The Dogbreaths Publishing The Meditations of Thomas Sandoski David William Kirby
The Dogbreaths Publishing
David William Kirby
©Copyright 2014 by David William Kirby
The Dogbreaths Publishing
Shakespir Edition, License Notes
This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return toShakespir.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
©The Dogbreaths Publishing 2014
Relax now, let’s get a little quiet. Calm down and just concentrate on my voice. I want you to close your eyes and listen to the sound of your heart beating; listen to your heart beating and the sound of my voice.
Breathe in as much air your lungs can hold, hold it and slowly exhale, breathe in deep, hold it and exhale as slowly as you can.
Concentrate on your breathing; that’s right, and the sound of my voice.
Breathe in deeply, hold it and slowly breathe out.
As you are breathing, deep and slow; feel all the stress from the day leave that body; from the tips of your toes to the soles of your feet. As you exhale push all that stress out the bottom of your feet; see it leave your body as you exhale, as you slowly hiss air from your lungs.
They’re going numb now, those toes of yours, they are getting so numb and the feeling of numbness is creeping up, past your ankles and into your calves. Your feet feel relaxed and numb.
Imagine the stress of the day leaving your body when you exhale; visualise it leaving through the soles of your feet. As the numbness rises from the tips of your toes, over both feet, up to your knees, and further up, past your calves to your thighs.
You are completely numb from the tips of your toes, up to those knees of yours and up to your thighs.
All you can hear is the beating of your heat, my voice and your deep and slow breath.
Your hips are feeling numb now, so heavy and numb they’re sinking into your seat, as the stress of the day leaves your body.
You can feel the numbness around your chest, making your breathing deeper and slower. It’s going now, all that stress is quietly leaving, through the soles of your feet as you exhale.
Say goodbye to that stress, bye-bye. It’s being pushed out the soles of your feet with each breath.
Feel the numbness creep up, across your shoulders and down your arms to your fingertips, you are totally relaxed.
Your whole body is heavy and numb and you are sinking back into your seat, a dead weight; as all that stress goes away. See it leave your body through the soles of your numb feet.
Now that numbness is creeping up the back of your neck and across the top of your head, across your ears and that tingling is the stress of the day going away.
Pushed out of your body with every breath, there it goes, push it away.
Now the numbness is creeping down your face, all those tight little muscles are relaxing and sinking down, down to sleep. You feel numb now, from the tips of your toes to the tips of your fingers and all over your heavy head; across your chest and all over your face.
You are totally relaxed; from the top of your head to the tips of your toes.
Totally numb, as the stress of the day, leaves your sinking body; sinking, deeper and deeper into that place.
That restful, safe and relaxed place you love.
Now imagine a bright white light, radiating love and everything good in this world, beaming like a lighthouse above the top of your head. Every time you suck air into your lungs you feel some of that intense, white light, get sucked into the top of your head, and with it, into your body. Then as you exhale that bright luminescence is pushed through your body and out the soles of your feet.
You are becoming a conduit of bright and intense divine, white light, it’s coming into your head, through your body, and out through the bottom of your feet.
Feel it run through you; in your head and out your feet as you breathe; deep and slow.
With every relaxed breath and every slow exhalation you are getting heavier and heavier as the numbness takes hold.
Now, imagine that divine light filling you up, making you a shining star. You are glowing with intense divine light and with each breath more is sucked into your body.
Now the area around you is shimmering with divine beauty, you are lighting up the whole area, with your intense, divine radiance. Every time you suck that bright, intense light into the top of your head, your heavy body fills with luminescence and as you exhale that light out you light up that space.
You can feel yourself becoming brighter; brighter and lighter as you fill with divine light.
Your intense, bright light is radiating about you; filling that place with its perfect beauty. You are glowing and that divine iridescence is filling up the room; through the walls of that place and across the street outside. The whole city is now lit up by your brilliance and you can feel beams of your beautiful white light, reach up to the sky. The sky is radiating your light and beauty and the whole planet is now shining with the luminescence of your divine light.
You are projecting it far into space, far across the universe. You are pure divine light; shining out across the planet and lighting the sky.
The cosmos and you are one; shining a light of pure divine thought.
You are pure universal consciousness, pure love and pure light. SHINING INFINITE and FOR EVER.
You are ‘switched on’.
“Hallo, Sadhaka…” The Sadhu said filtering into Thomas’ vision. “…I was wondering when you would join me. As I was thinking of you we were drawn together.”
“Really?” Sadhaka replied, he tried to process that little nugget but without success as his senses still felt shocked. He suddenly began to think about Sarah and right on queue she drew up beside him.
“Sarah…” He whispered nervously. “…is it really you?”
“Why do you ask…” She whispered, taking a seat beside Sadhu, and looking to the West. The sun was rising above the oblique horizon and fingers of yellow sunlight reached up to stroke their glowing faces. The whole scene flooded in an intense confusion of colour and light which made it feel unreal; almost dreamlike.
“…I have been here all the time; sitting quietly beside you.”
“You see Sadhaka…” The Sadhu laughed, in that way only he could, his smile lighting up the space around him with an intensely glowing aura. Mainly violet but with many other hues, it gave him a cartoon like appearance, cat like and benign.
“…I told you it was all an illusion and now you know, don’t you?”
“Yes…” Sadhaka replied reaching out for Sarah and finding her hair in his fingers. It felt as soft as he remembered on their wedding day; lifting her lace veil and running his fingers through her silken trestles. He looked into those eyes. Eyes that were bright and so full of life that they filled him with sudden grief; he felt those familiar tears creeping down his cheeks.
“…but that does not make it any easier.”
“Don’t feel sad my friend…” The Sadhu smiled as his image faded. His voice echoed in the darkness as it died away; ringing out like a bell in thick fog.
“…enjoy the time you have together.”
“Why so sad?” Sarah asked reaching across to take his dirty hand. Thomas used his free hand to wipe his eyes and gritted his teeth. He could not quite believe that they were magically together again; across the abyss of time and space, their love had found a way.
“You would never understand…” He replied. Suddenly they were back in their little cottage, on the outskirts of Warsaw, looking through the kitchen window. Outside the garden was in full bloom and the roses filled the air with their succulent aromas.
“…still, it does not matter, now we are here together.”
“The placed looks so tidy.” Sarah replied. She looked about the kitchen and he agreed that the paintwork glowed as if it had just been done. Even the windows had a special glint as if they had been cleaned only moments ago.
“Look at the garden, the roses look so beautiful at this time of year, and that smell is delicious.”
“We were happy here.” Thomas said wistfully, placing his arm over her shoulder, and enjoying her company and her scent. Sarah had such a beautiful smell, it was the epitome of feminine womanhood, and always aroused his senses so wonderfully. It was the scent of jasmine, it used to permeate her clothing after doing their laundry, using her home made soap constructed of pure jasmine from their herb garden.
“You look so beautiful.” He whispered kissing her neck gently. Being there in the home they had shared together made all the pain of the past slip back into the ether. It was as if the past few years had never happened, as he stood there, by her side again. She lay her head back against his chin and pulled his hands across her belly holding him close. They stood there for an immeasurable period of time, arm in arm, silent and unmoving; enjoying the caress of their skin against skin. Star crossed lovers whose destiny was forever entangled.
“Do you know something?”Sarah said to him at last, sighing thoughtfully and taking a long, intense breath.
“I wish this moment could last forever.”
“So do I.” He replied softly.
He closed his eyes, and the feeling of her in his arms started to fade, it splintered into a million tiny fragments, like dreams always do.
Thomas Sandoski coughed and blinked a little. Why, he thought, when he reached this most crucial point, did he always lose focus? He could not keep his concentration long enough for their bodies to enter that state of perfection he’d been told about.
A state where they’d lose their form and their being would merge into one. To roam free from the shackles of mortality and experience universal perception; it was a state of mind he truly desired to experience. But, alas, his desire was the problem.
The 40 year old strained his eyes against the blackness that surrounded him, hardly moving. Even the subtle lifting of his chest, as he breathed, was so imperceptible that he may have appeared dead to any visitor. Not that a visitor was likely in that godforsaken place. Where only the sound of rats and water dripping echoed in the darkness and the ever present smell of methane permeated the thick air.
The man felt another sharp pain rack his tired body as his shrunken stomach cried for food. This pointed barb diverted his mind from the ever present throbbing which came from his rotting left foot.
Thomas was sure he could feel rats nibbling away at the gangrened flesh, or eating the maggots that festered there, as they shuttled to and fro in the darkness. He’d seen, the last time a shaft of sunlight shone through a crack in his sewer home, rats that were as large as cats and brave as lions. He knew they were there and imagined them nibbling away, devouring him slowly, one toe at a time.
How he wished he could be in sunlight with Sarah once again. To feel the warm sun against his face, and the sultry breeze of a summer day, rush through his hair. The summer sun, his withered memories recalled, twinkled like a faint star in the deep recesses of his mind.
Yes, Thomas remembered, he used to like the summer.
The carefree warmth of a summer day seemed so distant; and yet if he tried very hard, the memory…
Rites of spring.
Warsaw March 1939
Music blared from the stage as a group of family members danced together merrily. Arm in arm, spinning to the violin, accordion and drums, which were played by Uncle Henri, Cousin Rolf and his mother, Selene they danced joyously. The Sandoski-Hoff families were always musical and these family reunions were loud and riotous occasions; with traditional Polish folk music and the rippling sounds of happy children.
Dancing came easy to the family, and today was especially a happy occasion, being Grandpa Hoff’s Sixty Ninth Birthday. The grizzled old man sat, pipe in hand, nodding to the music next to the long table. A table which overflowed with food and alcoholic beverages, mainly vodka, which was the old man’s favourite.
Selene and Henri Hoff used the old man’s family name instead of Henri’s out of respect; perhaps when the old man died they might revert to Henri’s family name, Du Gurre, but while the old man was still marching on they were happy to be Hoffs.
As the music echoed through the cherry blossom, Thomas recalled the feeling of damp grass underfoot and the thick scent of jasmine rising from the budding flower beds. Beds which he and Sarah had tenderly managed and cared for over the time they had lived in that house; which were now rewarding their effort with beauty and the scents of spring. He looked around his beautiful garden and smiled.
Thomas remembered peering across the slow motion figures, the jumping insects, the spell bound fixtures of friends and neighbours, as his gaze met that of the woman he loved.
Sarah, her dark hair glistening with sunlight, those deep brown eyes like wells of love and adoration peered back at him across the still scene and he recognised that subtle look of seduction. That gentle smile which reached into his beating heart and made it silent.
Between all the noise of the musicians and the frantic dancing only they mattered in that moment.
“Salute’.” Old man Hoff croaked. This was really a command for all the adults to join him in another toast, to long life and to music, to family and to alcohol. The old man glanced across the smiling faces that looked back at him expectantly with his glass raised; until his eyes met those of his eldest daughter, Sarah. Then the old man’s smile evaporated. He sniffed loudly and looked away shaking his head slowly while those gathered shouted.
Sarah shrugged and filled her glass. She lifted it and toasted her husband on the other side of the garden in spite of her father. Suddenly Rolf Hoff, Selene’s eldest son and Sarah’s nephew, grabbed her hand and dragged her to a space in the middle of everyone. Henri picked up the boy’s accordion and played. Together they danced to the frantic folk music, like two teenagers, even though Sarah was thirty years his senior.
“Thomas…” a friendly voice encroached upon Thomas’ thoughts and drew his attention away from his family.
“…is this your wife’s ravishing sister and her family that I’ve heard so much about?”
“Ah, Winkleman; you brute…”Thomas smiled seeing the stout and full bodied face of his neighbour addressing him.
“…It is, and that is her father, Old Mr Hoff whose birthday is today. Are you enjoying our hospitality? I see you must be for that is the third glass of vodka I’ve seen you drink, and how long have you been here, ten minutes or less; please remind me?”
“I didn’t realise you were counting.” Winkleman replied in that gruff, abrupt tone he was known for. The man lifted a thick finger and tugged at his grease stained shirt collar stating.
“The food is good, tell me, is all Jewish food this good?”
“Food is food is food.” Thomas replied giving the table the once over. Smoked salmon, bagels, kosher butter, clotted cream, potato salad with lettuce and cress; plus smoked fish, pate and radish beef which was Sarah’s speciality. Although the guests had been eating since noon, and it was now four in the afternoon, there was still plenty to eat.
“Sarah’s family may be Jews but we are Catholics and we eat what we want. I hear your family eat just bread and wine, or is that just on Sundays?”
“Very funny Thomas…” The thick set man replied as sweat built up under his flat cap staining the brim black and dampening his hair.
“…you should be on the stage. There’s one leaving in an hour…”
He chuckled to himself as Conrad, Selene’s baby, crawled towards his feet. The thickset man stepped back, as if the baby was a disease, before adding.
“Oh, have you heard?”
“Heard what?” Thomas replied as he looked over to see what his wife was doing. He smiled seeing her dancing still with their nephew, her arms outstretched towards the boy, spinning him around in time with the music.
“Have you heard about the Germans?” Winkleman whispered. He leant forwards and tapped the side of his nose.
“…I have a friend, see.”
“Good for you, Winkleman…”Thomas replied as Sarah waved and beckoned him to join her by the stage. “…we all need friends.”
“He tells me they are taking back the Sedatonlands; and you know what that means?” Winkleman raised his eyebrows and smiled, exposing a row of yellow teeth, heavily stained by tobacco; as if his friend should know.
“I don’t care about the Sedatonlands…”Thomas replied nodding towards Sarah before glancing back at Winkleman for a brief moment.
“…It’s full of ethnic Germans anyway.”
“But it could mean war.” Winkleman gasped, amazed that his neighbour could be so disinterested by such a revelation.
“War I tell you!”
“How can anyone think about war…”Thomas replied with a smile. He stepped away towards his wife before shouting back.
“…especially on a day like today.”
“Bahh!” Winkleman sniffed. He watched Thomas grab his wife from her nephew and begin swinging her around in time with the music. Rolf joined his father and mother, took back his accordion, and began to play along. Even the children clapped to the music as Thomas and Sarah danced around the garden; only old man Hoff looked glum; his mouth turned down at the corners as he watched them.
Grandfather Hoff had travelled with the family from Volhynia in the east, to Wola a small suburb of Warsaw, the previous day. They arrived with their instruments and some cases stuffed with home-grown vegetables from their small holding. Henri, Sarah’s brother in Law, had presented Thomas with a case of homemade vodka, especially distilled by grandpa, for the party. Now, as the hot sun beamed down upon them, the Sandoski and Hoff families were a quarter way through the case.
To both families, sated by food and intoxicated heavily by booze and the music, life could not get any better. Thomas saw the old man sitting on his own and, out of common courtesy, thought he’d thank him for the vodka. He approached Grandpa Hoff with a smile and received a tepid sniff in return.
“Thank you for making the effort…” Thomas said softly, aware of the irony, as it was he who was making a superhuman effort approaching the miserable old man.
“…I know the journey is difficult for you at your age; so Sarah and I are grateful that you came. The vodka was a nice thought also.”
“It was Henri’s idea.” The old man mumbled after a long thoughtful pause.
“What, to bring the vodka?” Thomas asked.
“No…” Hoff replied turning to face his son in law. “…everything, it was all Henri’s idea. If it was down to me I’d be at home separating my curds and whey; this time of year I make my cheese.”
“You make cheese?” Thomas said with a small smile. “I never knew that.”
“There are a lot of things that you have no idea about.” The old man said pursing his lips and looking across the yard towards his eldest daughter.
“I know the past is dead and the future is yet to come…” Thomas said casually after thinking for a moment. Choosing his words carefully he turned to the old man and asked.
“…Why don’t you talk to her? I don’t understand why you don’t speak to her; why is the past so important when the future holds the promise of so much; surely life is too short for grudges.”
“You don’t know anything…” Hoff spat. He turned his body away from Thomas and looked at the floor grumbling.
“…even though you Catholics think you know everything.”
“Don’t bring my religion into your family feud, Old man.” Thomas stepped round to face Hoff eye to eye and touched his arm.
“I know that my parent’s religion preaches forgiveness; doesn’t yours?”
The old man waved him away and turned his back again which made Thomas smile. He shrugged and turned seeing Sarah watching him from across the garden. Thomas tilted his head to one side and crossed the yard to join her. Once he had her in his arms the world and everything in it seemed perfect.
Later when the sun had set, Selene and Henri slept on the spare mattress with baby Conrad, Rolf and Grandfather Hoff were in the spare room. Thomas carried Sarah into the privacy of their bedroom and they had made passionate love.
Aware that their bed had creaking springs and a loose headboard, which banged on the wall every time they moved, they had thrown the quilt onto the floor and savagely attacked each other’s body. Then, when satisfied, their breath hot in each other’s ear, he had held her tightly in his arms. In that moment they were one, joined like twins in a womb; in a union of grand passion.
Those were the days, the days of love and flowers, of good humour and temper. It was long before the storm; when all was well and appeared unchanging.
Thomas thought back to that celebration day and sucked the dirty air into his lungs. He could feel the rats were nibbling and gritted his teeth to stifle a scream; only his recall took him away from there. Back to those days, remembering the warmth of the spring sun, and his life before the chaos.
The Hoff’s had left for Volhynia some days later, Thomas remembered his sister in law kissed him goodbye and smiled in that childish way of hers as she climbed into their old van. Sarah stood beside him and her fingers slipped easily into his own.
“You must come to us in September.” Selene shouted over the sound of the engine, sitting next to her husband, she pulled the door closed and smiled. The old man, who was sitting behind her, looked away and pulled that glum face; impatient to return home and continue his cheese making.
“It’s Henri’s birthday on the 31st.”
“We will be there…” Sarah shouted as the vehicle puffed a cloud of smoke and rattled off into the distance.
Just then a scream rang out and Mrs Winkleman appeared at the fence that separated the Sandoski property from their neighbours. Thomas and Sarah watched their family’s vehicle disappear around a bend in the road and then attended to the screaming woman.
“Mr. Sandoski?” Mrs. Winkleman screamed almost hysterically. Her blue apron flapping in the spring breeze, her red face peering out from under the headscarf she always wore, the huge woman puffed and panted urgently.
“Please help, my husband has falling down the well.”
“The drunken fool.” Thomas cursed under his breath. He went to his garden shed and collected a reel of rope, which was kept for scaling the fruit trees in summer, and then walked onto the Winkleman property. It was something Thomas had done before and he’d perfected a routine which efficiently, and quickly, rescued the drunken man.
Old Mrs. Winkleman was desperately slapping her hands against her chest as she joined him, tears brimming in her eyes, and they quickly crossed the gardens.
“Hurry please Mr Sandoski, it has rained recently, the well is deep with water.”
Thomas shook his head and approached the well which was surrounded by a small brick wall. He could hear Winkleman’s voice echoing out of the hole and he did not sound injured or in difficulty. He was singing loudly and splashing about in the water.
“Jeszcze Polska nie zginęła,
Kiedy my żyjemy.
Co nam obca przemoc wzięła,
Marsz, marsz, Dąbrowski,
Z ziemi włoskiej do Polski.
Za twoim przewodem
Złączym się z narodem.”
“How did you get down there?” Thomas asked, looking down into the pit and snapping the man from his revelry, as his neighbour burped loudly.
“He was drinking Mr Sandoski…” Winkleman’s wife replied for her husband. “…then he sat on the wall and just fell in backwards.”
“Don’t worry. I will get him out in a moment.” Thomas replied with a soft smile. This seemed to relax the woman and she returned a benign, albeit toothless, smile.
“Przejdziem Wisłę, przejdziem Wartę,
Dał nam przykład Bonaparte,
Jak zwyciężać mamy.
Jak Czarniecki do Poznania
Po szwedzkim zaborze,
Dla ojczyzny ratowania
Wrócim się przez morze.
“Winkleman?” Thomas shouted down into the well. “Stop singing and listen to me.”
“Ah,Thomas?” Winkleman shouted with an air of surprise. He looked up and waved a bottle of vodka in the air before placing his index finger to his lips.
“Don’t let my wife know I’m down here, she will think I’ve pissed in the drinking water again, let it be our secret.”
“I won’t tell her…” Thomas replied with a smile as old Mrs. Winkleman let out a tiny yelp and slapped her chest again. Thomas lowered the end of the rope into the well and shouted down.
“…here grab the rope and tie it about your waist, I will pull you up.”
“You will pull me up?” Winkleman replied with a sniff. He swigged from the bottle and shook his head before shouting.
“Never, get your horse, let him do it. I will be too heavy for you.”
“I don’t have a horse.” Thomas replied shaking his head. “Wrap the rope around your waist.”
“You don’t have a horse?” Winkleman replied looking confused. He scratched his head and said:
“Perhaps I was thinking of my wife. Yes, get the fat cow to help you.”
“I thought you did not want her to know?” Thomas shouted down and watched. The man winked and nodded and smiled and drank before winking once more and giggling.
“Don’t tell her I pissed in the drinking water.” He said with a snigger.
“Winkleman?” The old woman shouted down the well after hearing this news.
“Stop messing around, Mr. Sandoski is trying to get you out.”
“Go on then…” The drunken man replied, tying the rope around his waist, and tugging on it.
“…pull me up if you can.”
This was said with an air of resignation, knowing his adventure was over, the old man grumbled and waited for the inevitable.
He burst into song, as the rope tensed and Thomas began to pull, placing one foot in front of the other he walked himself up the side of the well. The task was easy with old Mrs Winkleman’s help, he had not even asked, when she took the rope and yanked on it.
Thomas was surprised by the old woman’s strength and considered the task impossible without her help. All those years carrying the drunken fool up to bed had made her immensely strong and she did not even look out of breath as, with one last tug, the drunken man fell over the well wall and onto the garden grass.
“Look at the state of you, Winkleman!” The old woman shouted as her husband righted himself and burst into song once more. She stepped over to the prostrate man and, much to Thomas’ surprise, and in one well-practiced movement, hurled her husband over her shoulder and carried him back to the house.
“Już tam ojciec do swej Basi
Mówi zapłakany —
Słuchaj jeno, pono nasi
Biją w tarabany.
Thomas watched as they disappeared into the building and the sound of his neighbour’s voice echoed through an open window; quickly followed by the sound of Old Mrs Winkleman’s hand slapping her husband’s face. In the silence that followed Thomas made his way back home and to the loving arms of Sarah.
The following day, as the bright spring sun, lit the garden in its warm glow. Thomas was pulling weeds and tidying his plot when he heard the sound of someone trying to attract his attention from the communal fence. He turned and found Winkleman watching him.
“Feeling better today?” Thomas shouted. Winkleman frowned and held his head groaning. Then he peered behind to ensure he was not being watched by his wife.
“I own you my life…” Winkleman whispered with an expression indicating his hangover.
“…and I want to suggest I do some garden work to repay you, nothing too hard or intensive, but whatever you want; perhaps a couple of hours, what do you say?”
“Let me think about it.” Thomas replied, he leant on his hoe, smiled wickedly and enjoyed the thought of complete power over the fat oaf; if only for a moment.
“Perhaps I will get you to clean the septic tank, I don’t know, this is something I’ll have to think about.”
“Okay, I may owe you a favour…” The big man smiled. “…but don’t leave it too long or I might forget. You know; things change, what may be possible today may be impossible tomorrow.”
Winkleman’s face dissolved into the impenetrable blackness as Thomas found himself alone and back in his subterranean lair. He closed his eyes against the darkness and thought about that time again; how life had seemed so full of endless possibilities. His world had unlimited potential and everywhere offered opportunities for growth or development and love; wasn’t that the lesson he’d been taught by the Sadhu.
He remembered the day he met Dymitri.
The first time he met Mouni Sadhu, the person destined to become Thomas’ teacher, was way back in July 1938. Their paths were crossed by fate, on a blazing hot summer day, their two worlds collided under the yellow fingers of a midsummer sun.
Thomas had been walking through the park in central Warsaw with his dog, Rex. There was a man sitting crossed legged under a tree practicing breathing exercises; something Thomas had never seen before and it peeked his interest. His attention was drawn to this strange person, sitting crossed legged with a straight back, in the shade of a three hundred year old willow tree.
It was only when Thomas got closer to the man that he recognized him as Mr Sudowski from the Post Office; a thin middle aged gentleman with a kind smile, bald head and thick eyebrows. Thomas stood watching the man for a moment before asking.
“Excuse me, what is that you are doing?”
“It is Pranayama…” Mr Sudowski replied opening his eyes and exhaling in a slow, prolonged hiss.
“…I come here every day and practice the Bandhas.”
“The what?” Thomas asked taking a seat on the grass beside the man, he threw Rex’s ball, and watched as the dog ran to find it in the long grass. The sun was high above their heads and the smell of flowers filled the air. It was the perfect day to make new friends and discuss life, lazily, in the summer sun. The river was rushing by behind them and as small boats passed the scene resemble an impressionist painting; perhaps by Monet, full of colour, light and blurred movement.
“The Bandhas…” Mr Sudowski replied with a knowing smile. He tilted his head, paused for a moment, before explaining.
“…are the four elements of Pranayama, a yogic breathing exercise.”
“Is that a Russian?” Thomas asked. “I’ve never heard the phrase before.”
“Not Russian, it’s Eastern…” Mr Sudowski replied with a giggle. “…I’m Russian though. I was born in Moscow back in the days of Tsar Nicolas, my father was Polish and my mother German so racially I am very mixed. I left Russia after the revolution and came here to join the Polish army. I have since turned my back on violence and now endeavour to develop my higher self.”
“At the Post Office?” Thomas said with a coy grin.
“We all have to eat…” Mr Sudowski replied. “…I work to pay my bills, as we all do, but while the body toils, the mind roams free.”
“Where did you learn, what is it, Pranayana?”
“Pranayama!” The man said correcting Thomas’ pronunciation.
“From a friend, her name is Wanda, she runs a Theosophical Society here in Warsaw which seeks to spread the spiritual knowledge of the East. Together we have rejected conventional religion and instead follow the path of hermetic mysticism; gnosis. You have found me practicing a form of yoga intended to develop my higher self.”
“Of course.” Mr Sudowski replied.
“But you said it has elements?” Thomas asked as Rex dropped the ball at his feet again wagging its tail expectantly . Thomas picked the ball up and threw it once more for the dog to find and retrieve. As Rex disappeared into the undergrowth Thomas looked at his new friend and raised an inquiring brow.
“The Bandhas…” Mr Sudowski replied as he went through each step. “…they are Puraka…”
He took a deep lungful of air and held it.
“…the inhalation. Abhyantara Kumbhaka is the pause…” He held the air in his lungs for a prolonged period of time with only a coy look passing between both men.
“… Rechaka is exhalation…” He said, exhaling a long and slow hiss.
Then, pausing with his lungs completely empty of air, the Sadhu pursed his lips and waited; saying eventually.
“…Bayhya Kumbhaka is the empty pause. These are the four elements, or Bandhas, of Pranayama.”
“How does it help develop anything?” Thomas asked examining the man closely. “What does it do?”
“Breath is life…” The man replied simply. “…to control breath is to control life and when you are in control, everything is possible. My name is Dymitri but you can call me Mouni Sadhu; this is my spiritual name.”
“I am Thomas Sandoski.”
“I will call you Sadhaka…”The Sadhu replied with a small smile. “…This will forever be your spiritual name; it means seeker of light.”
“I like that.” Thomas replied.
“I knew you would.”
They watched the dog running back to them with the ball between its teeth and sat in silence for a few minutes; enjoying the sights and smells of summer. Thomas studied his new friend while he practiced his exercises and envied his peaceful demeanour.
It always seemed to him that the church offered little in return for its weekly attendance and faithful idolatry. The high mass seemed to hold nothing more but voodoo and magic in those softly spoken spells, to Thomas, but he had never been able to verbalize such blasphemy. Not without the reckoning of the Priest to deal with; he could do without the promise of eternal hellfire and brimstone.
Now sitting beside the man from the Post Office, someone who looked healthy, wise and definitely at peace with the world, he wanted to know more.
“What makes you think we have a higher self?” Thomas asked, casually taking a blade of grass and sucking on it, before throwing the ball for the dog.
“Aren’t we just human beings?”
“Man is a vessel for unlimited potential…” Sadhu replied earnestly. “…both Good and Evil, Angelic and Demonic. We are the receptacle of both the noble power of the Almighty and the ugly rapacity of devilish Evil. These two opposites are in an infinite dance for supremacy; encircling each other as demonstrated by the Yin and the Yang; the higher and the lower self. We only need to look about us to see this principle in action. I feel you want to learn more and fate has decreed that I be your teacher.”
Over the following year Thomas got into the routine of leaving his house every Wednesday afternoon, on the pretence of taking Rex for a walk, and meeting his teacher; Mouni Sadhu. After meeting in the park, they sat together while Thomas learnt about meditation, and Eastern religious practice.
He discovered that Warsaw had a branch of the Theosophical Society for those seeking enlightenment and spiritual growth. They used science to promote esoteric truth, or Gnosis, for the brotherhood of man and aimed to help humankind evolve further.
Originally started by Helena Blavatsky and Henry Steel Olcott in London around 1785 the society’s message had spread across Europe quickly. Its philosophy was popular among those disenchanted by orthodox religion, particularly in Catholic Poland, and a temple for the society was opened by Wanda Dynowska in 1920.
Thomas had no time for secret societies like the Masons, there was a huge lodge in Warsaw, which he’d passed many times but never felt inclined to enquire about. Whereas he found his talks with Mouni Sadhu intellectually intriguing; particularly as they focussed upon the freedom of the soul.
The Catholic dogma he had practiced up till then, with its focus on sin and confession, was never satisfying intellectually. Worshipers were expected to have faith that what they were taught was the Word of God and it was not to be questioned. But he had often sat in church secretly questioning everything this dogma offered. Sometimes he thought that the church was nothing but a branch of the civil service; there to limit freedom rather than promote it.
During the long cold nights of winter he would lay in bed beside Sarah, feeling her soft feet warming his under the quilt, and his mind would roam the cosmos. He understood, or felt instinctively, that the human body was just a physical container for something far more powerful. Not the soul, which risked eternal damnation in the pits of hell, but something more ethereal. Something that could experience and explore the Cosmic consciousness, Mouni Sadhu called, The Astral Realm.
Initially Thomas learnt that basic instincts, and those stimulated by the senses, like greed, lust and the like, were connected to our lower nature. That desire was a manifestation of this lower self and that desire locked us in our perceived reality.
Once we reject our desire of physical reality, that perceived by our senses, our consciousness can roam free in an Astral form. The universe becomes us and we become it; this is true, absolute freedom. Thomas learnt that individual consciousness is an expression of a wider cosmic consciousness and that this is infinite.
Consciousness is not part of the brain’s function, that idea was tied into the Western Clockwork Universe theories of Des Cartes and other European philosophers. He learnt that Eastern theories saw the body as a whole and that our consciousness was not in the brain but used the whole body as a vehicle for experiencing life.
It said that the body had an electrical torsion field which acted like an antenna. It drew waves in and emitted similar electrical fields which could be measured scientifically. These fields interact with others and with the universe generally and, once harnessed, were the route to unlimited potential.
During their regular meetings Thomas was taught the basic elements of, what Mouni Sadhu called, Creative Visualisation; the experience of visualising divine light and fusing with it. He was told, and more importantly began to believe, that Divine light was pure Love and to experience it was to become it. This action drew love from the ether into this baser realm and created harmony among the people of the world. Action equalled Reaction.
