Menachem's Writings

Hidden Beneath a Cowshed
Chapter II

This is the continuation of a previous story.
Please read the first chapter before you read the following prose.

It's already late September. It's getting colder. The days are getting shorter. And our confinement continues. Another night follows another day.

We have been down here now nearly four months. The goy still comes to us most nights, thank God for that -- potatoes, dilute soup, the buckets routine -- but he is not happy, not that he ever was thrilled to have us. We sense his melancholy, his gloom, his desperation, his frustrations. He barely speaks to us any more, not we ever spoke too much.

I understand him, I really do. We all assumed that this arrangement would be for at most a few weeks. But we're still here, right here down our little hole, under the haystacks and under the cows. Four months later.

The barn is now now full of hay to feed the cows in the winter. Very soon they will not be able to pasture in the open; the countryside will be covered in snow. In our previous existence, we always enjoyed the winter snow -- skiing skating, sleighs. White, quiet, tranquillity. But it won't be like that this winter.

The goy must be worried by now too. Being found here would be his death sentence, and not just ours; and probably that of his entire family. He certainly doesn't want us here any more than we want to be here. But we have no choice, we have zero options, there is nowhere we can go, we have nowhere to turn. We pray that he continues to keep his part of the deal.

By now, Rosh haShana has certainly passed us by; Yom Kippur probably too, and maybe even sukkes. Are there any Jews left in the whole of Hungary to celebrate these holidays? Anywhere in Europe?

I fondly contemplate how much we loved sukkes. Our entire family would gather at our grandparent's house in Presov. The old two-story residence and the big barn at the edge of town.

The train ride was an exciting introduction to the holiday, but arriving was the best. All the uncles, aunts and cousins were there, milling around the house, catching up on the last year's events. We were a massive group, having a joyous time together. We slept in every corner of the big house, but no-one ever complained they were squashed.

We all rugged up together to eat the festive meals in the enormous sukkah grandfather built each year. The local cousins always beautifully decorated it. We ignored the cold -- was it cold? -- the weather was part of the fun. The family atmosphere was so warm that the outside cold just melted away.

The food was always delicious. I can taste it now. I can smell the paprika, the onions, the schmaltz, crackling in the bif pan on grandmother's big stove.

My mother and each of my eight aunts all snuck into the kitchen to prepare something special for their husbands. Not that grandmother's food was lacking in any way. Perhaps I should be embarrassed to admit it now, but grandmother was a wonderful chef; her gourmet cooking was far more delicious than my mother's meals. Or perhaps her special spice was the infrequency and the presence of our large, loving family.

We all looked forward to this annual family get-together; we talked about it months before. What will I wear? What will cousin Szeren wear? She always upstages me. What will cousin Josef have to tell us; he is such a wit! And uncle Laci always had a new magic trick. And big uncle Bundy would pick us up and spin us around his head like an aeroplane until we squealed and screamed in our dizziness.

But this year's early winter cold presents us with no warmth. No grandparents here; no aunts and uncles; no cousins, no succah. Just Ferenc and I, all alone, here under the cowshed. It's cold and getting colder. We have one blanket and we hug closely together in an attempt to keep out the cold.

I don't know how we can survive down here though a whole winter. Perish the thought -- we won't be here that long -- or will we? For how long can this evil war continue? If we survive, will we find our families, meet any other Jews? Are we perhaps all alone on this earth?

Fernec has stopped mentioning his little brother. He talked about nothing else after Izhak was captured. He seems to have overcome his trauma; I'm certain he hasn't forgotten; he keeps it hidden, deep inside. He doesn't want to worry me unnecessarily.

Ferenc still has his weapon, and I must stay alert to make sure he does not use it, not on himself, nor does he do something stupid with it. I don't want him to be a hero and take on the German war machine single-handedly. They tell us the Nazis are ubiquitous, you can't hide from them. They are all over the area. Every additional day we survive, remain alive down here, is another small victory against their despicable evil.

It is the middle of the day -- whichever day it is. It was raining earlier in the day, but that seems to have abated. We hear a commotion outside. We hear our goy's voice. He is speaking in broken German, but we cannot make out what he is saying. Fluent German is being barked and shouted. Germans are yelling at him. Ferenc arms himself. He has four bullets. He inserts each of them into the gun's chamber. What is he going to do?

We try to understand what is being said -- said, I mean shouted, screamed -- as they enter the barn. The Germans are ordering our farmer to move the bales of hay.

It appears that neighbours have noticed that the farmer and his wife are purchasing an inordinate quantity of potatoes at the market. The busybodies reported them to the local authorities, who in turn informed the Gestapo. Two people just can't eat that many potatoes. There must be someone else there, someone else eating the potatoes, someone is being hidden and fed.

The Germans have already ransacked the goy's house, searching for us. They are angry and frustrated at not finding anything, not finding one of the few Jews, the last Jews, that remain in their area; not even the trace of a Jew, not a clue. Now they want to examine the barn. This was all that was left on the farmer's property. The goy must be hiding Jews in his land. The search commences in the loft above. Nothing there.

Next they intend to investigate beneath the barn floor, perhaps a secret trapdoor, a hole under the cowshed. The thoughts going through the farmer's mind must have been similar to ours. If caught, we all face an identical fate, we are all dead. There seems to be three Germans up there with him. They always come in groups.

Could Ferenc possibly kill all three Nazis with his meagre ammunition? If he kills two, will the third flee? Bring reinforcements? Thoughts are flying through my head, my whole short life flashes by. God why is this happening to us?

The farmer is being forced to move each bale of straw, so that the floor underneath can be inspected. It is hard work. He is having trouble. We hear him panting heavily as he pushes and lifts the straw.

They've covered half of the barn floor. Ferenc is holding his gun tight in his hands. I am frozen with fright; I must be as white as a sheet, life has been drained from my body. How will our goy perform? Or is it by now too late for him to turn us over. His life too is hanging by a thin thread, all because of us. Even if we were to give ourselves up, his life too would instantly be over.

The search continues. They get closer and closer to our small hideout. We remain as still and silent as possible. On a matter of minutes, of seconds, and it will all be over. Months of waiting, of concealment, of nothingness, and it's about to end.

They are almost directly above us now. The farmer must be getting desperate now. What will he do? He is panting arduously, gasping for air. What can he do now? I know this is then end. The words, "Sh'ma Yisroel", go through my head. What is Ferenc thinking?

The goy then calmly turns to the Germans and starts to speak. "I'm tired, I can't go on. We've covered everywhere. You've pulled my house to pieces -- if want to continue, you do it, I cannot. Just know, however, if there were any Jews, anywhere near here, I would have shot them myself, ages ago."

The Germans nod in agreement. Yes. Yes, they believe him. He is a good man, a patriotic Hungarian.

They turn to leave. "Heil Hitler", they say. "Yes, the goy half-heartedly responds, "Heil Hitler".


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