s crazy. They did the damage. I don’t understand.”

  “From what I heard today, all Jewish students have been expelled from public schools and all Jewish businesses must be handed over to Aryans.”

  Alina and Gilde stood frozen to the floor listening.

  “But, when Papa comes back he will find a way to get his business back. I know he will,” Gilde shouted. “They can’t do this to us. They can’t,” she said crying. Then Gilde ran into the room she was sharing with Alina, slammed the door, and threw herself on the bed.

  “Your father had plans to sell the shop anyway,” Lev said.

  “I didn’t know,” Alina said. “He never said anything about that to us.”

  “He wanted your family, and Lotti and me, to go to America, but we would have needed the money from the sale of the shop in order for us to go. But, no one was offering to buy anyway,” Lev said.

  “Do you think we will ever see Mama and Papa again?”

  “We can only hope that they’re all right and they’ll come back to us soon,” Lev said.

  “So? What will happen to you two and to my sister and me? How will we live? We won’t have any money,” Alina said.

  “Well,” Lotti cleared her throat. “As for Gilde, on the first of December, God willing, she’ll board that train and she’ll be on her way out of Germany to shelter in England. And, as for the rest of us, quite frankly, Alina … I have no idea. All we can do is hold on and pray that God will have mercy on us.”

 
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