Now lying in his dark, deep underground shelter, with rats gnawing at his rotten foot, these ideals became all the more real. He had seen what could happen when man allowed his baser instincts to gain supremacy. When the divine light of love is suppressed only evil and darkness reign free; Thomas was glad for his spiritual enlightenment, the relaxation techniques had helped him get through life’s recent trials; and his belief in Love had never faltered.
“Mozaltov.” The bride and groom stamped on a glass wrapped in towel and the band struck up. The wedding party was in the yard of the family’s small holding and the guests sat on bales of hay made from last year’s cereal crop.
The bride’s father, Mr Hoff, sat beside his best friend, Mr Bernstine, and clapped along with the music. Bernstine leant forwards and spoke to his friend.
“So Hoff, what made her go for a French man?”
“He’s a good person….”Hoff replied wiping a tear from his eye and watching his youngest daughter dance. She looked so much like her mother but seeing her happy made him sad. It was a day her mother had looked so much forwards to but now could only be there in spirit.
“Henri De Gurre…” Hoff said to no-one in particular. “…At least he’s a Jew. The other one broke my heart.”
“Hoff, you old fool…” Bernstine whispered leaning towards his friend and nodding to Sarah, Hoff’s eldest daughter, who was standing alone on the other side of the yard.
“…llfe is too short for all this agony. Go and dance with your daughter, look, there she is. Go and tell her you love her.”
“Never!” the old man gasped. “She disobeyed me and brought dishonour to our family. I will never forgive her.”
“Never is a long time.” Bernstine said softly. He sighed and tapped the old man on the shoulder.
“Go to her, she is your eldest daughter for God sake, and what did she do which was so wrong? Becoming a catholic is not murder; is it?”
“She murdered my heart.” Hoff spat.
“I tell you this, my friend…”Bernstine replied as he took another gulp from the glass of vodka he was holding. He looked across the wedding party, the bride and groom, the dancing family and playing children; he looked across them all and sighed again.
“…one day you will remember that girl and you will regret everything. It may not be today or tomorrow but one day you will think back to this and wish you’d behaved differently. You mark my words; one day you’ll regret being so hard.”
“Never…”Hoff spat. He looked at his eldest daughter and shook his head. “…beside, what do you know.”
Bernstine shook his head and sighed loudly to let his old friend know he was disappointed in him. He walked away and as he did so old man Hoff watched and felt something stirring within. Perhaps it was an understanding, perhaps it was just a feeling, but his friend’s words had some effect. They lodged in the old man’s mind and gave him something to think about during his quiet times.
“Dobri, my sister.” Sarah said looking down at Selene who was lying in bed holding her new born baby son. Old man Hoff stood against a far wall with Henri looking at his eldest daughter with disgust.
“The baby is beautiful.” Sarah said reaching out and stroking the baby’s head. “…what are you going to call him?”
“We’re naming him after Henri’s father…” Selene replied. “…Rolf.”
“That’s a man’s name.” Sarah giggled.
“I should hope so.” Selene smiled. “He is a man, our little man.”
“What I mean…”Sarah said glancing to her father and Henri quickly and then back at her sister.
“…It’s not the sort of name to call a baby.”
“Rolfie…”Selene smiled. “…That’s what we are going to call him. Our Rolfie.”
“That’s what you are going to call him.” Henri said stepping up to the other side of the bed and stroking his wife’s arm.
“I am going to call him Rolf; no matter what his age.”
Sarah looked wistful for a moment and glanced at her father again. She bit he lower lip and her mood sank noticeably which her sister noticed. Selene reached up and took Sarah’s hand.
“Hay, why so sad?”
“We’ve been trying for a child for so long…” She glanced towards the window, and as she spoke a grey cloud covered the sun, the room became dark and moody.
“…Perhaps it’s not to be?”
“It’s proof…”Old man Hoff sniffed. “…it’s all the proof you need.”
The old man had a smug expression and a frowning smile as if he was pleased his eldest daughter could not conceive. The others in the room just stared at him, in disgust, unable to comprehend the wickedness of his viewpoint.
“Father, don’t start.” Selene growled. She threw their father a stern look and shook her head slowly.
“ Bhaa!” The old man spat. “…it needs to be said. She turned her back on God and now she is barren. It’s God’s punishment.”
The smiling frown disappeared and became a scowl which he used to show his gnawing resentment at the choices Sarah had made. He waved his hand toward the two women and sighed.
“That’s rubbish!” Selene shouted causing the baby in her arms to become agitated. He’s eyes widened and the baby began howling.
“See, now you have upset the baby. You wicked old man.”
“Me, wicked…” Hoff laughed sarcastically. “…I didn’t marry a Catholic. I won’t be going to hell.”
Hell, Thomas remembered the Sadhu saying, was a construction of the human mind. If we create our reality with our thoughts we do not have to create a hell, especially here on Earth. With love in our hearts, he had said, the notion of hell fades into the ether and only good things remain. Thought being so pure and so full of hope, why contaminate it with negative energy. Consciousness is love and all love is pure. Only man’s baser instincts want to contaminate such beauty with concepts such as hell. Thomas remembered that and smiled.
The old man left the room and the mood lightened amongst those gathered. Henri sat on the bed and took his wife’s hand as she nursed the small bundle back to sleep. Sarah and Thomas stood beside the bed and their fingers locked together. There was a rumble of thunder from a storm building in the east and a sudden shock of lightening which made Sarah startle. Thomas smiled and placed a comforting arm over his wife’s shoulder.
“It’s at times like this…”Sarah said softly as she peered down at the baby. “…it’s at times like this that I wish mother was still alive.”
“Yes…”Selene replied after giving Henri a small smile. “…I think about her often.”
“When you were still a baby, no more than three or four years old…” Sarah said, vividly recalling the event, in all its glory. As she spoke the characters came alive in Selene’s imagination and even the baby was quiet as if enchanted by his aunt’s soft voice.
“…she was in the scullery making pastry and boiling cherries from that huge tree that grew in the garden. I remember the sweet smell of cherries and sugar made my belly ache and my mouth water so I was only too pleased to help her make the pastry.
We greased two big pans and lined them with pastry and used the boiled fruit to fill the pastry. Then we placed pastry lids on the pans and the last of the sugar was sprinkled on top. They were the biggest cherry pies I had ever seen.
We placed them in that old wood stove we used to have and sat by expectantly as they cooked. The whole house smelt of cherry as those big pies cooked slowly. Every now and then she opened the stove and looked inside to make sure they were cooking evenly. Mother used to sing back then and I remember the sound of her voice every time I smell cherry pie today.
When the pies were cooked we placed them on the kitchen table and she sang while they cooled down. Seeing them there made me feel so hungry and I was eagerly waiting for them to be cool enough to eat.
Imagine my surprise when, after they’d cooled, mother took a basket from the cupboard and put the pies into it. Then she told me to take the pies down the road to the house of an elderly couple who were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. Their own children had died in a fire when the couple were younger and now they had no one to take care of them.
She had remembered the old woman mentioning their forthcoming anniversary earlier in the year and had set some cherries aside just for them. Mother was always thoughtful like that and it was something I have tried to emulate.
She told me what you do for others will come back to you in other ways. So even though we went short of sugar that week I knew that our lives would be sweetened by some other event. Do you know what Selene? I think the birth of Rolfie is that sweet blessing she said would come back to us.”
Dawning of the storm.
31 Aug 1939
The moon was full over the mountains of Upper Silensia as a small group of German commandos, dressed as Polish agitators, dragged a blindfolded and gagged Franciszek Honiok towards the towering radio mast of Gliwice. They found it lightly manned and faced no resistance as the group murdered the mast’s engineers before dragging Honiok into the broadcast room.
“Kill him.” The commander, Alfred Naujocks, said as Honiok’s blindfold and gag was removed.
“But I am a German,” Honiok pleaded looking about at the heavily armed contingent of his fellow countrymen. He had been kidnapped the previous day by the Gestapo. Taken from his home in the Polish corridor, between Poland and Germany, where a lot of Germans lived in peace with their Polish neighbours.
“You are a Polish sympathiser.” Naujocks said shooting the man in the heart. He turned to his men and commanded them to arrange the body so it would appear the German had been killed by Polish extremists.
This was a False-Flag operation devised by the German high command. It had been planned months previously when the Polish government were systematically accused of the ethnic cleansing of German patriots in Upper and Lower Silensia. Undercover German commandos crossed the border and torched German owned property and this vandalism was reported, in Germany, as Polish anti-German aggression. Now the final part of the plan was being played out; in the lonely radio tower by the mountains of Gilwice.
“Polacy…”Naujocks shouted into the microphone, a message in Polish aimed at inciting anti-German feeling, which the German’s could use to legitimize their following actions.
“…Powstanie przeciwko niemieckim świń.”
Local Poles heard the broadcast and wondered what was going on, they certainly held no bad feeling toward their German neighbours and neither did their Polish government as far as they knew. Now they were being told to rise up against neighbouring Germanic families. People they had lived in peace with, shared local church celebrations, and even married.
The broadcast made no sense and most ignored it. Just a few concerned individuals contacted the local government officials and asked if there was any basis for the broadcast. None realised it was the first action in what was to become the Forth Partition of Poland.
The Polish army put up a valiant fight. History has recorded (wrongly) that the German’s walked into Poland without any resistance, but many brave Polish men and women died defending their borders. Two defining battles illustrate this resistance, the battle of Wizna and the battle for Warsaw.
Wizna was surrounded by crack German troops on the 7th of September, one week after the Gilwice false flag event, 700 Polish men defended the city against 40.000 Germans for two and a half days. Eventually it was the 3rd and 10th Panza tank divisions that broke through the Polish line but, even in the face of such overwhelming odds, the commander of the Polish contingent, Captain Władysław, ordered his men to fight till they ran out of ammunition.
Poles today compare this fight with the Greek battle of Thermopylae; where 300 Spartans held back 100.000 Persians till the last man. The Poles were defending their land like the Greeks had over a thousand years before; defending their freedoms and ideals against a ruthless and evil invasion force.
After smashing through the Polish lines at Wizna, the German army was given a bloody nose, when they attempted to take Zambrow and lost most of the 18th Infantry division in the process. During this period the 4th Panza division had managed to get as far as Wola on the outskirts of Warsaw.
They waited while the city was bombed for three days and nights by the Luftwaffe but resistance was not broken. A siege followed which lasted a full 28 days and capitulation only happened after the Germans were forced to fight for every street and river crossing leaving over 28.000 Polish civilians dead.
Many of the city’s historical building were destroyed during the initial bombardment and once the Germans entered the city the population was put to work to clear the rubble. Thomas and Sarah had hidden in their cellar during the worst of the battle and the following siege. Sarah had thanked God for the well, which had provided them and their neighbours, fresh water during this calamity.
The German occupiers placed printed notices on trees, lamp posts and walls across the city which told the population that they should register for work; this was not optional. At the same time identity papers would be issued and after a given period those found without papers were libel for arrest.
There were no newspapers printed during the siege and no radio broadcasts except those from the Polish government in exile; they had escaped to London during the first few days of invasion. It was only on October the 10th, when Sarah and Thomas went to register at the local police station, that they heard that the Russians had invaded the east on September the 7th and Poland was now effectively cut in half.
Sarah worried about her family in Volhynia and hoped they were still alive, she felt lucky to have survived the siege and battle for Warsaw; now she hoped the same was true for her extended family.
Sarah remember being told by her parents that the Germans were cultured people and that during the First World War, had conducted themselves like gentlemen; according to international laws. She had not heard the same for Russians and knowing her family were now cut off and under Soviet control filled her with dread.
The gossip was rife as they queued up to register, the Soviet Army they overheard, were apparently rounding up Polish Officers and separating them from their families. As the queue Thomas and Sarah stood in, snaked down to the front desks, every piece of news was eagerly digested and commented upon.
Thomas was shocked into raw silence as he saw his neighbour sitting behind the desk at the front of the queue. Winkleman sneered towards him and Sarah as they eventually found themselves opposite him, he pushed two cards across the desk and giggled.
“I managed to get a good job…” He whispered towards Thomas. “…First come, first served and I made sure I was here before anyone. Now, I am a civilian police officer Thomas, with extra rations and plenty of opportunities to feather my nest.”
“Really?” Thomas replied looking at the questions on the card. He saw the one referring to the racial identity of the family and thought about it for a moment.
“Come on Thomas…”Winkleman said rapping his fingers on the desk. “…People are waiting behind you.”
“This question…” Thomas asked. “…I am Catholic and so is my wife, but her family was Jewish, so what is her racial identity?”
“It’s easy…” Winkleman replied tapping the card with a thick finger. “…Put on your card that you are Catholic and on hers that she is a Jew.”
“But she is not a Jew.” Thomas replied with a quizzical look.
“Her family are Jews but she is a Catholic. She was confirmed before we married.”
“So she’s a half Jew…”Winkleman sniffed. “…Just say she is a Jew for the time being and sort it out later.”
“We will have a chance to sort it out…” Thomas asked with a note of concern. “…eventually?”
“Of course…” Winkleman laughed. “…Trust your old friend, now hurry, the people are waiting.”
So, reluctantly Thomas watched as his wife noted that she was Jewish on her card, something about the question made him feel uneasy; but he did as he was instructed trusting that they would have a opportunity to correct any problems this answer may cause in future.
Some two and a half hours later Sarah and Thomas left the government buildings, having been weighed, questioned, finger printed, photographed and inspected by a racial profiler; with their German identity papers clutched in their hands.
The city was full of tanks and armed Germans who were busy hanging Nazi flags here and there and directing work parties clearing the rubble. They managed to catch a bus heading out to their quiet suburb and it was during this bus ride Thomas overheard the strangest conversation.
Two old ladies were talking about the local theatre company. One was telling the other how her apartment overlooked the rear of the theatre. She went on to say that earlier in the day she had seen a group of German soldiers taking the cast and staff of a long running Opera into the rear of the theatre where they had been executed. They were all bundled into the car-park, lined up against a wall, and shot.
Thomas was so shocked hearing this story that he tapped one of the woman on the shoulder and asked if he had heard her correctly. Yes, she said, the whole cast of the show and all the theatre staff were shot in cold blood. Why would the Germans do such a thing? Thomas asked the elderly woman; imagining she was exaggerating the details to demonise their German invaders.
She shrugged and just replied that one of the German officers had been overheard stating that slaves had no need for culture; it’s true, the old woman gasped, they are referring to us as slaves now.
Sarah and Thomas held hands in complete silence for the remainder of their journey home, shocked by the realization that these Germans, may not be acting as father Hoff had said; like gentlemen with due regard for local laws. It was extremely worrying and Thomas made a point of tackling Winkleman about this as soon as he saw him later.
“Don’t listen to the gossip of old women.” Winkleman replied as he was stopped by Thomas. In his arms was a bottle of strong alcohol and a string of Polish sausages; both of which he cradled greedily.
“And anyway…” The course man spat as he entered his house. “…If anyone was shot they probably asked for it.”
The following year, on the Wednesday, Thomas made his way to the central park to meet Sadhu as usual; even during the siege they had managed to keep their weekly sessions. Although for the sake of their safety they would go to practice yoga elsewhere if the park was unsuitable.
The barricades previously used by the W.K to defend the city during the German invasion were now being manned by German troops and his journey took much longer than usual. At every junction he was told to present his papers and give and account for his journey. He could not remember when these checkpoints had become so frequent and realised that over the previous few months more controls had been placed upon his freedom. It was slowly being curtailed completely.
Occasionally he saw trucks being loaded with family groups, frightened adults and their confused children, dragging a pitiful collection of battered cases behind them. Thomas asked a Polish shopkeeper who was sweeping rubble from the front of his shop what was happening.
He was told that these families had been ordered to leave their houses, apartments and businesses and relocate to a ghetto situated north and south of Chlodna Street. This was previously an area where many Jews lived but now every Jewish family in the city, some 400.000 people were being moved there.
“Really…” Thomas asked the shopkeeper as he watched the truck loaded with its human cargo.
“Something to do with quarantine…” The man replied with a shrug. “…Perhaps they are ill, who knows, I have enough problems of my own without worrying about them.”
Anti-Jewish edicts had been announced by the German’s since November 1939, a few months after consolidating their power following the invasion. The first was that all Jews over the age of 12 had to wear a white armband baring the Star of David. Then they were told all Jewish businesses had to display the star.
The following months brought new and savage rules for this group, although all Poles no matter their religion, found the German’s treatment inhuman. Jews were forbidden to own gold, bake bread or leave the city without a special travel pass. Now to see them rounded up and placed in one central location was ominous.
Thomas eventually found Sadhu waiting for him at the gates to the park which, much to their disappointment, was now a German encampment. Seeing his friend made Thomas happy because in all the destruction it seemed as if some of his favourite activities could still continue.
“Let’s walk.” Mouni Sadhu said as a German guard watched them suspiciously. The two men walked away from the park gates towards the Vistula River. They turned left off the main road, towards Saxon Gardens the oldest open space in the city, which was once a royal palace and originally opened to the public in the 18th century.
Considering its great age and historic value the two men considered it unlikely the Germans would be turning up the gardens with their tanks and horses. On their way past the old Jewish quarter Thomas once again saw trucks loaded with people. These were now being unloaded and the crowds were being directed into the narrow streets crammed between there and the river like frightened animals. A sign had been erected which prohibited anyone from entering or leaving this ‘Quarantined’ area.
They saw notices saying there was a risk of typhus if Arian people associated with those being housed in this quarantined area; a place which was to be governed by a separate entity from then on. This entity was called the Judenrat; or Jewish Council.
“You can see here…” Sadhu remarked as the two walked past the confused crowds waiting to be directed to their new homes. “…man’s baser nature manifesting itself.”
“They are just being re-housed…” Thomas replied. “…Perhaps they have lost their homes in the bombing last year.”
“If it makes you happy to be blind, so be it.” Sadhu replied. There was a long heavy pause where Thomas was expected to realise the irony of this statement and ask further, instead he just glanced at his friend expectantly.
“In the coming weeks, months and years….”Sadhu said simply. “…We must open our eyes, hearts and minds to the truth; are you ready?”
“I don’t like heroes…” Thomas replied simply. “…I certainly have no ambition to be one myself.”
“I am not talking about heroics, Thomas, my friend….” Sadhu said stopping to face his companion.
“…I am talking about nourishing your higher self, in these difficult times to come, we must decide to become the conduit for angels.”
“Angels…” Thomas smirked. “…What angels?”
“They are here, all around us, watching quietly. You may not see them or hear their soft breath in your ear, you may not want to see them but in our quieter times we all feel their presence, Thomas. They are the elder spirits who watch over us children of the world and try to guide us. Sometimes we must decide to let them work through us….” Sadhu smiled benignly. “…Are you ready for this?”
“How…” Thomas replied as they stepped into the green and wooded gardens.
“…How am I to become a conduit for angels?”
“By nourishing your higher self, of course…” Sadhu replied with one of his speciality smiles, his bushy eyebrows lifted and this made his bright eyes light up the space between the two men.
“… Our bodies need nourishment. If you work hard, you’ll need to top up on calories, like a good breakfast or dinner. Physical bodies need physical nourishment, but Sadhaka, our ethereal bodies need nourishment too. This ethereal body and your higher self are the same; nourishment of your higher self will draw them to you, and then without even realising, you will find them working through you.”
“Who will be drawn to me, Sadhu?” Thomas looked at his friend and knew by the man’s expression, the way he held that small smile, for just a few moments. He knew the answer before Sadhu had said anything.
“Angels are waiting all around us to work small miracles. But we must decide to let them work through us for these miracles to happen.”
“Angels…” Thomas replied. He smiled and then burst into a timid laugh shaking his head from side to side thinking about this. He wondered if his friend was being serious or not and asked.
“…I have to let angels work through me?”
“If you nourish your higher self…”The Sadhu replied seriously. “…they will be drawn to you.”
The two men came to a small clearing by the river bank, from that point, with the eternally unchanging view of the river stretched out before them, they could have been anywhere. At any time in the past, with the battered ruins of the city hidden behind trees, Warsaw looked as it had prior to the invasion.
They sat and took in the view for a few minutes, tasting the clean river air on their tongues, smelling the city and feeling the warmth of the sun on their faces. The sound of a passing boat on the far side mixed uneasily with the birdsong coming from the gardens behind them as Sadhu spoke.
“Remember how I explained natural law to you, action equals reaction, Sadhaka. To act with love will draw love to you and love will nourish your higher self. In the near future we will all be called to act with love. Opportunities to feed our higher selves are sought by some every day of the year. Others can find these opportunities thrust upon them; our consciousness will immediately recognize the challenge and we must heed the calling.”
“How can you be so sure Sadhu?” Thomas asked, again knowing the answer before his friend replied; he felt tears brimming in his eyes as his friend’s words echoed through his brain.
Perhaps it was thinking about the city they had just passed through, desolate and broken, each crumpled street corner equipped with a machine gun post and several foreign soldiers, which saddened him so.
The red flags, the colours and the symbols on their uniforms were enough to prove that these invaders were not here for the good of the population. Red circles, black borders and the central spikes of the swastikas adorning their upper left arms; the chrome deaths head on their helmets and peeked caps gave them a malevolent presence and installed fear in the people they bullied. People like the women and children who had been forced to relocate to that collection of narrow allies and streets they’d just walked past.
“You know that a dangerous miasma has descended upon the city…”Sadhu looked out across the water and used his left arm to draw Thomas’ attention to it.
“…From here the dark water looks still, as if there is nothing happening out there on the water, but look under those dark waves and you will find a powerful force at work. It’s drawing the water in one direction, steadily and unstoppable, along the river’s course.
The unhealthy smog which had descended over the city you love has a powerful and unstoppable force driving it. Make no mistake Sadhaka, it is as evil as any virus or bacterium, which has previously infected man’s body. It’s as deadly as any plague or disease or other invisible demonic entity; this fact must alert us to the coming work.”
“I think I understand…”Thomas replied taking a deep breath and readying himself for the practice of Pranyama.
“…When I was a practicing Catholic the priest’s used to talk about angels, saints and demons; I got used to dismissing this talk as just idle superstition. Now you tell me that they are real entities and I must work with one against the other; it’s a little hard to take in.”
“When we are talking about angels and demons, Sadhaka…” Sadhu replied taking the lotus position and his first deep breath. “…think of them as archetypes. Angels, or old and wiser watchers, represent all that is good and conversely demons, those watchers who have allowed their baser selves to take hold and direct them; represent all that is bad.
These archetypes are not used to conjured, install fear or guilt, like the church would say. They are only helpful to define the battle ahead and who is a foe and who is there to help us. Our consciousness understands this.”
“So, by nourishing our higher selves, we are allowing archetypes to work through us?”
“Our consciousness will make us ready…” The Sadhu whispered softly. “…it will also guide us along the right path. By allowing angels to shine through you, evil will have nowhere to hide. I have heard these Nazis worship the Black Sun; that which illuminates only darkness. We, on the other hand, must be the tools of Divine light. The Angels are such and we must find a way to allow them to work through us, to cast radiant light, in those dark places evil forces inhabit.”
“They will help us illuminate the world and chase the darkness away…”Thomas replied with a smile. He raised his arms and shouted out as loud as he could, to the boats passing on the river, to the tanks behind them in the park. He shouted as loud as his lungs would allow to all to the soldiers and civilians of the city.
“…Love will shine out and, Sadhu my friend, I think I am ready to hear the call.”
Thomas opened his eyes and strained against the darkness around his tired body. The pitch black that enveloped him in his underground lair was playing tricks upon his senses. Sometimes he imagined he could hear music, sweeping in great harmonic waves, across the void beyond. Firstly, as he listened, a quiet flute or softly played violin would lilt in the distance.
Then it would be joined by the soulful sound of a piano or timpani drum, then the clarinets and brass would blend into the melody before the bass and striking guitar chords crashed in, building into a thrashing cacophony. The sound became deafening and Thomas gritted his teeth and prayed for it to stop before he was driven insane.
Then there was silence, only disturbed by the tempo of slowly dripping water, this introduced the lilting refrain of a single viola. It’s sweet serenade rising and falling in the emotional waves of a beautiful melody. Rising and striking up like the roar of tigers as violins underscored the tension and rang out through the darkness in stark shrills of silence.
He suddenly realised that his foot was no longer throbbing. The dull ache, which once was a sharp nagging pain, had gone completely and he was starving no longer. Thomas imagined he may have been able to stand and walk out of that place; into the sunlight above. To breathe the clean open air, suck it into his lungs, to savour it.
Then Tomas realised that he was switched on.
Just as Sadhu had explained to him, so many months ago, during one of their afternoon walks before the city was destroyed. Creative visualisation was a long process at first, but as you trained your physical body to relax enough into itself; the bonds would automatically snap. This would allow your consciousness to break free and experience the ethereal astral planes. With time and practice, the transference of consciousness between the two would be instant.
He’d become switched on.
Thomas was aware that it had happened without any effort at all. Now he was sitting across the sewer and staring back at his physical body and it didn’t look good; only a thin silver cord connected him to it. The space around them was now well lit and he could see the small cobwebs above his physical body and bits of dust in his hair.
He also realised that the familiar smell he’d become accustomed to was coming from his foot, his physical foot. Thomas had been aware of it for days and thought it was connected to the sewer in some way. But now he could see the flesh on his exposed foot was completely black and rotten and it was this that filled the air. It was the thick and sweet scent of putrid decay.
Thomas reached out and touched his physical foot with his ethereal fingers and felt a current of healing love run into it. The foot would need lots of time to heal, if at all, and Thomas made a note to send healing energy to this part of his body whenever he could. But right now he was eager to leave that place and travel.
He could go anywhere in time and space, and he had been in this damp, dark hell for too long. Then he was there, instantly and without any effort at all, he was back in his little cottage in Wola on the day they came for Sarah. He was an invisible onlooker, watching in silence, as the horror unfolded.
It was one of those dark Saturday mornings at the end of the fall, when the days are getting shorter, it was cold and the sun was still down at 7.00am. Thomas was awake, holding his wife around the waist, intimately. He pulled her warm skin on to him beneath the quilt and smelt her jasmine hair. She was deep in sleep and he felt her heartbeat through the softness of her breast. They could have remained like that all that day, content in each other’s arms; safe and comfortable. But the world came crashing into their paradise and threatened everything they treasured.
He heard the vehicle pull up beside the house and it caught his attention immediately. Being quite isolated Thomas knew at once that, if a vehicle was parking outside his bedroom window, a knock would soon follow. He lifted the bedclothes and was about to push Sarah’s sleeping body away when the expected knock rang out across the hall downstairs.
Angry and impatiently someone banged again on the door and this roused her from her slumbers. Thomas, who by now was dragging on his shirt and pants, told her to hush while he went to investigate.
He made his way to the top of the stairs and again heard them thumping on the door with their fists. Their voices rang out, demanding the door be opened forthwith, and he recognized the unmistakable taint of a German accent. This made him fill with foreboding and fear; he took a deep breath and made his way downstairs.
“I’m coming, I’m coming…” Thomas shouted stepping across the hall towards the door. He unlocked the bolt and pulled the street door ajar peering out at the three men on his doorstep. Two were dressed in trilby hats, and long gray outer coats, the third was in a black German uniform and carried a machine gun.
“What can I do for you?” Thomas asked as one of the men huffed impatiently and produced a form for Thomas to inspect.
“I can’t read that…” Thomas exclaimed. “…it’s in German.”
“Are you Thomas Sandoski?” The man holding the form asked.
“I am.” Thomas replied.
“We would like to speak to your wife.”
With that the man pushed past Thomas and was followed by the other. They walked into the hall and then into the sitting room beyond while the uniformed man pushed Thomas behind them.
“Is she in the house?” The second man in a trilby hat asked as he nodded to the unformed soldier to check upstairs.
“She’s in bed, asleep.” Thomas said as he watched the uniformed officer go.
“I demand to know what you want to speak to my wife about. Especially at this time of day; what’s so important?”
“All shall be clear shortly.” The man replied.
Thomas looked towards the stairwell as Sarah was bundled down by the soldier to stand next to him. The couple looked at the two men in overcoats as one walked around the small room and rummaged through draws and cupboards.
“What do you want?” Thomas asked again.
“You are Sarah Sandoski?” The man who appeared to be in charge asked examining the form he held on top of some other papers. He stared at Sarah with a cold, intense look, which made the colour drain from her face.
“I am.” She replied softly.
“Your maiden name please?” The man enquired.
“Hoff.” Sarah replied softly.
“You are Jewish by birth, your parents are Jews?” The man asked impatiently.
“My wife has changed her religion.” Thomas interjected. “She is a confirmed catholic.”
“She was born a Jew.” The man holding the clutch of papers replied. He nodded to the uniformed man. “All Jews have been ordered to relocate to the Ghetto as they now come under the jurisdiction the Judenrat. Please Madam, get your belongings, we are here to enforce your relocation.”
“But she is no longer Jewish…” Thomas pleaded looking for an acknowledgment of this fact from these people. “…she is a confirmed Catholic.”
“She was born a Jew…” The man with the paperwork announced. “…So she has to relocate.”
“No, I won’t allow it.”Thomas spat. The uniformed man immediately smashed the butt of the machine gun into his face knocking him backwards against the far wall. The two men grabbed Sarah by either arm and dragged her from the property.
“Your husband will have to deliver your things to the ghetto.” The man in charge stated as she was pushed into the vehicle parked outside. By the time Thomas had regained his senses they had already driven away; leaving nothing but a fat lip and dusty trail in their wake.
He made his way to the ghetto as soon as he could and saw that the German’s were now building a brick wall around the small area to completely enclose it. That way they could control who and, more importantly, what entered.
Their Jewish prisoners, no longer allowed to hold gold or other valuables, were allowed to make things within the tight collection of small streets and alleys which they could swap for food. Jews were no longer allowed to own property or businesses either and so their only recourse was to barter.
Thomas looked over the heads of the huddled masses which were congregating on the other side of the ghetto checkpoint to see if there was anyone he recognised. He desperately searched for anyone who could tell him where Sarah had been taken.
“What do you want?” One of the German soldiers asked after watching Thomas for a few moments.
“My wife…”Thomas stuttered through his fat lip. “…She was brought here today, this morning. I want to see her.”
“Over there!” The German replied gruffly nodding towards a small shop on the opposite side of the road. It had been turned into an office and Thomas saw a queue of anxious looking people standing outside waiting to be seen.
“Go speak to the Judenrat…” The German officer spat before turning to deal with another person trying to enter the ghetto. “…They have details of who is here.”
Thomas crossed the road and joined the long queue of mostly women who were waiting to make enquiries about people in the ghetto. Two women in front were gossiping about the situation and Thomas was surprised to hear one say to the other.
“They’re very nice, these German soldiers.”
This got Thomas’ attention and he quietly listened into what the two women were saying.
“I have them boarded in a large house in my street…” The fat woman continued in Polish with a distinctive Ukrainian accent. “…Most of them are Austrian, you know, from Vienna. I’ve heard that they have the Jews here so that they can help clear the city. Sweep the streets, empty the latrines, that sort of thing. I’m only here to find out if my doctor can be allowed to continue seeing my husband. It’s so difficult getting a good doctor and this one was particularly good; for a Jew.”
“I’ve noticed all the posters….”The second fat woman replied to her friend as she pulled the collar of her thick fur coat up against the morning chill. “…seem to be about Jewish businesses. I don’t think your doctor will be allowed to practice any longer; but he may know a good Polish doctor you can use.”
