It's a cool night. We are well into autumn. Soon winter will be upon us.
That won't be so pleasant. It is dark now. A cloudless, moonless night
providing some shadowy safety.
I unthinkingly light another. I rarely smoked back home. We knew nothing
of addiction and disease. I detested the smell. People smoked because it
relaxed them. Seemingly it does. I suppose that's why our father smoked
so much, virtually continuously. Lighting another while stubbing out the
previous. I assume the ever present odour adversely affected me.
Our father is a wonderful man. We all love him dearly. He is kind and
generous, and very street-smart. He was a widower with two children at
the time he married our mother. She was a daughter of the renowned and
much respected rabbi of our town. I am their youngest.
Except on shabath. I sometimes wonder how easy it was for him to endure
the 25 hours. For his children, it was a difﬁcult afternoon. By lunch,
father was becoming irritable and edgy. His agitation increased as the
day rolled on. After the big meal, he, as was the custom in our town,
would take a long nap. We each sought to leave before he awoke,
following our individual paths. There was no shortage of pretext: youth
group, learning with the rabbi, play or even study with a friend, visit
some of our many cousins' more restful homes, or just relax by the river
in the shade of the one of the ubiquitous towering poplars after whom
our town was named. Only our notably saintly mother remained.
Evening prayers were our signal to return. Immediately after the
service, father lit his luxurious ﬁrst for the week. He had it
sequestered at the bottom of the box in which he stored his prayer
articles. He lit it from one of the synagogue's many candles. He was not
alone. Our synagogue quickly became as full of smoke as the Holy of
Holies on Yom Kipur. Entering our home, we were greeted by our calm,
loving father. Mother beamed as we sat around the table holding the
havdala candle, wine and spices.
Out here, on most of these lonely, ostensibly quiet evenings, I had
begun to enjoy a cigarette or two. It indeed was relaxing. It was good.
We lived in especially arduous times.
My thoughts drift to my darling Yoli, and our gorgeous little Eva. We
were wedded a little over a year before I departed. I had to leave.
Knowing my past combative incidents, she insisted I go. We knew they
would never touch mothers and babies.
I am now clueless of the situation in our town. My sisters and brothers?
Our now 91 year old father? Uncles, aunts, cousins? Our oldest sister,
Bozsi, is safe in America. I was a child when she left.
Providentially mother passed away peacefully in her own bed, prior to
tensions or hostilities. On a Wednesday night she dreamt of repasting
Melave Malka, the special post-shabath meal, with her revered father,
who had passed away 39 years earlier. Within minutes of the close of the
following shabath, she was with him.
I am the only Jew in our group. My compatriots are not renowned
philosemites. They are unaware of my background. I impulsively changed
my Jewish-sounding German surname. We have a common enemy. All arms are
welcome. I continuously pray my family are safe, but I now know how
ruthless is this enemy.
We hide during the day when there is no action. Now we sense a level of
freedom under this cover of darkness — up here in the hills, in the
woods, remote from the bulk of our population. In normal times this is a
peaceful, soul-searching spot, a place to relax, leaving mundanity
behind. We are constantly vigilant and prepared, disposed to any
unpredictable eventuality. It could come from anywhere, whenever. We
recognise that at any time we will receive new orders: to move, to
attack, to ﬂee.
We believed our local uprising was successful. To a large degree it was,
lasting far longer than any other on the continent. We pushed them out
of our region. Taking into account our meagre numbers and paltry arms,
only with great struggle did they ultimately put down our insurrection.
Had we scratched the ﬁrst, minute crack in their armour? Perhaps, but
now they seek as much revenge — bloody and violent — as they can wrought
on our scaled-down nation, whose tiny bands of irregulars eroded their
pride and honour. I did not doubt that, as always, our Jews are bearing
The English say the devil is in the detail. Ironically that idiom is
from the German, the loving God is in the detail, paraphrased "could God
have been the cause of my downfall?"
In the mountain air, the smell is not so abhorrent. We puff away without
a second thought, unaware that on a dark, moonless night, the light of a
cigarette can be observed ten kilometres away. A lone cigarette on a
forested, uninhabited hillock. I am signing my own death warrant with
that last stinky death stick.
They come suddenly, stealthily, from nowhere. Only Stanislaus and I are
here. In the darkness they grab us from behind, gag us, tying each of us
to a tree. We know it is over. Our war just ended. They leave us, until
morning. They return, stand us up straight, tying us more ﬁrmly to the
trees. I understand their discussion.
Two of them pace away, perhaps ﬁfteen or twenty metres. They turn,
cocking their riﬂes. The end. I cry out Sh'ma Yisrael. It doesn't matter
now that Stanislaus knows I am Jewish. And to them it does not matter at
all. I die a proud Jew. I stand tall. I close my eyes. I do not want to
witness their gleeful faces executing another two of their hated
uprising partisans. Shots ring out.
I remain standing. I open my eyes. The executioners lie dead on the
ground before us. There is commotion in nearby undergrowth. Their
compatriots are ﬂeeing. Only then do I notice Russian uniforms. In the
very last second the advance scouts have saved our lives.
Posted 31st August, 2021 -- 23rd Elul, 5781
I initially wrote this as a standalone piece. As a result of various correspondence which ensured, especially requesting to know
what happened to the partisan after his miraculous rescue, I wrote another two pieces.
You can read Part II here.