Thomas wanted to interject, to inform the stupid woman that the Jewish doctor was Polish who just happened to be a Jew. He was probably more Polish than both of them. He kept his mouth shut as one of the woman looked at him with a tense strained look.
“My cleaner went out after the curfew last night…” The second woman said in a matter of fact tone. “…I sent the stupid woman for some wood and she never came back. I have been told that she may be in the ghetto now, so I need to get her released; how else can I keep my house clean?”
“What was she doing out after curfew…” The first woman asked casually. “…she could have been shot?”
“It was my fault.” The second replied shaking her head. “I wanted more wood on the fire and she had to cross the street to get some. Stupid girl, getting herself arrested, and brought here. I told her to be careful, what with the curfew.”
“Stupid girl!” The first woman agreed.
Suddenly Thomas felt a tap on his shoulder and he turned to find a friend from his past smiling at him. Theodore Johannson was a Swedish teacher from the secondary school Thomas had attended. It was well known that he had married a beautiful Polish woman called Ronna and she was much admired by the schoolboys whenever she left the house they shared on the school grounds.
“Mr Johannson….” Thomas said reaching out to hug the man, it was a natural and instinctive thing to do, but the women gossiping in front pulled bemused faces and looked away.
“…How are you? It’s so good to see a friendly face.”
“Bad times Thomas….” Johannson replied hushing his voice and looking about cautiously. “…They have taken Ronna; my poor sweet Ronna.”
“What, here…” Thomas replied nodding to the entrance to the ghetto. “…They have brought her here?”
“She was here…” Johannson replied with a shrug. He shook his head and tears welled up in his eyes. “…but now they have moved her on, relocated to the East they said. I have to speak to the Judenrat to find out where in the East, how am I to see her again?”
“Was she Jewish?” Thomas asked knowing that he would know the answer before his friend even replied. “My wife was a confirmed Catholic but still they insist that she relocate to this place; it’s madness.”
“Thomas…” Johannson whispered furtively. He pushed his brows together tightly and squinted. “…You remember my rooms at the school?”
“Of course.” Thomas replied cautiously. He could tell by the man’s expression that they were discussing something important, something secret .
“…Your private dwelling, yes?”
“Come tonight at six of the clock, keep it to yourself.” Johannson tapped the side of his nose and winked before saying aloud.
“My poor wife, how will I see her again?”
Eventually the two women in front were sat at the small desk and Thomas heard them both arguing with the elderly man who sat across from them. One demanding her cleaner be returned forthwith and the other bemoaning that her husband’s doctor was needed at once.
Eventually both were shown to the door and pointed down the street to the SS office adjacent to the Police station having been firmly told that the Judenrat office was purely for those wishing news of relatives confined within the ghetto. Thomas watched the elderly man at the desk wipe his brow, rub his eyes and sigh loudly. He directed Thomas to sit opposite him across the paper laden desk.
“What can I do for you?” The elderly man asked as he placed a pair of spectacles across the bridge of his nose.
“My wife, she was taken, from our house this morning.”Thomas stuttered. There was so much he wanted to ask and say, but now it was his turn, his mind had gone blank.
“You are a Jew?” The man asked.
“My wife’s family, she was confirmed a Catholic, when we were married.” Thomas replied wondering how many times he would have to state this fact that day.
“Her family are Jews, her parents?” The man enquired.
“Yes…” Thomas replied. “…that makes her a half Jew I believe?”
“No,no…”The man replied with a gasp. “…If her parents were Jews then she is a full Jew, any children you have with this woman, will be half Jews and their children quarter Jews. Do you understand?”
“This is ridiculous.” Thomas stuttered again; totally exasperated. “She is a confirmed Catholic.”
“Not in the eyes of our current masters…” The man whispered with a shrug. “…these are trying times, trying times indeed.”
The man lifted a file of papers and flicked through the loose leaves for moment.
“She was taken this morning you say…” He asked having found the sheet he was looking for. The man looked across the desk and smiled. “…her name please?”
“Sarah…”Thomas replied softly. “…Sarah Sandoski.”
“From what district was she taken?” The man asked further, his finger went down a list of names, and hovered over the sheet expectantly.
“Wola…” Thomas replied. “…We were in bed when they came.”
“Is this where you got your injuries?” The man asked gesturing towards Thomas’ lip. Thomas nodded and shrugged.
“Trying times indeed.” The man added.
After a few moments he looked up and shook his head.
“Your wife is not here.” He said pulling a puzzled expression.
“What?” Thomas exclaimed. “But I was told she would be taken to the ghetto.”
“This sheet is updated every morning at nine am. If she was taken before that hour she would be on this list; and I assure you she is not.”
“They took her well before nine. It was more like seven am.” Thomas shook his head and rubbed his sour eye.
“Please look again.”
“There was only one person from Wola brought to the ghetto today and she is not your wife…” The man shrugged.
“…her name is Sara Hoff.”
“Hoff, you say?” Thomas gasped. “That is her maiden name, her family name, yes Hoff.”
“So she is here…” The man smiled. “…Yes, see here. It’s in black and white, Sara Hoff, 39 years Jewess Frau. This is her?”
“It is…” Thomas said excitedly. He leant across the desk and watched at the man ticked the entry on the list with a thin pencil. “…can I go in and see her?”
“Go in?” The man exclaimed shaking his head from side to side briskly. He rubbed his eyes and sighed.
“No, you cannot go in but I will be able to deliver any parcels you deliver here, food and clothing; for a small fee of course.”
“We have no money and I’ve brought nothing with me today…” Thomas replied slightly taken aback by the man’s request for payment. “…I just wanted to know that she was okay.”
“Don’t worry…”The man said with a soft, gentle sigh. He reached across the desk and held Thomas’ hand for a moment.
“…She will be housed with the other single women, we will waiver the fee for those who have nothing; it is only used to feed the orphan children. You know the Jewish orphanage, Korczack’s place, all the children have been relocated to the ghetto and we have to feed them. These are trying times indeed.”
“Not Korczack’s orphanage? That place was world famous…” Thomas replied shaking his head. “…The German’s have moved the children here too?”
“It’s true.” The man sighed. “…fifty years of historic childcare just trashed in a moment; these are trying times…” He sighed again and shrugged to signify his impotence to change anything.
“…Come later with your wife’s things and I will ensure she gets them. You can put a letter in her case if it is hidden well. I can bring small notes out too, come back later around four or five, and we can sort this out for you then. Don’t worry, she will be okay.”
Thomas looked over his shoulder at the teacher standing behind quietly waiting his turn and remembered that he had arranged to meet at the school at six pm. That was a good hour’s walk from Wola and he couldn’t be in two places at once.
“I will return in the morning.” Thomas announced reaching out to shake the man’s hand.
“But there will be a long queue…” The man replied taking Thomas by the hand and shaking it gently. “…There is always a queue in the mornings.”
“I will wait.” Thomas replied. He nodded and turned to leave winking surreptitiously at his old school master on the way out.
Then Thomas found himself back in his body and strained his eyes against the darkness, as it enveloped his body again, the incessant throb of his left foot had robbed him of his dreams. Only the sound of water dripping in the distance reminded him that, outside his lair, life continued.
The scent of effluent filled his nostrils and in his mind’s eye it was almost like the thick aroma of jasmine rising from the schoolmaster’s garden on that late Saturday afternoon. The desolation of Warsaw was almost forgotten along the dusty track that led to the schoolmaster’s house; high above the Jewish cemetery. This area had not seen any of the fighting that had been constant on the lowlands around the city centre and was almost unchanged. Only the smell of burning debris, rising slowly from the embers of Warsaw, reminded visitors that a catastrophe had occurred.
Wola had been barricaded by the A.K as they attempted to halt the German progress towards the capital. Many houses had been hit by mortar blast and bore the wretched sight of machine gun pock marks in their plaster. Thomas’ street was strewn with rubble and the detritus of war, just like many others in the city he loved, but high above the destruction, it felt like another world.
He walked this route to school every day for four years when he was younger, and knew all the short cuts, to avoid the many checkpoints recently located along the way. Eventually he arrived, at the top of the hill upon which the school sat, and looked at the building; now looking overgrown and unloved. He remembered that it was always a smart place, with a well manicured lawn out front, and an expanse of fields beyond which overlooked the surrounding suburbs.
Now the buildings looked unused and the ivy which framed the main entrance was growing out of control. Even the cinder path, which led to the master’s house, had the beginnings of weeds sprouting between the small black pebbles. This would never have happened if it was still being trampled by various schoolboys and school masters daily.
The building had not been used since September of the previous year; because the chaos of war no one could afford the fees. The school’s headmaster, Old Mr Joseph, was Jewish and this alone was enough for the institution to close. The German’s had made it clear that they did not adhere to Jewish history or science and, having a Jewish headmaster, made it obvious to them that both were on the curriculum.
Thomas approached the house which Theodor Johannson and his wife leased from the school and found it in much the same condition as he remembered. The garden looked well tended and the house was maintained properly, even the door bell worked, Thomas pressed it once and waited.
After a few moments the beady eyes of his old school master peered through the crack of the opening door.
“Ah Thomas…” The old man smiled pulling the door wide and ushering Thomas into a well furnished hall. “…we have been waiting for you.”
“Good evening, Mr Johannson.” Thomas said as the door was closed behind him; he looked about the hall awkwardly before the old man set him at ease.
“No formalities please…” He said leading Thomas through the hall and into a room beyond.
“…I was Mr. Johannson when you were a schoolboy; but now you must call me Theodore, Theo will do. Now come inside and join my friends.”
Thomas entered the room off the hall and found two men standing around a blazing wood fire with glasses of claret poised for a toast. They smiled benignly as Thomas entered and one offered a fresh glass to the new guest.
“Thomas, this is my good friend Erick from Denmark; his Polish is very poor, so excuse me if I have to translate from time to time, and this is Leo…”
The shorter of the two men who had offered Thomas the glass of claret smiled and nodded.
“…You may have seen him around Warsaw occasionally. He is very well known in the community and a valued friend of mine.”
Theodore stood next to the fire and took a glass of claret from the mantle before addressing the other three with a toast.
“Gentlemen…” He said formally. “…Zegota.”
The four men repeated the phrase and sunk their drinks in unison before Thomas raised an eyebrow and asked.
“It’s just an idea at the moment Thomas.” Theodore replied. He looked toward Leo who then continued.
“Two very dear lady friends of ours…”
“Wanda and Frieda.” Theodore interjected.
“Wanda and Frieda…” Leo repeated. “…have suggested, a discrete group of individuals, should make advance plans. We are to form small cells, for security of course, with little contact between each cell; overall administrator will be based outside Poland. They shall direct each cell’s actions, safe in the knowledge, that they cannot be penetrated; we are deciding who we should invite to join our cell.”
“Advanced plans for what?” Thomas asked. The three men faced him with stern, almost frightened expressions, before Theodore replied.
“We’d rather not discuss that at present Thomas. All I can say is we would like to give you provisional approval to join us.”
“Are the plans to do with the ghetto…” Thomas asked. He looked at Leo who then looked at Theodore. “…to help those in the ghetto?”
“That’s the right idea.”Theodore coughed. He translated something for Erick who then replied giving Theodore permission to be more open,
“You know, there have been relocations…” Theodore said through gritted teeth. “…that people have been moved on from the ghetto?”
“To the east…” Thomas replied. “…I’ve heard something about relocation.”
“Well, we have it on very good authority…”Theodore continued. “…that in other parts of Poland, relocation to the East is a euphemism, for death. That vast numbers of Jews have been taken to their local Jewish cemeteries only to find long ditches carved in the soil. They have been lined up and shot, thousands of them.”
“Only last week I received news from a doctor in Lodz…”Leo stated with a cool and intelligent air. He took a silver cigarette case from his jacket pocket and offered cigarettes to the other gentlemen in the room. Thomas declined, although Erick joined Leo and lit his cigarette, as the small man continued. Thomas could see by the man’s attitude that he was a well educated and refined individual. The clean silk shirt and diamond cufflinks added to the overall impression that this man had never known want or depravation; even the current destruction all around them seemed to be but a passing inconvenience. Leo smiled warmly and addressed Thomas directly.
“…My friend is a doctor in a sanatorium. It is a very respected institution caring for the long term sick and mentally ill. Last month all the patients were liquidated; some of the staff also.”
“That’s horrible…” Thomas gasped. “…I have heard of similar atrocities but sadly did not believe it.”
“You must believe Thomas…” Theodore said firmly. “…Hence our planning should the unthinkable happen here. We all have to be prepared to act.”
“But to act in secret…” Leo whispered. “…I am a Jew, but there are some Jews, who I would not tell. It is important that you keep our friendship and plans to yourself Thomas…”
“For the sake of everyone.” Theodore added.
The news that Leo was a Jew was surprising as the little smart man did not appear to be wearing a Star of David, why he was not confined to the ghetto was also a surprise but Thomas did not feel this was the time to clarify this.
“Even discussing this as some future ideal…”Leo whispered pursing his lips tightly. “…some fantasy, with no real intent behind the discussion, even this can get us all hanged.”
“But my wife?” Thomas sighed. Theodore placed his arm around Thomas’ shoulder and whispered in his ear.
“We have good contacts in the ghetto, I can tell you now, that they have found your wife and they are looking after her.”
“Really?” Thomas said feeling all the tension he had slowing building within him melt away. For the first time that day he felt relieved and threw Theodore and small smile to show his appreciation.
“You must go there in the morning as arranged, take her some clothes and odds and ends, cotton thread and the like…” Theodore stated finishing his glass of claret and pouring another.
“…At some point, I will make sure you get to see her again, should we hear that she is to be moved; well, if that happens we will do what we can.”
“When we need your help in future…Leo added offering his glass to Theodore who took it and filled it once again with claret passing the glass back to his friend. “… I will send you a message through the grapevine.”
“You can count on me for anything, although you know, I am not a Jew?” Thomas replied hesitantly. He looked at the three men for a moment before they smiled back at him.
“Precisely…” Theodore said. “…I am also Catholic and so is Erick here, in our numbers are many Catholics. The work we plan is far too dangerous for any Jew to consider. I think another toast is in order; especially as Erick was kind enough to travel all the way here with this splendid wine in his case. How say you Thomas?”
“Fill my glass.” Thomas replied.
Prana is life, Thomas reminded himself, that all living things are vibrating with unseen energy and that his ethereal body vibrates at the same frequency of all matter; whether living or dead. He sucked the energy of Prana into his ethereal body, and felt his consciousness radiate, beyond the confines of his tight skin; into the darkness beyond and out across the sky.
Thomas felt divine light radiate across the desolate and scarred countryside and far into the heavens. He embraced the planet, sweet Earth, recently so bloodstained and grief stricken. He held it in his ethereal arms and almost wept.
The face of this luscious beauty, so cut and mutilated, laid waste by desire and man. Mankind, the cancer of planetary evolution, man who held such promise and yet squandered that potential in the pursuit of evil, reminding himself that only light can balance the scales.
Sadhaka, seeker of light, hugged the whole planet and his tears healed all they touched. Booming his voice out, across the abyss of time and space, declaring not all were guilty. Only a few dark and malevolent beings had orchestrated such blasphemy upon her. He, and others like him, worked to create equilibrium and heal her wounds.
“Are you hungry Sadhaka?” Thomas saw Mouni Sadhu still sitting beside him. His body glowing bright with a lilac hue and with eyes, so filled with love, that Thomas felt himself lifted by their expression. He was comforted by his friend’s company and a little concerned because he had not been very attentive. Sadhu realised this and raised one hand to quell the emotion; all was well.
“I am so hungry.” Thomas croaked through dry and cracked lips. His swollen tongue thick and rasping, he breathed softly and tried to smile.
“I am so thirsty.”
“Here, friend…”Sadhu whispered taking a huge glass beaker of cool ice water; pouring it carefully into his friend’s mouth. Thomas savoured the sensation feeling it bring some life to his senses.
“This will revitalise you.” Sadhu whispered as he poured the cool and refreshing liquid between the prostrate man’s lips.
“Thank you.” Thomas replied remembering the last time someone had save him.
He had been on his way to visit Sarah, or in reality, to take supplies to the Judenrat so that they could be passed to Sarah. She in turn, at the prearranged time, would appear at a high window that overlooked a side street and Thomas could stand and wave at her. He had done this many times since her move into the ghetto and only the journey there was likely to cause problems.
This particular day was bitterly cold, and every checkpoint on the way was busy with queues of travellers, waiting to get searched and continue onward. The job of manning these various checkpoints was no longer the responsibility of the German soldiers and now only, so called, Blue Police did the job. These were Polish men, who had previously been in the police force, they were overseen by German officers, and members of the German secret police.
At the checkpoint just outside the main street into the city, so many people waited in the cold to cross, some were directed to a small side-street to wait. Thomas was one of these and the man in front began to curse the Policeman who had politely asked them to stand aside.
“Zdrajca!” The man spat at the policeman, who shook his head, and turned to rejoin his colleagues. A stout and poker faced man in a long black leather coat heard this and stepped towards the queuing man with a stern expression.
“Papers?” The man in the leather coat demanded as he confronted the gentleman. Thomas, standing next in line, watched the scene unfold with growing unease.
“Here, here are my papers…” The man said abruptly thrusting a wad of forms into his questioner’s hands.
“…there, you see, I am a very important government official and it is imperative that I be allowed to pass. I have special privileges, there, see for yourself.”
He used his finger to poke at the man in the leather coat, gesturing towards a form which sat amidst the others he was inspecting, huffing impatiently.
“I am a very important person…” The man continued to remonstrate with the other who was looking more and more irritated by his attitude. “…I demand special treatment.”
“You demand special treatment?” The little fellow in the leather coat said, almost under his breath, as he reached into his pocket and pulled out a pistol. The man who had been arguing with him looked shocked and was speechless as a bullet entered his forehead and exited the back of his head. It left a gaping hole as blood and brain tissue splashed across Thomas’ face. The man fell silently to the pavement by his feet.
“There…” The little man said placing his gun back in his pocket. “…I have treated you specially.”
Two policemen who had been manning the checkpoint with some others came running over demanding to know what happened. The little man in the leather coat looked towards Thomas and said.
“These two were arguing about something when this one shot him in the head. Arrest this man at once…”
The two Polish Policemen looked confused for a moment when the little man in the leather coat shouted at them
“…What are you waiting for? Arrest this man at once and clear this rubbish away.”
The two policemen took Thomas by the arms and led him away. They dragged him towards an old building across street which had been requisitioned to be used as a police station. Thomas tried to explain that he had done nothing and that he did not even own a firearm but it was no use. The policemen dragged him across the street and locked him in a makeshift cell.
A while later, the hatch in the cell’s door was opened, and a bowl of soup passed in. Thomas took the soup and was surprised to see Winkleman peering in at him.
“A fine mess you are in Sandoski, eh? “ The fat brute smiled. His teeth appeared yellower and more heavily tobacco stained than ever. Thomas was pleased to see his neighbour and, surprised by the appearance, sighed with relief.
“Winkleman, thank God…” Thomas exclaimed taking greedy mouthfuls of soup between each word “…When will they release me? You know this is all a terrible mistake.”
“A terrible mistake, yes…” Winkleman sighed. He shrugged and lowered his voice.
“…A terrible mistake, Thomas, but they are going to shoot you in the morning nonetheless.”
“What…” Thomas replied absolutely flabbergasted. He looked through the hatch towards his neighbour as the colour drained from his face.
“…you’re not being serious?”
“Be quiet.” Winkleman whispered, looking about, to ensure they were not being overheard. He leant into the hatch and said cautiously.
“Now listen carefully, when they line you up, count and fall; understand Thomas, count and fall!” Then he was gone with the final word.
“Then my debt is paid to you, Thomas, after that I owe you nothing.”
Thomas tried to peer down the hall in the direction his neighbour had headed but saw only the gray concrete and shadows; the soft hum of voices echoed back. He sat on the horsehair mattress which was the only thing in the cell beside him, and closed his eyes in an attempt to get some rest.
Thoughts filled his head and it felt like it was about to explode, first his family were separated, then Sarah was taken and now he was about to be executed; whatever next? His mind wandered back to the Sadhu and their last visit to the park.
They had done a mental exercise which allowed them to visualize their astral bodies and push their consciousness into it; to become Switched On. Once they were fully integrated, the men could look at their physical bodies, lying on the grass in a deep state of relaxation and experience separateness from their physical form.
He remembered how surprised he’d been to actually see Sadhu in his astral form facing him; with that soft smile that made his body glow. His emotions were being expressed, not just facially and in a tone of voice, but by the hue or colour of his emanations. It was a fantastic thing to see, emotional colour, colourful sounds and a whole host of other unusual phenomena.
He glowed blue and pink and occasionally intense violet. These colours appeared to illuminate their surroundings, like a bright spotlight as the two interacted. They played with the ability as if it were a new and incredible toy, Thomas particularly so, enjoying the sensations and spectacles.
“I can see you!” Thomas said with a wide childlike grin.
“I never thought it would be possible to see others like this. If this is the astral plane why do only we exist here; where are all the other people; the dead or those who are dreaming?”
“You will only see those you have a connection to…”Sadhu replied. “…providing they too are using astral bodies. Occasionally you will run into close members of your family, those who have passed on, but are reluctant to leave this plane. They are wandering souls, attached and attached forever, to their desire. When you meet these sad beings, urge them to move on, they’ll be happier on the next Bardo. It’s waiting for us all.”
“Bardo, do you mean heaven?” Thomas asked awkwardly.
His friend giggled which made a bright and vibrating yellow blaze around him. He shook his head slowly and replied amid a flashing violet and purple.
“Thomas, you must put aside concepts like that. Think about it like this instead. If the universe were a string quartet, the Earth would be the deep bass strings of the cello; it’s a foundation for every harmonic cord. The astral plane is the viola, vibrating slightly faster and at a higher tone, this is harmony. The next plane is slightly higher still, imagine the sweeping siren of violins. Individually they are beautifully hypnotic, but together, a miracle happens. Sadhaka, when they vibrate as one their perfection is overwhelming; all is one and one is all. These planes of consciousness are Bardos and, when experienced in unity, the universe sings. It makes beautiful music we can feel in our hearts.”
Sadhu paused for a brief, intimate, moment. It was a lingering, almost expectant breath, where he raised his hands and punctuated the message with a gesture. Lifting his arms he pushed his palms upward; a stance which was halfway between contemplation and devotion; shining a shimmering green and blue. He smile again and said.
“The Jews call them Sephera, Sadhaka. Without these individual notes the cords cannot be heard, the universe cannot sing. But do you hear it now my friend; the music of the cosmos; do you hear the universe singing?”
At which point Thomas heard the most beautiful note; a chord of such beauty and purity it brought tears to the man’s eyes. It was a single note where each atom and particle in the universe vibrated in its own octave; creating a single tone of infinite, ultimate, bliss. Reality has a song and he was hearing it clearly. He could understand the emotional, spiritual nature of music for the first time in his life; and it was beautiful.
There, among the shattered city, two blissful and radiant souls shared a moment of intimate understanding. They rose up, high above the torn buildings, above the bloodied streets and tattered remnants of Warsaw, joining hands to fill the sky with divine light.
The next morning Thomas woke to hear the sound of boots stomping and keys rattling in the hall outside. Suddenly his cell door was opened and a uniformed German soldier stuck his head around the door; shouting.
Thomas pulled himself from the horsehair mattress and stepped into the hall to find a group of other men standing beside their respective doors. All looked tired and some had been viscously beaten; as evidenced by the bruises which scarred their sullen faces.
A German with a machine gun pushed the first man towards a door at the end of the hall and the others followed in single file. Thomas joined them and felt the butt of a gun smashed into his spine to quicken his step.
Once through the door he found himself in a bright courtyard, where other soldiers and barking dogs stood, flanking a flat-bed truck. The men were ordered onto the back of the truck and, having climbed aboard, two armed soldiers climbed up to supervise them. A German officer shouted something to the driver and the truck pulled out of the courtyard and onto the streets beyond.
The men sat in silence as they made their way through the city; some prayed, some wept quietly while others looked fearful; pulling their caps low and biting their lips anxiously. Thomas looked across from where he sat and a man stared back. The stranger’s expression was hard and full of unspoken hatred for their captors. The two men did not have to speak to express condolence for the predicament they both found themselves in.
Thomas recognised the old Jewish cemetery approaching, and his heart sank, as the truck entered through the tall gates. They were driven across a mud track, towards a part of the cemetery that was hidden from the view of the streets, swaying occasionally with the motion of the truck as it bumped over the uneven track. He saw another group of soldiers, a few with barking dogs and others with machine guns across their shoulders, standing next to a long recently dug trench.
As the truck stopped, the back flap was pulled down and the two accompanying soldiers jumped onto the dirt, shouting in German at the huddled men still on board. They began to climb briskly from the truck and were pushed and bullied in the direction of the long trench. Thomas found himself one of the last to feel dirt under his boots and was pushed by the soldiers in the direction of the others.
The worried group almost ran to their waiting deaths and as Tomas followed he caught a glimpse of Winkleman standing with a German officer. He did not acknowledge any of the men and his face remained staunchly expressionless as one of the soldiers lined the men up on the edge of the trench.
Thomas was the last in the line and stood where directed; looking into the trench and seeing the bodies of other men just barely covered by a thin blanket of dirt. He glanced over to see the German officer say something to Winkleman who then cocked a luger pistol which had previously been hidden behind his back.
Winkleman stepped up to the line of men, and a pistol shot rang out, causing black clouds of birds to flee their nests and rise from the trees. The first man fell into the trench with a bullet wound in the back of his skull. Thomas heard a second shot and saw another fall into the trench, this third shot, caused a cascade of blood to splash across the dirt.
Count and fall, Thomas remembered Winkleman saying, count and fall.
Time began to distort as the next shot rang out on the air. The clouds, which previously had been rushing across the sky, slowed down to a barely noticeable crawl, and the reverberation of sound from the weapon echoed like a thick peel of thunder. As the lifeless body of the fifth man slowly fell forwards into the trench, Thomas saw a dark shadow creep over the scene, and all was cast in ominous gray.
The sixth and then seventh fell into the dirt as the smell of blood, cordite and burning flesh filled the air. Thomas counted, five, six, seven, BANG, five, six seven BANG and then Winkleman was standing behind the man next in line to Thomas’ left. Five, six, seven, bang; the sound of gunfire rang out and the smell of burning blood filled his nose; five, six seven….
Thomas felt Winkleman place his hand on his shoulder as the muzzle of the pistol touched the side of his right ear.
The sound almost burst Thomas’ eardrums as Winkleman pushed him forwards into the air. He felt muzzle burn on his skull as his ears rang with the deafening sound, he fell slowly face first, into the trench.
Winkleman jumped in the trench and stepped on the fresh bodies looking for signs of life. If a slight twitch or groan alerted him Winkleman fired a single shot here or there to finish the job properly. Thomas lay, wide-eyed and motionless, on the stinking bodies of those executed the previous day, a trickle of warm blood from the graze above his right ear spilling across his nose.
The sound of laughter filled the morning air and mixed uneasily with the smell of cigarettes, cordite and vodka as two Ukrainians started to shovel dirt onto the bodies in the bottom of the trench. Thomas heard the sound of the truck start up and the soldiers climb onto the back congratulating themselves, no doubt, on a job well done.
He lay as still as possible while a thin blanket of dirt covered his head, it was muddy and stuck together in thick clumps. This enabled him to find a small air pocket to sustain life while he waited for the men to finish. Thomas was frightened to move, even a toe or finger, while they were there. This may alert the Ukrainians to his un-dead state and they could prove untrustworthy. So he waited until the sun set and he heard the two drunken men pack up and leave.
Even then he was reluctant to shake the dirt from his eyes and sit up; it was only when he heard a sound to his left that Thomas moved his head. Through the shadows Thomas watched as one of the bodies, three of four bloodstained corpses away, miraculously sat up.
He tentatively watched as the shadow crawled on its belly up the side of the trench and peered over the rim towards where the truck had been parked. Thomas shook the dirt from his hair and eyes and crawled towards the shadow and up the side of the trench to rest beside him.
“Fuck, Man!” The shadow gasped turning to glair at Thomas. “You gave me a fright, what are you doing, creeping up on people like that?”
“I wanted to make sure they were gone.” Thomas replied. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to make you jump.”
It was then that Thomas realised this was the person he had sat opposite in the truck earlier. The man spied him suspiciously and squinted before whispering softly:
“How come?” He nodded back towards the bodies behind them and waited; Thomas knew immediately what he was being asked and just replied simply.
“I have a friend.”
“So do I.” The stranger smiled.
The two men said no more for a while as they ensured that they were not being observed. Then Thomas made ready to scramble from the trench and run towards the trees at the edge of the cemetery.
“What are you doing?” The man whispered grabbing Thomas’ wrist and holding him tight.
“We should go.” Thomas replied nodding towards the trees.
“Look friend…” The man said softly. He looked down to the bodies in the trench and said.
“…when they come back we don’t want them to think two bodies have got up and walked away; do we?”
“I guess not.” Thomas replied.
“Then we should cover where we lay with soil…” His companion continued. “…so when they get back it will look exactly like it did when they left.”
This was sensible advice and Thomas wondered if he would have thought of this had he been alone. The two men crept down into the trench and used their hands to scoop soil over the bodies until it looked like one flat level. All the bodies were covered and the mass grave was ready to receive the next layer of frightened, desperate men.
Then they crawled away, creeping into the shadows of night, towards the thick verge of trees that lined the edges of the cemetery. After they had travelled for a long while in silence the rested in a small clearing. They were at the foot of a small hill that lay in the wooded south-west of the city.
“Tell me friend…” The stranger asked as they hid low behind a small bush. “…what name shall I call you?”
“I am Sadhaka…” Thomas replied. “…You can call me Sadhaka.”
“Well, I am Rulf…” The stranger said holding out a hand for Thomas to shake. “..I have partisan friends who have a camp in this forest somewhere; join me while I look for them. They are organising a resistance and together, we shall rise from the dead, to teach these bastards a lesson or two.”
Sarah meanwhile had found herself a valuable role in the ghetto. The Judenrat arranged for some basic medical equipment to be brought in, bandages and the like, but they were desperately short of medicines. She joined a small group who cared for orphans and the elderly while others were allowed to make bread and other items which could be swapped with people outside the ghetto.
The Germans did not allow the Jews to own anything or have access to money so bartering was the only way supplies could come in. They collected old metals and made pots, jewellery and anything else, the gentiles on the other side of the ghetto wall may be interested in. Everyday women stood by the chicken wire fence which enclosed one side of the ghetto offering goods to the external shopkeepers.
There were rumours of every kind within the confines of the walls, talk of spies and infiltrators was rife, and everyone suffered from a heady spirit of paranoia. People often spoke, with lowered voices and worried expressions, of relocation to the East; how the Germans were planning to move everybody once they had the infrastructure to do so.
Others said this was unlikely all the while they were making money and being useful to the occupiers. The Judenrat ran with this idea and formed special groups to clear streets, collect garbage and make clothing especially for German officers. They thought that if these services became essential their masters were unlikely to change things.
So, after a few months, a regular system evolved. Men took their turn to work in the ruins of the city repairing buildings and clearing rubble, while others made items for bartering. Some women looked after children and the elderly while others occupied themselves doing laundry, making clothing and repairing German uniforms.
It was while Sarah was looking after a group of orphans, who’d previously lived in the large Jewish orphanage in the centre of the city, she happened to look through a window; into a small courtyard below. A truck had arrived, supposedly from another city, and she watched as a group of women and children were unloaded from the back.
They all looked tired and dirty as if they had travelled a great distance and Sarah wondered how many more were going to be forced into the already overcrowded area. Suddenly she stopped breathing and wiped her eyes thinking she was seeing things.
She stood and opened the window to get a better look and was surprised to see her sister, Selene Hoff, among the group. Sarah leant out the window and called down to the group.
“Selene?” She screamed with a broad smile. “…Selene, up here.”
The women all looked up, and Selene jumped up and down frantically, seeing her sister leaning from a third floor window waving at her. Later in the day, once her duties were over in the makeshift orphanage, Sarah made her way to the Judenrat office. She had to find out where her sister had been allocated accommodation.
She was told her sister had been given a room, in one of the cramped induction quarters, where single women were herded upon their arrival. This was until they could link up with lost family or other loved ones or be allocated a permanent room and job.
The two women met later that evening as the sun was going down over the city. There was little electric power in the ghetto and candles were scarce so they had to use oil lamps which smelt bad and made the air thick with choking fumes. After hugging, the two sisters sat on one of the long stools in the induction quarters, and wept with relief. After a long period of reflection, Sarah asked after Selene’s family, she saw immediately from her sister’s reaction that there would be no good news.
“When the Russians came they were murdered, it was horrible…”Selene said with tears in her eyes.
“…then I was on my own and the Russians warned me that I’d be killed if I ever strayed into the German held province; that the German’s were systematically killing Jews. But one night a group of Russian soldiers came to our cottage and forced themselves on me.”
“Oh God!” Sarah replied holding a hand over her mouth.
“After that I did not care what happened if I crossed into the German held territory…”Selene added unemotionally. She had been hardened by her recent experiences and Sarah realised her kid sister had grown up a lot recently.
“…I did not feel safe in my own home and I’d not had a proper meal for months. I thought if I came here, at least I could find you and Thomas, otherwise I could end up also murdered by those brutes.”
“What happened to father?” Sarah asked softly. She could tell by her sister’s forlorn expression that she did not want to discuss it; Selene did not even have to say as the grief was etched on the girls face.
“It was when the Russian’s were enforcing collectivism…” Her sister continued. Her hair fell across her face and Selene held a lank and greasy tassel back with her dirty fingers as the tears came.
“..It’s a Soviet thing. He was murdered in the garden right next to where I stood. We told him to stay in the house but you know how stubborn father could be; it was horrible.”
“Oh, my poor child…” Sarah said softly placing her arms around the girl’s shoulders and hugging her sister to her chest. Sarah’s expression pulled into a desperate grimace and she wanted to scream out in grief but managed to hold herself together for the sake of her sister; pleased to be with her again but wondering what else could go wrong in their lives.
“…don’t say anything else you are safe now. I will take care of you.”
She hugged Selene tightly and together they both felt stronger. They felt they could support one another now and whatever may come in future; in the end, all will work out.
The following day both women found a small room, equipped with an old bed and window, which they arranged to share. The window overlooked one of the cramped streets that circled the ghetto and, whilst being four floors from street level, could secretly deliver provisions to those locked in; avoiding the inquisitive soldiers guarding the newly erected gates.
There was much work to do and although Selene grieved for her sons and husband their labours helped her to cope with the loss slightly better. Most days began with the lady’s toilet before waking the youngest children and supervising their simple breakfast of boiled oats.
Having lived through a difficult, dangerous and thoroughly unsettled previous few months, the children were inclined to suffer nocturnal enuresis. Thus much of the early morning involved washing both them and their bed-clothes with whatever soaps could be begged borrowed or bartered; a task which became increasingly more difficult as the weeks passed.
The infants were dressed as the elder children were woken, instructed to wash, and eventually herded into a small room; which served as both classroom and nursery. It was here that any food which was available was shared between both the children and their supervisors prior to the start of any work.
As books, pencils, paper and other basic necessities of any classroom were either missing or in limited supply, most of the work consisted of oral debate and occasional notes written in chalk upon the wall. There was a wide range in age among the children, from infants to early teens, so one-on-one supervision was the most useful, practical, teaching method; usually carried out while nurturing babes-in-arms.
The orphanage staff, or those who survived the initial German occupation at least, oversaw the makeshift school and its volunteers under the direct management of Whilma Schisacknisky; a child psychologist. She worked under the direction of the Judenrat who were, in turn, the route for German orders and other information to enter the crowded place.
Unfortunately the orphanage had grown far beyond its resources since relocating to the ghetto and a decision had been made by the German local government, passed on through the Judenrat and delivered to the staff by a sombre Miss Schisacknisky, that no more children could be accepted.
This led to the heartbreaking sight of infants, toddlers and other very young children slowly starving to death on the ghetto streets. Surviving, and ensuring the survival of close family, meant hearts were un-naturally hardened to such sights and passing adults had to walk on by as if these unfortunate children did not exist.
Only when a corpse remained was anything done. The soldiers instructed the Judenrat to arrange for its removal for the sake of public health; a cart carrying dead children had become a familiar sight. As the days became weeks, the weeks became months and 1942 became 1943 the situation became critical and the cart had to collect bodies daily. It was easy for small children to become separated from their parents during relocation to that place, and once on their own, it was impossible to relocate them. This meant a slow and painful death from starvation under the public gaze of passing strangers.
“Something must be done.” Sarah exclaimed to her sister one day as they sat among a group of children. Selene was reading a passage from the Torah to a small group who were fascinated by the story of a man told by God to sacrifice his own son. It was a test, of course, and before the knife was struck God admitted this fact saving the child’s life and recognising the man’s unquestioning loyalty.
It was a story that seemed to have resonance for both women considering the circumstances. Selene closed the book and told the children to discuss the story among themselves for a while. She joined her sister by a small window and looked out onto the street.
Two thin boys were lying prostrate on the sidewalk immediately outside the window. Their faces hollow and skull like, shoeless and still, as starving adults walked past averting their gaze and ignoring the children’s plight.
“They are a sacrifice to God…” Sarah whispered with tears welling in her eyes. “…we watch them die so we can live?”
“Whilma would take them in if she could.” Selene replied placing her arm across her sister’s shoulder and continued.
“We cannot save everyone; it’s sad but not our responsibility.”
“I can’t bare it…”Sarah replied. She turned and looked at her sister intensely before glancing one last time at the terrible scene unfolding outside.
“…if anyone asks tell them I am in the bathroom.”
“Sarah?” Selene shouted as her sister dashed for the door and left the room. She watched outside as her sister walked cautiously up to one of the small boys. Sarah looked about to ensure no German soldiers were watching and, quickly scooping one of the children up, rushed back into the building.
“Carry on children.” Selene gasped hurriedly leaving the room and going to find Sarah in the hall outside.
“What on earth are you doing?” Selene demanded in a hushed voice. She looked around to ensure they were not observed as disobeying the Juwdenrat, and more importantly German orders, was punishable by death.
“I am saving this child’s life.” Sarah replied quickly heading towards the stairwell which would take her to their room to the forth floor. She found the task easy as the boy was no more than a bag of bones as she climbed the stairwell with Selene following behind.
“You are risking your own life, mine and every child in this building.” Selene said in a tense, hushed voice. She followed Sarah to the top of the stairwell and watched as her sister carried the boy to their room.
Then she sighed loudly, turned and went to fetch the second child. She was amazed to find that he was as light as a feather and, although she herself was small framed and very thin, was able to walk quickly with the child in her arms.
After struggling up four floors she entered their room and laid the child on the small bed beside the other. The child was so weak he was unable to move but she saw his eyes follow her around the room, indicating his awareness and curiosity, while the other was totally motionless.
“Sarah, I must return to class before we are missed.” Selene said hastily going to the door. “There is some cold soup in the drawer that I was saving for our supper. See if they will eat.”
“Thank you.”Sarah replied with a small smile.
Sarah closed the door and locked it before going to the cupboard and taking the small bowl of chicken soup from one of the drawers. She armed herself with a small spoon and the sat on the bed next to the boys, the nearest watched her closely as she carefully took his head and nursed him.
She carefully took a small spoonful of soup and placed it next to the boy’s lips. He was too weak to even open his mouth and she had to place a finger in the nourishing liquid and push it between his lips. The boy suckled and she saw a tear stream from one of his eyes and mix with her own on the bedclothes. Sarah thought back to her mother and the day she made the cherry pies for her elderly neighbours, remembering her mother’s words, whatever good she did would come back to her.
After several minutes the boy had suckled half a bowl of soup and she placed a pillow under the child’s head and the stepped around the bed to rouse the second boy. His eyes were firmly closed, if it was not for the slight warmth of his skin, she would have thought him dead.
Sarah dipped her small finger in the soup and tenderly touched the child’s lips with the thick, beige liquid. The child did not open his eyes but just slowly passed his tongue over his lips to taste to soup. She looked at one of the boy’s tiny hands and saw he was clenching her dress hem tightly, after she placed more soup on the boy’s lips, his breathing seemed to grow stronger as the food brought him from the brink of death.
Sarah closed her eyes and said a small, silent prayer, calling on God to spare these tiny innocents, and promising to give her life in exchange; if a life had to be taken she was ready and willing to be sacrificed.
“So?” Rulf asked as the two men walked through the forest. “What sort of name is Sadhaka?”
“It’s Eastern…”Thomas replied throwing the huge man a small smile.
“No…”Thomas giggled. “…It comes from Indian philosophy.”
“Funny…”Rulf replied with a sniff. “…You don’t look like an intellectual; or, for that matter, an Indian.”
Some hours later, after searching through the thick woods, the two men found themselves confronted by a partisan search party. They were held at bay by machine guns in the centre of the forest about to explain how they had risen from the dead.
“Shut up and put your hands in the air.” One of the partisans shouted, the armed men stepped menacingly towards Thomas and Rulf, when suddenly one of them smiled and ran forwards.
“Rulf, is that you?”
“Waldo…”Rulf replied reaching out to hug the man. “…I was hoping to find you.”
“Lower your weapons…”Waldo shouted to the others. “…This is my very good friend Rulf. I heard you were executed.” He said softly.
“Yes…”Rulf replied patting his friend on the back.”…but the rumours of my death were greatly exaggerated.”
“Who is this?” Waldo asked pointing his weapon at Thomas suspiciously.
“This, my friend, is another corpse who has risen from the dead.” Rulf laughed heartily, much to the confusion of the group of armed men, he threw an arm around Thomas’ shoulder to reassure them.
“Don’t worry, he’s a patriot, a very lucky patriot.”
The group walked further into the forest and eventually came to a well disguised camp where men and women busied themselves doing various activities. Some prepared food, others tended to supplies and built rough shelters from the bracken, while others oiled weapons.
“You seem to have organised yourselves well…” Rulf said as he picked up one of the hunting rifles from a stack of five. He inspected the breach to ensure the two barrels were empty of shells before turning to Waldo and shaking his head.
“…but this won’t be much good against a machine gun.”
“We are short of weapons…” Waldo replied taking the rifle and placing it back. “…We have just one hunting rifle for every five and a machine gun for every hundred.”
He took from his shoulder one of the rifles he and the other men in the raiding party carried and showed it to Rulf.
“We need more of these. They’re taken from German’s; those we have murdered.”
“Or if we could get a message to London…”One of the other’s said. “… they will arm us.”
“Sadhaka…” Rulf asked Thomas. “…can you shoot?”
“I am a pacifist, not a killer.” He replied simply and noted the look of disgust that crossed the men’s faces. Thomas proudly pulled his shoulders back.
“We are all pacifists….”Rulf snapped. “…circumstances have made us killers. Still, we can find work for you to do, if you are not ready to fight for your country.”
“You don’t have to kill to fight…” Waldo interjected. “…well, not directly. There is much to do to help us fight and all support is welcome.”
“Now that is out of the way…” Thomas said as the others from the raiding party filtered away leaving just Waldo and Rulf.
“…please call me Thomas. I said my name was Sadhaka to be mysterious. Till I was sure who I was talking too could be trusted.”
“We all have to be careful…” Rulf smiled. “…don’t worry.”
“Come let’s eat…” Waldo said with a hearty laugh as he slapped Rulf on the back.
“…We can catch up and discuss plans over some Polish dumplings.”
“I have to go somewhere first.” Thomas replied. He had to let the Theodore Johannson know that he was unharmed and in a much better position to work undercover; being dead to the authorities. He looked at Rulf and Waldo sincerely before continuing.
“I have to let people know I am safe.”
“It’s a risk, Thomas.” Rulf replied rubbing his unshaved chin and staring out of the trees towards the darkening sky. There was malevolence in the clouds, the warning of a coming storm, and the tree tops rustled in the breeze. Rulf knew they had to be careful not to be caught by the rain. To be drenched and bothered by a chill was one thing, leaving tracks in newly wet mud, quite another.
“You must be careful that your continued good health is not compromised.”Rulf mumbled. He thought for a moment and added.
“To be dead is surely the best condition for a secret operative is it not?”
“Don’t worry yourself over that.” Thomas replied. “I am well aware that I need to remain dead; to all but those I trust.”
“Be frugal with your trust, Thomas…” Rulf replied. “…it is something we all need to be cautious about in these times.”
“That is true, unfortunately.” Thomas said turning to Waldo. “I need to get to the South of the city, which path would you suggest I take?”
“Here,” Waldo smiled. It was a wide and hearty grin which Thomas would be well acquainted with before the end of the war. He called another of the young men from the camp, a young boy, who joined the group as Waldo addressed them.
“Take this man to the hills on the south, arrange to meet him again come nightfall and ensure you and he are unobserved.”
“Yes Waldo.”The boy replied, at which point he nodded to Thomas, and took off through the trees. Thomas only had time to wave goodbye to Rulf, if he wanted to keep up with the boy, and scrambled to catch him up.
They made their way through the trees and dense undergrowth in silence and only stopped when a certain sound, perhaps of distant tracked vehicles or motorcycles or the hushed whispering of a nearby hunting party, caught them by surprise. At which point both huddled low in the bushes and waited for the coast to clear.
Eventually Thomas was left at a clearing and told to meet again in three hours, by a tree that bore unusual markings, and soon he was creeping low in the undergrowth toward the schoolmaster’s house.
Thomas made his way to the lounge window and peered into the house before making his presence known. He saw Johannson sitting by the fire reading a book, Thomas cautiously tapped on the window, alerting the old man, who was a little startled by the noise. His expression lit up upon seeing Thomas peering in at him and Johannson stood and went to open the patio door.
“Thomas, I am surprised to see you…” Johannson announced peering into the garden to ensure they were unobserved. He quickly closed the patio door and placed his book on a table.
“…I heard that you had some trouble.”
“I was very lucky.” Thomas replied. He suddenly became aware of the dirt on his clothing, and his unwashed state, having hidden in the earth for some hours. The rest of daylight hours had been spent ducking through the forest on the journey there.
“I think you have been lucky, my friend….”Johannson said pouring both a stiff drink. “…I have some spare clothing upstairs which you are free to change into if you wish although I cannot offer you a bath, the copper gas has been off for some time. I make do with wash downs as we did back in my army days.”
“Clean clothes would be wonderful and a wash and shave will make me more presentable.” Thomas replied.
“Well let me put the kettle on the fire and help you…” Johannson smiled knocking back his drink and pouring another into the same glass. “…Then we must catch up, I have good news for you.”
In an hour both men were sitting beside the blazing fire, Thomas was eating the last of a sandwich Johannson had made for him, when the old man removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes.
“I have spoken to my contact in the ghetto, Thomas…”He said softly before placing his glasses back on and peering thoughtfully at his visitor for a moment.
“…I have news of your wife.”
“Really…”Thomas said with a broad smile. “…is she safe?”
“She is very well, my friend.” Johannson replied. “She is aware that you have been enquiring after her and sends her regards. As you know, she is not allowed to leave the ghetto, but is spending her time usefully taking care of orphaned children.”
“That sounds like Sarah.” Thomas smiled.
“It seems they have been hiding two Jewish boys from the authorities. Now they wish to get them out and to a place of safety…” Johannson said.
“…It appears our forward planning is now to be tested.”
“You said they were hiding two boys?” Thomas asked wondering what the schoolmaster meant by using the plural.
“…is she with friends?”
“Yes, your wife has met her sister from the East…”Johannson said with a matter-of-fact tone. “…Selene I believe her name is.”
“She is with Selene?” Thomas smiled. The news came as such a surprise and it made him happy to think that she was with someone close. He tried to imagine them together and giggled quietly.
“Why, this news is amazing, I had no idea.”
“Amazing Thomas, but perhaps not fortuitous…” The old schoolmaster replied collecting his thoughts.
“…You have been sent by providence to take our plans to fruition but this may come at the cost of the people you love. Presently they are caring for two sick children and we must move them before the German’s find out. There are many risks but if we are to do this work we must be brave; it could be at our own peril.”
“What are you saying, Sir?” Thomas asked as he recalled what Sadhu had said, about becoming a conduit for angels, Thomas wondered if this was what he referred to. He was being called to nourish his higher self no matter the consequences.
“Not now Thomas…” Johannson replied. He placed an arm over Thomas’ shoulder and led him to the window.
“…Come back tomorrow at the same time; by then I’d have made arrangements with my contact in the ghetto. If the boys are to be smuggled to safety we must plan carefully. If you are willing I’ll arrange for you to take them to a safe house.”
“What about Sarah?”
“She and her sister are better where they are for now.”Johannson replied. “They are perfectly safe. I will arrange for you to see them.”
“Thank you.” Thomas replied. He readied himself to leave and drank the last from his glass. Thomas stopped by the patio door briefly to say goodbye.
“I will be here tomorrow as arranged. Please see if I can speak to my wife, although if not possible, I will understand.”
“I will do what I can.” Johannson replied. He watched as Thomas made his way across the school yard and into the trees. Thomas remembered his route earlier, retracing it to link up with his guide, so they could make their way back to the secret lair in the forest. This memory fragmented and shattered, like a glass mirror, exploding into a thousand tiny pieces as he found himself back in the confines of his underground burrow.
Thomas strained his eyes against the darkness as the smell of sewage filled his flared nostrils. He tried to adjust the way he was laying to take the strain from his back. Hearing the steady drip of water splashing somewhere in the darkness; calling out to his cracked and dry lips. Thomas could just manage to push his parched lips in the direction of the splashing liquid, to suck some into his mouth, and lick the rest from the dirty wall.
The liquid was cold and refreshing but, although just a spoonful was enough to quench his thirst, it left a worrying metallic aftertaste. Thomas did not dwell on its source and just hoped it would not poison his body further. He closed his eyes and attempted the meditation routine Sadhu had taught him all those hot summers ago; long before his current pain and degradation. Anything to take him out of the hell he was experiencing.
He felt the numbing sensation of relaxation start at his toes and up through his legs, across his thighs, hips and stomach and then over his chest. The waves of numbing relaxation swept across his shoulders, down his arms and into his fingertips.
Then up the back of his neck and over his head until all those small little muscles in his face dropped and relaxed totally. Then he was numb and completely relaxed, from the top of his head to the tip of his toes. Thomas felt the pain of hunger, the screaming pangs of disease emanating from his rotting foot, the desperate emptiness and loneliness which had been his only companion over the recent past, slip away like a thief in the night.
Now he was at peace, alone in his cold grave, the fruitless wants and desires of life far behind him. His consciousness was bleeding out of his tight skin, spilling into the night like a cut artery, as he lost sense of his body’s confines.
His being was everywhere, from the snowy wastes of the Russian tundra, to the hot and dusty grasslands of Africa. He heard the roar of lions echo and saw the whooping of lusty walrus calling their mates from the oceans. He was a dust devil swirling across the sandy dunes like a dervish. He was the silvery shimmer of ice crystals glinting on the arctic shelf and the flapping leaves of a rainforest fern tree.
His sense of oneness with the planet became total and he was lost in it. Hearing the call of baboons high over the Amazon and smelling the sweet scent of Cape orchids mix hazily with the sulphurous burst of ash and lava from the Fire Islands of Hawaii. Searing among the clouds his senses enveloped the equator as Thomas felt connected with life; linked to all living things.
Then he was far out in the blackness of space watching passing constellations of galaxies; riding the solar wind; star nurseries were his smile and his fingers touched speeding comets on their way through the great interstellar nothingness.
His sense of being was death, death no more, future death and death in the fusion of past lives. His consciousness was lost in the sea of transgression but hopeful of future salvation; he was here, now and everything. This was peace, a true peace, a noble understanding of what peace is, and what it should always be.
If death is life then he was now more alive than at any other time in his recent pasts. He was shimmering with luminous light and love and seeding the universe with its divine power. Focussing on our little blue pearl in its sea of blackness, further into the green belt of scarred earth that had held witness to two wicked wars. Thomas focussed further onto that small city that was blasted by powder and bled of love. He focussed on it and hoped his thoughts would heal that place; if only for a moment.
Somewhere in the city a ray of sunshine burst through the clouds and lit a small patch of sun starved earth. An elderly woman who had known too much pain in her life was tending a damp vegetable patch. Without prompting she was compelled to look up and, for an infinite moment, knew that love still existed in that place of death.
The hay-cart made its way noisily through the cobbled streets of Warsaw as the sun was beginning to go down. The shadows were getting long, as the horse that pulled the heavy cart snorted, grinding iron shoes on the chipped stone road. An old woman with a farmer’s lined face, watery eyes and warts, flicked the reigns secretly hoping the horse would outlive her. The world had become cruel and wicked recently and she cared no longer whether she lived or died.
“You there?” One of the ghetto guards shouted to her as she tugged the reigns. The cart, which had been rumbling down the street that ran alongside the ghetto, slowed and eventually stopped as a soldier approached.
“Where are you taking this cart?”
“I’m delivering hay to old Mrs. Vannas for her pets…” The old woman smiled toothlessly back. It was clearly a hollow gesture as the hatred was clear in those piercing watery eyes. The guard was used to seeing this look in the eyes of the locals and so long as they were not a threat he could put it aside. Only if the look was accompanied by an insult would he have made an issue; but this woman seemed harmless enough.
“…I do this every three months, she has rabbits you know, they’re good food when meat is scarce.”
The soldier waved her on and turned back to what he was doing as the cart continued to rumble down the narrow side street. He did not notice Sarah furtively watching from the window of her room as the cart came closer. When the old woman drove under the window, she pulled back on the reigns slightly, and the horse slowed momentarily. Not enough for anyone to notice but enough for the purpose it was designated.
In an instant a boy was dropped from the window onto the soft cushion of hay, he buried himself, and waited for another to drop beside him. In a blink of an eye both children were covered with hay and the cart rumbled forwards. Sarah peered from the window cautiously to ensure the boys were not seen. Escaping from the prison of the ghetto was instant death for them all had they been noticed.
The cart rumbled through the crumbling ruins of houses and businesses toward the Jewish cemetery and the woods beyond. As the old woman passed the freshly dug trenches, where the bodies of those recently murdered could just be seen under a thin covering of dirt, she whispered a little prayer. Calling on the Holy Mother to smite those who have transgressed against them; calling a host of angels to come and bring retribution upon the murderer’s heads.
Sarah closed the window and turned to face Selene, who had helped her drop the children into the cart, expecting a German soldier to storm into the room at any moment. She recognised her sister’s relief and sighed loudly as a light tap came from the door.
Both women held their breath and looked towards it with an impending sense of doom as another light rap echoed around the room. Had they been seen, Sarah wondered, was a group of Gestapo outside waiting to arrest them both?
“Get it.” She whispered and she took a deep breath sitting on the bed trying to calm her beating heart. Selene went to the door and pulled it ajar cautiously peering into the hall outside. There she saw a thin, young girl standing holding a bundle of rags in her arms.
“Can I help you?” Selene asked the young girl who smiled awkwardly and looked over her shoulder to ensure she wasn’t being observed.
“I must speak to you…” The girl whispered softly. The girl’s eyes looked red as if she had been crying recently and she mouthed the word please to convey her desperation. Selene pulled the door open and let the girl into the room before closing the door behind her.
“What do you want?” Sarah asked curtly standing and confronting the girl proudly. “We have nothing for you here.”
“I am sorry to disturb you like this.” The girl replied entering the room with the bundle clutched tightly in her arms. She bit her bottom lip anxiously, looked between the two sisters, and collected her thoughts.
“I live in the block near the gate, in a room with my two elderly aunts, mother and grandfather; we are all in the same room. The floor downstairs used to be occupied by my uncle and his children and some other families but last night they were taken.”
“Taken?” Selene asked coming around and sitting on the bed beside her sister.
“The block is being emptied and the people relocated…” The girl stuttered anxiously. “… Our floor is the only one occupied and I fear tonight they will come and take us too.”
“What has that got to do with us?” Sarah demanded to know. The girl took a deep breath and sighed.
“We all face relocation and it’s only a matter of time before…”
“I know you both work with the children from the Jewish orphanage.” The girl interjected cautiously.
She opened the bundle of rags in her arms and the sisters saw a child secreted there. It had been so quiet and well behaved neither had realised that the girl had a child in her arms; the sight of it took them both by surprise.
“This is my child…” The girl whispered with a small smile as she rocked the baby gently. “…I have not registered the birth and the Germans do not know that she even exists. I want you to take her and hide her among the other children because if they relocate us tonight my child might die. I have prayed that you may save her.”
“Whatever gave you that idea?” Selene asked as she stood and approached the girl. The baby was clean, well fed and looked happy enough in its mother’s arms. She looked at Sarah who pursed her lips and shook her head.
“We all know what relocation means.” The girl replied excitedly. “Even if the stories are not true she would not survive a long journey in a cattle truck. I’d rather leave her with you. I know she’d be looked after.”
“You will miss the child.” Sarah stated as she stepped to the window and looked down to the street below. She secretly wondered how they would get the baby out of the ghetto thinking that they could not drop it into a cart like they had done with the boys. Then it would need feeding and hiding until it could be smuggled out. What the girl was asking was full of risks and did she really want to subject herself and her sister to this.
“I will miss her with all my heart.” The girl wept quietly. “But I will be happy she is safe; if you could?”
“What about the child’s father, does he know you are here, what does he say?” Sarah asked. The girls looked at her and then toward the baby before replying.
“He knows it must be done…”The girl looked up and sighed. “…we both agree.”
“It’s risky…” Sarah said thinking aloud. “…anyway, when would you like us to take the child?”
“I will leave her with you now…”The girl replied. She dug around in the bundle of rags which covered the child and withdrew a small wad of notes.
“…my family collected this money for you, to feed the child. Please take it.”
The girl held the notes out towards Sarah who looked at them anxiously. She looked towards Selene who shrugged leaving the decision up to her. Sarah sighed loudly and took the notes tucking them into the neckline of her blouse; this would feed her charges for a couple of days.
“You’d better say goodbye to the child. Take your time because, when you do this, it may be the last time you ever see the child. No one must know about this arrangement; do you understand; no one!”
“I understand…” The girl wept softly. She stroked the child’s hair and passed the bundle over to Selene.
“…Her name is Ester, you will make sure she keeps this name, it was my grandmother’s name. It will be the only thing her mother ever gave her.”
“Yes, of course.” Sarah replied. She reached out and touched the girl’s arm and smiled.
“We’ll try, but be happy, you have given her something far more valuable than just a name.”
“Really?” The girl whispered wiping a tear from her eyes.
“You have given her life.” Sarah replied.
“Good…” The girl said. She pulled her shoulders back and composed herself.
“… I have done the right thing. Thank you both; I will pray for you.”
“When you leave this room…”Selene said clutching the child to her breast. The child looked up at her, so full of innocence and wonder, unaware of the sacrifice unfolding around her.
“…You cannot come back. You understand this; you must forget.”
“I will never forget my child…” The girl replied stepping to the door. “…but you will not see or hear from me again. Thank you, both.”
With that, she was gone.
“What a beautiful baby…” Selene cooed into the bundle of rags in which the child was wrapped. “…Little Ester, you chose a terrible time to have been born.”
“We must tell Wanda.” Sarah replied thinking quickly. It was one thing helping two boys jump from a window, they were old enough to fend for themselves once out of the ghetto, but a baby was different. It would need parenting all the way to safety and as their movements in and out of the ghetto were closely monitored it would be difficult to do this alone.
Whilma the orphanage manager, was able to leave the ghetto easily being on the Judenrat. She often went outside to collect children whose parents had been killed, or had some other emergency, which made them vulnerable.
As the two boys were, for all intent and purpose, dead as far as the ghetto records were concerned they would not be missed. The child was unregistered and would also be able to leave without being missed but, if it were found without papers, all sorts of problems would occur.
Whilma was able to get temporary guardianship papers for any child so they would have to risk telling her. Sarah was unsure if Whilma could be trusted as she had a somewhat cosy relationship with the ghetto guards. But, of course, this may be just a ploy to enable her to work without difficulties. Sarah had no option other than tell the woman.
“Are you sure?” Selene replied hesitantly. “She may not be trustworthy.”
“I know…”Sarah said softly stepping to the window and peering out at the quiet street below.
“…I don’t see we have much choice. I will go to her office and try to assess her reaction; if I think she is okay then we will have to tell her.”
“And if she is not okay?” Selene asked looking a little scared. She peered down at the small baby and quietly prayed to God that he would look over the three of them and bless them with his protection.
“Then we are all dead!” Sarah replied bluntly.
She was considering their options when she noticed Selene was crying quietly. Her younger sister was looking down at the small baby and tears were rolling down her face to collect in a dew drop at the end of her nose and chin. Sarah stepped to her sister’s side and lifted her head with one hand.
“Selene, darling…”She whispered looking into her eyes. “…what on earth is wrong?”
“It’s…” Selene stuttered taking a deep gulp as her lips trembled. “…it’s Conrad, oh Sarah, I am such a terrible person.”
“Conrad?” Sarah replied softly. She had asked about the child once before but was aware that it was a subject Selene was unable to tackle. Now her sister had raised the subject Sarah had to press her further.
“Tell me what is wrong; what about Conrad?”
“I killed my own child.” Selene cried. She reached over and passed Ester to her sister and then fell to the bed weeping inconsolably. Sarah looked down at her and tried to process what she had been told; surely it was not true.
“Don’t be silly…”She whispered. “…tell me what happened?”
“I killed my baby, Sarah, I am a terrible person.” It was all Selene would say. Sarah sat on the bed beside her grieving sister and sighed. She reached over and stroked her hair gently.
“Stop this…”Sarah said firmly. She pulled Selene’s shoulder and turned the crying woman so that they faced each other.
“…I don’t know what happened, Selene, but you must stop blaming yourself. We can talk about this at some other time but right now I need you to pull yourself together. We both have to be strong, do you think you can do this Selene, for me and for this little baby?”
Selene wiped her eyes and bit her bottom lip as she listened to her sister comforting words. Ester made a few chuckling sounds which drew her attention and Selene realised this was not the time to dwell on the past.
“Sorry, it’s just…”
“You don’t have to say anything…”Sarah interjected. She smiled and passed the child over to her sister once more; she had to be strong for them both.
“…Here. take this little one. We have things to do.”
A few minutes later she stood outside the orphanage manager’s door and composed herself before knocking softly. The sound of the manager’s voice called for her to enter and Sarah took a deep breath before pulling the door open and stepping into the office.
“Sarah?” The manager smiled. A plump, ruddy faced woman in her middle age, she wore a plain suit and white blouse; her once brown, but gray before its time, hair pulled back into a severe bun. She peered across the office, from behind a small desk, through a pair of horn-rimmed spectacles; her pen poised over a form.
“How nice to see you, but shouldn’t you be with the children?”
“Yes, Selene it with them…” Sarah replied. “…I am sorry to disturb you like this, but it is important.”
“Please sit.” Whilma said pointing with her pen towards a chair situated on the opposite side of the desk. Recognising the concern in her colleague’s expression, Wanda, sat forwards to give Sarah all her attention.
“Thank you.” Sarah replied doing as instructed and positioning herself across the desk. A thorny silence fell between both women and only the sound of distant bird calls and a lone dog barking could be heard. The manager placed her pen down on the desk and sat back in her chair.
“Well?” She said with a concerned frown.
“Let’s say…”Sarah began hesitantly, avoiding eye contact, keeping her voice low and steady. “…there was a woman who had a child?”
“A woman in the ghetto?” Whilma asked, slanting her head and raising an eyebrow.
“Yes.” Sarah replied. “Let’s say this child was unregistered, having just been born, and the mother was about to be relocated?”
“We’d have an obligation to make sure the child’s mother registered the child.” Whilma said softly. “The German’s have made this very clear.”
“But let’s say…”Sarah continued. “…the mother was unwilling to register the child, having heard that babies do not do well on the relocation journey, and having heard awful things about what young children can expect.”
“Rumours and gossip of course.” Whilma stated taking a deep breath and sighing.
“Yes, but worrying rumours, all the same.” Sarah continued. “So let us say this mother passed the child on to another, in the hope that it could be smuggled from the ghetto, and found a place of safety. The child, being unregistered, would not be missed.”
“But this is totally against the ghetto rules.” Whilma sighed. “Rules arranged with the German’s through the Judenrat.”
“Yes…”Sarah replied. “…but nevertheless, say this was happening. Would those who took the child be able to find assistance? Find help to get the child to a place of safety; or should they not even look to others for help?”
“They would be embarking on a dangerous journey….” The manager replied softly, getting up from her seat, and going to the office door. She opened the door a little and checked that the hall outside was empty before stepping back to resume her previous position.
“…A perilous and dangerous journey indeed.” She added.
Leaning across the desk and taking Sarah’s hand the older woman lowered her voice and whispered.
“They would have to be sure it was something they wanted to risk. Anyone who helps, would risk death, along with the child should they get caught.”
“I understand.”Sarah replied.
“Have you heard of Zegota?” Whilma whispered softly as her lips tensed.
“Zegota?” Sarah replied. She felt the older woman squeeze her hand and recognized the fear in her wrinkled eyes. Both women stared at each other and recognised an unsaid congruence.
“They can help….” Whilma said looking through her window into the small courtyard outside. From this vantage point she had a clear view of the ghetto gates and the soldiers who guarded it.
“Sarah…” She announced after a pause. “…collect the child and take it with you to the orphanage nursery. It is the safest place for an unregistered baby for the time being and will give us time to make a plan to get the child out through the gate.”
“Thank you Wanda.” Sarah sighed feeling all the tension and fear she had built up escape at once in that long breath. She stood and went to the door before looking back toward the manager who threw her a small smile.
“Say nothing…” Whilma said picking her pen up and going back to the form she was filling in.
“…say nothing about this to anyone. I will speak to you later in the day.”
“Thank you.” Sarah replied stepping from the office and closing the door behind her.
Later that day Whilma found herself in the basement of the building. She was under the rooms that were being used as a makeshift school for the orphanage; armed with a huge spanner. She quietly said a short prayer to the Holy Father before smashing the spanner across one of the water pipe’s valves.
Her expression sank into a quizzical frown seeing that her efforts had just chipped the paint from the iron handle. She gritted her teeth and brought the spanner down again with all the strength she could muster.
A stream of water gushed through the air, soaking her hair and clothing, as it thrust through a small crack the spanner had created. Wanda smiled, hid the spanner, and ran back through the building towards her office.
Twenty minutes later an elderly man carrying a large toolbox approached the guards on the ghetto gates; he showed the soldiers his papers as Whilma ran from the building towards them. The guards looked bemused as she thanked God for the man’s prompt response to her frantic telephone call.
“He’s here to mend a leak.” She explained to the guard who was still holding the man’s identity papers between his fingers. He gestured for the man to open his tool box and poked around inside for a few minutes to ensure no weapons were being smuggled in.
“Hurry, please…” Whilma shouted as she tugged at the man’s overalls. “…the basement is flooding.”
The two guards looked at each other before allowing the man to enter. He followed Whilma through the gates and small courtyard that her office overlooked. She unlocked a tall door and held it open as the man struggled into the building carrying his bulky tool box.
Whilma glanced back to the guards at the gates and was relieved the see that they continued with their duties with paying her, or her guest, any particular attention. She locked the door behind them both and led the man to the basement where water was now an inch deep. The old man removed his cloth cap and scratched his head as he examined the vandalised valve.
“This is very bad.” He sighed as water gushed across the basement. “I’m not sure if this can be repaired as parts are hard to come by; very, very hard to come by.”
“Don’t worry about that….” Whilma replied biting her lip anxiously. “Just stop the leak temporarily and we can do it properly later.”
“I can divert the flow.” The man replied scratching his head again. “It will stop the flood but it may mean there is no water from some of the building’s other taps.”
“That will do…” Whilma said with a note of urgency. “…Sort it out and then come to my office for payment. Do you know where my office is?”
“I will find it.” The man replied as Wanda turned on her heels and quickly left him to repair the damage she had caused earlier. The old man placed his cap on and sighed loudly watching her go. He then closely inspected the split in the valve and ran his coarse finger over the chipped paint.
“Hay diddle-diddle…” He smiled. “…I smell a fiddle.”
Over an hour later Whilma was in her office with Sarah. She was sitting on the edge of her desk while Sarah stood by the window looking anxious. Outside the guards checked papers and searched those coming into and out of the ghetto. The atmosphere in the officer was tight and heavy when a light tap came from the door. Both women looked nervously at one another and then towards the door. Whilma took a deep breath and stepped over, opening the door enough, to spy the plumber outside in the hall.
“Come in, quickly.” Whilma said, she looked up and down the hall, before closing the door behind him; Wanda looked toward Sarah. The man looked between both women with a tense expression and clutched his tool box as Whilma announced.
“This is one of my staff, she can be trusted.”
This relaxed the man and he placed his toolbox on the floor, clicked the latches, opened the lid and exposed the collection of spanners, pipe tapering tools and small saws. He fumbled among the tools further and clicked a hidden catch deep within the box. This allowed him to pull the tools out, collected in an oblong container, the exact dimensions of the tool box. Under the container was a well hidden space.
“Will this do?” The man asked. Wanda nodded towards Sarah and she stepped to the desk and opened the bottom drawer. Secreted within, the baby sleeping soundly, appeared totally unaware of the drama unfolding around it. Sarah wrapped the baby’s blankets tightly around the child and placed it in the bottom of the secret space.
“Will it have enough air?” She asked quietly.
“It will be okay for a while.” The man replied as he carefully placed the container full of his tools back into the toolbox completely covering the child.
“As long as the child sleeps it should be okay.”
Whilma watched him secure the hidden compartment and lock his toolbox before opening another drawer in the desk and taking a few small coins from an unlocked box. She gave these to the man and smiled.
“May God bless you?”She whispered.
“There is no water on the first floor.” The man said lifting his toolbox and stepping to the door. “I could do nothing about that.”
“Thank you, anyway.” Whilma replied. She looked towards Sarah who had gone back to her perch by the window.
“Next time…” The man smiled as he gave Whilma a sly wink. “…just unscrew the valve fully, that way I’ll be able to fix it without ordering parts.”
Both women looked embarrassed by the remark and Whilma chuckled a little going to join him at the office door.
“I will go with you to the gate.” She said as the man opened the office door. Sarah watched cautiously as they left the building and stepped into the court yard. They walked gingerly towards the gate and Sarah held her breath. One of the guards stopped what he was doing and watched as the two walked towards him. She thought his grip on his machine gun looked tight and the look in his eyes seemed suspicious as Whilma and the man approached the gate.
The old man took his papers from his pocket and waved them in one of the guard’s face while the other stopped people trying to enter the ghetto. Whilma smiled at the guard explaining that the emergency was now over and all was back to normal. The guard took the man’s papers and examined them closely as his companion guard stopped talking to a group of women and looked over at the old man. Sarah’s breathing was tense and laboured as the seconds ticked by.
She could see the second guard screwing up his face and looking down at the old man’s tool box. He suddenly glanced up towards the window Sarah was peering from and she hurriedly stepped to the side out of his sight; panting loudly in the thick office air.
After a few moments she cautiously looked back and saw the old man had gone. The guards were talking to some others and Whilma was walking across the courtyard hiding a secret smile. Sarah sank to her knees and, in the solitude of that lonely office, closed her eyes and prayed to her God. It may have been Elijah, it may have been the Holy Ghost, Allah or even Buddha. She prayed to every deity she could think of; thanking them all for watching over her.
The Mouse Roared Back
December in Warsaw is always cold but 1942 was particularly so. Thick ice covered every exposed surface and hung from the bare trees in long glass-like fingers. The smell of fire-wood was heavy in the air as, whoever was still in the shattered city, tried to combat the weather with whatever combustibles could be found; coal being unavailable. It was not unusual to pass a frozen corpse, locked in its final death throes, on top the snow drifts.
In the forested hills that overlooked the city a group of shadows hunkered down among the frozen undergrowth and listened intently. The cold air was quite and still, but for the occasional shrill of bats, or the far off screams of the tormented souls. The city was dark beneath them and even if they did have a clear view; which was impossible because of the growth of trees; not much would be seen beside the occasional fire which warmed German guards waiting to catch people breaking the curfew.
Suddenly the hum of a far off engine broke the silence and the shadows emerged from their hidden lairs among the trees and looked into the dark sky. As the hum grew into a distinct drone they looked at the blanket of stars and watched a small aircraft approach low over the tree tops. In a moment the dark shape of a man dashed from the trees and lit previously arranged flairs set in the turf.
Soon the un-lit aircraft came slowly from the south and flew over the flairs dropping long metal canisters attached to grey parachutes. The fell silently, like leaves from an autumn tree, and softly landed in the dark clearing; as the aircraft faded away to a distant hum. The shadows swiftly doused the flairs with water and converged on the parachutes; folding them away and then disappearing into the tree line with the canisters.
It took Rulf, Waldo, Thomas and the others, some forty minutes to reach their camp in the trees. A huge marquee had been erected in a clearing which was camouflaged by branches and leafs to obscure it from German search planes which regularly overflew the camp.
Inside a wood burner was throwing out heat while taking the smoke into a long metal tube to be dispersed unseen through a charcoal filter some distance away. Unseen under the marquee awning, the metal canisters were opened, revealing the consignment of arms sent by the Polish Government in Exile from their headquarters in London.
“This is what I’m talking about.” Rulf exclaimed taking one of the squat light Thompson machine guns and cocking it.
“What about the C4?” Waldo asked as he sought through the packaging. At last, under a box containing ammunition, he found a pound of white plastic explosive and several small detonators bound in tape.
“Are the grenades there?” Rulf asked placing the machine gun on the grass and leaning over Waldo’s shoulder.
“Here…” One of the women replied from the other side of the marquee. She had been digging into another canister and now proudly held up a small British made grenade.
“…are these what you are looking for?”
“Good…” Rulf said with a haughty belly-laugh. “…it looks like they understood what we wanted. Now we have to get a message to the ghetto.”
“I will go.” Thomas announced without hesitation. A tense hush fell over those around him as Rulf took off his cloth cap and rubbed his eyes while he thought.
“This is not what I wanted, Thomas…” Rulf said softly. “…you don’t exist and so have the ability to walk unseen. There are other important jobs, much better suited to your current status than this, my friend.”
“But Rulf…”Thomas replied sombrely. He lowered his voice and placed an arm over his friend whispering. “…this is something I have to do. There is somebody…”
“Sarah?” Rulf interjected. He was aware that they had not spoken to each other since she had been taken by the secret police and that it may be their last time; if only to say goodbye.
“I must go.” Thomas said in a determined way that refused argument. Rulf nodded and agreed knowing that there was no point trying to persuade him otherwise.
“You and the lad will go together.” Rulf announced after a short thoughtful pause. He looked around the tent and his gaze landed upon a teenage boy. He had joined the group when his parents had been murdered by the Gestapo. He had searched the forest for three days looking for the partisans and Rulf had been impressed by the boy’s determination.
The boy, Lech, was 16 but looked many years younger, due to bad diet and lack of nourishment during his formative years, was from a small hamlet outside Gdansk. It was in that disputed area between the German and Russian spheres of influence, and like many others, his family had chosen to flee to the German side even though their papers stated they should be in the Russian controlled zone.
It was here that both his parents lost their lives, bravely sacrificing themselves on the fire from a Gestapo machinegun while their son took advantage of the distraction. He had slipped away alone and in grief, behind the checkpoint and into German held territory. It had not taken the boy long to find out that the city streets were dangerous for people without papers and soon he was in the forest above Warsaw seeking out the partisans.
“Lech?” Rulf said beckoning the boy to the group of men. He looked eager and filled with youthful enthusiasm but they all knew this would not be enough to save him if caught. Consequently the adults had given him some small arms training and also worked out a cover story should he be stopped while on an errand. They hoped his size would persuade any nosy German’s that here was a child momentarily separated from his parents.
“You know Thomas?” Rulf asked nodding towards Thomas. The boy smiled and nodded.
“Of course…” Lech replied cheerily. Waldo took one of his great hands and rubbed the boy’s thick mop of hair. “…I know everyone. He’s my best friend”
“Can you help him make way to the Jewish cemetery?”
“Why there?” Thomas asked looking a little confused. Waldo and Lech smiled at each other before answering simultaneously.
“It’s where the sewer outflows.” They replied in unison, much to the boy’s amusement.
Keeping to the trees, and only venturing onto the open spaces when they approached the outskirts of Warsaw, Lech and Thomas made their way shortly after; ensuring the roads were clear from the ditches that ran alongside forest they furtively. They saw the cemetery gates a little way ahead of them and stealthily headed for a large man-hole cover just beside it.
Lech had done this manoeuvre many times in the recent past and used a hand-made grip to remove the cover in seconds; this allowed both men to stealthily drop into the sewer. Lech immediately pulled the heavy iron cover back into place.
“What now?” Thomas whispered in that dark and musty tunnel. They were at the western junction, of several deep underground sewer pipes, each come from the north, south and east and converge into one main outlet at this point.
“Follow me.” The boy smiled.
Thomas lit a small oil lamp and the scene was cast in creeping shadows as he was led through the pipes further into the city. Thomas followed in silence as the boy expertly guided the way. He stopped occasionally and indicated deep chasms, here and there along their journey, which someone less experienced would have fallen into.
The further they progressed, the more greasy underfoot it became, so Thomas had to concentrate to keep his footing in that damp and humid place. He wondered how the boy knew where they were considering there were no apparent markers or signs. At no point did he inspect a map or stop to get his bearings; Lech just headed onward with a determined and confident poise that belied his young age.
Thomas felt the pistol in his jacket pocket, which Waldo had given him earlier, and tried to hold each breath. His natural gag reflex was being severely tested as the atmosphere became thick with the acrid stink of effluent. Eventually, after a journey of half an hour or so, Lech stopped in his tracks and held a frozen pose for a moment. Only the sound of air rushing through his nostrils gave an indication the boy was breathing as they paused in the darkness.
Thomas frowned and examined his companion to ascertain why they had stopped and what he was listening intently for. After an immeasurable period of time, it may have been a couple of seconds or even a few minutes, Lech blew out the lamp and both were plunged into an impenetrable darkness through which nothing could be seen. Thomas heard the sound of something moving above them and this was Lech’s cue to tap gently on a nearby iron pipe. His rapping was returned by a similar number of raps; which Lech returned.
Then the sound of iron against iron echoed about them before both men were illuminated in a beam of bright light from high above; a service cover was lifted in the basement of one of the ghetto’s empty buildings directly above their heads.
“Are you okay?” A woman’s voice asked as Thomas adjusted his vision to see the face of Whilma peering down nervously. Lech nodded and climbed the greasy ladder that led from the service hatch down to where they stood and Thomas followed. After his head raised above the hatch Thomas could see the basement fully, then almost in slow motion, Whilma stepped to one side and the glorious vision of Sarah appeared behind her.
Their eyes met and the world stopped on its axis for a brief moment, a period of infinite beauty and intense emotion, during which all the troubles of the world disappeared into insignificance. Star crossed lovers, torn apart by an evil malevolence beyond their control, now found themselves unexpectedly reunited. Sarah’s jaw dropped and the colour drained from her cheeks as Thomas dragged himself from the sewer and stepped towards her.
“I see you two know each other.” Whilma smiled as they fell into each other’s arms kissing excitedly. Thomas had to try very hard to stop himself breaking down such was the relief to have his wife in his arms again. He had gone through the journey hoping to seek her out, to find where she was in that awful place, but never expected to see her as part of their greeting party. Now they were together the sense of relief was overwhelming and he did not want to let her go.
“I was told you were dead.” Sarah stuttered when she got the chance to speak. She pulled Thomas close and felt tears welling up in her eyes. Sarah remembered the grief which had tortured her, following the news that he was dead; murdered by the Gestapo. Now having him there, filled her with intense, and confusing emotions.
“I don’t understand…” Sarah whispered through her tears. Thomas squeezed her so tightly the breath was forced from her lungs.
“…the Gestapo shot you, I was told by the Judenrat , you were executed and buried in the old cemetery. How, why…” Her voice trailed off as she recalled those desperate nights spent crying into her pillow. Her grief was in vein; he was alive and they were together again. Nothing else mattered.
“It’s a long story.” Thomas replied as he gently wiped a tear from her cheek. Whilma coughed restlessly and they looked around to see Lech replacing the service cover over the hatch.
“This is all very beautiful…” Whilma said with a smile. “…But we can’t be found down here, this building has been cleared, soldiers may come if they see people using it. We must cross the square and back to the orphanage. Quickly, follow me.”
Whilma and Sarah led the two men up a set of dark stairs to a large set of doors on ground level. Peering into the empty yard and ensuring the gate guards were in the warmth of their hut, out of sight, the four silently crossed the small square and entered their building’s ground floor entrance.
Sarah locked the double doors behind them as they made their way to the office on the first floor. Once inside a visible sigh of relief crossed the group and they relaxed a little; but not completely.
“This place is like a ghost town…” Thomas said after a short pause. “…the last time, I came by, the ghetto it was so packed; there were people everywhere. Where have they all gone?”
“The ghetto commandant…” Sarah replied hesitantly. “…SS-Oberführer Ferdinand von Sammern-Frankenegg, told the Judenrat that people were going to be relocated to the East.”
“Since April they have been taking several thousand each week…” Whilma added. She looked toward Sarah who urged her to continue.
“…and there’s the curfew , of course. When Adam…”
“Adam Czerniaków, the head of the Judenrat.” Sarah interjected.
“Yes…” Whilma continued. Her expression became forlorn and wistful. She paused and looked thoughtful for a moment recalling something emotional.
“… when Adam realised that this term ‘relocation to the East’, was really a euphemism for extermination, he killed himself; hung from the beams of his office ceiling until discovered by his wife. No-one realised, that these criminals would begin murdering us, well who would? Men, woman and children, in groups of 7000 at a time, have been relocated; relocated in cold blood.”
“Now that we do know…” Sarah said softly. “…we have decided to fight. Those of us left, would rather die on our feet fighting, than slaughtered on our knees. We hope you have news about our request for arms?”
“We do.” Lech replied. “There will be a delivery of guns and other weapons tomorrow at this time.”
“You must come back tonight with us, Sarah…” Thomas said through gritted teeth. “…if you stay here you could be killed.”
“What?” Sarah replied obviously perturbed by the remark. She shook her head and faced him with a look of steely determination in her eyes.
“You must be joking. Do you think I am going to run, now, and leave my friends to die for me; you must be mad.”
“But, Sarah, we have been reunited by providence…” Thomas replied. “…I don’t know what I would do if anything happened to you; you must come back with us.”
“That…”Sarah said indignantly. “…Is not going to happen. Did you know Selene is here with me?”
“I heard, but what about Henri and the children?” Thomas replied. Sarah looked away with a small frown; he knew then that they were all probably dead.
“Then you both must come back with us.”
“It’s not going to happen.” Sarah said forcefully. “Thomas, a lot has happened since I saw you last. I am no longer the dutiful wife who was dragged away by the Gestapo. I have had to grow up a lot and this place has made me hard. The time has come for us to put our own needs to one side and look at the bigger picture; I am ready to fight and die if I have to. It is not fair for you to try to persuade me otherwise. It is my calling.”
“But I’d never forgive myself.” Thomas replied softly. “I’d never be happy again.”
“Neither would I…”Sarah said reaching out to take his hand in hers. “…If I run like a dog and my friends die in my name. I would never be able to hold my head high again.”
“If you want to take someone from here tonight…” Whilma said excitedly. “…take a group of the children. I have been told that they are to be relocated in two days and when the Germans come for them I want this orphanage empty.”
“Yes. We can take a group with us tonight.” Lech replied with an enthusiastic smile. “Tomorrow we will take another group.”
“Okay.” Thomas agreed with a wry grin. He looked about the room and saw this was one argument he was not going to win.
“How many are ready to go back with us?”
“Only the elder children…”Lech added. “…It’s quite a walk so we want those who do not need too much supervision.”
“Sarah?” Whilma said going to her desk. “Find Selene and go to the boy’s dorm; get a group of twenty ready.”
“Only twenty?” Sarah replied reaching the door and peering back towards her boss.
“I don’t want the German’s to notice…” Whilma said as Sarah opened the door and stepped into the hall. “… twenty are a manageable group and we can get them ready quickly. And Sarah; remember Just the older boys please.”
They managed to get a few moments alone together before Thomas, Lech and the children left. Sarah took him to a private room and, fully dressed and with a cautious ear listening to sounds outside, they had a passionate reunion. In those few snatched moments of intimacy both could almost imagine that they were back in their little home before the shocking misery of war descended about them.
“I’m sorry.” Sarah had said quietly as she led him by the hand to a small side room.
“I understand…”Thomas replied, almost breaking down, as the words formed in his mouth. “…when you said it was your calling; I understood immediately. In these troubled times we have all been called.”
In that brief moment of tenderness no words were spoken. Only the sound of two hearts beating was all that passed between them; in the stillness before the storm. A tap on the door brought the moment to an end, and soon they were back in the basement of the empty building next door, with a rag tag collection of half starved boys.
They arranged to deliver twenty light machine guns, grenades and revolvers to the Jewish rebel force in the Ghetto the following day. These would be stored with the other arms the group had collected, a few other home- made guns and molitov cocktails, in readiness for the day the revolt began.
Sarah, Whilma and Selene watched Thomas and Lech help the children into the sewer and said their final goodbyes; unaware if they would ever meet again. Sarah caught one last glimpse of her husband’s eyes before the service cover was replaced over the hatch and resigned herself to the inevitable. Whereas Thomas was determined to return and swore to work toward that end with every effort he could muster.
The journey back through the dark and greasy tunnels was painfully slow compared to how long the forward journey had taken. Lech led the way again and the line of children followed his flickering lamplight holding hands in single file. Thomas provided the rear guard and made sure no one was left behind. The child nearest to him was a short ten year old called Calig who had a mop of thick brown hair, and large round brown eyes, which seemed to light up the dark passages as the group walked on.
Lech stopped at one point and turned his faint lamp to illuminate the line of children. Thomas strained his eyes to see he was indicating one of the deep crevices they had avoided on the journey there.
“Children!” Lech whispered softly, making sure they were all aware of the chasm, illuminated in the beam of the lamp.
“This hole is very deep and dangerous. Keep to the ledge and be careful.”
With that he carefully traversed the chasm and stood back to help the first child cross. The children displayed so much courage as they carefully picked their way across the deep crevice, being urged on by Lech, heeding his warnings not to look down.
Eventually Calig was the last to cross and as he picked his way cautiously one foot lost its grip on the greasy ledge and he slipped into the darkness. Thomas, who had the child’s coat tightly in his grip, ensured the child did not disappear into the hole, as both he and Calig teetered on the edge for a few tense moments.
“Grab the child’s arm.” Thomas shouted as he felt the child’s jacket slipping through his grip. The ledge had gradually become more and more caked in grease with every child who crossed and now it held little traction for both he and Calig. Thomas felt his shoes slipping into the crevice and looked for something to hold.
Lech placed the lamp on the floor of the sewer and reached across the chasm towards the dangling child who by now was shaking with terror; his tiny body slipping though the frail coat he wore. Just as he slipped though fully Lech was able to grab the child’s wrist, Thomas held his breath as the child swung back and forth, on the end of Lech’s outstretched hands. Then with an almost superhuman strength Lech swung the child up and onto the damp sewer floor as Thomas watched the boy’s coat disappear into the deep.
“My coat!” The boy whined as the tattered piece of clothing fell into the depths. His eyes filled with tears and both adults wondered whether it was the fact he’d nearly gone the same way, or that his coat had gone, that upset him so.
“My mother gave me that coat.” The boy said softly explaining why he was crying so bitterly. Thomas crossed the chasm and knelt by the boy’s side removing his own jacket and placing it over the child’s shoulders.
“Don’t worry…”Thomas whispered with a small smile. “…we’ll get you another one.”
As the sun set over the cemetery gates, casting long shadows across the dusty road leading from the city, Lech and Thomas guided the group of boys through the ditches and over the bombed out ruins of old houses to the tree line.
It was dark by the time they found the camp in the centre of the forest and the women who formed part of the camp made the children welcome. The little ones looked tired and hungry and their eyes lit up like stars in the black sky when small bowls of meat soup were given to them.
In the ghetto the daily soup was always thin and vegetable, now having potato and sausage and bread, made them think they had gone to heaven. A tent was set up to house the children for the time being. They would have to stay with the partisans until arrangements could be made to smuggle them further from the city; Thomas knew exactly who would help with this.
By now Zegota had a well executed plan to smuggle children through the country to take them to a place of safety. This plan would be sourly tested taking so many children at once, previously only one or two had gone at each time, so planning would take time. Radio contact was made with those who oversaw the escape and those who offered safe houses and other support were put on notice that they would be especially busy over the coming weeks.
The following day Lech and Waldo made their way to the cemetery with a case of weapons ensuring to keep to the tree line and out of sight. Eventually they were in the sewer and under the service cover in the basement of the building as arranged. They pulled the wooden case up through the hatch and carried it to the basement of another building in Muranowska Street; which was being used as an armoury.
The two men who accompanied Whilma and Sarah, Marek and Chalis, smiled widely as they helped Waldo prise the case open. They each pulled machine guns from the case laughing like children on Christmas morning; eagerly cocking the weapons and inspected the sights.
“These are very nice.” Marek smiled, pulling a long loop of shells from the case, and hanging them from his shoulders. He pulled a typically heroic pose in an attempt to impress the women but they just giggled.
“Is it true what the old women say?” Selene asked as she poked her sister in the ribs.
“Men with big guns have very small…”
“Calm down, calm down…” Waldo scowled as he loaded a small revolver. “…these weapons are not toys.”
“Yes, tell me about it…” Chalis exclaimed. “…only yesterday we had to pay 40.000 zloti for a Polish made machine gun, one gun. These look like British made Vickers; they’re much better quality.”
“It was from one of our own, a Pole?” Sarah sniffed. “The bastard saw you coming; if I was there I would have shot the asshole.”
“How many more can you get for us?” Marek asked turning to look at Waldo.
“More, what do you mean?” Waldo replied looking slightly perturbed. He took off his cap and scratched his head. The lines on his face creased into thick furrows and his eyes tensed up as Waldo thought about the question.
“Well?” Chalis asked as the others stopped what they were doing and spied Waldo intently.
“These can’t be all you are giving us.”
The others looked at Waldo expectantly but, by his forlorn expression, understood he was not going to tell them what they wanted to hear.
“We have money…”Marek added as he withdrew a wad of zloti from his jacket pocket.
“…if that’s what the problem is, we will pay.”
“It’s not that.” Waldo replied softly, he sighed loudly, and bit his bottom lip as his shoulders slumped.
“Well, what is the problem?” Sarah asked sharply.
“Look people, it’s like this…” Waldo replied through gritted teeth. “… we need all the arms we can get. At some point we’ll be taking these bastards on ourselves and, when that happens, we will need all the weapons we can beg borrow or steal.”
“In the meantime we are being murdered.” Sarah sniffed taking one of the revolvers from the case and checking the chamber. She aimed it at Waldo’s head and, in a moment of silent contemplation, the group froze with tension. Her expression was intense as Sarah’s finger slipped over the gun’s trigger. Marek stepped forward and pushed the revolver down to her side with one hand; although he was laughing the mood remained tense.
“As you see, we are eager to fight.” Marek smiled.
“We all have to make do…” Waldo shrugged. “…I’m sorry.”
He thought for a while, sucking air through his teeth and rubbing his unshaved chin thoughtfully, before deciding what to say.
“How about this?” Waldo announced. “You give me a date when you know what you are going to do and I will send you some extra men to help. Thomas would jump at the chance to come and give you a hand and I will ask for other volunteers. As long as the sewer is free for escape; you may all be able to get out before the German’s break through and bring your weapons with you.”
“That’s better than nothing…” Marek replied throwing his hand into Waldo’s and shaking it enthusiastically.
“We’ll take any guns from them…” Chalis added enthusiastically. “…any German we kill will be relieved of everything. We could end up with more weapons than what we started with.”
“Well….” Waldo replied nodding at the thought. “…anything is possible.”
Midnight, Warsaw Ghetto..
The winter passed quickly as the orphanage emptied right under the eyes of the German guards. Every day the Soldiers collected groups of men, women and children but never checked where in the ghetto they had been living. The huddled groups of half starved and terrified families were just like any other cargo to be rounded up and shipped out. As long as they did what they were ordered to do and did not make any fuss their guards did the same. Guarding the ghetto was better than fighting the communists in the east and these posts were highly prised amongst the German troops. They did what they were ordered to do by their generals and kept their heads down, herding frightened families was infinitely better than dodging red bullets in Stalingrad.
Other ghetto parents were given the option of allowing their young ones to escape and some volunteered to fight when their children had left; others decided that family is better off together no matter what awaited them. Twice a week men came from the partisan camp to the service hatch in the basement of the empty building. They secretly collected groups of kids, in a well rehearsed and executed routine, and reported back to Waldo’s partisans what those in the ghetto were planning.
Late one cold evening at the beginning of April a group of men and women gathered around a hand drawn map in candlelight. The women hid their hair hidden under berets or black scarves and most of the men wore dark caps. Some had light machine guns across their shoulders or revolvers tucked into the waistband of their trousers; all their planning had led to this moment and the sense of excitement was palpable.
Marek smoked a cigarette and waved his hand across the map for a moment, placed his nicotine stained index finger in the centre, and addressed the others.
“Muranowski Square…” He said, inspecting the group wearily, barely mustering a smile.
“…this is where we’ll make our stand. We’ll form small groups, a group on the first floor of this eastern building, and group in this building to the west; I will lead the group here, in this northern building. As they approach from the south they’ll be funnelled into our crossfire. As long as we all aim our fire down we should avoid causing casualties amongst ourselves.”
He sighed loudly and, placing his arms over those on either side, Marek added solemnly.
“Friends, many of us are going to die in the hours to come, but we are here for one thing only; to drive a knife through the heart of our oppressors. To let them know that there are consequences for their actions.
Before the bloodshed begins I want us to remember Adam, a man forced to send the people he loved, people he cherished, to a certain death. He was a man who would rather die than have their blood on his hands.
He was just one, but each of us have lost loved one’s recently, so it is them we are gathered here to celebrate; to remember. Their ghosts are guiding us and their spirits watch our backs in this moment of glory. It is for them and the others that we fight and, more so, we will lay down our lives for the pride of this great nation. I am proud to say that i am a Jew, a Polish Jew. I am a proud Pole and a prouder Jew but I have never met a braver group of people than those gathered here tonight.”
He looked around the room and, each of those his eyes focussed on, looked back with eagerness and dignity; they were ready and prepared to lose their lives for this cause. Thomas, who stood on the other side of the table, squeezed Sarah’s hand tightly, as Chalis tapped the map.
“Their armoured vehicles will not be able to proceed past this point…” The bearded man stated. He was one of the volunteer partisans who had arrived earlier that morning with Waldo, Thomas and some others. He leant down and examined the narrow street that led from the gates to the square.
“…their guns will have us all in its sights….” He added. “…This northern building will be the first to get pounded. Waldo, wouldn’t it be better, if you were here in the east?”
“Yes, I want Waldo’s men covering the building in the east…” Marek replied. “…Sarah and Selene are to be with them, so when the time comes the women can reach the escape route easily. We have a landmine which I want placed in this road to take out the first armoured vehicle; and its gun when it comes. If we can have a team in this building, here, any further vehicles can be taken out by them.”
Marek placed his finger along the road leading from the gates to the square and tapped the northern position while he thought for a moment. It was a spot where escape would be impossible once the firing started and the building most likely to be demolished by the armoured vehicles artillery.
“Of course, I would not order anyone to take this position, volunteers only please…” He looked up at the group again. An elderly man with wide shoulders and a thick mop of gray hair nodded.
“I will go there…” He replied firmly. “…if I show my position, once the first vehicle is taken out by the mine, their attention will be focussed ahead. They will not realise they are in a killing zone until it’s too late. If I can take out the bastards in any further vehicles I will. I may be able to get to the sewer once my ammo has gone; it not, well, I am ready to cover Marek’s escape.”
“Thank you Hyme…” Marek replied through pursed lips. “…take as much ammunition as you can carry and make sure you are in position from sun up. I will join you once I have laid the mine.”
“Has the last group of children left yet?” Selene asked looking towards Sarah. Sarah placed a revolver in her shoulder holster and nodded.
“Lech came for them an hour ago…” She replied looking across the room with a cold expression.
“…I made sure Whilma went with them although she was determined to stay. The children and Lech needed her to guard the rear.”
“Okay…” Marek said folding the map and looking at the group with a determined expression. He ran one hand through his thick mop of black hair and tensed his eyes; making the small lines in each corner crease slightly. This was the only indication of his inner tension and even this disappeared as he proudly threw back his shoulders and addressed the group.
“…the Germans will be aware, that we are not playing their games any longer, quite early. When they enter the ghetto and see it deserted no doubt they’ll be on edge from the start. Keep your heads down and make sure no shots are fired until they are in the killing zone.
If they are alerted to our ambush too early they will take position and it will become a siege; this must be avoided at all costs. When they are in the killing zone I will make the first shot and then, my friends, make every shell count. Those of us with machine guns, try not to spray wildly, wait till a group can be taken out and then shoot.
When that mine goes off it will block that road, they will be forced to leave their vehicles and come into the killing zone on foot. We’ve deliberately blocked all the other roads that lead from the square; there is one way in and one way out. Hyme will make sure they can’t come further.
Eventually they’ll go around and get over the walls behind us and, when they do, I want Waldo’s men and the women to go; no heroics please. I don’t expect to escape myself but, remember this, I will not be dying on my knees. I will die a man, a proud Polish Jew, with the blood of these fascists on my hands.
We may never see each other again, if this is the case, I have been blessed to have you as my friends. When the time comes we may only take out a few hundred, perhaps more, perhaps less, but this will strike terror in their hearts. They will learn that not every Jew can be slaughtered like a dog. They will find out that if you treat people like animals some will have the heart to turn and bite back. This morning we rise up people, like David fighting Goliath, our vengeance is for all those slaughtered before us; it will stick like a dagger in their hearts and be remembered for all time.
Today it will be their blood on the streets, their mothers grieving, their wives widowed and their children orphaned. Today this dog bites back and they will never forget the mauling they’ll receive. So people, good luck, and god bless you all. ”
7th April 43
One of the guards on the gates looked toward the courtyard and the road that ran alongside it with his clipboard in hand. The regular deportation notice had been displayed the previous evening, telling the occupants of building ten to twenty, to be ready at dawn in the courtyard. Looking around to see not one had obeyed this notice left him a little confused.
Since deportations had started every morning there were groups waiting patiently, expectantly, standing anxiously to be loaded into trucks and taken to the train station. They were little family groups consisting of desperate aunts, uncles, mothers and fathers; their children and their elderly.
Of course in the beginning the groups would be several hundred strong, from early in the morning until late in the day, group after group of people were herded out like cattle in their thousands. As the months went by the groups became fewer and, as the days got warmer, even these dwindled from the thousands to the hundreds. Recently only two or three groups were shipped out each day.
There should have been at least two hundred people from the last occupied blocks waiting in the courtyard this morning; seeing it empty made the guard scratch his head. He went into the little hut which stood beside the huge, iron gate and picked up a telephone receiver to call head quarters. He was perplexed and, as this expression of confused anxiety crossed his face, a few hundred feet ahead in the deepest and darkest confines of the ghetto, a small voice whispered,
“It’s almost time.”
The slow dripping of ice cold water filtered through the dark earth and formed small streams. These seeped through limestone and the misery of heartbroken families, who put their dead in the cold dirt, as it washed through their cherished rotting bodies. The contaminated liquid eventually soaked through the ground till it dripped into that dark and rat infested manifestation of murderous war damage hell which was his underground lair.
Dripping near the stark- staring eyes, the unfocused pupils and cracked lips, of a man dying slowly. Amid limestone stalagmites of drip, drip, dripping sewerage, Thomas sucked filthy air into his lungs, and listened. It was a sewer cathedral whose incessant drip, drip, dripping rang out like celestial bells through the halls of Thomas Sandoski’s mind driving him almost to the edge of insanity.
No more the sanguine choir-like drone of clerics mouthing divine proverbs, that only rats could understand, in the drip, drip, darkness. Thomas watched with dry, cracked lips, parched as a desert dune; as the dream-like images of old filtered through the limestone rock of his withered mind.
His perfectly natural chilled bones, the nauseating smell of maggot eaten foot flesh; his insect body adjusting to the un-natural comfort of agonising pain. The poisonous throbbing of his rotting meat, thick and nagging, was like the ticking of an ANGRY clock; tick-tocking his life away. This pain was all that marked the seconds, minutes and hours of his lingering death. They were the hands, ticking their way through an immeasurable moment; an indefinable period of long and lonely, grave-less death.
“Thomas?” Sarah whispered as her shimmering, gossamer form lit his face; dispelling any illusion of depravity, which had been the mask he’d worn. He strained his eyes no more as her visage illuminated the dark recesses of his grave. He had not heard her approaching nor seen the dimly glimmering yellow sun-light emanating from the lamp she carried. His breathless eyes adjusted to the warm scent of her clean flesh and his chapped lips seemed to smile a crooked, almost palsied, wonky grin.
“Sarah?” He heard his throat stutter. “…Is that really you?”
“Yes my darling…” She beamed, so beautiful in the midst of so much ugliness, so sublime that her features were a disinfected field of summer flowers growing between the tombstones of his pain.
“…we have been searching for you.”
“We?” He asked.
Thomas slowly turned his gaze and his strained vision recognised the bright features of his friend, the Sadhu, seated to his right. The two heavenly visitations were so antiseptic and glowing and bright that a pale aura of halo seemed to surround the picture frame of them. A magical hue of shimmering gold and silver, blue and the prettiest violet Thomas had ever seen.
“Rest my friend…” The Sadhu whispered gently. “…you are safe now.”
Sarah stroked his cheek and supported his broken body as the Sadhu placed a beaker of cold water to Thomas’ dry, cracked lips. He gorged himself on the life giving liquid as he felt in enter his body like the bright white light of angels breath; bringing subtle but oh-so delicious nourishment to his withered frame.
“How did you find me?” Thomas asked between deep gulps of water. Thomas was tapping his last vestiges of strength to enquire, only to find, her soft index finger cross his parched lips hushing him down. She took his hand in hers.
“Were we not taught…” The Sadhu replied like a cool breeze amidst the hissing of summer lawns.
“…were we not told to seek is to find?”
Sarah took the softest of silk and patted the dirt from her husband’s forehead and used a sea sponge to tend his dry lips as Thomas tried to smile his delight at seeing his friends. The star crossed lovers and the Sadhu rejoiced in solemn silence as tears took to rolling down Thomas’ face. They formed a pond for them to sit beside. Characters in the withered pages of well loved summer romance.
“This reminds me….” Sarah whispered on the gentle wind. “…of the last time we saw each other.”
How could he forget?
They formed a barricade across that part of the ghetto where the tall empty buildings created a natural wedge; as the roads converged deep within that tight warren of misery. Now on the gate side of the complex a battle-hardened division of SS warriors formed. Here on the other side of the barricade Thomas, Sarah, Selene, Rolf and the others prepared to make their stand.
The German officers were sure several hundred Jews were hiding back there and were unsure if they were armed or just possessed the sniper rifle that killed one of their brothers earlier that morning. Just after one of the gate guards called head quarters to report that the deportation notice had been ignored a single shot rang out. It entered the side of the small hut and straight through the guard’s head as he was about to hang the receiver up. Now they knew they faced resistance and felt only a sledgehammer response was likely to crack this nut of Jewish upstarts.
Resisting enforced relocation (to the east) was no less an insult to the notion of German superiority than the murder of an army officer. It had to be stamped out before every Jew got rebellious ideas in their small brains. These mutinous ideas could spread like a virus, unless speedily torn out and trampled upon, in the most heinous manner available. Even if the rebels were half starved women and babes in arms; they deserved every hot shell of death which was about to rain upon them.
The German officers were unaware that over the preceding weeks and months, even the previous hours, the remaining women and children had been smuggled out; equipped with false papers and money by Polish Catholics who could not, in anyway, align themselves with their German masters.
These women and children were smuggled out of country, by the combined forces of Zegota, right under the noses of the German invaders. Passed between safe houses and a warren of sympathetic heroes across Europe they eventually crossed the Baltic towards the safety of Great Britain.
Only those who desired to stay and fight, to possibly die for their principles, remained. Like Thomas, Sarah, Selene and a rag tag of others who courageously looked down the sights of their rifles towards the shadows in the distance. Their fingers poised over freshly oiled triggers, cocked and loaded, nervous and just a little scared; they waited in tense anticipation. The deafening silence was tangible as they waited to replace supplication with the vengeance of martyrdom.
Meanwhile, up in the hills that overlook the city, Mr Johannson, the schoolmaster placed a canvas cover over three more deathly thin Jewish children after reassuring them with a soft smile. They had been led through the sewers and graveyard, through the dense woodland and, under the cover of nightfall, to the schoolmaster’s vehicle as it idled softly beside his house.
The journey had been made successfully many times over the preceding months and Zegota had now cemented the route in stone; through Prussia and toward the Baltic coast. Once there various fishing vessels, had smuggled their small human cargo, either to Denmark or England; to the safety of generous hearts and welcoming smiles.
Each trip had made the schoolmaster’s hair greyer and he was secretly glad that this was to be the last time he took the immense risk of smuggling Jewish children out of Poland. For, if intercepted, it would not only be his life on the line but also the life of the children he was now trying to protect.
The schoolmaster was glad that on this occasion he was to be accompanied by Whilma, the Orphanage Manager, who would be taking the mantle of his wife for the journey. Her papers had been made up in the name of Johannson and they were, for all intent and purpose, just an elderly couple escaping the ravages of war torn Poland.
Johannson placed a board over the canvas cover and the upholstered rear seat panel over that before several bags were laid on top. Closing the rear door and climbing into the driver’s seat beside Whilma; he throttled the engine and their journey began.
Back in the ghetto Thomas lined up the sights of his rifle. He squinted slightly as the slope of a German helmet furtively peeked over the ledge of a distant window; gazing across the abyss towards the barricade.
“This is it.” Thomas whispered, under his muddy breath; bristle from his unshaved chin almost filing the skin of his trembling trigger hand.
“This is what?” Sarah asked from her position, she too squinted down the barrel of her rifle and looked towards her husband. She watched, as he carefully held his breath, and lined up a shot. His index finger slid from the breach where it had waited patiently and caressed the trigger as his lips snarled; his entire focus taken up in the act of aiming.
“This is what?” Sarah asked again softly.
“It is time…”Thomas replied almost in-perceptively; squeezing the trigger.
“…time to level the score!”
The pop rang out as his rifle kicked back into Thomas’ shoulder. Followed in slow motion, a time dilated explosion, as blood splashed the far off wall following a dented German helmet. It flew, almost in a slow dancing turn, through the crimson air of brain matter and spittle. The German soldier fell like a marionette whose strings had been severed and landed at the feet of another young German officer.
This was an introduction to the opera of death and mayhem. It played out of their conscious control as the opposing sides fired indiscriminately towards their hidden foes. The darkness was spontaneously lit by flashes of white-hot tracer fire. Popping gunshots were followed by the splattered groans of wistful carnage; a bloodied corpse sank into the gun-smoke.
The sounds of harsh Germanic orders screamed out from the darkness above the brash whistles and humming of mechanical death. Regretful eyes prayed for god before welling up with the imagined tears of grief stricken mothers; screams echoed out in the darkness. Their fists would clench, snot stained handkerchiefs, beside the graves of fallen heroes; but not me, some prayed, let it be someone else this time.
The cordite stinking air was now thick with visceral fear as our star crossed lovers eyed each other, in a moment of pure unadulterated silence, a time dilated second of life-long pausing. A pensive smile crossed Sarah’s sad face as Thomas tried to reach out to his wife; across the abyss of leaden death.
“Stop there!” Sarah said, squeezing his hand in the dark sewer, causing the memory of that night in the Ghetto to freeze, like a sepia photograph. Dense silence descended and the acrid sewer air became liquid thick. They stepped out of their bodies and stood back to examine the frozen scene they had been viewing.
Rolf’s mad snarl, the fixed blast of smoke exploding from the end of his weapon, the projectile was floating in mid air some feet away. Selene’s damp hair stuck to her forehead and a wild manic look in her eyes. Waldo was looking at Rolf with a frozen expression of joyous defiance while his lead shot pierced the throat of a far off German soldier.
Thomas took Sarah’s silken hand and they both leant forwards to examine a bullet fixed mid flight and noted its awful trajectory. The floated from the window and he pulled her across the barricade below as they stepped towards the assembled Germans. They too were frozen ice statues in the dim light of exploding gunfire.
Look here, a grain of sweat mid flow across this German boy’s fearful face, hanging like an ice crystal from the tip of his red nose. The grit around his wild eyes betrayed his discomfort and fear sat uneasily beside the hole where Rolf’s bullet had entered.
The forlorn and falling German who only moments before, had been someone’s son, someone’s husband or father or brother. Now he was just an empty vessel, whose red claret blood was spilling across the street, to be drained motionless towards a nearby gutter.
It was a curious circus of death, a cabaret of the macabre. It was a twisting, snarling landscape of murder; peopled by frozen corpses and ghosts of the past. Sarah squeezed her husband’s hand and whispered.
“Come away with me, I don’t like it here…..’
“I hate these bastards.” Thomas spat. His voice was an octave higher than usual and expressed the fierce nature of his emotion. Only the feeling of Sadhu’s gentle touch against his arm drew Thomas from the feelings of intense rage.
“You must not hate them Sadhaka…” Sadhu whispered with a coy smile. “…you must love them. You must pity them and you must feel for them.”
“How can you say that?” Thomas spat feeling his lips trembling with abject rage. “How can you even think I’d forgive them for what they are doing here?”
“Sadhaka…”Sadhu explained gesturing towards the frightened German boy who was falling dead beside his shocked officer. “…this boy is not to blame for all this carnage; he is a victim of it. Remember too that we draw to us what we put out. If we put hate and terror out around us only hate and terror will be returned threefold. See this boy, Wolfgang is his name, let’s look at his life only five years ago; see, it’s Christmas day…”
Thomas, Sarah and the Sadhu found themselves in a small wood cabin somewhere in the Bavarian forest as thick snow fell against the windows. They saw a tight nit family group, Wolfgang and his younger sister Hildie, their grandmother Marta and his parents Avril and Eurnest dressing a small Christmas tree.
“I love this time of year.” Hildie smiled taking her grandmother’s arm and looking at the tree glowing with small candles.
“Don’t you grandma?”
“Let us pray that we are blessed with others in the coming years.” Earnest said softly as his eyes looked across the room to the window.
“Unfortunately I fear this will be our last.”
“How can you say such things?” Avril replied with a timid smile. She sighed and nodded to the children. “Now that Herr Hitler is our furhur all this country’s problems are over. Hildie has just joined the Frau Corps and Wolfie has been called to join the army; people are starving in the cities no longer. The future looks bright.”
“Well I don’t like him…” Frau Marta spat. She pursed her lips and shook her head from side to side.
“…the man cannot be trusted; even Hindenburg hated that stupid man, with his funny moustache and squeaky voice; always shouting all the time.”
“Grandma is right…” Wolfgang replied going to sit beside the old woman. “…I would not say it in public, I could not say it in public, but that man is dangerous. You know when I join my division I will have to swear an oath, before God, to protect the maniac.”
“Stop being so dramatic Wolfie…” Avril giggled as she lit another small candle on the Christmas tree.
“…I think Herr Hitler is a good man, tough, but good. He’s also very handsome and a proud German.”
“He’s Austrian, not German…” Marta grumbled. “…and you have been misled about everything he stands for you stupid girl. Handsome, that’s all you women today, think about. Nothing about his policies or his politics, not a thing about the evil laws he has introduced. I used to be proud to say I am a German but not today; you mark my words, that man will destroy this country.”
“Sadly…” Earnest replied humbly as he took his daughter’s hand. “…sadly I think you are right mother.”
“You see Sadhaka…Sadhu said softly. “…not all is what it appears.”
“Can’t we go somewhere else?” Thomas said closing his eyes and wishing he and Sarah could be alone, it only for a moment, somewhere they could touch and kiss and remember the love Sadhu had mentioned.
Then it was a hot summer day, the sort of hot summer day when the young believe they will live forever, where no one suffers grief or cries out in anguish. The buttery sun was high above their heads, as fluffy cirrus clouds, danced about in a wonderful summer ballet; complimented by bird song and the beating of youthful hearts.
“Where is this place?” Sarah asked Thomas as they lay back on the blanket she had packed in their picnic basket earlier that day.
“We’re on the top of the world.” Thomas replied rolling on top of her and gazing into her young eyes. Their gaze was held for a few magic seconds and Sarah thought the sky created a halo around her lover’s head. His eyes glowed brightly as his full teenage lips quivered but nerves got the better of Thomas and he looked away awkwardly.
“My father used to bring me here on our bicycles when I was a child…” He murmured slowly. “…We’d cross the river and climb into the hills; past the schoolyard and horse trails; up high above the north of the city. If you go through that clump of trees you can see right across Warsaw. It was a bicycle which belonged to my mother but I didn’t care. To have two bicycles in the family meant I could come up here with dad and spend time with alone him. It’s the first time I’ve been up here with a girl.”
“If my father found me up here, with you alone, he would disown me…”Sarah smiled. “…I’m being truthful, but I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.”
“Why, doesn’t he trust me, or is it boys generally?”
“It’s not because you’re a boy…”Sarah giggled. “…It’s because you are a Catholic. Religion is very important to father; ever since my mother died he has become devout. He wants me to marry a Jewish boy and it would break his heart if he knew I loved you; it really would.”
“What about your heart, Sarah…”Thomas asked. “…would he rather have that broken?”
Thomas smiled at her as she sighed loudly. Eventually Sarah shrugged and pulled a glum expression and leant forwards and kissed him. Their lips met gently, tentative and careful, as they explored the unknown tenderness of someone else’s mouth. The sensation of skin brushing skin and the slightly awkward breath of another teenager was electrifying.
Sarah closed her eyes as his tongue brushed her upper lip, she opened her mouth slightly and felt the tip of his tongue enter her. She quivered with excitement and whispered:
“I’ve never been kissed before?”
“Neither have I.” Thomas replied softly.
He gazed across the dim light of the sewer floor and watched with tears in his eyes as her form disintegrated into a million tiny fragments. Her soft hand, which till that moment had laid in his, faded away and he was left reaching out toward a disappearing mirage; a ghost of a shadow of a memory now gone.
“Don’t grieve my friend….” Sadhu whispered to Thomas from his left. He touched the shoulder of the trembling man and reassured him.
“All time is an illusion, Sadhaka. It is neither without beginning or end, just a collection of successive, wonderful moments, connected by a thread of consciousness which lived on forever. Each consciousness is connected and so if love runs between them love will reign supreme.”
They found themselves walking among the oak trees that lined the river once again just as they had all those months ago; before the shadow of death had descended. The sun was high in a clear blue sky and the sound of birdsong echoed through the treetops.
“Life seemed so simple here, in this moment.” Thomas said to the Sadhu as a stray breeze blew through his hair and the hot sun rays caught his eye, flickering like fire, stuttering the scene.
“If only we could go back and capture the peace here and take it into the future…”
“We can Thomas.” The Sadhu whispered with a wide smile that seemed to catch the light of the sun and radiate throughout the park.
“…Look!” He said placing a hand over his chest and indicating his heart. “…It lives on here.”
A knowing smile caused the joy of that moment to become flesh. It became real, or a real as any reality may be, just for an immeasurable moment. Thomas knew then that all life, time, experience, feeling, loss, gain, growth and everything else he had previously perceived as solid, was just part of that great illusion called reality.
That if it could be seen with that moment of pure clarity, if the ashes were lifted from our eyes, if we could all peer though that microscope of indefinite perception; all we’d see was consciousness. Pure and divine thought; and that thought was glowing with love.
Men had tainted this with darkness and hate. Men had become a cancer or malignancy in this sea of love and that their desire was the cause of all the sadness in this wonderful moment of living. Man and his insufferable greed for power, for money, for lust and all those other transient things that mean nothing on the higher realms. Those things of the senses had corrupted and stagnated his potential for happiness and indefinite bliss.
“Will I ever see her again?”Thomas asked as his vision adjusted to the dim light in his sewer lair. He turned, and looked into the Sadhu’s clear blue eyes, and waited for an answer he did not want to hear. It was an answer that he already knew.
“Which part of her did you want to see again?” The Sadhu replied with a soft smile.
“Perhaps the part where you experienced her virgin love, high above the city in that summer glade? Or that part of her, where a bullet crossed the barricade, and took her breath? For, isn’t your experience of her both these moments; and if so, do you really want any of it?”
“We took a vow before GOD!” Thomas shouted toward the fragmenting explosion of Sadhu’s shattered image.
“In sickness and in health; hear me? I want all of her, the good with the bad. I want her all.”
A pensive smile crossed Sarah’s face across the noise of battle. The shrill Germanic voices, of the enemy, rang out below their building as a bullet entered her forehead and blew her body back against splintering plasterwork.
“NO!” Thomas screamed dropping his rifle and, hunched low, he crawled through the sinewy dirt and blood splattered dust toward the prostate body of his wife. He reached her as just as her eyes clouded over. She let out the last of her breath in one long hiss and he swore he could see her spirit leaving her body.
“She’s dead…”Rulf shouted above the sound of live rounds buzzing over their heads. “…take your position and fight man, or we will be overrun.”
“Let me have a moment to grieve won’t you; just one moment more.” Thomas cried out painfully; taking her head in his hands and letting the tears come. His shoulders were shaking and his whole body trembled as they fell from his face into her blood stained hair.
Rulf wiped the cordite smoke from his eyes and crept over to where Thomas was crouched. He tenderly placed an arm around the quivering man and held him tightly.
“She’s gone now; leave her in peace.”
“How will I ever be happy again?” Thomas whispered through clenched teeth.
At that moment a bullet exploded in Rulf’s head and he dropped beside dead Sarah. This shook Thomas to his senses and he crouched lower. The others were retreating into the darkness leaving the building’s windows unmanned, Thomas had to desert Sarah’s body, and creep after them, to save himself.
He went to the bullet riddled doorway and looked back for one more second as plasterwork exploded above his head. Thomas followed them across the smoky street and into the disused building; down into the basement and the trap door to the sewer. It was open as Thomas crept stealthily towards it.
He heard the sound of Germans approaching close behind as he dove headfirst into the sewer hatch. A chasing SS officer pointed his luger around the corner and let off a lucky shot. It pierced Thomas’ boot and exited the sole of his foot as he fell into the tunnels under the Ghetto.
Thomas was able to saunter away a few feet but fell into the waste water as he lost his balance. The shock of getting most of his toes blown off fixed him to the spot and for a moment he was gripped with fear. The SS officer who had fired the shot peered into the sewer trap door furtively. A smile crept across the blond haired man’s blood stained face when he saw his prey laying in the sewer water; helplessly looking back at him.
The German raised his luger and aimed at Thomas’ head as an ear shattering pop rang out in the empty tunnels like a cannon blast. Thomas wondered why he did not feel any more pain and looked at his chest and legs, looked at his arms and hands trying to find the bullet wound. His attention was broken by the sound of the SS officer’s body falling into the sewer beneath the trap door. There was a clean bullet hole clearly visible in the centre of his forehead; between the man’s eyes.
“Are you okay, Thomas?” Selene asked stepping from the shadows with a smoking pistol in her hand. She looked towards the shaft of light, coming into the sewer from the trap door, and heard the sound of harsh German voices coming closer.
“Quick, help me…”Thomas whispered. “…I’ve been shot.”
Selene put her arm under his and lifted the man and together they hobbled into the darkness. Thomas knew the tunnels well now and he directed her to help him to a spot which was almost forgotten. Only the sewer maintenance teams were aware of this unused part of the drain. It had previously meant to service a part of the city which was never developed and no longer featured on maintenance maps.
“Wait here.” Selene whispered leaning forwards and kissing Thomas gently on the forehead. She took off his boot and looked at Thomas’ injury before tearing some fabric from her headscarf and wrapping it around the wound.
“I will come back for you, for God sake Thomas, don’t move or we’ll never find you again in these tunnels.”
“So you will be able to find this place again?” Thomas asked, aware that he’d find it very difficult to get out alone, with his injured foot. Selene lit a tiny candle and placed it at his side with a small smile.
“Of course…”She replied. “…Don’t worry.”
With that she was gone, fading into the darkness of those long and bleak tunnels, leaving Thomas feeling very lonely and insecure, grieving the loss of his first and only love.
Volhynia March 1939
Henri was singing an aria, from Mozart’s Magic flute, as he drove their old van pulled into the yard of their small farm. Selene looked across the crop of wheat they had sewn the previous spring and smiled; seeing the huge ears swaying gently in the warm afternoon breeze. Their old cow looked up at the returning family and genuinely seemed pleased, if cows can seem pleased, to see them.
The door of the farmhouse, slightly rotted around the bottom and highlighted by flaking paint, opened and the craggy face of Mr. Bernstine beamed across the yard towards them all.
“Mr. Bernstine…”Henri shouted as he got out of the vehicle dragging his trumpet case behind him.
“…How have the animals been?”
“Everything is okay….”The old man replied coming to the vehicle and helping to unload the family’s cases.
“…The chickens are laying, the cow is milking, the corn is growing and the tomatoes are the biggest I’ve ever seen.”
“Thank you for looking after the place for us.” Selene smiled, taking her bag and her cello case from the back of the van.
“Rolf?”She shouted towards her teenage son, who was stroking the old cow, and talking gibberish. “Stop dawdling and help us with these bags.”
“I have made the cheese while you were away.” The old man smiled, showing his one good tooth, his eyes creasing in the corners. Rolf collected two bags and followed his father past Bernstine into the farmhouse kitchen. Pegg the sheepdog looked up as the family dumped their bags on the kitchen table and Selene planted Conrad into his baby seat.
The old dog had grown used to seeing the family come and go. It had had a long, comfortable life and now, in his old age, couldn’t even bother to wag his tail at their return. Rolf though was very excited at seeing the family aged pet again. He crouched next to the old dog and started rubbing its head feverously.
“Hello Pegg, you old dog…” The boy enthused as the dog tried to remove its head from the boy’s grip. “…we’ve missed you, yes we have.”
“Rolf…” Selene shouted towards the boy again. “…Leave the dog alone and help grandpa from the van.”
Rolf stood and glared at his mother. It was one of Rolf’s typical poses, straight backed with hand planted firmly on his hips, he gritted his teeth and huffed.
“Why do I have to always help grandpa?” He grumbled slouching to the kitchen door.
“Why?” His mother replied wiping the baby’s mouth with a cloth and tossing it at the teenager.
“Because I am busy with your little brother, your father has the instruments to put away and Grandpa needs help; so move it.”
Rolf went back into the yard and stepped to the van as Mr Bernstine pulled open the passenger door revealing a flushed looking Grandpa Hoff wheezing heavily.
“At last, I thought you bastards had forgotten about me…” The old man coughed and spluttered as he lowered his feet to the ground.
“…give me your hand, boy!”
“Forgotten about you Grandpa…” Rolf laughed as he held out his arm allowing the old man to steady himself as he emerged from the old van.
“…how could we forget about you?”
“I’ve done the cheese .” Mr Bernstine repeated as Rolf helped his grandfather shuffle his way across the dry yard. His slippers barely remaining on the old man’s feet.
“Did I tell you about the cheese?”
“So you did the cheese…” Grandpa Hoff replied with just a little sarcasm in his tone. “…congratulations, what do you want, a fucking medal?”
“I was only saying.” Bernstine coughed defiantly as the old man brushed by.
“I would have done the cheese…”Old man Hoff snapped as they reached the farmhouse door.
“…if I’d not been dragged across the country by these people. I love to make the cheese, I make the best cheese in Poland.”
Later that evening the family had unpacked and were gathered around the hearth in the main room listening to Rolf play his accordion. It was his prised possession and he had spent many months perfecting his playing style.
Growing in a musical family meant he learned to read music at the same time as he learnt to read books. So he enjoyed rummaging through Grandpa Hoff’s trunk of sheet music and playing old tunes from the 1900s.
“This one reminds me of your Grandmother.” The old man sighed as a lilting melody filled the evening air.
“She was one of the most beautiful women in all Poland…”Old man Hoff continued. He lit his pipe, as Selene cuddled up against Henri, and closed her eyes. She could picture her mother, if she thought back far enough, just as she remembered. Long before the idiocy of men took her from them.
“…they said it was her Latvian roots, Latvians are known for their pearl white complexions and coal black hair…”The old man reminisced. “…But I didn’t see her just like that. It was her soul; that thing that radiates through the eyes, that’s what caught me. She was captivating, that woman, and I loved her from our very first meeting.”
“That was in Warsaw, wasn’t it Grandpa?”Rolf asked as he continued to play. The old man had told this story many times in the past but with each telling her hair got blacker and her eyes became more enchanting. The story had become a beautiful and fantastic fairy tale which never got boring nor a chore to hear.
“Yes Warsaw…”The old man replied puffing on his pipe and staring into space. “…It was back in the old days when I was a strong, lean young man. There used to be a cafe’, on the banks of the river, near Saxon Gardens. Everywhere else back then played real old classical music, German composers mainly, but also that Russian stuff. Bahh…” He sniffed.
“…I’ve always been an old romantic and the cafe used to play this music, traditional they called it; Traditional Polish folk. Anyway, one evening in the middle of winter, a blizzard was blowing outside and the snow was a metre deep. I had fought my way through the snow storm to go to this particular place just to hear the music. That’s where I met her, my Latvian beauty, I would have walked across burning coals to be with that girl and, although it was freezing outside; I’d not be anywhere else.
In that cafe, dancing with that young girl, made my heart as hot as embers. I’d seen her there, of course, a couple of times in the past, but she was always with people. When you are young you think all sorts. I didn’t have the courage to approach her.
But that night we were the only two in the place, beside the fiddle player and the pianist, who both played t hat Polish folk music. Gypsy music, some people called it, but what did they know. Just hearing the passion and heart, in the melodies of that music, made you want to dance. That night she was the only girl in the place so fate had thrown us together.
I knew we were destined to marry, when I heard her name, Estelle. As she told me her it I thought it sounded like the peeling of cathedral bells on Sunday mornings. We danced that night, to the sound of an old fiddle and that wonky piano; as the wind howled around the city and snowdrifts grew in the doorways. We danced like we were the only people on Earth.
We were married three months later and the following year blessed with the birth of your sister Sarah. Then our beautiful Selene came just before the outbreak of war and the arrival of those Russian bastards.”
“They weren’t that bad…”Selene interjected softly. She glanced at her father and saw tears in his eyes. “… Sarah and I were playing outside the house, when a group of Russian soldiers came through; they gave us sweets and danced for us.”
“If only…” The old man gasped. “…If only that bitch was lost; she was nothing but trouble. If only she had died instead of my beautiful Estelle.”
“Please, leave her alone, Papa…” Selene whispered. “…stop punishing her for the past. She was only a child and…”
“It was War, Grandpa….” Rolf interjected as the sound of his accordion trailed off. “…everyone suffered and, at the front, soldiers were being blown to pieces.”
“Shut up, you stupid boy!” The old man screamed. The atmosphere in the room became tense for a moment as everyone looked towards Rolf; he stared back apologetically. Henri glanced across at old Mr. Bernstine who in turn looked towards Old man Hoff.
“The boy didn’t mean anything…”Henri said with a sigh. “…what does he know of war, what does he know of grief, to lose someone you love. Don’t be too hard on the kid.”
“Sorry grandpa. I didn’t mean to be hurtful” Rolf replied hesitantly looking towards his mother for reassurance. She half smiled and nodded to the door.
“It’s time to go to bed now darling…”Selene whispered to her son. “…it’s been a long day and we are all tired. Try not to wake Conrad when you go in.”
“If only she had some pain medicine…”Grandpa Hoff whispered under his breath; reliving in his mind those last few months of her life. It was long ago during the first Russian occupation in World War One; but the scars had still not healed the old man’s heart .
“…she may have been with me a little longer. If that bitch daughter had died instead her death may have been a little more comfortable.”
“I know old man…” Bernstine said to no one in particular. “…but at least you were with her when she went. At least you were able to bury her in a place close by, somewhere you can visit, and feel close to her again…”
The two old men looked towards the window as Rolf put his accordion away. Towards the patch of dry earth, between the house and the cow barn, where a simple stone block marked Estelle’s grave.
“…My Patrice was taken in France where she was nursing our sick soldiers. An artillery shell hit their camp and she was gone. There was not even a body to bury. Still, I was told it was quick and that’s something I thank God for.”
“We both have known the depths of grief, my friend…” Old man Hoff whispered, he reached out and touched Bernstine’s hand.
“…but let’s not ponder death tonight. Let us remember the good years of passion we knew with those lost loved ones.”
“That’s right father…”Selene said as she joined Rolf by the door. “…Remember the good times you shared with momma; like I do.”
“Good night Grandpa.” Rolf said softly as he stood in the doorway. The old man wiped his eyes and looked up at his grandson with a small smile.
“Goodnight Son…”He smiled. “…I didn’t mean to shout just now.”
“I know Grandpa…”Rolf replied with a small nod. “…I know.”
Reign of Tears
The birds were starting their dawn chorus, as the first rays of early morning streamed over the horizon, and into Selene’s bedroom through the thin lace curtains. She opened her eyes and looked at the sleeping figure of her husband beside her, feeling the sweet sensation of his warm body, hearing the reassuring sound of his gentle snoring.
There was something strange happening, something she couldn’t quite work out, perhaps it was her half asleep state? Perhaps it was the alcohol in her system from the previous evening, when Grandpa’s new batch of home-made vodka was christened; or perhaps she was imagining it.
Selene looked at the bedside table and more closely at the glass of water she had taken to bed the previous evening and saw that it was vibrating.
“Henri…” She whispered. Selene reached out and shook him. “…Henri, wake up.”
“What?” Henri grumbled. He rubbed the sleep from his eyes and lifted one leg against the warmth of her thigh.
“…It’s like that, is it?”
“Behave yourself…” Selene replied. She placed her index finger to her lips and hushed her husband.
“…do you hear that?”
They both listened and sure enough, above the usual sound of birds calling, cows mooing and the distant call of roosters across the valley there was another, indistinct sound. It was like a chain being dragged across gravel, or the slowly turning of cogs and wheels. Selene got up from her bed and stepped hesitantly towards the window.
“Oh no!” She shuddered.
Henri joined her at the window and placed his arm over her shoulder as they watched a long line of tanks, and other military vehicles approach and pass their farm. There were huge trucks filled with troops followed by tanks and artillery carriages.
Each one was emblazoned with a bright red star. As the line of vehicles passed, they saw an officer riding a horse in the rear, he pulled up momentarily to view them looking down from the window. There was something about the man’s expression that filled them both with fear. Henri reached out and gripped her hand and she felt him trembling.
“I don’t like this…”Henri whispered. “…I don’t like this at all.”
Selene went into the local village later in the day to find it crawling with Russian soldiers. They were not acting aggressively but even so, just the sight of lots of soldiers with side-arms, filled her with fear. In the village store a group of women huddled together, they went quiet, as she entered. One turned to her and asked.
“Have they been to your farm yet?
“Who?” Selene replied, as she filled her basket with pepper and cotton reels. Selene knew who the woman was referring to but played ignorant. She did not want them to know how unsettled she was and certainly did not want them to know that all she had thought about that morning; was Russian soldiers. Selene faced the woman and raised her eyebrows expectantly.
“The Russians of course…” Another women in the huddled group said. “…have they been to your place yet?”
“What would the Russians want at our farm?” Selene replied as she placed some onions in her basket.
“…We are so small I’m sure a big army like theirs has no need to bother us.”
“You are wrong, my dear….” One of the elder ladies said leaving the group and coming to speak to Selene in a soft whisper.
“…they are visiting every farm and small holding locally; to do inventory. They want to know what you own, how many cows…”
“How many pigs and piglets.” Another woman added.
“How much corn you have in your barn…” The old woman continued. “…even how much wood you save for the winter.”
“They want to know everything.”
“Why are they doing that?” Selene asked feeling confused. She looked towards the group and they stared back with equal confusion. Only the old lady at her side seemed to know. It was something which bothered her greatly; she lowered her gaze to the floor and whispered.
“It’s the communism, isn’t it…” She sighed and looked back to Selene. “…it’s their form of communism.”
“They had a revolution, didn’t they?” One of the other women added clutching her basket tightly.
“I heard they killed their Tsar and his family then took everything from the rich land-owners. It was supposed to make their country fairer, for the poor and the elderly and the like, making everyone equal.”
“If only it really was like that…” The old woman by Selene said quietly. “…unfortunately life’s not that easy.”
“Well I am glad we are not rich land owners…”Selene smiled. “…I am a poor farmer’s wife and I have chores to do, so can I get some service here?
A few weeks later Henri was in the fields, tending the harvest of the crops he’d grown from seed, when he heard shouts coming from the farm house. He dropped his tools and ran to where the shouts were coming.
As he entered the small yard, beside the house, he found Selene and her father arguing with a man who was holding a thick book and clipboard.
“Henri quick…”Selene shouted. “…this man wants to take our cow.”
“What is going on here?” Henri demanded to know. He peered over the man’s shoulder and saw several soldiers observing the scene from a small truck. They were each armed with sub machine guns and seemed to be enjoying the drama as they stroked their triggers furtively.
“…Selene, calm down please.” Henri said firmly.
“Don’t let the bastards take the cow, my boy…” Old Mr Hoff said breathlessly from the farmhouse door.
“…they will eat it and then we’ll have no milk.”
“Can you tell me what is going on, please?” Henri asked once more. The man with the clipboard stepped away from Selene and held out a piece of paper which had an official stamp across the bottom.
“I am your local Communist Party Official…” The man announced formally. “…your Commissar, and I am legally ordered, to bring your property into the collective.” He passed the piece of paper to Henri who saw at once it was written in Russian.
“I cannot read this, haven’t you a Polish version?”
“There is no need…” The man replied. He snatched the paper back from Henri and began jotting an inventory in his book . Selene stared at Henri who shrugged with helplessness as the man added.
“…I have noted how many people are living on this land and your daily nutritional requirements will be supplied in due course. In the meantime, this farm has been classed as a cereal supplier so we will be confiscating your cow, chickens and other unnecessary foodstuffs. They will be delivered to poultry and dairy suppliers respectively along with any un-rationed goods . Your crop of cereals must be delivered in full to the party distribution office upon harvest.”
“If you take out chickens and cow…” Henri protested. “…We will have no milk or eggs for our children. We will starve.”
“I have already explained…” The man replied with a sigh. He nodded to the soldiers who disembarked from their truck and started to round up the chickens.
“….I have noted how many people live here and you will all be given your nutritional requirements under the terms of collectivisation. That will be, one egg per adult per week, one pound of flour per adult per month; milk, two pints per couple per week and a measured weight of dried fruit, cheese and salted meat.
This has has been designated as your nutritional requirements by central government and cannot be negotiated. In a few days your ration cards will arrive and you will be able to collect your rations from the party store.”
“This is madness…” Henri said loudly.
“…don’t you understand, we are self sufficient here, taking our stock will mean we will be dependent upon you for our food.”
“No, you will be part of the collective…” The man replied firmly. “…as will your neighbours and other’s in this community.”
“We don’t want to be part of your collective.” Selene shouted. She ran to one of the soldiers and grabbed back a chicken the man had only just caught.
“…We are fine as we are.”
“Are you saying that you are going to stand by while your country-folk starve…” The man shouted closing his book and glaring at Henri while the other soldiers began to collect the chickens.
“ …that you intend to horde food while the old and the sick go without? Because, if you are, I must warn you that hording food is now illegal; this type of criminal behaviour is punishable by death.”
“What…” Selene screamed as she struggled to take the chicken from the soldier who was pushing her away with his spare hand. “…are you going to shoot me in front of my family; over a chicken?”
“If we have to, we will!” The man replied with a snarl. He shouted something in Russian to the other soldiers and, while one went to collect the cow, the others began to search the house and barn.
In a few moments they came back into the yard holding a round of cheese and bottles of home brewed vodka in their arms. They smiled and one said something to the others in Russian which made them all laugh. Only the man with the clipboard remained sombre and steelie eyed.
“Not my vodka?” Old man Hoff shouted. He walked briskly to the soldier holding the bottle and tried to grapple them from him.
“Stand back old man.” The man with the clipboard shouted. “You are interfering with a legal process.”
“You are not leaving here with my vodka….” Grandpa Hoff shouted breathlessly, snatching back the bottle, and pushing the soldier.
“…over my dead body.”
“You have been warned.” The man holding the clipboard shouted with real menace. Henri noticed that he’d reached into his jacket pocket and withdrawn a small handgun. He aimed the weapon at the old man and said coldly.
“Stand back or I will shoot.”
“You fool.” Old man Hoff screamed smashing a bottle on the dry earth. He grappled with another bottle shouting loudly.
“…I’d rather destroy it all than let it be stolen by you bastards.”
Henri was about to intervene when the shout rang out. It was a loud pop rather than a blast, a pop which made him startle and, as cordite filled the small yard, a flock of birds flew from their nests making the sky black and ominous.
Henri was about to tell the old man to calm down, that nothing was worth losing your life over, vodka could be distilled anytime. But the words froze in his mouth as the unfolding scene slowed down and almost stopped. It was as if time itself became dilated, a moment of horror caught, like a sepia tinted photograph caught in the flash of a strobe light; silently printed on his mind forever.
Henri’s eyes looked at Selene, who in turn looked at her father, he glanced down slowly as a spot of blood appeared on his shirt and then he fell silently forward. Grandfather Hoff, sixty nine years old, was dead before he crashed into the dry soil and broken glass at his feet.
Selene let out a high pitched scream and ran to the old man’s body. She fell to her knees and cradled her father’s head in her arms lost in the depths of grief. Henri didn’t see his son, Rolf picking up the pitch fork and aiming it at the soldier taking the cow, until another shot rang out, and Rolf too fell to the floor mortally injured.
“Anyone else?” The man shouted pointing his gun at Henri and Mr Bernstine. Henri was in a total state of shock seeing the bodies of his father in law and son lying motionless in the dirt. The man’s words echoed about his brain but he had lost touch with reality; he couldn’t make out what was being said. All he could think was that life would never be the same again.
“You Kulaks make me sick.” The man with the clipboard shouted as he waved the pistol around. He nodded to the soldiers, who continued taking the animals, without any pity and totally emotionless. He placed his side arm back into his pocket and snarled towards Henri.
“…you petty bourgeois bastards, feeding your pig stomachs while your countrymen starve. Farming the land and getting fat while the old and infirm go without; I hate you middling classes, you kulak bastards. Well, bourgeois pigs, things have changed now. You will have to make do without your cheese, your milk, your corn and wheat. You will have to subsist like you have forced others in your village to subsist.”
“My father was nearly seventy years old….” Selene screamed as she looked up at the man. “…he never hurt anyone and was only angry because he had made that vodka himself. It was his.”
“You’re a selfish pig!” The man replied with a stubborn snarl. He shook his head and spat.
“Now you must learn to share, from today you own nothing. I have made a count of your heads of wheat, after the harvest you must bring it all too party headquarters where we will issue your ration cards. If, upon receipt of the harvest, anything is held back, you will not only lose your ration cards; I can promise more blood will be spilt.”
Henri paid no attention as he stepped towards the body of his eldest son. A soldier led the family’s cow past him, towards the truck; as the chickens were thrown onto the back into the arms of other soldiers.
Mr Bernstine approached Henri and placed his arm over his shoulder. The old man shook his head in disbelief and sighed as they both approached Rolf’s still body; a pool of bright blood soaking the soil.
“Is the boy dead?” Henri whispered as the soldier’s truck was started behind them. Bernstine gritted his teeth and nodded.
“There, there, old man.” He whispered as Pegg the dog ran into the yard and sat beside the boy’s motionless body. The dog began to whimper loudly and nudged the body with its paw trying to force life back into it. But it was no use, blood stained the animal’s paw, as it howled for his friend. Selene fell to her knees and her voice echoed above the howling dog as grief hung over that once happy that place.
“Let’s pray together, son.” Bernstine said gripping Henri in his arms.
He began to sing the Kaddish, the mourner’s song; his deep, fruity tone rising above the land like a quivering wind. His voice boomed across the fields and valleys, forming a shaft of light among the dark foreboding clouds above their heads, reaching into the heart of heaven to make the angels cry.
Deep underground Thomas felt himself sink into a deep well of sadness but was unsure what, if anything, was bothering him. Could it be the nipping of rats against his toes or the incessant dripping of water which pounded on his skull like a sledgehammer? He was unsure what exactly was bothering him so, only that he was colder and weaker than he remembered, perhaps this was how people died; he thought, with a sense of regret and grief echoing about their brain. Yes, Thomas wondered, perhaps he was dead but hadn’t quite realised.
“Mr child is sick.”
“Your name?” The overweight woman behind the desk asked with a distinct Crimean tone in her voice. If 80 per cent of all communication is non-verbal and the other 20 per cent non-direct, you have to be pretty alert, it you want to hear what’s really being said to you. On this occasion it wasn’t too hard to understand that the woman behind the desk had no time for her customer.
“Estelle…” The woman with the thin young girl replied. “Estelle Hoff.”
“What is the child’s name?” The fat woman barked looking up for a moment from the form she was completing to examine the child. She raised her eyebrows and sniffed before her gaze fell upon the woman again.
“Her name, what is her name?”
“Her name is Sarah…” Estelle replied weakly. “Sarah Hoff.”
“What is wrong with her?” The woman asked using one hand to tug the girl from her mother’s side. She then starting to part the girls hair and examine her head closely. After a few moments she gasped.
“This child has lice, head lice!” The woman turned to Estelle and looked at the woman as if she had committed murder.
“Did you know she was infected with lice?”
“I can’t help that.” Estelle replied sheepishly. She had always been a very proud woman; her clothes washed and clean and both her children regularly well scrubbed. But since the occupation everything had gradually become hard to find; initially it was meat and pulses but more recently soap, even the harsh Russian soap, had become impossible to buy. Finding something to treat the girl’s lice with was exasperating and now the whole family had the itch.
Before the school had closed the children were treated with DDT by the teaching staff but, now this no longer happened, the adults were infected and they had re-infected the children.
The woman at the desk reached into a drawer and took out a cardboard container full of white powder which she shook over the child’s head.
“You too.” The woman said harshly. Estelle leant forwards and felt the woman roughly pour powder in her scalp. It was hot and irritating but worth the discomfort if it was going to relieve her of that awful, persistent itch.
The woman lifted the child’s blouse and shook her head before turning the child, examining her back, and huffing impatiently and jotting something in Russian on the form. The woman eyed Estelle with undisguised hostility and pursed her fat lips.
“This child is malnourished and has scabies.” She announced after a moment. The woman scribbled something on the form again and looked up at Estelle.
“I can write a prescription for calamine lotion but, because of the war, this medicine will be expensive. Will you be able to pay for this and your morphine?”
“I will leave my prescription for the time being.” Estelle replied. “I will get the child’s medicine if it is in stock.”
“It is, take this to the counter over there.” She handed over a small square of paper before adding.
“Mrs Hoff, tomorrow you will wish you had taken your prescription. Have you any of your morphine left?”
“I’ve enough for today and tomorrow…” Estelle said weakly. “Perhaps my husband will get the money for more by then.”
“He had better…” The woman sniffed. “…this clinic is closing tomorrow afternoon and we may not open again for a while.”
“But I will die without my prescription.” Estelle replied. “The pain will kill me.”
“I’m sorry.” The woman replied with a shrug. “It’s out of my hands.”
Thomas didn’t recall why Sarah’s mother had come to mind. It may have been because Selene had saved his life that had made him remember the family feud. How old man Hoff had blamed Sarah for his beloved wife’s torturous death; how the retreating Russians, had blown up the Poniatowski Bridge during their retreat, enforcing their depravations. The medicine for the child meant Estelle’s breast cancer, which had spread to the bones, was free to rack the already starved woman into a state of hideous agony. This reminded Thomas of a story Sarah had told him about her mother.
During that Russian occupation Estelle had spoken to some young Russian soldiers, they told her that their country was going to change. The Tsar’s time was over, that they were going to sweep all those old tyrants aside and impose a new political system. A system where everyone is equal, where want is confined to history and the playing field is levelled.
They were really fanatical about it because it made so much sense. They saw free housing and health care, they saw the end to starvation and the promotion of free education. Estelle was filled with enthusiasm and said to Hoff that it was a system the whole world should adopt.
Thomas remembered Hoff’s response to this was blunt. Estelle and the soldier only thought that way because they had nothing. If they owned a business which their father or grandfather had built from scratch, one that provided employment for others and serviced the community; if that business fed you and your family; then you’d oppose that sort of system with every sinew of your body.
Life is unfair but it’s also so full of opportunity. If people were all forced to be on the same level with no one better or worse off than anyone else’ we’d all go down in quality. Did she think, Hoff barked, there would be enough resources to lift the masses until they were as comfortable as a shopkeeper? No, we’d all go down a peg or two; and shopkeepers would fall a great deal further. This underlined his mistrust of Russians and Russia; even though he was a simple farmer; Old Hoff knew when he was well off.
Thomas recalled that spring afternoon, when the old man had come to theirs, to celebrate his sixty ninth birthday. How the following day the two had spoken, for the first time since she had changed her religion, from Judaism to Catholicism in order to marry Thomas; added to all the other extreme emotions he felt for his eldest child.
He remembered it was at the breakfast table when the two families came to eat and where, in such close quarters around the table, it was impossible not to communicate. Sarah had given the old man credit for making the effort to accept their invitation; something he’d previously refused over successive years previously. She tried to be as pleasant as possible and cooked breakfast for him with everyone else.
It may have been his advanced age? It may have been the continuous nagging from Selene, or some intuitive feeling that they’d never get another chance, that had convinced him. Something had made the old man decide to bury the hatchet. And boy, was that a massive hatchet; almost a huge shaped blade, which they had to negotiate around.
Of course it was metaphorical but a hatchet nevertheless, with the slip of one wrong word or a misunderstood phrase, or perhaps a random glance mistakenly construed as an insult; any slight thing could turn the breakfast into a make-believe murder scene.
Tact and mediation was needed to step through this particular egg-shell minefield and Thomas hoped it would go well as he sat at the table with his family. Sarah took a deep breath and broke the ice.
“So father…” She said breezily laying some bacon and eggs, cooked in his favourite style, on the table for him.
“…how’s your friend, you know, Mr Bernstine. Couldn’t he come with you?”
A clever first move, Thomas thought, focussing on someone outside the family would ensure no skeletons, could be accidentally knocked from their closet, too early in the game.
“He doesn’t travel easily these days.” The old man replied before pausing midway through a forkful of bacon to think. The anxiety level around the table rose while he pondered his next sentence and everyone waited for the gem to be delivered.
“And beside…” he said under his breath.
“Oh?” Rolf asked naively. “…Beside what?”
“And how is that old cow you have…” Thomas interjected, placing his pawn in a position on the board, where it could block any potential broadsides.
“…Still giving you plenty of milk is it?”
“He’s too old to travel, that’s all.” Hoff said with a sniff as he chewed on some bread. The old man squeezed his eyes together and turned his nose up meanly before washing the bacon down with a swig of coffee.
“How old is he now?” Sarah asked breezily, in an attempt to keep engaging the old man, until it seemed a natural thing to do; as natural as any elder daughter discussing this and that with her elderly father.
“He’s older, than you, I remember?”
“Only by a few years…” Old man Hoff replied after a long, entirely unnatural, pause.
“…we were married at the same church.”
Oh, that’s it, Sarah thought to herself. He was going to turn the harmless subject of an old friend to ramp up the tension; introducing both thorny topics of marriage and religion in one move. He was casually throwing both into the conversation like a ticking bomb; you old bastard, she thought, you clever old bastard.
“Is that how you met him, Grandfather…” Rolf asked tucking into the breakfast like he was demolishing a house. Eating the meal, as teenagers do, like it was his last on this earth.
“…you both got married on the same day?”
“I was just saying,” Old man Hoff replied, briefly looking up, and fixing Sarah in that steely gaze; he looked at Thomas for a second and resumed eating.
“Is he much older?” Thomas asked, pausing, mid-fork manoeuvre. He was aware that the old man blamed him for Sarah’s apostasy. Keen to move the topic away from church and weddings he attempted to bring the conversation back the old Jewish friend.
“He’s seems quite healthy.”
“He has been using that old cow’s milk…” Hoff replied gruffly, attempting to make a joke of sorts.
“…to make us cheese.”
“It’s lovely…” Selene said with a satisfied smile.”…I love his cheese.”
Selene felt herself relax, believing that the past, had been successfully brushed under the carpet; like some mischievous dust and that her sister and father could move forward. Hoping their differences would not crop up in some other dark corner in future.
“I have brought some for you; it’s in the cold room.”Old Hoff sniffed without looking at his eldest daughter. Selene wondered if her optimism was a little premature.
“Oh, is that what is wrapped in the grease-paper?” Thomas asked casually. He took a fork load of fried mushrooms and added.
“Make some bread today, Sarah, we can have home-made bread and cheese for supper tonight.”
“Only if it’s kosher.” Rolf quipped innocently.
“Rolf…” Henri whispered through the side of his mouth. “…behave yourself.”
The boy’s casual remark, changed the atmosphere around the table, from tepid to ice cold in an instant. The old man looked at his eldest daughter for the first time that day and she immediately felt like a deer caught in the cross-hairs of a hunter’s gun.
“Well… “ The old man barked; spitting bits of half eaten egg and bacon across the table.
“…that’s not important in this house!”
He’d let off a first shot. Whether he realised it or not, the comment was certainly taken as such and was all Sarah needed to jump into a defensive mode. She gritted her teeth and glared at the old man.
“Don’t start father.” She retaliated. Sarah collected her and Rolf’s plates and stood. This was not to Rolf’s liking as he was not quite finished eating; his eyes followed what was left of his breakfast as it disappeared from his grip.
“Look here father I’m not that stupid young girl you bullied years ago.” Sarah said defiantly.
“If you want an argument I’m ready for you.”
“Who wants to argue?” Old man Hoff said punctuating the remark by pushing his breakfast plate away even though it was still full of food. Rolf tried to take a beef sausage but Selene slapped his hand.
“You know how I feel…”The old man sniffed. “…about accepting heresy over your birthright.”
“For your information…”Thomas announced firmly; taking a break from his food to intervene.
“…religion is not that important to us. We don’t go to mass except perhaps at Christmas, okay. And that’s just because we like the carols. More than the preaching, we go to hear the choir, is that clear?”
“Christmas!” Hoff grunted acting as if pronouncing the word gave him cardiac arrhythmia. He looked across the table and fixed Thomas in his sights.
“Who asked you anyway?” The old man grunted.
“You just can’t leave it alone, can you?” Sarah groaned as she took her and Rolf’s plates to the washstand.
“You pick and scratch, like it was some irritating boil, that needs lancing. Why couldn’t we get through, just one weekend together, without your bile thrown around upsetting everyone? Is wanting just one happy weekend together too much to ask, is it?”
“Of course not.” Thomas agreed. Retrospectively, this felt like he and Sarah, were ganging up on the old man. Thomas peered over at his wife for some reassurance that he was doing what she wanted. Sarah, on the other hand, was glad of the support no matter how spontaneous it felt. She placed her hands on Thomas’ shoulders and looked at her father defiantly.
“Does it matter that I choose to refer to myself as Catholic, instead of Jew, to support my husband. It isn’t as if I go to church every Sunday. We never prostrate ourselves in front of the Mother Mary and all the saints in heaven; but if we did, so what?.”
“The last time I went to church was at my mother’s funeral.” Thomas added softly.
“And you are proud of that?” Hoff asked barked sullenly. Selene looked at Henri, he looked at Rolf and Rolf looked at Sarah during a long, awkward pause.
Sarah shook her head and shrugged at Selene. Pulled in both directions between her stubborn sister and her more stubborn father, Selene, could only take her husband’s hand and squeeze it. Henri got the hint and coughed softly.
“It’s important to have some religion in the family.” Henri announced. Not that this mattered to anyone; as was obvious by their combined non reaction.
“If only for the children’s sake.” He added.
“I have an interest in Eastern philosophy, which is considered spiritual, I suppose.” Thomas announced during the pause. Henri looked across the table at his brother in law and smiled.
“Oh that’s interesting.” He said.
“Your mother would turn in her grave if she knew you never went to the synagogue, didn’t practice the rituals, and did not celebrate Passover!” The old man spat, his tone rising in pitch, and the volume of his voice steadily increased with each word.
“Trust you to bring mother into this!” Sarah replied matching his volume and tone but dominated the space with her size. It was something she could never have done as a child; whenever the subject of her mother came up.
“I’m not going to let you bully with that guilt, again Father. I‘ve grown up to know that she wouldn’t care what religion I was practicing; just as long as I was happy. Don’t you understand that?”
He looked at her with a deadpan expression, cold eyes which had grown watery with age, or was it that he was crying. Sarah thought, she just couldn’t be sure, her lips were pulled into a tight line under her nose, as she examined his face.
“That woman gave everything to keep you happy.” The old man said softly. She saw a stray tear roll down the old man’s face and for once in her life she could forgive him anything.
“Father?” Sarah said coming around the table to stand at his side. She reached down and touched his shoulder furtively and, when he didn’t pull away, she whispered.
“I would have done the same thing if I were her; we all would do this for a child.”
“But you’re not a mother are you.” The old man cursed. “So how could you know?”
“You fucking bastard.” Sarah spat stepping away from him and shaking her head.
“Go on, use that to torture me. You know full well that I have been trying to have a child and that it is the one thing that really hurts. Knowing, as only I do, that I am unable to bare my husband the son he desires. And no, it has nothing to do with God, it has nothing to do with religion at all. Do you want to know why I am unable to carry a child father; do you really care?”
She sat down next to Thomas and placed her hand on his lap as tears built up in her eyes. She gulped and took a deep breath before whispering softly.
“They tell me it is because of childhood depravation. A lack of a proper diet during my formative years; this prevented my ovaries developing properly. So there you have it, it wasn’t only our mother who was destroyed by that period in our lives; it was also my potential to have children.”
A thick impenetrable silence fell amongst them as the adults digested Sarah’s heartfelt words; only Rolf felt uncomfortable. They all gradually looked at old man Hoff and it was then the miracle happened.
“I’m sorry.” He whispered simply and with those two simple words a whole period of family history had a line drawn beneath it.
“I never realised.” He added. Suddenly becoming overcome by the emotion of the occasion the old man burst into a flood of genuine tears. Sarah stood up and, for the first time since her marriage, for the first time in her adult life; went to her father and embraced him warmly.
He reciprocated as it dawned upon them both, how brief their time together really was, and the frailty of life generally. That just a moment of ill conceived thought or one slight misunderstanding could become a wedge driven through the heart of a family; and cause years of discontent and animosity.
That all it took, to remove that wedge of bitterness and hate, was a moment of clarity and altruism; something all children should learn in school; a life lesson to avoid such heartache in their own families or lives.
“No father.” Sarah whispered. “I am sorry.”
It was at this moment that Conrad who, till that moment had been sleeping soundly in his high chair next to his father, farted himself awake. The child, shocked by his body’s sudden expression, looked at his mother and began to cry which made everyone in the room laugh out loud further confusing the young boy.
“I will be leaving Warsaw tomorrow, Sadhaka.” The Sadhu announced one day in the park by the river. It was the end of that glorious summer and the trees were now stripped of foliage and a frost met Thomas when he left the house in the morning to collect eggs from the hen house. He did not need to ask his friend why he had chosen to leave. It was obvious that Poland was entering a period of extreme uncertainty with the partition of the country by Germany and Russia. You only had to see the tanks which litter the park where they used to meditate to understand Poland would get worse before better.
Thomas wanted to ask how his friend had managed to get travel documents but held his tongue thinking that it was better if he did not know. He turned and looked into his teacher’s deep blue eyes and asked.
“Are you going to England?”
“Sadhaka, haven’t you learnt anything from me?” The Sadhu replied. He placed his hand on Thomas shoulder and smiled. It was the sort of smile that could light up any room, any space dimmed by grief or sorrow, it illuminated the air around them and shone like a beacon of hope.
“If time is a human construct and reality an illusion, does it matter where I am? I will be by your side for always and all you have to do is remember me. Time and space will not matter in the end because after all this has ended; our consciousness will be one.”
“Thank you.” Thomas smiled seeing the image of his friend disintegrate into a million fragments of shattered glass. Light glinted in the fragments and sparkled like the specks of coal ash rising from a forest fire. Thomas looked closer into the burning embers and heard Waldo’s voice echoing behind him.
“Johannson has three children that need to be transported to the coast, are you up for that Thomas?”
“I’ve done it before without any problems.” Thomas replied. He looked into the fire and as the smoke rose and mingled with the steam from his mug of coffee Thomas thought about the raid he’d just returned from.
He and Rulf had taken a young girl called Rena with them to steal guns from an S.S checkpoint near Wola. It was the first time Rena had gone out with them and Thomas had been worried about the girl from the start.
It wasn’t that she was young, Rulf was still in his teens but had the heart of a lion and all the cunning of a fox. What he lacked in stature he made up for in intellect and Thomas felt safe knowing Rulf had his back. Rena, on the other hand, was the same age but lacked Rulf’s emotional maturity.
Her family was killed during the initial fight for Warsaw back in 1939 and, although injured by the same artillery attack, was quickly rounded up and placed in the ghetto. This was before the gates were built and access to and from strictly monitored.
Using her female charms to manipulate the German guards she had done quite well for herself before the ghetto became cramped and unsanitary. She made no secret of the fact that she had slept with a few Germans to gain extra rations and a comfortable room.
In 1943, when the deportations began in earnest, she was isolated by others in the ghetto and resented. Rena explained that having lost her family she asked God for advice. She closed he eyes and prayed for something, anything, to help her get through this period in her life. God, she said, told her to do anything to survive the war; anything, and if others did not like it, tough.
When it was her turn to be deported she had persuaded a guard to look the other way as she escaped. Making her way to the forest and finding Waldo, a pre-war friend of her father, enabled her to prove her loyalty to Poland. This did not convince Thomas and he found it hard to trust her. This was particularly so when she tried to flirt with him.
He knew that it was just a game to get him on side, the more she flirted the less he trusted her, but this was something he kept to himself. When Waldo asked him and Rulf to take her along Thomas did so reluctantly.
The checkpoint was on the outskirts of the city and consisted of four infantry soldiers on duty by the barrier, a communications officer in a small hut next to it and a separate hut where a senior officer was located. Adjoined to this was an armoury that could only be accessed via the officer’s hut.
The plan was for Rena and Rulf to approach the checkpoint and occupy the four gate soldiers while Thomas approached from the tree line. He would take out the communications officer and this would be the signal for the others to shoot the gate soldiers. Then all three would attack the checkpoint’s officer. They planned to get him to hand over his keys and then steal as many machine guns and grenades they could carry.
Rena and Rulf had approached the gate as planned but instead of all four soldiers being outside as usual one was missing. He apparently had gone to relieve himself in the woods and Thomas became aware of this when the man stood above him and pissed on his head.
As Thomas lay in the dark undergrowth with a torrent of recycled beer running through his hair he heard Rena and Rulf approach the barrier; the guards asked to see their papers. The two complied and, no doubt, anxiously waited for Thomas to start shooting. If the guards got suspicious and tried to search them the guns, hidden under their long coats, would easily be found.
The infantryman who was pissing, took a deep sigh and shook his penis, taking a look behind at the activity by the barrier. Thomas slipped his fingers around the butt of his revolver and held his breath as the man turned and began to walk back to his compatriots.
Thomas used the sound of the soldier’s boots on the soil to lift himself up stealthily and creep down to the tree line. He peered over at the administration hut and could see the communications officer behind his desk tapping out a coded message and then jotting down the reply. Thomas looked over to the barrier and saw Rulf glancing toward the tree line nervously.
It was now or never, Thomas thought, as the guard who’d urinated on him stepped to the other three soldiers and their attention was drawn towards him. Thomas took a deep breath and stepped from the shadows and to the open hut door. He was just a couple of feet away when the communications officer looked up and both men observed each other.
In that briefest of moments it seemed time itself stopped still. Not a whisper of wind, not a hoot of owls or the rustling of trees, could be heard in that thick awkward moment. Thomas looked into the officer’s eyes and could see instantly that under different circumstances they may have been friends; he had a kind face and his eyes carried the distinctive lines of someone who liked to smile.
Those eyes looked confused, intrigued and perhaps a little worried, before the seriousness of the situation dawned on him. He saw the pistol in Thomas’ hand and his jaw dropped as the silence was broken by the loud pop of the gun. A black spot appeared on the man’s face between his thin eye brows, and those kind eyes glazed, over as the body rolled back in its seat; before slumping to one side.
The three officers by the barrier stopped what they doing and looked in the direction of the shot as Thomas stepped into the hut and walked quickly to the officer’s door as it opened and the SS officer, who was dressed in his green day uniform, appeared. Thomas placed his revolver at the man’s forehead and hushed him by placing his index finger against his lips.
Three of the officer’s at the gate began to go and see what the noise was about leaving the youngest soldier standing at the barrier with Rulf and the girl. She looked towards the three soldiers and then at the one still with them and shouted in perfect German.
“Don’t just stand there, they need your help.”
He soldier hesitated briefly before turning and running to catch up with his colleagues. It was at this point that Rulf and the girl reached under their coats and pulled out their machine guns; they sprayed the four guards with bullets without them even turning to see who was firing. The four soldiers fell to the ground and pools of bright red blood began to fill the gutter beside them.
Rena was still firing even after it was clear all four were dead and it was only when Rulf placed his arm across her shoulder that she stopped. She was shaking and he stroked her head in an attempt to calm her down a little as they both stepped over the bodies toward the hut.
“You speak good German.” He said quietly as she lowered her gun.
“It’s surprising what you pick up…” She replied. “…when you’re being raped.”
Entering the hut they found Thomas standing slightly behind the SS officer with a pistol still placed at the terrified man’s head. Rulf did not need to be told and immediately snatched the officer’s keys from the chain attached to his belt and the group man handled their captive to the armoury door. As Rulf tried a selection of keys to find out which one worked in the lock the officer said in Polish.
“You will never get away with this.”
“Shut up!” Thomas snapped pressing the barrel of his gun into the man’s skin.
“You will be hunted down like dogs.” The officer continued. “…and when they catch you I will make sure your families suffer the same fate as these men you have murdered.”
“I don’t think so.” Thomas said pressing his trigger softly and feeling the revolver recoil as a shell entered the officer’s head. The body slipped from his fingers and across the floor just as Rulf opened the armoury door.
The three entered quickly and very soon were heading back into the trees with their catch of stolen weapons and grenades. They hurried for a while trying to place as much distance between them and the checkpoint as possible as they began to slow down and get into a steady trot. Thomas could see that Rena was struggling with the weight of the bag she was carrying and reached out to take it from her.
“Thank you.” She said simply while adjusting her back pack.
It was the first time Thomas had done anything remotely friendly for her and Rena looked grateful for the help. Thomas half smiled and carried on ahead leading the way for the group through the thick foliage. Once he was a little ahead and just out of earshot Rulf slipped up beside Rena and matched her stride.
“It must have been awful.” He said casually as they climbed over a fallen tree.
“…What you said back there.”
Rulf reached down and pulled the girl over the prone tree trunk before helping to place her pack onto her shoulders comfortably.
“What, about being raped?” She asked, taking his gaze and holding it. Rulf felt uncomfortable by the question and looked away.
“You get used to it.” She added. “Being a woman, that is.”
Later that night there was a celebratory mood in the camp especially after Rulf revealed he’d stolen two bottles of the officer’s prized brandy which was also hidden in the armoury. A shank of poached lamb was cooking in a buried earth oven and someone played an accordion as groups of men and women danced around the clearing in the trees.
In the past, rural communities would fire their guns into the air on such occasions, but this tradition had been firmly outlawed by Waldo; aware their camp could be discovered at any time. Even with strategically placed people, watching out for German and Ukrainian search parties, at the edge of the forest they had to be careful.
Thomas sat alone, deep in thought, with just the backdrop of stars to entertain his gaze, when he felt someone slip up beside him quietly. He turned to see Rena at his side and she smiled gently as their gaze met.
“I wanted to thank you for helping me today.” She said simply.
“I could see you were struggling.” He replied with a smile. “Besides, it was difficult enough getting through the trees without carrying all that weight.”
“I was managing.” She said looking at the ground and choosing her next words carefully.
“You were slowing us down.” He said which threw her thoughts into a jumble. Rena sighed and turned to face him sternly.
“I get the feeling you don’t like me very much.” She said abruptly. Rena raised her eyebrows and waited expectantly for him to refute this statement. Instead Thomas looked away and did not answer.
“So it’s true.” She added after a long pause.
“Forgive me…” Thomas explained after a long awkward silence. “…but you are not that important to me.”
“Oh?” Rena said. She thought about this for a moment, and wondered if he meant to be so cruel, because it certainly felt like a cruel thing to hear. She wondered if she had made a mistake by approaching him and a bigger mistake trying to engage him in conversation. She turned and was about to slip away when Thomas reached out and touched her arm.
“Sorry…” He said softly. “…that came out wrong.”
“Oh?” Rena said again clearly confused by this enigmatic man. The way he touched her was sensual and felt like an electric shock running though her skin causing mixed emotions to rise within her.
“I have a lot on my mind.” Thomas explained. “I have my wife locked away in the ghetto and I worry about her. I miss her greatly.”
“But haven’t you been slipping into the ghetto, surely you have seen her?”
“It’s not the same as spending the night in our little bed…” Thomas replied wistfully. “… feeling her skin against mine, holding her tight and protecting her. Every time I go there I expect to hear she has been deported.”
“That’s so sad.” Rena replied thoughtfully. She sighed and reached out to touch his shoulder.
“There I was thinking it was all about me; I’m so juvenile sometimes.”
“Well, for the record….” Thomas smiled. “…today I was very impressed by your bravery.”
“Really?” She laughed. “Inside I was quaking, my first raid, and all.”
“It didn’t show.”
“Thank you, that means a lot.” Rena said with a wide smile. An intense silence descended between them and only the smell of cooking lamb and the sound of the accordion reminded them that they were not alone.
“Is she with other family there, your wife?” Rena asked, to break the tension between them, which had become a little uncomfortable. In reality she wanted to lean across and kiss this man who she hardly knew but for whom she felt a deep affection. She understood he was missing his partner but his loneliness was obvious and she craved intimacy too; Rena held her feelings back and smiled.
“She’s with her sister.” Thomas replied sucking his lower lip.
“That’s nice.” Rena said breezily, as if having Selene by her side, protected Sarah from all the horror around them both. It was noticeable that Thomas’ expression changed and he looked at her with the colour draining from his face.
“She’s only there because her husband and children were murdered by the Russians.”
“Oh God…” Rena exclaimed. “…Why am I so stupid? I can’t help it! I open my stupid mouth and put my foot in it every time. Please forgive me Thomas.”
“You don’t have to feel guilty…” Thomas replied biting his inner cheek anxiously. “…you were not to know. Have you not got anyone thinking about you, wondering where you are, a pretty girl like you?”
“You’re making me feel shy now.” She giggled. “No, I was a virgin until the German’s decided to take that from me. In the end I decided that if they were going to take it I wanted something in return; do you think I’m a horrible person for that?”
“No.” Thomas smiled. “You did what you could to survive. Isn’t that what we are all doing?”
He was feeling weak now as the symphony of dripping sewer water tuned into a flood which cascaded down his dark cell and made his sore backside damp. It must be raining above in the streets, Thomas thought. He heard torrents of water falling onto the dry, scorched, earth up there somewhere above his hidden lair. Was it sent by angels to wash his blood away or carry the piles of corpses which stank up those dead streets down to him?
As the water began to rise he had to lift his head to stop his hair getting wet and it was then he noticed how weak he’d become. As the freezing liquid began rushing past him and getting deeper Thomas wondered if he was going to drown down there; alone and without help.
He was so weak he actually wondered if he hadn’t actually died and if death was really like that. Aware that the body was rotting away to bone but one’s mind is unable to do anything about it? His breathing was so shallow it was hardly noticeable, hardly breathing at all, if air was entering his lungs it was surely not enough to maintain life?
If this was death, Thomas thought, he was glad it had come at last. He was pleased that he was going to be with Sarah and Grandpa Hoff, pleased that he was about to dance once again to the beautiful music of the family.
Thomas closed his eyes and was so glad to be with them, dancing around their small yard, he thought he could hear the soulful sound of an accordion whispering on the air. Even the sight of old Mr Winkleman and his scruffy wife toasting the family with Grandpa’s home-made brew brought a smile to his withered lips. They were all there, Selene, Henri, Rolf, Baby Conrad, Estelle and a young looking Grandpa Hoff. And there in the middle, shimmering in a translucent cotton dress that hugged her body tightly, stood a vision of sensuality. Sarah beamed a heart stopping smile toward him and Thomas felt time stop for an instant.
Those beautiful eyes caught his and filled his body with excitement, he could have taken her there and then, on the dry dirt and in front of all the guests; she was so luscious and beautiful. Her name was whispered through his cracked lips as if it were the last thing his dead body would say.
“Don’t give up yet Sadhaka!” A familiar voice laughed in the darkness. Thomas opened his eyes and the shimmering form of Sadhu Mourni illuminated the gloom. Their shared space looked like a temple garden, now resplendent with blooms and fruit; luscious grass beneath Thomas’ finger tips which was damp to the touch, the sweet scent of flowers filled the air.
“Am I in heaven?” Thomas thought, knowing that his voice was no longer necessary and that his thoughts echoed out as loud as if spoken.
“Your mind is always in heaven.” Sadhu smiled as he outstretched his arms.
“ Phrana flows through your veins, up and down the spinal column, from the pineal gland and into your nervous system; into your five glowing Chukras. Where does Phrana come from before it is attracted by the pineal gland? This vital force flows around the planet, across universe and the abyss of time and space, our minds are like antenna and we pick it up. We are connected; you, me and all of creation, with the universal consciousness. We are connected to consciousness by Phrana; all is one. This is Phrana…”
Sadhu clapped his hands together and Thomas could see it, he could hear it, feel it and experience it with every neurone in his body. It was a swirling miasma of electric-like energy only glowing with pure unadulterated Divine Light.
“… look, there is nothing else.”
“We are one?” Thomas thought, his mind wandered back to Sarah again, Sadhu instantly knew he was thinking of her.
“Creation allowed consciousness to experience separation…” The teacher said with a gleeful expression.
“…Because only two can experience and appreciate the real meaning of love. That’s why you felt you had known her forever Thomas, because you had known her forever; you and she are one because universal consciousness is ONE.
In the end, whatever God you worship is unimportant, all that mattered, was that your spirits found each other despite the noise and pollution of thought. You found each other to experience Love in its purest sense. The downside of this great event was the experience of loss you now feel.
In time you will understand that even this is something to celebrate too because it has allowed your consciousness to experience a full range of emotions; these experiences, no matter how painful, will make you a whole.
Do you remember me telling you to prepare yourself for the work at hand, Thomas?”
“To nourish my higher self…” Thomas thought. “…So that I can become the conduit for angels?”
“You have done very well.” Sadhu said placing the palms of his hands together as if in prayer, his eyes closed, a vortex of intense light emanated from between his fingers; as he whispered.
“Life will go on!”
“Thomas?” He suddenly heard a soft voice whisper, almost dreamlike and so subtle, it could have been a breath of wind. A breath in the tree tops, on a hot summer afternoon or the hissing of summer lawns; it was a warm and beautiful voice.
“Open your eyes, come on, we are here for you.”
Thomas did as the voice asked and saw the answer to his prayers illuminated by the faint yellow tone of a miner’s lamp. Selene smiled and the warmth of this gesture filled his heart with joy. Thomas looked over her shoulder and saw Waldo standing behind her with his gun at hand and his eyes alert.
“Is he alive?” Waldo asked anxiously looking down the sewer into the darkness beyond. He turned to look at Selene who smiled back.
“Only just, quick, take his arm and help me lift him.”
Together the two manhandled Thomas through the labyrinth of acrid smelling pipes as they meandered their way under the shattered Warsaw streets. Eventually they managed to pull him up through the manhole on the other side of the Jewish cemetery and into the thick tree line. It was exhausting work for the small framed woman and her companion as Thomas did not have the energy to hold himself up. His feet dragged behind them as they fought the undergrowth and shrub towards the hidden patriot’s camp.
Thomas was placed under a stack of stolen German military blankets and his wound was dressed while he slept. The medic who served the camp was amazed to see a real miracle; the foot did not need amputation. The bullet wound had a maggot infestation which had been busy eating any rotten flesh keeping the wound clean. Although he would have a deep and ugly scar Thomas would keep his foot.
Selene undressed her brother in law and washed his body with hot water and disinfectant; to purge the awful smell of the sewer, which had permeated his pores and was thick in his hair. As she lifted him, pulling a clean shirt over his shoulders Thomas opened his eyes.
“Thank you.” He said weakly, Selene smiled and told him to rest as he whispered her sister’s name.
In a few days her gentle nursing seemed to be having an effect as Thomas was able to sit up and chat with his fellow patriots during the day although as soon as the sun went down he could not resist the call of sleep.
The camp had moved several times since his recent subterranean exile in an attempt to elude the regular searches by the Waffen S.S and their local helpers. They had got the manoeuvre down to a precise and speedy series of tasks which only took ten minutes. Providing the lookouts saw any approaching search parties in time the area would be left as if it had never been used when discovered.
Consequently there were no fixed structures and any fires were in pits which were invisible from the air and easily disguised when left. Everyone slept with their guns at hand and fully dressed so that only pans and other utensils had to be folded away to be taken.
There were several new faces in the camp and also some prominent absences which made Thomas sad. He was able to suppress his own grief but was sure one day it would escape in an explosion of uncontained emotion. Circumstances did not allow indulgencies.
One morning, as the sun rose above the tree tops and dew collected on the tops of the grass around his bed, Thomas looked about him for a familiar face but only saw a stranger. The man, who was sitting on a fallen tree trunk nearby oiling his rifle, looked across and smiled through his thick beard.
“How are you feeling friend?” The man enquired with a low gruff voice. He was built like a bear, with a thick mop of brown hair which matched his long beard, and wore two belts of bullets across his shoulders over a check shirt.
“Much better, thank you.” Thomas replied. He sat up and looked around before asking earnestly.
“Have you seen Selene?”
“Do you want coffee?” The man asked, ignoring the question. “I will get you some if that’s what you want her for; my name is Lamech, Lammy if you want.”
“I‘m Thomas.” He replied.
“I know…” The big man smiled. “…Would you like me to get you some coffee, it’s good.”
“No thank you, Lammy.” Thomas replied. He tried to stand but he was still weak and quickly found he was unable to put any weight on his bad foot. He fell back onto the pile of blankets and was very nearly hurt had Lamech not stood quickly and caught him.
“Careful.” The big man said with a giggle. He looked about and saw a crutch leaning against a nearby tree which Selene had procured in the event that Thomas needed moving.
“Here…” He said handing Thomas the crutch. “…try walking with this under your arm, friend.”
Thomas put his weight on the crutch and slowly moved forwards. It was uncomfortable but manageable as long as Thomas kept his injured foot aloft. After lurching this way and that, swaying here and there, and falling on his bottom several times Thomas managed to make a lap of the camp; much to Lamech’s amusement. The big man clapped enthusiastically as Thomas approached following his final successful attempt.
“Very good.” Lamach smiled slapping Thomas on the back almost throwing him forward into a sprawling heap. It was only by pressing the crutch into the dirt that Thomas was able to stay upright; he turned to his new friend and smiled.
“Careful, big man, I’m still a little frail.”
“Lamech, it’s a Yiddish name, meaning strength…” Lammy replied in his deep booming voice.
“…I sometimes forget how powerful I am; sorry friend.”
“Selene…” Thomas asked after getting his balance and breath back. He looked about the camp again before glancing back at Lammy and asking.
“…have you seen her?”
“She goes to bath in the lake every morning.” Lammy replied nodding to a trail through the trees. He sniffed, sat on his log and picked up his oil cloth, before saying.
“Follow that path, you’ll find her ,up there.”
Thomas hobbled in the direction Lammy had indicated and eventually heard the familiar sound of water falling through rocks. The path eventually led to a clearing carpeted by sweetly smelling wild forest flowers and the sight of a large body of water fed by a small waterfall.
He saw Selene sitting alone, on the river bank, drying her hair on a towel as she looked across the water at the rising sun. Her bare neck and shoulders shimmered in the halo of light silhouetting her sensually against the blue water. Thomas took a moment to look at her and was amazed to see how closely she resembled her elder sister.
“Sarah?” He whispered.
The woman became aware of someone watching and peered over her shoulder nervously but her expression lit up once she saw it was Thomas.
“Oh Thomas, you are up?” She smiled as he propelled himself forwards on the crutch towards her. Once at her side he managed to lower himself down beside her.
“…and you found the crutch, does it work ok?”
“It’s wonderful; thank you.” Thomas replied with a small smile.
“It took me two days to persuade Waldo to come with me to search for you…” She said quickly in one long breath. “…he was sure you were dead and both of us couldn’t remember where we had left you. After looking for five hours we were about to give up. Then I remembered the unused section of pipe where we eventually found you; you looked dead. I was so happy to find that you were still breathing. Now look at you?”
“I owe you my life.” He replied after her rambling speech ended. They both sat in silence for a while, listening to the call of bird song, and the crickets in the undergrowth. He sun filtered through the full bloom of tree tops and the whole scene was cast in a beautiful yellow light. After his many weeks in the sewer this could almost have been heaven.
“It’s really beautiful here.” Thomas said after sighing. He looked at Selene and she reached over to take his hand.
“When I am here I can remember them…” She said hesitantly. The ‘them’ she meant did not need naming, it was everyone, those close and those not so close, who had been taken or lost recently.
“…I thought I was on my own. After growing up in a tight little family unit, meeting Henri and having children I never imagined I would be alone again. It’s funny how things turn out.”
“War is so destructive.” Thomas replied thinking of the hundreds of thousands of people killed in the past year on both sides. He felt her hand squeeze his tightly and Thomas looked at her closely; he almost imagined it was Sarah facing him. Then he noticed tears welling up in her eyes.
“War is just a word…” She said as a stray tear slid down her face. “…It’s people who have murdered, abused and slaughtered those we have loved. You know Thomas….” She said slowly, choosing her words carefully.
“…Henri was such a lovely man, so caring and full of vitality, he wouldn’t hurt a fly. The only thing that mattered to him was his family, his children; when they murdered Rolf he changed. I could feel his rage and anger bubbling away inside and building up until he couldn’t contain it any longer. He delivered our crop of wheat to their office as they asked and when the commissar who murdered our son came out of his office, Henri shot him dead. Something he would never have done or considered doing before.
He knew they would shoot back and kill him but he was dead already, dead inside. Rolf was his life, when they killed his eldest son Henri died inside. The guilt would have killed him anyway if he had done nothing. I was left alone with Conrad but I could not hate Henri for doing it, I understood, and I am proud that he killed that man. I suppose that makes me as bad as them?”
“Never.” Thomas replied. A silence fell between them again and he looked out across the water seeing the insects floating effortlessly and the sudden splash of fish rising to eat them. He sighed deeply once more and looked back at Selene. She looked so much like her elder sister, she did not have the lines around the corners of her eyes that Sarah had, those laughter lines as she called them, but everything else was the same.
“You remind me so much of Sarah.” Thomas told her. Even the coy expression that met his remark was similar to Sarah’s. She used her free hand to wipe her eyes and her nose before beaming at him with a smile.
“Everyone said we looked like twins when we were children.” She replied. They sat looking into each other’s eyes, tightly gripping each other’s hand, for a moment. It was only when they realised how intimate this was that they both let go. They looked out towards the lake once more awkwardly.
“I’m sorry.” They both said in unison before giggling like two school children.
“I miss her so much.” Thomas sighed as his head shook slowly.
“I know…” Selene replied. “…So do I, but she too died fighting for justice. I miss her but I am proud of what she did. I am proud of them all.”
“When I was in the sewer…”Thomas said after the longest pause, a pause in which they both remembered those loved and now lost, recalling the good times and bad. He looked into her eyes and whispered.
“…when I was in that dark place, I thought I had died. It was if I had gone to heaven and everyone I ever cared about was there to greet me. I even saw an old friend of mine, someone I used to meditate with, in the park before the war, he told me something. He said that all this is just an illusion and that after it is over we will realise that only love mattered. I felt at peace after that.”
“Oh, I remember you mentioned that you meditated…”Selene replied with a small smile. “…when was it again. I know, it was that morning after Grandpa’s birthday, when Sarah and he made up. I remember you saying you had an interest in Eastern religion; it was lost in the moment but I remembered you saying. Tell me about it.”
“Did you know the Theosophical Society had a branch in Warsaw before the war?” He replied softly.
“No…”She replied. “…I’ve never heard of it before; was it like a yoga group?”
“Well yoga, yes, but so much else. I was being taught meditation techniques by one of their teachers …” Thomas thought for a moment and wondered where exactly Sadhu had gone. Where he had headed when he left Warsaw; or even, if he really existed at all. His memories of their times together seemed so dreamlike they could have been just a mirage. A fleeting drama experienced in the midst of R.E.M sleep and now recalled as fractured images strung together in his head.
“…they believed that the older, Eastern religions, had more to offer the world than people realised and that Western religion was all wrong. They believed that we are all part of something bigger and, therefore, do not have to prostrate ourselves in front of idols or messianic figures for salvation; we only have to look within to get the answer.”
“The answer to what?” Selene asked as she focussed on him intently. Thomas smiled and remembered the Sadhu’s teachings as if he had heard him speak only moments before.
“The answer to any question you may have…”He replied. “…life, the universe and everything. It is all inside us already, we need only to ask the question and we will find the answer.”
“Oh Thomas…”Selene giggled. “…you are so mysterious.”
“Sometimes I think I died down there, in that dark sewer…”Thomas repeated himself giving her a small smile “…but I did not dread dying; I welcomed it. I was at peace with myself and really wanted to go at that moment and be reunited with those who had gone before me. It was just at that moment you and Waldo came for me; if you had left it any longer all you would have found is an empty vessel.”
Selene looked at him quizzically and thought about this for the longest period. It was a pause filled with as much expectation as it was confusion. She looked across the still water and at the rays of pure sunlight as they danced with the insects on the top of each ripple and sighed.
“Can I ask what happened to Conrad?” Thomas enquired after they had sat in silence for an immeasurable period of time. Selene did not have the baby with her and she hadn’t even mentioned him recently. His question made her awkward and Selene suddenly stood up and made some excuse about feeling cold. She started to walk back to the camp and only slowed down when she realised he was finding it difficult to keep up.
Once they were back at the camp she helped him get back on his pile of blankets and told him to rest, she would help him over to the fire later when food was ready. Thomas watched her walk off to get dressed properly in the woman’s quarters and wondered why she had reacted like that. He knew the child was dead, or lost somehow, and told himself not to ask again. He would wait until she was ready to speak to him about it.
Once the camp settled down that night Thomas went through the familiar mental routine until his body was switched on, visualising Phrana flowing within and without, and floating out of his body until he could see it laying there; under the warm blankets and lit only by the field of stars above them.
“I told you it would be okay, Sadhaka…”A voice said behind him. Thomas turned and saw the Sadhu sitting under a nearby tree looking very contented.
“…that we make our own reality. If you give yourself to love and those higher emotions, love will be drawn to you.”
“When you left me in the park the last time…” Thomas asked going to join his teacher and sitting on a bough next to him. “…you said you had to go somewhere; where exactly did you go?”
“Is it important?” Sadhu replied with a knowing smile. “I was at your side the whole time, as she was.”
“Who?” Thomas asked knowing exactly who his friend was referring too. He held his head in his hands and thought for a moment before looking as the Sadhu intently.
“You know she is dead, don’t you?”
“Sadhaka you are confusing that which is transient with that which is forever. Her body may not breath but Phrana still flows through her and around her and into and about you. You both are connected as all life if connected. Death is a human construct made to scare children and terrify the religious; think of her like me; we have both moved on.”
“Will I ever see her again…”Thomas asked looking at his teacher and hoping that he would hear what he wanted to hear and nothing else. “…Will I ever be able to hold her in my arms, smell her hair in my nose and taste her on my lips; will I ever love HER again?”
“Who knows what future we will create for ourselves…” The teacher replied quizzically then he looked toward the moon and smiled. “…All you need to know is that she will be happy if you find love again in this reality. Love with another drawn to you by your need for intimacy; be happy Sadhaka and she will be happy.”
“Hello…” Thomas opened his eyes and saw Selene sitting next to his bed with the moon shining like a bright halo around her head; he knew then what his teacher had been saying. She was drawn to him to make them both happy.
“Hello…”He smiled back as she passed him some coffee. “…what time is it?”
“It’s early…”She replied looking behind at the others still sleeping under their blankets, Even the fire in the centre of the camp had burned down to embers. “…sleeping in the open makes me wake before the sun comes up. I suppose it’s something to do with living on a farm; all the good work is done at sun up. It’s quiet in the morning and I like that too.”
“You know…” Thomas replied as he took a sip from his coffee. “… you remind me so much of your sister; it’s uncanny. You look like her when we first met, all those years ago.”
“You miss her, don’t you?” Selene replied looking thoughtful. “But Thomas, I feel her with me all the time, I feel them all looking out for me; do you think that’s strange?”
“I think you are feeling them because they are there…” He smiled. “…I feel them too…” Thomas was silent for a moment, a long and intense silence only broken by the sound of the birds, in the throes of dawn chorus. He suddenly looked up at Selene and smiled.
“… I feel her through my contact with you.”
“Do you Thomas…” Selene smiled back reaching across to take his hand. “…that makes me happy.”
As the camp began to muster, and the fullness of the sun kissed their little piece of Eden, two lonely people realised that life was about to heal itself. In the coming battles, the end of the war and their eventual victory over tyranny, two would become one.
Thomas knew they would win in the end despite the immense evil of men which they battled. After all, they were the conduit of angels, and as such, had universal consciousness protecting them. For, as Thomas had been taught, it enabled them to create their own reality just by thinking it into action. And, of course, love will always find a way.
Copyright David William Kirby 2015
The Dogbreaths Publishing
Thomas Sandoski is an ordinary Polish farmer in a loving relationship with a beautiful woman, Sarah on the outskirts of Warsaw. Although they have no children Sarah's sister, Selene, has many and the two families have much contact. We follow their lives through the late 1930's and the terrible events surrounding the German invasion of 1939. Because Sarah's family are Jews, she and Thomas are separated, and each have their own stories to tell. The narrative unfolds as Thomas lies dying in a sewer below the Warsaw streets having been shot during the Ghetto Uprising. In his weakened condition and with a fragile mental state Thomas uses meditation to control his pain and consider his past. His friendship before the war with a member of the Warsaw Theosophical Society has given him the tools to project his consciousness across the astral plane and experience events from the past as if he was an invisible viewer. At times he wonders if he is dead and just a ghost traversing time. The Meditations of Thomas Sandoski is a story full of adventure, happiness and pain; just like life itself. Although set during the war this is now a war story, although it features meditation and esoteric themes it is not a meditation manual; it is a story about love and how it can enable people to cope with whatever life throws at us, Love will always find a way.